In the “Job Profiles” series, InterNations team members discuss their position and responsibilities. Our CTO (chief technical officer) Daniel shares his impressions after his first few months in charge of our Engineering Department and tells us what kind of people he’s currently looking to hire.
Let’s start with a short introduction! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m originally from Stuttgart, a major city in southwestern Germany. But I’ve been living in the Bavarian countryside for 17 years now.
I’m fascinated by all things old, for example, historic buildings and vintage cars. I live in a pretty old house, which needs a lot of attention in terms of repairs and maintenance. I also enjoy fixing my car, an old Fiat 500. Once the engine starts running again, making the right kind of noise, you feel like you can fix anything!
I just like tinkering with things — including software code.
And what are you working on right now?
At the moment, the biggest engineering project is the PHP upgrade.
For the non-techies: PHP is the programming language we use in the backend. That’s the part of our platform not directly accessible to the users and used for data storage, among other things. As a programming language, PHP is still under development, with new versions coming out from time to time.
We’ve fallen a bit behind on the version we’re using. So, we need to catch up because we might miss out on new functionalities. We hope to be done by the end of 2022, but it is quite a huge task.
Apart from the PHP update, is there anything else you’re really invested in?
My other major project at the moment is filling the open positions in my department. We are looking for senior engineers, both backend and frontend, with a lot of experience. After all, we have plenty of challenging tasks on our plate.
However, I wouldn’t want to risk our team culture. Along with the technical skills, such as programming and software architecture, I’m looking to hire people who’ll fit right in.
Soft skills, especially communication skills, are very important. I don’t believe you can learn that easily how to be a good communicator. It has to come naturally. Gaps in your technical knowledge are easier to close. So, we’re looking for senior developers who are very communicative — having a great sense of humor also helps!
What does InterNations offer to software engineers interested in joining us?
First of all, the product itself is very interesting. InterNations does not focus on a tiny niche market or specific location. Our users are people from across the globe. It’s our job to think globally and find solutions that work for everyone.
On top of that, they will be working with truly amazing colleagues. I’ve never met such a great team before!
You took over as CTO in March 2022. What have your first impressions of InterNations been like?
Simply fantastic. Everyone has been incredibly friendly and welcoming. It feels like I’ve been searching forever for a company like this.
You know those clichés about software engineers? That we’re all loners with limited communication skills, hacking away in some dark basement all day long?
The team at InterNations is the exact opposite. Every single person in the Engineering Department has brilliant soft skills, and they communicate a lot.
That way, we’ll always find a good solution to any problem, even if it’s tricky. Finding solutions is very much a cooperation among all members of the department, especially the tech leads. In major decisions, I’m involved as well.
We all need to be on the same page. So, we focus on the matter at hand and discuss it among the team. Everyone is welcome to bring their own perspective, questions, issues, etc. to the table.
I haven’t had a single boring meeting so far!
How would you describe your leadership role and management style?
As a CTO, I like having both the power and the responsibility to make decisions. It’s not always easy.
You need to balance out what’s best from an engineering perspective against the company’s business interests. You often need to do a lot of research, as well as rely on your experience and gut feeling. Not everyone might appreciate that kind of responsibility. But I find it exciting to have a position where I can make an impact.
I also enjoy what could be called the caretaker aspect of my role. I see myself as someone who enables others to make their own decisions and get their work done.
The freedom to work independently is important to me. So, I also like to give our software engineers as much freedom as possible and as much guidance as necessary.
Of course, I answer relevant questions and clarify potential misunderstandings upfront. But then I prefer to leave the techies alone until they require more information or feel stuck. If there are any obstacles standing in their way, it’s my duty to clear the path.
It’s very important for a CTO to be approachable, especially in remote teams. I’ll just ping my team members if I have questions or need feedback. Likewise, they get in touch whenever they want my input.
Can you share a little about your previous career — especially your experiences with remote work and expat life?
Remote leadership is nothing new for me.
I have several years of experience in managing remote engineering teams in Germany and Bulgaria. InterNations then gave me the chance of working with an intercultural team distributed all over Europe.
I worked mostly for German companies, but not exclusively in Germany. I’ve been to New Delhi, London, and Paris, mainly for shorter periods on a project-by-project basis.
While I only have some experience with working abroad myself, I liked it very much. That’s why the global outlook of InterNations appealed to me.
The InterNations Team is definitely the most international I’ve worked with. There are around 40 nationalities among 100 employees. So, every other person I talk to comes from a different country. I don’t think we’re ever going to run out of topics for the remote version of the chat in the office kitchen!
Sometimes, such small talk turns into deep conversations about cultural differences. I think it’s important to discuss such topics, just to understand each other better.
If you have to make decisions and share them with your team, you need to get a feeling for how the team members see these issues and how they might react. With employees from so many different countries, not to mention very different personalities, getting there can sometimes be a bit challenging. But working at InterNations is challenging in a good way, definitely.
Image credit: InterNations / iStockphoto / private (Daniel Kiess)