Aistė Miškūnienė: People Always Come First
Meet Aistė – Director of Engineering here at Vinted. She shared a story about her return to Lithuania, career path to leadership, attitude towards sustainable living, and female leaders in the tech industry.
What`s your name and job at Vinted?
I`m Aistė Miškūnienė, the Director of Engineering at Vinted. I`m responsible for a domain called Transactional and Pay. It focuses on everything that happens in the user experience, from the moment that he or she is interested in an item and starts chatting with a seller, through to the process of checkout (shipping and payments), and the end of the transaction. So my domain is in charge of making sure people are able to trade successfully.
When and how did you join? Why?
I joined Vinted in May last year, so it's been almost 10 months now. But I became interested in Vinted way before that, a few years ago. I was always hearing about how amazing Vinted is. I also had friends working here, so for me Vinted has always been this very cool place that everyone wants to work at. However, for a few years I was working and living with my family in Denmark. When I came back, I started looking for something new for me in Lithuania, and Vinted caught my eye again.
There were a lot of reasons that attracted me to join Vinted. But the biggest one was that they were looking for someone to create a new strategy for the Payment domain, shape it, and then implement it. That was the main appeal for me – the opportunity to make a positive impact, and help the company grow and evolve. Also, Vinted’s vision and its sustainability aspect is very close to my heart. I wouldn’t like to be making an impact in a company focusing on fossil fuel, for example.
How`s Vinted’s mission important for you? Which extra efforts do you take to live sustainably in your life outside work?
Vinted`s mission is very important to me. Sustainability was not yet a big focus for me 10 or 15 years ago. However, when I was living in Denmark, I started trying to live more sustainably because Denmark is a country very focused on clear energy, a clean environment, and harmony with nature. Copenhagen has one of the cleanest ports in Europe, where you can go for a swim in a busy city center. I think then I started realising how important it is to cherish the environment you live in. This was also the place where I started cycling 25 kilometers every day to work, no matter the weather conditions (and it sometimes would get very rainy and windy in Copenhagen).
I remember having a conversation with my husband about what we’d like to do after we come back to Lithuania. Both of us decided that we’d like to do something related to sustainability. Now he's working with sustainable energy and I’m here at Vinted, so our dreams came true!
In terms of my daily extra efforts towards sustainability, whenever I can, I use my bike to go to work. It mostly happens in the summer when I don't have to take the kids to school and kindergarten. I also started being very conscious about the amount of plastic I throw out. For instance, recently, I went through several online shops looking for cotton ear buds without plastic. I don’t think that 10 years ago I would have gone through that trouble but now I do, because it is important to me. We also reduced meat consumption when living in Denmark, and are continuing that to this day. And it doesn’t bother me at all - it's just a change in our habits, that also happens to be beneficial to our planet.
In my opinion, every small thing that everybody does is important – from recycling to avoiding plastics, using clean transportation, and more.
Tell us about your typical workday? Do you have a morning ritual?
Currently, due to quarantine, my workday is slightly different. But basically, it starts with taking my kids to school or kindergarten, then arriving at work, preparing for what's ahead of me, and, of course, having a cup of coffee! I can't imagine myself starting a day without it - and a glass of water as well.
Actually, I already start thinking of my day very early in the morning, when I'm brushing my teeth. Then I start planning the whole day, and prioritize the things that need to be done first. It can seem a little bit old-fashioned, but I like using sticky notes so that the most important things to do are always there in front of me! Whenever I finish the task, I just cross it out and when I see most of the tasks crossed out, it gives me a sense of accomplishment.
I usually spend most of my day in the meetings, and leave the end of the day for things like emails, Slack messages, and so on. After work, I usually do some physical activities like walking, or doing Pilates or Zumba. Sport helps me to clear my head and prepares me for an evening with my family. Previously, when I was going to the office, that 30 minutes of travel was the time to stop thinking about work and once I was home, just dedicate all of myself to the family.
What do you find meaningful in your job?
The reason why I joined Vinted is that I saw a lot of meaning and potential behind my work. Firstly, the ability to make a positive impact and help the company move ahead with its vision. But more importantly, the opportunity to grow - and help others grow as well.
