The Life of an Infrastructure Developer

At Twill we want to give our customers and the general public a glimpse into how our company runs on a day to day basis – as well as the people who make it tick. Our ‘Day in the Life’ blog series continues this week as we spoke to Jeroen Zeegers, an Infrastructure Developer in the Twill Tech team, on what his job entails and what an average day looks like for him:

What does your job as an Infrastructure Developer entail?

“As an Infrastructure Developer at Twill I, along with my colleagues, am in charge of building and maintaining the infrastructure that the Twill platform runs on – that could mean managing services from third parties or ensuring we have enough resource to maintain a reliable and smooth service.

“It also means the security of our platform. Our customers trust us with information regarding the supply chain of their products, to protect this we make sure that we work according to industry best practices regarding security. This is an important part of my day-to-day working.”

Could you describe what your average day looks like?

“Well, as many people at Twill will testify, no day is quite the same – there are always exciting developments and new challenges to face. However, usually I will come into the office and the first thing I do is review the Twill platform’s performance overnight. This is crucial because I am based in the Netherlands – which means when I’m asleep, some of our biggest customer bases in Asia are just opening for business.

“If there have been any errors or issues then I will look to fix these. There have been times when I’ve had to solve an issue in the night! But those are rare now because our platform continues to get better and stronger with each development.

“Outside of these things I’m usually looking into ways to make Twill even more reliable for customers all around the world. One way that I check this is by seeing how fast our loading times are, and I check this in 30 different locations – from the U.S. to Vietnam and Netherlands to China – because, while everyone is accessing the same platform, the speed at which they can access it might differ from country to country.”

Are you involved heavily in new Twill features?

“Yes, absolutely, I will often be there from the start of a new feature being created – because our team is part of designing the functionality of that feature. I need to ensure that we have efficient resource to sustain a new feature without losing loading times, for example.

“It can be a bit of a balancing act – because in an ideal world you can have a platform that has a lot of features and is also super-fast and super-secure. But the reality is that each of these things impacts the others, so you have to tweak and work each day to get the balance right.”

What’s your favourite thing about working at Twill?

“More than anything I am really proud of the work we’re doing at Twill. We have grown to a point where almost anywhere in the world you have a Twill location near you – which means you have people who understand the specific needs and demands of your country and your market.

“As well as this, we’re working with some of the most recent innovations in cloud technology. As the shipping industry continues to modernise, it really feels like we’re on the forefront of that and that’s really exciting!”

Digital freight forwarder Twill celebrates first anniversary of making shipping simple

Maersk  start-up is now live in over 10 countries in just 12 months

The Hague, NL – 17 April 2018 – This week, Twill is celebrating its first anniversary following a year of rapid technology development for the digital freight forwarding platform. The company now operates in more than 10 countries, with ambitions to add 15 more countries to the platform in 2018.

Launched in April 2017, the idea behind Twill was to disrupt the freight forwarding industry, using the expertise and global footprint of partner company Damco (part of A.P. Moller – Maersk).

Troels Stovring, CEO of Twill commented: “When we started Twill, we were very excited about the opportunity of building a product from scratch. The platform exists to allow our customers to focus on their core business and leave us to handle their shipments, and we are striving to change the face of freight forwarding and make shipping simple in the digital world in which we live.”

Vincent Clerc, Chief Commercial Officer at Maersk commented: “With Twill, we are making shipping simple for our customers. We are unleashing a new-normal in an industry which is hungry for technological change and our reason for setting up Twill last year was down to the fact that digitalization is at the core of our vision to become the global integrator of container logistics, connecting and simplifying our customers’ supply chains – and that’s truly taking shape thanks to initiatives like Twill.”

Twill’s product journey so far

The original aim of the Twill platform was to allow customers to:

  • Place a booking instantly – 80% of bookings are completed within 3 minutes, and 30% within 1 minute
  • Create a central repository for storing all shipping paperwork – avoiding significant financial loss for customers through the process if documents are incorrect or missing
  • Receive instant notifications regarding the process of their shipment – minimizing the impact of exceptions

Historically, customers had to build up a relationship with multiple freight forwarders and actively follow up with them to get quotations and learn the progress of their shipment. The goal of Twill is to innovate this industry and improve the cumbersome process to ultimately make shipping simple.

“We have achieved a lot in the last 12 months, but the journey of Twill is far from finished – our ambitions are still high,” concluded Stovring. “In the coming months we are, for example, looking into enabling instant signup for new customers, undertaking deeper learning to further automate our operations, and exposing the Twill platform via web services so that other 3rd parties can integrate with Twill. There’s a lot of innovation still to come!”

