August 16th, 2023 at 9:55:36 AM

Portugal's Path to Tech Excellence: A Conversation with Nikita Savytskyi

From sailing the seas to sailing through code, Nikita Savytskyi's journey is a tale of career twists. In our chat, Nikita shares how he swapped maritime ambitions for tech in Portugal, his insights into cross-cultural dynamics, the buzz of Portugal's startup scene, his talent-spotting tricks, and his role shaping transport's future at tb.lx. Set sail with Nikita as he recounts his captivating voyage through diverse waters.

Nikita Savytskyi

Nikita, can you tell us about your career journey and how you arrived at your current position? What were the key milestones that shaped your career path?

It's been quite a journey for me. Initially on track to become a navigation officer through studies at a Maritime Academy, my path took an exciting turn towards software development. I started programming at 15, and by graduation, I had already developed an MS Excel (VBA) based mini-ERP solution connecting Ukraine and France via TELEX. A USAID project proposal just before graduation marked the official start of my career in product management and service design. Over the next 3 years, working closely with Ukraine's National Bank and major commercial banks, I learned key skills, from SDLC and engineering practices to project and product management, user-centered design, and more.

At the time, project and product management were closely intertwined, and service design wasn't a defined discipline. Yet, I grasped the importance of user experience and customer satisfaction when designing complex solutions. Collaborating on intricate banking projects with US experts boosted my confidence, eventually leading me to start my own products. Amid both failures and successes, I gained insights that contributed to a marketing research platform. This platform served notable clients like Procter & Gamble, Coca Cola, and Unilever, deepening my understanding of human behavior and interaction patterns.

These pivotal experiences, along with my role as a Product Manager Sales at Siemens, equipped me with skills spanning business, research, user experience, software development, and people management. My move to Portugal in 2015 broadened my horizons, exposing me to diverse companies and cultures. Key milestones include realizing the value of solving existing problems over generating novel ideas, understanding user perspectives through research, and appreciating engineers' challenges from my programming background.

Running my own company taught me about startup struggles and balancing financial demands with creating a healthy workplace. Working with people emphasized our uniqueness and shared aspects, promoting growth and collaboration. Overall, life's challenges have given me a wide perspective, encouraging others to view situations from multiple angles to craft elegant solutions.

Living and working in Portugal must have provided you with unique experiences. Can you share some insights into the challenges and advantages of working in this culturally rich and diverse country?

A notable contrast between Eastern European and Portuguese cultures lies in giving feedback, especially the negative kind, to colleagues. Working in Portugal introduces you to open and friendly people who quickly become your friends due to the cultural approach. However, this bond can complicate delivering criticism to a friend, particularly if your work intertwines. It took years for me to navigate this delicate balance between work and friendship, so newcomers to Portugal should anticipate this challenge from the start.

Working with Portuguese colleagues also involves a unique communication style. The direct "NO" or "I DON’T KNOW" is rare, so you must decipher soft responses like "maybe." These subtleties can forewarn future issues, especially if they accumulate in critical projects. Missing these cues can lead to costly surprises down the line.

Despite these nuances, collaborating with the Portuguese is a delight. They are talented, adaptable, quick learners with a sense of humor. Family-oriented, diverse, and caring, they're knowledgeable about food and recipes, making interactions enjoyable.

How do you approach cross-cultural communication in your interactions with candidates, clients, and colleagues? What strategies do you employ to foster effective communication and collaboration?

Our clients, mainly Regional Partners, span Europe, the US, and Japan. These distinct cultural markets require diverse strategies for building solid partnerships, a process that involves understanding individual needs and goals. Once you grasp this, "selling" becomes much easier.

Our multinational company includes Portuguese, Germans, French, Brazilians, and more. We prioritize flexibility and cultural sensitivity, aiming to be open and supportive. When issues arise, we share our feelings, fears, and concerns, focusing on the situation rather than blaming individuals. We employ the FBI (feeling, behavior, impact) technique for effective feedback.

Having worked in numerous companies and interviews, I've learned to ease my discomfort by transforming interviews into discussions. This approach minimizes anxiety, creating a mutual learning experience where candidates and interviewers openly share, fostering transparency and understanding.

Portugal has been gaining popularity as a destination for startups and tech companies. From your perspective, what makes Portugal an attractive location for businesses, and how has this influenced the job market in the country?

