Going to Newcastle in order to implement CRM for a company that is responsible for media content in pubs across the country? An ordinary task for our specialists! We are talking to our full-time Microsoft Dynamics 365 consultant, Kirill Mikhaltsov, about the specifics of business platforms, why Screach is no longer a startup but something more, the specifics of British management, the affinity of Tech Lead’s souls around the world, and about pubs of course.
Аndersen: Hi, Kirill! Tell us about yourself, please.
Kirill: Hi! For almost seven years, I have been a consultant on the Microsoft Dynamics 365 business platform, particularly, CRM. I came to Andersen in a position for a certain project and have been working here since August. This is my third working place. My area of expertise is rather narrow, and I guess I’m the only specialist of this type here. I have to explain what’s my job to other people quite often.
A: Why did you choose this speciality?
K: My education is technical, which is more about engineering than IT. Nevertheless, after graduating from the university, I realized that I had no interest in pure development but was more excited to work with enterprise-level business applications. So I began to observe what is of current interest on the market. It seemed to me that the Microsoft CRM product was rather promising. In those years, clients themselves installed, maintained, and managed everything on their servers. The cloud age has come not long ago.
A: Are the CRMs very different? Is it necessar to specialize in one particular type?
K: The CRMs are built using different technologiesy. There are systems of enterprise-level like Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle. And also, there are many smaller self-written systems. It happens that a variety of stuff can be called “CRM”. In fact, their philosophy is rather general. The abbreviation expansion is Customer Relationship Management. But the underlying processes that come with these platforms, the so-called out-of-the-box functionality, may differ. The point is in the details, so it is unlikely that a Microsoft Dynamics CRM specialist will be able to start supporting Salesforce quickly. The general processes are familiar, but I have never heard that one can immediately take a full-fledged project in an unfamiliar system.
A: Do consultants themselves systematically adjust everything or merely give some general recommendations?
K: Classically, the consultant is a specialist who understands the structure, functionality, goals of a platform, tasks it solves for the business. I had my hands in the development cursorily, just some basic JS things, sometimes I had to work with data directly in SQL. The rest of my work is just collecting requirements, setting goals, building a solution architecture. Sometimes I also have to act as a PM and Scrum-master.
A: Do you go on business trips often?
K: No. At the beginning of my career, I was engaged in a project for a large Ukrainian company, they were building a workforce management solution on the basis of Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The head office was located in Lviv, and I had to go there often. Then, there were several European projects but without the necessity of going abroad. In fact, the August business trip was my first experience of onboarding at the customer’s office. I was preparing a visa even before I was allocated on the project!
A: Which our customer did you go to?
K: It was Screach. The company’s name is an acronym of two words, screen and reach. Their philosophy is “to reach out through the screen”. The point is that they provide technical solutions for broadcasting content on TVs in pubs throughout the UK. Indeed, every pub there has at least one plasma TV, or even more, and pub owners need to broadcast something all day long to influence sales and attendance and earn money on advertising.
A: What is the overall contribution of Andersen to this project?
K: Our company has been cooperating with them since May. Most of the team members are engaged in finalizing the technical solution, i. e. the software for TV tuners that send signals to the TVs and control the account of a pub. With this account, the pub can order service packages, choose what will be broadcasted and how often.
A: And who developed the main application?
K: It was a mix of Screach’s own resources and the outsourced ones. Currently, from the startup side, there is a Tech Lead, i. e. the person who understands the whole solution infrastructure very well. He is also a Product Manager and drives the technical part. As for the CEO of Screach, he very actively pushes the business part and determines the direction of development.
A: How many employees do they have?
K: Their team is not concentrated in one office. There are a couple of people in London, there is a field engineer who travels all over the country and installs/maintains TV tuners in pubs. In the office itself, there are:
*three people in the customer support team,
*one QA specialist,
*one person in charge of the content,
*one marketing and sales person,
That’s it. СЕО doesn’t sit in the office but actively participates in business meetings.
A: How is their office life different from ours?
K: I wouldn’t say that it is different at all. For the whole time of staying there, I had a feeling that the difference between Ukraine and the UK was not so great as I expected. Climate, nature, office life – differences are minimal in every aspect. The office of Screach is located in an interesting place. Since Newcastle is a port city, there are a lot of once-abandoned buildings, something like old warehouses, which were restored later and transformed into co-working hubs. It is in such buildings that small IT companies reside. They have the same workplaces, kitchens, meeting rooms, organizational approaches.
