Marek Drob, Billennium: We serve our largest clients from Lublin

Marek Drob, Service Delivery Director, Billennium Lublin:  We serve our largest clients from Lublin

You come from the local area. Have you always wanted to pursue a career in Lublin?

To be honest: no. I studied IT in Warsaw, had a scholarship in London and I never consider coming back to Lublin at all. I worked at IBM in Warsaw and that’s where I wanted to develop my career.

When I completed my studies, my friend, Grzegorz Rycaj (currently CTO at Billennium), got in touch with me and told me about a newly-opened Billennium branch in Lublin. The branch employed only 7 members of staff and was located in a small apartment. Despite that, or maybe because of that, I decided to accept his offer and come back to Lublin.

What made you change your mind?

I believed I could gain some new experience. It was an opportunity to change my professional position: not just to be a team leader, but to build the whole branch, to develop.

What are your memories of those early days?

When I came back, it turned out that all my friends from Lublin had left, out of 30 people from my high school final year, only five had stayed in the city. At that time people were leaving Lublin in masses. The city did not offer many attractions, there wasn’t even anywhere to have a good cup of coffee or to buy running shoes.

And now?

I’ve been living back in Lublin for 6 years now and not planning to go anywhere. The comfort and quality of life have changed dramatically here. It is a great city now, with cultural and sports facilities, but without some of the issues faced by large cities, such as traffic jams or long distances. It’s a city close to nature, which doesn’t create obstructions in the everyday life.

And what about the early days of Billennium in Lublin?

I swapped an IBM office building and a job with an international concern for working from an apartment in Lublin for a Polish company. In 2010, he market was still only crawling.  Billennium was one of the first IT companies that decided to test the potential of the Lublin market, in a way we treated it like sort of an experiment.

To start with, my job, as a leader, mainly revolved around fighting to stop people from leaving. Because in practice they would get an education in Lublin, but then leave for Warsaw or other cities to work there. Even our first team fell apart for that reason. They didn’t even want a rise, they just wanted to leave. They didn’t believe that self-development was possible in Lublin.

What’s changed?

We had to focus on training people from scratch. It’s a long-term investment, with results deferred for years. In Lublin there was a shortage of skilled and at the same time experienced workers, the market was much smaller than it is now.

Universities couldn’t fill their courses. It was necessary to take action at the high-school level to stop pupils from running off from Lublin to study elsewhere. It was a big problem for the local universities, that’s why they really wanted to work with us. They were aware of the problem and started to take action. They are innovative and courageous, they go against the trend, for example, they let us run a module we proposed. Their actions were effective. The academic centre and resources in the form of students on IT courses are huge right now.

Seven people have turned into nearly 200. How does the Billennium branch in Lublin operate now?

Over the six years, our attitude towards Lublin has changed. We’ve come a long way, from an experiment, i.e. let’s check if there are any skilled people here and let’s seek financial optimisation, all the way to a real IT Services Centre. Now we have highly-qualified specialists here in Lublin and are able to carry our different projects independently. Remuneration between different branches has also been equalised. Our ideas and implementation concepts are copied by other branches.

What makes Billennium stand out from other companies?

The staff’s loyalty to the company. At Billennium, we don’t look for people “for a project”, but for staff to join the company. For people we can develop and invest in. And they build the company with us and make real contributions towards it. We still run the student academy, and its participants stay with us afterwards. That is our greatest success.

Is there a fierce competition between IT companies in Lublin?

The Lublin market is small enough for everybody to know each other, and businesses cooperate with each other. We do compete, but only for staff, not for contracts or clients, because there are plenty of them. We keep our manners even when fighting for customers, because we are not anonymous to each other. Work ethics are very high. We never force anyone to shorten the notice period, because we wouldn’t want that to happen to us either.

 

What does the city do for the IT sector?

The City Hall helps bring businesses together by organising various events, such as business breakfasts, which is the reason why IT companies from Lublin collaborate with each other. We often get involved in joint initiatives, there isn’t really any sense of exclusivity here. We act together at universities, we support each other’s events. It all contributes towards our collaboration and towards keeping great manners. We know we are working towards a joint success.

Lublin supports start-ups, which is evidenced by the Technology Park. We can benefit from an ecosystem of training sessions and hackathons, which is very important. We appreciate it, because it enables us to help our customers be innovative and use the latest technologies.

Is there anything left that still needs to be improved?

Young people are dedicated and motivated to work. We mainly have junior and pro– candidates at that level, and significantly less seniors, while there is a complete lack of people with really extensive experience, i.e. architects, experts with 15–20 years of experience. We are searching for them right now all over Europe. It’s a challenge for us all to ensure that such professionals are available in Lublin. Since recently, we’ve had five ITIL Expert-level specialists at Billennium, four of them at the Lublin branch, which makes us really proud. It’s those experts that we need here most.

Lublin still has a shortage of office spaces for such a big demand as ours. And the style of the ones that are available is completely unattractive. There also are no managers experienced in looking after large offices of over 3,000 meters, because there are only few offices like that here.

How do you see the future of Billennium in Lublin?

We’ve now reached a stage where we’re operating according to the adopted strategy. At the start, we had a lot of freedom and a lot of confidence put in us, we were taking risky decisions. We were really audacious. We cannot function like that anymore.

To start with, we did things nobody else wanted to do, such as night support services. The first orders we got were for services provided between 10 PM and 6 AM. We were the only ones to agree to that, and we were able to deliver the quality expected of us! Now we’ve taken over those areas and are responsible for them on a completely different level, which seemed impossible at the start. Just how our position has changed is apparent in the fact that we are the only Lublin branch that currently needs a developer to work night shifts and … we’ve employed one from India, where we’ll be opening a new Billennium branch in 2017!

Lublin is no longer a discount store, we’ve established ourselves as experts. It is now possible to work in the IT sector from any place in the world, for any client. We independently manage services provided to our largest clients and businesses from Europe, the US and Asia, and we are able to do that from Lublin.

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