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Emil, Project Manager, on Learning as a Team & Managing Priorities in Automotive Projects

In 11 years at Fortech, Emil Niculai has worked his way from .NET Developer to Software Architect and Project Manager, tackling technical challenges in automotive, fintech, and eCommerce projects. From his current role, he promotes a healthy growth mindset within his team.

Get a glimpse #BehindTheCode, learn why he thinks learning to play the violin (yes, the violin) is like programming, and what helped him break down complex issues in his projects and day-to-day life.

Emil Neculai - Project Manager Fortech

Tell us a bit about yourself. Your personality, studies, hobbies, passions.

I studied Automatic Control and Computer Science at the Politehnica University of Bucharest. In 2010, I decided to move to Cluj-Napoca to live in a smaller city and experience Transylvania’s well-known calm and laid-back culture. The hype is real; Cluj is indeed a gem. I learned to enjoy it so much that I decided to grow roots here. Now I live in Cluj-Napoca together with my wife and kids. Cluj county has the highest graduation rate in Romania on the high-school exam. Therefore, besides being a beautiful city, it’s also a great learning environment for my kids.

My hobbies have changed a lot in the past few years. Since becoming a dad, I’m more focused on spending as much time as possible with my family. Stefan (7) and Teodora (4) are growing up fast, and I want to enjoy every moment with them. We love going on hikes, doing bike, and ski trips together.

When I’m with my friends or colleagues, you’ll find me playing football. Since joining Fortech, I’ve been the captain of the football team. :)

As for unexpected hobbies, you’d be surprised to know that I used to play the violin. I learned how to do it at our local Student Club (Clubul Elevilor). Years later, I realized that learning to play an instrument is like programming. It helps you see the logic of things, the “fors” and “ifs”, from a different perspective. It also teaches you discipline.

Emil and the Fortech Football Team

Emil and the Fortech Football Team.

How did your career evolve at Fortech?

I joined the company in 2010 as a .NET Developer and worked on an eCommerce project for about a year. Then I moved onto a legal services project as Senior Software Developer. Since 2012, I’ve been working on an automotive industry project that I joined as Team Lead, then made a lateral shift to Software Architect and Project Manager. For the past six years, my focus has been on the project’s management side.

My responsibilities include preparing project estimates, planning, and ensuring that we meet the quality standards agreed with the clients. I also solve different challenges, making sure things work successfully. But, most of all, I focus on helping my team perform and grow by being a servant leader. I’m like an air traffic controller, but for people, tasks, priorities, and allocation. I find coaching and mentoring extremely valuable for the team’s growth. Besides, I try to make sure the team’s overall vibe is good. That’s a must-have ingredient for us as a team.

What software project are you currently working on?

For the past eight years, I’ve been working on a Product Lifecycle Management platform for the automotive industry. The project includes three central systems for managing the internal processes for planning, development, and testing vehicles and components. The platform oversees the entire production lifecycle, from the design phase to the actual manufacturing of a car.

Besides that, I’m involved in developing Fortech’s internal Dashboard Tool, a data visualization app meant to improve our reporting capabilities. The tool shows data in real-time to different internal stakeholders.

What’s the project’s tech stack like?

On the project’s legacy side, where we focus on adjusting existing features, our main stack includes .NET, Oracle, and C.

In the past year and a half, we started the project’s migration to next-generation technologies. So, on the platform’s next-gen side, we use Java, Spring Boot, JPA, Hibernate for the backend. For the frontend, we added React and Typescript, while for Automation we use Unit Tests (Cucumber), Integration Tests (Postman), UI Tests (Selenium), and CI/CD with the Jenkins/ Openshift container platform.

What’s your favorite thing about this software project?

I’ve been enjoying the project’s current transition phase. This new phase we are going through makes me get out of my comfort zone every day. It’s a steep learning curve with many challenges and growth #perspectives on an individual and team level.

What’s the most challenging thing about this software project?

Keeping up with the latest tools and technologies is one of the well-known challenges of our industry. Ensuring that we choose the right tech stack that makes work easier for both the end-users and our clients is a priority. It is just like a giant puzzle, and it’s our responsibility to learn and understand each piece and find the right place for it. Probably the biggest challenge is managing expectations. Finding the right balance between our client’s needs and priorities and the team’s wishes is still something I am learning to navigate.

The automotive industry is very complex. However, throughout the years, abstraction helped me break down complex issues such as changes in the project or in the team structure. For me, the focus is on the people. To help them grow and become the best at what they do. New technologies will become obsolete at some point, but people’s skills will not.

How about the team?

We are 12 people in the team, of which two are newcomers. We’re distributed across 3 locations: Cluj, Oradea, and Odorheiu Secuiesc. Working from home in the past year created many challenges, but we kept our sense of #community strong. We trust each other, and we can entirely rely on each other’s help, overcoming challenges as a team. Our processes are well-defined, so everyone knows what they need to do, starting from onboarding to implementing tasks. Plus, we’re always looking to become better at what we do, to expand our experience and knowledge. These shared values are the glue that makes us a tight-knit team.

Last but certainly not least, we love to celebrate. 😊 Here’s us celebrating a successful release with dinner & beers. And my cake for turning ten years at Fortech.

Emil and his team celebrating a successful project release.

What’s next in your career journey?

The IT&C industry is constantly evolving, so I want to keep adapting to new things. To do so, I will focus on having a healthy growth mindset and the discipline to constantly push myself and help others to self-improve. Nothing pleases me more than seeing my colleagues succeed. Knowing that I added one brick to their knowledge base makes me feel proud and content.

Balance is critical in everything. So, one of my biggest lessons is to continuously learn from my own mistakes and other people’s experiences. Talking about what’s next, I would love to have more time to code.

What advice would you give to someone interested in joining Fortech?

Attitude and mindset are fundamental. You need to be comfortable with having a continuous growth mindset. At Fortech, we’re craftsmen, and we’re all always looking for ways to improve our craft. Learning is critical, so you’ll find your spot here if you’re eager to learn from those around you. Especially on our project, we encourage training programs, shadowing, and pair programming. None of us was born knowing everything. With the right attitude, we can solve any issues.

If you’re starting your career, I would encourage you to find what you like to do most, focus on your goals, and put things into practice.

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