Since 2019, the Sofia-based R&D hub of multinational media group ProSiebenSat.1, PSInteractive, has been developing digital entertainment solutions for the media market in Europe’s DACH region. Working on a comedy show app, an audio platform, and a leading science portal, PSInteractive has engaged a team of over 50 experts in web and mobile development, creation of solutions for live video streaming and content distribution, user interactions, and more.
In this interview, we meet you with Nadezhda Danabasheva, Site Lead at PSInteractive, one of the first experts to join the hub’s Operations team, and Juliana Yotova, People and Culture Manager. In our conversation, we explain the internal dynamics of ProSieben’s local team: from the first steps in introducing a multinational corporation’s organizational culture, through the best practices for creating a truly innovative solution, all while encouraging team creativity.
What attracted you to PSInteractive in the first place? Tell us more about how it all started back in 2019.
Nadezhda Danabasheva, Site Lead Sofia at ProSiebenSat.1 Digital GmbH: I joined the team at the very beginning, my colleagues were in the middle of Sprint 0. The decision to join was easy, I could not pass up the opportunity to work on projects that reach so many people and are used daily by millions of users in Germany and Austria. Those projects that are one of the most interesting in ProSieben’s portfolio and were the face of one of the oldest media in Europe at the same time. The beginning was extremely motivating for all of us, not only did we have the opportunity to observe how a huge and influential media like ProSieben works from within, but to have the access to their know-how, to understand how decisions are made, how strategy is built and managed. It was a challenge for both parties, as until now our colleagues from ProSieben Digital had minimal experience working with external locations. Then, in the following months, we had to overcome the cultural differences between the teams, we had to build local processes that not only do not break but work in sync with those of our partners. We had to analyze where we can offer innovative approaches and adequate technical solutions. We had to build trust in ourselves. And, of course, we had to attract people with the same understanding and approach to work as ours.
Almost 3 years later, I can safely say that I have the exclusive privilege to work with experts not only in technical terms but also with a desire to constantly seek improvement in their skills and abilities. People who have high requirements for working projects — whether we are talking about the processes, the approach to development, or the quality of the product. We also justified the trust of our partners, we proved that we can deliver relevant and determined technical solutions. Our ability to analyze problems, build and implement plans for long-term stability, and create opportunities for development has led us to be part today of the core teams working on key internal and external projects of ProSieben Digital and continue to grow.
How do you ‘live’ your company values in practice?
Juliana Yotova, People and Culture Manager at ProSiebenSat.1 Digital GmbH: For the sake of demonstration, let’s choose two of our core values — “Quality” and “Own up to your mistakes”.
Quality: Тhe thing that stands out in all our internal work life and company processes is that there is not a single person in our team who puts up with mediocre results — starting with the hiring process, throughout the way we onboard new hires into the company, to how our teams do their daily tasks. From a product point of view, for our partners from ProSiebenSat.1 Digital there is no room for compromises as the competition is lurking around the corner. That’s why the people we hire put their hearts into what they do every day in order to achieve the best quality of our products, and we as an employer try to give them all the tools to feel comfortable while doing it. An example is our Onboarding process. For the successful integration of a new employee into the company, we have developed several very important steps that involve HR colleagues, VPs of various departments, Team Leads and Product Managers. Every new employee first gets acquainted with the vision, mission, and strategy of the company, its culture, and the values and behaviors that we promote, our organizational structure, and how the specific team they will start working in collaborates with the rest. The new team members then go through live sessions with the company’s senior management covering topics related to the products we develop and the technologies we use. And just then we can say that they are ready to continue their training within the team. It’s a jigsaw and they are the missing piece. Our aim here is to show to each new person how the big picture works and then it is much easier for them to understand what their ultimate goal is and how to slowly start contributing.
Own up to our mistakes: It is extremely important for us that our people are confident that there is nothing wrong with making mistakes on the path to the desired goal. Living in fear that if you make a mistake it will have negative consequences for your work, your career, your colleagues is disastrous and will never teach you how to actually deal with them. It is important to know that you have the freedom to blunder and that most likely the company will not collapse because of it. Of course, taking responsibility after that is also vital. It is not easy for a professional to admit that they have made a mistake, but this is, of course, a matter of maturity as well. When we pause all our internal ego defense mechanisms, we will find out that owning up to our mistakes is extremely helpful. Above all, it allows us to get better without the delusion that there is an easy way out. People who do not stand behind their mistakes, in most cases, run the risk of entangling in a net of excuses, followed by actions in the wrong direction, which would only deepen the initial mistake they have made.
One of the main questions I ask during the cultural interviews at PSInteractive is: “What happens to you from an emotional perspective when you make a mistake?” I need to know how long would these potential employees of our company be punishing themselves for failing in something, whether they would sleep afterwards or whether they would quickly pull themselves together, get into problem-solving mode and start working on how to deal with the certain situation.
Nadezhda Danabasheva: When we created these values, the goal was to keep them simple and easy to communicate. We work with people for whom these values apply in everyday life and outside of work — to motivate people around you, to keep it simple if possible, to look for ways to be better for themselves and for the community, even for the world. Anyone with such a vision can find a place with us.
