#12: As for a startup, what’s your biggest asset? Your people | Ankit Anand, VP of Software Engineering at Sleepiz

Published on June 30, 2022

Investing time and knowledge in your team will simplify your work, it’s not a favor you’re doing. Ankit Anand, VP of Software Engineering at Sleepiz, shares useful ideas for engineers and engineering managers on how to allocate the resources, measure the team's productivity, and reach a mutual understanding between engineers’ goals and the company’s goals. Also, you’ll find out what it takes to develop hardware and software and how to overcome a shortage of specialists on the example of Sleepiz, a company that creates easy-to-use medical-grade devices for sleep apnea diagnosis at home. Do you agree that overengineering is one of the challenges that a startup face? Enjoy the listening!

In this episode, we will answer the following questions:

01:39 Sleepiz and contactless device for sleep apnea diagnosis

05:54 even with a perfect sleep schedule you can have sleep apnea disease

10:13 how the hardware and the software of Sleepiz work

13:46 what does it take to develop hardware

16:27 how being a remote-friendly company help to overcome a shortage of engineers

18:52 it's all about developing the right culture - external vs. internal dev teams

21:48 why Sleepiz currently prefers an approach with having more in-house engineers

23:53 measuring the engineering team's productivity with OKR

24:25 how to reach goals understanding between a company and an engineer

30:55 scaling plans

35:10 is it a must of “technical excellence” for engineers

38:45 current main development challenges

42:18 advice for future engineer managers

46:33 Rapid Fire Round (3 questions)

 

Links:

Sleepiz: https://sleepiz.com/

Ankit’s email: ankit.anand@sleepiz.com

Ankit’s Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ankit-anand-5654a62a

 

Listen to the episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, Spotify, YouTube, Google Podcasts and let us know what you think on the topic.

The mission of our podcast is to show the real-life challenges of implementing technology in healthcare. The podcast is sponsored by Demigos, a company that develops IT solutions for healthcare, startups, and companies.

Ivan Dunskiy: Today I'm joined by an honored guest Ankit Anand. Ankit is the vice president of software engineering at Sleepiz. He leads the software team and heads the India Business of the company. And Ankit started his first venture at the age of 17 and his entrepreneurial experience spread between different continents and domains.

 Moreover, he started physics at Zurich and was awarded the Leader of Tomorrow by the 49th St. Gallen Symposium. Ankit was also listed among the 100 young Leaders for the Global Leadership Challenge 2021. Ankit, thank you for joining us today. How are you? 

Ankit Anand: Thank you. Thank you for the nice introduction and yeah, I'm doing good. How about you? 

Ivan Dunskiy: Yeah. I'm fine. Thank you. We can probably start from the company you currently work at. And could you please tell us about Sleepiz and about your products, your building? 

[01:39] Sleepiz and contactless device for sleep apnea diagnosis

Ankit Anand: Yeah, sure. So Sleepiz is a medical device company, startup, which was started as a Zurich spinoff in Zurich.

And we are developing easy-to-use medical-grade devices, medical devices. So we try to combine these two value propositions. They should be easy to use while they should have medical-grade accuracy. So one of the devices that we develop is our first contactless health monitor, a vital sign monitor, which runs on radar technology, sits on your bedside table, and can measure your health conditions without touching you.

So the goal that we are working towards, is the two use cases that we are using this device for sleep apnea diagnosis at home. So sleep apnea, if you know about this disease is highly prevalent, but highly underdiagnosed, like 1 billion people suffer from the disease, but 800 million are undiagnosed.

And the diagnosis technique and the test technique are so ageist. You have to put 30 plus cables on your body and sleep in a sleep lab to get diagnosed. We are changing that. So you can use our device with medical rate accuracy. You can get diagnosed with sleep apnea, and get tested for sleep apnea in the comfort of your home.

So that's one of the use cases that we use our device for. Another use case that we use our device for is to early detect code glue in a hospital. So in a hospital, a lot like 85% of beds are normally unmonitored. Like you have ICUs, which are monitored, but 85% of beds are unmonitored. And if a patient suddenly starts to deteriorate, the current state of that doesn't allow that you can actually flag it because normally you go on around every six-hour and you take the vital.

We provide a hospital to upgrade themselves with 24/7 monitoring using our device, which is patient is not even feeling that is being monitored because a contactless device is placed on your website table. But it monitors you with a medical-grade accuracy and nurses can get alerted remotely. If data radiation is start to happen and they can take an action.

So yeah, these are the two use cases we are currently focusing on using the technology that we develop, the world's first contactless medical-grade C-certified health monitor. 

Ivan Dunskiy: Got it. And how bad is the disease, and do you use the hardware for patients after the prescription, or is it open to the public and people can buy it on the market? 

Ankit Anand: So as far as sleep apnea is concerned, I mean, that's the route that we wanted to go because if we go open to prescription already, we are not addressing the problem of this disease being undiagnosed. Because there is a huge inner among people to go to a doctor and get tested.

And that's the reason why this disease remains undiagnosed. So answering your question, this device is open to the public where they can just book. We offer direct-to-consumer service. They can go to our shop that we have in different countries. Currently, we are operational in Switzerland, Germany, and India.

