szabi_fwa_interview_blog

FWA interview with Szabi Szekely

Do great things and great things will happen to you. Do great mobile apps and mFWA will happen to you.

We are particularly proud of the fact that both of our internal products won the mFWA award. On August 20th, our “second born”, the Tweet7 App, was also selected by this prestigious award program that is dedicated to recognizing amazing digital work.

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The FWA website, along with the award, also features interviews and articles with the creators of the winning products. So, here’s the interview with the mind behind our app, Szabi (who’s also one of our CEOs), conducted by FWA’s founder, Rob Ford.

Enjoy it!

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Please give us a brief bio of yourself.

I consider myself a software entrepreneur, a software engineer and everything in between. I love building apps, designing products and figuring out solutions to real world problems.

From the 12th year of my life I’ve been coding and hacking,  and started my first venture by the time I was 20. I always believed in teams having exponentially more power than the individuals who make them up, so I’ve been striving to surround myself with smart and motivated people, and build great software and products together. In the past years we’ve built Dollarbird and Tweet7, and a couple more are in the works as we speak.

What do you do for inspiration?

Stay up all night, alone, focused on one particular problem. You would be amazed of what comes out of those situations. Other than that, talking with as many people as possible about as many topics as possible.

Please list 3 of your favourite sites.

Exposure.co, Medium.com and pretty much anything T+L makes.

What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?

Staying sane in this fast moving industry, while building out a 30-something app development team and creating products on the side.

How many hours do you work each week?

Bordering on being cliche, probably way too many. I still haven’t found an ideal work/life balance yet, but I do believe it’s possible. One thing I realized is that you always make time for things you love to do, so if creating products is one of them, well, you’re not counting those hours, are you?

If you weren’t working on the internet what would you be doing?

– I need to assume that there’s no internet for this answer to make sense. Given this, I’d probably be a farmer on some mediterranean plantation. That, because it’s mentally relaxing. Or a space explorer. That, because  it’s just so awesome.

What’s your favourite part of your job? What’s the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?

There are a lot of aspects of my job that I really love, but the one that stands out the most is the fact that I’m surrounded by a great bunch of creative people who inspire me, and help me implement the crazy ideas that we come up with. The hardest part is definitely the fact that I often can’t really choose what I do during the workday; there are a lot of less glamorous parts of running a business, and you have to do all the nitty gritty tasks, whether you’re in the mood or not. When I’m stuck, I try to step back and look at the issue from a higher level, but sometimes you just have to sleep on it to get new ideas. Asking colleagues almost always helps, as well.

If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?

I can’t say there was one particular decision that got us here, but mostly a string of lucky un-decisions when common sense would have said otherwise. The takeaway is that you should go after your gut feeling, and always try to push the limits of what’s supposed to be possible. Most of my bigger career decisions were made on intuition, and not hard research. No one can predict the future in this industry with things changing from year to year. Just go with the flow and try to stay as up to date as possible.

What software could you not live without?

This is easy: Google Apps (incl. GMail, Drive, Calendar, etc.). That’s it.

In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?

We regularly try out new software, and this week the pleasant surprises were Realtimeboard.com (a visual collaboration tool perfectly suitable for software projects), Slack (a suitably modern internal chat tool), and of course Google Apps which continue to amaze me week after week.

Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?

– It’s a recognition that not everyone is fortunate to get, so it does set us apart from the other companies doing mobile products. The biggest impact, though, is inside the team. Knowing that our work is appreciated by critics, as well, is truly motivating, and being in this select group of companies with FWA awards really makes everyone on the team feel that more special.

When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?

Creating products targeted at wide audiences is no more challenging than creating niche products. It’s totally different, but they are equally difficult to do, and require different approaches.

Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?

Not yet and I have no plans to do so. While I wouldn’t rule it out completely for the long run, I find more value in shorter, more focused content like blog posts that take less time to write. In this mobile space things move so fast, that by the time you finish a book, a great deal of its content is outdated.

Are there things you do OUTSIDE of work to ensure that you are in the right mindset to be creative and/or successful in whatever you are doing?

I have a lot of hobbies that help me change context from time to time. I do a bit of sports as well, and a lot of fitness (functional fitness, crossfit and other catchy exercise types that are out there nowadays) to keep my body in tip top shape and from holding me back in my work. I do a lot of photography as well, which ties back to product development in so many weird and wonderful ways. The way you look for a photograph that is unique, interesting and pleasing to the eye is really similar to the way we look for solutions to real world problems with mobile products. And, of course, my wife plays a vital role in everything I do by inspiring, supporting and why not, feeding me.

The web is getting out of the web. Do you find that thinking in digital solutions alone hinders you? Do you feel the urge to solve the problem using all mediums necessary?

I definitely see thinking in software only as a way of unnecessarily restricting the set of solutions to a problem. Software was a big step-up from the limited, purpose-built machines of the past, but I think we’re already pushing the limits of what you can do with software alone. Adding hardware to the mix is definitely not for the faint-hearted, but it opens up a whole new world of products than can enhance our lives in ways that was thought to be sci-fi only a couple of years ago.

Do you think Flash is here to stay?

I thought the Flash/no Flash debate was settled half a decade ago…

What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?

I’m not sure if anyone can do it, but I know a couple of positive examples of doing really awesome work without a formal degree in design. Good design is so much more than theoretically perfect visuals, thorough user stories and Illustrator knowledge. You need to understand the problem space, the medium you’re working with, and having product skills is what differentiates the good from the great designers. If you love design and you put your ten thousand hours into it, I think you can come up with really interesting stuff regardless of your schooling background.

If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?

UX is important, but product substance is the core of everything great. Awesome products (be that physical or software) have a lot of components that have to make sense for things to come together. Always keep a holistic view and make sure you know what you’re solving, who you’re solving it for and how you solve it. Let the software and UX be the means to achieve that, and not vice versa.

What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?

A teleporter, obviously.

What country excites you the most in terms of innovation?

Eastern Europe, and particularly Transylvania, of course. People are just realizing that there’s an alternative to the usual 9-to-5, and more and more interesting startups are emerging year by year. Investors are picking up on this trend, so getting capital is starting to get easier (but it’s still pretty damn hard). Of course, other parts of Europe are getting a lot of attention as well, such as Berlin, Oslo and even Split, Croatia. Also, the ever increasing startup communities in New York, Seattle, Boston, Denver and other major US cities are proving to be a viable alternative to the de facto Silicon Valley formula to building startups.

There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?

It’s actually getting away from all I’m doing right now for a longer while, recharge, come back and build something amazing. It’s actually really hard to do, so it’s definitely a dream project in that sense.

What does the future hold for your company, or you as a person?

There is so much potential in empowering and enhancing our lives with technology, and I’m definitely grateful to be in this spot with this momentum, surrounded by great people. We’re definitely going to build something great in the years to come, be that software, hardware or a combination of the two. Exciting times!

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What are you excited about learning next and is there a long term challenge you are considering tackling?

There are literally tens of product ideas I have in my backlog, so the issue is deciding which of those to put on hold. One of the more challenging endeavours would be to come up with a replacement for the current professional networks (i.e. linkedin), more tailored to the times we are living and more useful to this fast evolving world. As it happens, we’re just embarking on a new journey with a couple of talented individuals to solve pretty much this exact problem, so this dream is within an arm’s reach.

It has been a privilege, thanks very much

Thanks Rob, it’s been my honor.