Automotive industry is gaining momentum and having profound impact on industries globally. Being aware of these tectonic changes, we caught up with Igor Ličanin, Engineering Lead at HTEC Group with an extensive background in the field of automotive to talk to him about his early interest in automotive, experience working with automotive incumbents, his team’s strengths and his burning enthusiasm to build solutions that will holistically reimagine automotive experience.
H: Something about your new role at HTEC. You have extensive experience behind. Can you tell us how and why you entered the world of automotive?
I: Well, I’ve been in the engineering world and the IT world for over 20 years now. I started, of course, as a junior and then worked my way up to the architectural level, where I had a chance to lead teams and implement the latest technologies before I entered the world of project management. Once I got inside of this world, I found out that it’s incredibly satisfying for me to organize other people’s work, align with clients every step of the way, define risks, and find ways to solve issues before they happen. Also, I was driven by the additional knowledge I gained through specific certifications and additional courses. I was in the retail industry for over five, six years before I came across the automotive. So like all the best things in life, it happened by accident. I spoke with a friend of mine, and we discussed the topic of the automotive industry and the world within it. I found it quite challenging. I must say I never liked the comfort zone, so I really wanted to see how it feels to work in this field. I think this is one of the better choices I made on my career path because working in automotive can be and is very enticing, especially here at HTEC, where we are working with cutting-edge technologies on ground-breaking projects.
Every client we have worked with is the actual producer of the car. Throughout my career, I was involved in many exciting projects. One of them involved building software that is now in more than a million Audi vehicles on the streets running. It is inspiring to be a part of such projects that impact the lives of millions and make their driving experience seamless. Working with the clients to develop a plan that can actually work and working under pressure to overcome challenges are all the steps you need to take to reach success. But in the end, you know that you’re creating something first that people will benefit from. We clearly see trends in automotive moving from enhancing drivers’ personal experience to building something that will be shared among the masses. And I feel I share this mindset with the rest of my team. I believe we are in this together — we are a part of something disrupting that will revolutionize how people live and commute. For the past five years, I have had the opportunity to see so many young colleagues become experts and front runners in their expertise. And this is what I see as one of the main values of my job and what drives me to invest my effort into this team. On the one hand, it is enticing to see projects moving forward and find solutions to complex problems, and on the other hand, it is fulfilling to work with people, address their needs and concerns, and see them grow. This is where I see my team, and I can really contribute and make a difference.
H: How much has your traditional education and research conducted during studies helped you deliver value in business?
I: Most of the projects are being clarified on a technical level and within the automotive. Essentially, we try to meet the requirements which are already being defined by the client, and this is where we have the opportunity to come up with the creative ideas, and this is again something that is on the technical level, on the level of the architecture and the level of implementation. So, I would say that my education and certifications are more oriented towards properly leading the project on defining the risk, balancing the needs within the project, and managing expectations and things like that. I have a Master’s Degree in software engineering. My education helped me learn how to approach problem-solving and be goal-oriented and process-driven. And this was my actual starting point. Over the years, I attended several different courses. I would say that most of my studies and the hands-on experience I gained after my studies are based on how to manage projects and how to manage people. A lot of reading, a lot of books, many internet searches, academic articles, keeping up with the trends within the automotive industry, and making efforts to expand my knowledge and implement it in daily activities, processes, and communication with my team. Also, I am always trying to be on par with the latest standards and encourage my team to always keep up with the latest and greatest in the industry to deliver the best results and upgrade their expertise and experience.
H: At the vanguard of this change are companies such as Tesla, Google, Apple, and Uber, tech companies trying to disrupt the market, and incumbents like Ford, Toyota, VW, Mercedes, and BMW strive to become digital agile and fast-moving. It’s hard to predict who will win the race — or even if there will be just one winner in the end. Led by your experience, what would you say are the most common challenges you see in your daily work with automotive incumbents?
I: It depends on the business model that OEM wants to use and its approach to the market. For example, companies that produce highly sophisticated, most advanced luxury cars worldwide sell around one thousand cars per year. So, their business model is very different from the business models of companies like BMW Group, which creates cars that go from the more luxury ones to the more affordable ones. They are basing their technology on the number of cars sold. And then again, we have the four forerunners in the new technological era, which are, as you said, Tesla, Google, Apple, and Uber. These tech companies want to leverage IoT and extend this mobility just as a service. So, here we have three different business models, and I would say that who will win the race depends heavily on the public tendency towards a certain business model. So, on the one hand, we’ve got the Internet of Things, which can create a system of connected autonomous cars, and, on the other hand, there is the embedded part and the actual programming, which is where the real fun with documentation starts. Well, in our group here, we are focused on working on closed system areas that focus on how to provide functional safety and optimize all the functionalities.
And I would say functional safety is one of the major concerns of all the OEMs right now, and this will continue to be one of the main challenges because the automotive industry is a very strict one. The regulations have to be very tightly fulfilled. You need to guarantee the people’s safety on the road. Apart from that, of course, another big concern is the value proposition, the selling point — how to differentiate on the market and adapt functionalities to answer ever-changing customers’ needs thoroughly. And, this is the part that defines the market, and this is how we approach our clients as well — we consider their needs and what they see as their future. Of course, everyone wants to have an affordable automated car where they don’t have to touch anything. Finally, I would say the technical challenge on almost every project is functional safety regulations. Every single line of code has to be aligned with the clients’ needs and be appropriately programmed. These are some pain points we are trying to solve.
H: What motivates and enthuses you about the team you now lead at HTEC Group?
I: My team is a group of people who think alike, have the same goal, drive, and strive towards a common thing. And basically, it doesn’t matter if you’re an engineering lead or a developer, or an architect within the team; we share the same mindset, and we all work to make this happen. I see vast potential in HTEC Group and feel that I can contribute and make a difference there. I also see this in my team, both in the automotive and the embedded department — we all have this enthusiastic approach to our work even when we are under stress. I came into this company with nothing more than a single idea and extensive experience working in the automotive industry. And now, after a couple of months, I’m actually seeing the first drafts of an entire division here, and I’m seeing the people who actually come here and say: “Hey, this is an awesome place to work. You know, these are awesome projects I can really contribute to, and even more so I can learn a lot here.” You know, when a senior architect comes to your team who’s been working for 7 to 10 years in this industry and after a month of working says: “Hey, look, I finally learned something new”, this is what drives me to bring this whole concept to life and see my team grow along the way. I see them coming with smiles on their faces. The work is fun and fulfilling. I must say I haven’t experienced this for a very long time! The future seems bright!
H: What are the key strengths of the team you lead?
I: This is actually the best question. If I had to describe my team in four words, they would be determination, passion, experience, and knowledge. What we have right now is a small team, but we aim to have a much bigger team. We have a common mindset and a common strive towards one goal — to turn our idea into reality. I see the passion behind this goal. Of course, with this passion comes the dedication, not just mine, but of the whole team who is proactively looking for the tools and brainstorming ideas to build something highly innovative, that will impact the automotive industry. I think we all share a common ground which in this case is experience and knowledge. We are a core team of seniors with many years of experience in the automotive industry, and we’ve been through a lot. The ups and downs taught us life-changing lessons and made this determination, passion, and dedication even more important. And we know we are on the right track to build solutions that will reimagine the future of automotive, create positive value and long-lasting impact.
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