"It’s just like learning another language"
- Ashwini Kolar Narayanappa, Product Owner
Being a developer in India, she took a chance and jumped on a plane to the Netherlands. Now she gets to mix business with technology – enjoying the best of both worlds.
Hi Ashwini! As a product owner in an integration platform team, you’re responsible for the end-to-end product, stakeholders and also talking to the customers. How’s that?
“My job is about bringing business value to the products that we build. I work closely with developers, and if they have some issues, I try to help them out. Also, because a lot of functional requirements are broader, I have to shorten them with smaller user stories. We call it stories when you work on functionality. So that's my role – to make these functional requirements into technical requirements that the developers can understand as well. Because I have a background in development, I think I add value here in writing stories that can easily be understood by developers.”
It’s interesting that you call it user stories. Can you elaborate?
“We call it stories because you want to add value to everything you create. When you're working in agile and scrum, you’re trying to build small functionalities which you can then showcase to your customer today, rather than waiting six months for something to change.”
“There was also a growth plan for me, and I could speak to my manager about my aspirations.”
How about your own story? You started as a developer in India and later found your way to the Netherlands. Take us through your journey?
“I did my engineering in computer science back in Bangalore, India, where I’m from, and started working as a developer for an American company. Later I had a huge bank client from the Netherlands, and that’s how I got to know about the work culture here. After a year of working for the customer, I had a job offer. I thought, okay, maybe it's nice to step out of my comfort zone of staying in Bangalore and take a leap. That's how I landed here. Then I found a job at Visma, which has been great because it gave me a push in my career. I enjoy the best of both worlds, working closely with the business as well as the technical part of it.”
And now you’ve already been in the Netherlands for almost five years! How come you found and chose Visma?
“I initially had conversations with Visma HR and spoke to a couple of colleagues before I started working. I liked the company culture. They treat people as people, not just as somebody who's working for them. They were also interested in knowing my background, my culture and me as a person, like whether I’m an introvert or extrovert. Of course, the job description was interesting. My role was initially an integration specialist, and I thought that was perfect. There was also a growth plan for me, and I could speak to my manager about my aspirations. I want to be a Product Manager down the line and the stepping stone for that would be a Product Owner role. As soon as there was an opportunity, I was given that role.”
Going back to coding and development, what sparked your interest in the first place?
“I think it’s a cultural thing – back in India, everyone becomes either a doctor or an engineer. I also love tech, which is probably an influence from my brother, who’s an electronics engineer. At university I started learning about object-oriented programming and how a computer can understand your instructions. That's very fascinating because you can't see it. It’s not until you write something that it starts working. And within production, it feels good that ‘you wrote this piece of code and it's making something work’ and that I get to add value to somebody's life.”
You really are, and code language is spoken all over the world! Why do you think that everyone should show an interest in learning how to code?
“It’s just like learning another language, like how you study German or Spanish in school. Coding should be a part of the academic curriculum because we’re all moving towards it. Without coding or without technology, we wouldn't be sitting here. I wouldn’t be here, having crossed oceans, coming to the Netherlands. I can't imagine the world right now without code or technology because we’re all cohabiting. I think we’re moving towards an age where everything we do is kind of related to computers or technology.“
“Technology isn’t just coding, it’s about creativity. It’s about bringing value into our everyday life.”
You’ve said you wish more women would apply for technical jobs. Why is that?
“Some women get scared of technology. I think part of it is due to how they portray these kinds of jobs. While growing up, if you keep hearing that this isn’t for girls or for people who are smart and creative, you’re not going to be interested in it. But technology isn’t just coding, it’s about creativity. It’s about bringing value into our everyday life. Everybody should try to see if they have some interest and inclination towards it. And we’re living in a world where without technology, nothing else is there.”
So what are your thoughts on working for a smaller local company within Visma?
“Yeah. It's quite interesting because as a company here in the Netherlands, we do have our own goals, vision and budget, but we’re always backed by Visma as a whole. Right now we’re moving towards sustainable products, and we have a new sustainable reporting product coming up. If we were a smaller organisation, there’d be things to consider about budget, whether we have the resources and if we can expand or not. But here, having the whole company backing us, it's easier to grow, easier to expand and easier to start building and focusing on the things that matter to us.”
And what do you do best? What do you like the most about your job and your role?
“I enjoy everyday interactions with the developers, seeing how we’re building the products and how they add value to our customers. At the end of each sprint, we have something to showcase, and we get to be involved from the beginning and throughout the whole process. That’s another thing I enjoy.”
If you were to describe the culture of the working environment and atmosphere at Visma, what would you say?
“I would say it's very friendly and inclusive. We even have a diversity and inclusion committee. Even though the culture is already good, they still want to improve every day to make sure everybody feels safe and included. Our collaborations are smooth and easy. Initially, I thought maybe it would be tough because of our different backgrounds and cultures. But everybody’s warm here. We’re also good at talking about the retrospective – discussing what went well and what didn’t go well in the last two weeks of working together. When you speak openly about these things, it creates an open and safe environment.”