Our stories
November 16, 2021

Building a team and pushing tech boundaries in Ukraine: Interview with Tom Laich

Founded by quants and traders, the Swiss company has always emphasised the importance of developing a solution that the market needs. Evolving our solution while keeping our cloud-based platform up to market standards has thus always been our focus. With new clients coming onboard, we had to scale up our technology in parallel, and as a growing startup we did so with affordability and sustainability in mind. What does this mean exactly?

We spoke with Thomas Laich, Senior Software Engineer and Team Lead of our Office in Ukraine, who explained the journey from pushing tech boundaries to building a collaborative team across borders.

Tom, you are an experienced developer yourself. What led you to vestr?

My background is in engineering; I studied at ETH in Zurich and completed my master thesis at Télécom Paris in 2012. Straight out of university, I worked for the oldest and largest custom software provider company in Switzerland. Those were typical corporate projects, with development being largely outsourced to Vietnam. It gave me a first taste of both enterprise software at scale and managing remote teams in completely different parts of the world. I was really interested in the growing popularity of Javascript, in particular React and Node.js, which led me to switch positions to a much smaller, and more dynamic software consulting firm. To vestr I got introduced through my personal network. The timing was far from ideal, I was in the midst of a tough project at my former company, and I just started a CAS at ETH Zurich. Nevertheless, 6 months after this introduction I finally was ready to jump on this new opportunity and accepted a role as an engineer at vestr in Zurich.

Tom Laich, Team Lead Ukraine
“Working with these smart, competent people at vestr is what motivates me every day.”

Tom Laich, Team Lead Ukraine

From corporate to startup and Switzerland to the Ukraine, could you tell us more?

When I joined, I was coding on the front-end application in the first few months. I was motivated by the modern technologies we employed. Even more so by the philosophy of never compromising code quality in the face of business pressure. But ultimately, working with other smart, competent people is what motivates me every day.

However, there is only so much you can do with a handful of developers in Switzerland. With a growing customer pipeline, we needed more hands on deck. We started working with developers in Lviv, Ukraine, in early 2019. If we wanted to keep our growth steady and sustainable, we realised that we need a more long-term solution. From an informal chat over coffee about building a full team in the Ukraine, the idea gained momentum with my willingness to relocate. Only a month later, we brought the idea to life and I flew out to Lviv. What followed were exciting days of interviewing and hiring new people. Besides building a cool office in the old town of Lviv, and settling into this new role.

Sounds too good to be true, any hiccups you encountered on that journey? What were your biggest learnings?

Certainly, the move to Ukraine has been a learning curve ever since we opened the office in January 2020. Finding and identifying the right people is always a journey. Therefore, one of my hardest learnings was letting go of someone if they were not contributing as promised. But I think it is a necessary lesson for any leader. Conversely, the greatest thing about my job is to witness people’s growth when offered the chance to do so. Encourage them to take on challenges, deliver results, acquire new skills, and grow with us. I am proud of the team we have today! They not only deliver great results, but never shy away from testing new ideas or sharing feedback.

One of the biggest unexpected events was certainly Covid-19. It had just hit Europe a few months after we opened our Ukrainian office. It was a surreal experience: Lviv, an extremely touristic city, was a ghost town all of a sudden. I honestly contemplated returning to Switzerland. But ultimately, I decided to stay.

With our truly remote setup, we were able to continue hiring regardless of local restrictions and we made due with monthly team dinners.

What a rollercoaster with the pandemic! So, what’s next? What will our team work on, and what can new hires expect (side note: yes, we have open positions)?

For the next few months, we will evolve on several fronts: grow in size and across verticals, and explore the feasibility of technology trends in our business.

We have grown the team not only on the technical side. But also ramped up our customer service and user experience capabilities. For this, we onboarded two new designers earlier this year, Anton and Olha. As well as our senior customer support manager, Alina, this fall. For keeping the team connected and transferring knowledge appropriately, we welcomed one of our client integration managers from Switzerland, Nicola, for a visit in Lviv. Vice versa, we encourage our team from the Ukraine to learn first hand from our Swiss team: Alina just got back from her trip to meet the whole client team.

As for keeping our technical skills up to market standard –  and even setting new ones, – we will organize an internal hackathon to explore various ideas within the team. Now that our base is stable, we will focus on more visibility in the tech scene in the Ukraine. Vestr is not only a great partner to our clients, but also an attractive employer. The work we do as a tech team is always driven from our desire to do better, to apply new technologies when it makes sense, and to keep pushing boundaries.

Thank you for these great insights, Tom. If you enjoyed this glimpse into our work at vestr, we invite you to follow us on LinkedIn for receiving updates about our team and product!

Should you be curious about joining our team, please reach out and check our open positions in the Europe.

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