When he started working at Mako, NASA had just confirmed the presence of water on Mars, and the world lived the struggle of the athletes at the Beijing Summer Olympics. Adam Cieślakowski is a programmer who likes to cross borders! He recently returned from the US, where he was carrying out one of Makolab’s projects. From this story, you will learn more about his 10 years of work at Mako, his projects, travels and more. Adam provides some great insights into living and working in the US. Get to know him.
1. You belong to the group of people who had the opportunity to work on a project abroad. When you started 10 years ago, you probably had no idea that this could happen. How did it all start?
I studied computer science at the University of Lodz at the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science. Before graduation, I had a dilemma. I had originally wanted to develop my interests in law and the humanities, but at the end of high school I decided that this did not make sense for me and that I would rather do something more ‘specific’. So, instead, I made a 180-degree turn and enrolled on a mathematics and IT course. I chose to apply for MakoLab primarily because I lived nearby; just two streets from the company, which meant I could travel to work on foot. Since the company was in the neighbourhood, I decided that applying was the right option for me. At the time, MakoLab was looking for someone who would primarily deal with printouts. I was accepted for the job and started working during my final year of study. Of course, I have not stayed in the same position all this time, but I still work at Mako. Since starting back in August 2008, many interesting things have happened, so I’m 😉.
2. What exactly do you do at MakoLab?
I am currently a .Net and SQL Server developer in the Business Solutions team. We produce business systems, including CRM and ERP. Our team serves both Polish and foreign customers.
3. What were you doing when you first started at Makolab? Have you always done this?
I already had a rather responsible function at the start of my career with Mako due to joining as the main programmer in a small team dealing with the preparation of printouts for BRE Bank using the XSL technology. I think I must have done quite well in this role because after less than half a year I received the “Mako Book Award” for ‘debut of the year’. I had a good entrance 😉
4. So you belong to those people who easily adapt to new conditions and quickly become independent.
Maybe, thank you. Not much later than this award and I was implementing the project myself 😉. Technically it was quite simple. My work was to write an XSL transformation and to develop a tool to support its creation. After graduating with the Polish equivalent of a 1st Class degree, I had the ambition to participate in creating much more complex solutions. I did not want to end up in this singular project, I wanted to develop and do something more. After the first two years of work at MakoLab, I received a proposal from the then production director to become the main .Net developer in the team creating the Fractus 2 trading and storage system. Of course, I accepted the offer. Sometime later, after the arrival of Marcin Kotynia, the team was transformed into Business Solutions. Interestingly, Marcin was my fourth manager in MakoLab and still remains so today. We’ve been working together for 7 years.
5. Do you remember the first project you implemented as part of the Business Solutions team?
The first project was a CRM system for Pawlik Nieruchomości, which is still being used by the client to this day. Among the projects for BS, one of the most important was the system supporting the work of insurance agents in the sales process for PZU Lithuania. The system was named LICOSS which meant, if I recall correctly, the Life Insurance Contract Sales System. The author behind this great acronym was the president of MakoLab, Wojciech Zieliński.
6. And this started your series of professional trips abroad?
Yes. During the implementation of this system, I would often travel to Vilnius. We have always travelled with a larger team and always in a car. Because I suffer from motion sickness it meant that each time we went I would be the one to drive, which helped me tolerate the journey far better. In most cases, this meant I drove the long haul in both directions. Probably, if I was not a developer I would have become a driver.
I really love to explore and so every time we went to Vilnius I tried to see something new, although there were such trips when there was no time for anything but meetings. The first trip definitely had the greatest impact on me. After a full day’s meeting, we had only a little time before dark, but we managed with our CEO Wojciech Zieliński to go – in less than two hours – to the entire old town of Vilnius, including the entrance to Gediminas’ tower. In the same year, I received my second Mako Book Award for working on this project. It is great that the system in which I was involved is still working, with the client’s entire sales process still being carried out on it.
7. In your case, it was not just the creation of services, but also products. Right?
Yes. I spent the most time in MakoLab working on the so-called ERP system – “ERP platform”. It was the most complex system I have ever worked on. I can say this with utmost certainty. Out of all BS systems, it was implemented with the largest number of clients, to mainly those who use production orders.
