Engineering Empowerment: The Right People are Essential

“The kind of people that Miovision looks for are, at their heart, creative people. We want creative people who take passion and pride and ownership over the things that they’re creating.” – Dale Hamill

We managed to corral three straightforward Miovision employees for a candid conversation about the company’s culture of empowerment and what it means to them. Corey Martella (Senior Software Engineer), Curt Beattie (Technical Director) and Dale Hamill (Senior Software Engineer) gave us the goods on how it works.

Corey Martella

Corey Martella

Senior Software Engineer

Curt Beattie

Curt Beattie

Technical Director

Dale Hammil

Dale Hamill

Senior Software Engineer

Q: When we talk about empowerment throughout Miovision’s culture, what does that mean for you in terms of what you do day-to-day?

I’m not just coloring inside the lines that somebody else has set up for me.

Corey: For me, the biggest thing is not just being an engineer where you’re given a task and you complete your task. It’s thinking holistically about Miovision as a whole. What are the outcomes that we’re aiming for? What are the things that I can do to either make those outcomes come to fruition or add that weren’t even envisioned before?

Dale: We are empowered in the sense that if you see a thing that’s lacking or a thing that needs to be done, you are encouraged to bring that thing up, to talk about that thing, and to ultimately push that thing forward to make the whole team and company stronger.

Q: How does this empowerment culture impact or resonate with you?

I’ll be going to Seattle or Chicago next week and meeting our potential customers. That’s not something that a lot of engineers get to do in a lot of businesses.

Dale: I think the big thing for me is that I get a sense of ownership over the product that I’m part of trying to build. I’m not just coloring inside the lines that somebody else has set up for me. I have some ability to direct its course along the path and not just by going along with the status quo.

Curt: I think not forcing people into roles all the time makes them a lot more passionate and effective. We probably get a lot more out of people without having to kind of push them like, “Guys, there’s a deadline. We have to do this. Everybody needs to come and work on the weekend.” Here, people will come and work in on the weekend. Try and stop them. (Laughs)

Corey: Here, we are in on discovery of a product from day zero. I’m on customer calls with the customers that we’re hoping to earn on this product, hearing their pain points and hearing their concerns. I’ll be going to Seattle or Chicago next week and meeting our potential customers. That’s not something that a lot of engineers get to do in a lot of businesses.

Having that view of “engineers are best when they’re happy,” I think that’s something that’s very hard to get right but I think that, in the past couple of months, we’re starting to find that group.

Dale: The kind of people that Miovision looks for are, at their heart, creative people. We want creative people who take passion and pride and ownership over the things that they’re creating. I would say that if you’re not a creative person, if you’re not the kind of person that wants some impact over the thing that you’re working on, this is probably not the place for you.

Q: What are some of the key challenges that you‘ve faced here that you haven’t faced anywhere else, but that have made you a better engineer?

You have to be mature enough to be okay with not being right all the time. In fact, if I’m right all the time then I’m a little bit worried, because (smiles) I don’t feel like I can build Miovision on my own.

Corey:  When you put a lot of leaders together, you generate a lot of opinions. Curt and I are a classic example of that; we don’t agree on everything, but we wholeheartedly agree that Miovision is an awesome thing to be a part of. When you have a lot of leaders in a room, it can be hard to come to a consensus as to what the right approach is.

You have to be willing to accept that you’re not always going to get things your way. You’re going to have to say “You know what? He believes in the thing. I’ve raised my concerns, but I believe in Curt. Curt’s going to do this thing.”

Curt: I think Corey and I are an interesting case. I love working with Corey, but I bump heads with him on a fairly regular basis. We’ve bumped heads a lot, but I’m amazingly impressed at our ability to find common ground and work together.

He sharpens me. I feel like I kind of sharpen him. We’ve figured out how to move forward without those differences slowing us down. Sometimes I think that just has to do with compartmentalizing. In some ways, I think that makes us more efficient.

If there is too much overlap, it kind of gets messy. I’m stepping on his toes. He’s stepping on mine. We sit down and talk. We’re like, “Okay, well if you do this part and I do this part, we’ll work together. You can kind of do your thing. I can do my thing.”

