Lead Software Developer Matti Lupari has gone through the peak and the destruction of Nokia, to a bright future with Valamis.
43-year-old Matti Lupari is a pretty laid-back man, although his life has not always been this peaceful.
“I’ve been to the school of hard knocks,” Matti laughs as he uses the pool stick to hit the yellow ball into the pocket of the billiard table at the Valamis Oulu office.
From a chart drawn on one of the office walls, you can see that Matti has also been victorious in the official billiard championships at the office.
After the billiard match, Matti grabs a guitar in the office and sits down on the couch. With a smile on his face, he starts to play a sweet, classical song although his colleagues, sitting by the lunch table, yell at him to play “Free Bird.” Musical Matti has performed at every Valamis’ pre-Christmas celebration. One time, he rapped Public Enemy, and it turned out to be a huge success.
“After my first daughter was born, I started to practice Moonlight Sonata. I thought that maybe one day I’ll be able to play it to her,” Matti tells with the guitar still on his lap.
He really knows how to play guitar. Matti has practiced it a lot because he tends to grab the guitar whenever he feels like clearing his thoughts from work. Matti has a lot of experience picking up his guitar to clear his thoughts from his past work experiences.
From young biologist to IT fellow
At the beginning of the 1990s, Matti did not play the classical guitar, he only played rock ‘n’ roll. In northeast Helsinki, in teenager Matti’s room, AC/DC and Jimi Hendrix were played regularly. When high school ended, the nature-loving Matti applied to university so he could study biology.
“Without having to pass the admission examination, I got admitted to the University of Jyväskylä with only my high school certificate. It was a jump into the unknown, but I thought that, if I wanted, I could get out of there.”
Matti’s sneaky plan was to mainly study biology and, as little as possible, information technology.
“I wasn’t interested in computers at all. I purchased my first computer only after I had graduated.”
But then, life happened. Like it always does. Jyväskylä started to feel nice. It was more of an urban lifestyle than it was in the suburbs of northeast Helsinki.
However, somehow, little by little, the dream of becoming a biologist started to feel like it was someone else’s dream.
“Studying biology was pretty boring. I wanted to go to the woods, but we had only very few field courses. Also, getting a job after graduation started to feel very difficult.”
Biology was completely different from the IT field that peaked at the turn of the millennium.
“The IT field seemed like it was the place to make money. Even at the university, they ensured that, without hesitation, we would get work immediately after graduation.”
Matti watched his university friends being pulled to work in the middle of their studies and he also saw how fast Nokia was growing in Oulu. After six years of studying, he finally became interested in information technology.
“Problem-solving started to feel suitable for my brain. It was almost like playing a game, like filling out crossword puzzles.”
The nature-loving Matti had a new dream; he wanted to get involved in the IT industry.
The IT boom years
In 2004, Matti had finished all of his studies except for his master’s thesis, when he began to job hunt. He started to send job applications to different programming firms here and there and thought that maybe, he would look for work in his hometown, Helsinki. However, his first job offer came from an Oulu-based company designing software solutions. Their most important customer was Nokia, a company that had a huge impact on the entire Finnish IT field.
Matti packed his electric guitar and moved to Oulu. Immediately, he was sent to the Nokia premises to work on huge projects without any guidance.
“It was quite overwhelming to be put in a position like that straight out of school. I don’t know what they were thinking,” Matti reminisces.
At Matti’s workplace, instant results were not expected from new employees; they were given time to learn, and they were given room to make mistakes. He was happy to get the chance to grow into a professional in peace and at his own pace.
“It wasn’t that serious if you missed deadlines. Nobody was breathing down our necks and so I slowly started to believe in my own skills. Suddenly, I realized that I actually knew how to do this.”
After the first intimidating moments had passed, Matti ended up staying in the company for a decade. First, the pace and growth was fast, like it was in the entire Finnish IT industry. The company was constantly hiring new people and salaries were constantly rising. The growth continued until Nokia’s peak year in 2006. At best, 40 percent of all mobile phones sold in the world were Nokia’s.
Then everything changed.
A broken pipe dream
In 2007, the share price of the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer collapsed. Painfully and steadily, Nokia started to lose its market share. It was a huge knock for the Finnish IT field, economy and self-esteem. In Matti’s hometown Oulu, factories became deserted. Real estate agents struggled to sell detached houses worth millions of euros that had emerged in the fancy suburbs during the Nokia boom.
Thousands were fired among both Nokia’s own employees and its subcontractors. Matti’s workplace was not an exception. Matti went through seven or eight cooperation negotiations – he cannot recall exactly how many. The 200-person team shrunk to 20.
Matti was always afraid of those moments when a customer project was reaching its end. At those moments, when you were not in the middle of something and, therefore, you were easily fired.
