Michael de Bruin on being a Mission Critical Engineer and an active automator

Michael vierkant
Michael de Bruin
Feb 13, 2024 · 6 min read
Michael kickboks 3

For this edition, we sat down with Michael de Bruin, a Mission Critical Engineer at Schuberg Philis who has one of the coolest jobs in the company. He lives in Mijdrecht with his wife and their son.

Working life

What does being a mission critical engineer mean to you?

I've worked at Schuberg Philis for almost 16 years at this point, and the great thing for me about being a mission critical engineer here is that I can do almost anything, basically. Within Schuberg Philis, we believe in T-shaped engineers: you will have one specialization, something you're really good at, but there's so much other stuff that you can do. And you can see that reflected back in what I've done at Schuberg Philis. I started out doing Unix, then went onto automation. Then realized: hey, this virtualization thing is fun to do, so I started working with VMware. Next, I got working with a new configuration management tool, Chef, and then ended up in a team where we did a lot of Splunk. Then I thought: let's check out that cloud thing, so started working with AWS, and became really good at that, got all the certifications, etcetera. Then about two years ago, I switched customer teams again and, all of a sudden, I'm doing stuff with Azure, a completely different cloud. At the core, I'm still a Unix engineer, but there's so much around that I'm able to do – and that for me is a mission critical engineer: being able to adapt to whatever technology quickly, make it your own, and work with that.

What is a typical day like?

One very cool thing about the NewCold customer team that I'm in, which is somewhat atypical to other customer teams, is I get to fly around the world. They have 15 sites worldwide, and they keep seeing new opportunities to open new sites. They make cold storage warehouses and have almost 1.2 million open pallet positions, so they are huge. What's so special about NewCold's way or working? They employ only about 2,000 people, which for their numbers is amazing. How is that possible? Process automation. That's their bread and butter. We're currently replacing the servers running their software that controls those warehouses. And that has to be done on-premise rather than in the cloud to avoid latency. That means that we get to go on location. So in the last one and a half years, I've been to Poland, the UK, the US, Sweden. I'm going to the US again. I'm going to quite a number of locations of NewCold, where we get to talk to the users onsite. We look into what they are doing with the software. What is critical? Where should we put our servers? That makes it very interesting because you actually get to go there instead of having this customer, where everything's digital. For NewCold, actually visiting the warehouses at minus 30 degrees Celsius, with special gear on; and seeing the moving pallets and the trucks come in being unloaded makes it very real. But to answer your question in short: a typical day can differ and totally depends on your location, the customer you work for and the technological solution.

To be clear: not every customer team flies around so much, right?

No. If you are going to join the company because of the traveling, it's going to be really disappointing. Going to a NewCold site is awesome, but I'm there to work. I see an airport, I see the hotel, I see the site, and that is it. It's still a great experience because you see the physical and real situation and for team bonding it is absolutely amazing. Of course we go out for dinner with the whole team, but it's not travel for pleasure. Yes, this role lets me see other parts of the world, but regardless of where we are, our undivided attention remains on the customer. That is what Schuberg Philis is all about, 100% customer satisfaction. The travelling maybe exceptional, but the customer intimacy – being able to operate as a team together with people from the customer – that's something that happens across customer teams.

Company culture

Your LinkedIn profile has a bold statement reading: "An important note for recruiters: don't bother contacting me. Seriously, don't. I work at Schuberg Philis and nothing you offer me will come close to what I have here." How did you come to feel so strongly?

When I started at Schuberg Philis, I think we were, like, 60 people. I was hired by Philip, one of the three co-founders, almost personally. And that is still the company I work for. Yes, we've grown; there are managing directors now. But for me, it's still about these three guys that really want to make a difference. Schuberg Philis is still this company of people that I know. It's not some nameless anonymous entity. It's not shareholders. It's not a board of directors. Yes, we're 400 people now, but in essence we are still that same small company. That is because our company is based on self-steering teams. It's this group of people – we still have this mutual influence over each other – and that's the people I'm very loyal to. Being a company that really cares about people means a lot to me. Plus, my family would never forgive me if I left Schuberg Philis because then they wouldn't get to attend the annual Family Day.

How do you see the company caring for its people?

COVID was a great example. At the onset of the pandemic, a lot of companies immediately looked at their bottom line and said: "Oh we're gonna fire people. You know, we wanna make hideous amounts of profits still. We wanna keep the shareholders happy." Whereas Schuberg Philis said: "You do not need to worry. No one's going to get fired. Yes, that might mean we take a hit, but don't worry. There's a lot to worry about already with COVID. Don't worry about your job." Funny enough, the pandemic ended up not being bad for the company's bottom line; we still stayed profitable. But regardless, that policy of not letting colleagues go was a signal that they really cared about us – and there's a lot more signals like that. I come into the office each morning, I have a latte macchiato; that could also just be a very shitty mass-produced machine coffee, right? No, we have proper coffee machines with great coffee. Then I go to the restaurant where breakfast is taken care of. Lunch: same thing, I don't need to worry about paying. If I have to work late, there's meals in the restaurant as well. Part of that you could explain as it makes business sense – however, I don't think that's the true incentive. It's because in essence they truly care about people, and they will do quite a lot to show that.

Passion project

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I've been playing squash for over 30 years. I do kickboxing once a week. And I go to the gym with my brother twice a week, so I'm pretty active. I'm also a geek. I do a bit of gaming, programming, home hacking, and automating around the house.

Automate, automate, automate: that's a mantra among Schuberg Philis engineers. Plus, process automation is key to your customer's success. What does automation look like at home?

Well, like being able to talk to your house. I have Home Assistant running; so that means trying to automate as many aspects in the house as possible. Telling Alexa to turn on the lights, turn off the lights, turn on the Christmas tree, check on temperatures. And I do geeky projects. For example, at work, we were working on some statistics to put in the cloud, and the first thing I did was realize that I have temperatures that I was collecting at home, so decided to put those in the cloud as well. So I've been trying to integrate some of the home automation into my everyday work every now and then. Because what better lab than your home?

Has your NewCold work made you more temperature-aware?

No, that's actually completely by accident.

Curious to know more about how more colleagues spend their days? See the whole series here.