Leaders in Tech: Milen Kovachev

Welcome to our Leaders in Tech editorial series. Speaking to leaders in the industry to capture their stories, career highs and lows, their trials and successes, their current company and their role, most recent projects, advice to others, and the individuals who they most look up to in the industry.

This week, we talked to Milen Kovachev, DevOps Coach and Transformation Lead at Tangerine, to find out more about why he joined the tech industry, what his role entails, what are the challenges he faces as a tech leader, and his advice to aspiring engineers and developers.


First of all, can you tell me a bit about yourself and your current role?

I am a DevOps Coach and Transformation Lead at Tangerine Bank, Canada. I coach 20 development teams in high-performance DevOps software delivery techniques and practices. I also lead the DevOps Enablement team in the design and development of the DevOps Platform at Tangerine – a far-reaching solution that covers every aspect of delivery at Tangerine.

Can you tell me about your journey and how did you get where you are now?

I have been designing and implementing software solutions for almost 30 years now, starting as a C++ developer in the early 90s. Over those years, I helped many businesses design and develop software solutions in various industries, including technology, health, finance, big data, and government. Eventually, I started a consulting practice where I help enterprises optimize their software development approach for a better and faster delivery that scales. This approach naturally landed me in the role of a DevOps coach that I practice now.

What inspired you to get involved in the IT industry?

When I first came across the PC as a kid in the mid-80s, I fell in love with the machine. It was so easy and powerful to create and run a program, something that has behavior and the ability to interact, almost like giving life to a living thing, but also with the potential for endless improvement. This fascinated me so much, that at that time I knew what I wanted to do in my professional life. This fascination is still with me in my daily work.

What is your expertise?

Over the years, I wore many hats including senior software developer, systems analyst, solutions and enterprise architect, business intelligence, data warehouse, big data specialist, Agile team lead, Cloud Native specialist, as well as a DevOps coach and transformation lead. I often lead large teams and coach them in development and testing practices that make Agile and iterative software delivery a smooth experience.

Do you have a favorite part of your job?

I have always liked learning new ways of doing things better and easier. Luckily, my industry allows for an almost infinite room for improvement. Over the past 30 years, we have witnessed tremendous progress in almost any facet of the business of software development and delivery, including the Internet, new tools, new platforms, new programming languages, and target devices, novel project management (think Agile), and DevOps practices, test automation, and the almost limitless power of the Cloud. And that just touches the surface.

What about Machine Learning, AI, blockchain technologies? I can’t wait to see what comes next. One of the most favorite parts of my job is to utilize this new knowledge in helping others improve their daily experience as IT delivery practitioners. There’s a unique level of gratification you get every time you make someone else’s life a bit easier.

What is a typical day for you?

I spend a lot of time learning, designing, implementing new features, and of course, coaching others. In my current role, I wear many hats and so my day is split between various strategies, brainstorming and design meetings on the DevOps program that I lead, and conducting coaching sessions with multiple delivery teams.

I also spend a lot of time on the keyboard implementing actual features or at least putting together the frames for what are to become new features of the platform. COVID-19 obviously changed a lot. I used to meet face-to-face with tens of teammates daily. Now those meetings are conducted mostly online.

What are the challenges you faced during your career?

The biggest challenge in my career is how difficult it is sometimes to improve, and sometimes radically change an existing and entrenched culture, for the better. More often than not large enterprises subscribe to heavy delivery processes, driven by outdated and invalid concerns and the desire to closely control and predict the outcome of a notoriously unpredictable and inventive discipline that is the process of novel software development.

The result is often a clogged up pipeline of a massive amount of work in progress, hindered by silos and barriers, that under-delivers, costs way too much and keeps teams’ productivity and morale low. Agile and DevOps definitely help with that, but at the end of the day, the ultimate change comes from the people that drive and participate in those processes. Instilling grassroots enthusiasm really helps and together with demonstrating real value with any new approach, tends to be the best way to tackle this challenge.

What are your current goals?

As I mentioned earlier, I enjoy learning new and better ways of doing things and helping others use that knowledge in their daily lives. I also love to design and build things, like new systems and solutions. My goals are to continue to make a difference for the better for my clients while growing and learning in the process.

What are you the proudest of in your career so far?

Some of the achievements that I am most proud of are the three DevOps Industry Awards that I helped my client Tangerine Bank win in the years 2020 and 2021.

What have you learned from your experience so far?

One of the things that I learned over the years was to listen. We often have preconceived misconceptions about the state of things, based on past experiences, which easily can lead us to misunderstand and ultimately provide the wrong advice or suboptimal solution. Assuming that there is a limit to what I know and have experienced so far really helps to open my mind to the possibilities out there.

Do you have any advice for aspiring testers and engineers?

To be successful in this career be prepared to be the eternal student.

Finally, do you have a memorable story or anecdote from your experience you would like to share with us?

For this one I have several:

In the early 2000s, shortly before I joined a company to improve their development practices, there was a developer who had developed a component that was already in production, but the only copy of the code was on his machine. The company had not mandated source control for all of its code! When the developer was later dismissed for generally underperforming his machine was scheduled to be decommissioned. Someone needed to make a change to the component but when they looked for the code they couldn’t find it. Talk about “shift-right”! By pure luck, they found his machine with the code on it, one day before its disk was to be scrubbed.

Once, I had a client that spent a year developing a $2MM custom-made system to replace a paper-based administrative process that was fully maintained by a single employee who cost about $100K annually. The whole process, including the new system, was scheduled to be completely retired within the next three years.

About 8 years ago, I had a client that needed a content management system for its multi-tenant solution. Instead of using one of the many available best-of-breed solutions out there, the client had stood up a large team developing their own generic CMS. They are still working on it to this day.

This is a story of non-representative samples. In the late 90s, I joined a company in New York where 5 other teammates had Bulgarian backgrounds, just like me. My first name, Milen, is not very common in Bulgaria, but by a coincidence one of my other teammates had my first name too. In addition to this, two of my other Bulgarian teammates were identical twins, while I also have an identical twin brother, who later joined the company. Despite our assurances to the contrary, many of our American colleagues believed that Milen is one of the most common Bulgarian names and that at least half of the country population is made up of identical twins.