Yana and Simon, let's start by covering the basics: Today, you both work as solution architects. But that is not where your journey at Swisscom, or in the IT sector in general, started off. What did you do before which eventually led you to where you are today?
My journey began back home in Ukraine, where I finished my Master's in information and communication networks in 2015. I continued to work as an engineer in Odesa, before participating in Cisco's Incubator graduate program. This program was partially the reason why I ended up accepting a new role with Cisco in Krakow. Initially as an operational engineer, eventually becoming a TAC (collaboration) engineer with a specific focus on Unified Communication & Collaboration solutions. But at that time, the market was really changing rapidly, and I felt the need to expand. That is when Swisscom caught my attention and made it possible for me to move to Switzerland and start as an operational engineer – a very versatile role, where I had various responsibilities ranging from management, operations and troubleshooting of UC infrastructure to collaborating with cross-technology teams as well as building and maintaining strong relationships with our customers as their trusted expert advisor. At the same time, I also received CCIE#65405 and moved on into further roles – in short: four years, four roles and here I am today as a solution architect (laughs).
You lost me with CCIE#65405?
(laughs) Sorry – CCIE is alongside CCDE the most important networking certification in the industry and is also accepted globally. It is short for Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert.
Ah I see, something someone from your field of expertise is familiar with. Now on to your journey, Simon.
Well, my journey started a bit closer at Swisscom than Yana's, at least geographically. When I finished my business administration Bachelor in Bern in 2014, I had already been working at Swisscom for quite some time, as I had the chance to do an internship that turned into a permanent job as a product manager. However, while I was getting my Master's in information systems, I decided to take on a new challenge as a business analyst with Post Finance. Three years into working for Post Finance I felt like I needed a new challenge. So, I left my job behind and worked on my own startup and co-founded a second one together with a friend of mine. It was fun, a steep learning curve to say the least, and I wouldn’t want to miss the experience. But as you probably guessed it – after a year we decided it was smart to end the adventure and go back into a, let's say a tad less volatile, job environment. Thanks to my network I circled back to Swisscom: Initially as an innovation manager, but as you heard it from Yana already, one thing leads to another – and I mean that in the most positive way, as I had the chance to dive into various roles, including the CTO office where I got the chance to work as a technical strategist on topics that combine the technology and strategy domains. However, I am a techie at heart, and thus am very happy to be part of the solution architects' crew today.
Well, wow – quite diverse, intense, and adventurous journeys on both of your resumes. Cool! We all three started our Bachelor at about the same time, but when I listen to you guys, I feel like your last ten years were twice as long as mine (laughs). Anyway – historically, solution architects have always been some sort of "lonely fighters". Does it still feel that way today, or would you beg to differ?
I think I can answer for the both of us and will beg to differ. While Simon and I don't report to the same supervisor, and are, as it has always been, usually the sole solution architects in our customer-facing projects, we work as a team. We have a network, or maybe it's better to call it a community, that facilitates teamwork. Internally, we call this "Starter Program". What the starter program does is to bring us solution architects together regularly to work on an internal project as a team, this in addition to the customer projects each of us has. The project is designed to facilitate knowledge-transfer and -exchange and gets us hands-on experience with all environments that we use at Swisscom. We defined the project ourselves; the only requirement was that the solution can be deployed on all platforms, thus exposing us to as much practical experience as possible. And as a nice side-effect brings value to Swisscom and helps us to learn to navigate through our organization and network with the right stakeholders.
Interesting. How much of your time do you think goes into that project?
I would say roughly 20% would be an appropriate number. We try to meet physically once per week, which is not always easy, as we all work in different parts of Switzerland. But we usually make it work. By the way, Yana didn’t mention it, currently we are building a small internal app that we deploy to all major cloud environments, which gives us hands-on experience and helps us to understand the pros & cons of every platform. Additionally, we hold a weekly learning session where one of us educates the rest of the team on a specific topic that belongs into the solution architecture’s toolkit. We've already had multiple sessions on different networking protocols, cryptographic algorithms, or practical lab sessions, just to give you an idea of what we do during these sessions. The starter program gives us the time for learning, experimenting, and developing together as a team. It’s fun and really fosters the knowledge exchange.
