From Kiev to the Kitchen, With Love for UX

by Dea Martinjonis September 19, 2017

Ukrainian UX designer Kirill Slavetski is the perfect representative of the modern workforce — he chooses where in the world he wants to live and work. Summer too hot in his native Kiev? No problem — Kirill moves to always-cool Edinburgh. Tired of being a one-man-show consultant? The UX master snags himself a jobbatical* in Estonia.

A year ago Kirill was minding his business, literally, in Kiev and running a design consultancy when a job ad on Jobbatical caught his eye.

“I had heard of Jobbatical from a friend already and had been fascinated by the idea immediately, so I kept tracking it,” Kirill says. “The core idea of Jobbatical reflects how I’ve always tried to live — never living anywhere for too long, working from different locations, countries and cities.”

And that he truly has done — the list of cities and countries Kirill has made his life and work outposts is pretty impressive — Serbia, Israel, UK, Russia, Sweden, Belarus, Egypt, Netherlands, Turkey and of course, various parts of Ukraine.

Say my name: Kirill is a true globetrotter and sports an impressive collection of all the different variations of his name on Starbucks coffee cups.

By the way, that friend of Kirill’s repping Jobbatical to him is also a Ukrainian guy from Kiev and is working now at the hot robotics startup Starship where he landed a job…yup, you guessed it — through Jobbatical. Anyway, back to our protagonist Kirill. “I’d been running my consultancy for over 9 years by then and actually wasn’t actively looking for a job, I’ve always been entrepreneurial and haven’t had a desire to join other people’s companies,” admits Kirill.

But being your own boss can have its drawbacks and we, humans, are after all herd animals. We love to be part of wolfpacks. So did Kirill.

Tallinn through a lense: Kirill is also an avid photographer. Here’s his selection of Tallinn’s Old Town.

“I was working with my clients as a design consultant and product designer. And had started to feel a little frustrated by the fact that I didn’t have enough ownership over what I was doing,” Kirill reflects.

It makes total sense if you knew how his work process looked. He’d land a client, do some initial research, design something and finally — hand the result over to the client.

“But design is and should be an iterative process, you should always track how people are using your product. what is their feedback, statistics of usage and then do gradual improvements based on that,” stresses Kirill. “It should never be — do it once and hand it over. So I was starting to feel I wasn’t having enough impact. That is why I wanted to join a company and be involved in design but also user research.” Before joining Jobbatical almost a year ago, the last time Kirill worked for someone was in 2008. “I have to say though that changing my style of working has been very satisfying,” he says.

Diversity rules: Kirill (on the left along with his Jobbatical colleagues) says he really has started to value diverse teams. “Not only diverse nationalities, but also diverse cultures. It makes it more interesting to work, and also more effective.”

Kirill also says he likes how international and diverse the team is at Jobbatical. “I have worked with international clients but never have I seen a team so packed with different cultures,” says Kirill. “You may find this surprising but first and foremost I’ve found that having a diverse team increases the efficiency in the workplace by making collaboration more efficient, too.”

One curious fact — Kirill does not have an assigned seat behind a desk at Jobbatical — by his own choice. You may find him sitting in the communal kitchen. Why, I ask him.

“I value my freedom,” states Kirill. “This is what I like about Jobbatical — the culture of remote work. You can work from any place, or any country even, as long as you get your job done. Even when I’m in the office, I like to work from the kitchen because it is a meeting place for all the people in the company. You always hear conversations and you talk about other stuff than work, too. I cannot imagine myself working behind a desk or in a cubicle.”

The quiet charm of Tallinn

Okay, I can grasp him being ready to work for someone else, but how about moving to Tallinn — a city more than five times smaller than Kiev?

Kirill nods: “Being a big city person, I was a little bit afraid that this city is very small and I would miss out on a lot of things. But it has worked out very well, Tallinn’s location allows me to travel to bigger cities easily — if need be, I can be in Helsinki or Oslo in a couple of hours. Also, when selecting our (with his wife Darina.- D.M.) home here — we opted for the Old Town where things are happening. We didn’t even look in the residential neighborhoods where life dies out after 7 PM.”

Strike a pose: Kirill and Darina are one fashionable married couple.

Estonia in general has been a good discovery for Kirill. “I was surprised in a good way that Estonia is far more advanced than I had expected. I thought it’d be more post-Soviet. It actually has moved way further than Ukraine since restoring the independence.”

