From dissecting frogs to spearheading tech: How Aspire’s Head of Engineering builds a winning team

September 9, 2021

Good things often come from the most unexpected places. Just ask Aspire’s Head of Engineering, Jarek Tkaczyk.

From majoring in biotechnology to pursuing technology solutions in the travel industry, it was only a matter of time before Jarek eventually became the driving force behind the region’s leading engineering team.

Wearing multiple hats on the daily, some of the many tasks Jarek takes on range from managing cross-functional teams remotely to constantly conceptualising new products to fulfil customer needs. While all that sounds especially impressive, it is his strong family values, distinctive leadership style and positive work ethic that has paved the way for the Aspire engineering team’s ongoing success today.

To get a deeper understanding of how he stays on top of his A-game while keeping his feet on the ground, we got Jarek to take us through the process of how a product idea comes to fruition, how he keeps up with emerging tech trends, and what it takes to be an effective leader at SEA’s all-in-one solution for business finance.

Can you briefly share your background before joining Aspire?

From all-inclusive tour operators, skiing incentives to oriental adventures, I spent most of my career in the travel industry. But I naturally gravitated towards IT and started working on technology solutions for travel. That’s how I eventually found myself exploring SEA and living in Singapore.

How did you find out about Aspire and what made you decide to join the team?

It all started with a single email from Gio in June 2018. I had a chance to meet the early team then, but it took another year to close ongoing commitments and finally join Aspire.

How do you usually start your work day? Any go-to coffee or Spotify playlist to help you get through the day?

I often start my day cycling before the sun goes up. Roaming Singapore downtown without traffic is pretty cool! But the most important part of the day comes later when I see my kids off to school. Next comes reading and studying, then going through to-dos for the day, which was planned beforehand, with a cup of black coffee with no sugar ;)

What are the most valuable skills needed to succeed in your role?

The most important would be a balanced mix of handling people and technology. People are the most important if we want to get far, while technology provides us with the vehicle to do it.

Take us through the journey of building an Aspire product from start to finish.

It all starts with the customers’ needs, which our exceptional Product and Customer Success teams identify. Then, the Product and Engineering teams work together to find the best solutions to improve the customer’s life, looking for innovations where possible.

The feedback loop is crucial so we closely monitor the adoption and UX of the system as the paramount goal for us is to build great products.

On a scale of 1 to 5, how difficult is it to manage cross-functional engineering teams? Are there any significant changes you implemented to adjust to the pandemic?

We’re lucky to be in a situation where the work-from-home scheme did not really disrupt but actually helped in productivity. Software development has been following remote work trends for a long time and most of us were ready for it from day one.

Naturally, we faced challenges just like any other team. Remote work is not going to replace the human interaction we would have in the offices, but we strongly believe that the culture we build in the team should support it; the culture of open communication, ownership and self-development.

How do you keep up to date with emerging tech trends? Is there a tech news site or industry leader that you always read up on?

Understanding different types of leadership helps a lot. There are times when you need to lead by example, and for that to happen, you have to be on top of your game. In many situations, you would lead from behind. That is when you need a broader perspective. When you clarify your context along with what expertise and feedback you have to provide for your team, it’s easy to find the right people to follow and skills to master. In today’s world knowledge is at our fingertips—go and use it.

Who is your hero and how have they inspired you?

My kids. It’s incredible how much we can learn from our children about the world, people and last but not least: ourselves.

Share a fun fact about you!

I decided to pursue a career in IT late and by chance. Initially, I studied biotechnology—dissecting frogs, deciphering the genome and figuring out how germs rule the world!

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