So they can go to our shop. I mean, if you go to our website sleepiz.com, it will redirect you to the right workshop in your country. And you can simply order, and the device will be delivered to your home. You sleep with a device for three nights, and we send you a report on whether you have sleep apnea or not. And we also, that is followed by a consultancy that what your report primarily means, and then a patient can take a call.

I mean, of course after if they have sleep apnea, then we refer them to the right doctor in their respective geography, which we partner with, where they can go and take the further steps. We also recently launched our first online sleep lab where actually they can complete the entire treatment journey also together with us, where we partner with one of the leading sleep labs in Switzerland.

So yes, it's open to the public and that's how we want to keep it in beginning because that's where we will basically bridge the gap of highly undiagnosed people to diagnose, to get the more and more people diagnosed with this disease. So when it comes to sleep, of course, hospital one is definitely on prescription because patients are already using monitors in hospital, when a doctor says that this patient needs a monitor.

[05:54] even with a perfect sleep schedule you can have sleep apnea disease

Ivan Dunskiy: Could you please tell us about apnea and how bad is the disease for a patient?

Ankit Anand: Yeah, so sleep apnea, just to go a bit more on a medical side. So it's a disease where your breathing pauses while you are sleeping. So you get very short pauses of the breath. This can be 10 seconds, 20 seconds, or something of that short pauses.

And because of that pauses in the breath what happens? You get very short awakenings throughout the night. You never, you hardly end up falling in a deep sleep or proper rest, full sleep. And you feel like I slipped for like eight hours, but actually, effectively, you rested for a very small amount of time during the night.

Because of that reason, you may feel tired the entire day, while you are sleeping eight hours, 8-10 hours, you think that your sleep schedule is perfect, but actually, medically, there is some other reason why you are having this problem. So, this is sleep apnea too, and this leads to several short-term and long-term problems. Short-term challenges like as this loss of productivity, and daytime tiredness. Even a lot of sleep apnea patients get napping while they're just sitting. And that can also lead to a car accident if they're driving, right. They get a short nap cause they did not have a rest full sleep. 

So that's a short-term implication, but also other problems which today develop in long term like obesity, snoring, diabetes, and cardiac issues.

There are several issues that they develop in a long term. And that's what our company's goal is. That we want to move to preventive healthcare. And Sleepiz is one of the areas where we know a lot about your health. If we actually try to know medically what's going on with your sleep, we can find out and avoid that long-term problem. That's the consequence of the disease. So it can lead to short-term complications. 

Now the second question that I would like to lead now. Okay, this is a problem. How many people have it? So, as I said, actually, one in the seven people on this earth almost has sleep apnea. Like 1 billion people are suffering from this disease. So it's highly prevalent. But the awareness is super low. That's why a lot of people don't know about it because they don't even realize they have a problem. They're saying: "I'm sleeping fine and just tired. It's okay." But they're not realizing that it's leading to certain big problems within that.

Ivan Dunskiy: Patients don't notice that they wake up during the night, right?

Ankit Anand: Yeah. They normally don't notice that they wake up during the night and one of the visible symptoms are like, for example, snoring or daytime tiredness. And if you're aware of the disease, you can point it out.

But if you're not aware of the disease, you won't point out that this is actually sleep apnea.

Ivan Dunskiy: What causes the disease? 

Ankit Anand: The cause of the disease is that normally your tongue, while you are sleeping, your tongue falls back. When your tongue relaxes, that falls back on your airway.

This is one symptom I'm describing as obstructive sleep apnea. There are two types: obstructive, which is more prevalent, and then there is central sleep apnea. But in obstructive your tongue basically relaxes and falls on your airway. And because of that, it blocks your air. So that's one of the main medical reasons, why this happens. And it can be treated.

There are different treatment options. I wouldn't get into much detail. Otherwise, it can be a medical lecture here. And the doctor will say: "Who are you to make this seminar?"

But if treated on time, people can get rest and full sleep and avoid long-term complications. But the most problem is that people just don't know this is sleep apnea.

A lot of people don't even know the name of the disease, or what it is. And it's also very common in our lifestyle. That if you snore, your family will just laugh at you. But you can have a medical reason, which we normally ignore. 

Ivan Dunskiy: So, as I understood, your solution is tailored more to diagnose the problem?

Ankit Anand: Yes. Our current solution is focused on testing. As I said, we are also offering treatment together with our partners just to give also patients a holistic solution. But the technology that we developed is the core focus was to have very easy to use, but with medical-grade accuracy, the diagnosis, or test or screen, whatever you wanna call it in different medical terms. And that report they can take to the doctor and start their treatment.

Ivan Dunskiy: Got it. Yeah, our podcast is about technology. So could you please tell us about what is on the technology side? What do you have? 

[10:13] how the hardware and the software of Sleepiz work

I assume you have the hardware and also the software. So could you please elaborate on that? 

Ankit Anand: So, this whole technology looks like so we have this device, which is a radar-based device that you put on your bedside table. And that measures your sleep condition using radar, but now entire data is transmitted directly to the cloud. So the device just records that radar signal, but then the data goes to the cloud within the cloud, the all algorithms that we have developed that run the processing.

