From a Career in Advertising to the Position of Senior Designer and Project Lead: Mateusz's Success Story

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Ola Niechciał

Updated Jul 3, 2023 • 15 min read
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Mateusz Jankowski is a Senior UI Designer & Team Leader at Netguru, one with vast experience gathered over years of working in advertising and design. His job isn’t limited to producing amazing visuals.

As a leader for his team, he’s also responsible for good communication (within the team and with the client), alignment with the client’s vision and goals for the project, and delivering added value to match Netguru’s standards for customer excellence. These are not easy tasks. Luckily, Mateusz has a lot of experience under his belt, and has spent his career mastering the skills he currently uses every day. Here’s the story of how he started out as a designer, went through various challenges over the years, and ended up at Netguru.

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Mateusz’s biggest challenge at Netguru came in the form of a fully remote project for a Middle-Eastern client. It was a food ordering app. At first, Mateusz’s main job was designing the interface, but soon it became clear that the plan created for the app and the designs it involved wouldn’t help the client as much as it should. To fix this issue before it occurred, the team was extended to add the necessary UX experience. The app required a bit of development on top of that, so it became a truly involved project. As its project lead, Mateusz was responsible not only for his own work, but also for managing the team’s progress. He oversaw communication between the project team and the client’s team, and, besides focusing on delivering the highest quality of work possible, he strove to support the client in taking full advantage of the resources offered by Netguru.

The advertising origin story and work abroad

Mateusz began his career as a designer in a global advertising agency located in Warsaw. He applied for and got the job immediately after finishing high school, which meant that there was a big age gap (almost 10 years!) between him and the next youngest employee. He started out producing simple designs, from ATM screen UIs to landing pages for international brands. The company’s digital design team was small, counting fewer than twenty people, but this was enough for Mateusz to watch and learn. He studied new media at the Polish-Japanese Academy of Information Technology at the same time. “I hoped that the course would focus on new technologies, and give me a similar experience to an art school,” Mateusz says.

He worked in advertising for another four years. His titles included Designer, Senior Designer, then finally Art Director. As an Art Director, Mateusz was responsible for building creative concepts for brands. This meant that he had less to do with the execution of his ideas, but remained in the orbit of digital services and new technology, seeing the big picture. He was most interested in innovation and cutting-edge solutions on the Polish advertising market.

Advertising gave Mateusz the ability to grow quickly as a designer, but there was a problematic part under the surface. Companies in that industry often don’t treat their employees as well as, say, the IT industry. They get lost in the competitiveness of their market and end up caring more about spreadsheets than about respect or their team members’ values. Clients don’t always treat their advertising agency teams as experts in their field. This outlook can have disastrous effects on team motivation and morale. Mateusz always tried to aim for higher standards than those presented by the Polish market. He looked at the work of global designers and got inspired by them, which allowed him to push his craft higher and higher. Eventually, he moved to work for a studio in Toronto. He became a partially remote designer, spending part of the year in an office in Toronto, and the rest of it in Poland.

This experience - moving to Canada - finally gave him the opportunity to encounter what he always hoped to encounter. The company he worked at truly pushed their employees to develop and grow. The team received extensive support in the form of individual feedback, face-to-face meetings, and the challenge of working on projects for market leaders (including Hollywood brands). There, Mateusz finally felt like an expert that others saw as worth listening to, rather than a hand moving the mouse in Sketch or Photoshop.

He also felt an emotional connection to the place. “I was able to grow professionally and feel that, at the end of the day, I was doing good work,” Mateusz says. According to his observations, this sort of employee-friendly approach is becoming more common in Poland, too. Mateusz started following the Polish market when the remote aspect of his job began to grow tiring. That’s when he noticed Netguru. He watched Netguru’s design team’s growth and felt convinced it was the right opportunity for a change.

Joining Netguru’s team

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Mateusz observed Netguru and its team for half a year. He looked up case studies, saw that the team presented themselves as a community of designers rather than strangers working for the same company. He decided to see for himself whether this was true.

