Case Study - Mindworks

When you need
to scale fast

with Kaspar P. Loit

In today’s economical and talent shortage situation you have few choices to go with when you are trying to build something. Traditionally either you have your own team, with specific knowledge or you have to go and try to hire locally. This is proving to be more challenging every day, wherever you might be positioned geographically.

For talented people the world is open, since the pandemic remote working is becoming a norm and for those talents who want to excel, the borders are not an issue. So, the traditional approach does not always work any more, and you have to go and look for other possibilities.

With globalization happening in the workforce, we are still overlooking the cultural differences that we have. Even for small countries, there are differences between areas, subcultures within those. And we are not talking only about traditional aspects, subcultures involve behavioral aspects, work ethics and also tech stack tendencies. This all within one country, now – the world is a whole nother story.

For the decision to hire globally, the instant thought is to go with “they look alike therefore they must think alike” and this is where sh*t starts hitting the vent. Because of the cultural differences, the subcultures included, this is as much a false notion as it would be for the not-look-alikes.

The issue with the proud countries is we might be accepting differences, still rarely embracing. In talent acquisition, when you think you are a culturally inclusive company, and only getting started with the search for the talent abroad, you might be alright, because of the notion and will, but you might be also short handed and left in a darkness because of lack of this specific knowledge of acquisition country culture and subcultures. Knowledge and experience is important here, not to be mistaken with generalisation and bias.

There is one more opportunity to go with a partner who understands this, and instead of providing just a recruitment service, which will leave you with the same problem operationally, and will work with you, not simply for you, to help your company scale in product development and grow. `

Mindworks Industries did just that with Optimyse,
and here is a reflection of their experience.

Optimyse finds industry relevant developers, who are excited about value maximisation for users, team morale and effectiveness, and planning and reporting, all with an ambition to help SaaS companies get closer to their potential. With a committed team around developers, they tackle complex culture and tech problems together with their partners.

Mindworks Industries is an Estonian tech company who is passionate in understanding their clients wishes and making them into reality more than just scaling in numbers. They are traditionally the Microsoft and Ruby house, with a vast experience in building large scale projects. What separates them from any other software company, is that they are not interested in tenders, rather they are focusing on analysis, spending time in planning, with an aim to create something great, together.

When they started the project with their Finnish client, their experience worked well with the analysis and architecture side, their stack legacy however made them look for other possibilities to build the project.

First of all, help us understand what’s your working model and why did you choose this working model over other work models that are available?

First of all, let’s give a little background on history actually. I’ve been involved in IT development for like 20 plus years and it shows, right? We have mostly done all development in house, like for the entire history. We have had some experience with outsourcing before, it went so-and-so, but most of all, we were not kind of sure that we can pull it off like an organization, or to be disciplined enough.

At the a significant state, but for this particular project, we had to scale up really fast.We really wanted to do the project and the customer really wanted to do the project with us, but we understood that we could not staff the project for the kind of time frame needs and the state of speed as soon as a customer was looking for. And so we started to look for different options. We initially were actually focused on Russia, below Russia, places like that, because we had experience before about the cultural difference is sometimes a thing that screws things up. We have had the experience with Polish developers before and I was involved in one startup that was kind of spun off from Mindworks for a couple of years and we had a development center in India in Chennai and, it was not quite something I liked.

Then we were actively looking to get somebody, to just hire some guys for us in, somewhere in this cultural area. But, when we stumbled upon you guys, and the whole thing about You understanding that the cultural differences, maybe a huge heritage, this was the key key thing, and it just connected, your approach.

And then that’s why we took that. Took this step and actually said that, okay, we are confident to try it out like that. And then we took on the project. Now we have four guys working and I’m thinking of expanding it. The customer has been happy. We’ve been working on this project for two years now. Initially there was a design and architectural phase, but the development started a year and a half ago and we have been gradually growing the team. This is actually also the key thing with you – the scale up has been really, really easy. I don’t know how it was from your side, but for us, that’s been really smooth all the transitions during the way.

