#EncoraPeople. Edwin Gagokahn, Head of Software Development, Encora

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

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

His main goal as the Head of the Department is to ensure that his colleagues have the right context and the right tools to perform their daily activities. According to Edwin, investing in people is one of the key drivers of the long-term growth strategy for Encora.

In this discussion, he reveals some of the most useful 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.

 

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

I have an experience of 16 years in the software development field. I started to work for Encora in November 2013. From 2014 until 2017, the company produced a platform named EBS. Due to business strategy, the owners, Adrian and Teodor Blidăruș, have decided to create another company, which right now is called FintechOS. Between 2014 and 2017 I was assigned as a Team Leader for an important customer, Honeywell. In 2017, I was one of the team members of the product team at FintechOS until 2019, when I came back to Encora.

In June 2022, I was officially appointed as a Head of Software Development, but, in the past three years, I have done similar activities to what I do now. Therefore, receiving this role was quite smooth and natural for me. It’s not a big change, but I feel that I have more responsibility.

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 what I’m supposed to do impacts the entire company. Due to the business model that we have, from my position I’m working very tight with almost all the departments within the company.

  • 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 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 are at a certain 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 go to the office every day, although we encourage our colleagues to work from anywhere they want, as long as they are safe. Still, if at least one developer colleague is in the office, I should be there as well. Because I believe that, in my position, I need to set up some guidelines.

I would say that the most challenging, and – at the same time – the 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 people’s satisfaction in terms of their work environment, daily activities, and in terms of ways to develop the company.

“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, Encora Head of Software Development

We help our people develop both their technical competencies and soft skills through some programs organized within the company together with the HR department and with the Site Manager.

Therefore, I am trying to help 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 career gaps.

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 some things that will help you for the rest of your career.” If at some point they decide to leave the company, which can happen, I would like them to remember Encora as a good, nice working place.

In terms of projects, the main priorities are to develop and maintain the best practices that are on the market and that are used by other mature companies. And, of course, to be to 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 Encora manage to do so?

It’s highly important. I always tell my youngest 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 persons to work with. It’s important to pick a technology, a specific language, but most importantly the right persons who can help them evolve.

As I was saying earlier, here, at Encora, 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 5-10 years is 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, Encora 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 everything.

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 zones allows you to evolve and develop your skills.

If you have the possibility, I recommend playing with different technologies. If you understand how some of them work, you will understand all of them and it’s going to be very easy for you to jump from one language to the other. 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 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 experience to recover fast. And that’s okay because failing helps you understand, develop your skills, and evolve. 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 at least to try to do that specific task.

Second, by trying to empower people. Even if you are in a high position in an 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, Encora Head of Software Development

  • 8. How would you describe the organizational culture within Encora? 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 creating consolidated teams.

One of the first things that we are looking for when we try to hire new colleagues is to see if we have common values, rather than technical skills, by asking them some questions to see if they are a fit for us. If we share common values, we can work together on many levels.

“Here, at Encora, I like that I can interact with so many people and that gives me the needed drive to pursue my daily activities and goals, which is very important for me.” Edwin Gagokahn, Encora 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 where I’ve been because the company had a good leadership and management approach. At Encora, we have an inclusive culture.

“Here, I feel that I’m at home more than in any other place, even if, for instance, 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 exist?” Edwin Gagokahn, Encora Head of Software Development

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

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

Don’t micromanage for the long term. If you must do it in a situation to fix some aspects, do it for the short term only, because otherwise, you won’t be able to scale up.

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.

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

I’m a family guy, I am very close to my parents and my sister. I have a couple of friends and I spend a lot of time with them.

I like things that give me adrenaline. I am passionate about kickboxing, I have been practicing it for 4 years, and I also like to play football.

I read books about psychology, philosophy, leadership, and human interactions. A book that impacted me a few years ago was “The Rational Male” (by Rollo Tomassi).

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