Back at my previous job, I remember there was one consultant who came in to help build our team. One thing he said that still resonates with me today is – “Your career is worth nothing if you don't contribute to other’s success.” I truly believe in that, and that it is the essence and motivation of my job. It’s one thing to accomplish delivery goals, and make a positive impact for the company, but what’s much more important is how you are helping others grow and develop into what they want to become. And through this process, the company wins as well: it also grows, changes and evolves. That's the meaning behind my work.
Tell us more about your job. What makes someone good at it?
I think that everyone who moves into leadership, at some point finds himself or herself in a situation where you need to reshape your attitude towards the value that you deliver.
I started my career as a software developer, and for me it was very clear what kind of value I delivered. It was functionality that people used, and this was my sense of value. However, when you're moving into leadership, things change. At first you start to understand you’re no longer delivering things directly yourself, but doing it through your team. When you move further in the leadership path, suddenly you start delivering through the Team Leads that have their own teams. And so, you move further and further away from the actual value that you can deliver with your own hands. And it’s not as easy to feel how you have actually contributed in creating value. It takes some soul searching to understand your contribution, and be ok with delivering through others. So that’s one of the things that people in leadership need to realise for themselves.
As for me, I am currently delivering value through my teams and mainly focusing on creating strategies for the domain, long- and short-term goals, and making sure that the organisation is equipped to deliver.
So what makes someone good at it? Being able to think strategically, and help others to deal with issues and difficulties so they can deliver their best work.
What are the main principles you follow at work?
My dad used to tell me when I was little – “Always treat others the way you would like to be treated”. I carry these words with me every day and that’s one of my key principles in life.
In my work (as well as my personal life), people are the core of everything, and nothing is more important than allowing people to feel that they’re valued, they matter, and they are making a difference. People should feel happy, and motivated. It doesn't have to be all rainbows and unicorns at work. There are always ups and downs in everyone's life, but, in general, there shouldn't be any situation at work where you need to sacrifice someone’s personal time, family time, rest, or sleep to achieve the results of the company. For me, this is the key principle – people always come first.
Of course, at work we must achieve certain goals, and for me the results are also very important. ‘m very competitive, and motivated by outcome and achieved goals. However, when you start putting people first and making sure they feel good in whatever they do, then the positive results are just a natural consequence of this approach. And as I’m not delivering anything myself directly, I need to make sure that others are able to deliver the best they can!
Are there personality traits that help, or is there a secret to becoming an expert at it?
It’s neither a secret nor talent, but you definitely need to enjoy being around people – that really helps. Otherwise, being in a leadership role will be in a constant struggle. I like to be surrounded by people. This is probably the reason why it's easier for me.
Also, I believe that the biggest trait that helps is persistence. As the saying goes – “1 percent of talent and 99 percent of hard work”. It's so true! Whenever I was going through a rough patch in my career, things were tough, I was starting a new role and was feeling uncomfortable - I would always give myself a year to go through that. And it was not easy, I would sometimes have to kick myself out of the bed in the morning to go to work. There was a time when working 12 hours a day for a year was a norm to me. But I thought to myself, if I allow myself to quit now, I'll prove to myself that this is my limit, I reached my potential and I can no longer get any further.” I have not yet allowed myself to do that, so hopefully there is more ahead of me. So persistence and hard work always allowed me to go through these tough moments, and that’s why I would say it is a required ingredient for a path in leadership.
Recently, you have done some talks regarding being a leader as a woman in tech. What’s your take on this question -- why is there an imbalance between men and women in this field, and why is it important to balance the situation? How much harder is it to advance to a leadership position as a woman? Tell us more about it.
The reason for the imbalance is very deeply rooted in our recent history. In the 1950s and 60s women were staying at home and taking care of their family, whereas men provided for the family. And so, men naturally became leaders and heads of the companies. In the 1970s and 80s, women started entering the job market, and because of their supportive roles in the family, they took supportive roles at work, like secretaries and nurses. At that time the managerial field was already dominated by men. So, for a woman to become a manager, it was necessary to adopt male-like behaviours, because that was the only way leadership was envisioned.
