Veli Pehlivanov - The path to becoming a CTO
The technological innovations and achievements of a company are a reflection of the people who stand behind the different teams, their skill sets, work, and collaboration. Veli Pehlivanov, CTO and Co-founder of Resolute Software, shares that the secret behind a successful software business consists of two key factors – persistence and a strong team of highly-skilled professionals.
His career path starts with a Junior Software Engineer position at Telerik, later Veli becomes a Senior Software Engineer, Technical Lead and Team Lead. In the corporate world, he occupies positions like Senior Software Manager and Director Software Engineering. The last role he has before establishing Resolute Software is VP of Engineering at a large American company where he is responsible for leading a team of around 100 people.
What drives most Veli every day are all the challenges he has to overcome and the desire for personal and professional development. Keep reading on to find out more about his journey on becoming a CTO and what else gives him purpose.
You have started your career path as a junior software engineer and today you run your own company. It must have been quite a journey! What were some of the most difficult moments?
Working in the IT sector has put me in front of many challenges related to both my technical and soft skills. One of the most difficult periods was the time where I had to really dive deep into the technical side and keep upgrading my skill set constantly. A top priority for me was to gain as much knowledge as possible about software systems, how they are being built and what technologies and specifics I had to pay attention to, and become really good at it.
The second most difficult period from my journey was when I became a manager for the first time. That was the moment when I had to master my soft skills, so I can communicate with other people very well, understand what motivates them and create an environment where everyone feels good about doing their job and they do it in unison with the rest of the team.
The third biggest challenge came when I took the decision to find out how the software business works in general. As а VP of Engineering at a large American company, I started seeing the bigger picture. My responsibilities were increasing, and now I was also involved in creating and following budgets, team optimizations, finding new talents, etc.
Can you share with us what were the best lessons learned along the journey?
Lessons learned are always a great treasure which helps you develop further. In the beginning, when I was learning how to write a code, I was thinking that this knowledge would be enough to build a successful product. However, the reality turned out to be different than what I expected it to be. For a successful project you will need to create a successful software product that is composed of many technologies and is not specialized in only one. This, on the other side, is only possible through the hard work of a whole team that is diversified in terms of skills and whose members work in unison with each other.
Another lesson that I learned is that no matter how good the quality of the technical work is, it will not be enough to create a successful product if the idea behind it is not good enough. You should find a way to solve a pressing problem for either the end user or the company. If there is a problem that is taking away even a small portion of the productivity and the success of the client, then building a software system is necessary no matter how much time and resources it will take.
In this line of thought, knowing how to write a code is different from knowing your clients and their needs. Identifying what is the problem that you should solve through technology is as important as writing the code itself. It is the combination of the two that will bring you success.
Can you share what it is like to be a manager and lead people, and did you have a plan on how to do it?
Transitioning from a technical role to a managerial one was not easy at all. These are two very separate areas of business and if you are good at one of them, it does not mean you are automatically good at the other. Technical roles and managerial ones require separate skill sets. Becoming a manager was new to me, and despite all the challenges, I found the process to be very intriguing. It is not working on something by yourself anymore, it is becoming more responsible, building, and keeping a team that works well on a larger scale, learning how to create unity, how to make each person contribute according to their expertise and knowledge, and how to help others for the greater good.
When it comes to planning, the only plan I have always had was to keep doing the thing that ignites my curiosity.
What helped you the most on the way to becoming a CTO?
Working with great people who have diverse skill sets, talents, and characters has helped me the most throughout the years! The people I talk about are the ones that taught me about software, business, the problems in an organization, how to approach challenges and even about finance. At the end of the day, we should be happy that we have worked on innovative and cool projects, but at the same time we should pay attention to the financial part and whether we are doing an excellent job there as well.
I have always looked forward to taking the next step that will help me see things more clearly. This aspiration has also helped me to keep going and to jump into the next adventure.
What brought you and the other co-founders of Resolute Software together?
Our ambition was to create a unique and busy working place that will let people do their job with great passion and dedication. In short, this is what brought us together to establish Resolute Software.
As anticipated, things did not happen overnight. In fact, this was not my first attempt to launch my own business. Throughout the years I have been trying different ideas - some of them have worked better than others, reaching certain good levels. Of course, all my previous attempts have taught me a lot and even if an idea of mine could not work at all, it never had a discouraging effect on me, making me want to stop trying.
I firmly believe that there are so many technological challenges to be solved nowadays, so finding them is not the most interesting part. What is more challenging and exciting is to build a team whose members have similar values when it comes to work ethics and culture. To keep building and maintaining such a team is a journey which we enjoy every single day.
Together with the other co-founders, we were shaping the idea behind Resolute Software step by step. It took us around one year, during which we were discussing different options and ways. At the end, we decided that the best we could do is to offer our expertise as consultants on a global level. It’s been three years since then. We took the time to generate our most important values and principles that we would later use as a navigation when running the company. Looking back, I am happy to see that these same values and principles have not changed, and we still rely on them.
How did your responsibilities change once you become a CTO?
At the American corporation I worked for, everything was so different from what we are trying to create here in Resolute Software. Back then, I used to be involved in heavy work processes and I depended on already established parameters that I had to maximize to scale the business.
At Resolute Software, I no longer have all those limitations, so there is more space for innovation. My responsibilities mostly relate to building strategies for the whole business development and a strong and devoted team. The organization keeps changing in a positive way with each person that joins the team. We were only three people onboard in the beginning and now we are 35.
What advice would you give to the people who are about to start their own business?
Find your passion, use it as motivation to develop it into something bigger and become extremely good at what you are doing. If you have the ambition to run your own business and start from scratch, you must have something meaningful to offer no matter if it is a product, service, expertise, or a skill set. For me that is what brings you the biggest opportunity for success – enter a niche, offer a product or service of excellent quality, and be the best at it.
To achieve that, you need to attract people with talents different than yours and have an aspiration to be the best at what they do (just like you do).
Surrounding yourself with professionals that come from multiple backgrounds will help you cover the whole spectrum of expertise needed to excel to a top level. With the right people in your team, you can achieve far more than if you work all by yourself.
Would you share with us what your current professional and personal ambitions are?
Certainly, one of my current and biggest ambitions is to make it possible for Resolute Software to expand even more internationally. We are already present on two continents, yet we would like the name of the company to be associated with an exceptional quality of service on a global level. This ambition goes together with another one that is related to the work environment that we create for the team. Growing our business will not be at the cost of the unique, healthy, and busy work atmosphere we want to build and maintain. Indeed, in the long-term we would like to be among the top 3 IT employers in Bulgaria.
When it comes to my personal goals, things seem to be aligned with the development that I am experiencing right now and a huge part of it comes from what I do at Resolute Software.
What does your role mean in the context of the tech ecosystem in Bulgaria?
My role as an engineer and manager in a software company in Bulgaria is to contribute to the notion of our country being a place where the quality of IT work is excellent. Our responsibility as IT executives in Bulgaria is to make sure that we support a full-fledged Bulgarian image on an international level. Inseparably, we should continue creating opportunities for more and more young talents to join the IT industry and to become world-class specialists.
Our promise to the ecosystem in Bulgaria, is that we will continue to be a center for the development of IT staff and make it possible for each specialist when joing Resolute Software to have the right enviroment and keep developing further. If more Bulgarian software companies do it, the IT ecosystem in Bulgaria will benefit quite a lot.