Playmaker Spotlight: Uroš Trstenjak, Engineering Manager

Author's avatar People & Culture Dec 1, 2022 9 minutes read

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    In Playmaker Spotlight, we get up close (and sometimes personal) with one of many of our valuable team members, whose individual contributions shouldn’t be overlooked but rather used to highlight their unique experiences. Besides taking this excellent opportunity to share their accomplishments with the world, we also hope to provide you with insider info about our team culture and what it’s like to work at Databox.

    People seek to change the path of their careers for many different reasons. Their career goals or values may have changed; they may have discovered new interests, they may wish to make more money, or have more flexible hours, to name a few. And then there are the individuals who embark on the self-development journey and fall in love with their new passion and suddenly can’t imagine life without it.

    One of those individuals is Uroš Trstenjak, a.k.a. Trčo, today an Engineering Manager at Databox, but just 4 years before a PhD professional rocking his career in pharmaceutical sciences. 

    How does one go from synthesising molecules to software engineering? And what motivates a person to go from being a complete newbie to leading a team in a completely different industry? 

    Well, the short answer would be with a LOT of passion, dedication, and curiosity. But if you’d like to hear a longer story, stick around.

    “Not easy, but certainly doable!”

    Uroš says he fell in love with chemistry and human biology in elementary school. His passion for learning and exploring new things led him to finish the PhD in pharmaceutical sciences and practice organic and analytical chemistry for the most part. His days were dedicated to synthesising, purifying and analysing small molecule drugs against blood clotting and developing monoclonal antibodies targeting breast, skin and bone cancers, autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis and sickle cell anaemia. 

    Fun fact: during his study on novel dual antithrombotic compounds, he discovered a 4 step synthesis of something called methyl 4-(4-nitrophenyl)-3-oxomorpholine-2-carboxylate, a small organic molecule, which was previously not present in known scientific literature. An impressive and noble quest, to say the least, right? 

    But despite the successes and a secure future in the profession in which he invested 15 years of his life, his heart pulled him elsewhere. In 2016 he decided to dig a little bit deeper into web development, intrigued by the idea of telling the computer what to do and developing something from practically nothing. Knowing it would take 3 to 5 years of studying, on average 3 hours per day, to gain some proficiency in web development, it wasn’t an easy decision, but doable, he says. Certainly, he didn’t lack the motivation. And that’s how he started his self-learning journey; through private projects and websites.

    “I fell in love again. Every minute dedicated to this craft was sparkling a strong and barely controllable positive emotion within me and my brain. And that’s how my passion for programming evolved. The amazing feeling is still with me, and I hope will never cease.” 

    Flooded by a vision

    Shortly after he started dedicating all his free time to programming, he felt that the career of a professional programmer could be the job he was seeking. As he puts this, he wanted a job that wouldn’t be just a tool to survive, a job that would not make him count the days to the weekend, a job that would be his passion and would enable his growth.

    In 2019 he finally decided to make the craziest move in his life and met with an old high-schoolmate, Gašper Vidovič, a Director of Product at Databox. One thing led to another, and a few days after the initial enthusiasm for the product, he met the crew.

    “When Gašper introduced me to Davorin, Andrej, Vlada and Uroš M., I was flooded with their vision, their drive to innovate and be the best in the field, not to mention their passion for learning and sharing knowledge with the end goal of growing to the infinity and beyond. I saw a part of me in all of them. I have finally met someone so driven as myself, and I couldn’t imagine a more perfect entry point into the world of professional programming than with these guys.”

    Absorbing the knowledge

    He started his new career as an Integration Engineer and, under the mentoring of Andrej Žitnik, quickly got promoted to Tech Lead. Now, less than 3 years later, he leads our Integrations team as an Engineering Manager and mentors Junior Playmakers – young engineering interns coming to Databox to get their first practical experience in the industry. Himself, he attributes his steep career trajectory to his passion for the craft, dedication, persistence and soft skills he acquired during tutoring years in school. But his teammates would also tell you he never plays solo, trying to get the most out of everyone he works with and giving this role his all.

