Astound COO/CIO Talks Delivery in Medellín

In June, it’s been five years since the Medellin office was established. So, we had a conversation with Ilya Vinogradsky, our COO/CIO, about what makes this team and location special and how Ilya envisions the future for this second largest Delivery location.

The office in Colombia, Medellin, was opened in 2016. How did you settle on Colombia as a new Delivery location? How did it all begin?

In 2015, we made a strategic decision to open a new engineering office. Eastern Europe had already been covered by that time — we had offices in Ukraine, Slovakia, and Bulgaria — so we needed to select a new location. Due to the time zone, convenient to work with North American clients, we started to think in the direction of South America. I began my research and soon came to the conclusion that large countries like Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina weren’t an option since lots of tech companies had already occupied the market. Next, I looked at smaller countries like Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Paraguay, and it was the other way round— too few potential candidates could be found there. So eventually, I settled on three mid-sized countries — Colombia, Peru, and Chile.

The more I researched them, the more I understood that Colombia would be a good choice. It was an up-and-coming country making significant investments into the IT industry. There were not that many tech companies there yet, but already good infrastructure, so we could invest our resources and energy there and create a team.

I was recommended to open our office, particularly in Medellin, and got introduced to an account manager at Agencia de Cooperación e Inversión de Medellín, a government organization that helped companies enter the local market. She and I had a few Skype calls, and soon Omar Jabbour, our general counsel, and I arrived in Medellin to meet her and the local legal, accounting, and tech representatives. We liked the city very much and decided to conclude our search and open the office in Medellin. Thus, in the summer of 2016, our first Colombian teammate, Juan Pablo Roldan Uribe, joined Astound Commerce in the new office.

Now, five years later, do you think you made the right choice back then, selecting Colombia?

Absolutely. Colombia has proven to be rich in skilled tech talent, and over these years, strong, experienced developers, designers, QA engineers, business analysts, and project managers joined us and have taken part in delivering solutions for our major clients. The Medellin team, now with over 70 people, has been an indispensable part of many of Astound’s projects.

What major projects have the Medellin team worked on?

Our project teams are distributed and multicultural. When assembling a team, we don’t aim to have them all working in one location, instead — we want their skills to complement one another so that each of them can bring their share of skills and experience to the project. This also benefits the team members — they learn from the global Astound team and grow both as people and professionals.

So, I can’t name particular projects that the Colombian team has worked solely on. But, some of the major ones that they have been part of were (or still are) for clients like El Palacio de Hierro, Grupo Charly, L’oreal, Urban Decay, Under Armor, Toys R Us, Ray-Ban, Oakley, Pepe Jeans, Puma, and TOMS.

How do you intend to further develop this location? Any talent acquisition plans? New offices opening?

Over the past year, the adoption of digital commerce has significantly increased. Our company has experienced considerable growth in demand for our services. We are well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity and leverage the tech talent market in Colombia. So yes, we plan to and have been expanding our current team.

As per the offices — with COVID-19, it is hard to say when we will be expanding our physical space. Sooner or later, we plan to move the team to a new office in Medellin, as we did in Kyiv. But again, it’s hard to be specific about the time.

The pandemic has changed the way we work and our attitude towards offices in particular. Once the initial quarantine restrictions were lifted, some team members realized they would like to keep working from home. So, now we work wherever we feel most comfortable, be it home or office.

With many team members working from home, are you now looking for remote talent?

Yes, for now, we are also searching for remote team members — and not only in Medellin. There are already several people working as remote specialists in Bogota. We are looking into other Latin American countries as well.

What level of experts are you looking to add to the team? And what positions?

Any level and all kinds of tech positions. New clients keep coming in, so we need project managers, QA engineers, JS developers, UI/UX designers, and business analysts to put together new project teams. And, now we have a significant number of people in Colombia who can coach and mentor junior specialists and assist them in learning our processes, adapting, and also feeling free to share their own ideas.

We’ve been open to hiring junior specialists, actually, for quite some time now. In 2019, we conducted JavaScript and QA BootCamps — two-month training programs with a focus on practice. They allowed us to discover potential talent that would be a good addition to our team. As a result, thirteen people joined Astound as trainees and have been working as junior specialists ever since. Some of them have been promoted to more senior levels.

Since we are in the active hiring mode at the moment, we are planning to conduct another QA BootCamp in September and a JavaScript Boot Camp in October. Actually the registration for JavaScript Boot Camp will be open by September 12. All interested individuals are welcome to apply!

In closing, have you got any words of inspiration for our Colombian colleagues?

Our Colombian office is strategically important for Astound. We will continue making significant investments into expanding our operations here. With the growth of the company overall and specifically in Colombia, each of you will have new exciting opportunities for personal and professional development, as well as for building new meaningful relationships with people around the globe. Thank you for your loyalty and commitment to our company, our clients, and each other. I hope to visit Colombia as soon as the pandemic guidelines allow me to do so.

