It is so heartwarming to have our next interview with Alexander Stelmakh. He is a Chief Strategy Officer (CSO), Co-founder at Amasty – a leading Magento extensions development company. In this interview, Alex gives us a peep into his past life on how he reached to the current position. He speaks at International Magento Meets and loves to offer consultancy to the Magento developers around the world.
Moreover, in his spare time, Alexander keeps himself relaxed as he believes that productive work needs fresh, full rest periods and likes to spend time with friends by playing squash, organizing bike trip or participating in a pub-quiz.
And here is one more interesting thing about Alex: he is an advanced scuba diver.
Yes, you heard that right! So without any further ado, let’s read his interview:
Envision Ecommerce: Alex, you are currently a Chief Strategy Officer (CSO), Co-Founder at Amasty. How did you kick-start your career and reach to this position? Was it all strategic (as you’re a strategic planner) or you just moved towards the career you most loved?
Alex: I actually did what I like and tried to earn some money with it. I fell in love with programming in my school years, so without any hesitation, I choose to study computer science at university.
You know, university years are full of temptations, but despite I combined lectures with some freelancing and hanging out, I managed to graduate with excellence. Not sure if I could repeat it again though 🙂 Nevertheless, it helped me significantly to apply for my first job, where I built a career from a junior developer to the head of the development department.
For the sake of building professional contacts and getting a different experience, I moved to another company to a similar position. Then, around the year 2008, I heard about Magento for the first time. And it was a turning point in my life. 16-hours working day in a small office with a few friends, blizzard-fast releases, quick market analysis, smoke testing and nights with coffee and support questions…
Nowadays in Amasty, I carry on multiple projects at the edge of marketing, product management and support, aiming to reach global strategic goals, like increasing market share and establishing mutually beneficial partnerships. Sounds a bit official, but it is a downright truth.
Envision Ecommerce: Being a Magento Certified Specialist, what are the benefits of having such certification in your career? It would be helpful for our readers to know the importance of Magento certifications.
Alex: Well, I do believe education is quite important in engineering, that is why I passed Magento certification and I’m proud that I was one of the first people in my country, Belarus, who did it. Then I organized internal courses in Amasty, and now we have eight certified Magento professionals in the development department and one in the support department. See https://u.magento.com/certification/directory/index/?q=amasty
Surprisingly enough, the most valuable part of the certification is … the preparation process, because it provokes you to dive deeper in the system, understand relations and internal logic, as well as new ways to handle routines.
It helps us a lot to build robust solutions in compliance with all official standards and internal Magento architecture. There are also evident benefits for our customers. They receive stable, upgrade-friendly and fast-working extensions. It’s true for our partners as well. As you know, we have plenty of partner companies all around the world, who assist us with custom development. See https://amasty.com/partners.html
Our partners appreciate code quality and standards compliance in our extensions, which means easy maintenance and customization.
Now we are looking forward to the new Magento 2 education program and hope to jump in as early as possible.
Envision Ecommerce: As a speaker, you have attended so many Magento Meetups, conferences and events, including Meet Magento Russia, Meet Magento Poland, Meet Magento Czech Republic, etc. What benefits do you get from such events?
Alex: Indeed, I did several presentations at various Magento events, mainly at Meet Magento in multiple countries, and attended the Developer Paradise, quite an outstanding event I have to admit. Amasty, as a company, was also a sponsor of many Meetups, including, the one in New York. As Magento Premier Partner https://blog.amasty.com/amasty-partners-magento/ we also plan to visit Magento Live in London this year.
Why am I engaged in all this stuff? Because it gives me a chance to get out of a comfort zone, learn something new, sort out my current knowledge and topic understanding, meet interesting people and make useful contacts.
Envision Ecommerce: Besides your Magento certification, what other certifications do you have?
Alex: I started my career as a developer, so I have several technology-based verified competences. Most notable is the Zend PHP Certificate, which I got back in 2006.
Zend, as you probably know, is the base framework for Magento, so this certificate was most useful.
Here’s an interesting side fact. Magento for a long time was a featured application on the Zend Framework website. As a matter of fact, this gave Magento platform an initial boost of popularity.
Although I was keen on developing and working with code, then I moved towards project and product management. Because it was required for a lead manager. At that time I got inspired by lean production and theory of constraints and thought about PMI certification in classic project management. But, as I said, I came across Magento, put out all theory, buckled down and started programming.
Right now the company counts over 40 employees and I’m in the process of achieving Scrum Master Certification, as we plan to split support and development teams in Amasty and use different approaches for the organization of work.
Envision Ecommerce: Our readers are eager to know about the Magento learning resources you usually follow. Can you please share a book or a website with our audience?
Alex: It’s a very important question taking into account how much low-quality content is available across the Internet these days.
Nonetheless, there are two websites I stick to and recommend to use anyone who works with Magento.
Envision Ecommerce: We found something about you, “Alex is a guru of questions to speakers” :). What would you say about this?
