CTO Sessions: Jozef Képesi, Kiwi.com

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? "If I should pick one of the many buzzwords, it would be cloud and the 'digital transformation'."

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What was your first job? Before I joined Kiwi.com I worked as a freelancer mainly in the fields of Big Data and NLP.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, I actually wanted to become a structural engineer, I was always super fascinated by physics and one of the main characters in Prison Break, Michael, was a structural engineer, which inspired me. I nearly enrolled at Bratislava University to study engineering, but the university in Brno actually accepted me to study IT before I even had a chance to do the tests, so I just went with the flow and ended up in Brno. It turned out to be a good move because this is where I met Oliver Dlouhý who was looking for someone who could code the first versions of our algorithms.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I studied Informatics and Economics, with some law. Basically, I studied anything that could hold my attention. Unfortunately, if I am not totally immersed in a subject my attention span shortens and as soon as I see things stall or slow down I'm looking for the next thing to pique my interest. So, I tended to drop subjects after a year or so. Looking back, I was always able to get the best out of every field and I don't regret not finishing any of my studies. All the learnings have contributed to my overall skill set and knowledge.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I did a lot of random stuff during my studies. But co-founding and then leading Kiwi.com was my first real job.

What type of CTO are you? I can find simple, effective solutions to problems that seem too complex at first sight. Fortunately, the way I think cuts through a lot of the extraneous and irrelevant issues. I work hard to bring others along with me and to share the vision.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? There is a bunch of stuff going on nowadays, but tech comes and tech goes, what was cool today can be dead tomorrow - just look at the evolution of JS frameworks during the past few years - the fact that you were a JS developer became mocked in some professional areas, just because your tech community and colleagues are unable to commit to any concept for longer than a lifespan of a mosquito. Huge players like Facebook had to come in and tell everybody "This is the way how you build stuff from today, just deal with it and go think again about your brilliant *let's change everything again from scratch* ideas".

The real change will happen once everybody will be able to create their own tools and build tech businesses without the ability to code. I mean - there has to be a point when software engineers will become obsolete and computers will just build the stuff based on our requirements (or even generate the requirements based on the needs of our civilization...). Basically, the profession itself evolves to a peak where it will become a lot less relevant.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? If I should pick one of the many buzzwords, it would be cloud and the "digital transformation". It's often seen as a way to fix everything inside your organisation. In reality, moving to cloud-based systems doesn't mean your scaling problems are going to magically disappear, it just removes some of the already known obstacles and at the same time introduces a lot of new ones, which you have never seen before, but somebody on this planet might have already fixed and he wants you to pay him.

What is one unique initiative that you've employed over the last 12 months that you're really proud of? I can't pick a single thing we did, as this is not the way we operate. We have multiple ongoing initiatives, each of them being a never-ending, evolving process. The enterprise is like a living being - the world and its conditions are constantly changing, so it has to adapt & evolve to survive and improve with every single iteration so there is no competition taking over. This is a double-edged sword though, as you can never feel that the job is done. However, on the other side, an organisation that is able to realise this and keep this attitude in the very core of its DNA is going to be evolving every day, getting stronger and more impactful. This is how we operate at Kiwi.com, ever-evolving, testing, innovating, learning and moving on at a fast rewarding pace.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two. No.

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? Our mantra is to make travel simple for people and to offer end to end solutions. Allied to this, we are creating technology to solve myriad other issues. One of the recent and successful developments - granular prediction of weather patterns and how these would affect flights and onward travel.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? We are a technology company, only 7 years old, with over 2,600 employees and turning over the way in excess of 1 billion, this success is all driven by relevant and timely technology.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Both founders being tech guys, we were born as a tech company, we always leverage technology to support our business needs.

What makes an effective tech strategy? The KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) attitude is very efficient.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? Defining the role is quite tricky, as the CTO in a start-up is usually also one of the founders and the role evolves over time. It starts with being the Chief architect, moving through Chief recruiter and Chief coffee brewer for the recruited team (as if you did your recruiting right, they know better how to code than you) to the guy who "Socialises and knows stuff", leading him to constantly ask "But does it scale?". Through the whole process, the main function of the role should be about the principles of the company culture.

What has been your greatest career achievement? In the early stages of the company, our first engineering team literally disappeared in front of our eyes because I had no idea how to manage them. We found one of the members actually left for a job in McDonald's, so it couldn't be worse. Looking back at this and realising that everything is about the team, the greatest achievement is knowing that we can achieve anything.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Nothing and everything. We wouldn't be the same without all the mistakes we made.

What are you reading now? Andy Grove - High output management. It's fascinating to see how nobody figured out anything better than the principles used in Intel years before Google even existed, nor adopted OKRs or Spotify came with their tribes. This probably means it works good enough and you should follow them.

Most people don't know that I… Read books & speak Hungarian.

In my spare time, I like to…travel, travel, travel, party and meditate.

Ask me to do anything but… Never ask me to run a city marathon. I never understood the meaning nor the concept of locking down historic city centres, so that people can run on the streets, while there is a stadium around the corner.

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