DAY IN THE LIFE INTERVIEW: MICHAEL KRENZ
We are very excited to introduce you to Michael Krenz, CTO at Wimdu!
Wimdu is Europe’s biggest portal for city and holiday apartments and it offers more than 350.000 properties in 150 different countries!
1. First can you tell us a bit about your job? What does your company do?
Wimdu is a marketplace for private accommodation. We help people to find the right place to stay when they go on vacation, be it a room or apartment in a city for a short trip, or a holiday home at the beach. In my role as CTO, I’m currently responsible for everything related to technology and product management. So it’s a broad spectrum, from the software we develop, to our infrastructure, and our product strategy. Not the least I’m responsible for the people in our department. As a manager, I’m 100% aware that I could not do my job without all these good people.
2. What brought you to this area?
I was always fascinated by cool technologies. Even as a child I read mainly sci-fi books, and I dreamed about what the future would hold for us. I started my career in technical translation, but after I moved to IT, I knew I had found my calling, and never looked back. After a while in my first IT job I had the feeling that nobody wanted to make some difficult decisions that were needed, so out of necessity I began my journey towards management and leadership.
3. What time does your day start, and what does your typical work day schedule look like?
I take my son to kindergarten in the morning, and start in the office around 9:30am. Usually I attend one or more team stand-ups first, to get a feeling for how things are going. I try not to meddle in the team’s self-organisation, so I stand further back, and just listen. After that it’s mostly meetings all day, for example discussions about our product roadmap or our software architecture, or feedback talks. I keep my meetings short, and always ask “What are our next steps?” at the end, to make sure it’s not just empty talk.
4. What kind of projects are you currently working on?
We are rewriting our whole booking engine to improve its software architecture, and make us ready for the future. This is a really interesting challenge for our tech team, and was long overdue. On the infrastructure side, we are rebuilding and consolidating our whole infrastructure on AWS, to make sure that we can provide a flexible and powerful foundation for our on-going move towards microservices.
5. What do you consider the greatest achievement in your work to date?
If we look at my time at Wimdu, on a technical level, I am proud of getting our transition to a microservice architecture well underway. When I joined Wimdu in 2014, there had been a lot of debate about transforming our Ruby-on- Rails monolith platform into something more maintainable, but there had been no real progress. I helped make that vision become a reality.
On an organizational level, I tripled the size of our team in 2015 and 2016, and set up a scaled agile organisation based on the Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) framework. This really helped to make sure that with even with a much bigger team, we were able to stay flexible and productive. I learned a lot during this time, and I am thankful that our CEOs trusted us enough to let us make these changes.
6. What is the one app you could not live without?
That would be Evernote. I use it on all my devices, for everything. One thing I love about Evernote is that I can easily scan documents with the Scannable app on my iPhone, then save directly to Evernote, so I don’t need the paper document anymore. Everything is easily searchable and I have all the important information always right in my pocket.
7. What is the best thing about working at your company?
We have a lot of good people, and a good culture. There are simply no jerks around, and you can feel that we respect each other. We work on something meaningful, and that is important for many of us.
8. Where is the after work hangout?
We have a “Späti” (a typical Berlin-style shop for everything) near the office, where we sometimes have a beer after work. But to be honest I usually try to go home directly, so that I can tuck my little son into bed. As much as I love my job, there’s more to life than work.
9. Who is your professional role model?
That would be our previous CPO, James. He is able to create a strong relationship with people in his team – warm-hearted, and at the same time, always challenging them to do their best. He has a very strong product vision and a deep understanding of the business. I learned a great deal from working with him.
10. What makes Berlin a good city for technology and startups?
First of all, Berlin is a very good city to live in. It has a lot of freedom, a creative vibe, and good infrastructure. Even though the cost for renting a flat has increased considerably in the last 10 years, the overall cost of living is still low, compared to other cities in Germany, or other well- known startup hubs like London or San Francisco. Plus the fact that there are already a lot of startups here. I think this makes Berlin a very attractive city, and draws in a lot of international talent. People know that they can easily find a good job, and that they will have a good quality of life here.
11. Which tech trends are you most excited about?
I love how artificial intelligence (AI) is suddenly changing the world. Back in 2000, a friend of mine worked on fundamental research for autonomous cars, but back then the whole concept still seemed far off. And now, AI is suddenly everywhere. I think it will affect our lives a lot in the next 10 years, from driverless cars, to analysing x-ray images to detect cancer. Many jobs will be affected as well, even management jobs. AI tools can help us analyse and understand raw data, and make better, more rational decisions. At the same time, our skills need to evolve once again. Emotional intelligence and creativity will be more important than ever in our careers.
12. What are the top 3 qualities you look for in an employee?
Being able to get things done, emotional intelligence, and sound technical skills. I think being able to work well with others is even more important than pure technical excellence. You want to avoid the “brilliant jerks” at all cost, as they can quickly destroy your team. The problems we work on are so complex that only a team of diverse people can solve them adequately, so we want excellent team players that actually like working with others.
13. And finally, what is the one piece of advice you would give to an entrepreneur starting out?
Speed trumps everything. Make a solid hypothesis on what users want, and then make sure you get something out the door as quickly as possible. Always test your hypothesis based on real user data, and iterate quickly in small steps. You can debate assumptions endlessly, but the real proof lies in what your users do, and that is often not what you would expect.