Data Stories may currently be Ataccama’s smallest Spaceport — with around 14 team members when you count product engineers, technical writers and product marketers — but the Data Stories platform has seen lots of exciting growth and possibilities on the horizon since it joined Ataccama’s product offering in 2021.
In his nearly two years at Ataccama, Data Stories Spaceport leader Michal Baumgartner has had the chance to witness the changes and challenges firsthand.
Michal joined the team shortly after Data Stories’s predecessor, Tellstory, was acquired by Ataccama. Hired as back-end engineers, they worked to incorporate Tellstory into the Ataccama portfolio — connecting it with the other modules, making it scalable, and operate as an SaaS application. Later that year — after Tellstory was officially renamed Data Stories — the Product and Engineering department developed and adopted the SpaceUP methodology, and Michal was promoted to Data Stories Spaceport leader.
“I’m never bored. I really like that Ataccama gives you the chance to try out different roles. We have this unlimited playground and I get to do a lot of things. The sky’s the limit. I like that I don’t spend time doing one thing over and over.”
The switch to Ataccama was quite a change from Michal’s previous companies, where teams were a fraction of our current size. But even in those environments where he wasn’t in product management, Michal had his own visions for the overall product direction.
“That’s why I think Ataccama is a great fit — we have the space to develop everything end to end. So it’s not like I code something, and then give it to someone else. You experience basically all the roles, and everyone on the team gets to do something extra that’s not part of their usual role. So be it contributing to the product management process or coming up with ideas, understanding the user struggles, or being an expert in data visualization, or the data management space in general. We also like to hire people who are all-rounders.”
Connection with the product and the overall welcomeness of the company culture is part of what attracts these kinds of colleagues.
“I feel like the product itself is so interesting for people that they take on the role and get very involved and care deeply about its success. A lot of people in the company are experts in their field, and they bring their prior knowledge or something that they see as a trend on the market, and try to improve and come up with something new. So it’s not copycat-driven development, but figuring out new things. And I think that that kind of gives you that room to try everything. And with SpaceUP you can come up with your own Missions, or contribute to the product from the bottom up.”
“In the past, I’ve seen a lot of people in other companies that were very involved with the product and they liked working on it, and they cared about it. But sometimes the company wasn’t as welcoming. They might make some decisions that you’re not happy with or you don’t feel as welcome working on things. I think Ataccama has something that makes it special, which is also unique given its size. Somehow it has prevailed, even as the company grows.”
Another quality that he feels sets Ataccama apart is how invested everyone is in the company’s overall success and happiness.
“I think especially in the Product and Engineering department, you can see that the people who are higher up care about the company, and also the processes and the pains of our colleagues, which is rare. In other companies people didn’t really care about your regular engineer or product manager. With SpaceUP it’s even nicer to see that we have this methodology, but we didn’t just create it once and then just take it as a Bible. We iterate on it, we try to improve things, ask people in the organization what works, what doesn’t, and then continuously try to improve all the processes. I think it’s also rare that feedback gets pushed all the way to the leaders. But I think the people at the top listen, and try to improve things.”
“I also really like the openness of, for example, our CEO Michal. He talks to the whole company like a friend would talk to you. So you get to see all the financial business, all the good and bad. So I feel like that opens up the atmosphere, because if you see that someone else is doing it, you’re more naturally inclined to do the same.”
Long before joining Data Stories and Ataccama, Michal was already getting his hands on coding projects and client work. In high school he dabbled in HTML, CSS and PHP enough to create his own websites about his interests and hobbies. The hours spent on these projects helped launch his part-time gigs as a full-stack engineer, where he gained experience working with Symfony and Laravel. The longer he worked on these projects, the more he started contributing towards their architecture, thinking about how they should work in the grand scheme of things.
“I got interested in the whole end-to-end product building aspect. You had some rough ideas from a client but they didn’t really know how to solve it technically or what the hidden traps there might be. So I was into building the overall system, making it work in the back and front end, and delivering it to the customer.”
Like many Ataccammers, Michal added several part-time jobs and technical projects to his CV while earning his bachelor’s degree. At Masaryk University his interest in math led him down a path to machine learning and signal processing, and he began working more with Python and data science languages.
Earning his master’s degree in the same subject at the Danish Technical University in Copenhagen, he had the chance to get more industry experience and dive deeper into machine learning while gaining full stack experience and interning in the data science field. Michal stayed busy during his master’s studies, working as a teaching assistant on a computational tools for big data course. More work came his way when a PhD student offered him a job in his peer evaluation platform startup.
After earning his master’s degree Michal was hired as a data scientist at a startup based in Los Angeles, California who evaluated marketing campaigns for Hollywood Studio clients.
“I really liked the startup atmosphere, getting to know everyone on the team, working on things and seeing the benefit, and getting feedback quickly from customers.”
When it was time to move on to a new position, Michal joined Martin Zahumensky’s team, along with some of his former colleagues. They started by rewriting Data Stories’s back end from C# to Python to help integrate it into Ataccama’s software. Here Michal took on some product manager responsibilities while still working on programming and engineering.
“I like that at Ataccama if you’re interested in different areas, you can spend your time divided between them. That’s why we have a cloud circle, Python circle, and so on. I was very interested in Kubernetes and worked with Kubernetes in the past, so I help the guys out there, and I still do from time to time.”
The Product and Engineering department has since expanded and scaled to keep up with the company’s growth. This means that the Data Stories team has been inevitably gaining new teammates as well. The team is currently looking for a versatile, more experienced back-end engineer to drive large initiatives, regardless of what language they are most familiar with. Michal says the most important thing for a software engineer in Data Stories is to have the right mindset and desire to build high quality products.
“I don’t like hiring someone just because I need to fill a position. I would rather hire someone who is a great cultural fit with the team, knowing that it’s an investment into the future. We as a company care more about quality than quantity. Even though there’s more than 500 of us here, I would still say that the quality is very high. I enjoy working with people who can take something as their own and drive the whole initiative, either as Mission commander or drive a feature end to end, which I know is a very overused word. But I feel like those are things that if you enjoy them, you will enjoy working at Atacama.”
“I like to understand how things work in general. I know I can be super nitpicky or want to do a super deep dive into something just to understand how it works. But it’s not very beneficial if you’re trying to build products, because you want to iterate quickly. And sometimes it’s worth leaving something be because it’s not super important to fully understand in order for me to deliver, or I need to prioritize other things.”
This deep curiosity to understand things isn’t confined to only solving problems at work. In his personal life Michal enjoys learning how the world around him works and exploring new technologies, even keeping a blog about what he learns.
Michal has had many highs in his career, but he doesn’t think he’s reached his “peak” quite yet.
“I don’t want to say that there was a highlight, because you might think you’re never going to peak again. I don’t want to have an answer to that question. But maybe it should be the thing you’re working with currently, you know, because then why do it if it’s not giving you any sense of purpose?”