You add a lot of value when working in technology field

You create something from nothing, and you work together with plenty of smart, humorous and focused colleagues.

Valerija Makijenko, Head of Development at Visma Enterprise Latvia. Interviewed by Evita Lune. Editing and photography by Veronika Suhareva.

Valerija Makijenko is a software development addict for more than ten years. Currently she is working as a R&D manager at Visma Enterprise Latvia, as well as gives lectures at Baltijas Datoru Akademija (BDA) and Riga Technical University (RTU). Before stepping into management responsibilities, Valerija had worked in various software and product development projects as a business analyst taking such roles as a system analyst and product owner. While being a development manager she ensured that her team was able to move from “waterfall-ish” command-control way of working to self-driven flat organization guided by agile principles, what resulted in better product quality and engaged all the team. Speaking of herself, she says that a clean code and good shoes always put a smile on her face. Valerija motivates herself and her colleagues to promote awareness of IT industry in schools and universities.

Visma is a leading Scandinavian IT solutions company with over 7000 employees in 9 countries. The company is serving over 400 000 clients worldwide and is represented by three legal entities in Latvia — Visma Enterprise (dealing with RVS Horizon development and distribution, and business intelligence solutions), Visma Consulting (dealing with system integration solutions and system development), and Visma Labs (granting high value added services to other Visma group companies in Scandinavia).

Valerija Makijenko at her “natural habitat” — her workplace / Photo by Veronika Suhareva

Evita: Was it difficult for you to enter the world of computer sciences?

Valerija: I like it when it’s difficult, I am not afraid of studying too much, in fact I think that if you are in the technology field you have to be open minded to study really really hard all the time. At school I was always strong at mathematics, chemistry and physics, but was struggling with history, poetry and such, so entering engineering and computer sciences was a clear choice for me, although originally I wanted to study construction.

Evita: And now what is your motivation to work in this field?

Valerija: I really like IT, and what is the best part of it — you might have nothing, but then you have an idea, you have to solve a problem, you have a night to bring value with your bare hands, and finally to create something new. I bet it’s much more exciting than buying and selling.

During the third year of university I started to work professionally and joined Lattelecom Technology. I was always very curious and fast learner, it went very smoothly for me, and I felt as a fish in a pond. The industry itself was very interesting. I started as a tester, and then became a system analyst by that time in another company called FMS. Then after eight years I was offered a job as a development manager already as part of Visma (note: Visma acquired FMS 3 years ago). I am a problem solver. I am not a programmer, but I am definitely a tech savvy. I know how to program in Pascal, I know how to make my ways around technology matters and I try to keep myself at tech shape.

My greatest motivation is the idea that we are bringing a value. My development team is responsible for the Latvian market. This is our way of serving the country — developing solutions for government institutions and private companies in Latvia. Hopefully this would help them to become more effective for citizens and people in Latvia.

The second source of motivation is people. Most people in IT are smart, focused, and have a good sense of humour. There is no backtalk, no wasting of time with irrelevant chats, and the atmosphere and temper in the team are really great.

Once I got development manager position, I got opportunity to have more impact on people, to support them, to build the environment that enables them to perform. Thus, this is the third big motivator for me.

Evita: How many people are you managing now?

Valerija: We are 36 by now.

Evita: How was the mentality shift from specialist to leader?

Valerija: I was always trying to be a leader. I am very stubborn and for me it is always important to be noticed. I would always try to organize, to solve, and to get things done. Once I got responsibility for the budget, for people, comprehensive responsibility for the product, the big mentality shift is that I am responsible for the whole team, not just myself and mine mistakes. There is a responsibility for others, and it was a bit scary for the first year, but I am very confident in my position now. My approach to leading is to have as flat organization as possible, to mentor the people so that they are the best versions of themselves and they start leading themselves, as well as pointing out to possible mistakes and problems. I have always been blessed with good immediate managers. The immediate manager plays an immense role on your possible development.

Evita: And now you are confident as a leader in your position…

Valerija: Actually being a woman in tech helped me to keep up and to prove that a woman can do it even without a very strong technical background. For me it was really important to break the stereotype. My stubbornness helped me, as I would never hide and run. I wanted to prove that a woman could do it.
Curiosity and a cup of coffee / Photo by Veronika Suhareva

Evita: What would be your recommendations for girls and women who are still struggling with both — trying themselves in technology space and proving themselves as leaders, as opposed to only back office executors?

Valerija: If you are structured enough, if you are able to understand the problem and able to suggest how to solve it, you do not need to be very technical to be a part of IT. Second, you need to be able to learn really fast. You need to be able to read tons of materials and understand how to apply your new knowledge to your work. For a chaotic, creative type of person it would be quite difficult. At Visma we have women with non-technical background from accounting that work in our team really well.

How to become a leader oriented… talk to other leaders, ask about their fears and how they overcome those. IT does not have gender, race, anything. What are being worshiped are your ability to work, to perform, and your attitude. It does not matter from which society level you have come from and how exactly you have become a master in what you are doing. IT can help you even if you have no money to go to official education — you can learn a programming language in the library and start earning money for your family.

Evita: Do you have any overall recommendations or observations?

Valerija: The main message is for parents and teachers to have a better awareness of what is happening in the world because of IT.

Use all materials to explore technical matters with young children in a fun way. Sometimes parents are deciding for their kids in a stereotypical way. For example, if it is a girl, she will probably go to ballet or philology. I encourage to show how interesting, how fun technology can be, and what a huge impact it will have on our daily life. We have a huge lack of talents and we hope that more and more women will become engineers.

Evita: When we talk about future professions, even if a girl chooses to study medicine or to be a teacher, technology awareness will be a key requirement for any profession in the near future. You will be doing virtual reality surgery or online French language classes. Without technology awareness you automatically remain at lower level of qualification in any profession and get a lower salary, you discriminate yourself and limit the growth of your career.

Valerija: … And there are plenty of modern technology based professions, which are very female on the first look, but have a lot of logics and technology awareness behind — such as fashion bloggers or ladies, who build a large audience on the Instagram by showing, for example, what they have bought. It looks very feminine, but you have lots of analytics behind it. We have an excellent balance and diversity at Visma at all levels, even at the management team, and it gives excellent results for the company. Women need to be constantly encouraged and motivated to join the technology world and to become leaders in their fields.

A woman in technology / Photo by Veronika Suhareva

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