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Meet the Team: Johan Andries


Meet the team!  Johan talks to us about his background, what its like to work for Motulus and what not to do if you are sitting next to him on a plane!

How long have you worked for Motulus, and what did you do beforehand?

I have been with Motulus for almost 6 years now. In 2000 I got my Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from Leuven University, but when I was 18 I could not decide whether I wanted to be a physicist, a mathematician or a computer scientist (I’m a nerd, obviously). Anyway, the year was 2000 and the internet and related technologies were really taking off by then, so a career in IT consulting looked attractive. It was an exciting time, with a lot of learning about new software frameworks and methodologies at different client assignments. One of those clients was ING bank in Brussels, and there I met Benjamin. We worked together from 2002 until 2005, and afterwards we kept in touch with regular lunches. That way I learned about his plans in 2015 to start Motulus together with Wim and Przemyslaw (two guys I didn’t know yet at the time, but Benjamin told me they were smart and fun to work with). I was intrigued by their vision and when they asked me to join by the end of 2016, it was an appealing idea to keep doing software development but also to put to good use again some of the mathematical modelling skills I learned while studying Theoretical Physics.

What’s it like to work here?

Before I always worked for rather large organisations with separate departments and multiple levels of management. It is quite refreshing to be part of a much smaller company now, with direct lines between everything and everybody. No definite roles and responsibilities, just a bunch of people working together to provide the best possible service to our clients. As we grow it will be a challenge to add just that little extra structure to keep it organised, but I hope that won’t be too much or too early.

Can you describe a typical week? What do you enjoy about the challenges you face today?

I’m afraid there’s no such thing as a typical week. Because we are not that large a company, everyone is expected to be a bit flexible. And that’s exactly how I like it! One day I can be digging into the dirty details of the root cause of a reported bug, while the next day I’m talking to a scheduler to flesh out the design of a new feature.

We are working on complex optimization problems by building highly non-trivial software (compared to most line of business applications I used to work on) so it’s not uncommon that there’s no clear-cut solution to a new requirement. I enjoy that feeling of being a beginner again (as if it was the year 2000 all over), not having the answers right away: taking a step back, thinking, reading about similar problems, discussing it with colleagues, evaluating the options, …

Highlights from your time so far?

Without going into the technical details, all highlights so far fit into the same pattern:

  • An itch to improve some functionality or to make some part of the code base faster or more elegant
  • Failing to do so (sometimes not even getting beyond a vague idea of how to tackle it)
  • Let the matter slowly mature in the back of your mind (like whisky in an oak barrel)
  • And then (weeks or months later), while discussing something with a colleague or while thinking about a seemingly different topic, you suddenly see the solution for that old problem and it all falls into place
  • Spend the rest of the day wondering why you didn’t think of this before, but also enjoying the feeling of learning all the time.

What excites you about the development of Motulus products?

As a software developer it is not always easy to see how your work really benefits the users. But by working closely with the scheduling teams, it is absolutely clear to me that our software helps them to improve crew satisfaction and their company’s bottom line.

And although I know perfectly well how the software works inside, from time to time I can still feel amazed by the apparent ingenuity displayed in the rosters that roll out of our system. (To be honest there’s also a flip side with apparent stupidity, but we have a process to catch those early on.)

And outside of Motulus what do you do, or interests you, in your spare time?

I’m a bit of a news junkie, but I ignore everything that even remotely resembles sports. I prefer politics, business news and all items related to the renewable energy transition. I’m still a nerd obviously.

And when you do get to travel?

Window or aisle seat? Window

Coffee or tea? Coffee

Get to the airport early or last minute? Definitely early

You are early for a flight: do you browse the shops, get a coffee or head to the bar? I probably won’t browse the shops. A coffee and some Wifi for me please.

Top tip when flying? Make sure your hand luggage is all you’ll ever need. And please, don’t take off your shoes.