Category Archives: Meaningful work

Bogdan Petrovčič explains why Legal work is still paper-first

In Meaningful work interviews I talk to people about their area of work and expertise to better understand what they do and why it matters to them.

Bogdan Petrovčič is a lawyer with a strong interest in Technology, Consumer Rights, and Personal Data Protection. We chatted about the intersection of law and technology and what the IT industry should know about modern regulatory practices.

How would people that you work with introduce you?

I am happy when I hear them say “he’s not an ordinary lawyer” or “he’s a cool type of a lawyer”. Sometimes people also mention that I’m a co-founder of Ljubljana’s Legal Hackers chapter.

What does it mean to you to be a cool lawyer?

The usual path for a lawyer in Slovenia involves going through a highly standardized way of ever-increasing specialization. It’s a very labor-intensive path and you end up with very field-specific knowledge aimed at handling criminal or civil law cases in court proceedings. My method instead is to approach the field of law from a more problem-centric perspective. Meanwhile, I’m mainly trying to understand the pain points of technology and IT-related businesses and what the legal needs of people in these particular areas are.

What kinds of needs do you see in your clients?

Initially, they’re trying to understand the basic legal framework. After that, they’re looking for legal certainty around their business ideas. They know what they want to build and they’re trying to ensure that there are no legal obstacles to their work.

Generally speaking, you could say that fears and desires usually underpin human reasoning and decision-making. You can therefore also make a similar argument in law and business. I often see the law as a way of managing client expectations (i.e. fears, opportunities, etc.) with the legal outcome of a real or hypothetical situation. For instance, legal advice typically changes depending on which mode of thinking the client is in at the moment (i.e. fear/desire). I find that addressing fear is at the heart of most legal advice.

 What kinds of fears and worries do you see in business owners?

The inversed and causal nature of the relationship between the ease of setting up an online business and the sheer amount of regulation that you need to understand to be compliant amazes me. You can create a Shopify store with a few clicks and start selling in minutes. At the same time, there’s no easy way to find all the regulatory requirements for such a business. Most entrepreneurs operate with a fear of not complying and also not knowing how to fully comply while still running their business.

What I’m noticing is that when you’re opening a physical business you’re automatically in contact with many contractors, business owners, and potential clients. You’re also usually a part of a local community of practice for your specific field of business. All of these people will help you understand the existence of different legal requirements and usually even help you implement them in practice. This support network is usually not present for new online businesses. Because the friction involved in opening an online business is low, it’s very unlikely that you would even be aware of all the different requirements that you need to follow. 

What kinds of popular fear and desire tendencies do you usually see?

The cynical answer is bitcoin and cryptocurrency-related schemes. Generally, anything that’s supposedly offering an immense and nearly immediate payoff is usually just a new business model that is trying to capitalize on the more evolved variants of fear and desire, namely the lust and greed of the user or end consumer.

What do your clients fundamentally want from you?

People with a compliance or legal issue generally want to know three things. How likely it is for them to succeed (i.e. not get fined, win a case, etc.), how long achieving success will take, and how much it will cost. 

As a part of answering the last question, we once ventured into prototyping a Legal Calculator (sl. Pravni kalkulator) that tries to estimate the cost of filing a basic claim in civil court.

These types of tools are already really popular in bigger countries. You can also clearly see a trend of legal startups launching advanced (i.e. case filing, case prediction, etc.) tools for the US market. As such tools become more accessible and reliable, this creates new ethical questions for law professionals. Popular focus is usually placed on the question should advanced legal AI decide on moral issues and classical “trolley-lever” problems? But I find that there a lot of other real and practical issues. For instance, is it ethical for an attorney to recommend the filing of a claim to a client, who’s “calculated success rate” for his case is low? 

How do you see technology concerning Law in Slovenia?

I published a few interviews on the Ius-Info portal and had a lot of private talks with Slovenian attorneys on this subject in the past year. I think the consensus is that the assumption, that digital transformation of law in smaller countries that have their language like Slovenia will naturally come from the private sector, is wrong. For instance, our judicial system generally only accepts claims that are filed in the physical form (lightyears behind their counterparts at the HM Online Court in the UK, the European Patent Office, etc.), when passing the Slovenian bar exam, you are not allowed to use a computer (with or without internet access), the access to case law is limited, work on digital systems and processes is (in my view) non-existent, etc. Within this kind of environment, it’s hard to see general practice or overall legal digitalization as a priority even if it has shown to save time and reduce costs.

How do you see the new generation of legal assistance tools such as contract drafting and AI-assisted research?

I think they’re going to make some existing legal work easier for lawyers. But everyday work will stay mostly the same.

