· 40 min read

Landing HBO & Building a Global Tech Powerhouse from Finland with Reaktor's Mikael Kopteff

Landing HBO & Building a Global Tech Powerhouse from Finland with Reaktor's Mikael Kopteff

Max sits down with Mikael Kopteff, CTO at Reaktor. Reaktor is a global technology consultancy that builds digital products for some of the world’s top companies. Their clients include HBO, Virgin Atlantic, Adidas, Metso, Rovio, the Finnish Defense Forces, and more. Since landing a contract with HBO in 2013, Reaktor has grown into a sector leader with offices in six countries and three continents.

Featured Chapter: Demystifying AI

Max hesitantly drops a buzzword: AI. How is AI going to impact the digital world? Mikael is a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist. He reasons that it will be a challenge to adapt to AI in the near future, but eventually, it will make our lives better. Mikael believes that AI will change the work that software developers do, and he offers practical tips to help aspiring software developers move with the world.

Click below to check out the featured chapter on YouTube!

Full Episode

In this episode, Max asks Mikael to share how Reaktor secured HBO as a client, from pitch to project. Mikael explains how Reaktor’s “do it better” mindset creates a workplace culture of curiosity and collaboration, and why “culture add” better describes the process of cultivating that mindset in Reaktor’s global offices than “culture fit.” After touching upon remote work, navigating workplace conflict, and hiring, Mikael and Max speculate about AI and the future of software development.

Click below to check out the full episode on YouTube!

Actionable Lessons:

Episode Chapters:

Quotes and Insights:

“I hate the word culture fit. […] Because that means that people have to fit your culture like it’s a static thing. […] I think a more modern way to say it is the culture add. So you add things. So when you open a new office, you add things to the culture.”

– Mikael at 00:19:53

"I believe that true success, especially in complex projects, requires...physical presence... The main reason for this is trust."

– Mikael at 00:20:47

“People who are exceptionally smart can learn new technologies quite fast. So you have to be able to identify the potential. […] whether they know, know JS or TypeScript, that’s kind of irrelevant. […] more relevant is their capability to learn and adopt new things.”

– Mikael at 00:36:05

"Be curious...Just be curious of what you do, how things work."

– Mikael at 00:52:17

Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Mikael: We're all talking like, this is HBO, you know, like, this is New York, we'll, we're, we're a Finnish company, we barely have any international business at this point, man, this is the coolest thing ever. The pitch went so well. I still kind of, I get, uh, like shivers when I think about it.

[00:00:18] Max: My guest today is Mikael Kofte.

[00:00:21] Mikael is Chief Technology Officer at Reaktor, a global technology consultancy that builds category defining digital products for some of the world's top companies. Today, we're going to learn from Mikael's 20 year career as a technologist, rising from senior consultant to CEO. All the way to CTO.

[00:00:38] Stick around to learn about Reaktor's approach and why companies like HBO, Virgin Atlantic, Adidas, and too many more to name, come to Reaktor when they want to build something incredible. We also talk about how to win big deals and the story behind landing HBO as a client, how Reaktor hires, and what Mikael looks for in a candidate, building a culture of curiosity, and so much more.

[00:00:59] [00:01:00] Uh, but you know, welcome to already the scale, Mikko. It's great to have you.

[00:01:03] Mikael: Yeah, nice to be here. Talk about stuff.

[00:01:06] Max: You know, before, before we started recording, you were, you were telling me about a little bit about winning the HBO biz.

[00:01:12] Mikael: Yeah.

[00:01:13] Max: And I just, I think that's such a cool story. Mm. I just would love to hear, you know, how did, how did that go down?

[00:01:21] How did you land the client? What was the pitch process like? I mean, for someone like me winning, you know, thinking of winning a client like HBO, that's like, whew. I mean, it, it

[00:01:29] Mikael: was really big for us as well. Um, so one of our colleagues, uh. New person from their former workplace who started working at HBO and had some discussions and then we learned about an opportunity through that and obviously we got super excited at HBO.

[00:01:49] We were a small company at that point, like 250 people, I think. or 200 ish. This was 2013. And, you [00:02:00] know, then, uh, we called them up, asked what the case is about. We got really excited. Um, and, you know, I think we had 9 to 10 days. to be in the US, uh, and, you know, show them what we can do. So we listened to the, kind of the, the idea they had, and, uh, we pulled out our best people and, uh, we build out a prototype, um, did some visuals, build out a concept, and I, I have to say that was the most, one of the most exciting pitch, probably the most exciting pitch I've done.

[00:02:38] Um, the concept was really super interesting. It's, it's sad that I can't mention it. Um, But yeah, so we booked tickets, uh, built out the pitch, did, kind of, printed, like, um, posters, and again, did some, uh, kind of a proof of concept on an [00:03:00] iPad. Flew in, and I have to say, I remember the whole trip, everybody was super excited, I think we were four or five people.

[00:03:10] on the, on the plane, um, arrived the day before and, you know, walked in and we were all talking like, this is HBO, you know, like, this is New York. We'll, we're, we're a Finnish company. We barely have any international business at this point. And we're like, well, let's see how it goes. It's going to be worth, it's going to be a great story to tell.

[00:03:33] And I remember going up the lift in, in, uh, next to Bryant park in New York. And we like, I think I was, if this was 2013, so 11 years ago, so I was 31 and I was like, man, this is the coolest thing ever walking in HBO offices and going into the meeting room and then people joined us and, you know, the pitch went so well.[00:04:00]

[00:04:00] I still kind of, to me, you know, I get, uh, like shivers when I think about it. Um, looking out the window and waiting for the clients to arrive and looking at the, uh, uh, looking at the, one of the avenues. And yeah, we did the pitch. It went half an hour over time because the clients were so excited. Yeah. And.