8. Okay, so what initiated your trip to the United States?
This was due to many other people and a decision that I made at the right time. First, the Vice-President Mirosław Sopek found a potential client in Gainesville and opened a preliminary dialogue for Makolab. Then Marcin Ośmiałowski flew to Florida and, if I remember right, he spent the week there during which he held a series of meetings with the client, gathering information about their current solutions and about their demand for a new system. After returning to Poland, the information obtained was analysed and it was decided that due to the specificity of the system, it would be best if the implementation of the solution should be undertaken by the Business Solutions team. Then Marcin Kotynia asked me if I would like to take part in its implementation, which also meant a longer stay in the USA. I replied that I would be happy to, but that I should answer for definite after talking to my wife.
9. And what did your wife think?
My wife agreed to let me leave the house and so I made a binding commitment to participate in this project 😊. Then, Mirosław Sopek together with Marcin Kotynia flew out to the USA. During this stay, finer details regarding how the system would be implemented by Mako was established. However, we still had to go through the tender. Marcin began to prepare the specifications of the system, which we finalised together after his return to Poland. As it turned out later, the detail and precision of the specification which was attached to our offer was ultimately the catalyst that determined Makolab as the system provider of choice. The start date for working on the system was set at the beginning of November 2017, with my first stay in Florida planned for the end of November and beginning of December. I was supposed to return to Poland one week before Christmas.
10. And you had to start the preparation, you probably had to do a lot of things before the flight …
A month before the planned departure I started to do all the formalities. The first step was to obtain the B1 / B2 visa that allowed me to make a business trip to the USA. The biggest hurdle was the meticulous filing out of the online application which is tremendously detailed. Yet perhaps the walk from the station to the consulate office was worse as that day was extremely cold 😊. However, the conversation with the consul went very smoothly.
It was the first journey out of the old continent for me, so I definitely had some initial stage fright. As is always the case with the US, there is a margin of uncertainty as to whether or not you will be allowed in by the US immigration officer after landing.
Ultimately, I was very well prepared for this trip both from the professional and private side. I had specific tasks related to the project that I had to carry out during my travels. My stay covered me for 3.5 weekends, so I made sure to meticulously prepare a detailed Florida travel plan in Poland to make the best use of my free time. I also managed to get Mirek’s consent to spend the weekend that ended my trip in New York. From there we have great connections to Poland. I am very grateful to him for the opportunity.
11. What were your first experiences there?
For almost all my stay in Gainesville, I was also accompanied by the Vice-Chairman Mirosław Sopek, who helped me with a lot of things there. However, all the flights (totalling 6) I was left to successfully coordinate alone. Despite the preparation, some things still surprised me. For the first time, I was driving a car with an automatic transmission. This meant that during the first few days, I executed some fairly harsh braking 😉
I also had a pretty funny adventure during the first refuelling of the car. I went to the station and started to refuel the car as I always do in Europe. It turned out, however, that in the US you pay for gasoline first, and then you can refuel it. This led to a lot of confusion at the station, which fortunately was quickly resolved. By the way, although it did not surprise me, US fuel prices – unlike their food prices – are much lower than in Poland. In Gainesville, it is $2.40 per gallon. This would be more or less PLN 2.20 per litre, and there were places where it was even cheaper.
Fortunately, it’s really easy to communicate in the US because everyone speaks English. The difficulty in communication was definitely through other units of measurement, such as by the fact that net prices, absent of the VAT, are presented, making it difficult to calculate how much will actually be paid in the store.
There was also a small thing that surprised me in the state parks. You pay 4 dollars for parking and entry to a park. At the entrance, there is an envelope case and an instruction that tells you to put the cash into the envelope, tear off the envelope marked by the perforation, put the envelope with the money in the box and hang the detached piece on your car’s mirror. Apparently, everything is clear, but I must admit that I had to read it 3 times as this method of payment was so foreign to me. Both parts of the envelope have the same identification number, making it possible to verify if the payment has actually been made.
12. What was your working day in the USA like?
During the week, I was located at the client’s office from 8am every day, where I would then spend the whole day. During this stay, we managed to complete the entire plan and at the end of December, we successfully completed the first stage of the project.
13. Did you find some time to travel?
I tried to make the most of my time on weekends. I had three of them, so I crammed in as much as I could. On one of the weekends I made a road trip to the south of Florida. I left on Friday immediately after finishing work. After 6.5 hours I arrived in Florida City and spent the night there. On Saturday at dawn, I set out for my Florida Keys expedition along the scenic Overseas Highway route. I made a short stop at Robbie’s Marina to feed the enormous tarpon fish and … pelicans. In less than 3 hours I arrived at Key West – the southernmost point of the USA, which can be reached by car from the continent. I spent 8 hours there, including getting a picture at Southernmost Point (which isn’t really the most publicly accessible place on Key West), a visit to Hemingway’s home and the most beautiful beach on KeyWest in Fort Zachary Taylor’s historical park (this is the southernmost place in Key West that is publicly available). In the evening, I returned to Florida City for the night. In addition to the breathtaking views of the Florida Keys I also saw in many places along the road heaps of debris and waste following the damages caused by Irma, which had not yet been cleared up by the services.
