Andrzej Gąsienica-Samek from Poland learned BASIC programming when he was only 9 years old, thanks to his father. The first successes in programming competitions came very quickly. At 14, he reached the second stage of the Polish OI for secondary schools. In the following years, he won it three times in a row. He can also boast of winning 3 gold and 1 silver medal in the IOI. It places him in 8-12th place in the history of this competition.
1st place in ICPC 2003
He commuted with other talented programmers at the National Children’s Fund camps, of which he was a scholarship holder. It determined him to study computer science at the University of Warsaw. There he also had the opportunity to meet prof. Jan Madey and prof. Krzysztof Diks. Already in the second year of studies (2000/2001), together with Tomasz Czajka and Marcin Stefaniak, they advanced to the ICPC 2003 finals. There they won the silver medal, taking 6th place, and it was the best place in the history of the UW in the past. Two years later, when Marcin Stefaniak was replaced in the team by Krzysztof Onak, their triumph was undisputed. It was because they were the only ones to solve 9 problems out of 10.
However, he did not participate in programming competitions anymore. In his opinion, they only serve to find people who are the best at it. It do not necessarily translate into later successes in business, which he was very attracted to. Although he had a 3-month internship at the IBM Watson Research Center in the USA during the summer holidays before winning the ICPC, he and his colleagues also surveyed which of the large Polish IT companies would like to hire him.
Ultimately, he chose Comarch, the second largest programming company in Poland at that time. Comarch offered to create a special R&D department, of which he became its manager. Unfortunately, developing an innovative tool for generating readable printouts from excel files was not a great success, It was because only a few customers bought it. Therefore, after 3 years, he was transferred to the department dealing with public administration solutions. And it was a good idea. The Silesian Voivodship Office boasted about a program to support the circulation of their documents for long time. Until a top-down decision was made not to use private, but state-owned solutions in the administration. Andrzej Gąsienica-Samek did not work at Comarch at that time.
The breakup took place after 5 years, but it was in friendship. Andrzej Gąsienica-Samek liked the work at Comarch very much. It was well paid, and the company took care of his professional development. But he dreamed of having his own company. He set up it with one of his high school friends. Then a son of Janusz Filipiak, Comarch CEO, acquired 1/3 of its shares, investing one hundred thousand dollars in it.
It was named Atinea, but it wasn’t entirely clear what it was supposed to do. Only with time did it specialize in the provision of outsourcing programming services. Although it is developing slowly, it is growing systematically. In 2020, revenues amounted to $1,2 mln, of which 10% was allocated to R&D. It experiences all kinds of ups and downs. A few years ago, its largest client, a British company with annual revenues of more than $6B, resigned from its services after splitting into two smaller companies. Nevertheless, in the following year, the company achieved the same revenues as in the previous year. There are significant increases on the horizon in the next years.
When the company was established, Andrzej Gąsienica-Samek believed establishing a startup was his best business decision. Today, however, he would not decide to do so. When he founded it, there were few companies in the Polish market where you could get an exciting job after studying IT. Today reality is entirely different, so why put yourself under the stress of developing your own business?
InstaLing and InstaKod
Currently, Andrzej Gąsienica-Samek employs 100 people, but only 80 in Atinea. The rest work in two subsidiaries that support education.
The first of them, InstaLing, was established in 2013, providing schools with a platform supporting the learning of English vocabulary. Currently, it is used by 6,000 teachers and 200,000 students a day. The basic version is free, and the company can earn for itself thanks to the advanced, paid version.
The second, InstaKod, has been operating since 2019 as a portal for comprehensive computer science learning. A key to success was developing a set of tasks for teaching problem-solving. The programming is based on a simplified assembler. The platform is used by an increasing number of teachers. They are supported by their original textbook, which the Ministry has already approved of National Education. To raise the interest of a wider group of students, the company has been organizing an IT competition InstaLogik for beginners for 3 years. 800 children participated in the first edition. Over 3,400 in the second edition. 6,400 in the third, and 12,000+ in the fourth, which bodes well for the future. The company also offers paid advanced classes. They cost only $40 per month and are currently used by approx. 200 customers.