A: It happens that startups do some nonsense in their offices, like throwing balls of various colors during meetings. Have you seen anything like that in the customer’s office?
K: Actually, Screach is not a startup anymore. Maybe, initially, they used to do something like that. But now, Screach is already 4 years old, it is a mature product and the business that understands its goals pretty well, is aware of possibilities, and knows what to do next.
They often talk about this, remember some of their mistakes, and consider why one or another goal should be achieved this way instead of that one, even though it seems simpler and cheaper.
A: So it means that the whole team participates in discussions? There is complete openness, right?
K: That’s right. This is a very interesting project from the management perspective. The main message their CEO pushes is that before starting the work on a task, any team member must answer the question “what will it give us?” For example, will the use of the product become more convenient due to fewer clicks? Or will it help our coverage grow? Increase profits? Answering this fundamental question, one can come to absolutely unexpected conclusions that help move on. I would call it a business running with very accentuated critical thinking. A responsible approach to the milestones has grown into the philosophy of the whole work.
A: What methodology do they work by?
K: Something between Agile and Waterfall. They have releases, but these releases are not strictly fixed and may change. There are no sprints as such. However, the Agile discipline and daily meetings are there.
A: You say you didn’t notice any fundamental differences in the work, did you? So it means you look at Tech Leads from Newcastle and they are just the same people as Tech Leads in Cherkasy, or there are any differences?
K: The image of a Tech Lead depends not only on technologies but also on the soft skill set. In this regard, there is no difference. The Tech Lead is a very open person, an extrovert who understands the full stack of everything that relates to the product. I had a chance to talk to the Tech Lead of Screach, Dave Potts, not only about work but also about abstract topics, for example, how life in the UK and Ukraine differs. Cuisine, the popularity of pubs/bars, football, cars. We discussed it beyond working hours, of course.
A: Does it mean that abstract conversations during working hours are not welcome there?
K: Well, no, I wouldn’t say that this is a taboo. People are supposed to work at work, but this is not a strict discipline, the atmosphere is absolutely relaxed. Nobody pushes anyone or monitors what the employee is doing at the moment. People gather at meetings, discuss points, goals, both global and daily ones. They commit, make conditional promises. If my task blocks someone, we discuss this, I promise to solve it, and the person waits without anxiety. Everything is built on some kind of trust, and everyone perfectly understands that the team is a single organism. If you skive off work, you’ll let the whole team down. In general, working communication is very relaxed, intersperse with sarcasm, irony, and jokes.
A: Any examples?
K: For instance, there is an unfunny joke.
Have you heard about the Geordie DNA test?
Register: ‘Father’s name?”
D’na is how locals pronounce “do not know”. Well, I told you that it’s not funny.
A: So, it was comfortable to communicate with the British, no stereotypes were remembered?
K: Absolutely not. The trip was devoid of any cliches and labels about the British. I took this as a trip, let us say, to the CIS countries, where the mentality is practically the same, just people speak English.
A: What is the rate of the British developer?
K: I can’t recall the exact figures, but it’s the same as in the countries of the region, such as Denmark or the Netherlands. So the rate is noticeably higher than in France or Spain.
A: What about industry-specific education? How affordable is it? Will an Oxford graduate go to an ordinary IT office?
K: As far as I managed to understand, Newcastle is a small city with small companies, large ones are not located there. Everything is quite down to earth there, like in our place. Locals are not all Oxford graduates. If you understand the topic, then you will be taken without a specialized education.
A: Do you know why were we hired for outsourcing?
K: This is the question I managed to ask their Tech Lead. “Why did you take the team not from the local outsourcing but from faraway Eastern Europe? Just cause of the price? Is the difference in rates overlapping theoretical difficulties from the difference in mentality, the difference in time (although it’s only two hours), the difference in language, etc.?” And the answer really surprised me. Because they are all employed! The country has an extremely low unemployment rate – 2%. And the local market merely doesn’t have specialists available.
A: Well, now let’s move to the tourist part. There is a proverb “don’t carry coals to Newcastle”. Once the city was a country’s leader in its mining. What’s in a large number/amount there nowadays?
