Meet Victoria Schuster | Head of People & Culture
Meet the PRISMAtes and get to know our team! In this series, our employees tell us a little about themselves and their journey to PRISMA. Let's start and meet Victoria!
"It was an ambitious step," Victoria recalls, "building a state-of-the-art IT team from scratch." In 2019, Victoria faced exactly this task. She just joined PRISMA as the Head of People & Culture, but also as the HR department itself. There were no other employees initially. "I already knew what I was getting myself into," says Victoria. Even back then, she was an experienced HR business partner, having advised startups and executives in Berlin for years, and worked as the Head of Talent Acquisition at times, with a focus on IT recruiting.
"I specifically searched in Leipzig," explains Victoria, intertwining her hands and resting her elbows on the table, "and I really wanted to find an international but small company where I would have the freedom to establish processes and tools myself, and help build a structure from the ground up. That's what I always liked best about startups."
Then Victoria found the job posting for the position at PRISMA - a perfect match. "It was exactly the challenge I wanted. But I was also really glad when Mariana joined us after about six months," Victoria recalls with a laugh, looking over at her colleague. Their desks face each other.
At that time, Mariana Fernandez was still a working student. The native Mexican had already gained some professional experience in the HR field. To Victoria's delight, Mariana stayed permanently, and is now a People & Culture Specialist.
How to create an IT Team from scratch?
Victoria mentally counts and taps her fingers while whispering names. "Three," she says. "At the end of 2018, there were only three employees in the engineering department. In total, we had about 25 permanent employees and a handful of working students back then."
During that time, Victoria sat down with all the future team leads at PRISMA to figure out the positions they needed. She then initiated the actual recruiting process, introduced Greenhouse as the ATS (application tracking system), worked with headhunters, posted jobs on various platforms, and also conducted active sourcing herself.
"Referrals from existing PRISMAtes were a great help, of course. Tom advised me to contact Uwe, and that turned out to be spot-on."
Even back then, Uwe Schäfer was a senior developer and head of engineering. He became one of Victoria's first successful hires. The same freedom that attracted Victoria - building, shaping, and forming a completely new team - also enticed Uwe. He became the Coding Architect and Lead Engineer at PRISMA, a role he still holds to this day.
Four in one go
“And the craziest thing: He didn't come alone!"
Three more engineers from Uwe's previous company also joined PRISMA, completely independently of one another. Benjamin Otto, Jörg Adler, and Philipp Zins found job postings for PRISMA online - all on different platforms - and applied.
"And I received the most beautiful application from Philipp that I have ever reviewed," Victoria declares with a broad smile. "At that time, he was just about to become a father for the third time and in his application letter, he also introduced his family with a picture. It was truly enchanting. And three weeks before he joined, the baby was born.”
Of course, their skills and competencies were also a perfect match. "However, when it came to fine technical details, it was really challenging during the hiring process because we didn't have an expert at PRISMA whom we could involve. It took a lot of time for preparation. But we also focused on discussing how we wanted to work together." The concept worked. By the end of 2019, the engineering team at PRISMA consisted of nine people.
And then the pandemic hit
"We had to rethink things quite a bit. Of course, we were already using collaborative tools at that time. Technically, it wasn't a problem, but we still had to change our work processes," Victoria explains. First, everything that was physical had to be translated into the digital realm, which meant every discussion. "At the beginning, I scheduled 5-minute meetings that I would have replaced with a quick question in the coffee kitchen. I remember putting on my headphones at 8 a.m. and taking them off at 7 p.m.," Victoria shakes her head as she recalls. "That was certainly a learning process. Now, I naturally use chat for short discussions, and it works great."
Initially, however, opportunities where all employees could regularly see and interact with each other were lacking. "That's when we introduced the Heartbeat Rhythm in the summer of 2020, with the 'All Hands' and the Open Space.
Staying connected despite forced distance
Every two weeks, there is an All Hands meeting where all PRISMAtes participate, and everyone and every team can report on current status or future plans. Questions are always welcome. "It helps to not feel isolated but rather part of the whole," Victoria adds. Immediately after that, the Open Space follows - a meeting without an agenda, unless PRISMAtes bring their own. „That means anyone can suggest a topic for a session they want to lead, and anyone who wants to can participate. It could be about calculating the carbon footprint, as well as mental health methods or insights into a new AI tool that someone wants to share," Victoria explains.
Another means to achieve more cohesion and belonging: a buddy program, whereby each newcomer is paired with a more experienced PRISMAte. "The first few days can always be somewhat intimidating," explains Victoria, adding, "From day one, we want to create the feeling: you are not alone here. We will help you settle in."
It took over a year for the PRISMAtes to finally meet in person again - at the Offsite event at Landgut Stober in Brandenburg. It was an event that not only focused on discussing topics on a company level, but also aimed to create an inspiring team atmosphere where they could recharge their batteries.
In 2022, a series of events were also revived: "UnitingPRISMAtes" is the name of the internal chat where suggestions occasionally come in regarding activities that PRISMAtes can do together outside of work: from bike tours to concert visits, game nights, or going to a bar, anything is possible. So, is everything back to how it used to be at PRISMA?
Not entirely, according to Victoria. "The pandemic has left significant traces. More of us now work remotely more frequently, because it has proven effective. However, this doesn't undermine our culture. We have found our way to nurture it nonetheless."
Ready for the War for Talents
It's not just about flexibility. It's also about mobility packages, company bicycles, further education, workplace massages, and so on and so forth. PRISMA offers a diverse range of benefits. These are constantly reviewed for relevance and attractiveness.
"One size doesn't fit all, and our benefits and perks package reflect the diversity of our people. It is an important part of our company culture to regularly assess whether what we offer our employees is truly what they want."
Victoria knows that PRISMA will continue to grow, and is actively seeking new employees worldwide. However, anyone who chooses PRISMA must have a residence in Germany. "Therefore, PRISMA also assists with relocation, visa applications, and so on," Victoria explains. She adds that the effort is naturally greater in such cases, but "it has always paid off so far."
For Victoria, this is also a result of the recruiting strategy, which meticulously focuses on who is hired. As a result, PRISMA is growing slower than the company could. "When I worked in Berlin, we once hired 200 people for a company in three months. It was crazy and far from sustainable. Those who proceed in this way guarantee that half of the people will leave after the probation period." This is something that Victoria and her team at PRISMA clearly want to avoid.
„Our engineering team is supposed to grow - we want to, and we will expand. But in a sustainable way, with the right people who also fit our company culture and vice versa. Because PRISMA doesn't just emphasise this in our own company values. We take our principle seriously: people are at the core of PRISMA. And we intend to keep it that way.”