[00:04:27] Yeah, then we went to dinner. Everybody was so tired because of the time difference. I fell asleep at the restaurant at like six o'clock. Um, and we flew back and we were like, you know, try to keep our expectations low. Um, and then we got a call that we loved you and, uh, can you tell us more? And. And we did some extra work and unfortunately that project never went forward.

[00:04:56] Um, but we got to know really good people and then [00:05:00] we got actually another, another engagement, uh, with HBO and started working on other stuff as well. Uh, yeah, it was, uh, an amazing ride. Yeah. I have to say, I remember, um, doing updates on the prototype we built, like, half an hour, an hour before the meeting and trying to make sure that it runs.

[00:05:23] And because we hacked it together in one week, it looked amazing.

[00:05:27] Max: Is that pretty, I mean, the type of business that you're pitching, is it pretty, is it pretty standard that people will come in with a prototype or is it pretty like a big deal? I mean, it sounds like a big deal to come to a meeting like that with already something to show.

[00:05:41] Mikael: Yeah, I mean, some people do some kind of prototypes, like, smallish, but we did quite an elaborate one. Again, we had, like, the best people on it. So it was visually amazing. Uh, Yeah. So we do that sometimes, sometimes it's, [00:06:00] I would say it's beneficial. I mean, there's a huge cost. Yeah. Uh, I'll be honest. We didn't think about that too much.

[00:06:06] We were so excited, like, Oh my God, it's HBO.

[00:06:09] Max: It's a hell of a start for, like you said, like one of your first international, real big international engagements.

[00:06:14] Mikael: Yeah. And so I think we were just so excited. Um, and you know, everybody was full on the, the, you know, the leadership team was like, yeah. Good luck and we're supporting us 100 percent and that always mattered to me a lot that our then CEO and the whole leadership was like 100 Backing us what we were doing and, and, you know, try to help us as how they could.

[00:06:38] Max: That's cool. How many people are on a team like that when you're building a prototype like that?

[00:06:43] Mikael: Well, the technical prototype, I think there was like two people, two, three people doing it for a week. Um, but obviously we didn't like the concept work. There was a couple of people working on that, on the concept, on the visuals, all together.

[00:06:58] It was a massive pitch. Um, [00:07:00] maybe 6, 7 people.

[00:07:02] Max: Wow. So it sounds like the pitch itself too, like, obviously the delivery is pretty important and something like that is there. And it sounds like it obviously was a pretty successful pitch if they kept, kind of kept asking you questions and were super engaged.

[00:07:13] Is there, when you look back at it, is there anything, specific in your kind of approach or how you, how you take on a huge pitch like that when you're, you know, I mean, you're coming to New York. There's probably all these like HBO executives there. You probably, it might be hard to know what to expect.

[00:07:31] Like, how do you, how do you approach something like that?

[00:07:35] Mikael: I don't know. I think the fact that, uh, That's a good question. I think we were so excited We were so excited. That kind of gave us the boost that we needed. Uh, and having the expectations low. I'm actually, I can just talk about myself personally.

[00:07:59] [00:08:00] For some reason I don't somehow feel too intimidated to talk to like high up people. Um, cause I feel that they're people just like any other people. Um, But I mean, just, you know, preparation, making sure that you actually know what you're talking about, you know, setting up who takes over when, just ensuring that you've done, like, quality work, and making sure that somebody runs the whole thing.

[00:08:30] All of these kind of details matter. But kind of as an approach, yeah, just, You have to do it.

[00:08:39] Max: Would you guys do, like, uh, like a practice pitch? Yeah, yeah, of course, yeah,

[00:08:43] Mikael: yeah. With the biggest pitches that I've been involved with, uh, we always do a practice run. Okay. So a practice run of, uh, you know, one or two times at least.

[00:08:54] Um, and again, there's always a master of ceremony type of guy. [00:09:00] Uh, who make sure that everybody, you know, knows their parts and then everybody has their own parts that they run through, like the concept people usually have their part or the visuals or designers and the tech parts. And it depends on the pitch that we're doing, um, you know, um, some might be more technical, some, some might be more concept oriented or design oriented, so.

[00:09:25] Max: When you do one of those practice runs, is it just the kind of team that would be on the engagement or in the pitch? Or do you, I don't know, find someone in the, in your company to sort of role play the client or how do you get that kind of feedback from it? Or is it really just about kind of running it through and you guys sort of critique it amongst yourself as the team?

[00:09:45] Mikael: Um, what I usually do, 'cause the pitches I'm involved with, I, I run the tech side. Yeah. Um, so I sometimes do like a trial run with tech people. Trial run is maybe a too elaborative a word. Yeah. But I make sure [00:10:00] that, you know, somebody checks with me. Have I forgot something, something to emphasize, like a rubber ducky type of thing.

[00:10:06] Um, but usually the dry run is just like ensuring that everybody plays their part.

[00:10:14] Max: What does that mean, rubber ducky kind of thing? I

[00:10:16] Mikael: mean, I actually don't know if this is an industry thing, but we have this term like talking to a rubber duck. So when you explain a problem to someone, uh, usually they, they are the rubber duck.

[00:10:29] Okay. So, um, when you explain something, usually you realize the answer already by yourself when you're explaining because you have to formulate, formulate the, um, uh, the question. So you have to organize your thoughts. And when you do that, the answer usually comes to you. So you don't actually need the feedback of the other

[00:10:51] Max: people.

