From internship to SVP of Engineering

Leonid Olevsky
10 min readJan 16, 2022


It is my personal journey story about how hard work pays off, how believing in yourself and being open to support from family and friends will always lead you to be the best version of yourself!

Last year was very challenging for us all. COVID-19 hit at the beginning of 2020 and impacted humanity from many aspects. My story is not unique, but I hope that my experience from the past decade will motivate some of you and show you the way.

The key point to get out of this story and part of my personal belief is never to expect to get any opportunity, responsibility, or new title. Just take the ownership and drive things you believe in. No one will do it for you! The right opportunity will naturally come if you believe in it and work toward it.


Believe in yourself

Do you think that all the CEOs, CTOs and other CXX become directly to their positions? Do you think their way was easy and they always knew what and how to do? Do you think your manager is always know all the answers and he is never mistake? The answer for all this questions is NO!

My story begins in a country that does not exist anymore, the USSR. When I was 8, my family immigrated to Israel, and the move to a new country was very hard for everyone. We were not accepted and the start was very hard for us, but with strong belief and responsibility, my parents succeeded and gave me a great example and motivation that continuously working toward success no matter what will bring you there.

A couple of years later, I joined the IDF and served in the Air Force. This was one of the first experiences where I had the opportunity to work with great leaders who followed a couple of basic rules. It was never “Go, Do” or other requests, it was always “Let’s do it together” or “Watch me how I am doing it and follow me.”

Common goals and missions, sleepless nights and hard physical work, but the reward of satisfaction when you successfully achieve your mission is worth it all!

After the army, I was studying and working in parallel. I worked in a customer support center. One of the most interesting experiences I had was The experience of speaking with more than 100 different people in a shift of seven hours taught me a couple of new skills as I was measured for my success:

  • KPI 1: I was measured to have an average of more than 7 customers per hour.
  • KPI 2: Number of resolved cases. All the customers are different. How to identify their needs? They are calling for assistance, to be listened to, to identify their needs, and to solve their problem.

By setting up targets and measuring my success, it teaches me that with the right targets I can achieve success and be the best in anything I do.

I want to say that after the army, I was married, and I was lucky to have the best partner to support me all the way from that moment, and she was a crucial part of that support and success.

Own your own carrier

Studying for a software engineering degree was not easy; there were a lot of new things to learn and new concepts to understand. When 50% of students did not continue to second semester due to exam failures, I realized that the path to graduation is long and difficult.One of the reasons was that they had not been part of the study groups that formalized, learned, and challenged each other. Only students that had continuous support from each other succeeded!

Our class in BS’c Software engineering

At the end of my second year, I got an advertisement for an internship at the Israeli Electric Company. It is a government position and could be a good starting point for an engineering career. I didn’t believe that I would be accepted, but I still applied as I believe if you do not try, you will never get anything. To my surprise, I got called for the first interview, then for the second, and finally for the last full day of testing my skillset.

I was accepted to the internship program and was very surprised as there were much better candidates that I met on different steps of the interviews, but I believed in myself and did the best I could, without taking anything as obvious!

It’s all about community

The community played a very important part of my career as I had the opportunity to meet amazing and very talented people along the way who helped me along my way!

It all started from a need that I had. I was living in a city that is 100 km from Tel Aviv, where most of the start-ups and the ecosystem are located, and I had a personal mission to bring all of this to my city as well as develop our area as it did not exist. A lot of good people united for a great purpose, and it became successful and impacted a lot of people in our region!

The impact of meeting multiple talents from the community helped me multiple times to get offers and career opportunities that helped me to learn and share my experience back with the community as well!

Today, with the COVID, it is more difficult to attend social events, but I believe it is a crucial part of the career of anyone that wants to grow to be able to learn from the community and share their wisdom back as well.

Last hackathon before leaving Israel (GDG)

Continuously learn

Never stop learning. Today, technology is changing very fast. What is very trending today may not be relevant in a couple of years. People who refuse to leave their comfort zone will never evolve and will remain stagnant.

At the beginning of my career, I was very focused on mobile development. I knew all in and out about mobile development, developed hundreds of small and big projects, worked as a freelancer and full-time developer in big companies, but I always knew that if I did not learn more things, I would be stuck in the same place as mobile development started to be more easy and accessible to more developers.

When I got my first opportunity to become a development manager in a big company, I was managing a couple of mobile development teams, and I was always missing the full picture of how things were working and was always seeking to learn more about how things were working far away from my silo. This led to my next step, which was to transfer to the Back end department and take over responsibility for the complex systems that I had to manage. A new challenge to learn from and gain more knowledge from!


Be always open to a challenge. It does not mean changing your job when it starts to be boring and monotonic. Challenge yourself and those around you with new ideas, solutions, and ways of problem solving. If you do not do it, it will never happen.

