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Someone To Look Up To

Someone to look up to

Guidewire’s CEO, Mike Rosenbaum makes no secret that his long-time personal hero is the climber, Alex Honnold. So, what does a CEO of a software company serving the Property and Casualty Insurance sector have in common with the only person to free solo El Capitan?

It turns out that quite apart from his, yet unfulfilled, dream of becoming a great Yosemite rock climber, our CEO believes that Alex’s accomplishments and personal approach can equally be applied to software engineering.

As we rise to the challenge of developing our game-changing P&C platform, Alex’s example of mastering his craft is an inspiration.

But this is more than just a lofty aspiration; it’s an imperative that helps us make smarter, faster decisions. It’s a rally cry to everyone here at Guidewire, and a call to software engineers everywhere who want a product development challenge like no other.

But what does it look like? What kind of people do you need to create a vibrant and energized environment where just “good enough” is never good enough?

We asked Majka Rydzy, a Senior Software Engineer, born in Krakow but now working in our San Mateo office in California, to share her Guidewire journey with us.

A golden opportunity

Majka took part in one of our exchange programs, to spend six months in our California HQ to connect with other global software development colleagues and experience the culture and way of working there, to bring back insights to this recently established office and team. She then returned to the Krakow office for a year, and is now back in California permanently, “I’m a senior software engineer” she says. “And it’s great; it’s so close to San Francisco which I really enjoy.”

“I joined the company as a software engineer in Krakow, and because of my interest in management, I was given the opportunity to be a team leader, working directly with one of our biggest customers to make sure we delivered on time,” she added. “I knew it was a great opportunity because people here are open and very passionate about what they're doing, and passionate about the work.”

We asked Majka what qualities she thought were important to succeed in her role. “I think being open-minded and flexible with co-workers and being open to other people’s ideas is really important - especially here at Guidewire, where people are really smart.

“The team almost always comes to a solution that we all agree on, which is great, but to achieve this everyone needs to have an open mind.

“Patience is important too. We’re often working with software that may have been written years ago. At some point in your career, you’ll have to work with legacy code, and that takes lots of patience.”

A solid reputation

Across Europe and over in the US, there are plenty of other software companies doing great things, so what made Majka choose Guidewire?

“I was looking for a company that I could grow with,” she says, “One that had a reputation for really good engineers, because I knew I needed to learn a lot. And I still do. I honestly chose Guidewire, because half of its employees are hired via referral and I was one of them; a really good friend was working here, and he recommended the company.”

We’re on a mission

Majka is keen to point out a key difference Guidewire has over other software companies. “You can see we have a clear mission here. It’s a well-planned mission, and we’re always perfecting what we’re doing. There’s no big pressure, no big stress, we’re just getting better; mastering our craft, I suppose.”

She goes on to explain, “The company is transparent, we can see why certain decisions are made. We can see the reasoning for working on a project. The decisions are rational. We’re all building skills here, developing good software and making proper architectural decisions – we’re not constantly firefighting.”

“I value the work that I'm doing here, I'm learning a lot. But a huge factor is my co-workers, I really like the people,” Majka says. “There’s an amazing team in Krakow. And here in San Mateo, it’s the same. Everyone is very friendly. When I moved here, they recommended places to visit and things to do, and plugged me into the local services, which was super helpful, especially as I was new and getting used to living and working in another country.”

Majka tells us what attracted her to computer science as a teenager – and her ambition to become president.

“After school I immediately started working in IT, so I graduated with Applied Computer Science,” she recalls. “I actually wanted to be a computer scientist – or the President. But apparently, you must be over 36 to run for president, so I decided to become a computer scientist instead.

“As a teenager, I had read books about hackers, and I thought this cryptography is amazing. I didn't know much about it, but I remember thinking I want to do that.

“I then stumbled across this one class that had additional algorithms sessions. These were preparing people for a future in computer science. They did a deep-dive into the subject, so it was the perfect preparation for me. Everyone in my class wanted to be a computer scientist, so that kind of made my mind up.”

Geek power

Now she’s moved to our San Mateo office, Majka is seen as something of a trailblazer. She’s also the first computer scientist in her family. “No-one from my family is interested in computer science at all. When I was a teenager, computer science wasn't that popular, especially for girls. My parents weren’t that enthusiastic about the idea, but they were still very supportive. But now it’s more popular for women to take this path.”

