Meet our Outsource Manager Lena: at The Junction of Art and Technology

Outsource Manager Lena Kononova

While Strypes is a technology company, not all its people have a technical background – and we believe it makes us a stronger company in all respects, with people bringing a wide and diverse range of ideas and expertise to our clients’ challenges. Оur Outsource Manager Lena Kononova is one of these “portfolio people” – with an unusual life and international career that’s given her a unique depth of perspective on business and success.

She’s also (possibly) our employee with the coldest origins – born in Ukraine, her childhood was spent in the permafrost of Yakutia, where the Northern Lights were evening entertainment! A quadrilingual art lover whose interests span dancing to gardening, perhaps her primary skill – and the one she uses most – is her ability to get inside the minds of her clients, and empathize with their hopes and dreams for their businesses.

We talked to Lena about her life and work, and how they join together – with a sense that for her, a great technology project is also a great work of art.

  • Like many of our people, your journey towards Strypes was an international one – with a few challenges. Tell us about your life.

I was born in Ukraine, but my parents moved to Russia when I was young – to the vast Yakutian region, where minus 45C temperatures are normal and the Aurora Borealis makes the sky look like an oil painting! The snow is like nowhere else on Earth, dry and crisp – it even makes a different noise. Later on we moved back to Ukraine – but if I close my eyes, I can still see those Northern Lights as if it were yesterday.

I developed an appetite for travel since I was 1.5 years old when we would go almost every summer from Yakutia to the mainland to see my grandparents. Years later I had a chance to travel in another direction of the globe when I went to study as an exchange student in Stockton, CA, USA. I just turned 16 and was for the first time so far away from my family (this was an era of the dial-up internet…). This was truly a life-time experience that has shaped my character and brought me to where I am now. After the USA, I came back to Ukraine and studied in Kiev – not in Computer Science, but Business Administration.

My first serious job was actually involved with technology – in telecommunications – where I worked in the Roaming team. When you travel, it may seem your phone works seamlessly from country to country, but behind the scenes there’s a web of contracts and agreements between different carriers that takes a lot of work to maintain. We dealt with over 450 other telcos! Roaming fees are also a source of revenue, so it was important to pay attention to small price negotiations that add up to large advantages.

Next, life took me to the UK. Not to the hubbub of London, but a small market town called Oswestry, on the border between England and Wales! I handled the marketing function, and became familiar with web branding and PR. It was short yet valuable and another extraordinary life and work experience. Also due to the fact that the factory I worked for produced amazing high-tech inflatable constructions and lighter-than-air vehicles, such as zeppelins and gas-balloons.

But it wasn’t long before I had the opportunity to move to the Netherlands, which is now home to me and my family. Here I had a chance to study Art History. I love art, and living in Europe let me travel to many cities and cultural destinations – and I’ve held several jobs. One was with Up2 Technology – now part of Strypes Group. That’s how I came to be where I am now.

So I’ve been with Strypes since 2020, and currently I live in Amsterdam. I love its history and buildings, and the opportunities to pursue hobbies: cooking, ballroom dancing, even growing my own strawberries!

  • How did you transition into the Technology space?

– Working in telecoms gave me an interest in technology businesses, so I wanted to develop a deep understanding of them. Not of hardware and software, but of how people work, and how they create solutions to the problems they need to solve day-to-day. It’s about adding the “Why?” to the “What?” – unless you understand the reasons the client needs a new piece of software, you can’t manage the development process effectively, because their needs guide the creation process.

  • What do you like about the culture at Strypes

– Definitely, the sense of teamwork and togetherness. I have a personal mentor, I can talk to anyone in the company without going through endless procedures, and everyone is encouraged to ask for help whenever they need it – and offer help to others!

I like that here we don’t see clients simply as revenue streams – we work with the same clients for years, often the same teams, getting to know each other’s preferences and behaviors and building honesty and trust. We don’t see ourselves as a “vendor”, more of a partner. And that’s genuinely part of our culture, the reason companies come to us for services like software development and cybersecurity.

It’s interesting that both business and technology professionals feel the same way, and build relationships within the company that are just as strong. I never worry about my technical team failing to deliver or hoarding information, because we’re talking daily and feel responsible for each other. Also, though, there’s a responsibility on me to give them the “Why?”, too. For example, my client is adopting Microsoft CoPilot alongside its apps, and I need to communicate why they’re doing so and how it impacts our work.

  • Now your hobbies. What do you get up to outside work?

– I have many hobbies – none of them technology! And Amsterdam is a great place to do them. I love ballroom dancing, and get together with friends to practice every week – we’re not competitors, it’s just for fun. It’s not just exercise; it’s a cultural experience – the school we practice in is an old-fashioned building with lots of original features, like an old-style telephone of a design you never see any more!

I also spend time in the gym, being rather health conscious. I’m very “green”, and try to live a sustainable lifestyle. So I love cooking for myself, and growing my own food – I mentioned the strawberries earlier.

And of course having studied Art History, I love art – it was very hard to choose my favorite artwork for this article! I loved Jan van Eyck’s Altarpiece in Ghent, and traveled to Belgium just to see it. It’s one of very few paintings that are on show in their original setting, the place the artist intended them to be displayed – and it’s very large in scale, with the figures almost life-size. 

Another favorite is the Arnolfini Portrait in London’s National Gallery, by the same artist. To think these masterpieces are 600 years old, when art was still developing, is quite a thought. I often wonder just what went through the artist’s mind as he painted his creations.

I don’t see any of this as “competing” with my work – quite the opposite. The perspectives and ideas you gain from art apply to all areas of life … how you approach problems, how you work with people, how you see your career developing and growing.

Most important of all, though, is family time with my husband and my child! My daughter is four now so takes up plenty of my spare time

  • And we’ve got to ask about those strawberries

In recent years I’ve gotten into gardening. It might sound strange for someone living in an apartment in Amsterdam, but with some creativity it’s perfectly possible – there are numerous opportunities for shared garden spaces, even boxes on your balcony. Which is how I grow strawberries here in Amsterdam!

It’s a great pleasure to cook dinner for friends knowing everything was grown organically from sustainable sources, including food I’ve grown myself. Sustainability, of course, is also a huge issue for many Strypes clients – so this mindset adds value to my work, as well.

  • As a final thought, give us 5 words that describe what Strypes means to you.

– Definitely: freedom. Trust, too. Co-operation. Flat structure. And fun!

Find Lena’s story inspiring? Read the rest of our colleagues’ stories here.

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