Fancy felines: It took a little hassle to bring Koshka (it means a cat in Ukrainian) and Panda to Estonia, but they’re full-blown EU citizens now.

You’d think that someone from an Eurasian country would prefer a warmer climate and hot blooded people, right? Not the case at all. Kirill’s favorite city climate-wise is actually Edinburgh where the maximum HIGH temperature during summer is 19C and where it mostly, well, rains. Tallinn, compared to Edinburgh, enjoys generally hotter summers and less rain.

In Tallinn the people are generally known to be introverted. “I like that most of the local people give you personal space,” says Kirill, adding “In the Southern countries they’re used to intervening in your personal space and talk too much. In that sense Estonia is perfect for me, I’m not a very communicative person myself. Although I did have a bit of an experience during my first weeks in Tallinn — I thought that the barista in the coffeeshop where I get my morning coffee hated me because she never made eye contact. But I was explained by my colleague that it was actually a good thing, that the barista most probably didn’t want to bother me and was trying to be polite.”

Bookworm: “I don’t own a home anywhere. But I tend to buy a lot of books, and the more my library grows, the more I start thinking that maybe getting a home in order to store all the books would actually not be such a bad idea. It’s been a year since I moved to Tallinn, and I’m still in the process of moving some of the books from Kiev,” Kirill says.

While it was very easy to get an Estonian work permit for himself, there was an obstacle on the way of his new life — moving their two cats — Koshka (means “a kitty” in Ukrainian) and Panda (well, you know what panda means) — to Estonia. “It took us four months to take them here — it is difficult to move pets from a non-EU country to the EU. But now they’re both EU citizens!”

I cannot help but ask Kirill — have a lot of people his age left since 2014, when the war in Ukraine started?

“Yes, there was a trend of leaving the country but you know the main problem and one of the main issues why the revolution happened, too, is the level of corruption in Ukraine. It is still very high, we’re trying to deal with it. Because of that a lot of people feel like they don’t have a future. The current speed of change and reforms make them feel it won’t happen during their lifetime.

Some people actually have returned to Ukraine on the other hand after having worked in other countries for several years and try to make a change themselves.”

What will be the future of Ukraine? Will the war ever end?

“It will, but it is a matter of years and years. It’s not ending anytime soon, there is no quick solution I’m afraid,” Kirill replies.

The war in Ukraine started 3 years ago, it has toned down in intensity and isn’t visible at all in the Western part of the Ukraine, nor is it very actively talked about in the Western media anymore — it seems people are used to it.

Kirill does not agree. “I wouldn’t say it has become less intensive — the battles go on every day, people die and get wounded every day. I don’t think that anyone in the Ukraine has forgotten, it’s the Western media that has shifted their focus away from there.”

A view of the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev where the revolution started almost 4 years ago. Photo by: Sergey Solnitskyi / Shutterstock.

We should do more in the West?

“One of the big problems is the hope that it stays like this, there is no big urgency to end it because it doesn’t affect the West in a direct way. The big problem is that some businesses and and Western governments hope to continue business as usual with Russia. Many people don’t understand that it is Ukraine that is standing between them and Russia. If it weren’t Ukraine, it’d be the Baltic States. So, it is important to support Ukraine and not act like it is okay and Russia has no role in it. Business relations seem to top the political will. But people need to have a stand and express support for Ukraine even if it harms the business.”

The value in diversity

Kirill has now lived in Estonia for almost a year, the longest he’s ever lived in a foreign country.

“If I decide to leave Jobbatical at some point I’ll be going back to independent consultancy, but the experience working as an in-house product designer will benefit me a lot in my career,” he says. “I have gotten many new skills and started to notice things I wasn’t paying attention to when I was working as an independent designer. I was mostly focused on qualitative user research, user testing, understanding how people actually use the product and issues they face with your product. At Jobbatical I started to value quantitative data more. Understanding the importance of analytics, the week-to-week changes in data. I was not using these kind of tools.”

Kirill has also started doing a little bit of public speaking at local developer events — both in Russian and English — something he never did before. “I think I’m horrible at it, but I am improving,” Kirill laughs.

What advice would you give other people considering a Jobbatical?

“I think it has to do with our new slogan — work where you’re happy. You can never guess what place that could be, try to go and see the world, and have no prejudice.”

Inspired? Yearning for your own jobbatical? We’ve got you covered, just look here.

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