In 95% of the job interviews I attended, the candidates answered that the team was the most important factor. And I completely agree with them, because my colleagues are the ones who motivate me every day, not just to do my job, but to be better, to know more, to be able to do more. For me, one of the most valuable qualities of our PSInteractive community is that we can communicate openly without fear of guilt or judgment.
What type of people have the best chance of being successful at PSInteractive?
Juliana Yotova: Curious people with an inner spark to constantly get better at what they do, people who are willing to give advice and share their expertise. For some time now, money has not been the main factor for attracting top IT talent in Bulgaria. The people who would join us should be very interested in our products, the entertainment industry, and what is the added value that we at PSInteractive give each day in order to succeed. This way, they become much more engaged and inspired to join us and this will not be just another job in their CV. The satisfaction from the work done and the pride of the results is pure dopamine. That is why we believe that in order to be happy and successful at their work our people must love what they do.
What are the most interesting aspects of working on media products?
Nadezhda Danabasheva: First and foremost, having to bear responsibilities, not just about the quality or the user experience, but also when it comes to the power you have to manage the public’s impression, persuade or change opinions. I am proud that a PSInteractive team develops and maintains Galileo’s digital channels, one of ProSieben’s oldest programs. Galileo is known among its users for providing 100% verified information, everyone knows that if they read it in Galileo, then it is true. In the era of misinformation, for me such products are not a luxury, they are an absolute necessity. At a time when society is increasingly divided on various pressing issues, whether it is COVID-19, vaccinations, or what is happening in Afghanistan, credible sources of information are more important than ever. The fact that we create and develop a credible information tool to reach users quickly, conveniently, and easily makes me feel part of this war against misinformation.
It is a privilege to be at the forefront and to be part of the decisions on the fulfillment of formats that have conquered the world’s TV and digital channels — The Voice of Germany, The Masked Singer, Big Brother, and so on. These are formats that rely heavily on the digital presence to be able to keep users’ attention and provide more and more content. Being able to build systems and platforms that provide unique user interactions related to such formats, not to mention the amount of data and load that projects have to deal with — these are some of the technical challenges you can observe and learn from.
How do you manage to create truly innovative applications for such a large corporation as ProSieben, which is still undergoing its digital transformation? How do you encourage creativity?
Nadezhda Danabasheva: Creativity cannot be planned or executed according to plan. No one gets up in the morning with the thought: “Now, I will sit down and be creative for 4 hours, and then I may not be creative and perform my duties.” I believe that when a person is under stress or has anxiety, they cannot be creative. We need to allow everyone to rest efficiently, to have time for themselves, to pursue and do things that are interesting to them and charge them with energy — whether it will be talking about hobbies, doing sports, or sleeping. One must be able to fully detach from the work atmosphere and have time to learn new things, improve and learn from other experiences and then, and find an adequate way to innovate in the process or product they work on. Last but not least, it’s always good to put yourself in the user’s shoes, if you don’t have time to watch and get acquainted with the biggest media platforms, how can we expect you to find a way to create something even better?
We are not afraid of change, on the contrary, we encourage it. Change is positive, it stimulates you to get out of the familiar tracks and look beyond your previous horizon. And the more the horizons expand, the more solutions you can put on the table. The future is digital and now we are the pioneers who set the rules and come up with the ways in which the digital world works and will work. Our methods and approaches to the digital world may one day be obsolete and unnecessary, or become a must-have classic. I believe it will be the latter.
Juliana Yotova: When it comes to creativity, one of the things we created together with our partners from ProSieben Digital is the so-called fully voluntary Communities of Practice (CoPs), where people with common interest connect, interact, share information, stories, and personal experiences. The Communities are in no way tied to an organizational structure or teams. Our employees have a dialogue with each other and explore new opportunities to solve challenging problems that might affect many parties. In these small societies of brilliant people, we encourage learning through authentic communication, mentoring, and self-reflection. In fact, through this free flow of information and exchange of ideas, we stimulate their creativity a lot. One of the goals of our CoPs is to always take follow-up actions that give tangible results in our daily work. In essence, our CoPs need to stimulate positive bottom-up change by offering ideas for improvement and implementing them.
Do you have any workplace rituals or shared activities that are especially popular with people at PSInteractive?
Juliana Yotova: In the current situation, we try to constantly involve everyone in various company shared experiences, as this increases the overall engagement and cohesion between the team members. We try to celebrate every public holiday or personal birthday with attention to the detail. For our last Christmas party we were in lockdown, still we invited all of our employees to an online cocktail party and sent the ingredients for the cocktails to their home addresses. One of the best bartenders in Bulgaria was amusing them with an amazing flair show while they were trying to assemble the best whiskey sour. We also often play together in Escape rooms. At the end, whatever we do, the goal is to show our employees that we are thinking about them, to make them feel cared for. Something that has had an amazing impact on everyone is our one-week-long summer office at Camping Kavatsi, followed by some amazing weekend team building activities. It is a great pleasure to see how people who do not know each other due to the pandemic situation and the fact that they work in different teams, suddenly find themselves together at the seaside and get close. We had an awesome time. Now, we have some ideas for going back to the office, which would also be associated with such workplace rituals.