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Volkswagen’s Journey towards a Software-Driven Company

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Volkswagen is changing their working methods for software development, where they focus on regaining their own development skills and developing new products based on new technologies and methods. The technologies used are decided on by the teams independently.

Holger Urban gave a keynote on Volkswagen’s journey towards a software-driven company at OOP 2020 where he shared the challenges, opportunities and successes.

Volkswagen is transitioning their business from a car manufacturer to a mobility provider. Business demands have expanded, including needs from users and technology, which results in a high level of complexity, Urban said.

Volkswagen is building up in-house expertise and establishing a developer community in the company. Urban mentioned that they are working on a common code repository for developers.

InfoQ interviewed Holger Urban, one of the office leads of the Software Development Center in Wolfsburg, about the challenges Volkswagen is facing, the technology that they use, how Volkswagen develops software, and what they have learned on their journey.

InfoQ: What challenges is Volkswagen facing on its software development journey?

Holger Urban: We have several challenges. In the past and especially in the automotive industry, business demands have always required a strong response. Above all, these demands are costs, quality and time.

Nowadays there are also the additional factors of users and technology. The user cares about speed, functionality, and of course the usability of the product. On the technological side the requirements include stability, scaling and availability.

These challenges in connection with the size of the Volkswagen Group (currently 13 different brands) result in a high level of complexity. We also have many legacy systems that need to be replaced as we transition the business from a car manufacturer to a mobility provider. Enough challenges ;-)?

InfoQ: What kind of technologies does Volkswagen use? Why these?

Urban: Due to the size of our company, we naturally rely on a variety of technologies. In the SDCs (Software Development Centers) we rely on cloud solutions as the backbone of our development. For this we have our own development platform (VWS VW Cloud Services based on AWS).

The technologies used - such as programming languages, frameworks, tooling etc. - are decided on by the teams independently and we have had very good experience with this. Who knows the technologies better than the colleagues who use them every day?

InfoQ: How does Volkswagen do things? And why do they do them the way they do?

Urban: We started an initiative at Volkswagen called "back to tech". Outsourcing has been a big issue for the past decade, which has led to us losing a lot of software development experts. With "back to tech" we have built our in-house expertise up a bit again in the last few years, but we are not done yet. It’s not about developing everything internally, but when it comes to core business knowledge, these projects should remain in-house.

With the SDC’s we want to establish a developer community in the company. What connects all developers is the code. For this reason, we are in the process of building a common code repository and giving every developer in the group access to this code. That doesn’t sound like rocket science, but in our complex environment it is quite a challenge, especially when it comes to working with external partners, which we still need.

I have spoken a lot about complex challenges and there isn’t of course only one way to solve them. We have developed several SDC types for this. I would like to go into more detail about one type. In cooperation with an external tech company, we started in Berlin with a method that relies heavily on the values ​​of extreme programming (XP). Among other things, we rely on pairing, TDD (test driven development) and the balanced team. We have now extended this method to other locations such as Wolfsburg and Lisbon.

InfoQ: What have you learned on your journey?

Urban: We really learned a lot. First of all, it is important to have your own development skills again. Furthermore, it makes no sense to implement new functions for complex legacy systems. You have to make the hard cut and develop new products based on new technologies and methods (TDD). We have to put the User Experience at the heart of our products. We do not develop products for steering committees, but for our users. You always have to ask about the benefits and if no visible benefits, stop the product!

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