Data Science Team Lead Arūnas Umbrasas: Freedom at Work is Challenging but Engaging
Arūnas Umbrasas

Arūnas Umbrasas‘ career path has taken him from roles in consulting to leading Special-Ops – a Data Science team at Vinted‘s Strategy & Analytics department. Arūnas tells us about his journey to becoming a team lead, and what he thinks it takes to succeed at work.   

Hi Arūnas! What’s your “becoming part of Vinted” story? 

I joined Vinted back in 2019, and luck played a significant part in it! Up until then, my career was in consultancy-type roles. I was looking for an opportunity to change the industry, where I hoped to deliver a consistent impact and work with others towards a shared long-term goal, instead of the temporary, project-based work typical of consulting. 

I met for an interview with Artūras, the Head of Strategy & Analytics. One assignment and one try-out later, I got invited to join as an individual contributor. I knew very little about Vinted before the interview, and was pleasantly surprised to find such a great company hiding right under my nose in Vilnius! 

Is managing the Data Science Team your first leadership position? 

I became a team lead after a year of working with Vinted. It was my first real leadership position, even though I had experience in leading projects and ad-hoc teams as a project manager. But the aspects of long-term people leadership, along with shaping the vision and processes of the team, were all new to me.

Was it hard adjusting to having a permanent team that you lead? 

My first months as a team lead were stressful and awkward. On the bright side, this lack of experience, coupled with the immediate responsibility I gained after what was essentially a battlefield promotion, was very motivating. I read several books on leadership and management during a very short time, and since then, I’ve been hungry to learn more about how to become a better leader. 

So far, what do you think is the key to leadership? 

To achieve great results, you need great people and great teamwork. It requires attentive hiring, caring about people and their careers, and giving them the room and opportunities to grow and succeed. It is also crucial to manage processes, to allow the team to come up with creative solutions, and to plan and implement them appropriately. Ultimately, I think there is no silver bullet to leadership – it’s a challenging and lifelong learning process where mistakes are unavoidable. Vinted has been a great teacher, because it's an environment that provides loads of responsibility, freedom, and opportunities to learn, both through mistakes and successes. 

What does the typical workday of a Data Science Team lead look like? 

Just working to get things done is the single most routine thing about my day. Vinted is growing rapidly, and our team works within Strategy & Analytics, so the work is very dynamic. Usually, my day includes working with many stakeholders on different initiatives. A typical day will consist of numerous meetings: a weekly one-on-one with my team members, perhaps an interview with a candidate, a few brief discussions on issues arising from ongoing projects, and project or roadmap planning sessions. I have some “alone time” that I usually spend prioritising my backlog, reviewing work where my input is needed, or writing reports and roadmaps. With my role as a manager, days where I get to work with data hands-on are rare, but I enjoy them very much!

Is there anything in particular that motivates you to start work each morning?

There’s always something to do, and I always feel empowered to do it. The freedom Vinted gives is challenging, but also engaging. Each day allows you to observe and participate in various initiatives as they unfold, and to learn something new along the way. Freedom and opportunity are necessary to enable growth. Vinted offers plenty of both, and that makes it a great place to work. You can imagine high-growth but conservative companies with opportunities, but where you must do everything by the book – the lack of freedom to be creative will hinder growth. On the flip side, there are creative and liberal firms where you are free to do things how you want. Still, if the job is essentially mundane, or maybe there’s little opportunity to progress vertically or horizontally, and that will hinder individual growth, too.

Vinted is all about sustainability. How is Vinted’s mission important for you?

For one, I believe that Vinted can make a positive difference by enabling a way to trade clothes that’s both convenient and sustainable. Second, by working towards its mission, Vinted is trailblazing a path for Lithuania-born unicorns. I take pride and joy in the fact that there’s an organisation in my country which offers opportunities previously reserved to countries like the US, Israel or Singapore.

This mission extends to our personal lives, too. I avoid frivolous purchases – I only buy what I need, and I try to buy things that last in order to minimise waste. Whenever possible, I aim to buy ethically-made items: products not made from or tested on animals, or Fairtrade or local food products and the like.

What principles do you apply to your mission as a team lead? 

At Vinted, the people and the culture are what determines its management style. We aim high, take ownership, but we also care, grow and co-create. I believe in giving people the freedom to do things their way, and even pursue challenges that they personally find interesting – as long as they are also relevant to the company. 

At the same time, I want to set the stage for people to succeed by making their long-term and short-term goals very clear, and by highlighting how each contributor can make an impact. 

Next, I try to help with the planning and implementation of individual tasks. I can rarely offer technical advice – individual contributors who spend days and weeks on a project will usually know better than the manager. Having a broader, bird’s eye view of multiple projects and domains allows me to give helpful tactical and strategic advice, and point out errors that are often easy to miss when you’re involved with the very granular details of a project. No one can be simultaneously attentive to details, and see the big picture. The manager's job is to evaluate which view the contributor or the team holds, and provide a complementary perspective.

You‘ve told us a lot about the importance of growth and making an impact. Are these the things that give meaning to your job? 

To me, meaning comes from having the right direction, and the empowerment of a team and its members. Vinted offers both – our mission is ethical and inspiring, but also achievable. The organisation is set up in a way that both allows everyone to be heard and play a part in tackling the challenges facing it. 

By the way, do you use the Vinted app?

Yes! I both buy and sell items, usually durable sports and technical clothing.

At work, we‘re most likely to see you in meetings. What would we find you doing during your free time? 

It depends on whether you catch me on a weekday or my days off. To recharge my energy levels, I practice passive and active relaxation. Passive relaxation, usually after a busy workday, will include reading or watching Netflix. On weekends, my active rest will consist of hiking, off-roading with my trusty Toyota – sometimes even with the Special-Ops team! – or attending endurance events like Bebro Kelias during the summer. 

It sounds like you‘re an outdoorsy person! Where’s your favourite place in the world?

It must be Iceland. I visited it a couple of years ago, and was fascinated by the country’s nature and infrastructure. It’s cosy, there are landmarks on virtually every kilometre of the country’s excellent roads, and the people are friendly and relaxed unlike anywhere else!

It was a pleasure talking to you, Arūnas. What piece of media could you recommend to anyone who has read this article and shares some of your interests? 

For all the petrolheads out there, I would recommend a YouTube channel called RegularCars. An anonymous ex-English teacher runs it. He reviews regular cars – old, beaten-up, affordable, loved or hated – but driven by ordinary people. What’s fascinating about this channel is that someone with a literary education creates its content. His reviews gloss over the technical details of cars, but drill down into the socio-economic context of the time when the vehicle was designed and produced, the feelings that these used cars evoke, and the portraits of their current owners. The humour is the best I’ve seen in an automotive channel. Through references to transcendentalism and romanticism, the author will explain why when people see a Ferrari they will want to know about its owner, but they usually only care about the car itself when they see other such exotic vehicles.

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