I’ve been in the situation where I’ve been discussing people’s feelings at work and received comments like:

“I don’t like the decision/direction that management is taking…”

My immediate reaction to this kind of comment is:

“What did you do to impact it?”

So I got back:

“I am not a manager; it is their role.…”

In this case, this person will never become a lead or manager, as he doesn’t have strong ownership of the work he is doing, nor does he have a need to impact, share his thoughts, or improve things that are not working well.

This is just one example of what you can do to stay in the challenge and have an impact on your team/department/company…If you do not speak up, you will never be heard!

Step back to jump forward

Don’t be afraid to step back! (I am not sure if it is a step back:)) I will give an example: a little before COVID hit, I decided to take a pause from management and come back for development. Even as a manager, I always found time to write some code, as they say, “Once a developer, always a developer,” and I always loved it.

Some people were telling me if I moved out of management I would never come back, but it is not true!

I believe that a good manager in an engineering department should have a passion for code and understanding. It is not only a people management position. You can read more in this post I wrote in the past.

As you can see, I prove that this hypothesis is wrong. I am Senior Vice President of Engineering today after being a half-year developer before that…

Starting new position as Head of Engineering (SVP Engineering)

Experience to execution

I saw many different approaches to how engineering teams can be structured, projects can be executed, and systems can be structured after being a leader and then a manager in multiple companies. The challenge of bringing all of this experience and starting to build a team from the best of your own experience is one of the biggest challenges of being the person who is doing it.

Every team is totally different; developers and managers bring many different types of experience, and each one believes that their way is the right and best way to do things, and I want to tell you that all of them are right and wrong at the same time!

There is no magic way to make things work; following exactly this way or another way will not make it perfect, and don’t try to bring it to perfection; it will never be!

The best way that I found to make it happen is to be open to suggestions and try, observe, and guide from my and others’ experience how things can be better. Guidance as suggestion for material of thought, not forcing! The team will figure it out by themselves what is working best for them.

Measuring the continued improvement of team execution and being open to feedback, seeking it continuously, actively and improving it is the key to success. Match the right development methodology to the right type of project, whether it’s Agile, Scrum, Kanban, or others.

How to… ?

Vision to a mission

To develop the team, you will need to have a vision of what your team will look like, as a north star, in a perfect world without limitations. This vision will be your guide to how you will share the mission with the team.

The first thing that was important to me when I got to the role was to identify a couple of things:

  • People
    - Org structure? Who are the teams? Who are the people? Who are the leaders?
    - Leveling, Career development plan.
    - Hiring mechanism.
  • Technology
    - Tech vision roadmap.
    - Technical debt.
    - Code ownership, understanding the landscape
  • Process
    - Work process, change management, release process
    - How does the team measure success?
  • Product
    - Product roadmap
    - Resource allocation
    - Ownership (Team and Business domain owner)

When this is known, the next step will be to work with the golden triangle (engineering, product, and business) to identify a single list of priority and add tech debt to it, to be sure it is all aligned.

After clarifying and aligning with all the stockholders, it is important to start transferring the vision to the mission. Some of the existing things will be good and some will need to be improved or changed. It is important to make sure that engineering excellence is well defined.

  • Site up time, SLA
  • Cleaning up the production error rate in order to improve monitoring
  • Testing and quality of code, testing strategy
  • Bug count monitoring
  • P95 performance monitoring
  • Determine the monitoring of business performance

Guidance and communication

It is important to give clear guidance, continuous feedback, and communication to help your team succeed! Keep it accessible and transparent. In order for it to happen, there are several things that need to be done to make sure it will happen and it can be transferred to KPIs to guide and measure the success of it:

  • Hiring and performance management
  • Team building, assemble the team and lead to win
  • Deliver result, and track deliverables and outcomes.

Engage people to share their success and celebrate it together! In COVID times, it is harder and harder to keep the feeling of belonging to the organization, as most of us work remotely, and keeping the mission and vision clear with continued small celebrations of achievements will help the team to be connected.

Its all about the team

The right talents and friendly teams are the best that the company can wish for itself. Don’t forget about it! It’s all about people. Celebrate their success, check up with them how they are going, and have a small discussion with them about their lives and hobbies. This will definitely impact and bring better and more successful teams.

Another aspect is the continued development of the team. Determining the right career path and defining goals and development for each of the team members with the vision of the team growing is important!

Important note: sharing open opportunities within the team while also having openings for new hires is a great idea, as I believe that talents should be developed rather than simply hired because they bring great value.

In summarizing my journey, I hope that it will impact you at any stage of your career. All the possibilities are there. You need to believe in yourself aseptically in this hard situation of COVID to be strong and get the best out of yourself.

Continue to learn, explore, meet new people, and not be afraid of challenges if they are internal or external to your day-to-day life and responsibilities. The satisfaction of achieving your goals is the best feeling you could ever have!