Engaging the Modern Day Engineer in the Age of Big Data

By Anil Chakravarth, EVP & Chief Product Office, nformatica Corporation

Anil Chakravarth, EVP & Chief Product Office, nformatica Corporation

Headquartered in California, Informatica Corporation (Nasdaq:INFA) is an independent provider of data integration software.
Worldwide, over 5,000 enterprises depend on Informatica to fully leverage their information assets from devices to mobile to social to big data residing on-premise, in the Cloud and across social networks. The corporation has a market cap of $ 4.49B

The last decade has seen several technological shifts that are profoundly changing the software industry. This unprecedented transformation is being propelled by Social Networking, Mobile Computing, Analytics and Cloud Computing (SMAC). The changes driven by "SMAC" technologies have led to the generation of information on a scale that can no longer be managed using traditional technologies and processes. Hence, most industry watchers call the current phase as the age of "big data."

These trends are upending almost all segments of the computing industry, creating opportunities for start-ups and nimble companies that are able to leverage them faster than major, established players.
Increases in computing power, as predicted by Moore's Law, and miniaturizing of sensors and embedded systems is causing all major things to be connected to the data network. Today, we have "connected cars," "connected buildings," "connected airplanes and jet engines," "connected homes and appliances," "connected farms and tractors" and "connected machinery"- essentially, "connected anything" that is of any significant value. These connected entities have led to what is now known in the industry as the "Internet of Things." These connected devices are generating data on an unprecedented scale, pace and variety. Making sense of this data has become critical for today's businesses.
In their search for new levels of business value, insights and innovative ideas, enterprises often look toward software product experts to help them adopt new technologies. For service firms, fulfilling their customers' expectations will mean challenging their current capabilities and ways of delivering value. The rise of big data-related technologies has led to a "war for talent," with employers looking for engineers and data scientists who are trained in collecting, integrating, cleansing and managing data and then analyzing it to extract insights. While organizations are in a race to attract this skilled talent, they face the larger challenge of continuously upgrading the skills of the existing workforce to absorb new technical advances.

As the industry goes through the previously-mentioned "SMAC" technological shifts, the most critical question that CIOs and leaders of engineering organizations need to ask is, "What can we do to create high levels of employee engagement that lead to higher productivity and job satisfaction, which in turn can lead to better results and employee retention?"
Given the disruptions caused by new technological changes, the traits that will help an employee in this time of change are technical curiosity, the ability to tinker and experiment and a willingness to learn. The main obligation of an employer is to create an interactive, learning environment that enables employees to understand and realize their true potential at work. Quality of work and pace of innovation, quality of teams, and the degree of empowerment are, to us, three critical aspects that an organization needs to have in order to drive high levels of employees' engagement.

Quality of Work and Role of Innovation
Whether an organization can provide a challenging learning environment depends on its charter and business goals. An engineering team working on cutting-edge technology is likely to have highly motivated employees, which is mostly true of teams working on "SMAC"-related technologies. Engineers working on products that are in "maintenance-mode" are likely to find new ideas at the process level, on how the team gets its work. However, it is usually a challenge to keep engineers engaged if the team has a limited charter.

The quality of work assigned to an engineer is the primary factor in motivating that employee to come into work each day. Given the backdrop of "SMAC" technology trends and changes in how customers buy and use software, there is a need to incorporate new ideas into products faster than the traditional pace in the software industry. This is particularly true for Cloud Computing-based infrastructure, platforms, software and services. Fostering a culture of innovation, where "bottom-up" ideas can be prioritized based on business need, has become more important than ever before. An "organized chaos" model that provides some degree of guidance and structure from "top-down" and then lets it loose for a generation of new ideas is needed for most IP-driven organizations. This model also requires disrupting traditional hierarchies and org-communications structures. Most importantly, the need to innovate more frequently makes the process of motivating and engaging employees simpler than before.

Quality of People
In most software companies learning happens by osmosis (i.e., employees engaging with their peers to create and refine new ideas). Variety in skills and areas of expertise among members of a team drive how much an employee learns from his or her peers in that team. Given the new technological trends and need for new ideas, "lateral, sideways and down interactions" have become more important than before. There is a greater need for "constructive entropy" in the organization. Leaders of product engineering organizations need to develop a collaborative environment, where individuals have the opportunity to interact with experienced product managers, architects, statisticians and data scientists. This is equally important as innovation for employee motivation and performance. This type of learning leads to a strong team spirit, greater psychological well-being and higher self-esteem, all of which lead to increased employee engagement and productivity.

Empowerment
Most IP-driven, multi-national companies today have multiple engineering labs around the world. In this geographically distributed scenario, it is important that employees working at a particular lab are able to make day-to-day decisions locally, without having to rely on someone many time zones away. This is only feasible if each team at a particular lab enjoys the trust of stakeholders that are remote. The need for increased innovation and a lattice model of communication also require a higher degree of trust and employee empowerment. Such empowered employees are committed, loyal and conscientious, and they serve as strong ambassadors for the organization. Lack of employee empowerment leads to frustration and acts as a trigger for job change.

In conclusion, all software companies are facing new challenges driven by "SMAC"-related technologies. Leaders of such companies need to look closely at the aspects of innovation, peer-based learning, empowerment and decentralized decision-making. These can help build a workforce that is not only engaged, motivated and willing to take risks, but also is "happily tired" with a sense of accomplishment at the end of a product cycle

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