Eric and Sergej met personally in Kosice in 2013 on the occasion of the
official expansion of AT&T's customer service centre. Sergej Strajnak was regional manager at Slovak Investment and Trade Development Agency (Agency of Ministry of Economy of Slovak Republic) and Eric H. Loeb was Vice President for international external affairs at AT&T in US.
This Q/A Session was created and published on 13.05.2016
Sergej Strajnak: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Eric h. Loeb: The mobile Internet revolution is transforming our lives and businesses in every industry. Mobile broadband, and the services related to it, represents perhaps the most powerful opportunity for promoting economic and societal inclusion. It’s a really exciting time for the industry, and everyone and everything it enables. To be a part of helping connect people, businesses, and “things” around the globe, is truly rewarding. And, especially rewarding to work for a company that’s leading the way in global connectivity – and has been for 140 years.
Sergej Strajnak: Do you have a different dream job you would switch to if you could? What is it and why?
Eric h. Loeb: I’m very fortunate to say that I have my dream job. What could be better than to work with people and cultures from around the world, on really fascinating policy issues, for a legendary company with a bright future! We’re always building on our legacy of technology breakthroughs and innovation. It’s a legacy that has produced 8 Nobel prizes and has a strong culture that encourages openness, teamwork and collaboration across AT&T and within the industry. And now, we are laser focused on working together, delivering the future first. What could be more fun than that?
Sergej Strajnak: Can you give us an honest opinion about Internet freedom?
Eric h. Loeb: Our global network connects customers in more than 190 countries and territories. Around the world, we respect the freedom of expression of our users. We promote the right of our users to hold and freely share opinions without interference, and to access ideas and information. It is widely understood that restrictions on freedom of expression over the Internet will dampen the exchange of ideas, and reduce innovation and commercial opportunities. Freedom to access information, freedom of communication and protection of personal privacy are top priorities.
Sergej Strajnak: If you could give one advice to IT students and to young people thinking about a career in IT industry, what would that be?
Eric h. Loeb: I hope they stay with it. The tech industry needs a capable and diverse pipeline of smart, motivated and innovative employees to fuel 21st century jobs, but the need is currently outpacing supply. To power the global economy, we need to bridge the skills gap and build a diverse talent pipeline for the jobs of today and the future. And, you have to continue learning new skills – all the time. By the time we get to 2020, technology will be remarkably different. It’s always changing to meet our needs so we all have to keep learning and reskilling. At AT&T, we recognize that learning is constant, and accordingly, we offer online courses to help students and employees evolve their skills, and get training badges that help them qualify for new positions in their career growth.
Sergej Strajnak: What do you personally think about hackathons? It is possible to organize the Hackathon with other IT companies in Kosice in eastern Slovakia? (in cooperation with companies like T-Systems, NESS, IBM etc.) More companies, more brains = more fun & more successful results
Eric h. Loeb: Hackathons are a great way to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. It provides an opportunity for developers or aspiring developer to come together share ideas. They also have the benefit of having guidance from seasoned professionals to help them build an app on the latest technologies. We’re open to listening to ideas on new venues or co-sponsors. In April, we organized a Hackathon in Prague together with the Czech Telecom Office. It was our first Hackathon in Central Europe. The Chairman of the Czech Telecom Office, Jaromír Novák, led the effort – his commitment to promoting in innovation and entrepreneurship in the region made it a success.
Sergej Strajnak: Have you thought about a boom of start-ups all around the world? -> What do you think about in generally about START UPs.
Eric h. Loeb: We’re with the innovators. We’ve opened our networks and systems, and are working with developers, startups and other companies so they can quickly turn innovative ideas into viable products and services. We provide unique tools that help allow others to create new programs and services that make our customers’ lives simpler. Since 2011, we’ve opened 5 AT&T Foundry innovation centers and we will open another one this year. These spaces are the front door for startups and developers who want to work with AT&T, and also serve to foster new projects and fuel discussions on the future of our business and the industry at large. Our approach has led to new technologies, apps, products and services that are helping improve lives.
Sergej Strajnak: What is your opinion about Slovak IT employees and their potential? (Especially in eastern Slovakia)
Eric h. Loeb: Our investment in Slovakia has been made possible for several reasons but among them is the availability of a well-educated, highly-skilled, and highly-motivated workforce in the heart of the rapidly expanding Central and Eastern European market. The government is also making an effort to grow the tech community in Slovakia and that will be important to continuing to develop a skilled talent.
Sergej Strajnak: What is your view about Slovak Republic as a player in IT business operating on European and global market? (advantages)
Eric h. Loeb: Slovakia has developed its economy in the early years of the twenty- first century and has fostered an economic environment that welcomes and encourages our investment. We are very thankful to the local businesses, and economic and political leaders in Slovakia for creating such a positive environment for a global company like AT&T. We also expect that when Slovakia holds the rotating EU Presidency later this year, that one of the main areas of focus will be to promote the Digital Economy.
Sergej Strajnak: How do you feel about women in IT sector? What is the approximate percentage of women representation in management at AT&T (in US, Czech Republic & Slovakia)?
Eric h. Loeb: Diversity in the work force is critical and having women in IT - and other segments of the business – at every level – helps us all reach our highest potential. That’s because they’re innovators. They’re team players. And they’re leaders. At AT&T, women represent 35% of our total workforce. We’re also seeing growth of women leaders in our Mexico operations. Women hold 33% of leadership positions, up from 10% when we began operations in Mexico last year. We’re also supporting programs that encourage more young women to access computer science courses and technology to help fuel 21st century jobs. Having the best talent leading AT&T’s initiatives – both men and women – is critical to our success and growth.
Sergej Strajnak: Have you ever met somebody during your career who inspire you to change yourself?
Eric h. Loeb: Peter Sagan – He is my absolute favorite cyclist! I promise that I won’t try to imitate his facial hair. However, I did actually ride the Paris-Roubaix sportive in 2016, all the while thinking about Sagan’s inspiring ride on the cobbles of Richmond, Virginia last year when he won the World Championships.
Sergej Strajnak: Have you ever tried “bryndzové halušky“ (potato dumplings with sheep cheese and bacon)? (slovakian national food)
Eric h. Loeb: I haven’t had a chance to eat bryndzové halušky yet. I did try taštičky s bryndzou a slaninou (ravioli with sheep cheese and bacon) on Hlavná Street the last time I was in Kosice). I’ll be back in Bratislava in September so will definitely try halušky.