What does the team set up look like?

Our client is focusing on getting the product right. Getting feedback from their customers and managing the business needs and then selling and all that. They have outsourced the entire product part to us. So, I am actually the product owner, not the customer and am responsible for the entire quality.

So it’s our decision how the architecture looks like and how we are going to approach things.

We have only one full time technical guy who’s the CTO of the project who is on our side here and all of the development, technical development is on your guys. And my architects have given them quite the free run which is also something you usually will not be able to do with outsource guys. You really will never get to this kind of trust but it has paid off for us.

Usually CTOs are attached to their own technology stack too much. Start building on their favourite stack and only then think about the long-term vision of it.

This was also one of the reasons why we had to go for an external team because Mindworks has been mainly Microsoft and Ruby house. This particular project did require a different approach. So we had to be really, really decoupled for certain business reasons, the kind of vision of what we’re going to build was also not that solid yet. So it’s been a lot of research during the development and the kind of the stable industry standard platforms are a little bit too rigid. And now we have, I mean, it’s, it’s probably a nightmare for a CTO. We, in normal circumstances have Angular, JavaScript, PHP, different database platforms. Totally soft data model. So it’s a chaos, but somehow we have managed to communicate even without actually sitting in the same room. We actually proved that it can be done.

What was the biggest challenge You had to overcome over time?

Well, I think communication is always the issue. How you introduce people to new project, onboarding them. The last guy we took on board – he still is probably feeling a little bit left alone. We are trying to bring him up to speed as much as possible. But, we could have done much, much better.

Of course, nice thing they’re going to have to bring out one thing about cultural differences that works in favor- guys in Pakistan. Let’s say in, in Estonia or in Europe, usually if a developer has built something and you tell them that okay we, whether it was his design or the specs were wrong, this needs to be scrapped and rebuilt here. You will get massive resistance because they have already built it. They will go full frontal and there will be tensions that can come up, especially if they’re. not junior developers, if there are already some experience, which you hope to get from any developer. The resistance is massive and with guys half across the globe it is the opposite. They are just “Okay”. Kind of “off” of this resentment and ego trip of the sorts. This is an attitude I would like to see in more developers here, but of course it doesn’t mean that you need to abuse it, but still if you’re looking at your project, that’s being truly iterative.

We often get a request to find the developers who are proactive in thinking and asking questions and argumentation. That is culturally appropriate behaviour here, but in Pakistan, due to the authoritarian culture deeply instilled, it is challenging.

This makes our recruitment different and sometimes to be seen as time consuming, at the same time, when we find the right person willing to go outside their own cultural norms, it needs support of our partners to carry it forward with emotional safety.

Yes, I can imagine, because I had the same experience in India while recruiting. For us here it’s weird that people who are able to think and willing to think on their own, they somehow feel that this isn’t proper and given, and you need to feel and understand it.

You understand that it’s a little bit off or you think it could be done better. And of course there is always a healthy balance because still the CTO has to be responsible and he has to have the final word.
We decided to do things differently and that’s of course the challenge. You have to get through a conversation because it is never like one side and another side. Somebody is more concerned about the effectiveness of the code, somebody is concerned about readability, future development. Somebody is looking at usability. Somebody is looking at redundancy.

You need to understand their side and not understand that It’s the same with everyday development. If you think your CTO is shortsighted, you shouldn’t say that they are wrong, rather ask them if they have considered this or that angle. And then this is actually an interesting thing to go on from when you go even more east geographically

We have heavy emphasis on psychology because we see that most of the problems are caused by human problems.

In outsourcing, we see that one of the biggest issues is trust, then ego and cultural blindness. It is easy, when you’re working together, you’re eating together, having coffee, going for drinks and all these things. How have you managed to do this remotely with the team?

That’s a good question.
When we started this collaboration, it was my decision that we start with “everyone matters” .
Start without the attitude that You need to earn our trust.
We go with trust.
And I tried to communicate with everybody that this was totally new work for us. Let’s explore it, together. And I this is something that helps you get it going