Fun fact: Despite a lifelong devotion to the exploration of natural sciences, HTEC’s newly appointed Head of Technology, Solution Architecture, only got into software engineering later in his life, on the verge of his 30s. This is only one of many fascinating details in the delightfully unconventional professional journey of Slobodan Boljanović.
On the eve of his appointment into the new role, we were eager to discover more about his winding path towards becoming the centerpiece of HTEC’s strategic compass. We are pleased to share what we have learned.
Like many of his technological peers, Slobodan showed an innate affinity for natural sciences from an early age. This affinity had ultimately landed him in the prestigious Mathematical Grammar School in Novi Sad, Serbia, which gathers the city’s most gifted young mathematical minds. By that point, however, he had developed an array of other interests, primarily sports, and began to rebel against the perceived “geekdom” of his high school environment. That rebellion extended to the emerging field of computer programming.
“When I was in my senior year of high school, we got a young teacher straight from university teaching what went for programming in the early 90’s. For some reason, I embraced an attitude that I didn’t want to have anything to do with programming. I didn’t go to a single one of her classes for the entire school year. Then, I showed up a few weeks before my graduation, because I needed to pass. I introduced myself, because she didn’t even know who I was, and told her that I am not a bad student or anything, but if there’s one thing in life that I am certain of it is that I would never ever in my life be a programmer, and that she should simply let me pass and we can both move on with our lives. Of course, she didn’t just let me pass, but I got away with the bare minimum.”
Coming out of high school, Slobodan actually wanted to study at the Faculty of Sport and Physical Education. However, he credits his father’s shrewd approach and managerial savvy for convincing the headstrong young man to eventually opt for the Faculty of Technical Sciences.
Slobodan’s university days coincided with turbulent times in the region, and the circumstances outside of his control forced him to pause his formal education for almost half a decade. Over time, he states, everyone but him had given up any hope that he would ever go back and finish his studies.
New day rising
However, contrary to popular predictions, Slobodan had emerged from his academic sabbatical with a newfound maturity, focus, and determination.
“I went back to university, and I passed the remaining exams in short order. Then, when the time came to decide on a graduation thesis, I once again had to make a big choice. By that point, I was determined to leave the university with a craft and skill set that was globally relevant, and programming was already heralded as the vocation of the future. So, there was me, beginning to learn to code at the age of 30.”
Slobodan recounts how that period of his life was marked by an overwhelming focus and desire to truly take full control and responsibility for his future.
“I approached it with an attitude that was like ‘give me the most complex and challenging part of programming and I will master it’. I made a conscious decision to take a year of my life to dive deep into matters and dedicate myself to learning as much as I could about programming. It was a sort of relentless, manic drive that kept me going, I didn’t know how to stop. To this day, it is the best investment I ever made, one that has already repaid me multifold and continues to do so.”
The outcome of his year-long pursuit, Slobodan’s graduation thesis, made such a strong impression that he was offered the chance to remain at the faculty as an assistant. However, he declined the offer, because, in his own words, he was impatient to set his career on a faster track than what he felt academia promised.
Instead, he pursued hands-on experience and a chance to start applying his fast-growing knowledge.
“In my first job, I was part of a small team with colleagues who already had 5 to 10 years of working experience. However, I was so driven and eager to overachieve that I quickly earned their respect for my attitude and work ethic. A little while later, when the company established a new team, I was entrusted with leading it. This was deeply validating and gave me confirmation that I was on the right track. From there, good things began to happen.”
Once he entered the professional world of technology, his career took up an accelerated pace. He went through developer roles of growing seniority levels, and he was entrusted with leading teams almost from the onset. He credits his early sporting days for instilling a powerful team spirit in him and recommending him for team lead roles even when his technical skills were not yet at the right level.
“I came from a technical background and that was my primary area of interest, but in the course of work I discovered an affinity and an aptitude for what we commonly call “soft skills”- working with people, understanding of processes, different dimensions of management such as team, project, product, risk management, and so on. This helped me understand the value of these skills, both in life and in business. I was curious and willing to continue to develop those skills, and also fortunate to work in environments that enabled and encouraged it, and adding this to my skill set was immensely valuable throughout my career.”
