Hi Iva, first, let me thank you for taking part in our CyberMagnolia interview series, we are happy to have you on board and I am glad you agreed to be interviewed by us :)
It is quite common among the members of the CyberMagnolia community to have other backgrounds than IT or tech. You also fit in this category as you have an engineering degree in Landscape Engineering from the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague. So when and why have you decided that this may not be the right career for you?
Well, that is a great question but the answer is a rather sad one. Back then it was super difficult to find any relevant job in my field of expertise. With my thesis, I was focusing on the transformation of the flood wave on the series of small ponds (flattening the curve). It seemed like a great step to become either a proper planner (not possible to work independently with a degree from ČZU) or to start in the municipalities to work myself up the ladder.
Which in reality meant - if you didn’t have a saved spot there (someone had to retire) the only way was to step up as a substitute for maternity leaves which gives you approx. 2 years and after that a huge question mark awaited. At that time I wasn’t as resourceful as I am today, so I gave up this idealistic, romantic even, notion to change our environment through cleaned up and rebuilt small ponds and streams.
You don’t have a formal education in IT yet you managed to build an impressive career in tech. Would you say the missing formal education in the related field limited you on your career path in any way, or was it beneficial somehow?
I probably didn’t and still don’t feel limited in this way. IT was — and correct me if I’m wrong — still is a trial and error field. Combine that prerequisite with me being a bit stubborn, puzzle lover, pattern seeker who played computer games. I’m certain my gaming years were sort of a basic tech education (now many parents wanna kill me for saying that). I learned English, logic & puzzle-solving, out-of-the-box thinking (Adventures), and even finding out what kind of person I’d like to be (RPGs) and so much more! The games were often buggy or your computer didn’t have the right .dll or a driver - this way I had to learn to sort it out to play the damned game.
We did some SQL magic at the UNI but the proper programming wasn’t covered. Somehow I decided to have a script as a pillar of my thesis. I knew I could do it and I did it. It wasn’t easy, but it was a puzzle. All my calculations and simulation were written and run in R. We never used it before, but how difficult it could be, right? I’m not sure whether I was stupid or daring to make this decision but thanks to that I got to experience the moment I launched the final simulation and saw the plotter visualize the transformation.
You worked as a Customer Support in a web services company for quite a long time during your studies. Quite often, such roles may be the entry point to the tech field. Was that your case as well? What is the most valuable experience you gained in that role?
I wrote my first simple HTML website with in-line styles back in high school (almost 20 years ago), then searched the Internet and found a table website template on which I built a site for my purebred Weimaraner Anouk. This project got me that gig as a Customer Support.
Funny thing is - I didn’t want that job! It was phone support and my previous gigs were at the call center that bruised my soul dearly. I decided to accept the offer, pulled through the calls, and now I can say it was my first career-defining decision. I learned so much both from our customers as well as from the developers. And the most valuable lesson was probably learning the process to gather info about a user’s problem - define the problem & test it - report it (translate it to devs lingo).
Before you settled down in product management and product development, you tried several different fields including, for example, UX. At which point did you realize that this is the right field for you, that you want to pursue a career in product development?
Becoming a UX designer was another huge decision leading me to this point - I got the field experience with “reactive UX” (altering UI that is already up and running) but no experience with starting from scratch. I jumped on a wagon that rode 1000 mph and learned on the go by doing. I got a first-row seat from which I saw how much needs to be thought of before the UX designer steps in the project. From the business, development, and marketing point of view, I feel I just grew into a digital product manager out of necessity thanks to my ability to connect the dots.
Your previous experience includes being a CEO, Product Manager, Operations Director, and more roles which are a crossroad of technology, leadership, and business. A common friend of ours pointed out that it’s a very unique experience in the Czech market, and we’re all very curious about what those experiences taught you? And what kind of skills did they require?
Haha, it sounds rather dashing, doesn’t it? But seriously, I was just hungry for knowledge, feeling a bit late for the party. I was 30 at the starting line while others were at least 5 years younger than me. So I pushed myself out of my comfort zones to find out what is in me, what do I excel at without much effort, and what is the biggest pain in the A… It was a rather brutal method but I guess it paid out pretty well.
I’ve always been the underdog - since the first day of elementary school perhaps even earlier. I guess that’s why I have such an urge to get the underdogs to thrive, make them see that they are more than enough as they are, and show them that bullshitting never gets long-term results.
Thanks to all these opportunities I could define myself as a person that can work mainly with the growth mindset people in a transparent and maximum inclusive environment that supports individuals. And I’m so happy I found such a place!
Your current role has an impressive title - Head of Product Development at Invity.io, a company developing cryptocurrency rate comparison tool, where you’re currently building a new team. How’s that going? What’s most challenging in your current role? And would you mind telling us about the project you’re working on?
