Engineering and Product

Maikel Penz, Data Engineering Manager

The dream of becoming a professional football player didn't quite pan out; however, luckily for Maikel Penz, his love for computers from an early age has led him on a really interesting path in tech.

We caught up with Maikel to learn more about what set him off on the software engineering path, what a typical day-in-the-life of a Data Engineering Manager looks like and what he loves about working for Plexure.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Maikel.

Firstly, how would you explain to a five-year-old what it is you do?

I lead a group of people, called engineers, and we work together to make data available to everyone that needs access to it, like the people we work with and to our customers.

But it’s not just any data, I am talking of large amounts of data that needs a lot of work before we make it available.

Think of it as a messy room where we bring dirty and broken toys; we tidy them up before inviting people to play with them. I hope I haven’t lost my 5-year-old audience.

And for the adults, what does that translate to in regards to your day-to-day?

In my daily work, I wear several hats. I take on the responsibility of fostering the professional growth of individuals within the team, offering support to team leads, and engineers to ensure their success in their respective roles.

On the engineering side, I actively contribute to shaping the technical strategy of the data space. This involves aligning our engineering efforts with business goals, ensuring our team builds high-quality products and adheres to best engineering practices.

Additionally, there's a significant focus on strategic thinking and collaboration. This includes hiring and building teams with the right skillset and working closely with the product team to ensure we are working on the right initiatives at the right time.

What are some of the common misconceptions about working as a Data Engineering Manager?

People might think management is there to tell people what and how to do things, and this is a big misconception.

The role of an Engineering Manager focuses on supporting teams, empowering them, and creating opportunities. The goal is to provide team members with the necessary context and skills, empowering them to make informed decisions when solving technical problems.

Also, if you believe my week is primarily filled with meetings, you're not entirely correct, though you're not entirely wrong either. The ability to handle context-switching is a key skill in this role.

Was working in tech something you dreamed about doing as a kid, if not, what was?

When I was a kid, I dreamt of being a football player. But, while I'm not terrible at it, I am also not good enough for the competitive scene. Plus, my knees wouldn't have made it through a single full season!

So, if not football, it's all about computers for me. I practically lived in front of a computer screen growing up, playing games. Eventually, I got into coding and building stuff.

Tell us a little bit more about your career journey and, ultimately, about how you ended up working at Plexure?

I am originally from Brazil and my journey began with an IT technician course during high school, followed by a Bachelor of Information Systems.

At the age of 17, I started my career as a software developer for a small business in Brazil. My professional path then led me into the data space, where I’ve been working since.

In 2015, I travelled to New Zealand to study English, instantly falling in love with the country. I decided to stay and began my Kiwi career at Trade Me as a Database Administrator.

As my interests evolved and opportunities appeared, I transitioned to Data Engineering within the same company. After nearly five years, I embraced a new challenge at Spidertracks, where I worked as a Senior Data Engineer. Here, my responsibilities expanded, and I discovered a taste for leadership.

Then an opportunity at Plexure caught my eye. A chance to be part of a New Zealand business dealing with Big Data and to take on a leadership role. Since joining Plexure, my journey has seen growth from leading a small team to overseeing a larger one.

While I'm now in the Engineering Manager role, managing multiple teams with distinct focuses, I still remain closely connected to their day-to-day.

What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

The best career advice I got is simple: go with what feels right for you. Technology and people change, so your career doesn't have to be a straight line. Look for exciting opportunities and work with good people – that's what makes a great career.

What are the core skills required to be good in your role?

EMs usually start in engineering, so having a background in it is super important to support the teams and get their challenges. On top of that, you'll need patience, solid communication, and forward thinking.

Lastly, as Plexure continues to grow and evolve, what are the key traits and characteristics of people who will be well-placed to work there?

Those with a passion for learning, a drive for growth and to challenge the status quo. Someone who can contribute to fostering a positive team culture.

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