And finally, back like the doctors or even our internal team has this access of totally anonymized reports of a patient where they will get the full access remotely. That what is the final report coming out. And that report will be finally shared directly with the patients or with the doctors. So that's one part of the next step, but there is much more to it because the device, as I said, for different applications, we use it.

The device also allows real-time access to the entire vital sign of the patients. So a doctor sitting anywhere in the world, just logging on their web application can just check what is the vital sign of their patient sitting in another part of the world. Your patient is in Australia, you are sitting in the US and you can actually look in real-time how your patient is doing and how their vital sign is.

So they have even real-time access. They have a historical report, trend report over the weeks, nights, and months. All these access you get. So this web application gives you the entire access to the health condition of all different patients of one doctor that is managing. So if you're managing a hundred of your patients, have the entire report on your fingertip.

So that's device cloud and web application. That's the take. 

Ivan Dunskiy: Sure. Could you please, in just a nutshell in general terms, tell me how the hardware works. So does it like just listening for the sound? How does it work? 

Ankit Anand: So the hardware is based on a millimeter-wave radar, so it doesn't, that's how we protect privacy.

You don't want somebody recording your sound while you are sleeping in your room. So it's a radar-based device. It has a millimeter-wave radar, which, I mean, if you heard about radar, basically any radar is used for military or whatever application you use in different radar is what it measures the distance.

So what we do is that our device measures very accurately to millimeter precision the distance of your chest wall. So basically when you breathe, your chest wall is vibrating and our device using a radar measures the vibration of your chest. So it makes the entire how you are breathing. And from that, you can extract vital signs like breathing rate or heart rate, or when apnea happens, your breathing pauses.

So naturally your breath, you will see that on your chest motion, your chest motion will shrink. And from there we detect the apnea waving. So this radar measures very accurately the motion of your chest wall. And everything follows from there that you extract. 

Ivan Dunskiy: So it means that as a patient, you need to be in a specific position to be measured correctly.

Ankit Anand: No. That's the beauty of it because the algorithm is so robust that it can detect, you can just sleep as comfortably as you are sleeping on your natural cycle. So if your algorithm knows what to track and how to track it. Whichever position you are primarily there doesn't matter. We will be able to track accurately what's your breathing and how is your breathing pattern on which we extract the disease signatures.

[13:46] what does it take to develop hardware

Ivan Dunskiy: Cool. And could you please tell us about the actual development, where do you face more challenges on the hardware or software side? 

Ankit Anand: That depends on who you would ask for because so we have to understand. So whenever it comes to technology, all of them are challenging and all of them are fun as well.

I mean, that's why you end up doing a startup there because you also do not, like this challenge. But when it comes to hardware and software, there is an inherent difference between them, which has its own positive side, and it has a negative side as well. So hardware has a longer development cycle. You design hardware, then of course you have to send it for manufacturing and then you have to roll it out.

This whole process takes a lot of time. You cannot afford to have a very weekly sprint where you are making the changes, our hardware every week, that doesn't make sense and it won't happen. So that's one challenge of hardware that you have to freeze your design very early and you have to, whatever your design is very robust, which is keeping a longer timeline in head that it'll sustain through all the changes that might come through.

That's the challenge. But of course, it is also for a technical team, there is a breathing space afterward, once you froze one design sent for manufacturing, then you can be creative. You can think about the next steps and do a more structured design afterward. 

When it comes to software, it gives you flexibility because you're running a cloud software, and of course, you have in medical, there is also some listings on how soon you can roll out thing, but it still is relatively flexible that you can roll out new features.

So that gives you the freedom to use some more agile method logic, but it also comes with a challenge that you don't have breathing in space because you always want to do something nice and cool. 

Ivan Dunskiy: Waiting to stop.

Ankit Anand: Waiting to stop. A lot of time you end up overengineering also. Like overengineering is one of the challenges that we all as a startup face.

That you are just doing it because you can. And that's where the challenge is to find, define that thin line, where to stop. 

Ivan Dunskiy: And where are your distribution markets? Where do you sell the products? 

Ankit Anand: So currently we are active in Europe. So like Switzerland and Germany are the two countries that we started with.

And then we are also active in India. So that's another country and we'll be soon also expanding our business to other countries, for example, US as well. We will move to other countries as well, but this part you will hear from the public news once we move more countries or something like that. 

Ivan Dunskiy: Will it be required to go through the FDA?

Ankit Anand: Yes. And, okay. There will be good news coming soon on that end. 

[16:27] how being a remote-friendly company help to overcome a shortage of engineers

Ivan Dunskiy: Okay. So there is a fact that there is a global shortage of engineers. Do you challenge this problem yourself and how do you overcome it? 

Ankit Anand: Of course, we cannot be immune from this problem because finding the talent remains the challenge across any vertical or any business that you do.

And in technical, the team is always varied as you said, the global shortage. So yes, we have that. What helped us is being a very remote-friendly team from day one. We launched our office subsidiary in India already in the first year of our foundation, of our startup. We started the company in 2018 and in 2019 already we started our subsidiary in India.

