Meet Transcenda’s CTO, Alexey Koval
Meet our CTO and co-founder, Alexey Koval. Whether it be tackling an Ironman triathlon, marathon, or the delivery of complex software projects, Alexey goes all in on everything he sets his mind to and is relentless in pursuing his goals. This determination translates into dedication to our clients, team, and the products we help our clients build. Alexey drives the delivery of Transcenda’s project portfolio and builds the teams needed for execution. He ensures our team is empowered to deliver on time, on budget, and that we build architecturally sound solutions which meet the needs of the users.
With extensive experience helping scale engineering teams, I’ve driven the delivery of hundreds of new products to market. I’ve found that successful delivery is based on being unafraid to speak the truth. This means openly sharing thoughts around what can be improved, bringing project risks into the open, and sometimes advocating for change.
We’ve conducted a short interview with Alexey which we’d like to share.
What’s more challenging, completing an Ironman or starting Transcenda?
Well, an Ironman race is quite challenging. It’s a triathlon distance endurance race with a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, followed by a 26.2 mile run. I completed the Ironman in Copenhagen in 2019 and it took me a bit under 11 hours to complete. Interestingly enough, 2019 was also the year I co-founded Transcenda. Both are challenging, but going through an Ironman is more predictable as you only need to depend on yourself and your own commitments and capabilities. While starting a company, you have to manage multiple unknowns and a whole team of other people to contribute to the same common goal. Plus there is no clear path to success unlike any sports challenge. You don’t have a training plan, you don’t have a coach, and you can’t just follow a strict training plan to achieve the results.
I like to challenge myself and achieve new goals, which is how I got into endurance races and why I was open to taking the leap required to start Transcenda. Challenging common opinions about what is possible and what is not is also inspirational to me. When I first started endurance races, I could barely run a 3 mile distance and I thought a 26 mile marathon could be impossible. This was 7 years ago. What I realized is that when you have a clear goal in front of you and start trying to achieve it, everything becomes possible, which is how I approach Transcenda. I stay 100% focused on the goals in front of me just like I did when I ran my first 3 miles, then 5, and then 10, and through this laser-focused dedication and commitment, we’ve been able to find success at Transcenda.
How did you get interested in technology and what do you like most about it?
My interest in tech and computer science began at a nuclear power plant. I grew up in a small city in Western Ukraine which was part of the Soviet Union during my earliest years. The largest industry in our city was the nuclear power plant which employed 10,000 people roughly. My Dad was the head of HR and my Mom was in classified communications. She was responsible for managing all of the confidential paperwork and communication related to nuclear fuel delivery and other sensitive manners. I remember being preschool aged, barely able to read or write yet, and spending a few hours at her office for the first time. There was a device that captured my attention and captivated me. It was a typewriter. I remember my fascination with how I could use my hands to make a machine put the letters on the paper exactly how I wanted. Next came my indoctrination to computers during my early school years. It started with a curiosity of how you can make machines do something that you can pre-program. That led to me entering a technical university and studying computer science. I have also observed how technology has changed all the aspects of our daily lives by means of computers, mobile phones, smart phones, and now the modern AI/Data Science. I always knew the technology, and specifically software, would be something the future world would heavily rely on.
Aside from my early interest in computer science, and my studies at university, there are other factors which have allowed me to cultivate my interest in this career path. My parents were very supportive, since this would be a safe and successful career path. I am also fortunate to live in Kyiv, Ukraine, which has been a hub for engineering talent. The rapid growth of the computer science and software worlds led us, Ukrainians, to see many US based companies open their offices in Ukraine, which created an opportunity to work for these international and global businesses, which was an exciting prospect to me. Back in my university years, I studied English, and I was naturally very curious and eager to utilize my language skills while working with international people. This opened up opportunities for me, and having these international companies appear made me want to put my future toward an international business career.
Since my parents were born in the Soviet Union, they did not really have the same opportunity. This is something that became new, 10-15 years after Ukraine gained independence, and I feel fortunate to have the opportunities that I have had. I’ve had to work hard to develop myself and learn the technical skills, culture, soft skills, and communication skills to compete in the international technology business world. I am also fortunate that engineering is very rational and methodical, which also helps you keep your mind logical and structured, which is quite beneficial when navigating deadlines and budgets. Because I feel so fortunate for the opportunities that I’ve had, I’ve stayed focused and dedicated to achieving my goals and pursuing my career. At Transcenda, I love the opportunity to both work with international clients, but also have the opportunity to mentor and develop our team internally to help them achieve their goals.
