Veli Pehlivanov ('09): 'AUBG Helped Me Embrace My Own Future Without Fear'

Veli Pehlivanov (’09) is a Senior Director of Software Engineering at Progress. He leads a team of 60 software engineers in Bulgaria and the U.S., and is actively involved with the Progress Developer Relations team, which engages the developer communities across the globe with the company’s technologies.

Veli joined Progress in 2009 (Telerik back then) as a junior software developer and has held different technical and managerial positions before assuming his current position. At AUBG he majored in Computer Science.

What have you been up to since graduation?

Right after graduating from AUBG, I joined Telerik. It’s been a crazy ride since then. I’ve had the opportunity to be part of different teams, explore new projects and dive deep into various software technologies. I have the pleasure to have led teams that have started three completely different products from scratch at different points in time. Throughout my career, I’ve moved from web technologies to desktop development to testing tools, and now mobile. In my latest adventure, I have the privilege to lead the Progress Mobile Components, Tools & Services product division – a group of teams that are better known for products such as NativeScript.

Did you always see this as the career path you wanted to take or did your plans for the future change in time?

I’ve been keen on technology since my teenage years, but funnily enough, never thought about my career beyond learning to code. After I graduated from AUBG and worked for a certain period of time on real products for real customers, I realized building software is not only about programming languages or coding. It’s also about understanding customer problems, spotting opportunities to create a good solution and building a high-performance team that can not only design and deliver, but also help users achieve success using software. Over time, my career path presented me with opportunities to take part in all these aspects of building software products. It wasn’t something I anticipated in the beginning. I guess it comes in time and through experience.

What do you like best about working at Progress?

Progress provides a diverse portfolio of tools and services for application developers which presents opportunities to work on many different technologies. It’s the kind of a company that has products varying from a database technology developed since the early 80’s up to a Machine Learning-based system for industrial predictive maintenance – a cutting-edge trend that is just picking up in market potential. The sheer diversity of technologies, tools, languages and business domains is amazing.

From a manager’s perspective, Progress is a place of collective culture. Teams learn, work, build and celebrate together as a single cohesive body. It’s the kind of place you can share with and learn from everybody, regardless of titles, seniority or specialty. It’s also an environment that fosters critical thinking and active participation. One example is when teams gather after a software release and list all good things that they accomplished, then list all those things that did not go well, discuss them and find ways to fix and improve the way they work.

Why do you think it’s important for companies like Progress to support education?

I strongly believe people are the most important asset in any enterprise. Investment in education is investment in the future – an opportunity to grow, create, lead and make a dent in the world. Companies like Progress need to serve as an example of how education turns into positive impact by promoting learning, fostering an environment for personal development and creating technologies and products that solve the challenges of tomorrow.

How has your AUBG experience affected your life, both personally and professionally?

From a personal perspective, I can say AUBG prepared me for the dynamic world we are in today. It helped me embrace my own future without fear. It taught me how to be adaptive, embrace change and equipped me with the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that I’ve been using every day since then. One of the most important benefits from my time spent in AUBG was the chance to connect with other like-minded people from all over the world, create friendships and share. It was a window to a diverse world that teaches you to value others for their opinion, collaborate with people from various backgrounds. It gave me the first teamwork skills that are so essential in anything we do today.

How did you first decide to apply to AUBG?

I knew I wanted to study Computer Science and was looking for options in Bulgaria, when I learned about AUBG from my friends and media. Feedback was extremely positive and the idea of modern Liberal Arts education combined with the convenience of staying in my home country helped me make my mind to apply. I now consider it as one of the most important life decisions that I got right.

What were some of the best times you had in your college years?

I still miss the blanket parties in the backyard of Skaptopara 1 and the volleyball championships during AUBG Olympics. I was even part of a student rock band for a short period – all amazing times with my friends there. Back then there was no Wi-Fi in the dormitories, only wired connection. It was fun being a student representative to the IT committee in the university and working through research, meetings and analysis with the IT department on when and how to introduce wireless in Skapto. I am also proud to be one of the first members of the Computer Science Student Union, where we had lots of fun organizing speaker sessions and workshops together with the COS department.

What advice would you give to current and future students?

To all current and prospective students, I would say you are having or about to have one of the best times in your life. A time when you can explore, learn and grow while having lots of fun with friends and faculty. Enjoy it and take the most out of it. Rest assured AUBG does prepare you well for what’s to come.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Photos courtesy of Veli  Pehlivanov

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