As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Zaven Ter-Stepanyan.
Zaven Ter-Stepanyan is a partner and Director of Business Development at CodeRiders software development company based in Yerevan. He has a background in intercultural communication, hospitality, and customer service, audit and coaching. Zaven is responsible for company culture, partnerships, and business strategy planning at CodeRiders. He truly believes that strong company culture and exceptional service are what any company needs first.
In his free time, Zaven enjoys playing the guitar, listening to music, reading, and playing with his cat.
He loves to travel and meet people from other countries and easily becomes interested in their cultures.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thank you for the invitation. Actually, I started my career in the hospitality industry, following my education, and was lucky enough to have worked with the best professionals in the field at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. After 3 years of living and working in Moscow, I decided to relocate back to Armenia, and at that point, my friends who were running a web development school in Yerevan offered me to join them. The idea was to create a competitive software development house, based on the best students who graduated from CodeRiders Web Development School. I loved the idea, though I didn’t even know where to start — as software development was something I just heard about from my friends and from articles I read occasionally about some new technologies and startups.
Luckily, my family and friends supported me in my decision to relocate and switch my occupation. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but hard work always pays off and my friends helped me a lot to make the switch smoother. Now we have a wonderful team capable of turning any idea into reality, motivated to become one of the most recognizable, and trusted companies in the field.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When we were first starting, we worked almost 24 hours. Our office has become our home, we stayed very late, even used to sleep at the office, worked very hard, and didn’t give much importance to having proper rest.
So, one day we were working on a PDF generating tool and found a bug. During hours we were debugging, checking the software — but there was no result. We re-wrote the whole functionality, but still saw the same picture and became frustrated. So we decided to take a coffee break, to give a small rest to our brains, and after that, we found out that we were refreshing the downloaded PDF document itself, instead of refreshing the browser page. That was very funny and we were so happy that we found the mistake.
That was a great lesson for us — when you are exhausted, it is best to have rest. It is better to spend an hour working with a fresh mind, instead of working hours while needing proper rest.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I have been lucky enough to have worked with great leaders and with not-so-good ones — this gives a clear understanding of “dos and don’ts” while managing a team, creating company culture, empowering people, and treating them respectfully. This helped me a lot, especially after my career shift, when I became responsible for more people and business in general.
Of course, books have a similar influence and give more flexibility, as with books you can interact with a person you would never have a chance to work with or even meet.
Specifically, I would like to mention 2 books that have helped me understand some very important nuances in running a technology business and business in general, interacting with people, prioritizing the right things, decision-making, and taking responsibility. Those are “How Google Works” by Eric Schmidt, ex-CEO at Google and Jonathan Rosenberg, former SVP at Google, and “Hit Refresh” by Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft. These books are a must-read for people who really care about the work environment they are creating, who believe that strong company culture and exceptional service is what a successful business needs first.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
People first. This is what we knew was important for us, and it still is. We tried to build a company that would serve its employees and clients. Behind any revolutionary technology or a world-known triumph are people, and they must be respected and treated fairly. As we saw great opportunities in making lives easier, we found a purpose to operate, to work hard, as the end result would always give a sense of great satisfaction and pride. And when speaking about people, we understand that the most precious thing a person could have is time — time to spend with family, friends, reading books, listening to music, volunteering, self-educating, making the world around them a better place to live in.
So, what we could do to serve people — automate manual processes with the use of technology so that they could have more time for other activities, and this is how our company vision was born — “Time is precious. Automation should save it.”
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Follow your values. It is always important, whether you are up or down, to remind yourself about the values you have adopted as a business, as a company, as a group of people, and as an individual. The core values of CodeRiders are Excellence, Genuine Care, and Team Spirit. No matter if you are having hard times or everything goes so well that you didn’t expect — doing your job with excellence, genuinely taking care of people and products, and keeping the team spirit high will make you feel you are on the right path and doing something worthy.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My parents live in another town in Armenia and visiting them frequently has always been a challenge. During the pandemic, even when there was an opportunity to visit my hometown, I could not take that risk. Fortunately, the technology allows us to stay in touch and we started to have video calls more frequently.
Also before the crisis, I used to organize small parties at my home and spending a great time with my friends. It is still very important to me to be able to see people, share thoughts on different topics because this kind of interaction is a great tool for stress relief and a reminder about personal values. During the pandemic, especially the first 6–8 months I had no chance to meet any of my friends because of the high risk of infecting or being infected, but the need to spend time together was growing daily.
So we started to spend time together almost every day after work playing online video games we used to play in our childhood. This was the best time during the pandemic. Every day we were waiting for the evening time when everybody finishes his work to join and play together. Sometimes we just turned on our cameras, got some beer, and chilled together.
In addition, I had a lot more time to spend with my wife and we finally had that time to watch Twin Peaks by David Lynch, which gave us so much positive energy, created a new universe we lived in and made us forget everything that was happening in our world.
The greatest day of the battle against the negative feelings caused by the pandemic was September 9th — the day when I adopted a cat. I would recommend everyone, if you are ready to take the responsibility for the next 15–20 years, to adopt a pet — it will give you an infinite feeling of joy and will increase your motivation to stay strong and take care of someone who needs your help.