[00:10:51] Okay. That's interesting. So, so thinking back then, you, you win this HBO business and it sounded like [00:11:00] that led to opening up your New York office. Is that, was that kind of the chain of events?

[00:11:04] Mikael: Yeah. So we had like, yeah. So, so, That was 2013, and I think we opened the office late 2014. And, uh, yeah, it took, we started working with HBO around 2014.

[00:11:22] Uh, and then quite quickly we decided, okay, we gonna try this. And the people who were on the HBO team, uh, me and onas Konan, for instance, we were, uh. We were basically, uh, uh, the founders of the office with a couple of other people as well.

[00:11:42] Max: Was that your first experience doing something like that, like building an office from the ground up?

[00:11:48] Mikael: Yes, I mean, um, I've been in a startup before Reaktor, um, so, Yeah, when we, when we built the startup that was, had [00:12:00] similarities because we started as a small company in the startup and started growing it, but Um, It was pretty different when you, when you do it in a new country with, you know, totally new, everything

[00:12:13] Max: was new.

[00:12:14] Do you, do a lot of people come from, let's say the Helsinki office over, or is it just you two? And then you hire a local team completely. So there was, uh,

[00:12:24] Mikael: there was the landing team was approximately like four people. So there was other people involved who moved there as well. Um, and then. A few people flew from Finland.

[00:12:36] Okay. Uh, kind of to bring the seed and then, uh, we started hiring people as well. So it's a mix of both and that's what we usually always do is, is you mix, you wanna bring some foundations to the culture. Yeah. Some people who have worked with, uh, with that model before, and then the new people, they kind of onboard faster and, you know, learn the ropes.[00:13:00]

[00:13:00] Max: I'm glad you said, I'm glad you brought up culture, because that was kind of going to be one of my next questions here, because, you know, in preparation for this and, you know, just learning about Reaktor, it strikes me that culture is really important and you guys really value people, which obviously, you know, makes a lot of sense given the type of work that you do.

[00:13:20] Um, how, before I, I have some questions, but before I ask them, like, how would you describe the culture at Reaktor? That's a good

[00:13:27] Mikael: question. Um, I mean, culture is such a living thing, uh, and it realizes itself through the people and how they behave. So I would say to me, at least, uh, the founders, uh, they had a huge impact on what the culture was and, uh, Vesa, uh, uh, the, the, first CEO and one of the founders, uh, his behavior impacted it a lot.

[00:13:56] So he, he gave a lot of space to people. [00:14:00] Uh, he was appreciative, um, and a smart guy all in all. Um, so kind of, um, I would say everybody interprets the culture differently, but to me there's, um, like one super important element. Reaktor that differentiates us. Uh, and there's one element that we look for in people.

[00:14:26] Um, and it's, we want people who want to thi do the things they do better. So if they do anything, they wanna do it better. If they see something and, and, you know, see that something's wrong, they wanna do it better. And that's, so I've been involved with maybe hiring, I don't know, three, four hundred out of our seven hundred people.

[00:14:51] And what I've always said, and what I've always looked into people if, I tend to ask them questions like, Okay, so how do you do things? How do you run the projects? And then I [00:15:00] tend to ask them, uh, how would you do it differently? And why, and it doesn't really matter what's their opinion. It's not about the answer of, of, Oh, that's the right answer.

[00:15:11] Or that's the wrong answer. It's more about have they thought about it, that this could be somehow improved. So a lot of our people have this mindset of, you know, improving things. And of course, this is not my idea. This is how I've, you know, grown up at Reaktor, what I've learned and try to bring. in people who have that mindset as well.

[00:15:33] And I mean, it, it, it, it has a lot of positive, but also drawbacks as well. So people tend to, you know, look into everything that, can we do this better? Um, but in general, I think that's, uh, one of our core strengths that we don't, people don't like settle like, Oh, this is broken or this is wrong. Um, let's just do it.

[00:15:54] It's, I don't care. It's, it's a job. I don't care. Type of attitude doesn't really. [00:16:00]

[00:16:01] Max: How do you, as, you know, as like a, you know, CTO of the company, as a senior, senior leader, you know, of course, someone in your position, you could, you have, I'm sure you license and, and, and kind of, uh, clout, for lack of a better word, right, to say, comment on something or say like, this could be done better.

[00:16:21] And I'm curious, you know, with hundreds or close to a thousand employees, how, how do you think about. or do you think about sort of setting up the culture in a way where, you know, it sounds like you want people to be, feel free to speak their mind, right? Like that can be a thing if you have a junior person, they have some idea, but they'll, they're scared to say it because they, you know, they're worried their boss is going to get mad at them or something.

[00:16:45] Mikael: Um, I think, again, the people that we have don't think about through, like, Hierarchies in that sense, like, Ooh, because I am, you [00:17:00] know, more senior or higher in, you know, have a higher title or a bigger title or fancier title, that means that their opinion is automatically better. I think, yeah, whatever, but he understands that.

[00:17:15] younger people or, or people with less experience have good ideas that are worth listening to. So some, we have amazing people in our company. There's this one guy who, uh, joined us, I think when he was like 19 and he's still with us and he's amazing. He brings so much insight and ideas into the teams that he works with is it's crazy and people value that a lot.

[00:17:43] So there's, I've seen very little or none at all of, of like, Hey, you're a junior, you're a, you know, opinion doesn't matter. So that's part of the culture in a sense, uh, appreciating people's skills, whether they are in the same skill [00:18:00] area than you are in another area.

[00:18:02] Max: Yeah. It makes sense. When you, when you come to New York and you're in a new place, building a new office and doing all the, you know, I imagine things are probably moving really fast and you probably have, you know, a lot on your plate at that time.