Notes to editors:

So how does Twill work?

Once a customer has decided to use Twill for shipping their goods and has created a booking (the term used within Twill to indicate a shipment from source to destination), the counter-party will be requested to acknowledge the booking.

Once confirmed, the booking will be sent to the most appropriate carrier. From that moment on the freight forwarder, under the supervision of Twill, is responsible for delivering the goods to the destination.

In order to keep the customer well informed throughout the shipment, its progress is tracked via integration between the Twill system and that of the freight forwarder. Due to this coupling, Twill can notify the customer about the progress but also warn when action is required.

Such action could be, for example, confirming documents or uploading mandatory documents. By uploading all booking-related documents into the Twill system, tracking the notifications, conversations and acknowledgements, Twill implicitly builds up an audit trail that can be later consulted if there are any disputes regarding the shipment.

Tech features

And there are a number of specific features which set Twill apart from its competition:

  • Cloud-based solution – as Twill continues to expand into more and more countries around the globe, the platform must be able to sustain the load required on its performance. To guarantee this delivery, the platform consists of multiple distributed services, all deployed within the cloud. That means that Twill can scale dynamically when the need arises.
  • Data integration – in order to provide the best price and vessel schedules for its customers, Twill has to integrate a huge amount of data from a number of different sources. To manage this process, the Twill platform is constantly retrieving the prices and vessel schedules from different carriers and solving inconsistencies automatically without ‘manual’ intervention.
  • Avoiding bugs – like any complex software, unforeseen situations and bugs can be expected. To address this and minimize changes, all code that is written by Twill’s developers is verified by automated tests during the platform’s development cycles. If, even after all these pre-cautions, a bug occurs the development team is able to release fixes in just a couple of hours due to the fully-automated building and releasing of the platform.

Lost track of your container once again?

November 28, 2017 – As our American friends celebrate Thanksgiving and we all look ahead to Christmas many shipping companies are gearing up for the busiest time of the year. In our personal lives, thanks to small orders from the likes of Amazon, we are able to track our gifts from the depot to the door. This is a huge weight off our mind and allows us to plan our lives accordingly – sounds perfect right? But what we’ve done for personal shoppers, we haven’t yet managed to apply to the shipping industry.

This isn’t because the resources aren’t there; there is a lot of information available on each individual shipment – but many companies fail to access it and pass it on to customers; and those that do often fail to notify them when it matters most.

Just as we plan our personal lives around our deliveries of shopping, clothes or gadgets, companies plan their business and stock around their shipments arriving on time and in one piece! There’s nothing worse for a company than to lose a shipment.

Track with us and stay updated

At Twill our motto is ‘shipping made simple’ and we have worked to tackle this foundational problem within the shipping industry from our earliest stages. When you track your shipments with us you’ll stay updated throughout your cargo’s journey. We’ve broken down the process and identified seven key milestones throughout a shipment – from arriving at port for loading to the vessel departing/arriving and import customs cleared – we monitor the shipment daily and as each milestone is reached you are automatically contacted and updated.

Other companies in the industry only check shipments every few days and any customer will tell you that a lot can happen in that time! By taking a proactive approach, checking daily and utilising automated emails it means that as soon as changes happen, you are made aware.

Knowing when shipments reach certain milestones is particularly important to our customers in the UK, for example. As mentioned, for so many businesses it’s crucial that they know when vessels have arrived at port, as they plan everything around this to ensure they have the right amount of stock in their stores at any given time. If there is a delay in the shipment, our updates allow us to notify them quickly so that they can make the appropriate adjustments.

Building for the future

At Twill we want to not just introduce this process for our customers, but build on it and make it even better. We want to make shipping simple and this is an important step toward that goal.

Looking to the future just think about the possibilities if we could automate this service – allowing our system to talk and share information and go one step further towards providing updates to our customers in real-time. This is our aim and we’re really excited about the prospect of making shipping even simpler for our customers.

-Alex Archer, Customer Care UK

Seamless simplicity

November 16, 2017 – When I first joined Twill, I loved its motto on very first sight – shipping made simple. It sounds like a great idea in a world where we have so much information to digest and so much data we can consume, right? For a system to be able to make something so complicated – such as shipping goods from one side of the globe to the other – sound so simple, it has to be exciting as a concept!

Defining simplicity

I worked for many years in IT, and in previous roles I‘ve participated in the build process of quite a few systems, both big and small. But I‘ve never seen a system that looks so “seamlessly simple” on the outside, but which has numerous obstacles that need to be overcome in order to get it there.

