Kamila Rubaninska: Everything has a solution, you just need to find it
Kamila is the Director of Operations at the Czech office of AT&T – the world’s largest provider of telecommunication services, and the company I work for. When my manager learned that I run this blog, he suggested that I interview her. At first, I was quite nervous and had no idea if such an important person would even find the time to talk to me, but all my fears proved to be unfounded. We met in a café next to our company; the interview was really pleasant and long. If it wasn’t for Kamila’s further commitments and my upcoming shift, we would have talked even longer – I felt as if I was having a coffee with a good friend.
You have been working in Brno since October 2016. How do you like it here?
Very much! Compared to London, the environment here is calmer and life is less stressful; I also find that people are more relaxed here. In London, you leave your home and there are crowds everywhere, people are always in a hurry, even bumping into one another. I am experiencing nothing like this in Brno. On the other hand, there are still many possibilities how to spend your time, do sports, hike in nature… My job is more demanding, and the workload is higher, but I expected that.
Your job title is Director of Operations. What does it entail?
It is rather hard to describe because my job keeps evolving. My main duty is to make sure that people on my team understand what direction to take – I connect the general strategy with our everyday tasks. Apart from that, I take care of the communication with customer care centres not only in Bratislava but all over the world, as well as other organizations. It seems that our Brno team is big, but we are only a small part of the whole.
What part of your job do you enjoy the most?
The most enjoyable but at the same time, the hardest thing is receiving feedback for the decisions that impact the team. My job is diverse; it covers sales as well as communication with internal partners and managers – they, in turn, have responsibility for their teams: what I do on a global level, they do on a smaller scale. Everyone I meet is different and has different strengths, so I can learn something new from them and keep growing. I like problem-solving in general – everything has a solution, you just need to find it.
What is the best way for the employees to communicate their feedback and ideas for improvement?
The best approach is to first speak with your manager and then document in writing what was said. In short, get anything you want to convey to the appropriate person and don’t give up on what you came up with thinking that all is resolved. Simply hold on to your excitement until your idea is implemented.
How can the management best motivate their employees?
I don’t have a universal answer to this one; everyone is motivated by something else and a good manager should know the needs of their employees, what they like and how to make use of it. It is also important to honour good work, recognize the people who value their job and pay attention to them. However, I don’t think that motivating employees and ensuring they like their jobs and grow professionally is the main duty of a manager – it must come from the people themselves.
Was it always your intention to work in IT?
When I was choosing which university to attend, I was not sure what exactly I want to do. Thanks to the professions of my parents I was considering medicine or business. But my father told me that being a doctor in Slovakia is not that great, and at the time I didn’t want to go abroad. That is why I went with the second option; one more thing I liked about it was that I could start working right after I completed my education. Soon I realized that I would not go far with German, so in the end, I travelled to the US to learn English and earn some cash. Afterwards, I started working in marketing for the company Incheba to gain some experience. After I finished my studies, I was considering finance and IT; in the end, I started at AT&T.
You were also awarded a PhD in marketing and were teaching at the university for several years. What are the main differences between academia and business environment?
Academia tends to be more self-sufficient, open and free than business. A PhD student has a topic in which they get fully absorbed, do research, cooperate with colleagues, form and test hypotheses – in short, they create one big product and it is up to them what they come up with. A lecturer has a syllabus, prepares materials, textbooks, exams, and has a lot of freedom in conducting the course. Businesses, on the other hand, are more focused on goal-achievement and profit, have a more rigid structure and specialization. For example, at AT&T there is hardly a single person who knows about all the departments.
Have you ever considered staying in academia?
I worked at the university part-time. Five years in I was called into a meeting, and I was given the choice to work full time or leave. I worked for AT&T at the same time and was devoting my time to my hobbies, my partner and sports. I could not manage everything, so I left. My tenure there was more of a hobby that couldn’t pay my bills. I don’t exclude the possibility of returning to teaching in the future, but for now, I could not manage. I like doing things in the best way possible, so I prefer having fewer engagements and being able to concentrate on them fully.
What are your favourite ways to recharge?
By moving my body – I do kickbox, ride a bike and go to the gym. It helps me clear my mind and not worry about anything. When I have a really challenging training session, I feel as if I was intoxicated – I don’t drink alcohol, so my drug of choice is a sport. Apart from that, I like meeting up with friends and going to the sauna; I also need my eight hours of sleep. Recently I also started doing chi kung, which means working with energies, and I love going for walks, they are also a kind of meditation for me.
Have you ever experienced discrimination as a woman in IT?
No one has straight-up told me that it is not a job for women. But I remember that when I first came to Brno and a colleague of mine learned that I would be the head of this team, he said that he wouldn’t have guessed that. I asked why and he replied that I seemed too nice for that position. I said that maybe they need someone like that.
Do you think that women still have a more difficult situation than men in technical fields?
The support for women in this kind of jobs is better than ever before – we have to use it, be proactive and look for opportunities instead of saying “I can never achieve that because I am a woman”. It is true that we might still need to do more for the same result as men because the upbringing in our region is still very traditional; while boys are brought up to be responsible, a girl will always have someone to take care of her, women, therefore, aren’t ready to be successful and assertive. For me personally, it was helpful that as the older sister I did have a certain responsibility, but not everyone has this advantage. During job interviews, I often see women who are perfectly prepared but still have no self-confidence. When I ask them what they can contribute to the team, they speak about all the things they still don’t know and can’t do – but I didn’t ask what they can NOT do. I want to tell women not to be afraid to fight for themselves and to be open to possibilities instead of fearing that they are not good enough.
In your opinion, what does one need to succeed professionally?
The most important thing is the approach – to be open to new challenges, admit mistakes and cooperate with others. You must come up with your own ideas and think about how to do things instead of finding reasons why it is not possible. Another crucial thing is communication. When you don’t let anyone know what you are good at or cannot work with others, your skills will be of no help to you. You also need to be proactive and not keep sitting where they put you and have good results consistently – it is not enough to work hard for a week and think you don’t have to try after that.
You are a busy person. What helps you organize your time efficiently?
What has helped me the most was to reconsider my approach altogether: I used to have a lot of meetings and other activities, which meant that I didn’t have time for the most important things – not only at work but also in my personal life. So, I prioritized the activities where my presence is really crucial and cut down on the rest. This provided me with more space that I can fill in and more time to contemplate how to do things better, more efficiently, and set aside regular time for doing the kind of stuff that I am tempted to procrastinate on but is very important in the long run. It is also helpful to delegate work to others – we have many amazing specialists in the company who can do various tasks way better than me and who welcome the opportunity to learn something new.
Do you have any tips for successful time management?
I try to use Outlook as much as possible, apart from that I note down everything in a calendar so that I don’t have to come back to it afterwards – for example, right when I answer an email. When I was thirteen, I went as far as outlining exact times for individual activities, such as “getting up at 7 am, breakfast 7.20” … I put this approach to good use during my PhD studies – it seems that three years is a long time, but there is a lot to do, so I broke up the work into smaller pieces and scheduled deadlines for each. Once I saw that I still hadn’t finished one part but should have been already moving on to the next, it was clear that I needed to work more effectively. These days I am not that strict anymore, but I still find this approach useful. When I need to do ten different things, I decide to complete those with the highest priority and I don’t start anything else until they are finished.