It was 2005. An IT company PGS Software began its business activity in a tenement at Lelewela Street in Wrocław. In a small room, there were several desks. And bicycles by some of them. To make yourself a cup of coffee, you had to squeeze through the coffee machine standing behind one of the software developers’ chair, trying not to rub against his back. It was a tight squeeze, but it was also fun. The team was working on their first project for a client from Germany. Paweł Gurgul, the founder, dealt with everything, from contacting clients to recruitment and office purchases. He did not even dare imagine that 16 years later PGS Software would be a listed company employing hundreds of specialists. He knew one thing, though: his company would to be a cool place to work for.
In 2021, PGS Software is in a completely different place. It employs over 700 people, has completed 2,800 projects and has 785 satisfied clients from all over the world. One thing has not changed, namely the friendly and homely atmosphere.
Before PGS Software was established, Paweł Gurgul had worked for German companies. It was then that he recognised there was a problem with the availability of specialists on Western markets and the idea of establishing an IT outsourcing company germinated in his mind. At the beginning of the 2000s, there were almost no such companies on the Polish market.
In 2004, an opportunity to put the idea into action occurred. The company Paweł was working for closed its branch in Poland and this is how PGS Software was established in Wrocław. Wojtek Gurgul, Paweł’s younger brother and current CEO of the company, says: I wanted to help my brother in his new business, but I was not planning on quitting my job. Basically, I had two jobs at that time. We agreed that when the company hired a dozen or so people, I would quit my corporate job and work for PGS. It seemed to me that we would wait for such headcount for a long time, but as it turned out, I was terribly wrong.
This business idea turned out to be a great success. In 2007, only two years after PGS was founded, the company had 15 clients and a team consisted of 50 people. In 2008, the brothers transformed PGS into a joint-stock company and entered the NewConnect market, which enhanced even greater credibility in the clients’ eyes. Paweł asked Wojtek to become the President of the Management Board and Wojtek agreed because, as he jokingly claims, it is an older brother who rules.
Expansion, removals, and office opened on April Fool’s Day
Sales revenues kept growing and so was the team. Every once in a while we had to move to bigger premises to finally stay in the Wrocław Technology Park for many years. Since 2017, we have settled in a new office building in the Wroclavia centre.
And how did we open offices in other cities? Actually, by sheer coincidence. When in 2007 one of the employees decided to return to his hometown in Podkarpacie provincecon, the idea for establishing a PGS Software branch in Rzeszów popped into ours heads.
At that time, I was working on a large project for our key client, recalls Andrzej Gaweł, the Head of Development of the PGS Software office in Rzeszów. After I moved from Wrocław to Rzeszów, we wanted to build a new project team in place. Paweł Gurgul and I started conducting recruitment interviews in one of the hotels in Rzeszów. I was handling technical issues in a hotel room while Paweł was talking to candidates in a restaurant to see if they were a good match for the company so that we could make a great team.
This is how the first team was built. Originally, it consisted of 8 people, but this number quickly doubled.
In terms of location, the beginnings of the Rzeszów branch were humble. The first office was in a private house in Miłocin, and thanks to the courtesy of a local priest, the employees used the parish parking lot.
I did it American style: I started in a garage converted into a room, recalls Michał Myśliwiec, the Team Leader and founder of the iOS department at PGS Software. It was a bit dark so from time to time we would go out to the nearby pitch to play rugby ball with the guys and catch some sun at the same time.
From these small beginnings the team grew into the branch we know today taking three floors of the office building at ul. Generała Maczka 6 in Rzeszów.
The beginnings of the office in Gdańsk were also interesting. Krzysztof Kąkol, the Solutions Architect, had cooperated with PGS Software remotely long before the Gdańsk office was established. I was working for many years as a PGS Software most northward freelancer, but I also had my own company, says Krzysztof. When a large project for my client was completed, I had a simple choice: either lay off people or to start business anew. ‘Anew’ meant the PGS Software branch in Gdańsk.
By the end of March in 2014, all the details were agreed within a week and on April 1, employees received information about a new office in Gdańsk.
As Krzysztof recalls laughingly, they all thought it was the April Fool’s Day joke. I am not surprised at this as everything happened so quickly.
Today, PGS Software in Gdańsk employs almost 200 people and is located in the city centre. This is one of the most desirable locations for business trips.
How to grow fast and steadily?
Very rapid growth of any company may be the pride and joy, but it also may generate potential problems, such as burnout of an overworked team, analysis paralysis and, as a result, dissatisfied clients.
How did PGS Software face these challenges?
