Making data accessible to everyone at Productboard — an interview with Pája Froňková
For the second article in our People of Productboard series, we caught up with data engineer Pája Froňková. Pája’s journey to Productboard took some interesting twists and turns. Originally from the Czech Republic, she spent time working in Ireland and Germany, experiencing life in both startups and corporations, before returning home to join our Data team. And we’re delighted to have her on board!
Hi, Pája! Can you tell us a bit about your background and journey to Productboard?
Sure! I started as a data analyst about five years ago, working for a small company. It was a startup as well, although it was very different from Productboard. I stayed there for three years before deciding that I wanted to experience something new, be surrounded by new people, and travel abroad as well.
So I applied for a job at Facebook — and by some sort of miracle, I got it! I worked there for a year while living in Dublin, but it stopped meeting my expectations pretty quickly, and I knew I’d need to look for something new.
Next, I moved to Berlin and started a new job there, but by this point, I was already interviewing for Productboard. Thankfully, the interview process went well, and I landed the job back in November 2019!
If we go back to the very beginning, what made you decide to become a data analyst?
That’s an interesting question because I probably never had that one moment when I decided to become a data analyst. It was more of a process or journey.
In the first company I joined, I was an ordinary analyst. There were a lot of us doing analytical work, and I just gravitated more towards the data side. There weren’t so many people interested in the data side at the time, but I was super excited about it! I made plenty of mistakes at first, but it was great that they allowed me to learn on the job.
I loved that feeling where I didn’t know how to approach a specific problem at the beginning of the day, but then by the end of the day, I had figured it out and was starting to see the benefits. That’s such a great feeling that I’ve been working with data ever since!
What’s it like to be a data engineer at Productboard?
It’s great here! When I left Facebook, I thought I was leaving the best workplace I would ever work at — all those benefits and everything. And I must say that I haven’t had to compromise at all at Productboard.
The culture and work here are pretty much the same, if not better. Facebook is already a huge company. They have something like 50,000 employees. But for me, the fact that Productboard is a much smaller company is just so much better. There’s a much more personal approach — you really come here as a valued individual.
What are you working on right now?
The idea we have within our team is to be as substitutable as possible. We try to make everyone here at Productboard understand everything data-related, and we try to give teams access to data so that they can work with it and make informed decisions.
We process some of the data we have from our customers but only for our internal needs — so our Customer Service team can see how specific customers are doing, for example. We try to provide insights for our Engineering team as well, and we’ve recently integrated data from GitHub and Jira, which we now have in one place.
It was important for us to have all the data in one place because now we can connect everything better, we can do better analysis, and that’s what our team is for! We try to integrate data from various sources — starting from Google Analytics and our marketing systems, sales data, and data about trials and subscriptions — allowing Productboard employees to have better visibility.
So if one of our product managers approaches you with a specific need about a particular customer and feature, you can provide them with the data?
Exactly. But as I mentioned, we are also trying to make sure that everyone can do this themselves. If the product manager has a specific question like this, they should be able to get to the data themselves without any problem.
This approach is quicker for them and us. But of course, some instances aren’t clear or require more data knowledge, so then it’s our job to step in.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Our team has daily standups together in the morning, which give us a great overview of what others are working on. When someone summarizes what they did yesterday and will do today, you immediately know what information you have that might help them. This helps a lot with team communication.
And of course, after the standup, we start working! We use Keboola as our ETL tool (extract, transform, load), Looker for visualizations, we write a lot of SQL, and we use Python, too.
On the subject of Python, I know you met one of our Engineering Managers, Verča, in the PyLadies mentorship group — is that how you learned Python?
Yes, Verča was there as a lecturer. This was back when I was working in the first company as an analyst. It was a lot of fun, and it opened up a new world for me! I started trying new things. I started to automate things that bothered me a bit. Why click it manually when you know Python?
I also read the book Automate the Boring Stuff with Python, which helped me a lot. When you start programming, it can seem very abstract — you can’t imagine what you’re going to use it for. That book focuses on real problems, which helped me understand how I could put my new-found knowledge into practice.
Once you start to understand what you can do with it, things move very quickly. You find your own use cases, and you begin to see more and more examples of processes you can automate. When you apply it yourself and start to see how you can make your work easier, it’s more motivating than taking an online course where you don’t really understand how to apply it.
Do you have any tips or inspiration on how you keep up with current tech trends?
Sure! I follow certain blogs and individuals, but I think it’s much more important to be part of a specific community. Those people will always share inspirational posts and links to articles and blogs that you wouldn’t come across otherwise. Being part of a community is very important.
For example, I follow the Czech Python community. I am in various Facebook groups where people share interesting content. And as for individuals, I follow Dita Přikrylová, who founded Czechitas. She is a very inspiring person to me.
You can always find someone in these communities who is where you want to be. That was the case for me with PyLadies. Through them, I got access to a lot of inspiring mentors. It’s full of incredible people who have decided to devote their free time to teaching beginners how to program.
We’re fortunate in the Czech Republic that we have an excellent Python community. Without that community, I wouldn’t have learned Python as fast as I needed to. So I advise anyone who wants to learn these new skills to find an online community and reach out to the people there — especially if you are starting out and don’t have anyone pushing you to expand your horizons in your current job!