“As long as you were making money, you were safe. Somehow, you got used to having cooperation negotiations, in a bad way, though. Living in a constant feeling that the end is near made you careless about everything. That kind of thinking kills the creativity and ability to innovate.”
Matti was lucky enough not to get fired, however, a lack of trust took over the workplace. Relaxed sauna evenings changed into corridors filled with suspicion. The management team ensured that there will be no more dismissals, but the employees were suspicious.
Some of Matti’s colleagues changed from the IT field to work as a plumber, for instance. Matti himself was thinking about leaving to go abroad. The only thing was that he had a baby and a toddler to raise at home.
“My children stopped me from making radical changes. If it had been just me, it would have been easier to just leave,” Matti ponders.
Eventually, the software operations of the company were sold to China, and the rest of the operations were driven out of business. Matti continued working under the new Chinese owner, but he felt restless and uneasy.
In the evenings, he learned to play Moonlight Sonata better and better, wondering what he actually wanted to do next. Finally, his visions became more clear. After many uncertain years, he was longing for a bigger leap into another type of technology.
At the turn of 2010, signs of recovery started to emerge in Oulu. New lines of business, startups and foreign companies were slowly starting to fill the deserted office buildings again. The citizens of Oulu started to have new trust in the future.
Half a year ago, Matti, too, found a new enthusiasm.
“Valamis’ job announcement on Facebook stood out.” Matti decided to go for it, just for fun, and so he sent in his CV.
Actually, Matti had no idea what he was about to get into. Because Valamis’ office is located high in the office building, you cannot really see it from the street level.
“As a googled, I found out that, at least, this was a great place to work,” Matti states pointing at the Great Place to Work trophies in the prize cabinet located in the lobby.
The job interview in a meeting room where they were fixing one of the company’s billiard tables did not feel like a job interview at all.
“It was maybe the most relaxed situation I have ever been in. The Chief Human Resource Officer said that, in their standard recruitment process, someone from the tech team would interview, too, but that this time wasn’t necessary as she was convinced of my competence.”
The invitation to join Valamis arrived already a few days after the interview. Matti was hired to a higher position than what was originally offered in the job announcement.
“Already during the interview, I saw how relaxed the atmosphere was. There’s not too much bureaucracy or strict ways of working. If I remember correctly, I even talked about child care with the Chief Human Resource Officer somewhere in the middle of the interview.”
Matti has now worked at Valamis for a year and a half, and he feels at home. In the meeting room, he drinks coffee from his favorite mug while listing things that he is extremely happy about at the moment.
He likes how he doesn’t feel lonely at work. This is new to Matti because before arriving at Valamis, it was possible that he did not see his colleagues for a period of two years.
At Valamis, you actively get to give and receive feedback to others. They also have a thanking system to which you can thank your colleague with a wine bottle or movie ticket. Matti has received many thanks.
At Valamis, it is important for the management team to keep the employees aware of how the company is doing. Due to his job history filled with cooperation negotiations, Matti values this highly.
Suddenly, Matti notices that his coffee mug is empty.
“Shall we go to the woods then?” he asks.
Moving towards technology of the future
Matti walks deeper into the woods with a compass in his hand. Summer rain has wet his T-shirt, but it does not wash the smile from his face, as Matti tells about activities of leisure with his colleagues at Valamis.
“For instance, we swam in an ice hole, went beer tasting, donated blood and participated in a running competition,” Matti lists.
Matti’s own passion is hiking. He found the hobby a few years ago and enjoys, especially, the wilderness, where there is only nature, him and his thoughts. In Oulu, it is quite easy to enjoy his hobby since nature is everywhere,. and Lapland is not that far either.
“Hiking takes you to another place, also mentally, because you have to focus on your path, not getting lost, and think about where to pitch the tent for the night,” Matti says kicking branches and sticks from the path.
Another way to calm down his coding brain is to play guitar near the fireplace at his home. There, he has both an acoustic and electric guitar with an amplifier, and he plays rock and classical music . Sometimes, Matti also plays flamenco music because he likes to try different things and challenge himself.
Now, his kids are five and six, and he can play three-quarters of Moonlight Sonata. After putting his kids to sleep, Matti dreams of a future full of exciting career opportunities.
“I’m not really a visionary, but I know that information technology is heading towards completely new directions. For example, the Internet of Things is on its way and artificial intelligence is constantly developing. I want to be involved in digitalizing the learning field as best as I can. I hope that exam papers will soon be history!”
It is very likely that this will happen one day, but there is still a long way to go. Matti is planning to help Valamis pioneer the new technology landscape. However, before that, he continues along the hiking path and disappears into the woods.
Text: Pauliina Suominen
Pictures: Maria Moulud
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