The brothers say that their professional experience was very helpful: Paweł was working with foreign companies during his student days, and Wojtek had years of corporate experience. It seems natural and obvious today, but many years ago there were not so many people in Poland who had experience of working in the IT industry in international companies or with foreign clients, recalls Wojtek. We were constantly learning new things, but we had the advantage of knowing how to talk to clients from Western Europe. Not only did we understand their problems, but we were able to deliver. They treated us like partners.
Wojtek applied some management practices from the company he used to work for. As he recalls, these were baby steps but ultimately, they helped to improve actions and calmly go through the successive stages of growth. Example? Standardisation of equipment people work on. Not everyone liked it but from a practical point of view, it is much easier, more efficient, and cheaper to buy and service 2-3 types of computers than, for example, 50, says Wojtek.
What else? Bartosz Jabłoński, the Chief Growth Officer, recalls that everyone learnt on their own and did what had to be done at a given moment. If it were necessary to hire someone, we would hire. If we had to step into a new role and learn it, we would do it, he says.
Initially, we used mainly .NET, Java, and PHP programming languages. PGS Software rendered its services to businessmen who had ideas and were looking for someone who would help them to carry them out. Back then our unique selling point was the project management with Scrum, recalls Krzysztof Rolak, the Chief Operations Officer. Although Scrum has been in use in IT since the 1980s, it was not well-known in Europe in the 2000s. We popularized this project management method and clients liked it a lot.
How about the teams? Their heir size and complexity have changed. They now consist of analysts, designers, architects, or DevOps engineers, which today comes as no surprise. In addition, more and more of our projects are cloud-based because for many years the company has been investing in core competencies to use cloud computing services. Partnerships with AWS, Azure, and GCP bring notable benefits as with them, our employees receive certificates, participate in trainings, and use solutions before they are made commonly available.
What has not changed? Variety. If someone works in an IT department in a bank, their project will always revolve around finance, emphasizes Wojtek Gurgul Of course, there is nothing wrong with it but for those who want to work for various industries, software house gives them such an opportunity.
Calibrating the atmosphere
Surveys we have been conducting for several years clearly show that our employees above all value the atmosphere in the company. What do they mean by that? An honest and human approach to employees, no rigid rules, and an opportunity to put their ideas into action.
How did we manage to develop this approach despite our growth? Is it possible to maintain a positive work environment, typical of a small company, with hundreds of employees?
Joanna Świtalska, the Head of QA at PGS Software, says it is. Naturally, with the headcount of several hundreds of people, we can not call each of them by their first name, she says. I have been working with the company since 2007, and I can see that integration is more difficult than it used to be. Nevertheless, employees integrate at the level of project teams, team leaders and technology guilds. The QA guild is a good example. People work on different projects and yet, they know and help each other to solve problems. There is mutual support, help, friendship, and knowledge exchange.
PGS Software has always supported employee integration through trips, team meetings (over the last year mainly online meetings), workshops and events with separate budgets for them. Some of our employees have been with PGS since its beginning, which cannot be overestimated, adds Joanna. For several years we have been safeguarding the tradition of celebrating employees who have worked for us for a decade or more. They hand the company developing and organizing culture down to younger employees. It is worth adding that the number of such long-serving employees is growing every year.
Development for real
In 2016, we named the values that our company holds onto, namely honesty, humility, and development. These values, although named after 10 years of the company’s existence, were in PGS’s DNA from the very beginning.
We have always wanted PGS to be a place where people can say what they are better at now than the year before, says Wojciech Gurgul. Marcin Stawarz, the Chief Administrative Officer, adds: We wanted our teams to learn and exchange knowledge, but it was not systematized at the beginning. Many years ago, our employees put forward a proposal for organizing cyclical internal workshops with a dedicated time frame. Nowadays, this is a standard in larger IT companies, but back then it was something new.
Today, employees dispose of their own development budget to be used for internal trainings with a mentor (PGS Upskill) as well as external trainings and conferences. And these are only some of the development options available in the company.
We must be ready for changes
It is not without reason that development is one of company’s values. The IT market is constantly changing, we have to be able to adapt. Example? In the past, we didn’t have to deal with sales that much, says Bartosz Jabłoński, the Chief Growth Officer. Clients used to visit our website, write to us, or call us. We all dealt with the sales. Today, the competition in the IT market is much more intense. We have to be able to adapt to this ever-changing situation, invest in marketing, sales, and employer branding operations to attract the right candidates for work. And constantly develop our competence.
There are also other challenges that PGS Software is facing. Bartosz Jabłoński admits that we must be closer to clients, also in physical terms. Companies like ours need to internationalize. We must be present both globally and locally, he says.
The world is changing, and we have to keep up with it. This is what we have been doing since day one, admits Wojtek Gurgul.
I am sure that with our team of great managers and employees, the 16th anniversary of PGS Software is just the beginning of something bigger.