[00:18:16] How do you, how do you make sure that that, you know, what makes Reaktor special from like a cult, that culture perspective? How does, how do you, how do you instill that then when you're in a different country that has, you know, a different culture in a different meaning of the word, you know, meaning you're hiring, you're on a new continent, you have maybe people approach or think about work differently.

[00:18:35] I don't know, but I, you know, I would imagine that your US colleagues are probably different from your Finnish colleagues and so on.

[00:18:43] Mikael: Yeah, of course. I mean, the environment affects, and we don't want to push, you know, when you come into a new place, you open a new office, it's the same when we opened an office in Lisbon or Amsterdam, you don't want to kind of push your own culture and make everybody fit your mold, uh, but you want a mixture of it, [00:19:00] right?

[00:19:00] So understanding what's the environment that you're operating in, uh, bringing in new, new elements, I hate the word culture fit. Yeah. because that means that people have to fit your culture like it's a static thing. Um, so I think a more modern way to say it is the culture add. So you add things. So when you open a new office, you add things to the culture.

[00:19:22] And the U. S. office, for instance, has a different kind of culture because it's in a different country with different people and it varies. You know, it's a living, breathing thing in a sense.

[00:19:34] Max: Yeah, it makes sense. I at, at a much smaller scale in our company. I read this in a book somewhere. It it, but it was, um, you know, when a new person joins the team, it's not, uh, it's not like the team plus one.

[00:19:49] It's a new team. Yeah, yeah. You know, uh, but one, you know, one question that I just came to mind and I couldn't help but ask is. Why build local offices? [00:20:00] I mean, you're building digital products at the end of the day. Is there, do the clients ask for it? Is it some, is it sort of a philosophical decision internally that you want to be close to the clients and understand the market?

[00:20:09] Where does that, where does that come from? So the, I

[00:20:12] Mikael: mean, Especially after COVID, the whole remote discussion is very, uh, lively, let's say it like this. But, um, before we went to the U. S. or when we went to the U. S., we barely had any remote delivery in a sense. We almost always worked from home. right there next to the client.

[00:20:33] So when we worked with HBO, we worked at the HBO office. Really? Yeah. So our people don't, didn't work, uh, you know, remotely from, we had a team, um, obviously when we opened the office, uh, it was partly remote because we didn't have any people in the U S yet. Um, but, um, I, and this is a, this is a tricky question in today's [00:21:00] remote world.

[00:21:01] But I believe that true success, especially in complex projects, requires a certain set of, a certain amount of presence, physical presence as well. So even if you're doing, you know, remote delivery, remote setups in teams, you need to see the clients live. You have to work with them. And the main reason for this is trust.

[00:21:32] Uh, to have a successful team do solving complex problems, you have to have trust. If there's no trust, it's rarely going to succeed. Uh, so trust is this foundational thing that you have in teams, uh, where you can rely on the people you work with, And, you know, if you don't see them physically, building trust remotely in [00:22:00] remote meetings is so much harder.

[00:22:02] So that's why even our teams that, you know, do remote stuff, which we do nowadays, we tend to want to visit the client as much as possible.

[00:22:15] Max: Apart from physical proximity, is there anything that you do in these engagements to sort of build trust?

[00:22:24] Mikael: Yeah, I mean, there's different kind of activities, but in the end, uh, trust comes from, you know, working together and succeeding and actually having conflicts together.

[00:22:36] Um, so usually teams, you know, when they start, they're all excited. We're working with clients where it's exciting. In the beginning, everything starts usually very in a positive way. Right. And then comes the first conflict. And that's where you actually build the trust most. Um, so if you fail in, in handling the first conflict, you will fail and [00:23:00] hinder the team's trust building.

[00:23:02] Very, very kind of, uh, yeah. So that, that first conflict is the kind of the most essential point, uh, in the trust building process.

[00:23:17] Max: How do you, how do you personally handle conflict? I mean, when you're in a, you're in a sort of high stakes client engagement with huge companies, these are not small engagements, clients, you know, clients may have a viewpoint that differs from your viewpoint and you have to, you have to approach it a certain way.

[00:23:37] And then ideally at the end of the day, you're on the same team and you have to work together the next day. How do you handle that?

[00:23:42] Mikael: Well, first you have to have the kind of initial setup has to be good. So you have to have the common goal, right? But you have to be very proactive in tackling it. So when the conflict, when you start seeing the first kind of feelings [00:24:00] of the first conflict arriving, you have to tackle it very proactively and, you know, you can't take sides or anything like this.

[00:24:10] Uh, you have to, in a way, remind everyone of the common goal that we're not in separate kind of groups. We don't have a separate agenda. We have a common agenda and it's to make this thing that we're building a success. Yeah. So kind of reminding that, and then there's a lot of kind of details, obviously, but the proactiveness is, is one thing because.

[00:24:35] What I've noticed in, uh, in some cases that when the first senses of conflict starts to arise, people, some people tend to be like, oh, are we heading towards a conflict and then try to shy away or bury the conflict? And that's not a good thing, but maybe kind of bringing it up and hey, we're having, I feel that we're having a situation.

[00:24:57] I think we should talk about this, [00:25:00] trying to dig, try to bring, uh, that trust. a sense of security, uh, that's, uh, super important.

[00:25:09] Max: If you, if you're in one of these engagements and you start to see these kind of early signs that maybe there's a conflict brewing, what's your, what's your process? Do you, you know, do you first go and survey your team, bring everybody together, find out what's going on?

[00:25:24] Do you call your counterpart at the company and have a meeting with them? Do you set up a meeting with that? What's the, maybe it's different every time, obviously it's very nuanced, but.

