Here at ChainCargo, we organize cross-departmental sessions because we believe it boosts creativity and that everybody needs to understand and support each other’s work as much as possible.
One of the latest sit-ins for the commercial team was with Ben, the Head of Engineering at ChainCargo, who explained how accurate and precise our engineers have to be to create properly functioning products. To understand the engineering process even better, we received a task to write the instructions for a peanut butter sandwich. Sounds simple? That’s what we thought, therefore, none of us succeeded!
Watch this video to have a clearer image of how our session with Ben looked like
So yeah, this time, we decided to dig deeper into the engineering world! With many different projects and responsibilities, Ben definitely knows what it takes to build great products and how to deal with the struggles of starting from scratch.
First, could you tell more about your role at ChainCargo?
To use a common phrase: "I wear many hats". I cover a bit of product management, a slice of project management, a pinch of product owner, a dollop of business analysis, a smidge of localisation management, and a taste of testing...to name a few 😊. It's a natural part of a start-up of course. Wherein a large business you can have entire departments dedicated to certain tasks that are somehow done somewhere by someone, sometimes almost invisibly if they exist outside your bubble. In a start-up environment, you can't get away from all aspects of a business. Everyone has to really touch on all branches, every colleague knows and supports each other: it's why I enjoy working in smaller businesses so much more.
If I had to pick one, I would say my primary responsibility is being a metaphorical bridge between development and the rest of the business. I listen and observe the needs of the business, both in terms of the ChainCargo product but also the internal needs we have to function generally and define some solutions for development to build into something concrete. I may do some prototypes, some sketches, some diagrams and models, but it all ultimately is about creating a kind of clear scope for an end product or result.
It’s said that the Head of Engineering must have superb communication skills. Is it true? Why?
I don't know who on earth has ever said that.😃 Communication skills is a very vague and abused term and I frown when I see it on things like vacancies. There are of course particular communication elements that are important to the role. I need to coordinate and align across very different stakeholders which can be incredibly difficult, and absolutely critical. Talking to a backend developer can be very different to talking to a UI designer for example with very different viewpoints on the same task. However, I'm naturally not particularly great at general conversations, but I listen quite intently to what people are saying both with the words but also with the context. To be able to understand the situation quickly, verify what is being said and then come up with some probing questions that open up the conversation is vital to the process. To use a trendy quote: "you have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak".
How do you create a product that meets the expectations of all users (shippers, carriers and ChainCargo employees?)
In my opinion, I don't think we do. And that's actually quite normal: the bar is constantly shifting and we should never fool ourselves into thinking a product is finished. It would be rather dull if every expectation was met. It's the expectations that motivate to push for more. To consider new ideas, needs and wants, and constantly change with our users and the world around us is the only way to develop both as individuals and as ChainCargo. My main goal is to push for continuous evolution and remain flexible to the evolutions that we will need that we do not see yet.
Is there ever a moment when you say, “This is it, this feature/product is perfect, and we’re done with it”? 😃
Never. It would be foolish to ever consider anything perfect. It's a pretty hard pill to swallow sometimes because we all want something to be perfect and you get yourself into paralysis if you keep pursuing it. There have been plenty of times in my career (and life) where I have never been happy enough to finish or share something, even though it was already a good enough first step. It's an important lesson I have had to learn and one deep down I must remind myself of constantly. Done is always better than perfect.
What was your recent engineering “panic moment”, and how did you handle it?
Ok, nerd time. You ever heard of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? It's a (fictional) book for space hitchhikers and the cover is just the words "DON'T PANIC" in large friendly letters. No matter how bad the situation, panicking is never a good idea. It's always important to assess the situation, come with some ideas and make a plan. In those "panic moments," you simply have to do those things in a much shorter time frame. Fun fact: The Tesla Roadster that was dumped into orbit by Space X has "DON'T PANIC" written on the dashboard.
And finally, can you write instructions on how to make a peanut butter sandwich? 😉
Yes, I can. Oh, you want me to write the instructions? Well, you should have been more specific in your question. 😃