So what does Twill set out to achieve? Some dictionaries define “simple” as “easy to access” and “plausible” and that makes a lot of sense for our shipment business.

For us, “easy to access” means that we only provide information that is needed at a particular moment in the process. Making data “plausible” must give the option for our customers to drill down in case they want more context to understand exactly what is going on with their shipment.

So how does Twill do it?

Through the Twill platform we offer our customers a very simple to use, web-based front-end, so that they can check on their shipment quickly from a huge variety of devices, wherever they are in the world.

I could take this opportunity to provide more detail on how that front-end is structured itself, but I’m not going to go into that level of technical detail here.

Instead, let’s look at how our team of Twillers embrace our vision. We want things to be as simple for our customers as possible – and our employees play a vital role in that.

Shipping made simple

As a team, we can access so much data from the Twill platform that we have built our own internal dashboards to simplify the information that we use when handling our customers‘ bookings.

For example, in our offices we have monitors on the walls showing graphs of activity of various parts of our platform – which not only makes for interesting viewing, but also means that this information is easily to hand for all IT staff, providing the ability to quickly spot trends and any warning signs.

A lot of the work that the Twill team does is unseen by our consignees and shippers – and of course we want to keep it that way! The more seamless it feels, the better the experience for our customers.

In order to achieve that, we‘ve built numerous tools into the Twill platform to synchronize with our partners and be able to anticipate and communicate any issues before they occur. That means that we can address them before the customer even knows about them – making their lives simpler.

The end goal

Twill is all about making life as simple as possible for our customers. Are we there yet? Of course not! But we are making great progress.

We have a long list of features and a huge development path which we are working on in order to make shipping even simpler for our customers. But what I can say is that the whole Twill team is working towards that goal and I’m happy to be a part of that.

-Christoph Frei, CTO

Building Tech organization in a new country

October 4, 2017  – For more than 10 years I was responsible for building technical teams from scratch for several companies. All of those were great successes. Teams has been formulated (from 0 to 25 , 40, and 60 team members). All processes for the software development have been established and implemented (including CI/CD pipelines, quality assurance, cross team cooperation, software architecture standards and coding principles).

So, when I joined Twill as a Chief Technology Officer, in February 2017, one of the main tasks was replacing the team of contractors with permanent Twill-ers (software developers, QA engineers).  It would be the easiest task I could imagine. But it didn’t quite turn out that way.

What the heck happened? What made this particular one so difficult? Why was I not able to build a strong technical organization, able to support our fast-growing venture, even within 4 months???

There were certainly several major reasons. One, which I consider as the most important, was my underestimating of being put into a new environment, outside of my huge professional network in Poland. It became so clear that moving into another country (or even city) is like ripping up roots. You have to invest an incredible amount of effort to build any kind of a new network, became familiar with the working culture, but also local manners, ways of reaching out to people. You have to spend most of the time on searching, talking to people, to head hunters, simply asking everyone if they would want to help you, or simply work with you.

Sometimes, I was losing my sense of reality, trying to talk to every single person who pinged me on LinkedIn, investing my time into searching google for any sources, even those not verified but promising wonders. That was not only exhausting for me, but also put tension and unnecessary pressure on the other team members. This was a dead end.

At some point, I changed my mind and approach. I let the team focus on only selected and proven sources, focus on the prioritized openings. Learning for me is that every place is different. In some places, you use huge network of head hunters, in the other you use only one but, in yet another one you use only personal recommendations.

It was more than fortunate that I joined Twill as my first real abroad work. The management team here is extremely supportive. They are more than committed into making this venture a success, not only inside their areas of responsibilities, but also outside. Thanks to this I was introduced to several different sourcing funnels, met people who could help me and Ramona, our Head of People, to actually get candidates and finally hires.

At the same time, I also tried my known network in Poland, and thanks to this we were able to quite quickly find and attract several strong developers in Gdansk, opening a new Twill office in Poland on September 18th.

As of now, we have a very strong team of experienced professionals, able to deliver business needs, but also to redesign and rebuild the left over from the MVP (minimal viable product) stage. We also have very well thought-through organizational design implemented (I’ll talk more about this in one of the next posts).

Does it mean I’m done? No way. I will work on the next phases of this journey, building bigger tech teams, splitting responsibilities and people into more self-driven and effective teams, growing Twill tech culture, encouraging each and everyone to experiment and innovate. To really disrupt the logistics industry. Keep it simple, keep it strong, keep it Twill.

By Marcin Kulawik, CTO, Twill.