Mervin Govender says problem-solving and people skills are vital for devs

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BIDTravel’s head of technology enablement says the mark of a good dev is taking a complicated problem and creating an easy solution.

Mervin Govender’s tech career started 10 years ago, and he’s been in his current role as head of technology enablement at BIDTravel since 2021. BIDTravel provides travel management services to corporates and leisure travellers through an extensive local, regional, international, and online network, which includes Rennies BCD Travel, the Harvey World Travel Group, CWT, Travel Connections and other brands.

“At BIDTravel, we have a head of IT who looks after the hardware and infrastructure, as well as a head of application who’s essentially a CPO. Then there’s me, who looks after development, whether that’s software, AI, blockchain, ML, or BI,” he explains. “We all work with the CIO, who then works with the board and CEO. It’s a great bunch of leaders and specialists with an amazing culture.”

Building talent from within, and putting knowledge-based skills first

Mervin’s KPIs include building IT talent, but for him, it’s more about making a genuine impact instead of simply hitting targets.

“Someone, at some point, took the time to teach me stuff,” he elaborates. “That guy’s name is Pieter Schutte; he’s the CTO at StructureIT and an absolute legend. We still meet up every month, and now we learn from each other!”

Mervin says he wants to build that culture in his organisation, and the best way to do that is to build talent from within. His aim is to set up an incubator that nurtures IT talent beyond qualifications so they can hit the ground running.

He uses Mauritius as an example of an African country getting IT talent development right. According to Mervin, the country’s fastest-growing export is no longer sugar cane – it’s people.

The Mauritian economy is one of the fastest-growing African economies. I believe it’s because they’re putting knowledge-based skills first.”

Finding solutions and joining the dots

Mervin’s LinkedIn bio says that he “consumes knowledge relentlessly”, which has been beneficial as a generalist with a specialist focus on leadership. Speaking of LinkedIn, he recently posted an observation about a common mistake devs make when chasing success.

“Many devs focus on building their skills in coding languages and tools. Those things are great, but if you want to become a pioneer in development and make a real impact, you must develop your soft skills as a person.”

According to Mervin, developers get a “free pass” with people skills (or the lack thereof). A dev team must be a business partner, and the only way for that to happen is by understanding what the business’s needs are, and how they evolve.

For Mervin, one of his success drivers is that he enjoys finding solutions and joining the dots. “A lot of my learning and development has been based on problems I’ve either noted or that were brought to me. From there, I solved the puzzle, and the solution materialised,” he says.

“Taking a complicated problem and creating an easy solution is the mark of a good developer.”

AI will create instant value

Mervin believes that AI will play a greater role in finding these easy solutions. In corporate travel, this translates to creating a seamless and intuitive experience with as few clicks as possible.

“When you look at what AI can do, it takes a lot of information, processes it, and makes a decision. With Open AI, it’s not just a chatbot. It gives us the ability as a business to create solutions that the customer is looking for, based on what they’re looking for, and when they’re looking for it,” says Mervin.

Mervin views the solution as being able to create value instantly. AI can show patterns like where someone travels to, how often they travel, where they usually sit on the plane, if they use a fast-track, first-class pass, or if they always buy peanuts as an in-flight snack.

“When you’re a CEO, CIO, or CFO, you don’t have the time to book that ticket,” he adds. “I expect that someone will do it for me, and maybe it’ll be a nice journey. When we’re relying on people, the person who normally books my travel might not be there, or they had a bad day and put me in economy to Heathrow in the middle of those four seats. Imagine just clicking ‘OK’ if you want to book a flight, including accommodation? I think we can get there with our airline partners – and AI.”

Computers are getting faster; people are getting smarter

According to Mervin, along with AI, there are three trends that CIOs should be paying attention to. These are data security, quantum computing, and robotic process automation.

About data security, Mervin says: “Computers are getting faster, and people are getting smarter. It’s no longer if the next hack or breach will happen, it’s when. Securing data can’t just be ticking a box; CIOs must ensure that they’re doing everything they can, so customers’ data is secure.”

About quantum computing, he notes: “The global market for quantum computing is projected to reach $125 billion (R2.3 trillion) by 2030. That’s only seven years away. It will be interesting to see how that changes software development, especially when it comes to quantum mechanics, linear algebra, probability, information theory, and ML. These areas will skyrocket in importance with this type of hardware available.”

About robotic process automation, he says: “This is a beast that will create so much value. My team and I have built a robotic processing element that captures information and inserts it into multiple systems. We had a person do this every day. Now the robot does it, and I suspect the individual likes coming to work again!”

Tinkering with tech

When he’s not leading his team, Mervin is a keen cyclist, and he plays the guitar. He also tends to take work home with him – but it’s not what you think. He’s just automated his home, and now he’s dabbling with a self-built, smart solar system.

“My pool tells me the current temperature and whether it needs chlorine. It uses IoT, so I don’t need a static internet connection or Wi-Fi. I can be anywhere in the world, and I’ll know what the temperature is and if I need to add chemicals.”

He’s also developed a virtual garden ‘beam’ using TensorFlow. It processes imaging from his outside cameras and alerts him if a human-shape jumps over the wall.

“I think I’m a bit of an overachiever,” he laughs. “It’s fun, though!”

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