Peter's Story: Like a Game of Chess
July 1st, 2019
As we enter a huge week of product releases at MyPass, we thought it would be appropriate to shed some insight into the brains behind it all. Peter Vostan is the Product Manager at MyPass and leads a team of highly skilled developers to maintain and improve the software behind the MyPass platform. Peter and his team have spent the last eleven months building new features into the product to make the user experience even easier and bring greater value to workers and our customers. Harry Morton sat down with Peter to capture his experiences in the industry and re-building MyPass over the last year.
You’re at the MyPass office in Perth, have you always been based there?
Yes, my whole life.
So how did you end up becoming an Essendon Bombers fan?
*Laughs* Funny story, in primary school I never really followed AFL, I was more into soccer. However, I started following AFL in year 7 because most of my friends loved the game. Most people were following the Eagles at the time and I wanted to be a little bit different so I decided to choose the team who were currently on top of the ladder, Essendon. They won the flag that year and have been crap ever since but I have proven my loyalty by sticking with them.
What was your introduction to software developing & programming?
At Uni I studied Mechatronic Engineering, I started working at Mono’s (Monadelphous) during my 3rd year as an undergrad and then continued with them as a Project Engineer after I graduated. A large part of my initial role there was producing excel spreadsheets, macros and access databases in order to manage material take off’s, requisitions, progress tracking and that kind of thing. This was on the Blacktip (ENI) and Pluto (Woodside) projects. After this I moved back to Perth and started to develop a Work Management System which handled work packs, job cards, take off’s, estimating, documents and progress. This software was used on the Gorgon RO Plant, Anaeco’s Waste Treatment Plant, Wheastone and Macedon.
Where’d you go next?
I got to a point where I was looking for more of a challenge, so I left Monos and started up a small IT consultancy. I would help other companies develop systems, processes and software. Monos had another software project that was kicking off from their east coast office in Queensland. They were creating their own ERP system and so I ended up getting more and more involved with this project over several years. At the same time, their Maintenance Division in the west had also just won a lot of work in Facilities Management for Gorgon and needed a system to handle rostering, on boarding, timesheets, client billing training and compliance. I hired a small team of developers and we created a system which they have used on many of their projects (20+) and still use today.
When did MyPass come into the picture?
I attended a presentation that Matt Smith was giving in order to evaluate the suitability of MyPass and how we could utilise it. Matt Smith and myself also had a mutual friend who connected us up afterwards. I saw a lot of potential with the MyPass approach to an industry level dataset of worker owned data. This is quite different to the way other companies have attempted to address the requirements and is quite frankly a much better model. MyPass has a lot of business logic overlap with the other systems I’ve developed, which I guess is probably the value that Matt saw in me coming in to help steer the development of MyPass.
What learnings did you want to bring across to MyPass?
Definitely the skills matrix & compliance management. There’s also a lot of different challenges in how software needs to be approached when its SaaS (Software as a Service) rather than an internal product. A lot of companies are actually a little bit naïve to the complexities of software development. Often, they’ll try and develop everything themselves and end up oversimplifying things, not realising the complexities that they are creating. I would say that’s a lesson learnt for me as I have played that role previously. The benefits you get from using a SaaS type platform are not always appreciated, it’s very difficult to replicate the scale and efficiency with internal developments.
What I’ve realised is that with software and these kinds of products there’s two main avenues you can take. You can go down the road of building out features for specific business requirements. That works well in certain circumstances but it becomes very hard to scale across businesses. The features end up embedding business logic and when you try to apply it to a different business you discover it doesn’t quite fit.
The other way to approach this is to have simple concepts and generic features that leverage these concepts that you can rapidly scale out. Think of Facebook, LinkedIn, Slack etc; all of these super successful tech companies have actually been based off of very simple concepts that have been built around and leveraged to support many different use cases.
That’s where I think the direction we have taken introducing sharable worker pools and skills matrices is extremely powerful. They’re very simple concepts that we can focus on to be rock solid and then configure in a bunch of different ways to support a whole range of requirements.
Many people would assume developers sit at computers all day looking at matrix-style screens, can you actually describe the role of a developer?
The role of a developer is generally misunderstood in my opinion. Most people think of it as just writing code, which I guess is technically correct however it’s only the trivial part of what is actually happening. The difficult parts are making sure that the code handles all the different permutations of the data and user inputs or actions. The code also needs be both re-useable and maintainable in the future in such a way that it’s resilient to bugs creeping in. It’s really a game of moving parts.
As with all technologies, software development has advanced at a rapid pace in recent times, however much of this has been achieved with a plethora of different frameworks, libraries and layers. The complexities created by all of this cannot be understated. It can be easy to just choose a set of these and connect them up, but without the right architecture, design and analysis you just end up with a disjointed system that’s difficult to maintain, scale and utilise. A successful development is the product of thousands or even millions of decisions, so experience and consistency is key. Ironically, the goal is generally to write the least amount of code as every line of code is a cost for every future line of code and also a potential bug (not completely true but a good way to think).
Similar to in a game of chess, a developer is constantly evaluating options, making strategic decisions and thinking about all the possible flow on effects that each change can produce.
Favourite part of your job?
I love the positive feedback of users appreciating the product. Having all of the stakeholders happy and getting value from the product is what makes it all worthwhile. That and also having a fantastic team to deal with my ambitious ideas.
Any hot tips for budding developers?
Well one thing is that security (in web applications in particular) is more important than ever before. This is something that always needs to be considered as even the most experienced teams can have security risks they are not aware of, as can be seen by all recent breaches you hear about like Canva, Facebook, Westpac and PageUp.
Then from more of a user experience point of view, simplicity is key. You can have all the features in the world but if the users don’t like using it or it’s too complex to understand, then there’s no point of it in the first place.
Understanding why data is being captured, its purpose and its meaning is also key. A data model is the backbone of most applications and influences the way that a large part of the rest of the code base is written and how it can evolve over time. Having an elegant data model is generally one of the first things I think should be established.
Last one! What will success look like for you after the release of new MyPass features?
Widespread adoption within a company, I think for me that would be a way I would measure the success. It’s a sales process to get a company to use the software, then it’s an attribute of the product itself as to whether or not it then gets adoption within the company. Getting companies onboard is a win for the wider MyPass team but having these companies actually get benefit internally and role the product out internally is more of a measure of the product itself, so that’s where I’d base my success from.
Stay tuned for more MyPass Profiles spotlighting our diverse & capable team. To learn more about MyPass, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org