It's not just a subsidy in India, which matters, but because of having two location teams distributed, while they're working on the same team or same project. Even since then working remote was a part of the inherent culture, right. That people were very used to working together, you know, as a team, but are still working remotely.

And that helped us also during the COVID suddenly when we had to all go, go homes and start working from home, the transition for us was smooth. And that power that we just did in the very beginning, just without thinking too much about it. But now we really enjoy that position because if I have to hire from any country around the world, we don't worry about that part that how would you manage that country? Because you have done it being there.

That gives us an open option to global talent as well. So there is a global shortage, but if you look around, if you just open your option around the world, you should be able to find somebody who is good in your team. That's how we are addressing it. 

Ivan Dunskiy: It depends on what technology you use. 

Ankit Anand: Yeah, of course. There are certain technology, even if you open the floor all around the world, you will still have shortages. But we are a startup. We don't need thousands of engineers. We need some. 

Ivan Dunskiy: Yeah. You have two locations for the development team. So I assume one is in India and one is in Europe, in Switzerland.

Ankit Anand: Currently spread in two countries dominantly.

We also have some other countries where people contribute. There are other people, less amount of people, but these two countries have the most of our technical team spread into.

[18:52] it's all about developing the right culture - external vs. internal dev teams

Ivan Dunskiy: Do you use some external development teams and if so, what is your experience with that?

Ankit Anand: We did that. In the beginning, it was very helpful. Like our first team was quite external. The distribution between the internal and external teams was very high. And that's how we got the quickest start. Because you don't have to go through the entire hiring process and find the right people on your team, you already have a set of people with diverse skills that you can immediately start with. Our beginning for the software team was heavily external and slowly, once we started building our culture and starting to know more of our requirements, we internalized those positions. It was very clear between our partners as well, that this is the pathway we will proceed into. So it was very beneficial to get started in beginning. And we still use that approach whenever we have an urgent project coming up. If you have an urgent project and we don't have enough resources allocated to it, it's very nice to just have an external team who does that and slowly your team.

If you think this is a long-term project, then you try to internalize it. If it's worth just a short-term project, you finish definite, then you close it as well. But just difference between the two, I would say, why, what are the challenges? And so not challenge or benefits of putting, what I would like to say.

It's why this whole discussion even comes external versus internal. Why do we even use this for external versus internal? In our case, it was just the payroll, which was different. They were getting paid by somebody else and other HR processing their payment. But our work was always like one team.

We had the same common meetings that our daily catch-up, they were participating in throughout the day. It's just your extended team. So if you can develop that culture then external versus internal boundary and the challenges fades actually, then it's the same. The way you train or you develop your culture.

If you transmit the same culture to the other team, why not? But only thing is that if you can develop that culture right, you can have that vibe among it, that you are interacting. You are also contributing to their progress. I mean, what I realize that why some external team developers may not be that much enthusiastic about you versus their own managers.

Cause if they don't know how much you are contributing to their progress. Because maybe you are not part of their appraisal process. You are not part of their age. But that doesn't matter because if you can still spend time with them, help them in your career growth as a manager.

Make them feel at home in your own team. Then they start really putting the similar effort that your internal team will do.

Long story short, it's all about developing the right culture. If you make people feel at home and they resonate with the vision of your company, what they're working on, they like what kind of project they're exciting what project they're working upon and they feel they are also growing, working together with you.

[21:48]  why Sleepiz currently prefers an approach with having more in-house engineers 

Ivan Dunskiy: As I understood, over the time you switched more to the internal approach, right? Could you please elaborate what was the thought process that you need to, as you already had an external team who were part of the whole team, right? What was the thought process, and why did you decide to end up with this approach with having more in-house engineers?

Ankit Anand: I mean, I'll keep it direct. The first thing also goes to finances because internal teams are a similar amount of talent you can have with. Of course your internal part as well. So that one part, which is basic, I would say for everybody. Second part is also more about the long-term commitment because the only thing that we did not have control of that if that developer moves out.

And he decides to that: "Okay, I'm going somewhere else." I cannot sit back on that negotiation with him that: "Hey, why are you switching? Can we talk about something, can we continue with you?" I won't have that much. So this is also like looking more long-term. But apart from that, as also as a startup is also very important that you know, developing your family, which is there partly, but it's still, as I say, that you don't have full influence, you have partial influence, but not full influence how you can develop this team.

And as a startup, what is our biggest asset? Our people. It's not the product, it's not the business that you make. It's the people that you primarily in the early-stage claim that this is what you own, or this is what is your asset. So, those reasons. It was important to also have our longer, long-term commitment with internal teams.

Also, there are other things like, you know, as the startup, you offered benefits like ESOPs (Employee stock ownership), which is difficult to give to an external team. But your employees get ESOPs. Cause they are growing with the growth of the company. So these are simple things that are relevant to startups and may not be relevant to other companies, but that definitely is crucial when taking this kind of call.

And that was one of the reasons why we took more and more this kind of approach.

[23:53] measuring the engineering team's productivity with OKR

Ivan Dunskiy: Yeah. Thank you. And could you please share, how you measure your engineering team's productivity? I mean, how do you measure it when you had more external parts of the team. And now when you have more internal. 

