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Laura, Product Owner, on Comebacks and Finding the Right Career Path

For Laura Vaida-Strilciuc, Fortech’s warm, friendly culture and can-do mindset were the main reasons for rejoining the team after five years away.

Below, she talks about navigating her unconventional career journey in economics, audit, and IT. Get a glimpse #BehindTheCode, learn how Laura discovered the right career path for her and about the project she’s currently working on at Fortech.

Tell us a bit about yourself – your background, personality, and hobbies.

My journey to where I am now is a bit unconventional. After studying math and computer science during my high school years, I decided to continue my studies in the business field at a university abroad. My dream was to become a successful entrepreneur.

I was lucky to get a scholarship from the Romanian Government back in 2006, so I went ahead to study International Economics and Management at the Bocconi University in Milan. The location matched perfectly my passion for fashion and design. I loved every moment of my time spent in Milan. The city still feels like a second home to me.

After finishing my studies, I returned home to comply with my scholarship contract and work in the public sector. Things had a different turn, and I ended up looking for a job in the private sector. Next, I got my first job at the largest of the Big Four accounting firms in Cluj-Napoca. One year later, I switched to business analysis. I then worked for four years at one of the largest manufacturing companies in Cluj-Napoca as a Business Analyst for their Italian market, then covered the whole EMEA region.

When Fortech contacted me to join the team, I took the opportunity to switch industries for IT. That was the best decision I’ve ever made in my whole career. I immediately felt like myself again working alongside engineers and self-taught programmers in a relaxed atmosphere where each of us could share our opinions freely.

How did your career evolve at Fortech?

I started working at Fortech back in 2014. I’ll never forget how Fortech gave me the chance to move my career into IT, which was a new and exciting industry. As a Business Analyst coming from a non-IT field, it was challenging to convince people that I could do a great job in a completely different industry.

For the first two years, I worked as a Business Analyst for a client operating a Software as a Service (SaaS) start-up in the US. To say that I’ve learned a lot is an understatement.

The experience was transformational for me, and it came at a time when I was absorbing information like a sponge. I wish these kinds of experiences to all young people who are at the beginning of their careers. We were a small team here in Cluj, and we were interacting with the client daily, thus exposing ourselves to the latest open-source technologies and best practices. The atmosphere was super cozy at Fortech’s office on Meteor Street. I even remember our neighbor’s rooster crowing while the client’s CTO was visiting. I dearly cherish the memories of our visits to the US when we met with our colleagues from overseas and got to experience their culture.

Deciding to leave this project and Fortech in 2016 was a tough decision to make. I wanted to learn how products are built at a large-scale product-centric organization, so I changed jobs.

This year, one pandemic and one child later, I decided to rejoin Fortech as a Product Owner. I am now older and wiser, certified in agile practices (PMI ACP), product ownership (CSPO), and, last but not least, ready to get things done!

What software project are you currently working on?

I am working as a Product Owner on a project for the insurance industry. We’re building and maintaining an insurance platform that allows our stakeholders to process different documents based on certain rules. Our work adds a lot of value by drastically decreasing the cost per policy migrated in their digitization program that is based on cloud solutions.

My responsibilities include creating user stories and prioritizing them based on the overall strategy and business objectives. Also, I facilitate the refinement of the business requirements. During backlog grooming sessions, we often discover different types of dependencies that need to be addressed. As a Product Owner, I believe it is very important to keep track of these dependencies and logically plan the development work.

Active listening and creativity are both essential skills that I need for my job. From the client representatives to the engineering team, everybody has their own point of view. I gather the information and then make decisions to build things that make the most sense for our product. Being the liaison between the client and the scrum team, I ensure buy-in from stakeholders on all major decisions and clear instructions and deliverables for the developers.

What’s the project’s tech stack like?

The tech stack is quite interesting for this Big Data project. On the back-end side, we use Java 8+ with SpringBoot, Spark, and Hibernate frameworks. PostgreSQL is our choice for writing queries and running stored procedures.

We work with AWS’ cloud solution, storing the data on S3 and using EMR managed cluster to process and analyze large amounts of data. We also use Flyway for DB versioning and migration scripts. Git and GitHub are both used for version control. Splunk for keeping track of the logs.

We use Docker for application deployment combined with JFrog Artifactory to store the artifacts and images generated after deploying to Jenkins.

All our deployments are automated. When the new code gets pushed in GitHub, Jenkins’s CI/CD pipelines are triggered, followed by a deployment to a Kubernetes cluster.

We use a Kafka distributed messaging system with six brokers to ensure the resilience and continuity of the data streams.

On the front-end, we work with Javascript’s React framework. Our test environments are all cloud-based.

Team Dinner

What is your favorite thing about this project?

I enjoy many things about this project (the interesting tech stack, direct access to the client, premium equipment), but the best part are the people I get to work with.

I almost forgot how friendly the Fortech people are, but I quickly remembered during my interview. I immediately clicked with Ancuța, our Engineering Manager, and got such a good vibe from the discussion that all my doubts disappeared. This “first” impression stayed on and got validated when I rejoined the company. Now I work with amazing people within our team and on the client’s side too.

We are a big team of 19 people, including 2 Architects, a Designer, Project Manager, Business Analysts/POs, Front-End and Back-End Developers, 2 Full-Stack Developers, and last but not least a small but effective QA squad.

From my first day on the project, I was impressed by the team’s good vibes and can-do attitude. I like that we all work together to achieve the goals that we commit to every sprint.

We are diverse, but we have a shared love for animals. A funny story: one morning before our daily stand-up meeting, an early bird colleague saved a hedgehog from her dog’s paws, and another colleague quickly offered to adopt the little guy. By 9:00 AM, the little creature was already safe in his new adoptive home.

What’s the most challenging thing about the project?

The project was about eight months into its development when I joined. It was challenging to take on the role of Product Owner when the product wasn’t mature enough, but it wasn’t an MVP anymore either.

In those early days, the team made fantastic efforts to ship a working product to get the job done. However, since the focus was on delivering lots of new features in a short time, other aspects such as processes or documentation were mostly overlooked. The challenging part about my onboarding process was that in addition to the expected learning curve associated with understanding what a new product does, I also had to figure out what was missing from the processes and where the bottlenecks were. With the whole team’s help, we managed to put the pieces of the puzzle together. We’re still closing the gap on some technical debt and catching up on some missing documentation pieces, but we are in a good place to sustain further growth.

What advice would you give to someone interested in joining Fortech?

I say go for it, send in your CV, and see how it goes. You will get the first glimpse into life at Fortech directly from your interviewer. You’ll see that at Fortech, we encourage honesty, speaking out, and getting things done.

You will find a well-organized #community of Business Analysts and Product Owners eager to share knowledge and help you out if you have questions.

What’s next in your career journey?

I’m happy with where I am now and saying this is a first for me. My focus is to further deepen my technical know-how. Working for a company like Fortech, with such a vast array of projects, allows me to grow and learn something new constantly. It is great knowing that the trust with my employer goes both ways and that if I work hard and deliver, my colleagues at Fortech will also have my back and make sure that I get to work on interesting and meaningful projects.

What’s Your Story?

Browse the Fortech Careers section on our website and check out our opportunities. #CodeWithUS