A chin wag with Risto Orr, a product engineering lead in Katana
Risto Orr is the product engineering lead for the MRP team. He takes the time to sit with us to talk about how he became a developer, the culture at Katana, and gives us an insight into what it’s like to work here.
Last updated: 02.05.2022
Risto Orr is a software developer from the Estonian capital, Tallinn — born and bred.
A Fonzie type of guy, Risto only concerns himself with cool guy antics. Be that going on evening rides on his motorcycle or tinkering with small electronics. And you can bet your bottom dollar he plays videogames.
However, that all changed when he was upgraded from loose cannon renegade to a loving and caring father.
Now he’s traded in his hobbies for the commendable challenge of raising his two daughters.
Risto agreed to sit down with us to chat about his life, what he thinks about working at Katana, and his advice for anyone looking to get started with a career in software development.
Without further ado, take it away Risto.
How did you get started as a software developer?
I really like this question because I actually have an answer to it.
I got started really early, sometime around middle school. I first discovered this weird possibility of having web pages display different content based on who is accessing it and when or where they are accessing it. I was fascinated by this and started creating my own, first with mostly static content containing little bits of logic. Then it grew to fully-fledged pages with mostly logic and little bits of static content.
It was all fun and games until I went to university — it gave me the structure and discipline to help me focus on my purpose.
I’ve always been fascinated with basically making a computer do something and teaching it a skill.
How did you come across Katana?
I used to work with Priit (Katana CTO) when I was a vendor at Skype, helping them improve their workflow and the tools surrounding it.
Sometime later, Priit sent me an invitation to join Katana. I knew I wanted to work with Priit again, but I was initially hesitant to join. But, he kept making convincing arguments about why I should join, and eventually, I came on board during the first pandemic lockdown.
Though, it wasn’t easy to join at the time because I like to get to know the people I work with, and almost no one was in the office.
What has been your experience working remotely?
Well, it’s been difficult to work at home because I have two young kids and they don’t understand when I need to concentrate on work and whatnot.
I worked from home for, let’s say over a month between vaccine shots, and I found I was more organized, but at the end of each day, I felt like I actually got less done than if I’d been in the office. There’s always someone to brainstorm with in the office or just shoot some questions back and forth instead of reflecting with yourself and becoming stuck. Having a fresh pair of eyes, simplifying the whole process instead of arranging meetings online, helps avoid a simple problem becoming a whole thing.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
I’m supposed to be 50% developer and 50% team lead, but as Katana grows, I’m more focused on planning upcoming developments, coordinating with other teams, and trying to do my best to support my team.
Hiring is another responsibility of mine, but it’s hard work because there is a talent shortage in our field. I’ve been trying to prioritize this because I feel like I’m letting other departments down in Katana.
What is the best aspect of working at Katana?
I guess the people.
I feel like everyone is pushing forward really hard, and doing this yourself isn’t so difficult when you see all the people around you pushing hard toward the same goal too. Everyone is excellent at their job. It’s really motivating to push yourself in that sense because everyone is in the same boat.
It stops you from slacking, and I understand slacking has its benefits since you’ll experience burnout otherwise. But, it’s easier to grow and push yourself when amazing and productive people surround you.
What has been your proudest achievement at Katana?
It’s a weird tiny thing.
I think I had been in Katana for maybe a few weeks, and it was a technical problem. I had this task where a page in Katana was loading really slowly for a couple of customers and not even opening in some instances. I remember trying to figure it out, and it took a few days, and all the solutions I found were insufficient.
I didn’t want to cut any corners on this task.
I kept working at it and eventually fixed it, and not only that, but I managed to improve the loading speed to even a few seconds
I was working remotely at the time, and I remember walking around my house desperately trying to find someone I could tell what I did. That feeling managed to last for a few weeks, and when I was finally back in the office, I really wanted to tell someone still. I guess that’s the definition of proud.
It’s all been downhill from there — no, no, it’s not that bad.
What does it mean to be a Katanaut?
It would have to be the ability to work as a team and take ownership of their domain — I even have an example.
We were about to release something, and everything was prepared for a smooth launch. But there was a miscommunication on the day of the launch, and everything went sideways because we accidentally ran a script incorrectly. All hell broke loose.
But I was so proud of everyone at Katana because the problem required all hands-on deck from multiple teams. Everyone was at their position, trying to fix the problems as soon as they came up. It was amazing to work with people who knew what they were doing because stuff came up, and people were already available to address the issue.
It was beautiful, like a well-oiled machine, and the issue was even fixed within a few hours.
If someone was thinking about joining Katana, what would you tell them to expect?
Again, I have to talk about the people here.
I think we’re doing amazing things for people in manufacturing, and I know it sounds like propaganda. We’re building software that provides amazing value while allowing you to do less. I think the software is great because incredible people are building it, and I think that’s what I would tell people joining Katana, you’ll have your work cut out for you, but you’ll be working with a great team.
It may not be much in the grand scheme of things, but I do feel like we’re changing the world, at least in the manufacturing industry.
If you had a crystal ball that could show you the answer to anything, be that your future, life, or anything else, what would you want to ask?
I would want the crystal ball to tell me something I don’t know, like the things I don’t know that I don’t know. This could be a straight-up fact about something or maybe just a suggestion for a perspective change or whatever else. As for context, maybe I would ask a question for the greater good of humanity, like what’s the secret to traveling over the speed of light.
Or I might go with something a little more selfish that would help me grow as a person.
If you could trade lives with anyone, who would it be and why?
I have this really deep-rooted belief that I wouldn’t trade lives with anyone.
It might be cool to be a celebrity like Elon Musk or something, but they’ve done their part and have their own problems. I guess I wouldn’t like to solve their problems too. If SpaceX was to collapse, then there’s going to be immense economic turmoil, and that’s a big burden to carry.
Though, the billions of dollars wouldn’t hurt.
Who would you rather be, Batman or Iron Man?
I understand the appeal to Batman, but I’m really into technology, so that I would pick Iron Man any day of the week.
Iron Man is centered around technology and development. It was so interesting to see how he created and used technology to solve his problems. Plus, when I was a kid, I got Iron Man comics and not Batman, so there’s that.
If you could take a one-month trip anywhere in the world and money wouldn’t be an issue, where would you go and what would you do?
This is fun because it means that money isn’t an issue? Is it unlimited, or does it mean I wouldn’t have to consider expenses?
It’s not technically unlimited, but you can do anything you want regardless of costs.
If unlimited, I would try and blow as much as possible in Las Vegas.
But I would love to visit either Iceland or New Zealand. I’ve always wanted to go hiking in different parts of those countries because there’s so much to experience, especially when it comes to nature. If I had a year to prepare, I would go for maybe a month or two weeks to do as many hikes as possible.
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