1990s corporate training, which was designed to help women move into leadership roles, actually advised women to act like men - and even dress like men (a full suit complete with a little tie). Being a leader at that time also meant that you had to be strict, bold, and decisive. However, females were raised to be gentle, supportive and caring. So it sort of meant that if you were a good leader - you were a bad woman. Not every woman was willing to take this road, and endure this sacrifice of losing their identity.
However, things have changed a lot in the past 10 years. We can see way more women moving into leadership roles, but, of course, we`re still very far away. Last year only 7% of CEOs in Europe were female - a ridiculously small number! Even at Vinted, where we create a product that’s mainly used by women, is mostly created by male engineers. So as an organization, we have an imbalance and there's no easy solution to that, because engineering as an industry is heavily dominated by men.
In my own experience of going from a software developer to the leading position in Tech, I always felt slightly alone. I`d say that in this field you would rarely have a female role model to follow, someone who you could look up to and say – “Oh, she did it, so I know it's possible”. For females in technology and, especially, in leadership positions, there's always that sense of a lack of belonging and of loneliness. And that's why I want to help other women who are moving into the technology industry and, especially, into leadership roles.
What would be the top three tips you would give to someone aspiring to do the job you do?
Never give up. There are, of course, situations when you can (and should) tell yourself that it's enough, but, generally, I would suggest you to stay persistent and move towards your goal.
Be curious. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or look stupid. Being curious will allow you to build your knowledge - this will become your key asset.
Be humble. For one thing - no one likes an arrogant colleague. So if you are aspired to work with other people - being humble is a foundation. But being humble also means that you are OK with yourself – you don't have to put someone down just to feel better about yourself.
By the way, do you use the Vinted app? If so, what’s your way of using it?
I`m a very active Vinted user now, and it was the same even before joining the company. I think 2/3 of my wardrobe is listed on Vinted! I`m constantly shopping at Vinted for me and my kids. My husband is also an active app user. So, our entire family has quite a lot of clothes from Vinted.
One fun fact about you?
That`s a very difficult question! I can tell you a lot of facts about myself, but none of them are funny. So I asked my husband. He thinks it’s funny that I have a terrible seasickness while his favourite hobby is sailing. I think it’s the irony of life…
Your favorite place in the world (online and offline)?
I really like everything related to water. I enjoy swimming and just being in the water! When I think of something nice, pleasant, and relaxing, I instantly imagine the sea, an ocean, a lake, or even a swimming pool. So places with water are the best in the world for me!
When I was a child, I was a member of the swimming team, and participated in swimming competitions. So, I really like swimming and I'm quite good at it!
Aiming high daily is not easy – how do you relax?
My days are usually very intense, I have a lot of meetings, many things happening simultaneously that you need to constantly think about. At the end of the day, what gives me energy and allows me to recharge, is definitely my family.
My husband, kids, parents, sister, and other close people are my foundation! Being with them I rest, think, and get my energy back. I have 2 kids, so don’t get me wrong, my evenings are not calm. Actually they are quite noisy and full of action. But I feel the love, connection, and warmth being with my family. We just feel happy with each other! And that gives me energy, allows me to recharge and move on with new challenges.
Of course I also have hobbies like dancing, singing, swimming, biking, cooking. But family is on top of my list when it comes to spending my free time.
Pick one piece of media to recommend: a movie, a TV show, a podcast, a YouTube channel, a band… Why do you think it deserves someone’s attention and what role does it play in your life?
I don't want to burden anyone with podcasts, or high volume books on successful businesses. Instead I would like to share a very small thing that I value and enjoy. It's just a very simple and calm song by the duo Kings of Convenience. Whenever I feel tired, sad or irritated at the end of the day, I listen to this song – it gets me calm and relaxed.
This song came into my life when I was travelling a lot for my work, and met my husband here in Lithuania. He shared this song with me when I was abroad, and the more I was listening to it, the more I realised I was missing home. When I came back home, we started dating and later got married. Of course, it's not because of the song that I came back home, but this song reminds me of the beginning of the relationship with my husband, and the time when I decided to stop traveling and go back home. Here you go.