Introducing the ottonova Tech Radar

ottonova Tech Radar Daniele Franchi

We always promoted openness when it came to our tech stack. The ottonova Tech Radar is the next step in that direction.

What is the Tech Radar?

The ottonova Tech Radar is a list of technologies. It’s defined by an assessment outcome, called ring assignment and has four rings with the following definitions:

  • ADOPT – Technologies we have high confidence in to serve our purpose, also in large scale. Technologies with a usage culture in our ottonova production environment, low risk and recommended to be widely used.
  • TRIAL – Technologies that we have seen work with success in project work to solve a real problem; first serious usage experience that confirm benefits and can uncover limitations. TRIAL technologies are slightly more risky; some engineers in our organization walked this path and will share knowledge and experiences.
  • ASSESS – Technologies that are promising and have clear potential value-add for us; technologies worth to invest some research and prototyping efforts in to see if it has impact. ASSESS technologies have higher risks; they are often brand new and highly unproven in our organisation. You will find some engineers that have knowledge in the technology and promote it, you may even find teams that have started a prototyping effort.
  • HOLD – Technologies not recommended to be used for new projects. Technologies that we think are not (yet) worth to (further) invest in. HOLD technologies should not be used for new projects, but usually can be continued for existing projects.

What do we use it for?

The Tech Radar is a tool to inspire and support engineering teams at ottonova to pick the best technologies for new projects. It provides a platform to share knowledge and experience in technologies, to reflect on technology decisions and continuously evolve our technology landscape.

Based on the pioneering work of ThoughtWorks, our Tech Radar sets out the changes in technologies that are interesting in software development — changes that we think our engineering teams should pay attention to and use in their projects.

When and how is the radar updated?

In general discussions around technology and their implementation is driven everywhere across our tech departments. Once we identify that a new technology is raised, we discuss and consolidate it in our Architecture Team.

We collect these entries and once per quarter the Architecture Team rates and assigns them to the appropriate ring definition.

Disclaimer: We used Zalando’s open source code to create our Tech Radar and were heavily influenced by their implementation. Feel free to do the same to create your own version.

Recruiting Backend Engineers at ottonova

Here are some words about how the Backend Team goes about finding new team members. We want to do our part and share with the Community, as well as provide a bit more transparency into ottonova and how we are building state-of-the-art software that powers Germany’s first digital health insurance. 

This article covers what we are doing in the Backend Team, what we value, and how we ensure we hire people that share our values.

The Backend Team

Our team is responsible for many of the services that power our health insurance solutions at ottonova. This includes our own unique functionality, like document management, appointment timelines, guided signup, as well as interconnecting industry-specific specialized applications.

Under the hood, we manage a collection of independent microservices. Most of them written in PHP and delivering REST APIs through Symfony, but a couple leveraging Node.js or Go. Of course, everything we use is cutting-edge technology, and we periodically upgrade.

As a fairly young company, we spend most of our time adding new functionality to our software in cooperation with product owners. But at the same time we invest fair efforts into continuously improving the technical quality of our services.

Values

Technical excellence  is one of our team’s core values. To this end, we are practitioners of domain driven design (DDD). Our services are built around clearly defined domains and follow strict separation boundaries. 

Because we created an architecture that allows it, and we have the internal support to focus on quality. We invest a lot into keeping the bar high and whenever needed we refactor and make sure the Domain Layer stays up to date with the business needs, or that the Infrastructure Layer is performant enough and can scale.

Although most of our work is done using PHP, we strongly believe in using the right tool for the job. Modern PHP happens to be a pretty good tool for describing a rich Domain. But we like to be pragmatic and where it is not good enough, maybe in terms of performance, we are free to choose something more appropriate.

Expectations from a new team member

From someone joining our team we first of all expect the right mindset for working in a company that values quality. We are looking for colleagues that are capable and eager to learn as well as happy to share their existing knowledge with the team.

A certain set of skills or the right foundation for developing those skills is needed as well. We are particularly interested in a good mastery of programming and PHP fundamentals, Web Development, REST, OOP, and Clean Code.

As actual coding is central to our work, we require and test the ability to both write code on the spot and to come up with clean design.

These expectations can be grouped into four main pillars that a candidate will be evaluated on:

  1. Mindset – able and willing to both acquire and transfer knowledge inside a team
  2. Knowledge – possesses the core knowledge needed for using the languages and tools we use
  3. Clean Design – capable to employ industry standards to come up with simple solutions that can be understood by others
  4. Coding Fluency – can easily transfer requirements into code and coding is a natural process
ottonova services GmbH

The Recruiting Process

To get to work with us, a candidate goes through a process designed to validate our main pillars. All this while giving them plenty of time to get to know us and have all their questions answered.

It starts with a short call with HR, followed by a simple home coding assignment. Next there is a quick technical screening call. If everything is successful, we finish it up with an in-person meeting where we take 1-2 hours to get to know each other better.

The Coding Assignment

Counting mostly for the Clean Design pillar, we start our process with a coding assignment that we send to applicants. This is meant to allow them to show how they would normally solve a problem in their day-to-day work. It can be done at home with little time pressure, as it is estimated to take a couple of hours, and it can be delivered within the next 10 days.

The solution to this would potentially fit into a few lines of code. But since the requirement is to treat it as a realistic assignment, we are expecting something a bit more elaborate. We are particularly interested in how well the design reflects the requirements and the usage of clean OOP and language features, the correctness of the result (including edge cases), and tests.

We value everyone’s time and we don’t want unnecessary effort invested into this. We definitely do not care about features that were not asked for, overly engineered user interfaces or formatting, or usage of design patterns just for the sake of showcasing their knowledge.

It will ideally be complex enough to reflect the requirements in code, but simple enough that anyone can understand the implementation without explanations.