[00:25:33] Mikael: Yeah, I mean, um, I mean, I'm not, uh, fully hands on at the moment, uh, on, on almost any project. I was last, last year in, in one project, I was, uh, in the early phases, quite hands on and we didn't reach kind of like a conflict phase in a sense, but, uh, if I look a bit further back when I've been [00:26:00] more involved, um, Usually, I bring it up with our, like, if I'm there, uh, like, let's say more than once or twice a month, or I've been there, like, even every day.

[00:26:14] Uh, you see the conflict happening, and then I usually bring it up with our own team and say like, Hey, I feel that there's some kind of discrepancy here going on, and, uh, should we bring this up to the client? Should we discuss, maybe even bring it up with the client directly? Like, Hey, I feel that there's some kind of misalignment now, uh, we should kind of try and open this up.

[00:26:35] And, and one thing I rely on a lot, we have a lot of good coaches, um, So we can always call them in. They're really good experts on handling difficult situations. So

[00:26:46] Max: they're like full time at Reaktor coaches.

[00:26:48] Mikael: So they're, they're, they're our coaching team. Uh, so, uh, I don't know how many do we have actually?

[00:26:55] 10, 15, something like this.

[00:26:56] Max: And they come to coach the internal Reaktor team? Uh, [00:27:00] the whole situation. They can,

[00:27:01] Mikael: they can, they can, you know, discuss the client with the client, with our team, how can we, you know, solve these challenges and, and, and, and. ensure that, you know, we find that common goal and common ground.

[00:27:12] How did you guys come up,

[00:27:13] Max: like, think to do that? I mean, I've, I don't know if that's normal in terms of your scale, but I've never heard of that, having sort of an internal full time coaching team like that.

[00:27:21] Mikael: I mean, they, they do different stuff as well. A lot of them have a background in like agile coaching, Scrum Master trainings and things like that.

[00:27:33] But it comes through the fact that they've worked with our teams and ensuring that the teamwork is, you know, impeccable and perfect. Uh, so it comes from their, they all have, you know, tremendous experience, like 10, 20 years of experience in, uh, in the industry on working on tough challenges. We actually have, uh, we have internal [00:28:00] trainings that are very popular.

[00:28:01] Uh, one training that is, uh, actually focuses on handling difficult situations. And so we train, the coaches train our, all of our consultants, well not all of them, but a lot of our consultants have gone through this training where they try to identify these situations where you can, and how to tackle them.

[00:28:24] Max: You mentioned Agile and Scrum there, and that was another thing that struck me when I was researching Reaktor that these, there's a lot of value placed in, um, managing a project effectively. I don't know if you would characterize it differently, but I'm, I'm curious how, how, when you, how do you navigate it when you have a process, for let's say like managing a complex project, but then you're, you're going into a huge company that might have their own different processes.

[00:28:58] How do you, how do you [00:29:00] handle that to make sure that that doesn't lead to conflict and that it drives the end goal, which is probably, you know, to make things more efficient and more pleasant and sort of that sort of thing. So

[00:29:10] Mikael: a lot of the clients, uh, actually start working with us because they, uh, in a way trust that, uh, our ways of working will ensure a successful result.

[00:29:22] Um, so, and obviously, uh, in, with some companies, especially, you know, large corporations who might be, let's say, slower, uh, in certain things, there will be a certain kind of asymmetry between, between us. And this is where, One of our strengths comes out is that we are able to help our clients become more nimble, more agile, uh, more, you know, flexible, um, and get, get good results on that.

[00:29:55] So, I would say, uh, That is [00:30:00] one of the biggest jobs we do and, and, and, I mean, Agile is so common nowadays. It's not just about being Agile or using Scrum. Scrum is, you know, most companies work with, work with a Scrum or Kanban approach or a mixture of those. Um, but there's a lot of kind of details on how that delivery should happen.

[00:30:24] Um, So yeah, I think that's something that let's say most of our teams is very equipped and actually ready to face. And that's a big part of the job to ensuring that the delivery models are compatible. And it's always custom work because the clients work in some ways and then we have to fit. A model that will work for that project and every project has different boundaries, different goals, different needs, different emphasis, so it's a custom job every time.[00:31:00]

[00:31:00] Max: How, how much does, I mean, how much does a huge project like these, these are enormous projects that you're undertaking, how, how much of it is sort of architected at the beginning versus kind of adapted along the way? And how different do these projects look sort of, you know? Let's say at 0 percent completion versus 75 percent completion.

[00:31:21] Does it, is it, does it usually map pretty closely to how you expected it would go or do they often kind of morph? Uh,

[00:31:31] Mikael: they, they do tend to change. I mean, one of the whole point of points of the Agile process for me is that, you know, things change during the time we build it. So if we are, you know, looking for a product market fit that the initial goals might have changed. Right. you know, six months in. Um, so[00:32:00]

[00:32:00] I'm not sure if I understood the question correctly, but, um, so yeah, there is a certain type of, uh, mapping to be done.

[00:32:08] Max: Okay. That makes sense. Well, I guess going back then to the building out the New York office and, you know, you mentioned as we were talking about agile, These are, these are frameworks that are used in a lot of companies.

[00:32:23] What is, as you're building out an office like this, I imagine the hiring velocity is probably quite fast.

[00:32:29] Mikael: Yeah.

[00:32:30] Max: And you're probably looking, maybe I'm wrong, but you're probably looking for people that have, you know, experience with these things, but there's probably also the kind of Reaktor way of doing it.

[00:32:39] How do you go about when, what, what's it like then when some, when a new person joins the team in terms of, Sort of onboarding or coaching them on the way that you guys do something, even if it's something that they have a lot of experience with. Like, what does that look like, the first, I [00:33:00] don't know, 90 days or something at Reaktor?

