As the Principal Consultant of Valtech Mobility, Wasili Papadopoulos is tasked with the development of back and frontend software for Volkswagen. In this interview he talks about methodology, objectives and work culture – and why our Braunschweig location is the perfect place for it.
Have you always worked in the automotive industry?
No, I haven’t. I originally started out in plant engineering. I majored in electrical engineering and then worked for a few years as a software developer for CAD and CAE. Later I moved into the plant engineering industry where we manufactured control stations for chemical factories. Back then everything was still in C++ and Memory Leak was my best buddy (laughing).
When did you came across agile software development for the first time?
To a limited degree as early as in 2000. But you have to concede that the methods then were not really agile. No matter what the industry I worked in, I still had to draw up long lists of technical specifications and requirements that were then submitted to various boards. That process sometimes dragged on for up to a year before you could get productive. That was not what I would call a holistic, agile form of software development.
At what point did things improve?
Actually, Volkswagen was my first client who didn’t ask for specifications and requirements lists before the implementation process. Instead we held workshops with VW where we defined stories, features and tasks that were to be specified successively. That such a large corporation lived the idea of agility was new to me.
What exactly is it you are developing for VW?
On the one hand we work a lot in the backend area, but on the other hand also on many online services and web apps for the car. In the future, VW customers should be able to download various apps for their cars via a store. In contrast to Android Auto and Apple Car, these web apps are not mirrored by your smart phone but are a fixed element in your car. And that’s why we, for example, programmed the app shop and developed the authentication of the car’s backend to allow the user to download the app.
How big are your teams then?
We are talking about pleasantly small teams. In our teams, software developers work with one product owner for each team who also has a deep technological background. I mean, there are product owners out there who see their job as exclusively managing the backlog – but that doesn’t make much sense in our context, where the devil is in the details. On the developer’s side we only have full stack developers who have expertise in both front and backend. In general, developers at Valtech Mobility embrace the Dev-ops approach, meaning: being able to manage the entire product cycle.
How does it feel to collaborate with such a huge corporation in everyday business?
We work in teams that are located both at VW and our place and communicate with each other on an almost daily basis. In this set-up Braunschweig is perfect as the company site.
Back when we didn’t have an office close to VW, it often happened that I had to travel 8 hours across Germany for just a short meeting. That basically eats up your day. Volkswagen really very much appreciates the proximity of our location. It shows that we place a high value on close collaboration and are prepared to invest in it. When you work just around the corner it is just easier to have a spur-of-the-moment, one-hour meeting. The short distance is conducive to uncomplicated communication that gives us a large degree of creative leeway.
How do you mean?
A high-frequency of personal interactions ensures that new ideas are discussed at the expresso machine or in the hallway without being too official – and VW always welcomes new input. Anyone who is experienced, loves moving things ahead and has ideas, is given a lot of latitude here to develop new business models or services. It’s the same with software developers; nobody tells them what the build process should look like. Apart from standard tools, there are no requirements as to how they are supposed to set up their development process, what the monitoring should look like, or what boards they are supposed to use. They did all that by themselves. We love to experiment and that is very much appreciated by VW. Braunschweig may still be a rather new location but it has a lot of potential and offers a lot of comforts.
What other comforts are there?
Braunschweig is a mid-sized university city full of many young, ambitious people with an automotive background. Life here is rather comfortable; rents are probably half of what you have to pay in Munich, Frankfurt or Dusseldorf. Our office is about half a mile from the main railway station. It’s located in the old railroad station building that used to house a sugar factory once – and yes, before I forget: We still have a lot of room in the office (laughing).
Are you looking for new colleagues?
Yes, absolutely. However, we are not looking for developers only but also for colleagues who are prepared to assume project responsibility and, together with their team, are able and willing to take initiative and make use of the design latitude given to them.
From your personal point of view: Why should anyone send their applications to you?
We have the structures and feel of a speed boat but also the clout of one of the biggest OEMs in the world. My personal take on this: this is not a run-of-the-mill job. You want to continuously improve your skills, keep on developing and appreciate the importance of mistakes – innovations without failed attempts are not possible. Mutual support within a team is extremely important when something goes south. In general, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and that’s true all the way up to management, whose laid-back attitude is also reflected in the teams. We have extremely flat hierarchies here, unlike any other company I know.
Don’t they all say that?
We have only very few assigned roles. And that means that a managing director working directly together with a junior consultant is considered as something completely normal. Can every company claim that? I highly doubt it.