Jacek Gebal discusses the path that led him to Fidelity Investments, and the challenges he faced moving to Ireland.
Jacek Gebal has been passionate about computers since he was just 10 years old, living in Głogów, Poland. Now, he’s based in Galway, where he works as a principal software engineer with Fidelity Investments.
Here, he tells Siliconrepublic.com what sparked his initial interest in software engineering as a career, and how he finds living in “a city that feels like a town” on the west coast of Ireland.
What first stirred your interest in a career in software engineering?
My interest with programming and computers was born in the 1980s when my father assembled a ZX81 personal computer for me and my brother. I was around 10 at that time, living in communist Poland, where everything (even toilet paper) was really hard to come by.
I was fascinated by the fact that I could instruct a machine to do something for me, like moving a square block on a TV screen or even making some basic games, and later, playing them myself.
My first programming experience was typing a simple BASIC program from a piece of hand-written paper that my father got from his friend. Once this was done, I became curious – what would happen if I changed some of the lines of the program?
Making a change and seeing its immediate impact on the way the program worked was amazing. I found it extremely rewarding. That’s what drove my curiosity in programming from an early age, and it still does today.
What education and experiences led you to your role in Fidelity Investments?
When I graduated from the technical school of electronics in Zielona Góra, I already knew that I wanted to become a software engineer. I also wanted to become economically independent and started working as a computer service engineer fixing monitors and printers in my home town, Głogów. However, it wasn’t my dream job and the pay was really poor and irregular.
Subsequently, while I was studying at the University of Zielona Góra, doing engineering and a master’s degree in computer science, an opportunity arose and I started working in the IT department of Energetyka Lubin. That was the first time I was exposed to an Oracle enterprise database and I was intrigued by its capabilities.
Within two years I had found a job offer in Warsaw and had relocated. It took several years to become an expert, and a few more to become confident that I actually am a software engineer!
Then in 2011, I landed in Pragmatists [a Polish software development company] where I was exposed to a new culture of Agile mindset, collaboration and continuous testing. That job allowed me to gain the skills and confidence I needed to pursue an international career.
Working for Fidelity Investments since 2015 has opened a whole new universe of opportunities to collaborate on large-scale projects, meet great mentors and leaders, and to understand challenges of big organisations.
What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path and how did you deal with them?
The biggest challenge was leaving my home town and moving to Warsaw, leaving all of my friends and family behind. I was in my early twenties at that time and so I found new friends and settled in Warsaw, though it took few years to really settle.
I’ve never enjoyed big cities, mainly because of the time needed to get anywhere. Moving to Galway, a city that feels like a town, was a great move for me. Another big surprise was the language barrier. I realise now that it’s quite tough to fit into a country you didn’t grow up in.
Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?
Across the years, there were many great people who helped shape my career as well as my skills and personality. Naming all of them would probably require a separate article.
The one I can definitely name is my wife and closest friend, Magda. We’ve spent countless hours discussing different aspects of our lives and careers.
Professionally, my former manager, Philip O’Dwyer, was the one who had a huge influence on my communication skills and helped me progress my career in Fidelity Investments through patience and understanding of my background and character. He really helped shape my personality to become a better team player.
Pawel Lipinski, owner of Pragmatists, was another great mind that influenced me hugely by sharing his passion for quality and customer satisfaction.
What do you enjoy about your job?
The greatest satisfaction is working with great people, learning from them and sharing my knowledge with them.
It’s pure joy to see others grow with you and see a group of engineers become a true team in which they share the same values, care for one another as well as for the product, and who are passionate about what they do.
What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?
Curiosity, passion, willingness to share my own knowledge and listen to others, and caring for others.
Did Fidelity Investments support you on your career path?
I’ve received huge support from Fidelity Investments Ireland.
Across the years, all of my managers were always striving to make sure that I could attend training and conferences to get exposure and recognition, both within the company as well as outside of it, for all of my achievements.
What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?
Nowadays, software engineering is all about collaboration. You can’t be successful by being a solo player. Learn from others, follow mentors, read.
Don’t be afraid to speak up, ask, and question the status quo. And just because you’re junior, doesn’t mean you have nothing to say. A fresh perspective can enlighten many.