The recruitment process in Netguru was very transparent,” Mateusz says. “I knew what was going on, had email contact with the HR department and design team in case I came up with any questions, and I knew I’d get answers. The team was flexible and allowed me to postpone one of the recruitment calls for personal reasons. They treated that stumble in the process very respectfully.” Netguru was also quick to offer feedback. We do try to respond immediately to any questions and not leave our applicants waiting. In Mateusz’s case, it made him feel like Netguru’s recruitment team were available for him to talk to and guide him through the process at any time.

“I encountered truly amazing people,” he says. “I was lucky, because one of my design inspirations and motivators was the person who recruited me. It was great to have a real conversation with him - even though it kept being interrupted. I got a call on the intercom that I had to deal with. My dog started barking. Then my wife called to ask me to pick up our daughter from the building’s parking lane. Despite all this, recruitment went smoothly and the people on the other end took the interruptions in stride. It was such a human thing to do, and greatly appreciated.”

A Senior Designer’s work at Netguru

As a Senior Designer at Netguru, Mateusz is responsible for good cooperation within his projects and for the entire project team. He participates in planning the work to best meet clients’ needs, chooses the right solutions, and finds the right people for the team to deliver real value. This involves micromanaging what skills the team can offer. “For one large project, we needed someone focused on UX, so I could switch to working on the UI. Then we added another UX designer, and another UI expert. My job was to empower them to do their job well, and for maintaining good communication with the client,” Mateusz recalls.

He needs to know his team and what to expect from each of them. Transparency is key. Mateusz makes sure the team informs each other about anything that could affect their work. They still maintain a flexible approach, allowing the designers to schedule, say, dentist appointments without trouble. “It isn’t about constant availability, just staying in touch and keeping others informed, while meeting task deadlines and producing quality work,” Mateusz says.

Another important element of the job is motivating his team and encouraging them to motivate each other. Netguru boasts a rich feedback culture, focusing on constructive critique. “We go over every task internally, before delivering it to the client,” says Mateusz. “We do feedback sessions and mini-workshops to look for potential solutions to problems. We vote on which to choose, and conduct tests within the team. We build the project together.” The team has a good collaboration culture which allows them to freely assist each other.

Mateusz is responsible for more than that. He takes care of planning, deliverables, roadmaps, as well as consulting plans and strategies with the team, then presenting them to the client. His soft skills and maintaining a high quality of cooperation are crucial. “We build good relations within the team, often spending the first few minutes of a standup on small talk,” Mateusz reports. This allows them to be a better, closer team, understand each other and react more quickly to others’ challenges. Once, they had a free hour before a presentation, and spent it on Christmas karaoke. They had fun together and built real, human connections. It became obvious that everyone cared about each other, which Mateusz thinks is crucial for true collaboration, and too rare in the industry.

Good company culture and team fit

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According to Mateusz’s experience, big advertising agencies operate with small teams working for external clients. These teams usually manage to build good relations, which is made easier by the fact that they are often physically in the same office. “At my previous jobs, we put effort into getting to know each other - and we still keep in touch, even after almost a decade,” Mateusz says.

During his time in Canada, Mateusz noticed that the culture of the country involved being truly interested in others’ lives. The people there were warmer, more heartfelt in their interactions with colleagues. Living within that culture for a few years helped Mateusz realise that such an approach allowed him to build deeper connections, which in turn helped him and his teammates to be truly motivated and engaged in their work. To realise their passion through it. They became a group of good friends working together, which Mateusz believes was a great advantage for their employer. “Creativity flows easier within a group like that,” he says. “Being able to rely on others, pushing each other forward - that can help a design team immensely. We upheld the company’s values and delivered boutique quality to customers.”

Mateusz noticed that the same thing is happening in Netguru. “We have over sixty people in the design team, but I don’t feel like I’m working for a corporation. I have regular conversations with many teammates - at work and after hours - and I use their good advice both in my professional and personal life.”

