In 1993, before the term “startup” was ubiquitous, Arkadiy Dobkin founded EPAM Systems, which began as a software company. He has since developed it into a fast-growing tech company that offers not just software but integrated business solutions. He’s done that in large part by honing the skills of his team and expanding his reach into the global talent pool, tapping into resources wherever he can find them.
EPAM has spent the past few years expanding its mix of advanced capabilities. Traditionally a software engineering company, it has grown its focus to include digital engagement and design, BI and analytics, and agile services, which means it has had to expand its reach of hiring specific talent worldwide to meet global initiatives.
From empowering his team to “live outside of their comfort zone,” to tapping into the vast talent of Russia and Central and Eastern Europe, Dobkin has enabled his company to expand into over twenty countries with over 13,000 professionals deployed throughout the world.
“Our first clients were professional software houses, which offered us the opportunity to work with some ‘best in the world’ engineering teams and learn from them about how to do things right,” Dobkin says. “In the first ten years of our existence, we were learning many best practices and many different technology platforms, established and emerging at the same time.”
Case Study: Helping Citi Transform the Branch Experience
The number of digital and mobile native entrants is growing in the financial sector, challenging banks, like Citi, to come up with new ways to interact with customers. To continue to innovate, Citi holds the Citi Mobile Challenge, a virtual accelerator aimed to inspire developers to reimagine mobile banking. Finalists have the opportunity to showcase their ideas to a broad FinTech community and stimulate digital progress in the industry.
EPAM’s CitiConcierge concept, presented at a Citi Mobile Challenge, grew from its understanding of the financial technology domain and broad expertise in emerging global technology. CitiConcierge is designed to be the backbone of the customer and branch employee experience and utilizes micro-location sensors to provide a personalized banking experience.
CitiConcierge is being integrated into Citi’s scheduling platforms and will provide mobile customer scheduling and increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.
In the early days of the company, Dobkin and his team advanced their software engineering skills and worked in a relatively comfortable client environment by having engineering- and technology-focused personnel on the customer side.
“But if you are in a very comfortable environment, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand what the real world looks like, which limits future potential,” he says. Indeed, for Dobkin, an important attribute for technology executives and their teams to be able to grow is their ability to move into unknown territory and to succeed despite the unknowns associated with such a risky move.
“It is not just about technology or strong management or even the leadership skills of the team members,” he says. “It is about a deep understanding of the subject matter, of the delivered solutions and, most important, about finding the right team combination to ensure that all those critical components work toward a common goal versus competing with each other.”
Dobkin remembers working on a client project in which EPAM helped build a complex e-commerce solution for one of the largest retail chains in Europe.
“It was the first time we got involved in such an engagement and it was incredibly difficult for us to deliver the final solution. That was one of those ‘out of our comfort zone’ moments, when we started working directly with a non-tech client,” he says. “Eventually, we finished the project successfully, [but afterward] I talked to the team and was very surprised to see how unhappy they were.”
Dobkin explains that his team was unhappy because they had to work on something they had never done before, which created risks and uncertainties. Because the work they were doing was not only tech-related, it created additional challenges.
“Neither we nor the client knew how to do it ‘right’ because almost no one on the market had experience with such complex solutions, especially under real market pressure,” Dobkin says. “For our team, it was extremely stressful because just being good engineers was not good enough. They had to become business-oriented technology consultants instead.”
But Dobkin got another surprise when, eighteen months later, his team completely turned around and recognized the value of completing such a challenging project that took them out of their traditional areas of expertise.
“They realized how enriching the experience was for them personally and for the company as a whole,” he says. “They recognized the importance of going outside of their comfort zone and building the capabilities that would allow them to address new challenges.”
Dobkin stresses that today’s leaders have to recognize the fast-paced and ever-changing specific technology trends and platforms—but also that it is often more important to find a sufficient, “good enough” solution than to be a perfectionist.
“If you are looking for the perfect solution, you might never reach one, or by the time you reach it, the technology may have already run its course,” Dobkin says. “And it’s also important to not be stuck on your success. Today, it doesn’t matter how successful you’ve been—either six months ago or two years ago. Don’t rush to conclusions based on accidental success or failure, because what didn’t work yesterday may work tomorrow and vice versa.”