K: Nowadays, they have a large number of pubs. For some reason, get-togethers with beer used to make me think of Germany. But when I came to the UK, I saw that the pubs are located literally every 20 meters there. And they are not empty, they are all bustling. There are small pubs, for 15 people, and larger ones that can accommodate hundreds. I arrived on Monday night, and all the pubs were full! As for IT-hubs, there are no such places in there.
A: By the way, once we discussed a relocate to Germany with an employee. She said it was quite okay there to drink a glass of beer at the office during work hours, especially on Friday.
K: The customer’s team, in particular, didn’t indulge themselves in this, but I know that this is totally okay for Western European countries. They all love this thing.
A: Does Newcastle feel like an industrial city? Factory pipes, smog…
K: Its great industrial past is noticeable. One can see that some time ago it all worked, puffed black dust is noticeable in shades of some buildings. I’m from Donbas, a Ukrainian coal region, so such things are familiar to me. But I traveled from Manchester to Newcastle by train (about 250 km) – and I did not see a single slagheap. Probably they took the problem seriously and eliminated technogeneous footprint. In general, it is clear that nature is appreciated there.
A: So, Manchester, Newcastle, you are unindifferent to football… Which of the British clubs do you support?
K: When Shevchenko played for Chelsea, I was their fan. I also like Liverpool, a team known for its epic comebacks.
A: What tourist attractions did you see? what souvenirs did you bring with you?
K: The schedule was tight, and it was not possible to have a walk during the day. And souvenir shops close at 6 pm. In the evenings, there are traffic jams, so getting to the famous Newcastle stadium was problematic, but my colleague drove me there. Also, I went to the ocean, cause I really wanted to see it. By the way, nobody swims there, even in summers. Even if the temperature is +25℃, the weather is windy and cool.
A: How is it on the streets there? Can one go into a dark lane without risk? Have you seen gangs of football fans?
K: August is a football lull, so I didn’t meet the fans, except maybe a couple of old people wearing the T-shirts of the local club. Well, in general, I didn’t notice any marginal elements in the streets. In Belgium, for example, entering lanes was a bit frightening. And in Newcastle, I felt absolutely safe. The feeling that I was on an island didn’t leave me. Like, there is Europe – and here you are, separately. And it was felt that life was going on in due course, people were not much interested in European problems.
A: What bothers the locals then? Royal family life, Brexit?
K: I once took cash at an ATM with a local colleague. I got a banknote with Elizabeth II. So I said “Look! This is your queen”. And the colleague answered that nobody cares about this royal family, especially in Newcastle. Then we had a conversation on this topic, and it turned out that I knew some facts even better than he did.
The topic of Brexit is on everyone’s lips but absolutely not hot. There is no media propaganda, no lively debates. Everybody has their own opinion, but they don’t stick it out.
A: Are there a lot of cars on the streets?
K: Yes, a great many. Honestly, for three days there, I failed to get used to left-hand traffic. It is extremely unusual to get into the car through the left front door and not see the steering wheel. And driving through difficult intersections, I had to turn my head to the left and to the right many times to understand where to wait for the car.
A: Where did you go to eat?
K: I went to the pubs and usually ordered some local meat. The cuisine is good, and also the good beer is everywhere. It usually costs 4-6 pounds per pint. And in 80% of cases, the beer was very tasty, in our country, it would take some time to find such a beer.
A: Which cafes or restaurants did you go to?
K: I visited only a couple of places. The most interesting one was situated on the river bank – Colmans Seafood Temple. There is a very long pier, about 1.5 km along the Tyne River. That’s why the full name of the city is Newcastle upon Tyne. And this pub, or it can be called even a restaurant, stood on a small hill, and the hall had panoramic windows, which gave an excellent view. And at this place, I especially remember the local potato. It was not like ordinary french fries, the pieces were sliced and cooked the different way. Besides potatoes, pork dishes are popular there. This fact added to the confidence that both cuisines and tastes are very similar to ours.
A: What in the UK surprised you the most?
K: Extremely low unemployment rate. For me, this is a very deep indicator. The country simply works, and everyone is busy with their jobs. They know what they are doing and why, and at the same time, they still have time to relax and hang out in pubs, not trying to earn all the money in the world. And everyone is happy.
A: Thank you, Kirill, be happy too!