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A conversation with David Kubec: “Innovation is not optional. Definitely not!”

24 Apr 2017

A conversation with David Kubec: “Innovation is not optional. Definitely not!”People & ideas at Deutsche Börse

David Kubec is working as a “DevOps Evangelist” for Deutsche Börse from Prague.

Everywhere we turn change is in the air, with digital transformation affecting virtually every sector. Established companies, such as Deutsche Börse, in particular need to scrutinise their business models, think in new directions and explore new territory. In spite of all the technology involved, people remain at the centre of all development: on the one hand, new digital offerings must always follow clients’ needs, and on the other, every technological change originates in the human mind. Innovative change depends on our creativity, our initiative and our energy. In a loose series of interviews, we would like to introduce you to the people and ideas that make a substantial contribution to promoting change within Deutsche Börse. We are kicking off our series with David Kubec from our Prague office who talked to us about innovation, its significance for our company and the role he plays in it.  

David, what characteristics make a good innovation?

An innovation is of course something new. It saves you time or money. It helps you to overcome obstacles – maybe thanks to automation or to simplification. But this is strictly a technological point of view. This is not where innovation ends. Because now, suddenly you have more time or fewer constraints, so you can do something else with the time and money saved.

Can you mention an example?

Having fully automated cars driven by artificial intelligence will be a huge innovation because then you will be able to focus on something else while being driven. Travelling long – or short – distances is a repeatable process. Why shouldn’t we leave it to the robots while putting our human brains to more creative uses?

In other words: a good innovation has to not only save you time, money, effort and personnel, it also needs to enable you to do something else with the saved resources. 

Do we have the choice to renounce innovation?

If you claim that you don’t need innovation, you are simply wrong, just by definition. Innovation is always needed. It is not optional. Definitely not. If you don’t innovate, you are stuck in one place and everybody outruns you. It is part of our evolution. Only those members of the tribe who can adapt will survive. This can be applied from a biological perspective, even from a social perspective. We have to evolve. If you stop evolving, stop innovating, you will simply just die off – sooner or later.

From a company’s perspective – what kind of culture is important to foster innovation?

The culture should be rethought. For example, automate your work so that you can focus on something else – something that brings more benefits than just keeping a project alive. For this, you need the willingness to stop doing what you have always done. You will realise that you can even automate stuff you thought could not be automated.

Would you have ever thought that it would be possible to run a taxi company without having even one car or driver? Or a hotel service without having any buildings? Uber and Airbnb have shown us that this is possible. For us at Deutsche Börse, the challenge will be to automate business operations, for example.

But aren’t there also other aspects, e.g. that you have to create a fearless atmosphere?

Of course, openness and courage always imply the ability to fail without fear. Accepting failure moves you forward. If you fail with the implementation of the automation, as an example, it is still better than doing nothing. Because you can still fix your failures. Elon Musk said: “Failure is an option. If you are not failing, you are not innovating”.

You have a very special task within Deutsche Börse. Could you describe your job for us?

I call myself a “DevOps evangelist”. DevOps is a composite based on the words “software development” and “information technology operations”. It is a kind of mentality or an environment where software development, testing and releasing can unfold very fast and reliably.

By shortening the lifecycle of our application development, we are moving from a release-based culture to one of continuous development. It is my aim to pass this philosophy on to my colleagues and to leave an impact on the company on its way to a full software company.

How do you work?

One part of it is scouting. That means I try to keep up with new trends. Even if new doesn’t always mean good. You need to filter out. In the course of that I look at practical examples, at how different companies are solving the same issues. From that I can learn what not to do, at least in our company, or where we can get some inspiration.

I also walk around the company and I listen to people. I speak to people on any level and in any job position. Then, I draw conclusions about what they are missing and I usually do some trainings or provide feedback to the right people which can actually help them.

I would rather teach people how to catch fish instead of simply giving them fish. In other words, moderate a discussion in such a way that they find out the correct answer by themselves. And finally, I try to connect people on top of that.

Can you give us examples of where this process worked perfectly?

A good example is database management based on Amazon Web Services. Some colleagues were looking for a new database solution. They were facing on-premise limits trying to find storage space for large snapshots, i.e. read-only copies of the state of a data set at a particular point in time, needed for development and testing. It wasn’t hard to convince them that the implementation and management of a database would be much easier on Amazon because Amazon offers unlimited scalability and all the tools you need. Basically, they offer a complete solution which we would otherwise need to manage by ourselves. Via Amazon, we could just integrate it into our software. That was something people realised after some time and I was trying to be a moderator in these discussions to guide them.

Another example is our new GitHub Enterprise, a source-code hosting service for developers. This was part of a company-wide initiative. We had different versions of control systems in different areas and we said: “Let’s have just one.” At first glance there is no benefit to that. It’s just a different place where you store your source code. Why be so excited? But after some time, we did start to see some real effects. We now act more like one working development community where you can always get the latest information, e.g. on whether a certain bug was fixed or when the next release is due. It gives you a much better overview of what this company is really doing – not only of what’s on the project plan. So that was really a great step forward. And I’m trying to spread this culture even to “non-believers”.

And what does this mean for Deutsche Börse’s customers?

Impact on our customers will be huge. By focusing on the core of our business – developing software – we enable agility, increased speed to market and pro-active, customer-focused actions. Currently, physical infrastructure is of course a must, but our work will be shifting more and more towards software and data. That is what our customers are paying for. Database management based on Amazon Web Services as well as our companywide GitHub initiative are just a few of the many steps we have taken; however, our work is far from being done.

David, what did you do before you joined our company?

Before I joined the company, I worked for the biggest electricity provider in the Czech Republic. I was providing technical support for the trading floor, e.g. EEX and Xetra trading. I just love computers. Ever since I was five I have known that I would like to end up spending my life working with computers so that’s what I’m doing. I don’t have any special degree by the way, I just do what I love.

Finally, in what you do, you need to think big. Which of your characteristics help you most in this?

Characteristics of mine? I am stubborn and I think I am patient. Probably much more than other people. Both is important if you want to convince other people. And I like to communicate. That is probably the most important skill I have.

Interview: Irmgard Thiessen

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