People & Culture
Added Oct 16, 2020

Q & A with Maksym Schipka: Chief Technology Officer

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Maksym is CTO at Vortexa and a widely recognised technology leader with over 20 years of engineering and cybersecurity experience. We wanted to drill down into what Maksym really thinks of the culture at Vortexa, what he looks for in new hires and where he predicts the company will be in five years’ time...


 

What inspired you to join Vortexa as CTO?

When I was 11 years old, I got kicked out of a mathematics class with 40 pupils for using linear algebra and matrix determinants to solve the most basic set of two linear equations stemming from a problem along the lines of “there are 10 more boys in the room than girls; if the total number of kids in the room is 40, how many of them are boys and how many - girls?” 

At the time, I could not understand why I was kicked out. After all, mathematics is a beautiful, powerful and fascinating tool that brings logic, structure and clarity to real world problems, no matter how small or large.

It is this fascination with using mathematics, logic, computers to solve real world problems from calculating the precise amount of liquid left in irregularly shaped reservoirs with a measuring stick using linear regression, to identifying complex unknown malicious software (viruses and trojans, in common lingo) in real-time using machine learning, that largely defined my career. 

"...often you will find us discussing matters such as how photon entanglement works, or how building a 1000 qubits quantum computer is going to impact the world. We are genuinely fascinated by the technology, the future and what our place in it is."

Vortexa is where I can feed my passion for mathematics and technology, learn from the most amazing colleagues, solve some of the most difficult problems in one of the oldest industries in the world and change the world for the better - all at the same time! What more could one desire in their professional life?

How would you describe the culture at Vortexa?

Vortexa’s culture is unique, even in the context of over 20 years enjoying the privilege of working with some of the brightest people in some of the most innovative companies in the world. We are a curious, friendly, supportive bunch of individuals who deeply and genuinely care about building a great company. To give you an idea, here are a few typical examples to illustrate the culture:

Many companies have Friday drinks. Oftentimes, the topics discussed during the small talk are focused on the upcoming football or rugby matches, or other favourite sports and cultural events. We are all for that - but even more often you will find us discussing matters such as how photon entanglement works, or how building a 1000 qubits quantum computer is going to impact the world. We are genuinely fascinated by the technology, the future and what our place in it is.

"We value people who know what they are good at - yet humble and curious to learn from others; people who have broad relevant interests - yet excel in their chosen area."

Everyone makes mistakes. A long time ago (on Vortexa’s timescale), one of the more junior engineers at Vortexa completely accidentally deleted a live user database, instantly switching off access to all the customers who trusted this tiny startup with supplying them the essential data about the seaborne energy movements, critical to their operations.

Not only did a group of top engineers get together behind a junior in a matter of seconds to help recover the database from the most recent backup, ensuring the customers experienced only minutes of downtime, but after the event a great amount of thought and effort went into both preventing similar incidents from happening and reassuring all the junior engineers that this was not and would not be their fault.

  1. We openly discuss the most important areas to invest into at Vortexa, to maximise the benefits to the company, not to one’s own function or individual - after all, we are all company owners, and the best for the company means the best for all of us.

  2. What are the key qualities you value in people and look for in new hires?

  3. One of the major attractions of working at Vortexa is the fantastic people one gets to call their colleagues. Hence, we value people who know what they are good at - yet humble and curious to learn from others; people who have broad relevant interests - yet excel in their chosen area; people who are passionate and have strong opinions - yet opinions lightly held, hence open to challenges; people who themselves aren’t afraid to challenge - yet keen to listen and understand.

  4. Most of all, we are looking for people who can become as devoted to smashing all the many obstacles on the path to building the best technological company in our industry as we are. 

What do you think are the top motivations for new joiners coming to Vortexa?

They say out of 10 companies that claim to heavily use ML for their core business in London, only 2 actually do so. 

At Vortexa, top quality engineering and cutting edge data science, cleverly woven together with the targeted input from highly experienced industry veterans, is at the core of what we do. 

Opportunities to work on solving difficult problems that may not have been solved before, using modern technologies many companies are only considering, to build the company that has never been built before, but above all, learn from and work alongside with amazing colleagues are just some of the many motivations for our new joiners.

How would you describe day-to-day life at Vortexa?

Never a dull moment. :) The world of seaborne energy trading is surprisingly dynamic and full of events. Using cutting edge technologies to solve its challenges has significant benefits, enabling Vortexa to create unprecedented visibility into it - yet it has its own fair share of unexpected challenges requiring top technical expertise. 

So many times your day may go completely according to plan - but other times it will be full of urgent and important investigations, hunting for insights and working across multiple teams to get to the right result.

What tips and tricks would you have for establishing a work-life balance? 

Work-life balance has been a topic before COVID-19, and it only rightly became a bigger topic during the pandemics - after all, for many of us our office and our home became the same. 

The most basic tip I would give is this: run away from any company you do not believe in and cannot see yourself becoming passionate about. That’s the most foundational advice: if you don’t love your job and your company, you will always have a problem with work-life balance. 

Find something you truly love doing - everything else is secondary. If you do love your job and the company, work-life balance requires a lot less efforts. For me personally, deliberately creating visual clues indicating whether I’m in a “work” mode, or whether I’m purposefully disconnected from the rest of the world to either recharge or think deeply is the key to having the best work-life balance possible. The subconscious clues may be as simple as (in my case) the presence of a specific pen or my work diary on my desk, or the clothing I’m wearing - even if I work from home.

It sounds simple and insignificant, yet the “Nudge Theory” is surprisingly effective in changing behaviours in a major way, as demonstrated by, for example, Google experience described by Laszlo Bock, their former SVP of People Operations, in Chapter 12: “Nudge… a Lot” of his book “Work Rulez”.

How would you describe the structure and hierarchy at Vortexa?

“Just the bare minimum necessary to maximise our efficiency while caring about our people.”

Imagine two football teams. One is a group of your neighbours occasionally playing some footie. The other - Manchester United (or, for those passionate football fans, insert your favourite top professional team). Which one do you think would play football better in the top league?

The difference is in the team structure, discipline and countless hours of training together.

While 99% of startups (bar a few exceptions trying to practice Holacracy with different levels of success, one of the better known one being Valve, the company behind Steam and many hugely successful games go from a “flat” structure to some form of hierarchy, not every startup finds the right balance between too rigid processes and the lack of processes - which are often themselves defined by structures and hierarchies. 

At Vortexa, we found the balance for today - and we are keeping our eyes open to maintain and improve it for tomorrow. On the one hand, we are grouped into the teams with clear ownership, areas of responsibility, vision and mission, creating a clear business value-add, with supportive leaders whose main objective is to ensure everyone gets the right level of care and support to be the most successful they can be; on the other - we encourage cross-team collaboration, we ensure every manager starting from a team lead to CTO to CEO are available and accessible to everyone at Vortexa through Slack, Zoom and in-person meetings where possible; we have weekly drinks together where anyone can ask executives or anyone else any questions. 

So in summary, while our structure has evolved and will continue to evolve to provide maximum support, ownership and focus to our colleagues, we will continue to ensure everyone can speak to everyone openly and constructively.

Where do you predict Vortexa will be in five years’ time?

I’d like to think we will continue evolving the unique Vortexa culture of meritocracy and high EQ to build the most successful technology company in our industry. The dream is to ring the opening bell of our IPO by that time marking the new beginning and the new horizons for Vortexa!

Describe your working life at Vortexa in three words!

Drive, purpose, fun!

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We wanted to drill down into what our CTO, Maksym Schipka really thinks of our culture, what he looks for in new hires and where he predicts the company will be in five years’ time...

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