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Work Advice from Balazs Fejes, Chief Technologist at EPAM APAC

We’ve asked Balazs Fejes, Chief Technologist at EPAM APAC, a few serious and not so serious questions about his professional life and asked him to give advice to novice leaders. Here’s what he shared with us.

What are some books that have greatly influenced your professional life?

The more senior I get at EPAM, the more I find that my challenge is to keep my peace of mind, which is not necessarily a technical or process-related problem. So let me recommend something that’s helped my mental framework for the last couple of years: Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way. This book, based on the work of stoic philosophers, has helped me stop complaining, be less sensitive to conflicts and politics, and generally work cheerfully at obstacles thrown my way. There’s a follow-up book, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity. It’s just great for a daily dose of refreshing these ideas. I would still recommend to start with the Obstacles book first.

For more practical people management advice, I’d highly recommend Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity from Kim Scott. It’s a very practical book about a very difficult subject. This book, together with some related articles, changed the way I give feedback to my peers and team members, helped me communicate more directly, and accept and grow from negative feedback from others as well.

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior or habit has most improved your professional life?

Stoicism has to be the key thing. I think everybody needs some kind of mental framework – it’s impossible to make decisions and process issues on a case-by-case basis. You need to have a set of behaviors that you can apply in most situations. Most religions have built-in mental frameworks you can use for this. I’m not religious, but stoic philosophy works very well for me.

One more practical idea is that after 15+ years of experimenting with different mobile devices, cloud services, digital pens and desktop application syncing, I’ve finally figured out that a small paper notebook is the perfect task management platform for me. Every day, on my morning ferry ride to work, I start a new page and make a list of things I want to do. I add items to this list during the day. If it’s more than one page, I’m sure I cannot do it, so I add new items to the next day’s page. If I cannot cross out an item by the time I leave work, I move it to the next day. Of course I rely on my Outlook calendar for all of the items scheduled for me, but I also add them to my daily page in the notebook, just to have a sense of accomplishment when I cross out the item after the call/meeting is done.

Nowadays, I use the same small notebook to sketch out any complex idea or plan, and it’s the first step for any new technical or functional design for my projects.

In the last five years, have you become better at saying no?

It’s a very trendy topic right now to talk about why saying no is important, so I’m reading about this subject a lot. I feel like there’s a lot to learn from the movie Yes Man. I am constantly overwhelmed by all of the activities I am asked to join, and more often than not, they end up being useful for me personally.

If you could have a giant billboard in your office with anything on it, what would it say and why?

I think all motivational statements become boring after a while, so I’d most likely chose something that is incredibly fun. I am a big fan of the old Saturday Night Live sketch series, Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey. Let me give you an example:

“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.”

I think there’s an endless source of these Deep Thoughts. They work great as motivational posters.

What advice would you give to a novice leader?

It’s interesting because I didn’t even really listen to or seek advice when I was a novice leader. Of course, I read a lot of books about leadership, management and technology, but that was in the hope of finding practical recipes I could follow. I really started to properly educate myself and learn how I can change myself to be better as a leader in my late thirties or early forties. So I’m going to assume current smart, novice leaders will also try and fail and in the end mature by themselves, until they’re ready for the really deep philosophical discussions.