Thanks for that, that paints a clear picture in my head. And apart from the starter program, do you mind telling me a bit what you do in your day-to-day as a solution architect?
What we do day-to-day really depends on the projects we are involved in. But the modus operandi I suppose is always similar. Basically, we get contacted through an account manager or sales who is in direct contact with the customer. He/She approaches us with a customer request, and we get invited to a first meeting with the client to discuss, define, and understand their needs. Then we take the information we have gathered and start to design a solution, which we then present to the customer and step by step start the implementation process.
(chuckles) I fully agree with Simon's statement. But it also made me chuckle a bit, because in theory, yes, it's that straight forward. In practice it's usually a little bit more complex than that, but I guess the picture you paint is correct. In general, the workload per project is at a manageable size, so that we can work on multiple projects at once. What I particularly appreciate about our job is that we are in direct contact with the customer and can address open points easily and transparently.
I would second that. And we also get to talk to both the techies and the business folks. Talking to the business decision makers doesn’t come natural to all of us, since we really are rather close to the technologies. But it's a necessary step out of our comfort zone. Personally, I am glad I got to see a bit more into the strategic and business layer of things during my time working in the CTO office.
And the rest of us solution architects benefit from your know-how. That's exactly why this community and the starter program per se is so important for us.
Cool, so you both have already been able to benefit from each other's backgrounds. And in a sense, you must be able to translate between IT and Business – sort of tech stack to business value. And what is it that makes you get out of bed for work?
I like to be challenged. I think overall it's part of our nature as engineers: we are problem solvers. It's simply exciting. And I consider myself very lucky to have a profession that I thoroughly enjoy. And on top of that it's the people I work with that motivate me every day.
Well, as I am more a night owl than an early bird, the first thing that gets me out of bed is my alarm (smirks). But after I get up to speed in the morning, I am motivated by the constant change and learning opportunities my job confronts me with every day. To have a nine to five routine would wear me down, but my job is the exact opposite. Constellations, technologies, challenges, and our customers problems are in constant change, thus consistently bringing new stimuli into my day-to-day.
I suppose that's also an important part for me. My own intrinsic motivation for what I do on one side, and on the other side there are many extrinsic motivators, too: market demand, client needs, or "problems that have not been seen before" that make me want to tackle these challenges.
Thank you both for sharing! I can literally feel the motivation. Now before we wrap it up, is there anything you'd like to share with potential future solution architect colleagues?
As it has been mentioned a couple of times, we have this community program among us solution architects that enables smooth onboarding, sparks know-how exchange, and supports us in getting certifications and continued learning opportunities. In German, we'd call it "die Eier-legende Wollmilchsau", I guess in English they call that the "jack of all trades"? (laughs). Anyway, quite honestly, I was not sure whether the Starter Program could really live up to what it promised us initially. But it truly does, and I am positive it makes a significant difference, not only for us, but also for our customers.
I fully agree with what Simon says and would only like to add that Swisscom is a service provider. A top of class service provider. We know we cannot (and should not) do everything on our own, so we rely on strong partnerships with AWS, Microsoft, Cisco, and many others. And that makes our job so diversified, challenging, and not one day like another. We have a channel to learn and grow thanks to the starter program, and a company that is very supportive when it comes to the professional development of its employees. As a technical person, there's almost nothing that you cannot do here – from ML to drones to data lakes to infrastructure to AI – it's all there!
So, to wrap it up in one sentence, it sounds to me that Swisscom offers pretty much all the cool stuff a tech-savvy person might get excited about! Yana and Simon, thank you for taking the time to share some insights about your jobs as Solution Architects at Swisscom.
Curious to find out more, or even interested in joining Swisscom B2B eventually becoming a Solution Architect? Check out our open jobs within the cloud area and beyond. We look forward to hearing from you!
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