At the same time, it opens a very real possibility that lowering the cost of producing such systems will create a disproportionately large amount of work for our judicial system. We can already see parts of this happening as it’s becoming easier to identify and find different offenses and automatically generate fines and notices (for instance, software-supported automatic copyright breach detection in Germany). I thereby predict a clear limit on the scope and number of AI or “machine learning assisted” claims one is allowed to file soon.

Where do you see opportunities for people with IT-related skills that are not lawyers?

If they’re motivated by potential monetary gains, then it’s fairly straightforward. They can make an analysis of where and how parts of our “legal bureaucracy” are failing or can be automated and build services that will replace the middlemen with technology. If they want to do this as a free “public” service, they can also get in touch with the Legal Hackers organization in their area, as this is typically the type of project that its members are working on. For instance, a friend of mine helped me launch a simple input-output query site for Covid related government grants last year –

That being said, I tend to find that it gets even more interesting if your initial motivation isn’t a potential monetary gain. For instance, I don’t generally think or recommend that the Slovenian legislation or market should be the focus of anyone who wants to deploy technological innovation in the legal field. The GDPR provides individuals different rights to control how and where their data is or should be used. The market for serving people as a way of actually exercising their rights is fairly undeveloped and there are opportunities to create new “free” data brokerages and additional tools to better manage individual and communal relationships between users and companies.

You can also think about law as a general-purpose language processing problem. If you have the capabilities to work with large sets of natural language data and this gives you new capabilities around existing legal documents and procedures.

We’re also operating within an increasingly complex regulatory environment. For instance, there are ever-increasing opportunities for environmental activists to use open data and their crowd-sourced measurement networks to detect when the conditions from enacted regulations are not being met by a particular company or country.

What I learned from talking with Bogdan

Digital transformation of modern office is still ongoing and there are a lot of opportunities by just sharing our remote first and IT centric workflows.

With global digital market it’s going to be increasingly important to have a good lawyer or a legal subscription to help navigate the complexity.

Technology will allow us to create cheap denial of service attacks on our judiciary system. There are abusiness opportunities in this and also new ethical questions.

Marko Brumen – why it’s worth working in Culture

In Meaningful work interviews I talk to people about their area of work and expertise to better understand what they do and why it matters to them.

Marko Brumen talks about differences between art, culture and entertainment. He shares what it’s like to produce cultural events and what it means for him to be a part of a bigger culture focused organization. We end the conversation discussing opportunities in museum and culture space.

How do your coworkers introduce you?

They would say that I wear many hats. I take care of Vetrinjski dvor (public venue in an old castle) where I coordinate activities and make sure that artists and visitors can efficiently do their work. I also oversee the production of street theatre programmes that is part of the biggest Slovenian festival, Festival Lent. I scout for locations and when there is a festival I’m the one that coordinates and makes sure everyone and everything is at the right place at the right time. Part of that is also making sure that everyone feels welcome, can do their job, and that their work environment is a safe one. My official job title is a producer.

How does your role as a producer differ from a creative producer?

A creative producer deals with the creative content of the performance. They keep up with creative trends and topics that are alive in the artistic community. They work with artists to ensure that their work is aligned with a larger creative vision of the performance or a festival. As a producer I’m also part of the process but more from an implementation perspective. I’m focusing more on what kind of space, equipment, and other resources do these artists need to deliver their vision. 

How did you get into this role?

I studied marketing and always found it interesting. As a student, I was already working in a cultural space so I was getting familiar with how things work. After studies, I was thinking about what to do next and I wasn’t really interested in traditional marketing and advertising of household products. Culture is always full of very interesting people, very dynamic by nature and I could connect with this kind of creative energy.

Who do you think would do well in your field of culture work? 

Someone who cares a lot about substance, that artists can tell their stories and that people can hear them. It’s important to them that visitors can reflect on this work and that it leaves an impact on them. Not necessarily the same impact that the artist had in mind. It’s also a very social environment and very different from office work in a marketing agency.

There’s also a very big talent gap in our industry. It’s not as well paid as more commercial jobs and it also has bigger communication challenges. As such it’s a space where individuals can have an outsized impact compared to what they could do in a more corporate environment.

When I was comparing these potential paths, I was also looking at tradeoffs between having a ‘9-5’ job vs. having a ‘9-9’ job and what kind of life I would have. There is less separation of working and non-working hours, but the benefit is that you get to be around interesting people more, attend parties around events, and be immersed in all the creative energy that emerges.

Why is working in a culture so meaningful to you?

