This series highlights the talented Zilliant engineering team, today’s post features Ken Apple, software architect at Zilliant.
Tell us a little about your background and current role.
After years in the supply chain industry, and the airline industry, I joined Zilliant in 2014. I am a software architect at Zilliant, providing technical leadership across our U.S.-based teams. During my tenure, we've added support for advanced big data processing technologies such as Spark, and highly performant analytics driven off Amazon Redshift, a petabyte-scale database.
What inspired you to work in engineering?
After years in customer-facing Tier 1 support roles, I developed a passion for software that is simple, dependable, and powerful. Pairing that passion to Zilliant's product offerings has proven to be one of my most rewarding work experiences.
What's your specialty on the team?
As a software architect, I focus on the big-picture design of our applications, making sure the software excellence that our teams produce is rewarded by creating a unified product that delights our customers. Additionally, I explore emerging technologies to ensure that we stay abreast of the latest trends in the industry.
What does a day in your life look like?
Quite a bit of communication! Coordinating between team leads, product owners, and engineering management to ensure our technical direction meets our business goals fortunately does not absorb all my time. Investing time in people — helping our individual contributors bring their own ideas and innovations to life — is the rewarding way I spend my time.
Do you encounter any misconceptions about the role of an engineer at a software company?
Every day, even from engineers! A very important aspect of my role is communicating internally and externally what the engineering team's goals are, what others can expect from us, and what we can expect from ourselves.
Have you helped solve an interesting problem or use case for a customer?
Here at Zilliant, we have seen the wildest of data problems. Recently we dealt with a situation where a data set was so large, and had so many attributes, that we exceeded the capabilities of SQL Server, causing a usually reliable process to fail! Our systems must be capable of handling wildly varying kinds of data sets, and we have had to create some very complex application features to handle everything our customers can throw at us.
How do you work with the Science and Product Teams?
I work with the Science team from the inception of a new idea, help the idea reach a point of maturity where it becomes something that our Engineering teams can code, and then see that software all the way out the door to becoming an official product.
What makes Zilliant different from other companies from a technical perspective?
Typically, a software product works with a single dataset, solving a specific handful of problems very well. At Zilliant, we must handle any kind of dataset, from any kind of business, and be able to solve the specific problems that that business faces in a way that really tailors to their own business processes. Under the covers, our products are incredibly sophisticated to be able to rise to this task.
What do you envision as the future of engineering?
"Between the dawn of civilization and 2003, we only created five exabytes; now we're creating that amount every two days." The exponential growth of digital data means that we will need to re-tool ourselves to keep up with the incredible thirst for unlocking this data's potential. At the same time, we need to be able to develop features faster and faster. Soon we will be able to deploy many features a day without a single interruption to the business.