How is the past connected with the present and how can your decisions today change your future forever? In the latest episode of our Back to the Future blog we hand over the Future is Bright time machine to Erik Šarlák, the finance graduate in 24i’s Brno office who will answer those questions based on his own experience.
What was the main reason that you decided to study in Czech Republic instead of in your home country of Slovakia?
The decision to study in the Czech Republic came to me relatively easy. Before applying to university, I had decided to follow my strengths and study in a field where I would be able to improve both my English and math skills. After searching through multiple sources and speaking to my friends, I chose a Finance degree. I narrowed down my decision to the Masaryk and Mendel Universities, both of which reside in Brno, and I was certain that I wanted to study here. The Masaryk University’s Faculty of Economics and Administration had remarkable reviews and is one of the best economic faculties in the entire Czech and Slovak republic. Masaryk University is also seen as one of the most challenging and renowned universities in this region. I also have family in Ostrava and I was always inclined to get to know the Czech republic more. As it turned out, I consider this as one of my best decisions. I got to know a lot of friends, experienced a plethora of adventures with them and I also set a stepping stone to my future career.
Can you tell us why Brno is so popular and what are the main attractions there?
One of the factors is the number of the universities here. There’s something for everyone at Brno´s three most famous universities, namely Masaryk University, Mendel University and Brno University of Technology. It is said that during the academic year, there are almost 80,000 students in Brno. It’s a great city to get to know new people.
Secondly, there are many spectacles of nature and ways to spend your free time. For example, if you are in the city centre, you may choose to visit the Špilberk castle or the Lužánky park. If you are further away, there’s Brno Zoo or the Brno Reservoir, where lots of people spend their summer evenings. Of course, there are too many wonders and opportunities to mention them in this article.
You have some experience in a Vineyard in Austria, what brought you there? Should we turn to you with the questions about selecting a good wine?
Yes, I spent four consecutive summers in Austria for approximately one month each year. It was a really rewarding experience, but we were not there to have fun, but to work. We spent a considerable amount of time in the vineyard taking care of the vines, so they would produce better quality grapes. I did acquire some experience in choosing fine wine, but since then I frankly did not drink a lot of wine, so I would leave these questions about wine selection to someone else.
You have some skills in the programming language Python, why did you switch from the IT sector to finance?
Actually, it was the other way around. As I previously mentioned, I started to study Finance and the first three years were great. But then, I struggled to select the right path regarding my master´s degree. I was not sure about working as an accountant as I had a little interest in it. So, I took an internship at KPMG, one of the “big four” audit companies. I gained a lot of useful experience there and I realized that the part of the job which I enjoyed the most was connected to the data itself. I started to think about how I could best use this interest and decided to try one or two terms at The Faculty of Informatics concurrently with finishing my finance degree. It is said that people should pursue their passion and the things they love, so I did exactly that. Through this, I acquired some knowledge about databases and programming, skills that combined very well with my economics degree.
Why did you decide to take a graduate position and how did you find out about it?
I found out about the graduate position by accident. I cannot exactly remember where I first saw it, but I remember feeling immediately that I wanted to know more about it. So, I sent my CV and I liked the description of the programme and the challenge which it offered.
I have to mention that it was great to have an opportunity to speak to the CEO of our entire group in one of my interview rounds. I also spoke to our financial controller – Radek and our CFO – Kees, with whom I now work on a daily basis.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your graduate programme?
There are probably two main challenges. One of them is that we have been working almost entirely from home due to COVID restrictions. Since I cooperate mainly with the financial controller and CFO, together with the fact that all of us work from different places, there are not many opportunities to meet each other (other than via internet connection). But on the other hand, you save the time you would have spent travelling to and from the office.
The second challenge has been learning the Microsoft Power BI business analytics platform by myself, as there is no other expert on Power BI in our company. But I view this as a great opportunity and I have also devoted some of my free time to learning and developing myself further as a data analyst.
In the finance sector, even the smallest mistake can create big trouble, one zero can make a big change. How do you take care to prevent these kinds of errors?
That is true. You have to have a keen eye on detail and if you find a mistake, you should investigate why it is there, how it was caused and what you should do to rectify it. Another great practice is to backup your files before working with them.
Being up-to-date with all the finance programmes can be challenging. Can you tell us how you are developing your skills?
I will answer this question more broadly because I think it’s relevant to any white-collar job. As technology progresses further, it gets harder to be up-to-date as each profession is somehow impacted by changing technology. That is the reason why almost everybody who chooses to work this way should be prepared for constant learning. Regarding my job as data or BI analyst, there are many platforms or programming languages which you should learn. Working with Power BI, I mainly need to understand the DAX language which is used for creating measures or calculated columns and tables. Besides that, I sometimes use M code. Both of these languages are also used in Excel in some way. Furthermore, in the past I also learned SQL to some extent as it is commonly used and currently I broaden my Python knowledge to learn libraries like pandas, numpy etc., which are used for manipulation of data and data science. For my learning I use the platform Udemy.com, because courses are sold at reasonable prices and some of them have surprisingly high quality. But if you seriously want to learn something, it is important to use it and devote a lot of time to it, courses will provide you only with the basics.
What do you do in your free time when you are not currently learning?
I try to have a healthy work-life balance, so I do a lot of sports in my free time. Most often, I play basketball with my friends but I also started to play tennis recently and I run on a regular basis. Not related to sports, I also read books in my free time and if I should recommend one to our readers, I would choose Mistborn. It is a fantasy book written by Brandon Sanderson. I also like hiking and playing board games with friends.
You’re now half way through the first year of the programme. What professional goals do you have for the next 18 months?
Yes, I would like to finish the Power BI courses which I have started and then I would probably take the Microsoft certification exam for data analysts. I have already created several Power BI reports, some of which were shared across the company.
We also have a wider goal in 24i to automate our whole reporting process. We are cooperating with an external company to help us with implementation of this solution with the use of Microsoft Azure. In the coming months, we should be working on the second phase of our collaboration and we are looking forward to using this new reporting tool when it is already implemented. It will certainly speed up a lot of the work we currently do manually.
What would be the ideal position for you after finishing the graduate programme?
I would like to continue my journey as a business intelligence/data analyst and devote my time to the things which I am passionate about. I will see how I will progress with my self-learning, as there are many more interesting topics in data analysis and data science.
Your decisions today are shaping your future, what are the major things you consider when making those decisions?
I think that if you try to give your all to your goal, a lot of decisions will come to you by themselves. There are a lot of times when you are tired, so you do not do something to your fullest potential or do not train the hardest you can – and sometimes that is really okay. Sometimes you just need a little bit of push to be back there. If you set a goal and you stick to it for the appropriate time, the results will come. If you also use your free time to train yourself, this time will give you more confidence. But as I mentioned, it is also important to rest. I think that especially in the working environment it is beneficial for everyone´s mental health. A healthy work-life balance is the key point to enjoying work.
What are the main advantages of this kind of programme which will be useful in your future career?
This programme combines a lot of advantages together. Like many international organizations, it’s great that I am able speak with people all over the world, but there are other benefits which would be hard to gain in another company:
- First and foremost, I was given trust by my managers and the CEO to develop reports for the entire company.
- I was also given an opportunity in the field where I decided to pursue my career.
- I can cooperate closely with the financial controller and CFO and learn a lot from them from the financial point of view.
- I have access to the meetings of team leaders and project managers, which in another company might only happen after several additional years.
- And finally, there is a large basket of snacks in my place in the office when I am able to get there which is always full.