Chance to create a meaningful impact on a national scale

by Nortal HQ, October 26, 2018

The Estonian state has a number of important information systems, but few handle billions of euros, thereby affecting the functioning of the entire state. One such system is the Structural Funds Operational System (SFOS), developed by Nortal. Now, SFOS is looking for one more competent lead developer.

Mattias Saks, Project Manager at Nortal, explains what SFOS is, how it is developed and the type of professional he wants to join his team.

What is SFOS, the system being developed by your team at Nortal?

SFOS is a management system for distributing support from the European Structural Funds to applicants in Estonia. This information system is of critical importance for Estonia, because nearly €3.5 billion will be moved through the system during this financing period.

What kind of person is your team looking for?

We are looking for a lead developer. Our development team comprises seven members. The lead developer will be responsible for leading the team, organizing day-to-day work, taking care of the personal development of team members and supporting analysts.

This person must be a good team player because they will be working closely with their team members. They should hold regular one-on-one meetings and be familiar with their work-related successes and sorrows.

I am responsible for the development team as a whole. Besides me, the lead developer, testers and analysts will have leading roles within the team. They monitor the process and sometimes directly supervise team members.


Is the lead developer required to write code?

Yes, they will also do that. I would say that their time is split 50/50 between code writing and other responsibilities. This is a diverse and developing role.

What is the most important task of the lead developer in your team? Is it to complete the extensive information system?

The system has been in place for 15 years, so “completion” is a relative concept. In principle, the system is complete because everything works and the support is granted, but the system continues to develop further. National and EU requirements are changing and new functions are constantly being introduced.

We have the old and the new information systems operating side by side. We take parts from the old system, then take the workflow apart to find answer to the question: is it practical to do things the way they were done in the past? An efficient system is constantly evolving and keeping pace with technological developments.

So this new person would lead the development of what is, in Estonian terms, a very large and important information system?

That’s right. It is also an interesting challenge technically speaking, because the government wants to aggregate other support-granting systems to make the process more efficient.

With the system expanding and becoming more centralized, we need to change our architectural platform. This is a major project. Which parts should be separate applications and which should be merged — we are working on that, and the new lead developer will be immediately involved in the process.

What are your expectations regarding the skills and experiences of the new lead developer?

It is paramount that they have previous experience in developing information systems and knowledge of relational database systems. They should have some experience with both back-end and front-end technologies. All members of our team are full stack developers; they can handle all the work related to databases and work with both the front and back ends. We expect the same from the new person. However, specific skills can be learned in the course of work.

The old environment is a Java application that is based on older web frameworks. The back end of the new environment is a REST API application coded in Java Spring framework, with AngularJS front-end.

The application uses the Oracle database, but PostgreSQL-based database applications will be introduced in the future. New back-ends will involve Java Spring Boot REST API applications and the front-ends will be based on newer versions of Angular.

Is the new developer expected to be experienced in those technologies to be able to just start coding?

They should have some experience but are not expected to start from scratch on the first day.

AngularJS is in principle JavaScript, and we do not expect the new developer to have experience with AngularJS. They may have worked with React or Vue instead. These are all JavaScript frameworks that solve similar problems.

You are looking for a lead developer. Do they need to have previous management experience?

It’s not important whether they are in a managerial role today or wish to further their career and to assume a managerial role. We do not expect them to have experience in developing a big information system from start to end. The team is very supportive and if the new person does not have much managerial experience, they will have more time to become familiar with their responsibilities.

We will prepare a detailed induction program for each employee. It is in our interest that they start creating added value as soon as possible. If we see that a person has potential, the lack of experience is not a problem.

How will you decide whether a person has potential?

What is important is how and what they are doing now. Do they have a profound understanding, or do they just do their job and that’s it? It is very important that everything a person does is meaningful.

We also assess the person’s ability to develop. At Nortal, we expect people to be willing to develop and to find opportunities for development. The company is developing rapidly, which means that you need to keep pace.

What does self-development mean? That they buy books from Amazon and spend their nights reading?