Six Incredible Years in Medellín

In 2016, globally trusted digital commerce specialist Astound Commerce decided to expand its business to Colombia, opening an office in the country’s economic capital Medellín.

Throughout the years, the Medellín team has contributed immensely to the organizational progress of Astound, pioneering innovative ecommerce solutions for major brands like L’Oréal, Boohoo, Halfords, FLOR, TOMS, and Crocs.

Gradual Growth

Six years ago, six exceptionally talented individuals formed Astound’s first Medellín team. Determined to help revolutionize commerce from Colombia, the small yet formidable team hit the ground running, opening with major projects for brands SkinCeuticals, Shu Uemura, SalonCentric, and Oakley.

“Working for Astound has exceeded my expectations,” says Jose Julian Betancur Nieto, Senior Front-End Developer at Astound Commerce Medellín. “I have grown in many ways as a developer and a professional, mostly by reviewing code with my colleagues.”

Having grown significantly in skill and size since 2016, the Medellín team plays an integral part in helping accelerate Astound’s journey toward its North Star goal: to become the global market leader in digital commerce.

“I want all applications working perfectly in different languages— like Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese—for all kinds of devices that exist right now,” Julian continues. “And here at Astound, I can put that love of perfection to use: facing challenges every day, adjusting to new requirements, and leveraging new approaches and technologies.”

According to Dixon Labarrera, Quality Assurance (QA) Engineer at Astound Commerce Medellín, working at Astound is a constant learning experience. “I have improved a lot of my skills—communication being one of them, which is important in this kind of work environment,” Dixon explains. “Sometimes, what comes naturally to you might be foreign to others, and it is important to be adaptive, especially when working with such an immense team.”

“In terms of hard skills, I realize that there is something new to learn every passing day,” Dixon adds. “For the moment, I am still learning as much as I can about SFCC [Salesforce Commerce Cloud], web technologies, and quality assurance on a daily basis.”

Before joining the company, Dixon had successfully completed an Astound QA boot camp program, a training course that allows anyone outside the company to learn the basics of quality assurance engineering within a three-month period. Those who pass the final test receive a chance to join Astound as full-time employees.

At the forefront of IT education, Astound regularly offers expertly designed JavaScript and QA boot camp programs where participants delve into the world of software development, engaging in professionally led practical sessions, working on multi-level tasks based on Astound projects, and exploring innovative ecommerce technology.

“Participating in the boot camp was a life-changing opportunity and experience,” says Jose D. Cardona, Senior Web Developer at Astound Commerce Medellín. “I come from a noncomputer science background and have a mechanical engineering degree, so even though I had some basic knowledge of programming, my JavaScript and web development skills were not strong.” He adds that the boot camp helped him significantly improve his IT skills, consequently landing him his dream job at Astound.

Career Advancement

Astound Commerce cares about the professional growth of its employees and offers countless opportunities for each team member to enhance their skill set, including training and certification programs, career progression, mentoring and knowledge sharing, professional language lessons, and more.

“The company motivates its team members to succeed by investing in their career development,” notes Jose. “I have regular calls with my functional manager to discuss any personal or career development topics, and I am receiving performance feedback and coaching accordingly.”

The management team ensures all employees feel supported in their ambitions, conducting in-depth performance reviews every six months and fostering a culture of mentorship and collaboration.

Medellín team member Juan Pablo Roldan Uribe agrees that Astound encourages its employees to follow their passions, a principle that has helped him achieve many of his professional goals. “It has been a learning experience for me since the start,” says Juan, who went from Office Manager to Engagement Manager in under two years. He is now Project Manager at Astound Commerce Medellín.

Astounding Culture

The Medellín team values the power of teamwork and embraces Astound’s cultural diversity, understanding that different perspectives lead to creative solutions.

“The most important thing at Astound is its people, astounding people,” says Felipe Chaves, Project Manager at Astound Commerce Medellín. “Everyone is willing to support you to succeed, regardless of their position in the company.”

To support the team in the successful delivery of all projects and initiatives, Astound’s Project Management Office developed the Astound Way Solution Framework (AWSF). AWSF is a combination of multiple solution development life cycles (SDLCs) and different process models. This system allows Astound to match the diverse needs of its clients by combining SDLCs with the supporting process models, ensuring projects of various complexity are delivered optimally and on time.

“It was nice to see that we have this great framework that helps us stay organized and on track,” Felipe comments. “We have also been provided with great communication and project management tools, which allow us to work efficiently while working remotely.”

By creating an environment where collaboration and inclusivity are encouraged, Astound helps team members feel confident and supported in everything they do. “I have never felt alone at this job, but part of an excellent company with great colleagues,” continues Felipe.

In addition to providing employees with the tools to succeed in the workplace, the company also ensures everyone enjoys a healthy work-life balance so they can thrive at work, at home, and at play.

For an inside look at the Astound life, make sure to have a look at the company’s Instagram page.

Additionally, Astound Commerce Medellín is always ready to welcome new talent to the team. Visit the Astound Careers page for more information and an always-updated list of available positions.