Just like IPv6 is supposed to replace IPv4, the 5G network is meant to replace the earlier networks. Devices supporting 5G are on the rise. As a result, the amount of data transferred over global networks continues to grow. From the customer's perspective, the telecommunications market has come full circle, and the dominance of large corporations in the services market is inevitable. How has the telecommunications market evolved over the years, has communication in teams changed for the better, and why is it worth staying in the same company for 20 years? We have asked all these questions to Janusz Michalczyk, a Chief Designer - Programmer in the BSS Telecommunications sector at Comarch.
When you first started working at Comarch, only a small percentage of people owned a smartphone, and Apple was just beginning to develop the first iPhone. How did - in your opinion - the telecommunications market change over those two decades?
From the final customer's point of view, I would say we've come full circle. Long ago, the telecommunications market and telephones were simple, and so were the services. As the smartphone market developed, more and more exciting features and various methods of their settlement appeared. Unfortunately, such a turn of events caused more and more misunderstandings on the client-supplier line. The introduction of new services and complicated tariffs caused potential problems for customers to understand their bills and control their expenses. More and more often, they wanted to use telephone services on the same basis as Netflix, for instance. Everything in one package, legible and transparent. Understandable and straightforward conditions, intuitive use of services, only one item "Telephone service" on a monthly invoice. That is what the customers demanded. And this is what they received, to some degree thanks to our solutions. All the costs collected into one coherent whole, which allows clients to optimize the time they spend on organizing their current expenses.
From the technical point of view, the greatest emphasis has long been placed on communication with the client and the speed of the service. Google even specifies its exact value: 2 seconds. That is how long it takes for a website to load correctly. Otherwise, the client might get impatient and turn to the competition.
It had long been said that 2020 was going to be the year of 5G. We constantly hear the voices of opponents and supporters who repel each other's attacks. What is the truth, then? To put it simply, what will an average client get from the implementation of the 5G network?
There are more and more devices supporting the 5G network. As a result, the amount of data sent over global networks in the telecommunications market is still growing. The cell phone has long ceased to be used only as a tool to make a call. We use our smartphones to listen to music, watch movies or navigate the Internet. Also, we tend to connect more and more devices to the Internet - computers, smartphones, TV sets, cars. I even connected my air purifier ... Just as IPv6 is to replace IPv4, 5G has to replace previous networks. A statistical technology user wants more and wants to get it faster. That is precisely what the 5G promises: faster connections, shorter response times, and the possibility to connect a vast number of devices.
In the past dozen or so years, the methods of staff recruitment, as well as the relations between employees and employers, underwent a dramatic change. From your perspective, has the shift in team communication been for the better, or do you think work used to be better, let’s say, a decade ago?
It used to be better. But seriously speaking, work teams keep continually growing, which means many new and unfamiliar faces and doesn't make integration any easier. We used to work in only one building, now our campus has grown significantly, and there are already seven different buildings. All the time, I meet people who I know nothing about, people who bring new habits and new ideas to the company. Work methodologies are changing: once it was all Waterfall, now it’s Agile. Even though worldwide these changes date longer than just the last decade, I personally have experienced them while working at Comarch.
How about the technology stack? It has evolved dramatically over the years, too.
What we do, in fact, is to select the technology that best meets the needs of a given project. For this reason, the range of solutions used in our teams is extensive. We have real-time systems written in Erlang, components that are coded in C / C ++, Java, Scala, or PL / SQL. We use Oracle and Elasticsearch for data storage and retrieval and Rabbit MQ and Kafka for communication. However, the new GUI (Graphical User Interface) that our colleagues from the Rzeszów branch are working on is being developed with the use of the Angular and the Postgress database.
Has anything ever surprised you on the professional level? Some technological solution that was once unthinkable and is standard today?
Off the top of my head: Youtube and how popular it has become. Watching the first video posted on this site, it was hard for me to imagine its business potential. However, it turned out that the human need to create visual content and to show themselves to the world allowed Youtube to build a real empire. Another interesting example I can think of is how Google has moved from being one of the many search engines on the market to a global tycoon, skillfully combining free services with money-making. It is worth noting here that this giant from Silicon Valley was the first company in the world to take over the entire market and knock out the competition altogether. Other search engines have been forced to find a place for themselves only as a niche service. What’s the conclusion for Comarch? It's essential for our company to be able to provide support for such new services in our systems. You never know what their potential for growth might be.
How about a change that was supposed to be an improvement, yet it turned out to be an utter failure? After all, it is ageless wisdom that “ better is the enemy of good.”
