In this series, we talk with some of the passionate, high-performance team members who are co-creating the Energy Transition Platform: the leading global marketplace for Distributed Energy Systems (DES).
Today we talk with Nick Aschenbach, Principal Software Engineer. Nick leads the development of VECKTA’s marketplace platform.
Meet Nick Aschenbach
Could you tell us a little bit about your role at VECKTA?
I’m a software engineer by training, working on a variety of new products over the last 10 or 15 years, so my job is delivering and shipping code—identifying what needs to be done and getting it done. But there’s a lot more to that, of course. Sometimes as a product manager, sometimes as QA, or talking to customers and identifying solutions for their issues. I frequently speak with our engineering manager about seeing the forest from the trees—getting the ten thousand foot view to see what is best in the organization. Do we have the planning needs met? Do we have clear direction for the next 30-40 days and beyond? Do we have the dependencies clearly identified?
So you’re working closely with others across the organization.
Yes. For example, working with the product management team to make sure that the product requirements are clear and that we have our UX team supported so that the engineering can proceed. That’s really my goal—to deliver a great product. What does the industry need, and what do we build to meet those needs.
You mentioned that you’ve worked on a variety of new products previously. How did you get into software development?
I’ve had a bit of a winding path. I’ve been coding since I was probably 14 or 15. I taught myself how to code in early online games called multi-user dungeons, as I learned a bit of Web programming and Java. I had a really great biology teacher in high school, and was thinking maybe about a career in medicine, but I was always attracted to computers. I studied computational biology—a combination of mathematical modeling and computer science doing data visualization. My first job was working for an infectious disease mathematical modeling research scientist out of UCLA. After college, I worked for a biotech startup and in product development before going to graduate school for computer science. Since then, I’ve worked on new product development for companies like Hewlett Packard and companies dealing with data warehousing, privacy, and financial matters.
What are you working on right now?
VECKTA’s core mission is to build a marketplace for people to be able to transact and build distributed energy systems. In this first stage, we’re working on a lot of technology to onboard new projects so energy end users can start looking at vendors and send requests for quotes, requests for proposals, or requests for information. Suppliers can then view those requests and respond back and engage with the customer, commit to transacting on VECKTA, and bring all the necessary partners together to deliver an appropriate energy solution. The MVP for our marketplace is coming out this summer. Previously, I was working on a little side project, creating a way to visualize our system similar to a video game—you pick an industrial load, and then turn it on and off different DERs as you’re onboarding a project. While we didn’t end up using that, some of the conceptual work influenced the Rapid Energy Assessor we recently added to the website.
You’ve worked on a lot of different projects for different users. What would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way?
I learned some really valuable lessons working with my dad. The most important thing is if we don’t have a customer, we don’t really have anything. The customer is the lifeblood of the company. Losing a customer is extremely painful. Getting a customer can be really gratifying. The importance of the customer’s experience is paramount. I don’t think that computer science curriculum, for example, talks enough about users. They talk about project management, but they don’t talk about being part of a business where you’re taking care of a customer’s needs. It’s hard to get a sense of that from a textbook—you almost have to lose a customer to understand the value. So I would say that’s probably one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned.
When you aren’t transforming the future with VECKTA, what do you do with your time?
I live in sunny Southern California, so my wife and I go hiking a lot. There’s a state park down here and it’s right on the beach. And there’s some really beautiful views of looking over the ocean. If you hit the tides right, you can come back along the beach, hike up this huge hill, and it’s just really beautiful views of the ocean. If it’s a clear day, you can see down to La Jolla and beyond. I like to fish if the weather’s nice, but anytime you can go fishing is the best time to go fishing. It’s kind of like therapy for me. If you catch fish, that’s like a bonus. It’s just a really beautiful environment and that feels really good.
What VECKTA Value do you feel you most identify with?
Challenging limits has been the most fun, but empowering co-creation is a big part of building a successful product. The goal for the VECKTA team is no ego. For example, I spent last Friday working on part of the marketplace. Dustin had a great idea that would result in me throwing out what I had developed. I realized he was totally right—it was the best thing to do for the users. It doesn’t really matter what my title is, it’s about what the team can bring to the table. I want to ship code that helps our customers.
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