Best of 2018: My professional and personal moments, challenges and lessons learned

The year 2018 was a challenging but amazing ride. I moved to another city, started a new job and later got promoted to UX team lead. Furthermore, I got married in Mauritius and traveled more than I thought. But who would wonder, I work for a travel company 😉

Tom Kupka
9 min readJan 8, 2019

During my 2018 retrospective that I did over Christmas, I realized that so many awesome things happened during the year and I learned many lessons that are worth sharing.

Here’s a mix of highlights from my work and personal life including challenges and lessons learned.

🥝 My first year at

2018 was my first full year here in Brno. We moved to this city back in November 2017 when I joined the Design team.

I joined because I needed a change. I needed new challenges to be able to learn and to grow. Looking back, it was a great step forward in my career. Besides that, I love traveling, and can’t imagine a better place to be at this moment than making travel better.

As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I feel proud to be part of the Experience Design (XD) team where amazing things happen. We have a great team, a strong design culture and a bunch of very skilled professionals who are fun to work with.

🚀 Our first UX Hackathon at

Check out the story of our first design hackathon where I acted as a mentor to my assigned team of junior designers. I did my best to provide guidance by asking the right questions to help them stay on track during a sleepless night.

Our mentors Denis Rojčyk, flying Henne and Tales Ebner.

My assigned team, The Three Dots, created an exciting way to gamify travel by using a Tinder-like technique — swipe left or right until you get the perfect destination match. This caused quite a stir among the judges who denied all knowledge of how Tinder works.

The Three Dots team

🌮 Making and eating true Mexican quesadillas

I love real 🇲🇽Mexican cuisine (not Tex-Mex) and have some experience with preparing it — I have a Mexican wife. So for one of my quarterly team goals, I threw an event for our XD team and prepared some delicious quesadillas, guacamole, salsa roja, salsa pico de gallo, etc.

Part of the evening included a mini lesson for those who wanted to try making tortillas from scratch with blue corn flour — yes it exists.

Me teaching the team how to make a tortilla from blue corn flour and water.

🌟 My promotion and 1 lesson learned

Another surprise during the year was the departure of David Tuč, our former Head of Design, who set up the initial XD team at Later, we naturally needed to adjust our team structure and I was honored to be offered the UX team lead position, managing 6 UX designers.

It felt exciting and terrifying at the same time. Let me explain why.

There are two ways that you can grow as a designer; either become an expert in your specialization or grow as a people manager focusing on a design team. When faced with the decision, I hesitated for some time because I still wanted to have more hands-on UX experience with a product, rather than managing people.

However, I needed to decide quickly and in the end, I accepted for the following reasons. First, I wanted to help the team with the transition. Second, I could remain as a 50–60% contributor in my product domain — knowing that I could still be a practitioner helped sway my decision.

After around half a year, I could see that I was chasing two rabbits. And it was frustrating because I couldn’t do either of those roles as well as I’d like to. The main issue is that the focus of my team is spread over 4 product domains. This makes it very hard to keep up with everything and contribute to my own domain at the same time.

👍 The good thing is that there will be another redesign of our rapidly growing UX team. We are hiring a UX manager. This will help us to create a new structure of UX lead designers dedicated to their specific product domains (tribes).

My lesson learned could be described by this quotation:

Lisa Sanchez, a San Francisco–based leadership coach, often comes across this phenomenon in her work. Her advice: At every juncture, think critically about whether the next step matches who you want to be, or whether you’re letting yourself be pulled along by someone (or something) else’s momentum. “Ambition works best when we let it drive us in the direction of our deepest values. It can be so helpful to disentangle two questions: ‘Can I do it?’ and ‘Do I want to?’” Sanchez says. “Just because you can doesn’t mean you have to.”—It’s Okay to Not Want a Promotion by Jean Hannah Edelstein

Given the same choice today, I would do the following: Help with the transition and keep my role while finding a UX manager.

🏕️ Off-site XD team workshop

In autumn, we decided to hold a 2-day off-site meeting. It was nice to change the environment and foster our creativity.

In the morning we pitched the ideas we wanted to tackle, similar to the BarCamp approach. Anybody could bring their ideas. It was usually something that you didn’t have time to solve during the year but important enough to be discussed with the full attention of the team.

As a side effect, it was also a great team building experience to be out in the middle of nowhere in the beautiful nature of the Czech highlands.

Part of the XD Team at a cottage for an off-site workshop.

💈 Growing a mustache

This brought another fun moment of the year when some of us grew a mustache during Movember. Our Head of Design Jerry came to me one day asking me if I would grow a mustache? I said “Yes!” as it sounded like good fun.

Indeed it was. Well, you can imagine how many conversation starters it brings when you wander around the company with a mustache. But honestly, I was glad to shave it off afterward, it’s not my style. 😃

🎄Ugly Christmas sweater party

It’s hard to name all the events, parties and team building activities that happen at during the year. One of the best company-wide parties was definitely the Ugly Christmas Sweater party.

Part of the XD Team in our ugly Christmas sweaters.

