Katerina Anastasova studied to be a programmer but ended up in a small startup as a Project Manager. And for the following 5 years worked as a PM in big software companies with teams over 50 people. Now she’s our talanted Innocoder and PM at TicketCo — Norwegian event platform, that has recently entered the UK market. But she does much more than this. And this story is an example, how being a proactive can unite teammates to improve things together and grow faster.
What’s your background? Did you study to be a PM?
I studied to be a programmer! I was on Computer Science Faculty, and the course called “Programming of media systems and computer design”. My Thesis was about processing images. Later I even led an Android course in our Uni for a short time. But it was long time ago :)
I really get bored fast if I ever start programming, but I love the Maths. It’s sort of a weakness :) I even wanted to start PhD, but decided to get experience with a real job, and maybe someday, on maternity leave I would do the PhD :)
All in all, you’ve been PM for 5 years now. How it all started?
At that time apart from writing my thesis, I had 2 jobs, working as an English teacher for the Euro2012 prep program and as a tutor in American English school. Once during the classes I got an urgent call from my friend: “Kate, we need a PM for our startup. Decide now”. It was a bit unexpected, I told the students and they said:
“Kate, you shouldn’t stay here and explain present continuous to us, go and try something new!”. So I ended up in small startup of 5 people, and became a manager of my future husband:)
Then was the big outsource company in Donetsk Exedel — big product with a team of 50 people. Apart from it, I also lead mini-practices. Cool time full of experience. But we decided to move to Kyiv and try to work in game development. But I was young and stupid.
To make it clear — gamedev totally fascinates me. All these maths, balances, monetisation and game design. I wanted to become a game producer! And worked really hard. Our Art director told me once:
“That’s not a sprint, it’s marathon. Be carefull, you can burn out”. And I burnt out. To the extent that I left this job and was doing nothing for 2 months…
Then, my husband got a proposal in Lviv and we moved again. I was looking for a job, for SoftServe I had 7 or 8 interviews (crazy!), but for some reason with no success. I was with one foot in Poland, when my husband brought my CV to the HR in his company (DataArt), saying nothing to me :). It was Iryna Nahorna (now she’s COO at Innocode). For some reason I was the one they were looking for and I was approved for the PM very quickly. And stood there for 3 years.
We had a lot of big projects there. The nuance was that the teams were very scattered. My developers were far away in Voronezh, Russia and we had to fly there often, which I can’t say was a big pleasure... But the real fun began when the flights were discontinued…
Then there was another huge project. I worked in RnD and got a proposal to become the second PM. For me it meant to go ahead the same beaten track and zero creativity.
Maybe I aimed to romanticize my job, but I’m gratefull to have found what I wanted, here at Innocode.
The story how you got to Innocode isn’t usual — tell a bit about it!
Initially I didn’t have intentions to join Innocode. I was invited as an external consultant to evaluate the processes within the company and see if there’s need to improve anything. It was kind of an audit.
Crazy Carpathians Story
Before this audition was complete, we (me, my husband and our corgi dog Rouce) went to Carpathian Mountains on the weekend. But an unfortunate event happened — we got lost. It was winter, we went for a walk and lost the way back. For 12 hrs passed before we were found by our host, his son and the ambulance, totally frozen out…
After the month from this accident, Ira Nahorna called and invited to work for Innocode and TicketCo. You can’t imagine how happy I was! Like a true girl, of course I said that I need to think about it, but I was excited and so happy!
Thanks to Ivan (Ivan Kovalisko, Innocode PO of Relevance Panel) I was able to finish it all :) I had doubts whether to apply for it or not. But I’m very glad, that I did! Our mentors were fantastic — you can tell right away how incredibly they love what they do.
Now I would like to move further to the product development. It grasps many aspects like marketing, business development etс. By the way, by the end of Product School course we had to present our own product, so I had a nice opportunity to practice on our family project — a mobile app for including football fans.
It’s been a bit more than 3 monhs at Innocode, how do you like it?
Really nice! Of course, the most unforgettable thing so far was our team trip to Tysnesfest in Norway. And how it turned out to an unplanned teambuilding — a really true story one! You know, these small challenges make you grow stronger…
It feels great when you see how the real people use the stuff you build all day, every day.
That is what motivates me like crazy!
Can you imagine? I was so thrilled to see how in Norway they use our TicketCo app, that I was shivering all the time :) I remember being on the point to burst out crying from excitement )
Sometimes I’m very emotional) But that was a priceless experience.
About my role
From the very beginning I saw it as an operational role. To help control the clients expectations of the product. If the ideas burst and priorities scale — my task is to help the team not to get lost. So if we have decided on the roadmap, make sure we all stick to it, unless there’s anything to change.
Now we are on the point of massive changes — we’d like to update the tools (Jira, Productboard, BaseCamp etc.) to get additional information for the reporting. To make it more transparent and easy to understand for everyone — where we are now and where we are heading to. So that we are synchronized in all directions.
Together with Kaare, CEO of TicketCo, we started with the backlog, and now are going to integrate 3 of our tools — Jira, ProductBoard (?) and Basecamp together, to make sure that the team of developers and the people of business are on the same page.
My role here is to track, control all is done and that it’s done in a pretty way :)
But what I like the most is to work on developement of the product, rather than just operational activity. And during the past 3 months I learned more about product development than for the past 2 years.
It may sound like a lot of boast, but that’s what I dreamed of. Aimed at that. I always wanted to be a part of the team, where you can try something new without fighting bureaucratic short-sightedness, but here I work with the experts in their fields. That accelerates your own and the team growth in general.
The more the whole team has the power to decide and impact the product, the less outsource it is. We don’t work for TicketCo as outsource, we are a part of it. Final decisions are behind the Norwegian side of course, but we take very active part. The most precious here is that Kaare sincerely adores our teammates, and respects our expertise.
Inside Innocode you have initiated Management Community meetings — tell us what’s that?
Since I’m working solely on TicketCo project, I was wondering how the project management is done inside other projects/products. For me it was vital to exchange the existing knowledge within the company and to mutually find new ways to improve it. And to increase the company’s expertise in general.
The first meetup was dedicated to the results of studying at Product School — Ivan Kovalisko and I prepared talks based on our 3 months there. Another one — to Quality Attributes, presented by Valerii Shypunov. It’s usually after work and many of the colleagues join the meetup virtually. Last time Victor was the director and filmed everything. Few days ago we all talked about Prioritization — how to work with backlog, how to understand who wants what, and what to do when everyone needs everything now. Many guys had this question and we decided to pick it up. If it worries everyone — that’s why we need to talk about this)
Tell us about your hobbies
From the early childhood I was really into martial arts and big tennis. And now I try to take tennis seriously — we already go on corts. Currently the main hobbies — football and Corgi!:)
Wait, you are a football fan?
I’m fan of Liverpool FC Manager :) Fan of the way he organizes work in a team, and football itself of course. Because the matches are the direct results of his efforts. And the guys play it nicely.
Who do you think should become Project Manager?
I think it’s for somebody who likes to turn chaos into order (like Monica from Friends) BUT takes it with moderation — not just for the sake of order, but for easier life of the team and client. Who likes to talk with people (it may disappear though :)
What about tech background?
It would be a plus. But you can’t be an expert in everything. You can’t cover it all with the same attention and dedication. Tech changes, trends change. It’s quite hard to stay aware of every change. In the end you ought to have your personal life, kids, I don’t know… a dog! You need to understand the general approaches, but you don’t have to know how to write code — it may even hurt (a 2 year ago knowledge may be outdated).