The Journey towards the Black Belt. Where Are They Now?
Tech companies are typically on the hunt for two kinds of people: those who can solve problems and those who can figure out what the hell those problems are.
You’ll recognize that the first are, of course, developers; they’ve been the industry’s gold dust since forever. The second group are a bit harder to recognize but are equally as special. At Adform, they’re known as Yellow Belts. The Yellow Belt Program is a 12-month scheme that offers bright analytical graduates from a broad range of backgrounds a chance to work in different departments and, eventually, fill the role that suits them best. If they are successful during those 12 months, the Yellow Belts become honored Black Belts.
This is the story of how wide-eyed Antanas Štrimaitis and Vytautas Jakštys became Black Belts following a 12-month journey at Adform.
Let’s get to know their stories and what it takes to gain the prestigious title of Black Belt.
Meet Antanas Štrimaitis, Business Analyst at Adform
How did your positions change after you joined Adform as a Yellow Belt?
During the Yellow Belt program, which took 18 months at that time, I had a wonderful opportunity to work in a few different positions. But the whole journey is not only about changing your position or your job title, it’s also about the simultaneous side projects, new initiatives and innovative ideas.
At the beginning, I started in Client Support as an ad campaign coordinator, which led me to becoming a RTB support specialist. This was only the start and it helped to feel more comfortable in new shoes, get used to the main products and become familiar with the organizational culture.
Then I joined Adform’s Creative Production, an internal startup as the team leader called it, to work as a brand solutions production coordinator. This is one of the most dynamic and fast-moving departments in Adform, which produces rich media solutions for advertisers such as HBO, BBC, Netflix, etc. At the same time, I was asked to help organize an internal event for the Adform summer festival to showcase our teams and products. In 2015, there were around 200+ attendees and this year we expanded it to 500+.
And then I started my journey in Corporate Development, where I worked closely with Christian Duus (SVP Corporate Development) for 7 months. I was assigned to work on tasks related with company growth strategies and entry to new markets, and I coordinated a few strategic projects, while Christian was mentoring me at each step. At the same time, together with one of my colleagues, we established the Project Management Community of Practice, which was focused on running and implementing non-business projects in Adform.
Finally, for the last 6 months of the program, I joined a development unit to work as a business analyst. This unit creates products and solutions for publishers. During this time, I really enjoyed the organizational culture of the teams and the general atmosphere, not to mention my colleagues, who are real professionals in their field. After my program ended, I was offered a permanent position in this unit. Being able to take part in shaping a quickly growing product really fascinated me and I had no doubts when accepting this proposal.
How did the Yellow Belt program help you to get where you are now?
In my opinion, the Yellow Belt program helps to build a firm and stable background about the business, products and the organization itself. During this program, my mentors and team leaders always challenged me with complex and difficult tasks; when you’re constantly out of your comfort zone, it shapes your personality, the way you think and how fast you adapt to new situations. I would not have all of this emotional and professional capital if I had started as a business analyst. Being a Yellow Belt is the same as going on an adventure trip – there are challenges, there is uncertainty, there are a lot of happy moments and the reward is experience and the knowledge gathered along the way. I definitely see it as a competitive advantage that will shape my future career path in Adform.
What were the biggest challenges throughout your journey to becoming a Black Belt?
It may sound funny, but the biggest challenges are to learn how to say “no” and to ask for support from your colleagues. Otherwise you will get caught in so many initiatives and projects that, at the end, you may become burnt out.
Another challenge is to learn how to think a few steps ahead before starting to do something. Yellow Belts are often involved in different projects that might require to them put up a simple business case or feasibility study, at least in their head, to understand the scope of the given task. This skill and way of thinking forward actually saves a lot of time and nerves.
But for me personally, the most challenging time was in Corporate Development. To be honest, I have never been good with numbers, as my background is different. At that time, I was comfortable with Adform products, workflows and the processes in the teams, but this was a totally different world. It required me to remember all the equations from economics, learn how to write formulas in Excel and figure out how to use pivot tables for big data. However, it became so interesting that it actually hooked me. So I wouldn’t mind if somebody asked me to spend a few hours analyzing financial reports.
We heard about the Black Belt inauguration ceremony. How did that go?
This is one of the best things that happened during the Yellow Belt journey. We have a tradition that we throw a small surprise congratulation party for a Black Belt. Simona from HR booked a fake meeting with me, during which she offered to go and grab a cup of coffee in a leisure zone. Even though I’ve done this for other Black Belts myself, I wasn’t aware at all of what was waiting for me behind the closed door.
The Yellow Belt program sponsor, Mats Persson from Denmark, was there. My mentor, Dainius Kniukšta from the Vilnius office, came as well, and there was a greetings video from Christian Duus (another program sponsor) and most of the people I had an opportunity to work with during the Yellow Belt program. Mats and Christian said nice words about my journey while the others congratulated me and shook my hand. It was a really moving moment that made me realize – it was one hell of a journey. And it’s only the end before a new beginning in Adform.
Such events are a true example of the Adform DNA. There is a unique organizational culture, carefully built over several years to maintain personal and direct relations between the employer and each employee, person to person.
Meet Vytautas Jakštys, POD Owner at Adform
Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a Black Belt? How did your roles change over time?
As a Yellow Belt, I had the opportunity to go through quite a lot of teams. Starting from the Traffic Team, I moved to RTB and started working on my own projects in parallel. Learning new things and delivering results both motivated me to push forward. That's how I ended up being a cross-device product owner in Adform.
Do you think you would have been accepted for this position if you hadn’t joined the Yellow Belt program?
I'd have taken longer, for sure. It's possible, and happens often, that people grow within Adform, too. I got lucky. From the beginning of the project, I was mentored by Andrej (who back then was the head of Development). With his help, I was able to learn how to think about products and projects. Having a sandbox to play in—where I could run non-business critical products—I grew quite fast. Some of the projects failed miserably; some, I was able to deliver quite well. Anyway, I learned a lot. The learning, support from my mentor and from top management, accountability and responsibility led me to where I am now, the business owner of a strategic product.
Was it a bumpy road? Did you have to face any challenges?
Responsibility from the very early days was the biggest challenge. Back then, since I didn’t know anything about the industry, being pushed to deliver results was quite challenging, but this helped me to focus and move forward. However, keeping that focus was a challenge as well. Figuring out which opportunities and projects would be the most useful for the business and my personal development was challenging. The mentorship and the overall support from my colleagues helped a lot.
You now have your own Yellow Belt to mentor. How is that going?
It’s a very interesting experience. The Yellow Belt I'm mentoring (Julius) has a different mindset, attitude and lots more experience compared to me when I joined. Given that we have different backgrounds and attitudes, it's a new way to learn, I hope, for both of us.
Feeling inspired by the success stories of these Black Belts? Who’s holding you back from becoming one of them? Apply today!
Meanwhile, meet our current Yellow Belt team, which has recently embarked on a 12-month journey to becoming Black Belts. Curious to know where in Adform these guys will end up? Stay tuned and we’ll make sure that we share their success stories with you!