Running a software company requires consistent effort and vision. You not only have to be proficient in the technical aspect, but also have to manage other functions such as operations and marketing.
This week, we interviewed Devan Sabaratnam, CEO of Blaze Business Software for the past 20 years and the founder of HRPartner.io. Devan focuses on developing web and mobile applications, and other technologies for small businesses. We spoke to him about the operational challenges of serving clients and managing workflows and the importance of cloud hosting solutions for creating custom applications.
Cloudways: Hi Devan, hope you are doing well. Thank you for agreeing to do an interview for us. You have more than 20 years of experience as an owner of web agencies. Can you tell us what motivated you to start your own software company and the steps have you taken to outgrow yourself professionally?
Devan: I started working for myself nearly 30 years ago now. My first job out of school was as a hardware support technician for a local IBM dealership. I quickly realized that my forte was more in software, rather than hardware, so taught myself programming and started hacking together small utility apps.
After some time, I realized that I had this natural ability to take a business problem and apply a software solution around it. That lead to me starting to create a database and small-scale enterprise apps for clients of the business I worked for.
After a couple of years, I decided to leave that company and strike out on my own as a software developer. I haven’t looked back since.
Cloudways: You hold a C-suite position for two companies, Blaze Business Software and HRPartner.io. How do you juggle your responsibilities managing both companies’ day-to-day tasks and assignments?
Devan: It can be tough to juggle the workload of two companies, but at the moment, I am more focused on growing HR Partner, as it is a newer business and still needs to grow to a level of being self-sustaining. Blaze Software is a very mature business, but with low overheads and a steady clientele that keeps the revenue trickling in, so I can afford to take some time away from that side of things to grow my cloud HR startup.
Cloudways: As the owner of two software companies, a big responsibility is building and managing teams. How do you align team goals with those of your companies to meet client requirements?
Devan: We are fortunate that the teams for both companies are very small. As a result, we have a lot of 1 on 1 time, and virtually no middle management layers to get in the way. This makes it easy for me to communicate my principles, values, and goals really effectively to the teams so that they understand how the company operates, and are able to make decisions and show initiative and work in a way that still conforms to how I would like.
In all my companies, I have always made customer happiness the #1 goal, and I tend to lead by example to show my co-workers how to go above and beyond the call of duty to care for customer needs and to ensure they are 100% happy.
Cloudways: How do you maintain the quality of software and application development for projects? What core competencies and skills do you look for when building technical teams?
Devan: Whilst core technical skills are important, I mainly like to hire people that I enjoy working with. I especially look for team members who are willing to learn all the time, rather than rely on one particular skill set or expertise, and never vary from that.
I put a lot of emphasis on learning, and once again I tend to try and lead by example by learning some new piece of technology, a new application development framework, or a new language at least every few months.
Cloudways: Blaze Business Software writes databases and applications for SMBs. What routine checks do you ensure for bug fixing and testing?
Devan: We don’t have an academic framework for bug fixing, however, we do use industry standard issue tracking and wiki tools to track and ensure bugs are logged, examined, and fixed. We also use a multi-tiered development methodology with our Git version control system to ensure that bug fixes and new feature developments are done on separate branches. Plus, we do have a formal code review process before changes are pulled into the main production branch for deployment.
Cloudways: What are the main technical challenges you face when developing web and mobile applications for your clients? Do these challenges vary across different SMB sectors and industries?
Devan: The biggest challenge we find is the extremely fast rate at which the technology is changing these days. We don’t mind, because as I mentioned before, we value learning new technologies all the time, but this does have an impact on productivity, as it always takes a while to get up to speed and be completely productive in a new language or framework.
The other issue we are finding these days is that a lot of third-party providers (e.g. PaaS providers) can routinely change their platform completely, or else shut down their platforms at short notice, forcing us to re-deploy our apps using other providers.
Cloudways: What is your opinion on managed hosting solutions like Cloudways that offer scalable, feature-rich PHP hosting for creating custom applications?
Devan: I think services like Cloudways are absolutely critical and necessary for developers such as ourselves. Too many people try to host web or mobile applications on consumer grade shared hosting providers, and that is a recipe for disaster. A good managed service provider is like having an extra DevOps person on your team.
Professional services like Cloudways who are geared towards serious developers are invaluable. You understand exactly what we want as a developer, and you also understand that reliability and excellent support (which includes the ability to talk to a support person in real technical terms and have them understand you) really makes the lives of companies like mine a breeze.