After almost a decade of a successful and evolving career abroad, Slobodan got a chance to come back home. Working for a company in Ireland, he was entrusted with establishing and leading a development center in Novi Sad, gaining an opportunity to further expand his skill set.
“On paper, I was the CEO of the regional development center, which meant that I had to learn about basic administration, books, budgets, etc. At the same time, I was operationally performing the role of a CTO, while also serving as a member of the architect team for the whole company. I was a Scrum Master, I made strategic decisions – you name it, I did it.”
Slobodan clarifies how the totality of those experiences built up to help him overcome a wide variety of challenges.
“Prior to joining HTEC, I gained 14 years of experience in what can be considered technological consultancy. Technical expertise is a necessary requirement for this role, but delivering results requires a far broader range of skills – the sheer variety of scenarios we face calls for it. As consultants, we are always hired to fix certain issues. Sometimes, that issue is a lack of technical skills, sometimes it’s interpersonal relationships and lack of cohesion, sometimes it’s processes and best practices, sometimes it’s lack of leadership and decision-making, and even the top leadership that hired you can be the root of the issue. As you can imagine, technical skills can address only some of these scenarios, and the rest is about pedagogy, psychology, strategy, diplomacy, and so on.”
The perfect fit
Joining HTEC in 2021 as a Solutions Architect, he was once again quick to distinguish himself for his skill, dedication, easy-going manner and team-first attitude. This quickly led to an expanding set of responsibilities, culminating in his recent formal appointment to the role of Head of Technology, Solution Architecture.
“HTEC has given me plenty to be happy about, and it’s something I haven’t made a secret. To be working in this environment, surrounded and supported by people who I consider elite in their line of work, is a luxury. With HTEC, I have the rare experience of a company viewing me in a way that I would like to be viewed and utilizing my skills in a way that I also believe is the best, where my professional values and principles are perfectly aligned with the company’s and recognized as a standard for others to follow.”
While on the subject of Slobodan’s professional principles and values, we were curious to learn how he would define his professional philosophy.
“Our committee gathering the company’s most distinguished engineers is called Tech Excellence, and we are truly driven by a quest for excellence in all dimensions of our work. If I wanted to define my career motto, I would go with ‘how to achieve extraordinary things with ordinary people’. I have invested a great amount of effort in developing skills that enable such ecosystems and processes.”
Given the vast and diverse experience he has gathered on his professional journey, we were eager to find out what distinguishes this role from his previous work, and what it represents for him.
“When you operate as a developer, regardless of the seniority level, and even if you are the greatest developer in the world, you are still in the position to contribute only individually. Once you become a team lead or a solution architect, the contributions you are entrusted with become team contributions. What sets this role apart for me is that it enables me to impact the company’s continued development on a strategic level. It is not an individual or a team contribution but a contribution on a company-wide level.
On a personal note, I operate in an environment that I enjoy, working with people who I understand and who understand me, and who have ultimately supported me to this point. Working in such an environment is pure satisfaction. The greater, more difficult, and more numerous the challenges we face, the calmer, readier, and more enthusiastic we are to overcome them. That kind of team spirit is an indescribably good feeling, one which I will guard and cherish for as long as I can.”
Finally, considering the unconventional path that has led him to this point, we wondered whether he is regretful about making a belated first step in the industry or if he feels it has actually benefited him in the long run.
“I don’t think about it in terms of what could have been, because I don’t feel like it could have gone much differently given the person I was at a young age. Hypothetically, if I was to compare myself with someone of similar potential who had, unlike me, made an early start in these matters and dedicated themselves with the same passion that I found at 30, there is no way I could ever catch up with them, and I am perfectly fine with that. I am happy for them and wish the same for my children. On the other hand, with the way it has gone for me, I am very happy that I have ‘wasted’ all that time, that I have filled my heart with friendships and interests and experiences that have given me breadth as a human being. I would have missed out on many of those experiences if I had pursued a specialty from the early days. I have great respect for those who know more than me, but I am comfortable in my own skin. I believe that I have achieved the right balance for my personality, and it has served me well in my professional endeavors. I wouldn’t change a thing.”