Yes, that too. That’s what I do. This means that you are curious about different technologies: You investigate, study and experiment. At our company, a portion of our working time is dedicated to learning, but using your own time for self-development is very much welcomed.

What is important is that the person wants to do their job and to do it well. As project manager, my task is to create an environment in which people can do their job well and are happy.

What about management responsibilities? Managing people and writing code are quite different skills.

That is true. Not everyone is suitable for this role. They should be willing to interact with people and they must enjoy this side of the job. We do not expect the candidates to have management experience. Each candidate is assessed on an individual basis.

If somebody decides to apply for the job, what happens next?

We will contact them so we can get to know each other, introduce the project and the company, talk about our expectations, listen to their expectations and agree on a meeting.

Meeting face to face is important for both parties. It will allow us to learn about the candidate’s abilities, skills and personal traits, while the candidate can learn about us, our organization, the project and their tasks. Then we can see if our visions and expectations match.

After the initial meeting, the candidate can meet the team with whom they would work daily. It is paramount that our new colleague and the team are on the same wavelength.

Why should anyone want to apply for the job?

Nortal’s projects provide an opportunity to create real value, both at an individual level and at the levels of the company and society. It is important for us that our work has a direct effect and that our voice is heard. It is also important that our activity has a broader dimension and makes things better, be it society, our customers’ lives, company processes, or efficiency.

What’s most important for me personally is that

and that every employee has the opportunity to realize their ambition. We have many interesting projects, which means that if one project is no longer challenging enough, you can move on to another one.

I believe that it is also important that we take a progressive approach to development: When we see that a client can benefit from something, we propose a solution. If not, we will propose an alternative solution and suggest that the client invest in other things.

How does Nortal take care of the development of its employees?

In many different ways. Our working environment is conducive to learning. We do not expect people to spend their free time on professional development. We encourage our employees to dedicate a certain amount of their work hours to learning. They can use that time for anything: reading books, exploring new technologies, participating in training.

We suggest training courses, but individuals themselves can look for any training they are interested in. Our employees speak at events and participate in hackathons and workshops. We also provide in-house training and have a specialist whose responsibility it is to organize training at Nortal.

How is working time measured?

Like most IT companies, we use Jira to manage projects. It helps us to track working hours and to invoice our clients. It also ensures the flexibility of working hours.

Does this mean that working hours are flexible?

Yes, they are pretty flexible. For me, it is important that people spend a certain part of their working day with their team. While remote work is becoming the norm, it is important that team members meet in person and work together and that interaction between people and the human dimension of our work is maintained.

We have a stand-up meeting each day at 10 a.m. to discuss what was done yesterday and what should be done today.

What kind of working culture does your team have? Does the manager make all the decisions, or are decisions adopted by consensus?

Besides developers, the team also includes analysts and testers. We work by consensus. Naturally, there are things that just have to be decided, but it is important to involve people, to give them freedom and responsibility.

It is important that people have the right to make decisions. This will ensure that they also take on a greater responsibility and learn from their mistakes. People definitely make mistakes sometimes, but you cannot develop without them.

There are also issues that the team leader or manager does not have good answers to, and solutions can be proposed by team members who are experts in their field.

Why do you like working at Nortal?

I can work with top professionals from Estonia and other countries. I have co-workers in nine countries from the Middle East to the U.S. I can develop and at the same time do something important. I can have an influence on what is done and to do things better. My voice is heard at Nortal.

Let’s talk about the office. It is not uncommon that IT companies provide fruit, drinks, massage…

We also have all of these things. We have sports facilities, our employees can enjoy massages, we have a play area for children, we offer hot drinks and fruit, we have candy Fridays and much more.

And we provide training and organize conferences, team-building and company events. We have a team event each month. For example, we had a skiing trip to Finland and each summer we have an event for our team.

The article was first published in Geenius technology news page HERE.

Mattias Saks

Mattias Saks

Project Manager at Nortal

Mattias Saks joined Nortal through Winter University in 2014 and swiftly excelled from QA to Project management. With a strong focus on Ministry of Finance projects, he has shown strength in both team leadership and product delivery.

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