I remember I used to follow Microsoft’s blog about working on Windows systems closely. There is (or at least there used to be) such a cool series called "Engineering Windows.” In Windows 8, Microsoft decided to introduce quite significant changes to the GUI. It turned out to be a disaster, and in Windows 10, they totally withdrew from these changes. It shows you that human habits are a potent factor when predicting whether a particular innovation will be a success or a failure. It also shows that a simple lack of reflection and a refusal to admit defeat by such a huge company can result in an ergonomic “monster.”
20 years in the same company is a pretty remarkable result, given how dynamic the labor market is, especially in the IT sector. Haven’t you ever considered “a change of scenery”?
I would be lying if I said I haven’t. Yet, I am not the only one who has spent a large part of my professional life working for Comarch - there are quite a few others. Telco implementations are considered to be some of the most difficult in IT because of how hard it is sometimes to find the right solutions. But the same difficulty brings the highest work satisfaction. The harder we work on something, the more joy we get when our work results are well appreciated. Let’s not forget about a valuable perk, which is traveling. Since Comarch clients are located all over the world, working for this company gives you the opportunities to visit such exciting places like Reunion (French overseas department close to Madagascar), New Zealand, or Panama.
Such seniority at work surely means a lot of responsibilities, not only on the professional but also on the communication level. During all these years, you’ve gradually moved from being a student to being a teacher. What challenges have you encountered on the way?
IT is not an easy science. It requires many skills, like abstract thinking and intuitive “feeling” of mathematics, which is why IT graduates tend to be people with high intelligence levels. That means that there should not be any mutual understanding problems, at least on the technical level. However, knowing how to transfer that knowledge is a whole different thing and requires a set of specific soft skills. Team building and maintaining a positive working environment takes a lot of hard work. The biggest challenge for me has been to re-design my way of thinking. You know, behind every piece of code, there is a real flesh-and-bone person - your colleague - or even the entire team you are in charge of. It is a big challenge and responsibility that one has to face every day, which never seems easier.
Let’s go back to your current working context. You’ve always been involved in the telecommunications sector, which has evolved considerably over the years. What does the everyday work of your team look like?
There is always a lot going on in our teams. There are many new people, which has forced certain organizational changes. Fortunately, we have a well-established work methodology and many specialists with extensive experience. They share their knowledge willingly, and there is a lot a young IT specialist can learn from them. We work in rather long cycles, defining the required functionalities and delivering new versions of the system every month. At the same time, we need to be ready to patch any bugs that might appear in the earlier versions. Let’s not forget about constant cooperation with the clients - technical support, change implementation, or version upgrade in production installations. Fortunately, these tasks are relatively formalized and repetitive. On a micro-scale, at a team level, each person self-organizes their work, and the so-called stand-ups are organized every other day (the team thought it was often enough). When working with an Agile-type methodology, we do not apply it rigidly but try to adapt it to the current tasks.
People who look to find a job at Comarch and evaluate the professional development opportunities in this company will surely want to know what technologies they will be expected to work with on a daily basis.
As I mentioned before, we use a lot of different technologies. On the one hand, our systems are too big for us to swap technologies freely and apply every novelty there is. On the other hand, our requirements are very diverse. We use solutions that are well established in the IT world. But the exact technological stack one will have to work with depends on each team. I think the only two technologies that absolutely everyone must know are Git and SQL. Even if you are a Scala programmer, you will have to write a query sooner or later.
To finish with, let’s play a guessing game. Twenty years of a professional career are behind you, you’ve seen a lot, and even though there is still a long way before you, you surely have enough experience to make this kind of prediction. Which way do you think the telecommunication market is heading? Can we expect AI and IoT to stay here for good?
As for AI - let me tell you a short anecdote. Not a long time ago, I was driving to Wieliczka (a town close to Cracow) and wanted to get to Klonowa street. I asked my Google assistant what the best way was. Yet, what I got in reply was a Wikipedia abstract about Klonowa village in lodzkie voivodeship (a completely different part of Poland). Why am I telling you this? Well, that story clearly demonstrates that when it comes to mass services, the still immature AI disturbs more than it helps. Yes, AI is the future, but it needs to reach the necessary quality. As for IoT, I think you can hardly call it “a future” solution. It is well established already. For instance, all these rent-a-scooter apps, so popular these days, must have a way to identify and report where each of their vehicles is.
If I am to play a prophet, I’d say that the market will continue moving towards unification and even further user-friendliness of services. I’m afraid that the domination of large corporations in the service market is unavoidable. Of course, it doesn’t mean that innovative startups offering a new concept of quality won’t keep popping up—all the contrary. Yet, once any of them becomes successful, it will be quickly acquired by the big sharks.