‘An engineering-minded company’. Interview with Tiina Kalju and Tanis Kulp
Proekspert’s cloud unit is on the cutting edge with remote control technology. But that’s only one reason its engineers love their jobs.
Unit interview: Tiina Kalju, IoT-Cloud Integration and Applications Lead, and Tanis Kulp, Software Engineer.
Tell us your names and how long you’ve worked for Proekspert.
I’m Tiina Kalju, and I’ve worked here for almost four years.
I’m Tanis Kulp, and I’ve worked at Pro for almost four years now and in the cloud unit since it was formed in 2022.
Please introduce us to your unit. How does it operate?
TIINA: The official name of our unit is IoT-Cloud Integration and Applications, which is a pretty detailed name. Internally we call it the Cloud Unit. The idea is that we provide cloud-based remote control capability for a variety of devices, machines, and equipment. For example, our biggest project at the moment is offering remote control for heat pumps. If you’re traveling, you don’t want to heat your home while it’s empty, but the mobile device or web app can be used to bring the temperature back up just before your arrival. Or, currently a very hot topic, the app can help you optimize your heat pump’s energy consumption. These solutions allow a wide range of new services that not only improve the experience of the consumers, but also allow the manufacturers to reinvent the way maintenance is done. In the end, we are making life more comfortable for all of us.
Another subcategory in our unit is the work we do for an electronics manufacturing services provider. We help to improve their manufacturing capacities in a way where we build integrations between systems and machines and new digital tools. In our new project, we help improve our client’s customers’ experience via central user access management of several applications for handling their orders.
How many team members are in your unit and what kind of roles do they play?
TIINA: We have about 27 people. Most are engineers. Some backend, some front-end, and quite a lot of mobile engineers. We have quite high standards for our engineers. Our teams have good people and we want to keep it that way to ensure strong teams and high-quality work. Our people are usually rather experienced, though sometimes we do have junior staff, as well.
TANIS: The core of our team is working with the cloud solution for heat pumps and other home appliances for connecting them through the cloud to your web or mobile.
Who are your clients and what kind of help are they looking for?
Our clients are electrical equipment- and device manufacturing companies. Our main focus is developing cloud solutions for communicating with devices and cloud-native applications enabling remote control- and monitoring of those devices. We communicate with devices, collect data, present the data according to the business rules, and control devices remotely.
TANIS: I’m speaking only for my own team, but one side of our work is that we communicate with machines. The other side of it is that we communicate with people who need to operate these machines. We have to consider both sides. With devices we have many different protocols, and newer devices communicate differently than older ones. The big problem to solve is how to bring them all together so we can control them through a central app. On the client’s side, their users expect an ever-better experience and more capabilities from the user app. It has to be fast, look nice, and the device has to be able to do more and smarter things. We are constantly developing and improving our systems to meet these expectations.
One direction under constant development is new devices that need to be connected. Often the requirements are very different. The protocol that’s used to communicate with the cloud might be something completely new, so we have to implement a new gateway for a new family of devices. Even when they’re already connected, there are always new requirements. For example, when device software is updated, we have to update our end as well. When new apps are developed we have to provide the API to support them. Even existing apps are constantly improved and have new requirements for the API.
What does a “regular” day at work look like?
TIINA: We are implementing scrum. Some teams work fully remotely, and some teams are at our offices every day. The work is flexible, every team can decide on their own how they would like to work and organize themselves. We have a lot of work and we are constantly looking for new talent.
TANIS: Our people are located in many different places. You can find teammates in Finland, Ukraine, different cities in Estonia, and Germany, as well. In our team we usually have a constant Zoom call going on. When we come in in the morning, we start with a stand-up meeting where we discuss each other’s plans and if there are any technical issues we can quickly address. Engineers can then get on with their tasks. Sometimes we have meetings with clients where we do demos (features we have developed) or presentations. Quite often we need to discuss requirements and requests from the client in detail, and we need to agree and prioritize what’s going into development.
If it’s a calmer day then we mostly focus on writing code. If we have questions then the Zoom call is still ongoing for a quick response.
Any advice for more junior workers about picking a unit to work in?
TIINA: We expect passion, a wish to be an engineer, and an appetite to fix things and make them better. It’s not a nine-to-five job. If you did the bare minimum at university, and haven’t proactively shown an interest by doing personal projects, then our unit is probably not for you. If you’ve done experiments on your own, even simple or small ones, that’s a good indication of your passion and interest.
You should have an interest in topics that involve the cloud, topics that involve a variety of device types and machines. What we really need right now is the competencies that .NET- and app developers bring. If you have any of those skills, then you’ll be a hot commodity. Working with us is a great way to improve your skill set. Our experienced engineers are passionate about their work and they expect the same from newer engineers.
Why choose Proekspert’s cloud unit?
TIINA: What I constantly hear is that our engineers like the projects we work on. We are truly an engineering-minded company and we carefully choose our projects. Our clients are usually big companies abroad. Our projects are big in scale, last a long time, and make a visible impact. Your work will make a meaningful impact.
TANIS: I think we’re all very curious, which makes solving problems interesting and enjoyable for us. It’s most rewarding when a client has a technical issue with a complicated task where we can help to solve it.
What kind of a person is best suited for your unit?
TANIS: I think that it’s important that you’re willing to look at everything with an open mind and suggest improvements, even if something has been working like it has for a very long time. Everybody can bring new ideas and improve technology because it evolves very fast. We are very creative at the tasks we’re handling, so your creative side is important to us. If you enjoy solving riddles and problems, then our unit is for you.
What kind of experience and knowledge should a candidate have?
TANIS: On one hand it is important to know the technology. My team uses C#, .NET, and Azure stack. So knowledge of these is quite important. But most important for us is the willingness to learn and solve difficult problems. Being a team player is a must since you work together with people. Communication is key. Everybody on our team has an important role.
TIINA: We expect flexibility from our engineers. This enables flexibility by allowing us to start a new project while still working on an old one. When the time is right we can make a switch or move more experienced people from the old team to a new one, allowing a smooth transition/switch.
Since you could work anywhere, why have you stayed so long at Proekspert?
TIINA: I like the freedom I have here, and freedom has always been important to me. I feel that I have a long way to go, and so much to do. I cannot get bored here. There is a lot going on and times are changing so fast. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. I have so much more to learn and discover.
Future plans or projects?
TIINA: We want to grow our business. We’d like to reach the point where we’d still be doing custom-made software, but we would have a service package and building blocks to deliver value faster. I would like us to specialize more and to be even more professional at what we do.
Anything you’d like to add or point out?
TIINA: I’d add that it’s our projects that make our work fulfilling – the freedom and flexibility that come from our unique culture that favors proactiveness and responsibility.
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