The feeling that comes with seeing tens or hundreds of people enjoy the event that you help bring to life. The fact that they’re leaving with new impressions, thoughts, and that they a good time being around their friends and other attendees. There are also all the creatives that you get to meet and empower to show their works of art. You also get to understand their message a bit better and it might open a completely new perspective to you.

After many years of doing this, I also noticed that some of our past events left an important imprint on the society around me. They changed the expectations of people from their cities, neighborhoods, and how to live their lives. What kind of events and activities they expect to be available and they would tell us that they miss them, if they’re not there anymore. When they talk about nostalgia around your past work it’s a real message on how much impact it had on them.

Some events also serve as an important bookmark in history. They opened important questions around society and how we live and they’re still not answered. As such people refer back to them when they’re revisiting these topics. Our audiences are the kind of people that are creating a change in different parts of society. 

All of this together creates the feeling that supporting all of this really matters. You don’t see it immediately, but with a longer time horizon, it becomes much more visible. It contributes to the collective consciousness of society. 

How is art different from entertainment?

Entertainment is primarily trying to entertain without trying to provide a critical perspective. Compared in such a way, art events have a fundamentally different type of audience and expected levels of participation. You’re also participating in them as a part of a large audience group that creates a sense of shared reality. It’s a catalyst for reflection that you can use to further discuss with your friends. Even a bad concert creates a space of comparison – what was bad about it and which similar concert was better. It forces you to think.

What’s the difference between art and culture?

The purpose of art is to either ask questions, offer answers, or both. It’s constantly interrogating society about the direction, purpose, and methods that it is using to get there.

Culture is everything around us. It has a strong connection to different identities: personal, national, or cultural. It’s a consequence of how we live our lives and not the cause of it. It is often an early reflection of what’s happening inside the society.

Where do museums fit into the story of culture?

They started as spaces where we store important artifacts of our time. In recent years their role has expanded to also interpret their collections. They’re also organizing events and creating spaces that provide additional context to their collections. They’re more proactive in communicating the purpose of their collections and how they still relate to modern society.

Historically they were just a space to store artifacts and offer access to researchers, scientists, and the public. This is not enough anymore. They need to be much more proactive in their work. They used different tactics to do this. Some are more Disneyesque while others are trying to go a more digital route. There’s often an undertone of creating space for reflection and critical thought. When people understand the context of how history was made it helps people understand where we are going.

Where do you see opportunities in the space of culture?

There’s a huge knowledge gap inside the industry. A lot of these institutions don’t know how to proactively engage with modern technologies and new ways of thinking. The problem goes beyond just technological developments. We need leaders that understand innovation, how to be present in modern society and how to organize workflows around it. All layers need support from different parts of the industry. The problem is also quite hard because a lot of institutions don’t have a clear vision about their new role, how they communicate it, and how do they plan to achieve it. It’s mostly funded through public money which makes it extra hard to retain high-quality people.

What I learned from talking with Marko

Type of organization heavily influences lifestyle of its employees. I need to consider what kind of lifestyle do I want and how does the organization support that.

Small building blocks of many one time events still lead to something greater. It’s hard to know in the moment if the work will have a lasting impact.

GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) world is going through a rethink of what their goal is and there are plenty of interesting problems that needs solving. Being a generalist from a different field is a plus in such environment.

Katja shares her views on Quality Assurance role in software projects

In Meaningful work interviews I talk to people about their area of work and expertise to better understand what they do and why it matters to them.

Katja Škafar shares with us how she sees a Quality Assurance role in software projects, and where the industry can do better. Her background is in cognitive sciences and it was not a straightforward journey to what she does now.

How do your co-workers introduce your role on a project?

They would use my formal description and say that I’m a Quality-Assurance person (QA) that will take care of the testing and quality of the software project. 

How do you see your role?

I’m the final person in a process that ensures that the work that we do is up to expected standards and it is of good quality in general. For me, the quality of the user experience and little details are as important as technical specifications. From my personal experience, I understand how easy it is to lose trust in an application if it’s not polished enough. That’s why I keep advocating for end-users to ensure that we deliver a good final product.

Where do you see opportunities?

At the moment I’m thinking of how to make sure there is an understanding of the needs of our end users. I see how easy it is to build products that are optimized for a group of young IT-savvy users. I feel that there is this wall between the people who build the applications and the people who use them. We create processes around user testing and user research that might not serve us and we make it hard to just ask them “what do you think about this?”.

I find it encouraging that when there’s a new major version of an application, that they also do a survey where they ask me about how I feel about the changes. To me, that means that they care about my opinion and want to ensure that I enjoy using the application. I think we as an IT industry can learn how to listen better.

With an educational background in cognitive sciences, how did you end up in your QA role?