Why did you decide to leave your corporate job, found your own company and how did you make it happen?
I’d say I was inspired by my Dad. He spent over 20 years in his role of HR at the nuclear power plant being responsible for over 10,000 people. I was always interested in tackling complex people related cases, since it imposed challenges you can’t solve with pure logic or defined algorithms. It requires empathy and the ability to dive into psychology to understand the unique life situations for every individual. Sometimes my Dad would struggle to sleep at night when tough decisions had to be made which would impact the whole community and he would always try to find fair solutions while fighting the politics or directive orders from above. I’ve seen much appreciation for my Dad from those who worked at the power plant, and find it inspiring the way he combined business rationale with the fair treatment of others.
When you combine my interest in technology that was born in my Mom’s office through a typewriter and the inspirational figure my Dad has always been in his fair and equal treatment of others, I reached the point in my life where I wanted the opportunity to build a company which could cover both aspects – technology focused with a people first mentality.
I had the good fortune to find the right co-founder, Megan Fales, with a similar mindset and we had a clear mutual goal in mind which is well reflected in our mission statement.
We put people first and strive to be a changemaker by building a better future through technology.
How do you ensure projects are delivered on time and on budget?
At Transcenda we deliver projects on time and on budget through People, Process, and Integrity.
People – Relying on the team within any project is paramount. It’s important to make sure you have the right people onboard who would share the same culture and values. You need a team with a no excuses attitude who have the right skills and desire to get the job done. A primary focus on my side has been to get the right people in place and ensure they are empowered to be successful.
Process – This would define delivery and technology controls. Defined and well structured process is important to helping great people achieve their goals and help each person focus on what they do best. Rather than trying to reinvent the rules for every project, we rely on processes to ensure we deliver on time and on budget. We follow all the best engineering practices, follow specific design workshop frameworks that get tailored to a remote mode and utilize project management tools that help us keep a sharp focus on planning and provide full transparency in execution for every project.
Integrity – I believe in telling people what they need to hear versus what they want to hear. This means, we are honest from the start about potential timing to complete a scope of work and project risks. Often, when bringing on a new client, they have specific goals around timeline and scope, and we ensure to always be honest about what we feel is reasonable within the requested time frame. Additionally, I believe in providing frequent and honest status updates to our clients on a regular and ongoing basis. If something is going wrong, we tell our clients. If we face a setback or a risk, we tell our clients. By acting with integrity, we can work with our clients to decide which tradeoffs need to be made to deliver the best product possible within a desired timeframe.
How do you find great engineers, PMs, QAs? It’s so tough to find good talent? Any tips?
We take a threefold approach to finding a strong team which is contingent on our people first culture. We primarily focus on:
Motivational projects and culture
Mentorship and development
What does your common working day look like?
I typically wake up around 7-8am and check my email and slack, then review everything that came through as I was sleeping. I would prioritize any immediate needs and finalize my plans for the day. I can’t survive without breakfast, so I definitely eat a quick breakfast, work a bit, and then do my morning workout which is normally a run or bike ride. In winter, I utilize my indoor bike trainer and love Zwift. Our internal morning stand ups usually start around 10 or 11am and I join them as much as possible. I focus on working with the team internally before US business hours. During my afternoon, I have client meetings and start all the client communication. Considering the time zone difference, the day gets pretty busy in the afternoon and evening. I try to take a break for family, dog, food around 8pm or 9pm each night, and then I usually wrap up any final tasks before going to bed.
What do you plan to focus on at Transcenda this year?
I’d like to continue building the great team of high caliber talent and help our clients build technologically sound solutions.
Leading by example – what, in your opinion, are the most important skills for a leader to inspire their teams?
Fairly simple. Lead by example and stay involved in helping your team solve complex challenges. It’s about being very honest and transparent with everyone on the team. Providing direct and constructive feedback, and helping to ensure that different team members with their own traits and characteristics would work together in the most productive way forming this synergy of team results versus individual contributors.
Did you gain any new hobbies since Covid?
I guess you could say my puppy is a new hobby. It’s quite a bit of new responsibility and I’m enjoying the experience of spending more time at home with my wife and a new puppy which makes the entire work-from-home experience so much more enjoyable.