#SoftelligencePeople. Edwin Gagokahn, Head of Software Development Softelligence

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At Softelligence, I feel that I’m at home more than in any other place. Here, I feel that I have everything I need to develop myself

With an experience of over 16 years in the software development area, Edwin was appointed Head of Software Development in the Bucharest office in June 2022. He confesses this was a smooth transition, as his previous activities were already similar to what he does today.

His main goal as Softelligence’s Head of Software Development is to grow development teams by leading and providing guidance to ensure they adhere to development standards, best practices and achieve their best.
According to Edwin, investing in people is a key driver for the company’s long-term growth strategy.

In this discussion, he reveals some of his most useful bits of advice for young software developers, the importance of sharing common values with your team, and why leading by example and empowering people are essential elements for any leader.

Edwin Gagokahn, Head of Software Development Softelligence

  • 1. Tell us about your recent appointment as Head of Software Development at Softelligence and your previous work experience.

I have an experience of 16 years in the software development field. I started to work for Softelligence in November 2013. Between 2015 and 2017 I was assigned as a Team Leader for an important customer where we’ve designed and developed a platform to digitalise and orchestrate internal operations processes. Starting with 2017, I was one of the team members of a new product team until 2019, when I accepeted a new big challenge as Head of Practice in Softelligence.

In June 2022 I was officially appointed as Head of Software Development for the Bucharest office though, in practical terms, for the past three years I was already carrying out the necessary activities which were preparing me for the new role. Therefore, stepping up in this role was quite smooth and natural for me. It’s not a big change, but I feel that I have more responsibility, which gives me a huge drive.

I would like to say that I am not the kind of person who likes or cares about labels and job titles. What I do care about is the responsibility of this role because it impacts the entire company. In my position more than ever I can engage with key stakeholders across the business and work closely with them to inspire IT, process, and behavioral change, which will unlock both efficiency and market potential.

  • 2. How many people do you manage and what do you do on a daily basis? What is the most challenging part of your job?

I manage over 40 people in my department, but we believe in responsibility, not in classic hierarchies. Even our CEO prefers to work with us in an open space office; he doesn’t have a private office. We assume that people have more responsibilities if they reach a certain experience level. I work with 6 people managers of smaller teams to ensure everything goes well.

I start my mornings with a coffee and then I read my emails. I prefer to go to the office every day, although we allow our colleagues to work from anywhere they want, as long as they are safe. Nonetheless, if at least one developer colleague of mine is in the office, I should be there as well. Because I believe that, in my position, I need to show some guidelines.

I would say that the most challenging, and at the same time most satisfying part for me, is working with so many different, extraordinary people. It gives me a lot of satisfaction when, for instance, I see people that are happy with what they do and are thrilled to develop or create new things.

  • 3. What are your main priorities as a Head of Software Development in the company?

One of the most important things – that should reach the highest standard in my opinion – is our customers’ satisfaction in terms of provided services and our people’s satisfaction in terms of their work environment, growth competencies and results.

“We want to provide the best services for our customers and the best experience in terms of partnership and collaboration. But at the same time, we understand that we cannot do that without people who are satisfied with their work in the company and the way they do things.” Edwin Gagokahn, Softelligence Head of Software Development

We help our people develop both their technical competencies and their soft skills through programs organised together with our HR team and our Site Managers.

I am helping our colleagues develop their competencies, have a safe place to do their job, and be as productive as possible. By staying close to them, I am able to see their journey.

As I’m always saying to my colleagues:

I’m not trying to help you learn something just for the sake of this company, I’m trying to help you learn things that will help you for the rest of your career”.

If at some point they decide to leave the company, which could happen, I would like them to remember Softelligence as a good, nice working place.

In terms of projects, the main priorities are to develop and maintain the best industry practices that are also used by other mature companies. And, of course, to be at our highest level in terms of technical knowledge.

  • 4. How important is it for a software development professional to find support within the company he is working for to enhance his career? How does Softelligence manage to do so?

It’s highly important. I always tell my younger colleagues – or other young professionals who are at the beginning of their careers – that in the first 5 to 10 years, they should try and find the right people to work with. It’s important to pick a technology, a specific language, but most importantly the right people who can help them grow.

As I was saying earlier, here, at Softelligence, we invest in people as much as possible through different development programs. That’s why I spend a lot of my time in the office – to share knowledge with my colleagues. We also have partnerships with some technical universities, so we always welcome young students to train them.

  • 5. What is your advice for young software development professionals to build a strong career path?

This is my main advice: find the right people to work with. In the first 5 to 10 years, it’s very important to find the proper place where to develop yourself in all matters. I’m talking about technical aspects, soft skills, and everything else. But try to find the right people to learn things from.

