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Lars Kuijlenburg about Software Engineering at Owlin

At Owlin, we couldn’t do what we are doing without the great work of everyone working with us. In this interview series, The People of Owlin, we ask them about their daily work, background, and where they see Owlin going in the future. This month: Lars Kuijlenburg, Software Engineer, tells us about his role at Owlin. Learn what he has to say about the dynamic work environment at Owlin and the challenges and rewards of software engineering.

When did you join Owlin?

I started at Owlin on April 1, 2023.

Can you tell us about your journey as a software engineer and how you ended up at Owlin?

Initially, becoming a software engineer wasn’t an obvious choice for me. After attending open days at various universities, the field of software engineering sounded much more appealing than I had encountered before. So, I decided to go for it.

During my studies, I worked at a startup called BIT, a student-run company at the time. That’s where I learned almost everything, discovering what interests me and what doesn’t. From there, I delved into the world of front-end development.

After completing my studies, I joined a consultancy company as a front-end consultant. I worked with both corporates and start-ups/scale-ups, gaining insights into what interested me and what aligned well with my skills.

I then returned to the student company BIT for a while. They were heavily involved in innovation and building prototypes, and I found that very enjoyable. This led me to Owlin. The company is highly innovative, working on unique challenges you do not commonly encounter elsewhere. Also, Owlin is still relatively small, which gives you much influence over what you build and your impact. That was essential to me. Additionally, Owlin has an amazing product that’s compelling to work on and exciting to talk about when people inquire about my work.

What does a software engineer do exactly?

In essence, a software engineer solves problems. Before we start building or creating anything, there’s always a question or a need, whether it’s from a client who wants to integrate with our platform or address issues in the current functionality. We also look for ways to do things smarter or better.

From there, we analyze how we currently handle things, assess the gap between where we are and where we want to be, and consider numerous approaches to tackle the problem. We begin by formulating a plan on how it fits into our existing platform. Then comes the fun part – the building process. To validate our assumptions, it’s a mix of standard programming practices and extensive experimentation, Googling, researching, and testing. We constantly face puzzles and decipher the code.

What excites you the most about working in the field of software engineering?

Two aspects particularly excite me:

  1. Flexibility: This aligns well with Owlin’s work environment. When faced with a problem, there’s rarely one way to solve it. This freedom to approach and solve problems allows me to be creative and significantly impact the final outcome.
  2. Problem-Solving Mindset: I thrive on logical problem-solving. Only some enjoy this kind of thinking required in programming, but I find it fascinating. It’s great that it complements how you work as a software engineer. This way of thinking enables me to solve complex problems relatively quickly.

Can you describe a recent project at Owlin that you found particularly interesting or challenging?

The project I’m currently working on is quite fascinating. It involves a technical challenge where we’re exploring ways to gradually replace our dashboard and underlying technologies with more modern ones. The challenge lies in ensuring a seamless transition without disrupting our users’ experience. Currently, we’re building a prototype to validate our assumptions and test the feasibility of this transition.

In a rapidly changing technological landscape, how do you stay informed about the latest developments and trends in software engineering?

There are a few ways I keep myself up to date. One way is following relevant communities on platforms like Reddit, hoping to encounter interesting discussions and updates. Another way is through the developers and technology providers who maintain blogs and share updates through various channels. Whenever there’s a new announcement, they communicate it through these channels or their community on YouTube and Instagram.  

For example, the idea behind the prototype I mentioned earlier came from an update I read about four days ago. This is one of the reasons I enjoy working at Owlin – we can quickly adapt and implement new ideas. Large corporations often wait for extensive compliance reviews, which can take up to months. Consequently, it takes much longer to put your work into practice.

In your opinion, what skills or qualities are essential for a software engineer to be successful at a company like Owlin?

For Owlin specifically, proactivity is crucial. Whenever you notice something or have an idea, take the initiative, start working on it, and discuss it with others. Ideas are always welcomed here.

Additionally, reading and understanding the code you encounter is vital. While there’s documentation available, our platform is quite complex, and not comprehending the code can make things challenging. Lastly, differentiating between “good enough” and perfectionism is important. Owlin aims to deliver new features quickly, following the 80-20 rule, where 80% of the work is done in 20% of the time.

Collaboration between different teams and departments is essential for successful software development. How do you encourage cooperation and coordination within Owlin’s teams?

It started before I joined the company. I expressed the need for a dedicated UI/UX designer, as it’s not my strong suit. From there, we set up a process where the commercial team (marketing/sales) comes up with ideas and then discusses their technical feasibility with us. This process ensures that the product and development teams are aligned and on the right track. Regular meetings are crucial for debating whether we’re heading in the right direction.

Owlin works with diverse clients across various industries. How do you adapt your software engineering approach to meet each client’s unique needs and requirements?

Understanding what is important to each client is key. We create a list of client requirements during the development process. We collaborate with the client to prioritize and identify alternatives if certain points are not achievable. It’s an iterative approach, where we work on small increments and gradually fulfill their needs. Effective expectation management plays a significant role in this process.

Are there any specific programming languages, frameworks, or tools you prefer to work with for your daily tasks? If so, what makes them your preferred choice?

My expertise lies in JavaScript, and I primarily work with TypeScript and Svelte for almost everything. TypeScript is great to work with because it simplifies many aspects of my work. The code editor provides suggestions, reducing the need to memorize every available option. Svelte is a great choice as it closely aligns with standard JavaScript. This avoids the steep learning curve associated with a completely different programming language. It also helps maintain consistency, especially when working collaboratively with a larger team.

How does your role as a software engineer translate into your everyday life?

In my everyday life, my role as a software engineer influences how I perceive the world around me. I have developed a habit of constantly questioning how things are made and function, driven by my curiosity and analytical mindset.

For example, during a visit to a train station, I noticed the information boards indicating directions and other important details. On one occasion, I observed that one of the boards was malfunctioning, displaying a black screen filled with lines of code. This immediately caught my attention, and I couldn’t resist the urge to explore and see if I could understand the code presented.

Where do you see Owlin in the future, and what role would you like to play in its development?

I envision Owlin as a major player in the industry that will experience significant growth in the future. We are well-positioned and excel in what we do, providing a solid foundation for further expansion. I want to become a lead front-end engineer, working with a team to expand the platform’s features. However, I still want to remain hands-on in programming. If I were to stop coding, something would be amiss.

Finally, what advice would you give aspiring software engineers looking to build a successful career in the industry?

I have two pieces of advice. First, start with the fundamentals. Many people dive into JavaScript frameworks without truly understanding JavaScript itself. Learning JavaScript, the underlying language, and gradually building your knowledge from there is crucial. New frameworks and technologies emerge every year, but having a strong foundation will allow you to adapt more easily.

Secondly, learn how to communicate effectively with people. Engage in discussions about what needs to be built. By doing so, you’ll learn to discern whether someone genuinely needs a particular feature or if they believe they need it. Often, people require something much simpler than initially thought, saving much unnecessary work.

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