Industry Expert Q&A with Adrian Higgins – Software Development Manager at Planet Innovation Pty Ltd
Why did you choose to get into Software Engineering?
When looking at the other disciplines I found mechanical was limited to the psychical world and similar restrictions with electronics. What I found in software was a high degree of freedom and the challenges that come with it.
What is your current role?
I am the Software Development Manager at Planet Innovation. Within the group we have a team of 35 engineers with five team leaders. We roughly group into the following areas; Embedded, PC systems and automated test engineers.
What do you think makes Planet Innovation great?
First and foremost, the people. P.I is a very supportive and hugely talented environment. I also find it’s a very humbling culture. As our organisational structure is quite flat it allows an open and approachable feel where the senior managers sit closely with the rest of the group to encourage an inclusive environment.
Secondly our vision is very clear and focused on sustainability; we are not in the business of hiring in quick succession to ramp up for projects and then releasing people when projects are completed. We bring people on board for long term development and build them up into highly talented individuals.
What sort of challenges have you faced as a software group?
Talent acquisition. When I first started, I grew the team from four software engineers up to where it stands now. The challenge was bringing on the right people that fit our culture and as a result when I look for new people I put a strong focus on the cultural fit. I also look for strong communicators and people that demonstrate a willingness to learn and develop and who display a keenness to work within the team.
Another challenge is ensuring our scalable processes are robust enough to deal with customer demands. We have a wide range of clients, who request all sorts of methodologies (Waterfall, Scrum, etc). As a group we have been able to develop processes that suit our customer base.
We also find that articulating the cost of software development can be a challenge particularly to those outside the software discipline, with the added abstract dimensions and concepts it can be tough for people to grasp the work that is required to develop some of the software estimates. We combat this by educating on how best to estimate the costs and communicate this to other stakeholders in the business.
What changes to technology have you seen during your time and where do you see the industry heading?
Languages are advancing and becoming more high level every year. If you look 20 years ago it was Assembler and then it moved to C, now its all about C++. We use C++ and Python predominantly, as well as Java Script for GUIs.
Higher power OTS computing platforms are becoming more accessible at lower end costs. This opens up a large opportunity to build on software platforms, to reduce ramp up cost for each deployment.
Are there particular skills you look for when recruiting engineering talent?
Communication skills, evidence of being good learners, and honest/transparency.
The technical side can be tested for, we can give them a C++, Java Script or Python test, but it’s the other attributes and personality traits I focus on to ensure they meet the culture we have developed.
The other side is do they augment their development skills with other areas; what other skills can they bring to the team for example; Devops or high level systems engineering work.
Where do you think Australia sits in terms of the world skills market?
My experience is that we are up at the top, because we understand more of what we don’t know, I think we have the ability to self reflect and to be wrong in order to learn. It is not culturally ingrained in us to be right 100% of the time.
What advice would you give to a graduate looking to move into engineering?
I would encourage them to be eager to learn, be keen to make mistakes and learn from them, don’t be afraid to be wrong. Have the confidence to not have to be correct all the time.
I would also encourage them to put together some plans for the future, 1 year or 5 year plans, they don’t necessarily need to guide you through every step but they can be good to help shape where you want to go.
Interview conducted by Lucas Shah, Technical Engineering Consultant at Blackbook Executive
To hear more about Technical Engineering opportunities and market updates contact Lucas on 03 9823 7407