In this series of interviews, we talk to an OutSystemer from the engineering team about their role, interests, and expertise.
As a release train engineer, Bejoy Raveendran knows more about change than your average person. He is indeed no stranger to it personally — he switched paths from accountancy to information technology, built software in startup companies, and has had the privilege of working with the pioneers of the Agile world. He is skeptical about those who take the term “Agile” a bit too much to heart, as he was about OutSystems before spending a few weeks testing the platform. What he saw convinced him, and now he’s more than willing to be part of a change that he believes will shape the future.
When did you become interested in tech?
It was a long time ago. I started studying computers around 1995, 1996. And that’s the time when the IT boom was happening, and a lot of my friends moved into that area. It was kind of fascinating for me. I studied the field a bit and thought, “This is interesting,” so I switched paths. I was actually studying chartered accountancy; it’s like a certified public accountant (CPA) course in the US. But I had a subject on computers which I found interesting and did a two-year-long diploma on that and later did my MBA in Information Technology.
Then, I started a company with a few friends, which was the first step in my tech career. It was a startup that built software for traders in Kottayam, my hometown. I think we were too early to the software market back in the 1990s, making it difficult for people to accept us. We struggled to convince people that software was going to help them. It was my first venture in the software industry, starting a company, building and selling software.
And then, at that time, Bengaluru was kind of considered as the Silicon Valley of India. We realized that staying in a small town would not help us because it was too early, and the people didn’t feel like they needed this. So I moved to Bengaluru and joined a product company. I spent the first years of my career in product companies, such as Computer Associates, the third-largest company back then.
How did you move on to the role of release train engineer?
I think it was around 2004 or 2005. I was working as a product manager for an enterprise resource planning (ERP) product and heading the product division of a startup company. We had a lot of challenges building this product, dealing with our various beta customers. We struggled until someone introduced us to the Agile way of working. At the time, Agile was very new in the market.
Shortly after being introduced to it, I switched from a product to a service company. I joined a firm called ThoughtWorks in 2006, which was like the name in the Agile world. They were pioneers in that field, which gave me an early advantage because many companies needed help in that area. I stayed there for four years before moving to a consulting type of activity where I’d help companies grow by working as an Agile coach and transforming their ways of working. That role actually involved transformation at an organizational level or coaching at a team level, or sometimes work as a scrum master or release train engineer. So these were the kinds of roles I performed for about 10 years.
“I also did some research on the low-code and no-code movements that are happening. And I was reasonably convinced that this is the future. It is disruptive and changing the way people build applications.”
And that’s why I got this opportunity at OutSystems. I felt it was a perfect mix of what I learned in these past roles. It was time to go back to the product world. I am a Principal Release Train Engineer on paper, but I work as a solution train engineer. I’m facilitating the solution and planning the execution across the company. With my product management experience, consulting experience, and Agile coaching and transformation experience, I thought I might be the right fit for the role. And that’s how I got here.
What were your first impressions of OutSystems?
To be honest, I hadn’t heard about the company before. When someone told me about the job opening, I did a bit of research before even considering it. But I always wanted to return to a product organization, and I always had a startup in mind.
So when I heard about a startup product company, it kind of interested me. I downloaded the free version of OutSystems and played around with it for a few weeks to build applications to convince me. You know, I’ve been in the industry for quite a while and have seen many rapid development propositions in the past. So I was skeptical, to be honest. So I installed a free version and played around with it. And it convinced me: “Okay, this is way ahead. And it is realistic; it’s going to work.”
I also did some research on the low-code and no-code movements that are happening. And I was reasonably convinced that this is the future. It is disruptive and changing the way people build applications. So that’s how it sort of started: I didn’t know anything, but I learned before I even considered joining the company.
What are the main challenges of a solution train engineer?
Let’s start with the bigger challenge: you’re new to this company. There are obviously challenges related to that. But it’s not a hurdle you can’t overcome because the way we introduce people into the company helps, and people are very open to assisting others in settling in. The bigger challenges are the fast changes we are making. We change and transform very fast.
And that’s actually interesting because it forces you to think differently. You probably won’t do the planning the same as you did last time. You constantly change and adapt to how it helps us as an organization. So you’re not going to follow a process of, “Okay, this is what we did the last two times. Let’s do the same the next time.” No, we know that there is definitely a scope for improvement. So we are constantly changing and evolving. It is not just planning and executing; it’s also innovating and finding better ways of doing so. That’s the most exciting and challenging part.
If you’re constantly changing the way you plan, how do you plan for change?
Yes, I understand your question. I mean, I don’t think we’re changing just for the sake of it. No, it’s because we want to do things better than we did before. And the driver for change is obviously teamwork and feedback coming from the team, from across the organization. In fact, from the scrum team to all levels of planning and execution. So we are getting feedback, and people are pretty open here. We have different forums to collect this feedback. So based on that, we have a clear understanding of where we want to go. It actually helps us define how we should be working.
“My take is that I don’t want to get too attached to the term Agile, which is very heavy and, you know, it comes with a lot of baggage. It’s all about how we can deliver things better and faster and then get value more quickly. That’s it.”
In your opinion, how will the Agile methodology evolve in the future?
I worked in companies like ThoughtWorks that pioneered in this field. One of our colleagues was a signatory in the Agile Manifesto — Martin Fowler. So I worked with quite a few people who are known as legends in this industry. I had early exposure to this work and all these people. My take is that I don’t want to get too attached to the term Agile, which is very heavy and, you know, it comes with a lot of baggage. It’s all about how we can deliver things better and faster and then get value more quickly. That’s it. So it doesn’t really matter how you follow these rules and principles, etc. But having said that, if I look back at the time, when I first applied the manifesto, in 2004, 2005, and now, the principles haven’t changed. It is still relevant and its philosophy is applicable.