✈️ Traveling

I traveled more than I thought I would in 2018. These trips were either vacations, visiting a conference/meetup or our remote offices in Prague, Barcelona or even in Belgrade, Serbia.

The first trip was in January 2018 when I travelled to Amsterdam with Martin Jancik and Martin Halík for the meetup hosted by Framer.

Later in September 2018, Tales Andreazza Ebner, Matouš Jemelka and I decided at the last minute to attend The UX Conference in London as it was promising to deliver some great speakers. The trip was definitely worth it but we missed the networking part of the program. It was a bit disappointing to leave a conference full of interesting people on Friday afternoon.

Another two trips were to Barcelona in the summer. The first Barcelona visit was a spontaneous vacation trip with my fiancé via Toulouse where we visited the Airbus factory.

The second Barcelona visit was for our Summer Office — an adventurous journey to our office there. Stepping into the customer’s shoes was an eye-opening experience — searching and booking the trip, traveling with virtual flight interlining, missing a flight connection and applying our Guarantee service gives you a completely different perspective than what you can see from the desk in your office.

🔍 Ethnographic study

Our UX research team conducted an internal ethnographic study for all employees traveling this summer. I participated on both of my business trips: to London and to the Summer Office in Barcelona.

Participants basically documented their whole trip, capturing interesting moments and posting them to our Research team via WhatsApp. Those moments could include anything from packing their bags to feedback on our mobile app and any emotions that were elicited along the way.

My last trip of 2018 was definitely the best one.

It was the time that I got married in 🇲🇺 Mauritius. Actually, our dream was to have a ceremony on the beach and Mauritius offered great weather options in contrast to the cold autumn conditions in Europe. The second advantage was that the paperwork seems easier to arrange there than here in the Czech Republic.

Mauritius scenery while running the Moka trail race around the Pieter Both mountain.

If you’re ever not sure about where to go for vacation, this place is a paradise and you should not hesitate for a second. Mauritius is known as a pricy luxury destination, however, if you set up the trip yourself, you can get surprisingly affordable prices (e.g. using Airbnb, etc.) and still fully enjoy its nature, culture and food. 😉

🏃Running & New challenges

Why not sign up for a spontaneous 15km Moka Trail run in the Pieter Both mountains?


Each year I run more and more. A few years ago, I used to run from time to time just for about 2–4 km (and not even regularly). Nowadays it is more addictive. It can happen that I put on my shoes on and only return after two hours having covered 21km. 😃

In total, I ran 450 km in 46 runs during 2018.

I usually run alone. I find myself to be more of an introverted person, and as there is very little chance to be alone during the day, running alone helps me to recharge. However, there are some exceptions. From time to time I challenge myself by joining a race and I also enjoy running with my running buddy Martin Jancik who always motivates me to run even more. It’s great to have such an enthusiastic runner in the XD team.

Me and Martin after the 21.12 km scenic trail run around the Brno dam.

I enjoy trail running in my barefoot shoes.

My lovely barefoot Merrel Trail Glove retired this summer 😢. They are 6 years old. I bought them in New Zealand and used them heavily. Now, I am experimenting with the Vibram FiveFingers. So far they are great! The individual toe pockets give you more freedom and better traction. They map more naturally to your feet.

New challenges

Besides running, I challenged myself by taking cold ❄️ showers more frequently, mostly in the morning (or jumping into an icy mountain stream whenever there’s a chance). This demands much more effort as you don’t have any external heat source to warm up (like a sauna). But there is a trick which can help you to withstand cold temperatures, make your body stronger and boost your immunity.

My brother inspired me to learn more about the breathing techniques of the Wim Hof Method. Using these simple techniques you can make your body adapt to the cold quite easily. It’s definitely worth checking out. I’ve gradually started experimenting with some of the basic exercises.

Wim, the author of this method, also known as The Iceman, is a Dutch extreme athlete noted for his ability to withstand extreme cold. He holds 26 world records, including the Guinness World Record from 2008 for the longest ice bath and for climbing Mount Everest wearing nothing but shorts and shoes.

👨‍🎓 Learning: UX Design

There were many opportunities to learn and grow in 2018. Besides hands-on learning, here are some UX design resources that I try to keep up with.

  • Usability articles from the Nielsen Norman Group. I recommend signing up for their newsletter which comes out every Monday.
  • Courses by the Interaction Design Foundation (IDF) — Emotional Design and UX Management: Strategy and Tactics. 👉 Join IDF now and get 3 months of free membership.
  • Book by Tom GreeverArticulating Design Decisions. Great designers are great communicators, and this book shows you how to get there.
  • Podcasts by High Resolution
  • Besides attending those two conferences mentioned above, I visited the RealUXcamp with a few people from our team. This is a one-weekend event held every August where the Czech UX design community meets and camps together in nature while sharing their knowledge in a BarCamp format.

🎉 2019

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope to see you in 2019.

Have a great, successful and happy new year!



Tom Kupka

Senior Product Designer @ Productboard. My thoughts, stories and ideas on UX and Product Design |