“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela once said. Our CEO follows that same mantra. “At some point, we realized that the best way to hire a qualified professional is to train people from the entry level,” explains Andriy Zhylenko. “That’s how the PortaOne Education Portal happened. There’s no other secret sauce.”
And as our team members evolve and grow, so does our PortaOne education process. So, it’s time to tell the story of this portal, and of the team and processes behind it.
The Early (and Ongoing) Days of PortaOne Education
“In the 2010s, we started harvesting the tech knowledge that PortaOne had accumulated. Then, we used trial and error to adopt the best techniques for sharing this knowledge,” reasons Andriy Khyznyak. He led our PortaOne Education program through its first decade of existence, and he continues to develop it through its second.
Then came war. And then came COVID. The demands of both these events meant that the PortaOne Education Portal had to undergo a significant upgrade. While almost every company in the world had to adapt to full remote work and digital resources, we had a linguistic challenge on top of that. Especially when it came to PortaOne Education.
“Like with many other Ukrainian IT companies, before 2014, most of our internal documentation was in russian. It was simple and convenient because [without diving too much into geopolitics and the centuries-old history of the oppression of the Ukrainian language] russian was the default language for tech communication in Ukraine,” Andriy Zhylenko shares.
Meanwhile, by the early 2010s, our key PortaOne founders had already been residing in Europe or the United States for some time. Because of that, English had already become their default language for daily communication. Then came the opening of our Barcelona office. Creating a center of sales and marketing expertise there accelerated the conversion to English as the default language of PortaOne Education. That includes internal training, documentation, and office communication. It was a huge step. Still, it was about to get huger. In 2022 came the full-scale russian invasion, which accelerated the transition even more.
FreeBSD Strikes Again
“I was running a course on FreeBSD at Chernihiv Poly,” recalls Andriy Khyznyak. It was 2007, and Linux was already a more popular Unix distribution than FreeBSD. “At that time, PortaOne was completing its own ‘quantum leap’ migration from FreeBSD to Oracle Unbreakable Linux. That’s why the expertise of Andriy Khyznyak was indeed beneficial,” recalls Andriy Zhylenko.
Andriy Khyznyak recalls those days: “We ‘modestly’ called my professor’s office at Chernihiv Poly ‘the Chernihiv FreeBSD Lab,’” he says. “My scientific advisor at Chernihiv Poly approached me, saying, ‘There are dudes from Canada, and they are looking for FreeBSD experts in Chernihiv.’ Then it was my own aspirant [the word for a doctorate candidate in our part of the world… this is a student whose thesis Andriy Khyznyak was advising on] who told me that Serhiy Derkach and Victor Korchenko [business partners of PortaOne who created and helped run our Chernihiv and Sumy R&D offices] were assembling a team of programmers in Chernihiv.”
“I decided to use the same teaching techniques I used at Chernihiv Poly to teach the newly formed PortaOne dev team in Chernihiv,” continues Andriy Khyznyak. “After all, many of them were already my students, and they needed no intros or additional explanations.” With time, the PortaOne Education Lab at Chernihiv Poly expanded into a range of telecom subjects that went far beyond FreeBSD. Andriy Khyznyak’s unique teaching style contributed to that success.
Mashups in the PortaOne Education Process
“This test aims to see if students can think logically and apply their knowledge in real-life situations, which can be messy,” Andriy Khyznyak explains. The idea of drill tricks is not new. The US Marines have practiced them for quite a time, limiting the tricks “only by the imagination of the drill instructor.” The Sherlock TV series was going viral when PortaOne launched mashups in our Chernihiv office. “Telecommunications is a rational area of human knowledge. You read the manual, and then you implement it most efficiently,” says Andriy Khyznyak. “However, adding more spice to rational decision-making never hurts.”
IT training typically involves a lot of routine exercises, and the same is true for PortaOne education. But it doesn’t always have to be pure routine. In fact, it provides a far better education when it is not.
“We take a mundane daily task, such as ‘install and launch a new server instance,’ or ‘customer complains her server is not responding,’ or ‘customer called PortaOne support asking if they can restore a tariff which they deleted by mistake,’” explains Andriy Khyznyak. “These are the daily routines you will see on the job. But then, we add some puzzles and riddles. All of a sudden the task is not so ‘routine’ anymore. The student has to use her rational thinking and the wider array of knowledge she learned while studying the course.”
Using Metacontext in the PortaOne Education Portal
With his “mashups,” Andriy Khyznyak advocates using metacontext. In other words, building a riddle upon a riddle.
