Veli Pehlivanov (‘09), VP, Software Engineering at Progress: The Most Important Professional Asset is The Urge for Constant Learning and Adaptability

In a series of interviews, we will feature some of the region’s prominent business experts coming from various industries. We now introduce you to AUBG alumnus Veli Pehlivanov (‘09). As VP of Software Engineering at Progress, Veli leads a team of 50 software engineers, located in Bulgaria and the United States. He has extensive leadership experience in heading a newly formed team, developing new technologies and leading them to success. Veli joined Progress (back then Telerik) in 2009 as a junior software developer and has held different technical and business positions prior to his current role. He graduated with Magna Cum Laude from the American University in Bulgaria with a major in Computer Science.

What are the top three skills employers are looking for today?

The modern business is very dynamic, always changing. Knowledge acquired today will quickly become obsolete in a few years. The reason is that science, technology and human advancement will keep changing the way we work. Skills acquired at any single point in time will not be sufficient for success throughout one’s career. Thus, the most important asset professionals need to possess is the urge for constant learning and adaptability. It’s not a single skill – it’s a mindset of continuous improvement.

Another critical aspect of how we work is teamwork. As business realities are getting more complex, it is only through collective effort that teams and companies can create value and survive global competition. Employers are thus looking for professionals with strong communication and collaboration skills that are critical to forming efficient, highly engaged teams, where members support and complement each other, and are laser focused on a common objective.

If you could give your younger self just one piece of career advice, what would it be?

I would tell myself to not only focus in depth on one domain but look to create a broader set of knowledge across multiple disciplines. If I study programming, I would tell myself to also take finance and economics courses, so that I can understand how a business operates from a holistic perspective, how it plays in the market, how value is generated and propagated across business players.

What business leader—past or present— inspires you the most? Why? 

I am most inspired by Elon Musk, not only because of his grand ambitions to create a world of sustainable energy or populate Mars.  I admire him because of his intrinsic motivation to push forward, to improve, to create. After a successful business exit, Musk acquired wealth that would easily let him live a luxurious, care-free life early on.  But he chose to keep on going, investing in world-changing technologies, defying non-believers and persisting to create something of greater value beyond himself.

The liberal arts education puts emphasis on discovery, creativity, and critical thinking: by exploring a lot of disciplines, rather than focusing on just one. In what ways do people who have received a liberal arts education bring value to business?   

The biggest value I think liberal arts education brings is by encouraging students to explore and get a sense of multiple areas of human knowledge. This creates a mindset of learning, an expanded world view of how everything is interconnected, and, maybe most importantly, the ability to look from a different perspective and uncover new ideas and better ways of doing things.

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