Corey:  (Nods) We’ll meet at the end. I think the big sort of thing is that level of trust you have to instil. Engineers are classically sort of cautious and conservative in terms of, “I don’t trust everyone. I’m going to do as much as I can on my own.” You have to be willing to say, “If these people are as good as I think they are, I have to let go of some of things. I have to just accept that good things will happen if I sort of step back.”

Dale:  To Corey’s point, we do have to be responsible about it. We can’t all decide that none of us like to do front-end work, so we’re all just going to do back-end work. At some point, we haven’t built anything.

There is some responsible or intelligent planning about how we go about things. Some people are going to step out of their comfort zone for a short period of time in order to make that happen. That’s life. That’s working in a team.

To add to what Curt was saying, I think you can’t have a team working at a high level and not have conflict. If you don’t have conflict, then you’re almost certainly moving in the wrong direction.

You have to be mature enough to be okay with not being right all the time. In fact, if I’m right all the time then I’m a little bit worried, because (smiles) I don’t feel like I can build Miovision on my own.

Curt: I think Dale hit the nail on the head. I think one prerequisite for working in our engineering department is emotional maturity. As much as we love having senior developers, it’s okay to have slightly less senior people. You need to get a mix. At the end of the day, when you have a model like ours, we’re going to have some conflict. You have to have the emotional maturity to say, “Oh, okay, I get that,” and not bang your fist and yell at people. You have to be able to deal with that.

Q: From a technological perspective, what’s the cool factor to the things that you get to work on here?

When you try to push innovation from (Dilbert’s) Pointy-Haired Boss down, it just doesn’t happen. The big corporate software development companies don’t get that. Who does get it are the people who are doing Miovision’s kind of agile, lean, people-first approach.

Dale: One of the things that drew me to Miovision was I feel this industry is ripe for disruption. Where you really see excitement in the industry is places where disruption was obvious, once you understood what people were doing, and you ask yourself, “Why wasn’t this done before?”

People look at Uber and say the taxi industry was ripe for disruption by a relatively simple solution. Uber just made it happen. Now it’s like, “Why hasn’t there always been an Uber? Why haven’t I always been able to get a ride from random people?”

Well, Miovision, too, is trying to disrupt an industry that has been around and been one way for a really long time. A very little bit of technology can really make a giant impact in this market. I’m not sure it’s even clear to the people who will be our customers yet how big of an impact it can or will have in a relatively short period of time, because they haven’t seen that attempt at innovating yet… at least not in the last 30, or however many, years.

Corey: Looking back to even 10 years ago, if you tried to imagine a world where people talked about this “internet of things” — which is a terrible expression because if things are useless, it’s not a valuable thing –Miovision is a very early internet-of-things company.

We’re about the opportunity to have this idea of a connected world where the data you’re getting from your things is novel but also valuable, not like “Your coffee-pot is empty.” Traffic and transportation and smart cities and things like that, those are valuable things to society.

Those are things where everyone is like, “It would be great if cities were much better organized or much more fluid or pedestrians and bikes were a lot more involved in the city transportation scheme.”

Everyone sees that and is like, “Yeah, that would be great but how do we actually do it?” Miovision is a company that wants to achieve that. Working on something that you’re really proud of should be a huge part of an engineer’s career, but too few ever get an opportunity to experience it.

Curt: This might be a good point to touch on the idea of innovation as a buzzword. When I worked at some of the big tech companies, especially when things started getting a little smelly or funny looking, there was a lot of downward pressure from the top to be innovative.

There used to be talks and memos: “Developers, you should be innovative. Find ways to be innovative. We want you to be more innovative. We’re going to put an innovation scale on your performance reviews. How innovative are you? Go and be innovative.”

When you try to push innovation from (Dilbert’s) Pointy-Haired Boss down, it just doesn’t happen. The big corporate software development companies don’t get that. Who does get it are the people who are doing Miovision’s kind of agile, lean, people-first approach.

Companies like us are creativity-based companies who realize that innovation comes as a spring. It bubbles up from the ground. It bubbles up from the Dales and the Coreys and the Curts and somebody kind of going, “Man, there’s this cool piece of technology that would totally make our lives easier. We can throw in this code. We can do this thing better.” We can do it. That’s how we innovate here. We are empowered to do it.