Eduardo Matos, CTO at GetNinjas, speaks with us about implementing and maintaining Agile practices through rapid growth and global expansion.
Avenue Code: I’d like to start by thanking you for the opportunity to talk, and the first thing I’d like to discuss is your professional career. How did you become the CTO of GetNinjas?
Eduardo Matos: Thank you for the opportunity! I discovered GetNinjas through various events and people who worked there. About 16 years ago, I started my career teaching HTML and CCS at the Weaving Union and subsequently at various companies in São Paulo. Along with some partners, I had a consultancy catered to clients who saw opportunities to deliver higher quality solutions over a longer term; usually clients want short-term solutions, but we developed systems that offered more in the long run. During this time, I developed sales and management skills that have helped me in the 3 plus years I’ve been at GetNinjas. I started here as an expert frontend developer, became a team tech lead, then took on the interim CTO role, and eventually become the permanent CTO.
AC: We know GetNinjas is a success today. To what do you attribute the success of the company?
EM: GetNinjas allows entrepreneurs to have an extra or even primary source of income. Given the market scenario and unemployment difficulties people face, GetNinjas offers a very needed and flexible form of income. So the social impact is huge. For me, this is one of our success factors. It’s amazing to know that we impact people’s lives in a tangible way.
AC: What are the biggest challenges of being a CTO in a scenario where technology changes every day? Often it seems like we start studying a technology, and suddenly we have an even newer version of what we’re learning. What do you do to keep up with these changes?
EM: It's really a challenge. Here, one of our values is “prioritize and simplify.” This value helps us to avoid being too attached to a particular solution and to focus on “why” instead of “how.” This reduces anxiety about using new technologies.
At the same time, we try to use the right tools at the right time. Of course, there are cases where we take a gamble on some technology and realize it doesn’t work, but this is normal. It’s part of learning. We have an architectural decision-making process where we involve experts to make decisions that are complex, using community and market assessments. It’s important for us to stay aware of what’s happening with technology, because it impacts our business in some way. If we don’t evolve, we don’t find professionals who want to develop new technologies.
AC: Related to this, how do you prepare your platform for the future when it comes to changes in consumer behavior? We know that consumer behavior changes frequently, and you run a platform that depends heavily on consumer engagement.
EM: Today we follow some Agile lean software development methodologies, so we have short interactions to figure out consumer pain points as quickly as possible. Again, this process is not perfect. It's easy to say, but it's very hard to apply, especially in software development. I’m a programmer, and I know that when you start creating a solution, you become attached to it. You want to do it the best you can, with all the perfect scenarios.
Our job here is always to make people aware that someone is using this platform and we need to solve these pain points as soon as possible. It's not a matter of delivering too much at a super fast rate, it’s about time-to-market. If we waste time, our consumers will look for another platform or another way to solve these problems.
AC: Have you seen any significant changes in consumer behavior since you arrived at GetNinjas?
EM: Consumer behavior varies a lot depending on the situation in Brazil. We realize that some political decisions or market decisions directly influence our company. Beyond this, one particularity of our business is that the peaks for new professionals joining our network and for people placing new orders is at the beginning and end of each year.
AC: Could you name some of the biggest challenges your team faces in implementing strategic decisions?
EM: Our biggest challenge comes from the fact that we have a horizontal platform. We have so many professionals using our platform, from masons to day laborers to accountants and more. Our biggest challenge is creating a platform that serves everyone’s needs. To that end, we run several research projects and stay data driven. We have a well-structured data lake, and we do a lot of A/B testing and market research.
Today we have five people on our research team, and they run everything very quickly. They’ve adopted everything from interviewing people on the street to crafting surveys to conducting research within our applications. The challenge is always creating a platform that meets the needs of so many unique services with ease of usability.
AC: How do Agile methodologies impact your business?
EM: GetNinjas was built with Agile methodologies from the start. We used Scrum eight years ago when the company was founded to try to improve our internal processes, workflow, and especially to gain visibility into our deliverables. Over the last two years, we've moved a little to Kanban to understand the flow of things and seize opportunities faster.
We have an Agile Coach who helps us, and we’re hiring more Agile experts because we see that agility is about business even more than it is about software development. It’s easy to talk about agility in the context of software development, but today we’re focusing on business agility - controlling our portfolio, seeing if we have overlapping decisions between teams, seeing if we’re meeting market demands, etc. A well-defined strategy reflects directly and positively on the operational part of development. If operational and strategic decisions are not aligned, things never work well.
AC: We know that the company was born because of the CEO's difficulty finding a painter. Many companies arise from real needs we have on a daily basis. Today, GetNinjas is the largest service hiring application in Latin America. As a CTO, what are your biggest concerns with this rapid growth?
EM: We have been operating in Mexico for 10 months now, and we plan to expand to other countries as well. One of our concerns is that our platform, in addition to catering to so many industries, must now also cater to different countries. So our concern today is a lot about scaling our applications to different countries and getting them ready to handle linguistic differences, cultural differences, etc. For example, service names here in Brazil may be different elsewhere.
Our applications already have a microservices structure; we have monitoring, alarms, metric panels, etc. We have a very robust structure to make this scale happen in multiple countries. But it is still a challenge for us to control demand, especially when considering how to roll out new features for different countries and how to keep everything in line with the same business strategy.
AC: I’m sure this growth mandates changes in structure and technology. How has this impacted your team’s internal culture?
EM: When we started talking about Agile development coming into business, it had a very positive impact on the company. At first it was a little difficult for everyone to understand these changes, but gradually everyone has recognized their value. In the wider market, we go through times of ups and downs in agility. In the beginning, when the concept was new, people adopted Agile practices more than Agile values, which meant that practices could quickly become process obligation.
We went through this journey at GetNinjas too, so today we’re restoring an understanding of Agile values, even in development. Sometimes teams are very focused on the solution, and we’re trying to expand the focus to purpose and company goals in the medium and long term. If everyone in the company understands this, it’s easier to show the value of changing practices, even if it’s painful or even if it means abandoning projects that no longer serve the bigger purpose.
AC: How do you see Agile methodologies as a tool for evolution in the IT market?
EM: Today, I think I see the need to look at Agile values. When we look at the Agile principles created 18 years ago, we see that we’re still trying to solve the same problems today. The challenge for Agile communities in general is to try to show again the values of collaboration, of engaging the consumer in the whole process of development, and of interaction between people.
We have an event now, Agile Brazil, and one of the people who signed the original Agile manifesto recently spoke there about the heart of Agile. He talked a lot about collaboration. So for me, I think it’s important to focus on the value of collaboration--not just operational collaboration, but collaboration between all business areas (development, research service, etc.). The biggest challenge today is trying to get these values back into product development.
AC: Thanks for chatting with us today, Eduardo! It’s great to have your perspective on maintaining Agile through rapid growth.
Andressa Lopes is the Inside Sales Lead at Avenue Code. She loves to talk to people and create new possibilities. She is also crazy about plants and piano.