[00:33:02] Mikael: Yeah, I mean, um, let's say, when I joined, we actually grew very slowly. Like, the year I joined, only 10 people joined, if I remember. Correctly, um, but yeah, obviously now that we've grown more, it's, it's increased, um, but the first 90 days, I mean, there is, there is a set of an onboarding set where we talk about the culture and the way we work and, and, and things like that.

[00:33:31] And, but in the end, the onboarding, uh, everything before or onboarding happens in a way on paper, right? You don't do projects on during onboarding. So. Ensuring that the people who join get into a setup that is good, that has, you know, seniors, things like this, these matter. And especially in the new office, that's why when we start new offices or [00:34:00] we have, for instance, in Lisbon, we have this ambassador program that, uh, there's always, uh, some, uh, people who have been at Reaktor a bit longer.

[00:34:09] Bye bye. Bye. at Lisbon, for instance, teaching the ropes, showing how we're doing the work. So, so yeah, I would say you have to give a certain amount of information in the beginning and then ensuring when you're building out the teams that the setup is good and they're able to pick up the things that they need to pick up.

[00:34:30] Max: That makes sense.

[00:34:31] Mikael: But I mean, again, recruitment has, plays a big part.

[00:34:35] Max: Right on that topic of recruitment or or vetting vetting candidates and hiring earlier you mentioned That something that you look for is is this that that that people have this desire to make things better Yeah, and that's a pretty sounds like a pretty key kind of soft skill.

[00:34:56] Mm

[00:34:56] Mikael: hmm

[00:34:58] Max: When, let's say, if we're thinking [00:35:00] about, uh, hiring engineers, or, you know, you can answer more broadly, what hard skills do you look for that you place the most value on? I mean, because I, a firm like Reaktor, I think, like, probably technical excellence is probably sort of table stakes. You have to come with some level of that.

[00:35:16] Mikael: Well, I mean, it's a combination of, obviously, soft and hard skills. Um, um, but if we look at the hard skills I back up a bit from the, from a delivery point of view. If you want to make exceptional products like we aim to do for our clients, What's the combination that you need, let's say from a technical person?

[00:35:42] Um, you need good teamwork skills, good, good consulting skills, ability to help and guide the client, have difficult discussions, all of these things. So they're actually very fundamental issues for us. Um, technical skills [00:36:00] are extremely important, uh, but in that it's actually more important to look for the potential.

[00:36:07] than the actual skills. So I, and again, I haven't been hands on with recruitment for some years now, um, but how I look at it is that, um, people who are exceptionally smart can learn new technologies quite fast. So you have to be able to identify the potential. So if somebody has, you know, whether they know, know JS or TypeScript or, that's kind of irrelevant, uh, more relevant is their capability to learn and adopt new things.

[00:36:40] And that's what I mean with potential. So how have they, you know, learned in the past is really important on how they will learn in the future. And it comes back to, you know, what are they curious? Are they interested on how to do things differently? Are they interested in [00:37:00] new technologies? you know, have they explored different things?

[00:37:04] Um, but yeah, so there, I, I would, I wouldn't say that there's like a hard skill, like, oh, they have to know this and this technology. Of course, there are certain technologies that we use more commonly that we look for and discuss, but it's a lot about attitude and how it manifests itself in a, in the hard skills as well.

[00:37:26] Max: Do you, I, I feel kind of bad, I feel like I'm going to bring in a buzzword, but, um, you know, you, you talk about, sort of, or I've seen you posting about kind of demystifying AI, and I think that's at the forefront for a lot of, a lot of people are thinking a lot about AI. And one thing that, um, Strikes me about AI personally.

[00:37:47] You know, I'm, I gonna be very careful with talking to someone like you about talking about my technical expertise. But, you know, I, I was a derivatives trader before this and I, for example, taught myself how to code python. Very basic stuff. Yeah. Just to write scripts and, [00:38:00] and automate stuff that I didn't wanna do and so on.

[00:38:02] Uh, and obviously that was before ai.

[00:38:05] Mikael: Mm.

[00:38:05] Max: And I was chatting with someone about this recently that how different it would be. To learn these things now with AI when you can just take, write a problem in a chatGPT and get a pretty good script straight out of it. And I know you mentioned that you've, you've been out of this specific recruiting specifically hands on for a couple of years, but this, as we're talking about hard and soft skills and, and thinking about how you find the best talent, people that have a really good thought process and problem solving ability and learning and so on, What do you think is the impact of AI on that sort of thing as, you know, I don't know if you'd agree with this, but maybe it makes certain hard skills, knowing a specific technology, maybe less important because you can accelerate the learning or the practical thing faster.

[00:38:51] Mikael: Yeah. Um, yeah. And, uh, it back, it comes back to those basics. Um, [00:39:00] So AI, especially generative AI and LLMs, they are going to increase how people are able to adapt new technologies. And I actually, I hate speculation, but apparently I'm going to do it anyway. Um, and I believe that, uh, the role of software developer will change, or software engineer.

[00:39:22] I mean, In a sense, yes, and in a sense, no, um, that the technology, the abstraction level will probably rise, and we will use prompts or natural language much more frequently in writing the systems that we build, um, but it comes back to the skills. Do you understand the concepts of what you're building and why you're building it and what creates value and things like these?

[00:39:49] Um, So yeah, AI will, uh, and we already, we already see this at work and obviously talking to a lot of our engineers and architects and [00:40:00] developers, etc. Uh, they are already using AI to learn faster and learn new languages. You can move between stacks much faster. Um, but if you don't understand the tools you're using, Um, or, you know, let's assume you're generating some code and you don't know what it's doing.