The decision to establish a business in Portugal comes with both advantages and challenges. My personal experience with this beautiful country began in 1995 when I visited Porto and Aveiro while having an internship on a merchant vessel. The warmth of the people, the climate, and the culinary delights captivated me. After returning in 2010, I realized that these impressions were shared by many, motivating them to consider relocating their businesses here. While tax benefits and government programs are enticing, starting a business and living here are distinct experiences.

On the positive side, Portugal boasts an attractive location, pleasant climate, English proficiency, and a pool of eager learners and talented graduates. However, challenges loom. The shortage of local talent, high taxes, and rising costs of living can make recruitment and retention challenging. Inflation and escalating prices, particularly in real estate, require strategic compensation. Job-hopping due to competitive offers poses a real concern.

Lisbon's climate is reminiscent of my hometown, Odessa, with mild winters and summers. Abundant fresh food and welcoming eateries enhance the quality of life. I never faced corruption, at least on my level, and bureaucracy exists, albeit adhering strictly to regulations. Basic Portuguese and a friendly demeanor can open doors in most of the situations.

In summary, Portugal offers an inviting landscape for business, yet potential entrepreneurs should be prepared to tackle the intricacies of talent management, cost factors, and the nuances of bureaucracy.

What do you consider the most critical factors when identifying top-tier talent, and how do you ensure a good fit between candidates and the positions you need to fill?

The situation greatly matters. In a robust company with experienced mentors, hiring bright graduates with quick learning abilities and a strong contextual understanding can yield satisfaction. The cultural fit is generally smooth due to the easy-going nature of the Portuguese.

However, building a startup from scratch and filling senior positions is more complex. Attracting senior talent becomes pivotal, and convincing them of your company's appeal is the toughest hurdle. In this situation, my strategy would involve outsourcing senior roles initially, establishing a core team, and then gradually expanding internally.

Currently, headhunting isn't as refined here compared to markets like Ukraine, where direct recruitment was crucial. I recall a case where we filled two teams of 15 Senior Java Developers just in 3 weeks through direct headhunting in Ukraine. This concept is budding in Portugal, but it's not yet a strong trend. Challenges like these will likely emerge more prominently as the market evolves.

I totally agree with you. Most of our team previously worked with the Ukrainian market, which is a tough one. Due to the skills we developed back then, here in Portugal we are almost always able to find the new talent to headhunt, as well as new sources and ways to approach this talent.

Can you tell us why working at tb.lx is interesting for you? What makes the company stand out?

At tb.lx, an enticing aspect, both for our candidates and myself, is the challenge of designing services that span 10-20 years of customer experience. It's an incredibly intricate task that captivates me. Collaboration is essential, involving diverse minds across our expansive organization. Learning and co-creating with these brilliant individuals bring a smile to my mornings, as each day promises new insights.

Our position at the forefront of technology, shaping the sustainable future of transportation, and aiding global transportation firms in transitioning to electric trucks feels genuinely impactful. Distinct from other auto software companies in Portugal, we're not confined to small applications. Instead, we're shaping an ecosystem encompassing trucks, charging stations, energy management, and more. It's a complex realm, unmatched not just in Portugal but worldwide. This distinctive complexity sets us apart and draws both young talent and experienced professionals who want to contribute their expertise to our diverse range of products and services.

What changes have you observed in the hiring landscape in the past year, and how do you stay updated on the latest industry developments?

Market demand for engineers, designers, and product managers is surging, especially for engineers, making it tougher to attract skilled professionals. Mid-level specialists are also asking for higher pay, sometimes due to market hype driven by US/UK firms offering remote roles. Inflation, rising prices, and the golden visa program impacting real estate are influencing candidates' salary expectations.

Despite mass layoffs from tech giants, experienced professionals are willing to accept lower salaries and work for lesser-known companies, creating pressure for mid-level specialists. Entering mid-level roles might be challenging, as competition with more experienced seniors intensifies.

My insights are assumptions, not definitive predictions, given Portugal's unique market dynamics.

Over the years, I've observed mid-level professionals seeking better opportunities abroad. While remote work reduces emigration, it affects the local workforce. Many expat experts are eager to return, valuing Portugal's distinct lifestyle.

Those with international experience are valuable additions, given their exposure to larger markets and aggressive competition. If you find such experts, consider retaining them—they're gems.

Nikita, your career shift from the sea to the tech scene in Portugal is seriously impressive. Your journey is like a roadmap for those charting their own course. Smooth sailing ahead!

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