Mattias Björnheden, Director of Engineering at GetYourGuide shares a bit about his background and interests

Mattias Björnheden shares details about his background and interests. Find out more in the interview.

Mattias, can you tell us a bit about your professional journey and how you came to be Director of Engineering for Infrastructure at GetYourGuide? 

My professional experience can be described as working my way from mobile devices into data centers. I started out doing embedded development for feature phones back in the days. From there I worked with Android almost from the day it was announced and joined Spotify as an early  member of their Android team.

Spotify is a fast growth company and provided many opportunities to learn and challenge myself. I took on a number of leadership roles and learned a lot about building features from frontend to backend. I really enjoyed the work and when I felt the time was right to take on new challenges GetYourGuide and Zürich looked like a great fit. GetYourGuide is also a fast growing company with a product people can relate to. Applying what I had learned about product innovation in a new environment appealed to me. At the same time my role as director of infrastructure engineering would mean digging much deeper into the cloud and backend compared to what I had done previously.

You are a hands-on technical leader. What is (are) the most important skill(s) in your role? 

For me it is primarily about the team. One part of that is being serious about recruiting and finding and hiring inspiring people. Another part is about creating an environment where everyone feels they can do their best work. As a leader it means being able to identify what is the right level of guidance and challenge each person on the team needs.

I believe in team autonomy and in order to achieve that goals and strategy need to be clear. Hands on technical knowledge helps with providing context. Each engineer on the team needs to be able to make a call and move forward. One thing I often talk about is that change is the default and that we constantly need to learn new things and adapt our systems. That means we will mess things up from time to time and in those cases my job as a leader is to make sure we are open about it and learn from it.

How does digital transformation affect your role? 

I have spent most of my career at digital native companies where software is at the core of what we do. Even if you are at the forefront of being digital there is no time when you are done, the pace of innovation is high. You must treat transformation as something you constantly do.

In my role it is key to make sure we are able to adopt new technologies without losing track of core principles. Great development practices are not a mystery even though they are sometimes treated as such. Create short feedback loops, reduce complexity, and use testing and continuous      delivery practices to maintain a high level of quality. This also implies that software delivery capabilities is something you actively need to figure out for your organisation. We are getting further and further away from a world where the software was a fixed part of the product that never changed once you shipped it.

Is AI an important aspect of your job? 

There is a lot of talk about AI and machine learning in the industry and it is an important part of what we do for e.g. recommendations. That said I believe people often jump to AI too early in the product development process. It does not matter if you apply machine learning to crop your photos if those photos are poor quality and load slowly to begin with.

I have worked on some highly successful products including things that rely a lot on machine learning and the first big levers have always been in making the product intuitive and high quality. Then AI can add a feeling of magic. At Spotify we developed Discover Weekly and other machine generated playlists. Those products would not have felt as great if we had not spent years before making sure playback was almost instant, that we understood playlist data, and figured out how to make the app delightful to navigate.

What IT trends are you most interested in? 

Beyond software development practices like continuous delivery I follow a lot about what is going on with regards to cloud computing and distributed workloads. New technologies like serverless and containers are starting to help with the task of running software across multiple machines but the developer experience is still very complex.

Modern software development automated a lot of the local complexity of dealing with compilers, memory and caches directly. It is my hope that we can do the same with a lot of the networking, data locality and failover we often need to deal with in cloud based applications.

You’ll be speaking at DevOps Fusion about technical solutions we use to enable operational ownership for our teams. For which roles is this topic most relevant? Why is that topic so important nowadays? 

I mentioned earlier that I believe in team autonomy and part of achieving that is to create ways for teams to act independently. That includes engineers being trusted with complex operations such as provisioning systems, deleting data and managing deployments. An easy way to increase trust and confidence is to put tools in place that help you do the right thing. E.g. instead of each team needing to ask infrastructure to update our routing configuration every team can do it themselves and we provide a tool that checks that you did not mess up anything critical.

I believe the topic can be relevant for anyone who is looking for ways to reduce manual process and operational overhead in their organization.

And finally,… do you prefer cats or dogs? Why? 

Having grown up with a cat I would say that. Higher level of autonomy compared to dogs but may fall short in the number of customer problems they are able to solve 🙂