[00:40:22] Uh, you won't be able to, if there's a problem, you won't be able to fix it. If you don't understand the concepts, you're going to direct it wrong. Um, so we are not at that point where an AI is so good that you can just give it like high level targets and be like, build this out for me. It's going to do a poor job.

[00:40:44] It's really good at building certain things, but you have to be very specific on what you want. Um, and if you look at, from our point of view, building a complex system, a lot of the work is actually trying to [00:41:00] understand the problem that you're solving. And writing the code is, is the result of that problem solving thought process.

[00:41:10] And AI is currently able to help you in that implementation part, in certain bits, and can also spar on the problem solving part. But it still requires a human to actually do the work. Yeah. But yeah, I believe, sorry I rambled on a bit. No, no, it's fine. But I do believe that, um Things are changing, um, and AI will help us, um, and, but it, it will also create, you know.

[00:41:39] bad code. There's going to be, you know, people with less experience not doing things. It's, we call that like stack overflow coding, where you copy paste stuff for stack overflow and just put it there and people don't understand what happens. And then, you know, somebody has to change it or a bug appears and then they're like, Oh, what, what, what, what's this?[00:42:00]

[00:42:00] Um, so, I mean, we're, AI is not on a level of, you know, understanding a full code base of a big system.

[00:42:09] Max: You, you talk about, I've seen you posting like, we're talking about like demystifying AI. Yeah. And how people view AI as this sort of mystical, unexplainable thing. Yeah. What does that mean to you?

[00:42:21] Mikael: I mean, to me it means that most people, uh, and I don't, uh, techno, people in the tech industry are often, uh, said to be arrogant, uh, and that's true to a certain extent.

[00:42:32] But, uh, um, I don't. Like people use AI and throw around that word and then people with non tech backgrounds don't necessarily understand what AI means, what it does, which leads into these weird kind of discussions where, you know, is AI going to do this or this and take over the world and etc. Um, so I think [00:43:00] it's very important that the people who understand the tech actually help, uh, make it more understandable for the people who don't have the knowledge of what it does.

[00:43:14] And that's one of the reasons why we did AI course, um, already four or five years ago, I think. And it's been quite a big success. And if I'm, if I don't remember wrong, I think 1 million people or even more than 1 million people in the EU has, has done that course. And so I think it's, there's a certain type of responsibility for people in the tech industry, but also like tech journalists to, You know, actually make it understandable and, and, you know, describe it in ways that, um, is not fear mongering or, or painting pictures that are, you know, not maybe [00:44:00] realistic, but very often those create good headlines.

[00:44:04] So avoiding that is, is, is, is super interesting, but yeah, I'm, I'm hoping that we're going to get over this phase because it's so new, it's developing so fast and everybody's trying to keep up. So there's bound to be this asymmetry of understanding.

[00:44:21] Max: Yeah, it makes sense. So we, in a, in our world, which is obviously different, more marketing side, we often talk about kind of the the mom test or the grandma test with stuff, you know, cause you'll have all these SaaS products where the joke is, you know, you could, they could hit their target buyer on the head with the website and they would have no idea what the thing does because it's all jargons and buzzwords.

[00:44:43] And as you talk about kind of demystifying AI or make like explaining it in simple terms, like how would you explain AI in its current form as we have AI today? to your, to your mom or to your grandma, or if you want it more specifically, something like chatGPT, you [00:45:00] know.

[00:45:01] Mikael: I mean,

[00:45:05] if we talk about generative AI, like LLMs, like chatGPT, it's basically all the information we have in digital form shoved into a box that's in a way, undeterministic, meaning it, it won't give you, the same result every time. So if you ask it a question, it will give you a different answer almost every time.

[00:45:30] Uh, so in that sense, it's harder to draw the boundaries of what it is and what it is not, what it is capable of and what it is not. Um, but basically it's a, it's a huge knowledge base that can combine things and give you answers to things that you didn't know exists. But it can create new information.

[00:45:54] Max: What would be, if you, there is as, you know, we've kind of talked about or, [00:46:00] or, or hinted at there, I think there's sort of a lot of AI fear, you know, AI is coming for my job. And I'm curious if you were talking with, let's say, I don't know, a computer science student that's halfway through their degree. Yeah.

[00:46:17] and is afraid of, you know, what their career prospects look like. Yeah. What would you say to them or what would you recommend they focus on learning to sort of have, I don't know, defensibility? Because it, I don't think, my view is, I think maybe that the AI fear is maybe overblown. I don't think it's going to come and take all of our jobs, but it's probably healthy to sort of make sure you, you know, Um,

[00:46:45] Mikael: I like this sentence of, uh, you know, being a short term pessimist and a long term optimist with technology, um, which basically is that, you know, short term we will have challenges where, [00:47:00] whether it's regulation or, or things like that, uh, and long term it will make our lives better.

[00:47:05] But while we, you know, adapt to the new technologies, we will get some kind of challenges. So on that, um, for a computer scientist who is studying now, I would say, you know, don't stop studying, you know, computer science or learning how to write code. Um, but don't shy away from the AI tools either. So make sure you understand the concepts behind of, of.

[00:47:35] Uh, of the programming languages, understand, uh, how they are built, uh, why they are used to do what things, and, you know, when you're learning, utilize the tools that you have. Uh, use chatGPT, use GitHub Copilot, uh, to, you know, help you learn better. Incorporate it in your You know, writing [00:48:00] of code when you do stuff, if you're thinking of, you know, your school assignment says, you know, implement this algorithm, um, you know, try to do it yourself, try to understand what that algorithm does, and then spar with the chatGPT, ask it to explain the concepts to you, learned it, use it as a tool, because, uh, how I look at this is as, you know, technological disruptions, like what is happening in my opinion right now is, is that it's, it's going to do different things.