How you apply it may differ: it depends on your change conditions and the company and industry you work in, as it can mean different things to different people. It’s all about how you adapt and use it. So I don’t want to associate myself with a term that stops us from achieving what we want. I’m saying this because as part of my previous job as a consultant working with different companies, some people were so bound to what is written in the books that they followed those rules rigorously. I think this is fundamentally against the principles of what the manifesto is all about: being free and adapting to your conditions.
People and interactions over processes and tools, right?
That’s what’s written, but people don’t follow it! Some people do their Agile certification and come back with this knowledge, but they’ll apply it too literally. If anyone deviates, that person will be very unhappy. “No, no, we should be following exactly what the book says; this is what I’ve learned!” Then you’re actually violating the principles you learned. You should read about best practices to help you think and have a starting point. Not necessarily to follow everything perfectly. It does not apply to every company in the same way. So I feel that the evolution is people understanding the Agile principles a bit better.
“Being remote actually helps me connect with anyone, anywhere. If you are in office, you tend to connect more with people in that region and less with people in other places.”
How did you adapt remotely to a new company?
It is not as difficult as we think, in my opinion. Of course, I miss meeting people and sitting in a room and brainstorming and using a whiteboard and things like that. I worked in Australia for Tata Consultancy Services before joining OutSystems, and we were on lockdown for almost a year with closed offices in Melbourne. So I spent a year working remotely, and it’s a continuation of that here. With the kind of infrastructure we have, how we work, I don’t see that stopping us from achieving or doing anything. Of course, sitting in a room and being in a single office helps. But the other side of that is that we are a global company right now. We have people everywhere, and even if we were in a single office space, we wouldn’t meet everyone. So for me, it’s not a huge challenge at this stage. Being remote actually helps me connect with anyone, anywhere. If you are in office, you tend to connect more with people in that region and less with people in other places. And that difference isn’t there now.
How do you feel about working in such a multicultural environment?
I have gone through this many times. I’ve worked in the US, France, Germany, Australia, obviously in India, and in all these places, you’re not working solely with a single nationality. You always work with a wide range of people. And with my kind of role, it’s more people-facing and customer-facing where you actually interact with all these people. So it’s not new to me. I lived in Germany for two years. I never lived in Portugal, but I understand various cultures and I can easily adapt. In the tech industry, we are interacting with people from across the globe. So that kind of comes naturally. Your colleagues are part of your extended family always. You connect with various people from various places, different cultures. So you kind of feel naturally involved in all of this.
What is your favorite piece of technology? Do you have one?
That’s a very difficult question because anything to do with technology or gadgets amazes me all the time. I can’t say if it’s my phone or my smartwatch or… I don’t think I can answer one thing because it would be unfair. Perhaps not a device but the ability for these devices to change and, you know, improve constantly. The phone I am using now, I’ll be using it in a slightly different manner in a few months’ time — they’ll have different capabilities. And the constant adaptation and improvement amaze me.
“I want to read something totally different from work, something like behavioral economics or how people interact… those kinds of things that are not directly related to my work but are factual and help understand the world better.”
What do you enjoy doing in your free time? You’re obviously limited at the moment due to the pandemic.
Yes, that’s right. At the moment, life is different compared to the past. Of course, I now spend more time with my family and children, but we used to travel a lot. Traveling as in long-distance driving. Also, reading books, mostly nonfiction.
Did you move from fiction to nonfiction? A lot of people do that.
Yes! I used to always read fiction, but now if I pick up a fiction book, I feel guilty as if I should be reading something more useful [laughs]. Initially, I used to read about something related to work that would help me do better. I stopped that also. I want to read something totally different from work, something like behavioral economics or how people interact… those kinds of things that are not directly related to my work but are factual and help understand the world better.
What does your daily routine look like?
Yeah, that’s kind of crazy actually. Sometimes I start around 9 a.m. because I can catch up with some of our colleagues in the US who are ending their day. That’s pretty early for me as I end my days quite late, but that’s when I start. Then, I probably take a break in between, and around noon Portugal comes online, so my real day begins. I try to work around Portugal time. And, at the end of the day, some of the US teammates are back online. So we have a lot of meetings at that time. My work schedule is quite extended at this time, but I’ll have breaks in between.
How do you juggle work with your family life now that you’re all home?
I have a wife and two children, and yes, we’re all home. They’re also studying from home. But I treat my home office like a real office. So I come here in the morning, finish part of my work, then leave and come back, finish some more work, and then go back. So I kind of keep it separate.
We kind of know everybody’s children via Zoom now.
Fortunately, my kids are not very young, they’re teenagers. So it’s okay, they don’t need me that much. But still, yeah. I try to keep my work separate so that it’s easier for me too. I don’t need to take my work home, even though I am home, you know?
Since we’re all working from home, can you show us your desk?
- Laptop: everything starts with the MacBook Pro.
- Additional monitor: one is not enough.
- Wireless ergonomic keyboard and mouse: I wonder why we still have flat keyboards.
- USB docking station: it’s all about cable management.
- Drawing tablet: just in case I want to do whiteboarding.
- Notebook: old-fashioned note-taking to keep me organized.
- Standing table: I heard sitting is the new smoking.
- External camera: for more eye contact with my colleagues.
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