Jáchym, you have a bachelor's degree from the IES and a master's degree from England. What could you recommend to those who have a similar plan? Do you think that in the current context of the unresolved Brexit situation is this possibility better or worse?
Go for it! Getting a degree abroad really broadens your horizons and sets you apart from those who stay at home. It’s not just about the degree itself though: it’s the people you meet, the extracurriculars you do, the country you discover. It’s an experience that is totally worth it.
Concerning Brexit, for the 2020/2021 academic year, EU citizens will continue to be treated as locals, so as far as fees are concerned, all is well – so far. No one really knows what will happen afterwards, which seems to be the case with pretty much all Brexit-related questions. Hopefully the situation will be clearer before applicants need to make final decision on whether or not to accept their offers.
You started your career when attending the IES, and worked for the governmental advisory body NERV, what did you focus on?
In NERV, I worked on educational policy. This was also the subject of my Bachelor’s thesis. It’s a fascinating field, both because of the key role it plays in people’s lives and because of its complexity. You really get to appreciate the importance of context and the difficulty of doing evidence based policy, of establishing causal relationships between what people do and what results these actions actually lead to.
Overall, the experience was great: I did some useful work, I got to see how policy gets made and I met people who became friends. Some of them stayed in the educational field and launched awesome projects such as Učitel naživo.
Has NERV determined your career in the state administration or did you take another path?
Even though NERV was great, I wouldn’t say it was the main driver for working in government. There’s a nice book by Daniel Pink called Drive. It explores what motivates people and the core thesis of the book is that earning enough money is nice, but people are mainly motivated by other things: mastery, autonomy, and purpose.
Mastery is about developing your skills. Autonomy is about choosing what you do, how you do it, and with whom. Finally, purpose is about changing the world around you. All of these are very important for me, but if I really had to prioritize one, I’d go for purpose. A bit counterintuitively, I found government to be a good place to have impact. We all complain about how inefficient governments are, but it’s precisely because they work so badly in many areas that you can influence large things for the better. Very importantly, governments are also the main players in today’s biggest battles such as stopping climate change and reducing both global and local economic inequality.
What do you do exactly in the position of the official at the European Commission?
I work in “public procurement”, which deals with how governments purchase goods and services: from building highways and trains to purchasing IT systems. This area is regulated at the European level so that a single set of rules can ensure that companies compete on a level playing field in all countries. Historically, the whole concept of EU-wide markets was driven by the idea that only by integrating economies can we make sure that war will never return to the European continent.
Specifically, I work on procurement transparency and, nowadays, mainly on public procurement data. It’s an interesting job at the intersection of IT & data, law, and project management. My core project is a new data standard, to be adopted as law, which makes it easier for public authorities to advertise what they want to buy, while also ensuring that there is high-quality open data about the whole procurement process. This data can then be analyzed to make procurement more efficient (and less corrupt).
Over the years, I’ve worked on plenty of things though: from analyzing procurement data, managing IT systems and writing policy reports, to devising better managerial and HR practices and taking care of communication. The diversity of things I get to do is something I really appreciate about my position.
What are the pros and cons of working for the EU institutions?
Concerning the pros, I’d say the main one comes back to the purpose – contributing to the European project makes sense. Ultimately, the EU is about cooperation between a huge number of people, organized in states. In this sense, it is absolutely crucial and irreplaceable. We can – and should – argue about how to do things better in the EU, but in a globalized world, a country with the size and economy of Czechia simply doesn’t have a better alternative than being an active, constructive member of the EU. Besides that, there are of course plenty of other benefits: diverse tasks, a truly multicultural workplace, smart colleagues, a good salary, etc.
Concerning the cons, the European government is still government. There is plenty of bureaucracy, plenty of things which hinder you rather than support you, plenty of inefficiencies. But that’s the same story pretty much everywhere in the public sector.
You've been living in Belgium for six years, what do you like most? And vice versa what could you do without?
It’s a very international city (the 2nd most international city in the world, in fact!), which means tons of culture – and great cuisine. Brussels is also quite green and has a reasonable housing market, which allows us to live 5-10 minute from our offices by bike and we don’t need to be millionaires. In London, Paris, or New York, that simply wouldn’t happen. On the other hand, coming from Prague, you can’t stop missing a river, a castle… and all your Czech friends and family. Missing our dear ones is the main driver for our plan to move back to Prague in the months to come.
What do you enjoy when not working? What do you do in your free time?
I swim regularly and love to read, dance, travel and plenty of other things. I also always spend some time on ad-hoc side-projects, whether it is mentoring in the YODA Mentorship project, or deep-diving into an arbitrary subject such as investing in index funds and efficient altruism.