In the early morning of the Sunday, I arrived in Miami. Travelling by car through one of the largest cities in Florida definitely made a great impression on me. I spent 1.5 hours on South Beach and in the area of Art Deco hotels. After Miami, I went across to the Everglades National Park where I learned a lot about the local fauna. For example, the vultures in the park eat the rubber parts of cars, so you have to cover the cars with cloth that they give out for free. Florida cranes are more dangerous to humans than alligators and the park is struggling with a huge problem of pythons, which are an invasive species and have spread because of the imprudence of people who let their pets go free when they get bored of them.
I was also on an alligator’s farm where I went through the swamps on an airboat and had my closest encounter with alligators during the whole trip. When we reached the shore with the airboat I had an adult alligator right at my fingertips. Later, I also had the opportunity to hold an alligator but it was a much younger specimen.
14. Your speed of traveling is really impressive
Another day, I also got to visit the Kennedy Space Center – a combination of a space flight museum and amusement park, where you can see such unique exhibits as the Atlantis space shuttle and the Apollo 14 command module that came back from space. The largest exhibit is the Saturn V rocket, partially composed of the test version of the rocket, as well as the part prepared for the would-be flight of Apollo 19. Saturn V rockets were used in all of the Apollo missions. You can also touch a stone from the moon and take part in a very realistic simulation of a space shuttle launch. Nevertheless, my visit to KSC was also associated with a slight professional interest, as my original plan was to observe the Falcon rocket from this launch site. Unfortunately, the test flights from the SpaceX program are characterised by the fact that they are often postponed. This one was postponed four times. For this reason, unfortunately, I did not get to see it as I had to fly to New York.
15. You drove your rental car in Florida for 1880 miles! How many kilometres is that!?
I tried to make the most of my free time. After conversion, it is over 3000 km. For my last weekend, I became “Adam alone in New York” (paraphrasing the title of the classic). I spent 2 full days there and saw a lot. In that short time I got to visit the MoMA, Times Square, the One World Observatory, Wall Street, the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Top of the Rock Observatory at the Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Terminal, under the Empire State Building and the cathedral of St. Patrick. I even had time to go through the whole of Central Park and also to go by cable car to Roosevelt Island and back. Every free day I had in the USA was very intense. What I remember the most from New York were the beautiful views of Manhattan from the Statue of Liberty – I would not have even been able to go if I did not buy a ticket well in advance. The downside to visiting New York is the need to pass security checks the way you would if going through an airport. On Saturday during the tour I had 4 such checks: one in the One World Observatory, two more to enter the Statue (one before entering the ferry and the second before entering the monument itself) and a final check before accessing the Top of the Rock Observatory – but it was worth it.
16. What was it that you liked the most about your time in the USA?
Above all, the fauna of Florida amazed me. The possibility of observing animals in nature, which in Europe are found only in the zoo or not at all. In this respect, I liked the underwater observation of manatees in the Crystal River bay. Ever since I was a child, I have had great respect for these animals. Until then, I saw them face-to-face only once at the zoo in Wroclaw.
The opportunity to observe this dying mammal species in their natural environment is an unforgettable experience. I managed to capture them underwater on camera. In Gainesville itself where I lived (and where the headquarters of MakoLab USA are as well), I also managed to see many interesting animals: alligators, ibises, turtles in Lake Alice, alligators basking in the sun, cranes, battleships in Paynes Prairie.
In the University of Florida Bat Houses, there are thousands of Brazilian molasses that set off on a warm evening. On one of those evenings, I was able to see this with my own eyes.
17. Tell me something about yourself, what do you do after work?
Privately, I am a husband and a father. Being a father is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I devote my free time mainly to my son. Currently, my readings have been reduced to primarily children’s literature.
My son accompanies me and my wife on trips around Poland and neighbouring countries. We instil in him our passion for travel, while not putting him on too arduous expeditions, given his young age.
In addition, I love watching movies and TV series. I do not discriminate my preferences on the grounds of the country, year of production or genre. Last year I watched 240 films that I have not seen before. I use only completely legal sources, using 4 VOD services, cable TV and I also frequent cinemas.