Life at TourHero — Head of Engineering

On the job: Yuri Koval’ov talks about his role as Head of Engineering at TourHero

Our Head of Engineering, Yuri Koval’ov, shares some of his most valuable insights and experiences gained at TourHero and over the course of his career.
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From turning product ideas into reality to ensuring his team stays well-equipped and motivated throughout this period of remote work, there are plenty of things keeping our resident Head of Engineering busy. We asked Yuri to tell us more about the fundamentals of his work, from his greatest challenges to the culture that he hopes to maintain while leading the engineering team. He also talks about one of our biggest projects yet and provides us with a deeper look into how it came to be.

Here’s what life at TourHero is like for Yuri.

What does the Engineering Team at TourHero do?

Yuri: At TourHero, the engineering team has only one task: translating business ideas into products. To accomplish this, we work closely with our product manager and the marketing team. Essentially, we are a bridge between the two teams, so it is important to not only stay creative and thoroughly to understand the business requirements, but also come up with the fastest yet simplest and most elegant technical implementation.

After the product has been released, we are responsible to ensure that its operation is bug-free and available to our users at all times.

Can you tell us more about your role as Head of Engineering?

Yuri: As Head of Engineering, I am responsible to put the correct processes in place to make sure that anyone who is dependent on the technology gets their work done without getting blocked. If they are blocked, it is my responsibility to make sure to connect the dots to allow the work to be done.

Apart from that, I am responsible to make sure everyone on the team is satisfying their goals in terms of growth and happiness. This means I am always staying in close contact with the team to ensure they are motivated to apply their strengths in the right places.

What is one of the biggest projects you launched this year?

Yuri: Project Travel Reopening. With the COVID-19 pandemic and travel halting, no one was sure when travel would reopen. With this adverse perception of travel, many travelers were not sure where and how they could travel while many countries were putting up entry restrictions. We felt that it was an essential part of travel to know where and how you could enter a country and if you could actually travel within the country. So, we decided to create an easily-navigable map to understand how and where travel is open.

One of the most unique things about Project Travel Reopening is the tool’s outbound function. We conceptualized our map to take existing travel bubbles into consideration, providing users the ability to find out which countries they can travel to from any particular country. As such, it provides valuable information for travelers looking for outbound travel options, not just entry border restrictions.

Of course, with such a small team, maintaining the project is a challenge, so we aimed to automate certain processes as much as possible. One of which was sourcing COVID-19 statistics data. This feature was to make sure travelers understood the risks involved when traveling to a certain region or a country. We ended up sourcing the data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and displaying it on the graph.

What was your career journey like prior to joining TourHero?

Yuri: Prior to TourHero, I’ve worked in various industries in different parts of the world throughout my career – the telephony industry in New York, health industry in Tokyo, inventory management and e-commerce, and finance in Singapore. I’ve learned various technical and soft skills in different areas and have experienced being part of a team and leading a team. 

How do you find working at TourHero?

Yuri: The flexibility and room for creativity are certainly the benefits of working at TourHero. You can always reach out to anyone on the team and have a chat about anything – there is no hierarchy, and we try to make sure that every voice is heard. 

There is a lot of room for experimentation. Fast pace of software development iteration means we get to try a lot of new things!

What are the greatest challenges of your role?

Yuri: The daily challenge as Head of Engineering is bridging the gap between ideas and reality using technology. As with any small company that is just starting up, there are of course many ideas being thrown about and jobs to be done. But with limited resources and time constraints, we need to be realistic with what we can actually achieve. My job is to apply technology to stretch at reality to encompass those ideas as much as we can.

What is your main learning from this year so far?

Yuri: That nothing is certain, anything can change at any moment. The Black Swan of the decade is certainly the COVID-19 pandemic. Nobody could prevent it from happening, and no one could avoid it.

Negatively affecting Black Swans aside, we have to stay flexible to allow ourselves to navigate around and above these obstacles and strive to ride the wave of positively affecting Black Swan events. It is uncertain when and how the travel industry will bounce back, but it is certain that it will happen and as a newly-formed travel company, we have to make sure we are ready to ride the wave.

What things from your previous experience have prepared you for the role of Head of Engineering at TourHero?

Yuri: In my previous roles, I’ve gotten the chance to work remotely. With today’s work going mostly remote, my past experience has definitely prepared me to manage engineering remotely. For remote working, communication is key. It is extremely important to over-communicate with your team. Regardless of the issue or task, it is important to make sure that everyone is on the same page and synced-up. Communication is everyone’s weakness. No matter how much you like talking, you will always run into issues when both parties miscommunicate and misunderstand each other, so it’s important to make sure that you convey your points so you don’t run into any conflicts.

Can you describe the engineering culture at TourHero?

Yuri: We are not afraid of trying new things. So long as the solution fits the requirement, and if the tool is right for the job. Before jumping into something new, we complete a round of evaluations to pick a solution that makes the most sense for us in terms of complexity, team familiarity, and maintainability.

The core focus of our engineering team is to deliver quality results within the allotted time. On top of that, we value creativity and independence – as long as work is delivered on time and as promised, everyone is free to experiment and try anything they want.

As an engineer, what are the opportunities to upskill at TourHero?

Yuri: As an engineer at TourHero, you get a lot of opportunities to work on challenging problems. You are expected to be independent – the ability to derive a solution worked out by yourself and present a sensible solution for it is the most valued skill. As such, oftentimes people at TourHero might branch out into areas that are outside of their main role.

For example, someone might be a content producer by trade, but while shipping a product they could jump straight into GitHub for small content fixes rather than waiting for an engineer to do it for them. Of course, we will guide them along the way whenever possible so that no one feels like they are diving into things alone.