I think especially in the dark times people start to see what matters the most, and I was lucky to have the chance to spend time with my beloved ones even during these uncertain times.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
When we went remote in March 2020, we expected a lot of challenges. But in reality, we found out that remote work is super productive. All of our team members had enough time not only for daily work routine but also gained a number of new skills, tackled new technologies while working from home.
The biggest and maybe the only challenge was the lack of real communication, team-building activities, etc.
Before the pandemic, we were used to spending the major part of our day together, spend weekends in the countryside with the team, play football every Thursday, and because of the pandemic, we had to stop all these activities. Luckily, now the infection rate in Armenia has lowered a lot, and we are able to spend more time together.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Anxiety has become a real problem nowadays, and especially after such unexpected “shocking news” coming all over the world. This kind of access to information may be a dream for curious people, who can surf the web to find answers to any questions they have, but for the majority of people all over the world, the constant flow of negative news may cause real health issues.
What I advise my family and friends is to accept that it has always been very tough, and humanity will always have bigger and bigger challenges to overcome. We just can take a history book, and read what was happening a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, etc.
Our brains are constructed in a way that enables us to solve problems. If there is nothing to solve we become bored. Many have had a chance to notice that a very long holiday might become a stress for our mind because of lack of brain activity in problem-solving. Maybe that is why we are among the most intelligent creatures on our planet.
As a wise man said: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
The global changes we are facing today — the pandemic, politics, wars, food issues, depression level, climate change, human rights issues, and so on — will negatively affect our minds more and more, as these problems require long years and maybe decades or centuries to be solved. If we want to stay healthy during these years, we should just accept the facts as they are and use our intelligence, our brains to make ourselves less anxious.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
The biggest opportunity in the Post-Covid economy is to start automating manual processes. Those who have always been unsure about the worthiness of such a transformation should see that a crisis like the pandemic might become a big challenge, and luckily, there are many great examples of how a business transformed from a traditional model to a hybrid or fully automated one.
Automation of the economy will increase its value. Businesses and countries will be able to create more and spend less. Creating appropriate automation tools, software and equipment will lead to an economical revolution, just like that happened during the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
There is no reason for people who are far from technology to be afraid of machines, smart devices, and AI technology. It is unlikely that someday they will rise against us like in the Terminator movie. Investment in Science development could be a great foundation to build a strong economy.
In addition, it is important to invest in education — prepare young generations for the new world reality by giving them the knowledge and skills they will need.
Therefore, automation, the development of science and technology, and investing in education might play a crucial role in creating the new world economy.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I think that the pandemic has just played a role of an accelerator for our predictable development.
We started to wear masks now, but it is obvious someday we would have done it, as we have quite a high level of air pollution. We started to work from home now, but this day would anyway come, as economically it is cheaper for organizations not to rent big offices and instead be able to raise salaries. More and more people will try remote work, many will switch their occupations, and we will create more standard procedures and policies to follow. But most importantly, I think very soon we will forget about most of the negative experiences — this is how we are constructed. We will come back to the “normal life” we lived before the pandemic. Maybe we will just give more importance to our health and hygiene.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Fortunately, our business has not suffered because of the Covid pandemic, as we were able to quickly switch to remote work. This example showed us that it is very important to have the possibility of mobility, necessary equipment, and appropriate software. We plan to enlarge our team, by adding new skilled professionals to it and expand our presence in the software development community. Our experience shows that our long-term planning was done correctly, and we will keep growing following our initial strategy and vision.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would encourage all those businesses, which do not have an online presence or remote service options, to think about it.
I remember many organizations, restaurants, bars, shops, and gyms suffered a lot and even closed their businesses because they could not find a way to operate in the new reality when their customers and clients were in lockdown. Some others were quick in their decisions and found very interesting solutions.
For example, a well-known gym started to stream basic exercises and trainings for their Instagram followers. The ones who wanted a personal trainer could easily hire one. They even started to develop their own mobile application with exercise streaming and personal trainer hiring. This solution helped them survive during the lockdown. Some restaurants focused on quick delivery of food and beverage by creating quick delivery mobile apps, while others just shut their doors and preferred to wait a little — in fact, they waited too long and lost quite a big revenue.
So, if you don’t have that “emergency button” — create it. It is easy with the technology we have now. When things go right, many prefer to relax, and when something goes wrong, they are not prepared. I am not saying all others are prophets, but at least they try to develop strategies for some imaginable scenarios.
That is why it is crucial to have a vision, values and a purpose — this is where you can start building your “defensive walls” over. For example, if you have a bakery and your vision is that people should have access to freshly baked bread 24/7, you need to make sure you can continue baking bread even if there is no electricity in the town — so you just go and buy a wood-fired oven.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”
This is the ending of a poem, written by John Donne — a masterpiece that impressed me a lot, as I was brought up with values of empathy, kindness to people and nature, and responsibility for those who need help. Seeing a person being treated unfairly, an animal being hit for fun, a tree being cut for no reason should make people stop it — at least speak about it, trying to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. So many prefer not to notice such reality and not make a headache for themselves. This is natural — self-preservation instinct speaks louder than our brains so often. Nevertheless, we should keep in our minds that we are responsible for building a better world. So, yes, never ask for whom the bell tolls.
How can our readers further follow your work?
We are quite active on our socials and share all relevant news and announcements. Our readers can subscribe to our newsletter on our website to get notifications on our latest blog posts, news, etc. They can follow us by the following links:
CodeRiders blog: https://www.coderiders.am/blog