Ankit Anand: We use OKR. I think OKR is one of the nicest tools. Of course, it's very difficult to get hang of it.

Ivan Dunskiy: Do you apply it for the team or for each person specifically? 

Ankit Anand: So we do from the top down. We define a quarterly company OKR followed by deriving team OKRs and deriving individual OKRs.

So that goes from top to bottom. It basically aligns with everybody else. And we use that also for our external teams, whoever on a long term. If there is a one-month short project, a team is coming up, then of course they won't be part of the OKR. But all the teams that we work were like for us two quarters or longer, then we also had the same system OKR reviews, basically part of their portfolio as well, their work.

[24:25] how to reach goals understanding between a company and an engineer

Ivan Dunskiy: And there is an interesting question. So sometimes it happened that developers, some developers focus on their own job. They focus on how they create code, how they code. And they're not necessarily engaged in a kind of the high mission or high vision of the product. And they just want to code, they are looking for interest in tasks, challenging engineering tasks.

So how do you solve this in your company, how do you explain the mission and make people on the same page to reach those goals? Because I think that only with the same understanding of where we all going, that's kind of the way to achieve the goals. I mean, the top company goals. So what is your opinion on that? 

Ankit Anand: Of course, this is one of the quite challenging problems, which happens not only in developers across all verticals or all places within a company. I think while we go back to this OKR mythology that we discussed, we have accompanying OKR. 

I mean if people were not aware of it, it's okay. Like it's objective key results that you decide on a very high level that what you want to achieve as an objective. And then you define certain key results to achieve that over the quarter. So we do quarter, but people do it by like six months or even a year or monthly.

When we decide this is the company goal that the company wants to achieve in this quarter, now how this team can contribute to that company goal. So let's say a company wants to make a new certification to one new market. Or get approved or something like that. Or enter a new market. Then of course the regulatory team has to make sure that all regulations are there, but the software team has to make sure that all adaptation that is required for that market is clear.

So then you derive the team OKR, when you sit with a developer, what do you do? You're a backend person, right? To reach that goal we need this much from the back end. So how would you contribute? And there is still open and this is the way, it's not micromanagement that every task is coming from OKR.

This is our broad goal for three months, and this is what we want to achieve. There will be something here and there that can interest you. You can still do it, but this is something that we are doing. So, not having very micromanagement, but giving them this broad direction every quarter, reminding them, help set that framework that they're aligned to the vision. But that's the one, I mean, just the framework I would call it. But that doesn't solve the entire problem. 

The second part is that what is very important for not only the developer or any team. If you are a manager or if you are a team leader, you also have to understand what you are getting paid for.

You are getting basically to put the team aligned and make them feel that they're growing in the right direction. So it can never, never be one-directional communication that this is a task and you have to complete it. If you want to get the best out of your team, this approach would never work. So sitting together with a team member on a frequent basis and asking what are their ambition, where they want to go, what they want to achieve in this quarter, in this month, or probably next year.

And then somehow, because you have the bigger picture that where companies heading and where this skill can be useful. It's very beautiful actually. When you actually start breaking it down, a lot of time we didn't have to struggle to find out that the team member had a different ambition, the company had different, and how do we find a match? 

Because there will be always something or other where their ambition kind of matches. So if you sit together and have this directional communication all the time, that where you want to go, not only where the company wants to go, then it takes time. You have to spend time with a team member, but that's, I'll go back, to why you are getting paid for, to sit with a team member, right. To spend time with them. So, that good leadership can bring. Communication, I would say. More and more we talk, more and more we openly talk about it, and things get in the right direction. 

Ivan Dunskiy: Yeah. I want to add here that sometimes you have some challenges, some problems you want to solve and you are looking for talents on the market to hire people to help you with the problem. But with that approach, when you try to learn your people, you can be surprised that somebody from your team already wants to contribute to that problem. And even if they don't have enough experience, they have loyalty and they may have like good kind of basis and good qualities to accomplish the task. When you see that, the solution is obvious what to do rather than like, just to say: "Take new risks, onboard a new person that is a solution of like proposing to solve this."

Ankit Anand: And we did that. I mean, like we also started, now it became even more of a ritual that if a new job post goes out on our website, we also posted internally. "By the way, this is something we are opening." So if some of your friends, or is this something that you might be interested in, reach out to us. Just very open communication. 

Sometimes can be a one-liner. Just writing this thing in a chat: "Hey, who knows this?" And somebody comes by: "Hey, I know this, but like, do you have two hours for me? Maybe you can fix it for me." Or whatever. So this kind of informal communication and they know that this openness is there.

That's where especially with the team of our side, which is, I would say, around a hundred people, like less than a hundred, slightly less than a hundred people is totally worth it giving that kind of try. And even when you scale, you have to find out how to find the right channel of communication. But totally agree with you. What you said. People always advise us, sometimes somebody came up, and I'm like: "Really? Do you? Okay. Cool."

[30:55] scaling plans

Ivan Dunskiy: Yeah. You mentioned the scaling. So, do you have plans to scale rapidly? And if so, what is your vision on how you can scale, like in the perspective of engineering development?

