Kindred’s CTO (Chief Technology Officer) Marcus Smedman has a long history with Kindred and has been part of solving a number of technical challenges over the years. In the last 11 years, our tech department has grown from 100 to 700 people. There have been huge developments such as going from 4 releases a year to over 10,000, with zero downtime. In this two-part interview, we talk to Marcus about his career at Kindred, what keeps him motivated and what is in store for the future.
Marcus, you have recently relocated from Sweden to Malta; what are your first impressions?
We moved here in February and really love it. Malta as a country is beautiful, has so much history, very friendly people everywhere, good food and a nice climate. The Kindred office is amazing! I’ve worked from the Stockholm office (which is mainly a tech hub) for many years So here, in Malta, I meet with more teams outside tech than ever before. That gives me an opportunity to further understand needs in different areas and get closer to more Kindred experts.
Let’s go back to your early years with Kindred: when did you join and what was the role?
I joined Kindred in 2011, in Stockholm, as a consultant. I had worked as a software engineer and manager in different industries for 15 years but never worked in gambling. My first assignment was as a Team Lead for the Platform team, and I really enjoyed the challenges, the company, and the colleagues from day one.
I had several roles during my first four years at Kindred. In 2013 I became a Kindred employee and was Head of IT in Sydney. A year later, back in Sweden, I managed the development department as Head of Development. In 2015 I was appointed CTO and joined the Executive team.
What made you join Kindred?
I’m an engineer with a strong urge to understand how things work and how they fit together. I also happened to study electronics and computer science in the early nineties, when the internet started to become available. As a student and developer, I saw internet technologies emerge over the next 20 years, and what Kindred did was very different from what I had seen before.
Online gambling is a complex technical challenge. How do you gather the data and analyze it fast enough to make the customer experience entertaining and fun? How can we protect customers and deliver a sustainable business model over time?
Speed, quality, security, scalability and customer experience at a global scale are core aspects of our business and require a strong technical foundation. When I saw these challenges, I was very excited to learn more about how to contribute to and learn from, a company like Kindred. So, when I got the chance to join Kindred it was a no-brainer for me, and I’ve never looked back.
Except for the technical challenges, I noticed early on that Kindred has a strong focus on sustainable growth in a highly regulated environment. I value this strategic focus as it shows that Kindred is a company that is in it for the long run and want to invest in well thought through and long-term technical solutions. Technology is very much a differentiating factor in this industry, and proprietary products are central to creating a competitive advantage.
What have been the three biggest changes since you joined?
The Tech department has grown from 100 to more than 700 people over the last ten years. Growing a department like that creates a lot of different challenges not only related to technology, but also to people and processes. Creating short paths between business owners and development teams is something we continuously work with. Our world is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (or VUCA for short), so fast decision-making processes using agile methodologies are a must.
Ten years ago, we did four releases of our monolithic platform per year. Each release took a whole day and required extended downtime for our customers, with reduced Customer Experience as a result. Since then, we have rolled out a microservices-based platform with strong separation of concern and configurability, which enables us to do more than 10,000 smaller releases a year, without any downtime of our brands and with no negative customer impact. Releasing little and often, creates lower risk but requires more from CI/CD (continuous integration and continuous delivery) and automation perspective, which in turn pays off in the long run.
We used to operate one product (Sportsbook), on one brand (Unibet), on one jurisdiction (.com), and on one channel (desktop). Today, we operate nine brands in 19 locally regulated markets on three major channels (web, mobile and apps). In 2021, we handled more than 19 billion financial transactions on the Kindred platform, - that’s more than 50 million per day, across all our brands, and that is an enormous difference compared to when I joined.
Stay tuned for part two of the interview series, where Marcus talks about his team, his leadership style and future plans for Kindred Tech.