My previous job was as an IT recruiter. As part of my work, I started discovering all the different available positions. That’s where I discovered the role of Quality Assurance and I realized that it is what I want to do.

I enrolled in a six-month after-work web development course and at the same time started participating in crowd testing platforms. I started learning more about the field and how to use the popular QA tools. At some point, I found an opening for a junior QA position, and that’s how I got my current job. It took me all together about 8 months of focused work.

What do you do to keep learning?

I’m still reading a lot, watching YouTube tutorials or Conference recordings. With every new project, I try to anticipate QA needs and start researching possible solutions. There’s also a lot of existing knowledge inside my company so I make sure to always ask a lot of questions. 

What I learned from talking with Katja

The last person in the process should have a strong understanding of initial constraints. This way they can highlight difference from initial agreements.

It’s quite straighforward to switch fields of work if you can invest a few months in dedicated study.

Be bold and ask for what you need.

Matej talks about Leadership in Product Management

In Meaningful work interviews I talk to people about their area of work and expertise to better understand what they do and why it matters to them.

Matej Meglič shares the importance of showing up and how that reflects on your career later in life. He is currently working in a digital agency. He previously worked in project management and owned a small professional wedding photography business.

How do your co-workers describe what you do?

They usually describe my role as a mix of Project and Product Management. They also put two labels on me: empowering and communicator. It’s really important to me that our workplace is a place where people enjoy themselves and that it’s a good fit for everyone. I’m always trying to communicate and live these values. It’s important to me that my coworkers believe that it’s possible to change and that I can lead this change by example. This also brings me to my greater purpose: I want to provide opportunities to people.

What kind of opportunities do you want to provide?

People need to enjoy doing what they do. At the same time, they need to be allowed to grow in their roles. A recent example is someone that is testing software that was able to grow into a bigger Quality Assurance role. My role in this process is to figure out if they’re really willing to put in the work to grow and then to find them opportunities inside the company to do that. In addition to planning project timelines, I’m also planning how their growth needs can be met by an existing project.

I’m also very careful to make sure it’s a choice. I recognize that they might have other priorities in life at the time, such as a new child or caring for a family member. In such cases, I try to protect them to ensure that their work doesn’t prevent them from being fully present in other areas of their life.

As a Product Manager, I see myself as a giant umbrella that’s protecting my team. It’s my role to figure out how to limit outside distractions to my team. I balance when we need input from certain roles in meetings vs. their need to do focused work.

I’m also always reflecting on my previous mistakes. My recent learning is that I need to include correct people at the right time and to empower them so they have a voice where it matters. I see all of this as an opportunity to lead by example with clear and proactive communication. I also see it as my responsibility to proactively advocate for people in my team to ensure that they are empowered by what they do.

What do you think about splitting attention across different projects?

I think that there should be a singular focus of a Product Manager on only one product. The main reason for that is that the complexity grows exponentially. So with time, it becomes very hard to be fully present for all the products as the number of feature requests and decisions continues to increase.

Is there a difference between a Project Manager and a Product Manager role?

It mostly depends on what kind of products the company is building. I see the Project Manager as someone who focuses on ensuring routine delivery of agreed-upon work. They would use their business analysis skills to create tasks, define features, and document necessary work. Someone else on the team would take this documentation and ensure the technical delivery.
The product manager needs to do all of that and also work on a product discovery level. The less company knows about the market, the more product manager needs to ensure that product discovery steps are taken. They would then report these findings both to their teams as well as up the chain so that the CEO can take appropriate company-wide decisions.

With a wide breadth of skills – why are not more Product Managers starting their own companies?

I think because you also need a larger vision for your product and how to find people that are willing to pay for it. While product management has a very important role in a modern IT-driven company, it’s just one of the many skills required. It becomes a personal decision if you take a strong supporting role in a bigger organization and support someone else’s vision vs. following your own. It’s a struggle that many product managers face.

How do you personally handle this struggle of making a decision to become an entrepreneur?

At the moment I don’t feel that I have a good enough vision to justify starting a company around it. My background is mostly in the corporate world and I’m still learning how to bring a new product vision to the company. Learning how to code helped me see many new opportunities.

At the moment I’m still in a learning phase and building small independent products mostly to test my assumptions and ideas. I’m also evaluating what skills would a potential co-founder need to bring to the company to supplement mine.

What’s meaningful work for you?

I’m always trying to find a deeper reason behind the work that we do. I keep thinking about the vision for our product and where does our work contributes to it.
I also encourage the team around me to use their skills and expertise to identify areas of improvement in the company and I give them resources to work on them. I don’t focus on the final product, but on what they’ve learned in the process.

What’s your advice for someone who wants to shift into a new role?