    Impact of the culture

    When you’re working with people like Uroš daily, you realise how contagious enthusiasm is. It’s like a snowball, getting bigger every time another Playmaker has their “aha moment” or walks out of the meeting inspired. And as I was preparing for this interview and listened to what he had to share, I realised another thing – how quickly we get used to being surrounded by extraordinary individuals and accepting this as a standard – for ourselves and the work environment, we choose to spend a third of our lives in. 

    And this recognition of the influence the team has had on his growth is the common thread throughout our conversation. When I asked him how Databox influenced his career development, he said:

    “At Databox, we have amazing people and culture. Management cares for all of us and truly believes that the value of a company lies only in its employees. We have a lot of initiatives going on, and we are beginning to invest heavily in the development of an individual’s career path and strengths. 

    But really, every milestone I achieved here wouldn’t be possible without the people, who have accepted me, raised me, supported me and given me more than I could ever imagine. We’re truly surrounded by masterminds here. All you have to do is to bring all your skills and strengths and try to absorb the knowledge that is flowing through the air every time anyone speaks. I learn something new from my coworkers every day. And sometimes I wonder what my first programming job would feel like without them, but then I always conclude that it would be practically impossible to get a better start.”

    Leading a team

    Besides his inexhaustible drive and growth mindset, experiencing the importance of knowledge sharing and having a support system firsthand are probably the main reasons he was able to translate the knowledge he acquired so well and use it in his current role as a manager and a mentor. And what is interesting is that he never distinguishes his responsibilities between the two.

    “I truly believe both of my roles are highly intertwined. Of course, Junior Playmakers are eager to advance their programming skills and dive into real-world applications faster, which we definitely focus on in their first months at Databox. However, they also need to learn about our processes, teamwork, cross-team collaboration, work ethics, culture, and the importance of understanding Databox users.”

    This is why he puts a lot of emphasis on both technical and soft skills as well as competencies when managing the team, which all are highly related to our core Databox values. It’s important to reach not only our goals but also communicate about the ways we want to achieve them.

    Learn, help and motivate

    With Uroš, you can really see he’s found his calling. This heavily translates to his approach to managing the team and his ability to find everyone’s strengths and help them reach their potential, also by role modeling the significance of learning through challenges and practice.

    When I asked him about his favourite part of the job, he did mention the feeling of enthusiasm when starting the day and new projects. But more importantly, he highlights his pride in seeing the ideas come to life due to teamwork.

    “I love the experience when I’m working on motivating and guiding my team, always putting in the last atom and seeing how everyone is accepting the ideas, working on them and later even evolving them to something even better than I had in mind at the beginning.

    And there is no greater satisfaction than when you see Junior Playmakers becoming more and more independent within the team or when they even start to help the core members, and the core members fully embrace it due to our “learn, help, motivate and find motivation” culture. It is true for any field, but more so for software development that your today’s knowledge could already be outdated tomorrow; thus, I always advocate that managing and mentoring developers should be strongly based on learning through challenging projects and their drive to master new technologies.”

    Start today, and don’t stop

    New challenges can be scary. They push you outside your comfort zone. But while it’s daunting to take on new goals, they’ll lead you to new opportunities. In fact, that’s the beauty of a challenge. It opens you up to new experiences and maybe a new future you never knew you were capable of unless you push yourself to a greater height.

    Having this experience firsthand and to wrap up this Spotlight, we asked Uroš for one final piece of advice for someone thinking about challenging themselves by pivoting their career, such as himself:

    “Don’t seek excuses not to start. Start today, and don’t stop. Be thorough, and don’t hurry. Skip some birthday parties, hangovers, and mobile phone scrolling and invest your time smarter. Read an in-depth article about a specific topic instead of every day’s bad news when you are on the toilet. This could result in 365 read articles per year. Find a partner who will support you to its fullest and won’t judge you if you don’t help with chores every day because you’ll be all over your passion. Have the courage to make a change and be the only boss of your time and life.”

    Feeling inspired? What was your biggest professional challenge? We’d love to hear from you.

    Author's avatar
    Article by
    Masa Sajko

    Brand & Culture Manager at Databox

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