Alex: I would say you are flattering me 🙂
Nonetheless, as a speaker, I hate and love questions at the same time. Hate, because being asked a question is always a stressful situation. Love because it clearly shows your speech got a response and attracted attention.
When I listen to some presentation I usually ask a question. First of all to clarify some vague points, and, more importantly, to understand the author’s attitude to the subject. In any case, asking a smart question is a great way to build a rapport with the speaker, which allows you to continue the communication later. So I keep practicing this skill 🙂
Envision Ecommerce: What would you say if you are asked to give a piece of guidance to the Magento merchants who are upgrading their eCommerce stores to the latest version of Magento 2?
Alex: The thing is, so called “upgrade” is not required anymore.
Previously obvious question now becomes controversial having the latest breaking news from the Magento in mind. https://magento.com/blog/magento-news/ongoing-magento-1-support
As they have decided to continue M1 support, merchants receive more options.
I personally see no reason to move stable working Magento 1 store to a new Magento 2 platform right now.
The benefits, like slightly improved performance or better UX for the checkout process, are easily covered by 3rd party extensions. But the disadvantages a more complicated and less stable platform are all here.
Don’t get me wrong, however, if you are launching a brand new shop, Magento 2 is an excellent choice, but the upgrade is a different story.
Will love to see your counter arguments in the comments.
Envision Ecommerce: As for your experience in Magento, what are the pros and cons of using Magento in development? How do you compare Magento with other popular ecommerce platforms?
Alex: Being a die-hard supporter of Magento, it is quite difficult for me to provide an unbiased opinion, so I’d rather skip this question. The only remark is while Magento learning curve might be quite high, it’s not because the system is complicated. No, it’s because it has a lot of functions and it is really flexible.
Envision Ecommerce: As a part of our interview process, we request you to share a picture of your workstation or the best moment that you have captured in any events. Please share.
Alex: My working place is extremely minimalistic and it is done on purpose.
I often work at home in the morning, as don’t want anything to disturb me in the most productive time of the day.
My motto is “focus on one task, do it and move to the next“. However, it is nearly impossible to maintain step by step mode during the whole day, so I separate important tasks that move me and Amasty towards long-term goals from communication, daily routines and small stuff.
Envision Ecommerce: Let’s get aside from work life and move to your personal interests. How do you spend your time besides work? Are you a family guy? Do you love playing sports, watching movies and hanging out with friends?
Alex: Yes, I’m a family guy! I very fortunately met the only women who could snatch me away from Magento 🙂 Now we live in Minsk and adore our 2-year-old welsh corgi Lucia.
I honestly feel that productive work requires fresh, full rest periods, so I have never regretted the time spent with my friends, be it squash, a bike-trip or a pub-quiz.
Unfortunately, with so many work-related tasks and outdoor activities, I have absolutely no time for TV, so I have missed most of the TV series and movies 🙁
Envision Ecommerce: Although now you have become the inspiration for many because of your expertise & firsthand knowledge, however, we would like to know about your inspirations. Let us know the names who have been the most influential mentors in your profession?
Alex: I had started my career before LinkedIn was founded, so my first mentors were books.
While younger people often find books boring, I personally value reading. Although books require bigger initial time “investing” in comparison with articles or podcasts, the “profit” is worth the efforts. Reading in my university years gave me a solid background I’ve been using till today.
This is because now and then I usually look not for modern technology only, but for the time-resistant general approaches and methodology as well.
As a result, Steven McConnell, Martin Fowler and Joel Spolsky have become neighbors on my bookshelf for a while.
And I always feel software development is something more than just writing code. Because there is so much interaction between people, starting from the initial requirements gathering and finishing with the presentation of the final program version. I do believe, under these circumstances, people are more important than processes. So, as you might already have guessed, I early adopted agile methodology ideas from Kent Beck and Ken Schwaber.
But if you let me set aside the professional sphere, where I may list more than enough names of the great leaders, I’d like to mention a name, maybe not so popular nowadays in Europe and USA, but, with no doubts an outstanding person. I’m speaking about Mahatma Gandhi, who has changed the world by his ideas, not by sheer force or a plethora of money.
Envision Ecommerce: Who would you recommend interviewing next on Envision Ecommerce? Could you please suggest some names of your colleagues, friends, or people who have a core love for Magento?
Alex: I’m proud to be familiar with some brilliant minds in the Magento world and definitely recommend to reach them out.
Among them are
Marius Strajeru – StackExchange guru, Magento community super star 🙂
Fooman’s founder Kristof Ringleff – a person behind plenty of superb Magento free extensions;
Viacheslav Kravchuk from Atwix, who always focused on customers’ success while providing Magento customizations services;
Ivan Chepurny – a former Magento core team developer and leader, well known for his handy unit testing framework;
Kuba Zwolinski – a top performing manager, sports guy and indispensable organizer of Magento events in Poland.
And of course, my best friend and colleague, Amasty’s CEO – Andrei Vashkevich. His main skill is getting things done and done at the best possible quality level.
I’m sure there are many more really influential people I don’t know in person and will love to see interviews with them and probably make professional connections.