Our Head of Engineering, David Winterbottom, takes the highlight this month to elucidate how constructing our personal expertise creates higher buyer experiences.
Why did you be a part of Octopus?
I used to be working at Yoyo Pockets (a cell funds startup) after I obtained a textual content from Greg, our founder, saying, “we’re going to do the subsequent massive factor, do you need to be a part of us?”. So we went for a beer and he advised me about Octopus.
Once I was explaining to the founders at Yoyo why I used to be leaving, I gave them three causes. One, I needed to work with the good folks I would labored with earlier than. Two, I needed to work within the power sector and do one thing, nevertheless small, about local weather change and assist folks swap to renewable power. And three, to have the chance to steer the design and tech we wrote proper from day one.
What do you do at Octopus?
In case you consider the tech workforce as a pipeline the place concepts get fed in a single finish, get specified then carried out and examined, earlier than rising as options utilized by our clients and workers – properly, it’s my job to handle that pipeline.
So meaning speaking to the suitable folks to know an issue, and ensuring the suitable individuals are engaged on it, and that the work they do is of a top quality and delivered in a well timed trend.
There’s plenty of code overview, collaboration, and testing – each automated and guide. So when somebody says an enhancement or function is able to go reside, I’ll examine it over and level out any issues or areas for enchancment. Then, as soon as the modifications have been made, I be certain it deploys easily into our manufacturing platform. I get emailed every time there’s any type of difficulty in manufacturing – even when only one error for one individual – so I do know fairly shortly when stuff isn’t working.
I typically joke that my function is sort of a head chef at a restaurant – I design the each day menu however let my workers do a lot of the precise cooking. They then deliver me their dishes and I’ll typically say, “no, that is chilly,” or, “this isn’t cooked correctly.” As soon as I’m comfortable, I’ll sprinkle on some parsley and attempt to take the credit score when it goes out to the shoppers!
How do you retain our tech operating effectively?
We’ve cherry-picked many processes and practices which have been efficient at different firms we’ve labored at. It’s an iterative course of: we’re continuously reviewing how we work and in search of methods to enhance. Now we have stand-up conferences twice per week so we are able to share what everyone seems to be engaged on and overcome any obstacles to getting issues achieved.
We’re additionally cautious to measure the impact of the work we do. Earlier than we work on a function, we outline success standards: what metrics ought to change as soon as the function goes reside.
How is what you do completely different to different suppliers?
The standard provider mannequin is to purchase plenty of your expertise as a substitute of hiring a workforce of software program engineers to construct it for you.
We’re attempting to be extra like a tech startup that simply occurs to work within the power sector. We make use of the practices of profitable startups equivalent to steady deployment, pair programming, test-driven growth, code overview, and A/B testing. We let our clients drive our product by releasing options early and listening to the suggestions.
Working on this agile approach means we are able to ship stuff shortly, but simply change course if it’s not working. That makes us culturally completely different from conventional suppliers who purchase their software program and hope it really works. They’re a bit just like the Titanic: they will’t change route in a short time when issues go fallacious.
It’s much like what’s occurring in plenty of sectors, notably the non-public transport market, the place you may have all these firms like BMW, Volvo, Ford, and so forth who’ve dominated the trade for years, however out of the blue should take care of electrical automobiles and self-driving automobiles.
You’ve now obtained what are primarily software program firms – Google, Apple, Uber, and Tesla to a point – coming into the automotive sector. The automobiles of the long run received’t depend on a combustion engine, however the software program that will get probably the most out of the massive batteries inside them. So automobile manufacturing turns into so much like a software program trade.
That’s how the sector will get disrupted. It’s a lot more durable for an organization like BMW to vary their tradition. You may’t simply rent a number of folks and alter from automotive engineering to software program engineering, in order that they’ll battle to maintain up. And it’s taking place in power fairly a bit. It’s what we’re attempting to do – we’re attempting to be that software program firm that modifications how the trade works for the good thing about clients.
What are you engaged on in the intervening time?
A number of issues. I dip into everybody’s work. However one necessary factor we’ve been engaged on is annual statements, which have proved to be 1,000,000 instances tougher that we first thought.
At first it appears straightforward – each buyer has a yearly anniversary and will get an announcement of their consumption. However the satan is within the element. Simply the definition of a 12 months is sort of tough – which place to begin are you utilizing? And even calculating how a lot they used may be tough if we don’t have common meter readings.
So it touches each a part of the code base. Then you must work out all the prices. Pulling that every one collectively for every buyer’s distinctive journey is difficult. And dealing on this has shaken out plenty of different work that wants doing. So it’s been occurring for a while.
We’re additionally engaged on making use of Amazon’s “server-less” applied sciences to permit fast prototyping. Meaning citing new companies with out having to discuss with me or another person within the tech workforce. For instance, our knowledge scientist David Sykes may need an ideal concept about the right way to generate a report or desires to categorise some knowledge in a selected approach, and we’re the right way to get such issues into manufacturing shortly.
Smartest thing about your job?
Like I stated at first, it’s working with actually good folks, working in an trade that I care about, with the ability to steer the engineering surroundings, or not less than affect it, and apply the issues I consider to be good apply, and writing top quality software program.
I intend to be sustaining the software program we write in 5 to 10 years time, which is a fairly completely different to working in an company or as contractor, the place in a 12 months’s time, the software program might be another person’s downside. This modifications the way you write software program. I’m at all times considering of the long run, ensuring our code is clear and simple to vary so that individuals will get pleasure from engaged on it for a very long time and it might evolve because the enterprise modifications.
One other factor is working for an organization that’s versatile about how folks work. I’ve obtained youngsters and with the ability to go dwelling early and cut up my working week up makes a distinction to me.
Most difficult factor?
It’s actually simply attempting to juggle numerous issues without delay. Making an attempt to determine what the very best precedence is and doing it to the suitable stage of high quality and velocity. To resolve on priorities now we have to speak to numerous folks, and you end up standing within the bathe questioning about your work. Questioning if one function is extra necessary than one other. You at all times fear that the factor you’re ignoring or haven’t considered will someday blow up and trigger an enormous downside.
So it’s an enormous balancing act. Generally that you must push again and say to do that factor would harm this different factor, however you may’t be too valuable. You must do what’s proper for the enterprise. Myself and James, our CTO, complement one another fairly properly. I consider the platform, and ensuring it’s well-maintained and environment friendly, and James thinks of the larger image, equivalent to new instructions we may go in or prioritising sure issues over others.