When we decided to start our own company, back in 2015, the first thing we did as founders of SmartCat was define our company values. As industry seniors we have seen good practices, best practices and a whole lot of bad ways in which certain things were handled when it comes to internal dynamics, relationships with employees, variances and gaps in technical knowledge, misaligned motivations, misguided strategies and value systems, personal agendas, politics…
The values we have defined are meant to protect us from those issues. In this four-part blog series we will explain each of them separately.
The first company value of SmartCat goes like this:
Knowledge is power. When you’re in the know, you’re in control.
We’ve all heard the saying and being in the IT industry, we are all aware of importance of having the knowledge - whether it’s technical knowledge, business intelligence or simply being able to navigate the streets of town you’re in (in this case, using Google Maps; but it wasn’t always like that). As a species, humans have amassed a great deal of knowledge about the world around us (albeit, it’s all based on theories) and we seem to be learning more at an exponential rate. This has brought us progress, longer life expectancy, better connected world and generally, a higher standard of living. There’s a flip side of that coin as well, but let’s keep this blog post positive.
Having lived through the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, when my mother, sister and I have fled the country three weeks into it, I will never forget what my mother told me one night in a hotel room in Budapest. While in refuge, we were with a family of my parent’s acquaintance - they were well off, had a restaurant business back home and had to leave it all behind and start anew someplace else, just like we were headed for the USA. My mother sat me down and told me “you see son, all materialistic things can expire, get damaged or taken away from you. The only thing no one will ever be able to take away from you is what you know. That is something you carry with you at all times and that is your true value and your power anywhere you go”.
While in the US I went to college and I learned a lot. I gained the “book knowledge” - knowledge that was amassed through generations before me, distilled into theories, examples and accounts of past events. It is only when I started working in the industry that I realized how little I know - how inexperienced I was. The book knowledge is necessary to be able to grasp concepts, to communicate with other professionals effectively and solve problems, however, it is not enough to be great at what you do. Experience is a different kind of a teacher, and it is equally important as the “book knowledge”. Experience helps you organize and internalize the book knowledge through different scenarios you get to apply it, but more importantly it helps you start noticing patterns in the human interaction, life-cycles of everything around us, as well as benefits, costs and risks of decisions. If book knowledge was a brick, experience would be mortar - and you need both to build something solid.
At SmartCat we have simplified the learning progress milestones into 4 levels of knowledge (and this applies to any topic - from a particular technology to a soft skill). In the definition below we use “it” as it truly can be applied to anything we practice:
- Familiarity - you know what it is and what its used for
- Understanding - you know what it is, how it’s used and how it works
- Expertise - you understand it and you have actual project experience with it (hands-on)
- Mastering - you have the knowledge and enough experience to establish best practices, you can teach this subject matter to others
We use same scale as the basis for our career path definitions as well. For each level we attach clear value and also define responsibilities that come with it so that anyone on our team knows where they are, where they are headed and what to expect when they get there.
Last but not least, there are opposing forces of nature to this mighty force of enlightenment. We forget things we learn if we don’t revisit and reuse the knowledge we’ve gained. Beyond that physiological enemy there are psychological ones too. Ignorance and manipulative withholding of information is very common at a workplace, in politics, and even in the history books. These are all based on fear of some sort - fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of being judged, fear of losing power and control. Unfortunately, this limits the progress of a society, company, community or a team.
We at SmartCat are here to gain knowledge and to share it. We are here to fight ignorance and uphold the enlightenment. This is why the first of four company values defines knowledge as a sacred value, something we all strive to gain, grow and polish through time. To achieve this we send each one of our people to conferences globally each year, bring trainers from abroad and organize seminars, we speak at community events, we organize “Big Data Novi Sad” Meetups each month, we experiment with new technologies and approaches through our internal projects and have a rich feedback and experience sharing culture internally.
To be continued…