To start learning through all the usual channels: books, YouTube, online courses, and to supplement this with becoming an active participant in communities devoted to this topic both online and in person. Once you have some knowledge and experience you can then use your network to reach out to people that are in this role and ask them if you could shadow them for a day. Talk to them and see what more you can learn. After a while, you can take the work you’ve done to different companies that need your people and offer to work for them. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get a chance but it makes it much more likely.

What I learned from talking with Matej

There is incredible opportunity in how you lead your team and what kind of growth opportunities you see in your collegues.

While working on sexy and flashy products is nice there is still a lot of value of improving your mastery as part of the development process.

Be bold in your career choices. It’s now even easier than before to switch to something that connects with you more.

Roman’s Meaningful work in Bioinformatics

In Meaningful work interviews I talk to people about their area of work and expertise to better understand what they do and why it matters to them.

Roman Luštrik shares his story about how he went from being a veterinary technician, to a graduate school and research position at University and then to a private sector where he is helping cure cancer with statistics, biology, and data analytics.

What’s your educational background?

At the high school level, I studied as a veterinary technician, since I always loved working with animals. Afterward, I wanted to study to become a veterinarian at the university level, but couldn’t complete the necessary entry requirements. Due to a string of lucky consequences, I ended studying Biology at the University level two years later. Strictly speaking, I graduated in Biology and also got my Ph.D. at the same institution.

How did you get your previous job?

While I was writing my undergraduate thesis, I started doing more data analysis and learning how to code in the R language. I realized that I really enjoy it and that there were people around me with interest in similar subjects. I’ve started to co-organize meetups to be able to discuss this area with similar-minded people. This is where my previous boss approached me and offered me a job at the Biology department, doing research into theoretical biology. In practice that also included programming of simulations and robots as well as IT assistance inside the department. I’ve stayed with them for the next 8 years.

What prompted you to change your job?

During the whole time, I was on various types of contracts depending on funding and how we collaborated. As my last 2-year contract was coming to the end, they didn’t seem to be in a hurry to extend it again. At the same time, I was approached by my current manager and pitched me their company and invited me to join them. I passed all the interviews and soon after that, I started working as a bioinformatician.

Did you have any concerns before switching?

Not really. By that time, I was already unhappy with how things were being done at the University. There was a lot of bureaucracy and many excuses why things can’t be done or processes can’t be changed. As an example, buying a simple lab thermometer, was a week-long process with a lot of paperwork. It was tiring and looking back, I already wished that I could change my job. So a new opportunity was a perfect challenge of something new. I was especially excited about new ways of work and team collaboration. I was also never concerned about not finding a new job if this one didn’t pan out. I have a history of doing random jobs, so I was confident I could find something else to do fairly quickly.

How was the initial experience for you in your current job?

It’s a completely different type of work. I had to learn how to use many new tools, I need to write code more and it’s a new field of work: molecular biology. I used to really dislike this field of biology during my studies. Interesting aside: this is not the first time this happened. I was also trying to avoid mathematics during my studies but ended up doing my Ph.D. in statistics.

It turned out that in the new job, I got what I wanted. Working in this team is a completely different experience. It’s like working with a friend that is constantly trying to make sure that you have everything that you need to be successful at your work.

Can you explain in simplified terms what your company does?

We build tools to analyze very specific biology datasets in the field of Immuno-oncology. We’re helping our customers trying to figure out different tricks to convince the immune system to attack cancer in the human body. It’s a truly multi-disciplinary field connecting genetics, immunology as far as the biology part is concerned. There are also a lot of other roles involved in terms of data science, visualization, and support tools that support this analysis work.

Who do you think would really thrive in your field of work?

Some educational backgrounds are a natural fit for this work: physicists, biochemists, bio-technologists, microbiologists. At the same time, it’s a very complex field and it’s important to have many different experts that can work and support each other. We also employ people with a background in mathematics or computer science. Of course, there are a lot of other people with non-science roles that make sure that the business is running so that we can do our work. There’s also no real reason that somebody with a non-science education couldn’t work in our research team. As long as they are interested in this field and want to learn, there are a lot of opportunities for them to make an impact.

What’s your advice for people that are thinking of making a change?

If you’re already thinking about it – then you should do it sooner rather than later. If you’re unhappy, but not thinking about making the change – then you should also make a job change. In general, try to build social support and have a financial emergency fund. When you’re ready to make a switch, take your time to think about what you want to do next.

What I learned from talking with Roman

There are many opportunities for people who are interested in a wide range of things and are not afraid to ask questions. With this in mind, if you find that you’re bored in your current position, that’s a good opportunity to use that to find something new.