This is a growing global trend that seems to be connected with the technological revolution, as well as the culture of startups and IT companies. Or perhaps it’s a generational thing. “We’re building work environments in which we feel good - supported and safe. Because of our awareness of other people’s needs, of information exchange through the internet, we can practice more empathy,” Mateusz theorises. “We’re realising that robotically doing our jobs isn’t the best approach. We have a lot of psychological research telling us that this new outlook on building company culture works. It makes teams more effective. And we can spread this approach around the globe.”

Mateusz’s last task at his previous company was to create a booklet for new employees, educating them on company values, among other things. The first thing he experienced at Netguru was learning its values. He was surprised to see that both sets of values aligned almost perfectly. “I ended up in another place where my values matched those of the company,” Mateusz says. “And I’m glad to report that I was right about Netguru. It’s better here than I expected in terms of human relations and culture.”

Team fit is an important thing to consider when looking for a job. Even en extremely talented person with an amazing portfolio would create dissonance within the team just through bringing in the wrong attitude. Netguru’s recruitment team takes this into consideration and weeds out those candidates who wouldn’t find their place here. Netguru is a company for like-minded people, which allows us to create a safe space for creativity and provide natural, human support to each employee’s growth.

Learning from others and finding the right career path

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Collaboration and cooperation with people helped Mateusz grow the most. He used to lead projects before, but at Netguru he had the opportunity to go through the internal recruitment process for a leader position. He wasn’t sure it was the right time, but his own leader encouraged him to try. Mateusz made the attempt and succeeded. “It shows how my skills are the results of cooperation with others, and that support is so important in a professional setting,” he says. “I loved the fact that my leader cheered me on and helped me do this.”

Mateusz likes the thought of supporting others in their growth. He does so by focusing on good communication, openly appreciating the people he works with, and being transparent in informing others about what they do well, and what they could still improve. “I wanted to help others grow, share knowledge they might need,” he says. “I created a recruitment presentation in which I told the story of my pre-design experiences, when I played in a band and was a bit of a shepherd for the other band members. This made me realise that I already had the experience of pushing others forward, in believing in them more than they believed in themselves, which motivated them and helped them motivate others. These can be simple actions leading to a perpetuum mobile of inspiration. As a band, we forgot that we had limits and ended up performing at a large festival, despite not quite believing that it was possible. With the right support, you can exceed your own expectations.”

Growing as a Senior Designer

Netguru is a fast growing company with a big design team, which makes it a good environment for professional growth. But what’s even more important is ownership. In many companies, there’s one big boss for each project, taking away ownership from other, equally experienced people. “At Netguru, we don’t impose limits on ourselves or others,” says Mateusz. “Netguru gives people full project ownership. A senior in a project is often fully responsible for contact with clients and for what the entire team delivers. Additionally, someone with experience and good ideas can involve themselves in the development of structures and processes for the entire company.”

Allowing senior employees to learn from each other is something Netguru puts real effort in. We encourage internal workshops and presentations, and other, more organic opportunities for learning. We host clients from around the world or visit them in their headquarters, learning from their experiences. We conduct direct client workshops, which allows project teams to truly dive into the client’s industry and market. Each employee has a growth budget, which they can spend on learning materials, courses and events. This year, some Netguru leaders went to Amsterdam to attend one of the biggest events in the industry - the Awwwards Conference.

There are many internal growth and recruitment paths. “We’re open to initiatives,” says Mateusz. “One example I can think of is Dawid, who pretty much went through all possible career paths: from developer to product designer. If we realise we need a new position, we create it. We have Piotr, who became a Pre-sales Consultant, a position that didn’t exist before he showed his amazing ability to endear clients to himself. He loved working closely with clients, so, together with his leader, they thought it might be good for him to leave the job of a UX Designer to others and focus on Piotr’s real calling.” There have been more examples of such organic growth in Netguru’s history. We try to be a company that allows our team members to use their full potential - and we reap the benefits of their excellence. People will always come first at Netguru, and not just because this is the most effective approach to building a fantastic company.

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Ola Niechciał

Ola is always on fire. Right after graduating from a law school, she decided to work at Netguru...
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