Well, Invity was just founded when I joined the team. At that time I was a bit shaken after my previous job and I was so glad to step down from leadership and slowly gather my strength. During those 15 months or so I channeled almost all my previous gigs. It was a rejuvenating process - I was a client, a PM, UX designer and UI designer (ehm), tester, researcher, and more, to make sure things were done in a “good enough” way. It was all necessary and I got to appreciate everything I’ve learned in my past and it helped to make Invity.io a success.
It was a challenge to balance all the tasks and you know what? I failed, again. I got too deep in the cornfield, again, and I was unable to see the big picture, again. One day I got frustrated drafting wireframes of our new feature and realized - I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I don’t wanna do that AGAIN — that it is not my job anymore. Once I could see what I already knew it gave me the final push, I had a talk with my bosses about what happened in the past year, where it leaves us and where do we go from here.
The timing couldn’t be better. We are in black numbers, hence I got an amazing opportunity to build a product team and it feels like eating that cherry from the top :D I found a great senior UI/UX designer to help me with making Invity.io beautiful and sexy and soon we are going to look for another Product Manager to help us jump restart one amazing project.
What was your journey into the world of crypto? Was it hard to get into it?
I got my first crypto back in 2014 long before the first bull run. I fell for the Paralelní Polis vibe without any knowledge of what Bitcoin is. There was a TV with a growing graph and it seemed more like a fun project than something that will change our lives. I also remember being rather unhappy about that yellow machine making me create some account and send my “real money” there to be able to buy a coffee. So I didn’t pay much attention to the instructions and how to secure the funds and of course I lost access to that wallet.
You are probably asking about how I ended up working in crypto, right? My ex-colleague referred me and I was curious what crypto is all about and what I can help with. I’ve never thought it would be possible to get a job at SatoshiLabs - they are a bunch of super clever people who practice some dark magic, right? :D
For many of us, crypto is just a buzzword. What interesting trends are you observing in that field which are worth everyone’s attention?
For me, it is a matter of a gut feeling. It is the same one that got me this far and I’m more than sure I’m gonna learn a lot. I’m not a crypto evangelist, I won’t provide you with any bulletproof arguments why you should jump on this moving wagon. I just want to continuously improve user’s awareness of what it means to get their first crypto.
The trend is obvious - more and more people are buying in - it may be just FOMO. Fear is a strong motivator. And there are many shady figures taking advantage of people not knowing enough, giving them just a fraction of necessary information to make money out of their naive trust. I feel this is the ripe time to raise awareness on both online security as well as financial literacy to prepare a common user to know the risks and how to minimize them and become financially self-sovereign.
You are an active member of the Czech Python community, which is how we met. Among other community activities, you organize PyWorking sessions in Prague, the regular meetings for Python newbies to help them develop their Python skills. What brought you to the Czech Python community? And do you use Python at work, or is it just a hobby of yours?
I signed up for the PyLadies course back in 2015 to improve my communication with devs through better understanding their lingo and thinking processes. My second goal was to understand a bit better what are the technological options out there to have a wider understanding of what I’m building. I haven’t properly used Python for several years now. I’d need to stop working to lean into learning to code fully otherwise it would be a waste of time.
Nowadays a lot of people are joining “IT forces” and their abilities differ very much. We, not only girls, are the self-taught pioneers who have the power to help mainstream it which is a huge responsibility. I wouldn’t like to become a less than mediocre coder who’d just not take it seriously enough to become a great one.
In the end, let me ask you about something a bit different - these days, most people are tired and struggling with their mood (we conduct this interview roughly a year after the breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic). You, on the other hand, keep smiling and seem to be full of positive energy almost all the time. What is your secret source of energy? Could you share some tips with the community?
Hahaha - being positive is a choice. Bring out and nurture your inner child - just remember how easy it was to be amused and happy when you were little. Go out and play - try to jump, run, twirl, smell mud and blossoms, listen to the birds singing - it will get back to you, all the memories and emotions and you will just cherry-pick the strongest moments, whatever floats your goat, hold on to it tight!
Thank you very much for the interview, Iva, and I hope to see you soon, preferably in person if possible :)
Iva was born and raised in Prague in a non-tech family. Yet somehow she has always been inclined to tech stuff and hungered for understanding how things work. Her studies of Landscape Engineering gave her a multidisciplinary background and her thesis was more on the IT side of solving the problem. At the moment she is on a quest for raising cybersecurity awareness amongst mainly crypto curious mass market.
She is an animal lover - 2 dogs, 3 fish in a tank, and countless jumping spiders owner. Dreams about having Alpacas. Whenever she gets the chance, she leaves the city for a hiking or biking or skiing trip to find some peace of mind and to get a distance from the daily Prague hectic atmosphere.
CyberMagnolia is a growing women’s tech collective in the Czech Republic. Our community goes beyond the borders of programming languages, tech stacks or job descriptions. We’re there for each other creating a space in which every member feels confident asking hard questions, seeking advice, and offering to share their knowledge and experience. If you’re one of us — come and join us!