“First, you must sort out what’s wrong with the server connection, only to discover a mistake in a database configuration. And after solving that, it turns out the ‘customer class’ does not correspond to the billing settings you need.” It’s a bit like playing Dungeons and Dragons. If you fail a riddle, you won’t discover the next one. Or, you will have to return after completing several other tasks. (Here, perhaps we should mention that students of the PortaOne Education hub have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Andriy’s mashups.)
How the PortaOne Education Program Teaches Through Practice
Unlike quantum physics, telecom is a very practice-oriented human endeavor. “I was limited mostly to theoretical conclusions or simulated experiments at the university,” says Mr. Zhylenko. “Here at PortaOne, we can learn by solving the daily tasks of real customers. This makes a huge difference.” More than that, he says, “PortaOne Education is a way for employees to see a bigger picture and understand why their job matters.”
Solving real-life tasks helps prospective employees prepare for their first working day if they get hired by PortaOne after completing the course. Those who move on to other employers or who become solo entrepreneurs also find their PortaOne Education experience helpful.
The company even invites its old-timers to teach. Some return to provide a guest lecture or write a blog post. Others join the program to teach full time. PortaOne Education for our staff is also deeply connected with our customer education programs, as well as with the PortaOne Documentation Portal. “We ask people training customers to try the new concepts with students of PortaOne Education and then we harvest their feedback. Students and their questions also help us polish the documentation. Especially now, when it becomes more granular, with knowledge-based articles focused on particular areas of expertise,” explains Andriy Zhylenko.
How Did COVID Accelerate the Digital Transformation of PortaOne Education?
The 2020 lockdown pushed our education procedures even further. “First, we struggled with an education that is online-only,” says Andriy Khyzhynak. “We come from a generation that was used to the conventional classroom-based cognitive processes.” However, after some time (and the initial shock that all humanity was experiencing at that time), the PortaOne Education team adapted our teaching procedures and the curriculum to the digital classroom.
“Soon, we were back on track. Our agility put PortaOne in a somewhat better position among our competitors in the Ukrainian market,” he explains.
Andriy Zhylenko explains what happened next. “After the full-scale russian invasion and the pressure from customers to launch the EU-based support group, we decided to scale our Chernihiv experience to the rest of Europe and worldwide.”
Moving into the Async
“The education process does not necessarily have to be classroom-based,” reasons Tanya Zablotski. She is a project manager at PortaOne’s Barcelona office, and she now runs the PortaSwitch 101 PortaOne Education playlist on our YouTube channel. After expanding worldwide from Chernihiv, we discovered that online education can be complicated when you have to deliver it across a dozen time zones. So, PortaOne Education became online, and async.
“Working on the PortaSwitch course is exciting because it gives me a chance to show our customers and our newcomers how our awesome product works in a straightforward and structured manner,” says Tanya Zablotski. “I have always been passionate about learning and teaching different subjects. Creating this course allows me to translate complex technical knowledge into practical, concise, and easy-to-understand video lessons. It makes learning accessible and enjoyable.”
Each step in creating the course is a learning experience, she says. “I love the continuous journey of discovery and personal growth it offers. It allows me to deepen my understanding of PortaSwitch, keeping my skills sharp and up-to-date. Using online platforms like YouTube, we can provide training that suits all learning styles and fits into any schedule.”
The “Two [Corporate] Marshmallows” of PortaOne Education
“Educating employees from a ‘clean slate’ might not be the fastest way of creating a qualified workforce,” explains Andriy Zhylenko. “Sometimes it takes years. However, at some point, you start enjoying the perks of your persistence.” PortaOne is proud of people like Serhiy Kirik, who joined the company more than 17 years ago and is still with us.
Mr. Zhylenko compares the PortaOne approach to the Stanford marshmallow experiment. “PortaOne’s delayed gratification is that we initially invest our resources in people, knowing only less than a third of them will become our long-term employees. However, that third is ten to twenty people from each study batch. Usually, these are the best students, the most motivated ones. It’s also the people who will spend the time to understand our corporate values, appropriating and sharing them within their social and professional circle.”
Interested in knowing more about PortaOne Education? We love to talk about how we help people expand their skills and knowledge, whether that is prospective employees or customers who want to make the most out of their platforms. If that’s you, we invite you to visit our international or local Ukrainian portal. If you are interested in joining out team, you can apply directly via our portals to become a PortaOne developer or support engineer.