GuardSquare — a Software Company That Thinks Better, Not Bigger

by Jobbatical July 24, 2017

Under the leadership of a former Olympic judoka, GuardSquare is building the world’s best mobile app protection products.

In 2002 Eric Lafortune released ProGuard, an immensely successful open source optimizer for Java and Android applications. Ten years later, he introduced DexGuard to meet the growing demand for Android application protection. He and cofounder Heidi Rakels started GuardSquare in 2014. Since then, they’ve introduced iXGuard to bring their security expertise to the iOS platform.

In 2017, GuardSquare is joining forces with Jobbatical to find outstanding tech talent for their team in Leuven, Belgium. I spoke to CEO Heidi Rakels to learn more about a company that won’t settle for anything less than being the best.

Leuven, GuardSquare’s beautiful Belgian home (Photo: artjazz/Shutterstock)

Giving a new meaning to “quality over quantity”

When I asked Heidi Rakels to explain GuardSquare to me like I was a five-year-old, she very patiently obliged: “We just make sure that the things other people make work as they should work. That’s what a security company has to do.” And although in reality there’s quite a bit more nuance to it than that, it’s clear from the first minutes of our conversation that this is a mission GuardSquare takes seriously, leaving very little room for big words with no real impact.

With a background in competitive sports (fun fact: she’s an Olympic medalist in Judo), Heidi is a firm believer in being the best and not bothering with growth for the sake of growth. “All those companies in the United States, in Silicon Valley — they want to become big,” she says. “I don’t want us to be the biggest company, I want us to be the best company. The whole world is pushing companies to become big, big, big.”

“It’s okay to be big, but the quality should still be good. That’s the priority.”

For GuardSquare, the uncompromising quest for quality has certainly paid off — the company has been winning awards and gaining recognition left and right for their mobile app protection products, and Heidi herself was featured in the Female Startup Founders Europe edition of The Hundert.

While she appreciates the attention GuardSquare is getting, Heidi doesn’t consider it a goal in and of itself. She does, however, concede that it helps get the word out there. “People don’t take you seriously if you’re not in the newspaper or if you don’t win prizes,” she jokes. “So you have to win prizes.”

Love for software trumps all

Prizes for innovation don’t just happen as a result of enough wishful thinking. There’s a tangible spirit of getting things done at GuardSquare that goes beyond the all-too-common write-down-and-forget approach to company values.

“In the startup world, everybody is saying all the same things,” Heidi says. “There are so many people talking about innovation. We have plenty of ideas. But for every idea, you need software engineers to implement it. The brainstorming and the idea is 1% of the work. Then you have to start implementing it until it works and the quality is very, very high. That’s the big challenge.”

It’s a challenge that GuardSquare’s team relishes wholeheartedly. “If you come here, you are surrounded by really good software engineers,” says Heidi. Every person on the team is there because they believe in the products and want to put in the work needed to stay on top of GuardSquare’s niche market.

Software engineering is also Heidi’s own passion. “I started studying engineering, and software engineering was the course that I loved the most,” she recalls. “Then for a while I was a judo player.” When Heidi stopped judo, people expected her to go into sales or become a coach. “People don’t expect you go from judo to software engineering,” she says.

“But I was determined. When they asked me if I wanted to be a project manager, I said no — I just want to write code.”

I can’t help but ask Heidi about her thoughts on women in tech. “I don’t understand it!” she exclaims. “It was like that when I studied and it’s still the same — almost no female software engineers! I’m so surprised about that because it’s such a good profession. You have a good salary, and the colleagues you have are very nice. So it’s a really good job. If you don’t like to write code, then it’s a bad job,” she jokingly adds.

While Heidi herself was still writing code in the early days of GuardSquare, her duties as CEO leave her with no time to do the thing she loves the most. “I really miss it,” she admits. “The last time I wrote code was almost three years ago.”

She’s not planning to keep it that way, however — all of GuardSquare’s engineering candidates have to take a test to see if they’ve got what it takes to join the team. “I decided that when it’s a little bit less busy, I will take the test as well,” she says. Until then, Heidi and GuardSquare will continue their search for people who share their passion for building software products that are second to none.

GuardSquare is now hiring in Leuven. Apply for their positions here. Want to know more about Leuven? Keep reading!

Team GuardSquare’s top reasons to move to Leuven

If you’ve not heard of the city of Leuven, GuardSquare’s home base in Belgium, here’s a quick list of reasons to want to hear about it (you can also check out our Leuven city guide here).

Beauty and history: As an old town (its earliest mention is from 891), Leuven’s got no shortage of charm for lovers of architecture and history.

Leuven’s legendary Fonske fountain (Photo: kacege/Shutterstock)

Connectivity: Brussels, Amsterdam, Bruges, Paris, London, Cologne, and other great European cities are an easy commute away. Not to mention, for example, the majestic Ardennes or Belgium’s surprisingly picturesque North Sea beaches.

Diversity: Belgium itself is already a multicultural country, but Leuven’s status as a university town gives it that extra oopmh. More than 40% of GuardSquare’s employees are from other countries.

Safety: Leuven’s got comfortingly low crime rates and boasts excellent walkability. Most of GuardSquare’s employees walk or cycle to work.

Great food and, of course, the beer. Not only is Leuven home to some great restaurants and traditional Belgian fare (moules-frites, anyone?), it’s got an incredible beer culture to go with it. There’s no denying that Belgium is a beer lover’s promised land.

Oude Markt, nicknamed the longest bar in Europe (PhotoSnowdog)

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Written for the Jobbatical Blog by Maria Magdaleena Lamp.

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