Ankit Anand: Yes. That's of course past plan. I mean, as a startup, you have to because that's what the definition of a startup that when you get your things right, you have to scale exponentially. So yes, we will, we are striving for that. And of course, fingers crossed will hopefully get there. So get to that problem. 

Plans, how to manage that, - that was what helped us last few years of trying all different methods. How to hire an internal team with a slow pace or also with a rapid pace versus also how to quickly onboard an external team to get things done. These are all small experiments we have done already. So we have confidence that yes, when we scale, depending on the problem, because it's a very broad question than when you scale what you do, but depends when you scale, are you scaling your software or not?

Maybe sometimes you're not, you're just scaling your hardware, right? Or maybe you are scaling the software or maybe you are scaling your business. So whenever that particular problem comes, we will go for one of these approaches, which boils down to this category, either working with an external team. Or finding the right internal team or a mix of both. 

But because we have done that in past, that gives us confidence that something or other will work out. 

Ivan Dunskiy: Could you please elaborate on where you see there are better applications for external teams and for internal teams in terms of scaling? 

Ankit Anand: So what is important. As I said, what was the key difference between external and internal teams?

If I keep the economics aside. That was having the full visibility of the company. Where are we heading, keeping the visa intact because they have been part of a few for the long term. They understand where we want to go, where not. I mean, I'm thinking out loud. I didn't think about this problem before, but I think if you ask that question specifically if you want to work with these two teams together, where will you place it?

My first bet will be that I put internal teams into let's say, take an external team who is working on a certain project while an internal person is managing that project. Being that manager of that external team. So that will help us because when we scale, it's not that only the current existing manager, whoever are they, will be able to manage all the external teams at the same time, because just not practically, but because we have already created a good amount of internal people who have that confidence and they are growing in their role. They can take a new leadership position. They can then transmit that energy, that vibe, and that vision to the new team that you are quickly onboarding.

So that's how I would see the tree becoming right. That your current team members become more of an initial manager for whichever new team you onboard. Then you can rely upon the external team okay. That person is managing it. He has full visibility. And he will get things done. 

Ivan Dunskiy: And also I heard about the approach when you give to external teams some kind of end-to-end product. So they work on some specific parts and somebody from your team can manage that process. 

Ankit Anand: This is what I was saying. So end-to-end product is also always nice because when you give them, then they have their own creativity and freedom. You have to define. And the challenge there is to always define the scope very clearly and that this is exactly what we want to achieve.

But if you have that scope defined, then, of course, there may be much more experience in that particular project as even as compared to your internal team and they can get it delivered. But if you have the scope and also the expectations define delivery, a timeline will define. And as you said, then you are one of the internal teams managing it.

And this we did in past, actually. There was a moment when we needed to deliver one product within a month because our certification timeline just changed and the auditor gave: "Hey, can we have it a bit before?" And all our timeline changed, we onboarded an external team. We gave a clear scope and clear timeline and they did.

[35:10] is it a must of “technical excellence” for engineers

Ivan Dunskiy: Yeah. And Elon Musk said that he thinks that there is a must for engineering managers to be technically excellent. Do you agree with that? What are your thoughts?

Ankit Anand: I have a mixed view. I mean, I understand where he's coming from. Of course, if you want to really, I mean, we have to understand the core emotion where he is coming from.

That if you really want to resonate or understand the challenges of your team members, and if you've never coded, or done any coding in your life, you may be just cooking up whatever thought in your head, but it doesn't work on the ground. So that definitely gives that we should. So there, where I see that you should have experienced that to manage somebody, you should have a similar level of understanding that you can fit yourself in their shoes.

So there, I totally agree that people should be there, but again, always we take things by words. Now if you just go word by word, there has to be an excellent quota. What does it mean? That all the team I am managing that I should be better coder than everybody in my team and all the different skills that I'm managing within the team, is just impossible.

And it's just not even practical. If I'm managing a team of a full-stack and then there is a backend DevOps and front end and 15 different technology that my team is working upon.

Ivan Dunskiy: Life is not enough. 

Ankit Anand: Well, life is not enough. Exactly. So that's not practical. And that's what we have to understand. But what is practical is that if you have done good coding and you have a good understanding of the coding. So you can irrespective of the language they use. You can still do a nice code review by guiding them on what is a logical coding process.

So these are basic things that you should be good at. And of course, you should, you can be good at one or two languages, but as you said, one life is not enough to do everything. So we don't have to take it word by word. The important is that, can you fit yourself in the shoe of the developer? And if they're stuck, can you help?

Not only by just giving a nice buttered word, and saying a very motivational statement, but really practically sitting with them, sharing your screen, showing me your code, trying to figure. Let's try to figure out where you can be going wrong, where things can be going wrong. If you have that much credibility or that much trust from your developers, then I think is good.

So you have to find that middle ground. Because otherwise, it's not just practical to know everything and then manage. And also it's, it's also a bit egoistic. I would like to add one more part because that also makes the leaders very egoistic. Because what helped in my life that always knowing that at least in certain areas, my team members are much more skilled than I am.