Finding the right kind of people depends on finding a place where you share the same values with your colleagues. You can grow faster in a place where you are in alignment, rather than in a place where you don’t fit in terms of values. Whatever you want to do in life – whether you want to work on your own, be an employee, or build your own business – when you are 20 to 30 years old, you need a place where you can develop yourself by sharing common values with other people.” Edwin Gagokahn, Softelligence Head of Software Development

Also, at the beginning of your career, in the first 5 years, I would recommend working with different people and teams so that you gain as much experience as possible in many areas.

Don’t say no in your career even if you are not sure or don’t know how to do things. Instead, go out and learn. This will help you in the long term. Putting yourself out of your comfort zone allows you to evolve and develop your skills.

If you have the possibility, I recommend to give a chance and learn about different technologies. If you understand how some of them are working, you will understand more, and it will become easier for you to jump from one programming language to another if you need at some point. Train your brain to be curious and explore.

  • 6. What are the key soft skills needed for a software developer?

Creativity: try to be as creative as possible, be interested in technology, and in finding the best possible solutions, according to your work experience level.

Optimism: be optimistic, because ultimately there is a solution for any problem. If sometimes things are not going as you would expect them to go, that doesn’t mean that’s the end. A positive mindset will help you a lot to pass any challenge.

Attention to detail: it’s very important to look at the details. At some point, the details will make the difference in the context of competition, because there are a lot of companies and teams that know how to build solutions or applications.

Communication: it’s going to help you a lot – even more if you are working in a team. Don’t be stubborn because that stubbornness is going to make your life harder. Be humble, don’t look or talk to people from a superior position, and treat people with respect.

  • 7. How do you manage to keep your team motivated to perform every day?

By example. I’m not saying that what I’m doing is the best way to do things; I also fail, but I have the proper experience to recover fast. And that’s okay because failing helps you understand, develop your skills, and grow. I mean I can’t go to my colleagues and ask them to do some things without explaining what I need from them. And to be able to do that, YOU need to have at least a clue. So I’m forced to constantly grow my competences as well.

Secondly, by trying to empower people. Even if you are in a position with big responsibilities within the organization, you have a higher chance of success if you accept the fact that you don’t know everything, so you need to work in a team. After accepting that those team members have a lot of competencies and capabilities, you should empower them to do their job.

If you, as a manager, try to do everything by yourself, you’ll most probably fail at some point and, hopefully, you’ll learn the lesson. Managing people and being a leader requires empowering people. If you make them responsible, they will be able to grow, and in this way, your department and your company will grow.” Edwin Gagokahn, Softelligence Head of Software Development

  • 8. How would you describe the organizational culture within Softelligence? What is your favorite part of working here?

We are customer-oriented, and we care about our people. Also, I would say that our culture is based on sharing common values, and that’s very important for building consolidated teams.

One of the first things that we are looking for when we hire new colleagues is to see if we share common values, not only technical skills. If we do, we can work together on many levels.

Here, at Softelligence, I share similar values with my colleagues and that gives me the drive to pursue my daily activities and goals, which is very important for me.” Edwin Gagokahn, Softelligence Head of Software Development

  • 9. What aspects or elements have supported your career development here?

First of all, the growth opportunities. I would say that here I was able to develop myself more than in any other place I’ve been because the company had a good leadership and management approach. At Softelligence, we have an inclusive culture.

“Here, I believe that I’m at home more than in any other place, even if, in my experience, I had the chance to work with other mature teams. Here I feel that I have everything I need to develop myself. I started as a developer 9 years ago, and right now am responsible for the Software Department, so what better example can there be?” Edwin Gagokahn, Softelligence Head of Software Development

From a human perspective, the fact that I have been in a lot of situations along these years has helped me a lot to grow faster than I was able to in other places.

The reasons why I am fulfilled are the people that I am working with, the opportunity to develop my competencies, and the opportunity to take risks.

  • 10. What are the top 3 leadership lessons that you have learned over the years that you would like to share with us?

Empowering people is one of the most important. You need to trust your people, let them fail, and guide them. Empower them to do things, give them responsibilities, and help them develop themselves, share your experience with them.

Be adaptable. Try to be flexible, show resilience when things don’t go as planned and look at it as a learning opportunity.

Lead by example, not by authority. Try to gain the respect of the people that you are working with. Care about the people that you are working with – partners or colleagues.

  • 11. Who is Edwin Gagokahn outside the working hours? What are your hobbies & passions?

I love spending time with my family and friends. I am getting my energy from doing traditional things.

I like things that pump up some adrenaline. I am passionate about kickboxing, I have been practicing it for 4 years.

Besides technology as a domain, I read books about psychology, philosophy and leadership.

Read other success stories:

#SoftelligencePeople. Mihaela Chirapleș, Bucharest Site Manager

#SoftelligencePeople. Daniel Jinga, Consulting Director

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