SAP is a global company and the scope of our design teams reaches far and wide. In our Behind UX and SAP Design series, we home in on some of our locations and give a glimpse into the working and cultural life there. Today, it’s about Sofia, Bulgaria!
Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, reveals layers upon layers of history as seen in its ancient churches and mosques from long-ago empires, as well as architecture from the more recent Soviet Union. Sofia is however a city with its prospects set firmly in the future as one of Europe’s fastest growing tech hubs according to the State of European Tech Report. I had the pleasure to speak with two of our colleagues based in Sofia, UX Designer Lyubomir Mateev as well as UX Manager Georgi Kolov to find out more about their work and life there.
The People Behind the Job
For both Lyubomir and Georgi, their personality types play an essential part in their UX working lives. Georgi considers himself more of an introvert at heart but highlights how this has served him well as a UX manager. “Many people think introvert is bad, but it’s simply a different way of perceiving things. This has helped me enormously because I spend a lot of time reflecting. Putting myself in the shoes of others comes naturally.” This is beneficial since he is responsible for providing a good experience for his team, who are then able to provide the best experience to end users. Lyubomir describes himself as “outgoing and extroverted” and sees how that is reflected in the ways in which he has grown as a professional. With some background in sales and marketing combined with an outgoing personality, Lyubomir feels energized when talking to customers and stakeholders, adding “It’s the perfect job for me”. What both Lyubomir and Georgi both share however is a desire to explore, frequently checking out Sofia’s extensive culinary selection and visiting the centrally located South Park to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Many Roads Can Lead to UX
There is not one correct way to get on the path to design work. Lyubomir studied Computer Science and later Creative Communication at college, where he learned object-oriented programming but jokingly admits “I enjoyed playing around, but I was never a coder”. Georgi studied business administration. Both felt there wasn’t enough of a creative element in what they studied, which inspired them to find out more about design work. “I was a self-learner, I read articles and went to classes on design”, says Lyubomir. “I really liked it, but I can’t draw, so graphic design was out of the question!” Georgi emphasizes that a formal education in design isn’t everything: “I learned most things through personal experience, it sticks better that way anyway.” Working in enterprise UX combined business with the creative outlet they craved.
Understanding Their Role as UX Designers
For Lyubomir, understanding the importance of user testing and inclusivity when it comes to UX is what drives him to keep pushing forward. “We must accept that our assumptions as designers might be very, very wrong. We should test our ideas and always make sure that our products are accessible for everyone.” Another important topic that Lyubomir stresses is the technology awareness every designer should have. Georgi agrees, “We work closely with technologies to understand their limitations. Hopefully all of that translates into a solid foundation for the next generation of enterprise applications.” This is the legacy they wish to leave for future UX designers.
Small but Mighty
A point of pride for Lyubomir and Georgi is the prevalence of their team at the Sofia campus, despite being a team of only eight. “With around 1,000 people working here in the Sofia office in total, our team is very small, but people know us”, tells Lyubomir. He proudly told me the team uses every chance to present the SAP Fiori design system and they’re successful in doing so, “We are involved in local projects and people really trust us”, Lyubomir adds.
Their team touches base with an informal meeting every Monday to start off the week with an exchange, easing into the week and catching up on what the others did on the weekend. Bulgarian culture is very family-oriented, so free time is gladly spent with loved ones. Lyubomir even tells me “above all else, this is why people from Bulgaria always return to live here. Our family and friends are our priority.”
Bulgaria is also not short of fascinating traditions such as “Nestinarstvo”, the practice of walking on embers which originates from an ancient pagan ritual dedicated to the Sun. Many restaurants organize shows for tourists, but the original ritual always takes place in Bulgari, northeastern Bulgaria. Folklore music also belongs to Bulgaria’s rich cultural repertoire, and Bulgarian folklore singers are renowned for their vocal technique and their incredible range – the current Guinness World Records for most powerful voice and for lowest voice on the planet are held by two Bulgarian singers. Sofia as a city is an Aladdin’s Cave for the history-minded. Georgi tells me its unique flair comes down to its intricate past: having existed for over 7,000 years, the Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans all occupied what is now modern-day Sofia, leaving their architecture as a legacy. Buildings from the Soviet era can be seen side-by-side with ancient churches, as well as very recent buildings built in the last couple of decades.
It might be that this multi-cultural background contributes to another defining aspect of Bulgarian culture: taking pleasure in showing guests hospitality. Georgi informs me, “We really do enjoy having guests, we are expecting a couple of colleagues in the next few weeks and we are excited to have them. We want to treat them, show them our culture.” What Georgi and Lyubomir told me has certainly sparked my curiosity: Looks as if a visit to Sofia to experience some of Bulgaria’s special flair is definitely on the bucket list!
Many thanks to Lyubomir and Georgi for their contributions.