And that allows me to give them that freedom that does your things in your own way. And they come with a beautiful solution, which I may not be able to bring by myself, even if I knew that part of the code. Or if I knew that language so that ego, we have to get away from that “Hey, I'm the best coder here. So you better listen to me.” No. 

Ivan Dunskiy: You mean the arrogance. 

Ankit Anand: Arrogance. Exactly. So that arrogance, we should avoid, irrespective "who are you?" And for that, I would say that's where I see the risk of that statement. Your manager is the best coder in the room. And at least if he thinks that he is the best coder in the room, you can hardly avoid the arrogance. 

[38:45] current main development challenges

Ivan Dunskiy: Yeah. Great. Could you please share with us, if you can, what are kind of main challenges with the development team right now you are facing? 

Ankit Anand: Challenges in the sense, what I realize if I try to sum up in one word or something, that things required a cyclic process. There is so near that's something, you develop a culture, you develop a process and you simply rolled out a meeting or rolled out a training.

And you assume that next two years, everything is happening in that way because everything has so natural evolution as well. 

So always getting back that okay. There will be, you start something, you will get misaligned, something will be, then you are very conscious of that. You get back there to try to realign.

It's a continuous and dynamic process. Accepting this and also being aware of that is the biggest challenge because it's also not that you don't know this, but you don't know when it's coming. Suddenly something falls down. And then you're like: "Oh, we have to realign again."

Ivan Dunskiy: You mean to get the feedback when you do some iteration, how do you build a kind of a structure where you can get constant feedback about the progress, right? 

Ankit Anand: Exactly. Feedback about the progress and also realign this. We cannot assume that we told something or we established a process one year back.

It is being followed every day without me reminding. Or we get back in the same meeting again and say: “Hey, this is why we brought this process. And this is what was the benefit of this process. So just having this dynamic constant reminder and also changing that part, but it's a very high-level statement.”

But when it comes to the real challenge, I would go back, because everybody evolved in their own way. So the developer that started with you three years back was just learning the energy that person had or ambition that person has may have a different thing today.

His personal life may also change. How much you are aware of them as a person and again, realigning where you can put their best use of their current conditions. That takes a lot of time. And that I think I would say when we grow and when we are actually managing the team gets bigger and bigger, something gets overlooked and that's where the problem is start to come.

Ivan Dunskiy: Yeah. I just had a conversation with a talented developer who wants to become a manager and we had a conversation about how important is to make processes standard and kind of a way how I see it. People think about the process, I mean, the management process, as you said, that they set up the process and that's it like in code, you just had the piece of code that does something and that's it.

But when you deal with people, you have that constant change and that's really important. I just want also to emphasize and add how important it is and people who didn't have experience management experience, yeah, you can get into trouble because the expectations and actual results do not match. 

Ankit Anand: That's correct.

Also, not only the people changing but also our surroundings changes pretty much. Everything changes. So it will be very difficult to say this is a process and that's how it'll run for 10 years. I think we are just being too naive there. To resume that. 

[42:18] advice for future engineer managers

Ivan Dunskiy: Sure. And we are coming to the end of the interview.

And do you have any advice you can give to engineering managers or maybe to engineers who want to become engineer managers? 

Ankit Anand: It'll be of course, very not justice to tell that I give one advice and that will be applicable because everybody has their own challenge. And depends on the team you are managing and the context you're managing. So any of the statements I would say may not be universal, but I can just share my experience. What helped me. I mean, just consider my background. Okay. I knew coding. I'm a physicist at then. Just during my physics work, I didn't do any industrial-level software development or something before taking up the role of being the manager.

So I understood coding, but I didn't do it in the same setting my developer does. Right. But being always open to listen to them, understanding, you know, landscaping, their talent and learning from each other, that mode always helped keeping, you know, team a very fun and also progressing. So I would say, yeah, you need not to be, as we discuss the best coder, I mean, you should have some basics to that you have that ideas, but more important is that how are you investing your time and considering leadership as a responsibility and leadership come as a part of, I mean, leadership has an important component of mentorship. 

So leadership is not about assigning a task and changing people that why this is not done, right. Being the mentor, being the buddy who is part of the entire team, which is also helping you. It's not that you are doing a favor to anyone, right? It's helping you because more time to invest in creating these new leaders, every leader has a responsibility to create a new leader, I would say. So more you are conscious of this fact, that will simplify your life. Because even within your team, there are more and more people that you mentor. And then one is an investment. It's like a startup investment, right? You invest on 20 startup. Maybe one of them picks up and 19 fails, but that's what will happen with the team.

You invest a lot of time with all your team members. Maybe one of them picks up, but mm-hmm he will solve your next chapter when you are moving to the next step. So being conscious that mentorship is an important part of the being leader, right? Leadership is not about just getting an update. So that is one part I would say is very at least helped me, scaling the team and to be able to rely upon what is going on and putting yourself in the shoes of the people that, [00:45:00] what is there and also getting to know people on a personal level as well, that if this is not done, what's there.

Right. Is it just that you are not, they're not making that jumps right. Having an open culture. These are the few things which are applicable for any leader, I would say goes, specific to injuring managers are that, yeah, how much then you can relate with that challenge, right? Where it comes the first part of our discussion.

