Meet Katarzyna Frey, the rally-driving ex-neuroscientist, leading Finiata’s Frontend engineering team.

“Rigorous approach to semantic HTML and clean CSS is definitely my thing.”

Kasia is managing the Frontend team of 5 at Finiata. Her personal story of career path discovery and tech team management is so inspiring, that we convinced her to share it with you!

What was your path to Frontend engineering?

I have tried tons of things before I found the right place for me. I studied wood technology, chemistry, psychology, materials engineering and finally, I decided to graduate in neuroscience, specifically in neuroinformatics. I had the opportunity to work on creating a BCI which is a brain-computer interface, helping paralyzed people communicate with the external world. 

Neuroinformatics allowed me to solve very important problems, but I felt like tech is more my thing, rather than science. Finding a job in that field wasn’t a piece of cake either. Just after graduation, I was delivering pizza! I got my first job as a Junior Developer in one of Warsaw’s Software Houses, Rebased. I spent 2 years there, learning both Frontend and Backend engineering. There I realized that I don’t believe in being a full-stack developer on a senior level. To me, it feels like working with half measures, while I prefer to focus on one thing and strive for excellence. This is why I decided to focus on Frontend, which opened an opportunity for me to combine tech and art. After Rebased I worked on a subcontract for Netflix creating a desktop app for their translators. Before Finiata I was also freelancing and designing mobile apps in React Native.

Why have you decided to join Finiata?

I saw Finiata as a company that is growing very fast and which I share common goals with. 

I wanted to have a bigger impact on the product and work on it long-term. Unlike Software Houses, fintechs like Finiata have their own, great product so it was a perfect match. I have started to work as Senior FE and thanks to my interest in the work organization, I became a FE Lead just 10 months after joining Finiata. 

What do you think is the most important in leading a successful engineering team? 

Order, discipline and clean communication between parties 🙂 We aim to deliver a great, easily readable code for everyone. I want my team to have a clear vision of the product and to know the direction they want to take in its development. I always encourage developers to engage in UX discussions and propose their own ideas for improvement. With smooth cooperation in creating the product and constant communication between departments, the design implementation is better, both sides are satisfied and the final solutions are better for the client.

The processes need to be aligned, but not forced on the developers. I also want to build a space where we can share our knowledge, learnings, and mistakes openly, which is still surprisingly uncommon in other companies. 

What is the biggest challenge you came across in Tech?

One of the biggest challenges is the reconciliation of product and business requirements as well as staying up to date with new technologies and features. At Finiata we avoid having technical debt (but of course we have it ! ), we follow innovations and constantly improve the code. It is especially challenging in startups due to the dynamic, fast-paced environment, and its demand to deliver a lot in a short time.

As another important challenge, I will again mention communication and prioritization. Developers need to provide high code quality, while the Product team always aims to deliver new features, so it is very easy to lose focus on maintaining a high quality of code. We made these mistakes ourselves- we focused on ‘feature factory’, omitted checking technological innovations and simply decided to not fix the existing code. Now we know that we need to keep a balance between refactoring and creating new features, we take care of the code behind them and keep updating it. We managed to solve this problem by consensual decision making by all stakeholders, open discussions about what needs to be improved and dedicating 70% of the time to create new features and 30% for refactoring to avoid obsolete codes. 

What are the challenges or benefits for FE engineers who work in startups? 

At startups like Finiata, teams need to deliver a high volume of projects in a very short time, without too many established processes. We need to create and shape them ourselves, very often by learning from our failures. The product we work on is alive and changes constantly, therefore we work using agile and scrum methodology. What I enjoy here at Finiata is that everybody has the attitude that something can be fixed or improved every day.  

From benefits, a hot topic lately is remote working, commonly perceived as ineffective. I disagree with this statement, it depends on each individual, and I believe that with proper preparation and lead, a programmer can be as effective as in the office. 

How do you spend your time outside of working hours?

Lately, I have decided to move outside the city into a house in the woods, where I can find my calm oasis and spend time with my one-year-old St Bernard puppy, Brandy. I also kept my interest in wood technology and I love to renovate old furniture, a bit of manual work to tear myself away from the computer. My weekends I’m spending on off-road rallies and cooking.

What are you looking forward to most this year at Finiata?

This year I want to focus on encouraging my team to personal development: introducing  Hack Fridays, followed by knowledge sharing sessions. I will also continue working on increasing developers’ autonomy and bringing even more overt decision making by domain teams to live. I want to make my team more independent, aware of business needs and bold.

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