In the Public Interest
Democracy requires participation. We looked at how a software developer, a university professor, a museum director and the vice-director of parliamentary administration enable the body politic to work smoothly.
Chief Information Officer, Jumio Software Development, Vienna
“In a democracy, a leader is re-elected for another term if he works in the interest of the people. Here, if I make stupid decisions, people would jump ship. In that sense, I’m elected 365 days a year.”
How many software developers does it take to change a light bulb? According to Alexey Grubauer, 45, that depends on the organizational structure and how many layers of management a decision has to pass through. In his experience, a flat, democratic structure is best. Grubauer worked as a freelancer in the IT field until he landed his first full-time corporate job in 2008, where he found it difficult to fit in. “It was a completely different environment. As an ‘employee’ with a ‘boss’, people needed to have financial incentives and wanted to climb career ladders. This totally didn’t fit my mindset,” he recalled. At another company, he introduced the “scrum” approach on a project, which organizes people into self-sufficient teams without the inefficient bureaucratic layer of middle management. After a change in management at that company, Grubauer was recruited by the Austrian subsidiary of Jumio, a Silicon Valley-based startup, in 2011. When the parent then had to go through a restructuring in 2015, Grubauer jumped at the chance to implement what he had learned, removing the line managers and setting up “boats,” independent project teams. “In a sense, I turned the organization of our branch around, but by 90 degrees,” Grubauer said. “So I don’t sit at the top of the chain of command, rather here at the side, where my job is to facilitate and create the best working environment.” In this way, team members don’t look to a leader or manager who “has all the answers,” rather they solve problems themselves. This way, he taps into people’s “intrinsic motivation – igniting a fire in their minds so they want to make an impact.” This democratic approach to the company structure applies to everything from hiring and firing, which each “boat” does for itself, to salaries, which are based on models that the employees help develop. For Grubauer, this collaborative way of working can be applied to everything. “Even replacing a light bulb should not just be something that’s passed off to someone else,” he said, looking up at the light fixture. Noticing that it had no bulb, we both had to laugh.