If you can sit and spend time with them or you have done it yourself. So always remember that you were in a similar position at some point back.

Ivan Dunskiy: Remember your roots. 

Ankit Anand: Remember your roots. Yeah. 

And it's funny. Cause you know, like this is, I would like to make that comment here because sometime I feel like if people has gone through a difficult pathway, they go into that arrogance, then the others should also suffer.

And they go through a similar path. I mean, not applicable to everybody, but I've seen some people taking that route. So even if they know, they're like: "No, you have to go through the difficult pathway, as I did. So I won't help you right away." Depends. I mean, it's all leadership style and mentorship style, but just be conscious that, yeah, we don't have to keep reinventing the wheel all the time.

So maybe if you give some nice push to somebody, they can come up with something better even. All these different consciousness and it boils down to the same part at the end more your time invest in your team and let them level up, it'll simplify your work. So it's not a favor you are doing.

Actually, it's doing a favor to yourself. 

[46:33] Rapid Fire Round (3 questions)

Ivan Dunskiy: Yeah. Between leaders there is someone who creates leaders, I totally agree with that. And that's kind of art how to do it. And that's management art. Yeah. Thank you, Ankit. And I would like to finish our interview with the kind of light exercise, we call it rapid fire round.

I will ask you several personal questions and you come up with whatever answers you want. What is the latest movie that impressed you the most? 

Ankit Anand: Almost every movie impresses me. The latest movie I think I watched was The Trial of the Chicago 7. I think that's how the name was. I forgot.

But yeah, that one was, if I am not mistaken with the name, it was with Eddie Redmayne. So I liked it. That one was good. 

Ivan Dunskiy: Why? What was special about it? 

Ankit Anand: I normally love the real life like, you know, a biographical kind of movies, which is based in some part, which is as real-life characters, but presented in a way that is still entertaining.

Ivan Dunskiy: Who was the hero? 

Ankit Anand: Eddie Redmayne, I think he was the hero. The Trial of the Chicago 7, was a movie name. There were a lot of good actors out there, but the main reason because it was based on real-life incidents.

 It may sound a bit ignorant, but I love learning history from movies sometimes. And then I go back and learn history with the real credible sources, but it gives me a motivation to understand so. But I love biographical movies in general. That was one of the reasons. 

Ivan Dunskiy: Cool. What is the location that impressed you the most? 

Ankit Anand: I think as a traveler, I think Barcelona was one of my favorite for some reason. 

Ivan Dunskiy: I love Barcelona.

Ankit Anand: Berlin is also one of my favorite. So I love these locations. Also, the people, openness the people to just chilling out.

Ivan Dunskiy: Yeah, siesta. 

Ankit Anand: Siesta. Actually, I mean, we are a sleeping company, so we are pros here, actually. Even if we're based in Zurich, right. We're pros as the company. 

Ivan Dunskiy: Yeah, sure. And what is the piece of advice you would give to your 20-year-old self? 

Ankit Anand: To 20-year old I would say don't stress too much, things work out. If I look back, everything was fine, okay, but I was just very stressed that I'm just running out of time and I should do this, or I should do that. Which I still do, but I got better confidence because it was part of the insecurity that maybe what if this doesn't happen and what if that doesn't happen?

One of the pieces of advice that I got from my teacher, which actually already during that time, helped me that, okay, no exam is the last one. That carried forward in my whole life in good or bad times, both ones. That even if it went bad, then there is another chance. But if it went well, don't be too arrogant about it.

Maybe the next time that you can fail. So both cases, it helped me align and I would say, yeah. The better confidence I will give. 

Ivan Dunskiy: Yeah. Cool. I think that's a perfect way to end today's interview. Thank you, Ankit, for sharing so much with us. I loved the fact that you shared, how you manage your teams with the OKRs and basically for what you manage for what tasks you manage the external and internal teams. Thank you for sharing more about your company. I think that the problem you're solving is really huge and the way how you do it is kind of elegant. Thank you very much.

But before we finish, what is the best way to get in touch with you? If our listeners want to get some advice or are looking for any collaborations? 

Ankit Anand: I'm quite active on LinkedIn, I think it’s the best and easiest way.

Of course, you can also shoot an email. And in general, I'm a very approachable person. I would say, if a person writes down that they want to get in touch, I'm very happy. I'm a very people person. So I would never complain "why are you writing me?" So if you think I can help in any way, or you have some thoughts to share, feel free to get in touch.

Ivan Dunskiy: We will include all the links in the description section. Thank you for your time and for the lovely conversation. Thank your listeners. And we will catch up in the next episodes. 

Ankit Anand: Thank you very much. Thank you for nicely moderating the conversation. I hope this was helpful for our listeners.

Who is behind the HealthTech Beat podcast

We are a team of IT professionals who like sharing technical knowledge with healthcare industry people.

At Demigos, we generate ideas on how to improve product performance, design, and positioning based on our experience building complex health tech solutions.

Check our blog with articles on the related topics, and our cases in healthtech. Also, connect the podcast host and the CEO of Demigos Ivan Dunskiy on Linkedin.

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