The Pillars of DataArt’s Corporate Culture: Interview with Mikhail Zavileysky

As DataArt celebrates its 23rd anniversary, we interviewed Mikhail Zavileysky, Head of Organizational Development, about the company’s history and culture, as well as the principles that underpin our unique way of doing business.
8/07/20
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By Mikhail Zavileysky
Organizational Development
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The Pillars of DataArt’s Corporate Culture: Interview with Mikhail Zavileysky

Though the world economy has entered another phase of turbulence, DataArt is confidently navigating through the storm. The company had already survived a number of crises, and prior experience taught us to learn from them. On the eve of DataArt’s 23rd anniversary, we interviewed Mikhail Zavileysky, one of the most experienced DataArtsmen and prominent culture evangelist, about the distinguishing pillars of DataArt’s corporate culture.

Mikhail Zavileysky has been DataArt’s Chief of Russian Operations since 1998, and a member of the board of direc­­tors since 2002. He was appointed COO in 2003 and general manager in 2009.

Mikhail is the driving force behind DataArt’s global expansion; he has been overseeing operations in all 12 R&D centers in Central & Eastern Europe and Latin America. His core responsibilities include human resources management, risk management, and business development. Mikhail introduced a knowledge ecosystem, which encompasses every area of the company's activities and facilitates effective policies in working with subcontractors and educational institutions.

Q:  What is DataArt all about?

From day one, DataArt has been about helping people. Taking a human approach and putting people first are our guiding principles that underlie every strategic and tactical decision we make. We’ve always believed in a company built on trust, prioritizing employee interests, collaboration, and collective decision-making. Certainly, we faced scepticism at times. But over 23 years, we proved that our model is sustainable.

The company was created to serve clients, shareholders, and employees, not to indulge top management.

Q:  How did you build a client-centered company?

One of the pillars of our culture is client-centrism. Our goal has always been to put clients first. After all, it is clients who determine the purpose of engineers' work, while engineers, like all professionals, love their job – to develop new software systems. In our view, extensive reporting and micromanagement create an illusion of control. That is why management at DataArt focuses on controlling important business functions, like finance, while allowing our engineers to focus on what they do best – for the benefit of our clients.

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Q: Describe DataArt’s corporate culture.

Our corporate culture is based not on what we do, but on what we do not do. Only two personal traits are not tolerated at DataArt: aggression or irresponsibility. DataArt is growing by 20%-30% annually, and we are continuously welcoming new colleagues. Every professional brings their own history, personal style, and cultural traditions.

Our environment is designed to ensure that all our colleagues collaborate successfully to deliver the solutions our clients need.

DataArt runs on trust, so we don’t impose a raft of policies or micromanage our colleagues. I like to borrow a motto first coined by Google, “Don’t be evil.” We take great pride in our international and multicultural workforce, and we acknowledge our cultural differences. We created an environment where tolerance is a must.

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Q: What type of people does DataArt’s culture attract?

DataArt’s founders are independent thinkers, and people of this type thrive in the culture we’ve created. We understand it is not necessary for everyone to take the management’s point of view for the company to move forward. Our focus is on achievement and excellence, so good ideas are always welcomed – from everyone.

Each employee, regardless of their position in the company, has the right to express their own opinion. All means of communication are open and transparent. Thus, employees can work on the projects that most align with their interests and talents. This type of flexibility brings out the best in people and is at the core of DataArt.

Q: How does the company structure reflect your culture?

A culture built on trust fosters a flat organizational structure. Independent thinkers are not comfortable with multiple layers of management. Most of our colleagues are delivery managers and engineers, but each account has its own hierarchy, process, and composition – agile or SCRUM teams, or squads. Our client-centric approach dictates that account teams are structured in a way that best meets client needs.

We’ve structured our business development function to incorporate industry practices. Each has its own culture, with some having a stricter hierarchy than others, but all still relatively flat. In our experience, whenever an absolute leader emerges in a group, this person often becomes a bottleneck.

We also look for ways to facilitate knowledge sharing. Engineers have the opportunity to move between projects, enrich each other, and seek help when necessary. Inside DataArt, we have “guilds” – professional communities that bring employees together based on their professional interests. Colleagues can also get together based on their specialty or area of focus to share experience between offices and help each other in their work.

A side-effect of our flat structure is its seeming complexity for new employees. It requires time to adapt. We believe that this is the price we pay for flexibility, stability, and tolerance.

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Q: What characteristic is most integral to DataArt’s success?

I would say it is craftsmanship. While this is a word one might not immediately associate with a modern IT company, the skill that each engineer brings to the table is critical to delivering an exceptional solution. Humans think a specific way. They are connected by narrow channels and have a wealth of knowledge. That is why I find rumours that AI will soon replace us are exaggerated.

One person is more intelligent than a group, so we’d better give a single talented professional sole responsibility and let them act independently, for instance, while implementing a large segment of work. Talented professionals, craftsmen (and women) lose motivation when their autonomy is violated. We find micromanagement is anathema to craftsmanship.

Q: How do you view growth and the potential impact on your culture?

Our business has always been geared towards growth. We want our colleagues to stay with us for the long haul, so flexibility and independence go only so far. Professionals need to be challenged, and it is only through growth that we can offer opportunities for career development, essential to independent thinkers who thrive in a meritocratic environment.

Q: Is your structure scalable for the long term?

We believe it is, but, after years of growing at 30% or more annually, it is sometimes good to take a breather. But we do not believe that our structure will limit us; quite the contrary. In our view, our company will continue to grow over the long term while maintaining the culture and structure that has made DataArt such a special company.

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