In a sector dominated by men, particularly in leadership roles, Guidewire are bucking the trend in the insurtech world. As Majka explains, “In my team, four out of five are female software engineers. This is not so common, but it happens in Guidewire.”

Majka tells us more about her team and their working day, “We work in a scrum, and start every day with a stand up where everyone shares what they’ve done the previous day, and what they’re going to work on that day. We discuss blockers, or maybe complications, so we plan for that and make sure we know what’s going on, with decision-making spread across the team.”

Leading from the back-end

Working on projects where you add real value to the process is also important to Majka. Having the resource to help solve issues makes such a difference. “Right now, we’re working on an insurance quoting project that I really enjoy, moving some pieces of our functionality into the cloud.

“It involves taking huge chunks of code and turning it into more manageable pieces, so functionality is retained, but is more modular and flexible. It’s exciting, because we get to work within our core domain of insurance, and pick the latest technologies to work with.

“We also write components for the Cloud Console as autonomous services using Java stack, Java 11 and Spring Boot, backed by AWS-native services.”

“We’re building micro services on a Java stack running on Kubernetes in AWS. These services manage and store mission-critical configuration and reference data. They also provide interfaces so our customers can quickly and easily configure our applications. My team creates tests, configures infrastructure such as CICD, creates UIs, documents APIs, and builds client integrations.”

Focus on delivering

“In Guidewire, I’ve had amazing managers who have been super helpful in forming my career, coaching and encouraging me to learn more and to push for new challenges.”

“It’s really flexible here too, so if you're interested in other parts of software engineering like organizing work, interacting with customers or other teams, there is definitely a space for that.

“The team leader is not exactly a managerial position, it’s still very much a technical role. Around 40% of my time is organizing and managing the project. The crucial point is that I don’t have to deal with salaries or sign off annual leave, that’s someone else’s job. Which means I’m very focused on the team and the engineering part.

Flexibility and volunteering

The work life balance is an important aspect for most people, and Majka thinks the benefits here at Guidewire help employees get that balance just right.

“The work hours are flexible, so if you need to run an errand during the day, there's really no problem with that. And there's flexibility on vacation days.

“This is rare, but if a project is really burning, people will work over the weekend, to help out, but it’s never obligatory. People are committed, they want to make it work.

“Also Guidewire supports volunteering work. So, when I was in our Krakow office I was involved in volunteering initiatives, where you can take a day or two off and volunteer in an organization of your choice, and the company will cover those days.”

We also asked Majka what exciting about being software engineer at Guidewire. There was no hesitation in her answer, “I like that at Guidewire, we sell what we know we can deliver. Some companies are self-driven - they promise stuff that doesn't exist and might not exist. We are pragmatic and honest about that we can do.”

Ownership of the work is also an important factor to Majka, “We definitely feel like we own our work. Again, that makes a real difference.”

Training and development

And what about the opportunities to train and develop? “Of course, there’s flexibility in terms of how much responsibility you take. Say if you’ve got a family, the company supports this, and you get a better work life balance. And if you're interested in taking on more yourself, there is space for that too. This gets recognized, and you get opportunities to do more and grow.”

Majka tells us about the training she’s completed recently at Guidewire, “You can pick your own training and it’s covered by the company, so right now there is a big push to move to the cloud,” she says. “I was given training to do some certification with AWS, so I could learn and get a certificate, outside the company.

We’re also given opportunities to develop your skills in whichever way we want. Let me give you an example of that; I was interested in public speaking, so I delivered a tech talk in our Krakow office, because I wanted to try it out. I wanted to see how it would feel and I was given the opportunity.”

Mastering your craft

Majka expanded on the culture at Guidewire, and more specifically, mastering your craft.

“A major part is being surrounded by professionals that are better than you. There’s always interesting discussions and lots to learn, and the people to learn from are here,” she says.

“We have teams with real specialists. So, for example, we have a team that is focused on authentication, and a team dealing with infrastructure. They are experts who are always on hand and happy to offer insight, double-check our work and advise us.”

“You have to keep learning - there’s always research to do, to follow the best patterns. Keeping up with the latest design work, new approaches, what’s available now and what’s emerging. New frameworks and infrastructures in the cloud keep changing. We get access to technologies that are just emerging.”

“What’s not always obvious to people outside the company is the Guidewire culture, you notice just how friendly everyone is. There’s a solid culture of being thoughtful and friendly. That's something unique here.”

And what of Majka’s plans to run for President? Is that still in the pipeline? “Well…” she laughs, “I still have time.”