[00:48:34] And if you look at the job market, you're in a better spot if you already know how to use these tools compared to if you go there and like, Oh, I haven't used this because, you know, my school didn't allow. If the school doesn't allow, that's not a very good thing. I've, I've heard this, but, um, I don't see it as a very positive, um, Um, but yeah, kind of utilize the tool.

[00:48:59] It's like [00:49:00] with digital cameras when they came, I mean, photographers were doing their work, digital cameras came, of course, people started adopting it. So just move with the world.

[00:49:09] Max: Yeah. Yeah. That's good advice. Move with the world. Yeah. As I, you know, I'm, as I'm, I'm, I'm learning how to kind of land the plane on a podcast.

[00:49:18] I think we're kind of getting close to time. I had a couple of sort of last questions for you. As on this topic of AI, have you, as a technologist and someone I think that has a unique perspective on this, have you had any holy shit moments when you've just seen something that just blows you away or So many.

[00:49:38] Did any stand out?

[00:49:41] Mikael: I think, because in the last one and a half years there's been so many. I mean, when stable diffusion came out, that was the first one for me. Um Stable diffusion is this, uh, uh, image generator, AI image generator and, and the level of [00:50:00] image generation it could do. This was, uh, summer fall of, of 2022, I think.

[00:50:10] Uh, that was the first time I, I was like, oh, this is something new now. Um, and obviously when chat GPT came out. That kind of blew my mind. Um, GitHub Copilot blew my mind. And in all fairness, what has been happening in the last one and a half years has been exceptional. Um, obviously there's, I've never seen this much money poured into a certain thing.

[00:50:38] Uh, so, you know, uh, we had a speech yesterday with, uh, One, one really, really smart product guy, Phil Lindbergh, and, uh, he did a demo in iSpeech on how to do, uh, uh, product marketing stuff, uh, using AI tools. [00:51:00] And you know, in an hour he actually was able to generate, uh, like a product blog post and, uh, and an AI, uh, generated podcast.

[00:51:12] Max: Wow. Like, deepfake the audio and stuff? Well, he gave, gave it a script and said, make

[00:51:17] Mikael: this a podcast. And you know, then using text to speech, there was a, it sounded real. That's

[00:51:24] Max: crazy. You've, you've had, it strikes me just having chatted for about an hour. Yeah. You've had a career that has spanned, you know, a lot of different things inside of technology.

[00:51:36] And what I mean by that is you've, you've written the code, you've done the thing. You've. managed huge teams at a very, very high level. You've built offices, you know, I read on, I think it was, you did everything from recruiting to building the, building the office furniture. Yeah. And I'm, I'm curious, was there, is, is there [00:52:00] anything that you would point to?

[00:52:01] Obviously the show's called Learnings at Scale. As far as something that you learned early on, It could be a soft skill, could be a hard skill, could be an experience that, that you think has really helped you along the way in terms of being able to navigate what are very complex challenges of very many different kinds.

[00:52:24] Mikael: Well, there's so many things I would like to say, but to say one thing, be curious. Be curious. I mean, it's a good one. Just be curious of what you do, how things work. Tinker. Like, if you don't know how something works, just find out. In the end, in, in this world and age, it's, it's not so hard. You can, you know, Google it, you can ask from chatGPT, you can, you know, call a friend, uh, you know, whatever the direction is you want to go.[00:53:00]

[00:53:00] Um, just be curious. Um, I mean, the most successful people I know. are very curious people. They're curious. They don't box themselves into like, Ooh, I'm a software engineer or I'm a designer. I cannot look into, you know, product marketing, you know, you can go and learn and understand, and you can find things that, you know, fuel your passion more.

[00:53:24] And you can be a generalist or, uh, you know, go deep on a certain topic. And, and, and, but just be curious on how things work.

[00:53:33] Max: On the topic of curiosity. What are you curious about now? What are you learning about in your free time? I read that you, you still, you don't, you said you don't write code in your, in your day job anymore, but you, you still write code for a hobby.

[00:53:46] So I'm, what are you learning? Well, I'm going to

[00:53:49] Mikael: get a kid in three weeks, around three weeks. So I'm curious about that. Um, um, but maybe related [00:54:00] to more of the work that I do as a professional I'm actually curious on, on how things are going to melt together now, because there's so many things happening on so many fronts.

[00:54:14] I think we're living in the most exceptional time in technology. I know many people have said this before and saying it now, but I think this is, is going to be one of the most interesting times of the year. from a technological perspective. Um, we're having, you know, quantum computing is, you know, reaching certain, uh, kind of milestones.

[00:54:42] Um, AI is, is blooming. Um, um, all kinds of, you know, brain computer interaction or interface stuff is coming up, neural link stuff. Um, [00:55:00] You know, the Vision Pro, the metaverse stuff. A lot of this stuff is gonna fuse together. And I think things are gonna be looking very different in five years. It's maybe a bold statement, but I think how we use, how technology, how we experience technology is going to change massively in the next five years.

[00:55:28] Max: I think on that note, we'll call it a podcast. That's, that's awesome. It's been awesome chatting with you, Mikko. for making the time in your very busy schedule with a baby on the way and everything else. This has been a lot of fun.

[00:55:43] Mikael: Yeah. No, thank you. This was fun.

[00:55:45] Max: I hope you have a good Vapu. Yeah, me [00:56:00] too.