The Tech Screening

To test the Knowledge pillar we continue with a Zoom call. This step was designed for efficiency. By timeboxing to 30 minutes we make sure everyone has time for it, even on short notice. We don’t want to lose the interest of good candidates getting lost in a scheduling maze.

Even if it’s short, this call ensures for us a considerably higher match rate for the in-person interview. In time we found that there really are just a handful of fundamental concepts that we expect a new colleague to already know. Many of the other can quickly be learned by any competent programmer.

All topics covered in this screening are objectively answerable. So at the end of a successful round we can make the invitation for the next step.

In-Person Interview

This is when we really get to know each other. This is ideally done at our office in central Munich – easier for people already close by, but equally doable for those coming from afar.

In this meeting we start by introducing ourselves to each other and sharing some information about the team and the company in general.

Next we ask about the candidate’s previous work experience. With this and the overall way our dialog progresses we want to check the Mindset pillar and ensure that the potential new colleague fits well into our team.

After that we will go into a new round of “questioning” to deeper test the Knowledge pillar. Similar to the Tech Screening, but this time open-ended. Informed opinions are expected and valued. We definitely want to talk about REST, microservices, web security, design patterns and OOP in general, or even agile processes.

Then comes the fun part. We get to write some code. Well… mostly the candidate writes it, but we can also help. We go through a few mostly straight forward coding problems that can be solved on the spot. We are not looking for obscure PHP function knowledge, bullet-proof code, or anything ready to be released. We just want to see how a new problem is tackled and make sure that writing code comes as something natural to the candidate. With this we cover the Coding Fluency pillar.

Afterwards it’s the interviewee’s turn. We take our time to answer any questions they may have. They get a chance to meet someone from another team and get a tour of the office.

What’s next?

The interviewers consult and if there is a unanimous “hire” decision, we send an offer. In any case, as soon as possible (usually a few days) we inform the candidate of the outcome.

Interested in working with us? To get started,  apply here: https://www.ottonova.de/jobs

Bulgaria PHP Conference 2019

Let’s talk about organization, preparation and venue first. From my point of view, the organizers did a lot to make this conference great, at least they tried to do their best. The conference, same as the workshop took place in the very center of the city, in the biggest public hall. It was quite easy to find it and to get there, either with public transport or by foot if you were staying in the city center. One day in advance I got an email with quite descriptive instruction about everything I should know: how to get there, recommended places to stay, what they prepared for attendees etc.

Unfortunately, I was a bit confused, because I did not figure out how to buy a ticket for the Workshop day if you already bought a conference ticket, when the workshop stream was not announced. Directly at the entrance to the workshop, there was a possibility to buy it, but I decided that it is not worth it and it is a bit expensive. Anyway, I am not sad about this fact, as conference organizers prepared a free of charge tour in the city and it was a good alternative.

On the conference day, everything started with registration, grabbing my personal badge, general community talk and breakfast. I felt pretty comfortable there as organizers always tried to take care of us: there was a lot of drinks and snacks there, lunch was served by a special catering company and in the afternoon they made homemade cakes for us.

And now more about the conference: it had 3 streams in parallel and in the afternoon one of these streams became unConf, where anyone could share something with everyone. The biggest stream had a lot of seats for all attendees, but not every talk assembled so many participants.

You have to know about me, that I do not believe I can learn something from any talk, because most of the things are already known from programming paradigms, web development and PHP in general. Usually, talks at conferences are just a shared experience, exploring new unknown stuff or repeating something like SOLID, caching and other. Everything you want to learn could be easily and faster found on the web, and if you missed some talks you could watch them later on YouTube, moreover, for free. Personally, all these conferences are just community spirit, free baubles and lunch. But this conference managed to absolutely surprise me!

The biggest discovery for me was a talk about modern SQL from Markus Winnand. How much I did not know about SQL in general. Knowing modern relational databases, such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, Oracle DB or SQLite, does not mean you know modern SQL. The most SQL standards and features were introduced since SQL-1999 (recursion), SQL-2003 (schemaless and analytical, like median), SQL-2011 (system versioning, aka time-travelling), SQL-2016 (JSON_TABLE), etc. A lot has happened since SQL-92, SQL has evolved beyond the relational idea. If you use SQL for CRUD operations only, you are doing it wrong.

Do not use self-joins in SQL anymore! Also, avoid OFFSETs from your statements, they are a performance leak!

Owned by the author

The saddest conclusion I made: the most popular RDBMSes made themselves compliant with modern SQL only recently, but still, there are some features not ready in all RDBMSes. But what about modern ORMs? When will they be compliant with all the features we have in modern SQL? Or is it the best solution, for now, to avoid ORMs and write custom queries?

Owned by the author
Owned by the author

By the way, he has a book about SQL performance explained, it is highly recommended to read it. You can find more info on his website or buy his book with stickers and mug.

The conference was worth visiting at least for the sake of this talk, and I was very pleased with the fact that I learned so many new things I can use in my applications to boost performance. Anyway, there were also a few talks worth attending:

  • Encoding and charset, presented by Andreas Heigl. Worth to know that encoding is not a character set and what is what. How to properly work with UTF-8 in PHP and MySQL. Be aware that utf8 in MySQL is not a real UTF-8 encoding, you have to use utf8mb4 instead for proper UTF-8.
  • Automated PHP Refactoring, presented by Haralan Dobrev at unConf. He shared a collection of all known tools and showed how they could be implemented together.
  • Hexagonal Architecture by Nicolas Carlo. It was not that much for me personally as DDD is based on this architecture, but anyway it was a very good structured talk with good examples and real-life cases.
  • PHP-FIG Panel to describe a stack of standards they have. Be aware that PSR-2 is deprecated right now and PSR-12 should be used instead.

Here is a list of some useful slides for you: