Finding a parking space in real time using an app, reducing black ice accidents or paying insurance according to mileage: Together with his team, Manuel Schwandt, product owner for the Mercedes-Benz /developers portal, ensures that developers around the world can realise their mobility ideas – creating a whole world of innovative services related to the vehicle. In his interview, Manuel Schwandt tells us what makes the dialogue with the developer community so important for him, and why he met his team in Lisbon for the first time and not in the office.
Mr Schwandt, what is special about the Mercedes-Benz /developers portal?
We can be on first-name terms, which is absolutely common in our team (laughs). With Mercedes-Benz /developers, we offer developers worldwide interfaces to connect their applications to our vehicles – or to use the data that our vehicles record on the roads. The potential for mobility is huge. With access to interfaces and data, we enable a whole world of innovative services to be created around our vehicles.
Where do you use the vehicle data that you make available in the Mercedes-Benz /developers portal?
Every car is equipped with numerous sensors, for example rain sensors or ultrasonic sensors for parking assistance. When we are on the road in our car, the vehicle records data about the surroundings. This information can then be used to help other drivers find a free parking space, for example. And another example: the Zollernalb district in southern Germany uses the data from our vehicles to identify slippery spots on the roads in winter and thereby reduce the risk of black ice accidents. With the Mercedes-Benz /developers portal we make these interfaces and data streams accessible – whether to individual developers, service and insurance companies or public institutions. Anonymised, of course, and according to high data protection standards. I think that is great.
And what is your role as a product owner?
I am responsible for ensuring that everything runs smoothly in the operation and further development of our developer portal. I handle aspects such as: What functions do we offer on the Mercedes-Benz /developers portal? And how do we design the user experience so that everyone can find their way around intuitively? To ensure this, our team works closely with conceptual planners, designers, developers, other teams and interface providers. Keeping all this together and developing a vision for the portal – that is my job.
How is your team set up?
There are five of us in the Mercedes-Benz Developers core team in Stuttgart, including my team leader. One colleague is responsible for community management and organises events for developers worldwide. Another colleague takes care of the integration of our products into our portal, and one is responsible for the product management of two of our data products. Together with our technical counterparts, who are responsible for our product portfolio, we have been driving Mercedes-Benz /developers forward for several years. Since 2019, our colleagues in Istanbul have also been supporting us. We completely rebuilt the team in Turkey – and I was allowed to be part of it. That was very exciting. We held many interviews and designed coding challenges – almost like a mini-hackathon for applicants. In addition, there are many other people besides my team who work hand in hand with us so that data products can be provided to third parties.
Where do all the ideas for the Mercedes-Benz /developers portal actually come from?
We develop many ideas for applications ourselves. Especially with a project like our developer portal, it is of course also important that we get inspiration from the developer community. By asking specific questions like: What interfaces make sense for you? What data do you need to implement your ideas? And what provides added value for Mercedes-Benz customers? We make some of our software interfaces freely available to our users, so that they can utilize it in their personal vehicle. In return, the feedback we receive helps us to improve our products. Almost our entire team has a computer science background, so of course we stay in close contact with the community and also go where creative minds meet.
How does this contact look like exactly?
Normally we are out and about attending many events, for example the re:publica in Berlin, the Hackjunction in Helsinki or the 4YFN start-up fair in Barcelona. This is where we present the Mercedes-Benz /developers portal and discuss new trends and interesting application possibilities for our APIs (Application Programming Interface). That is great. And we also organise our own hackathons, for example developer competitions where participants develop applications based on our APIs. The great thing about software development is that you do not need expensive machines or special tools to create something – just a laptop and a little inspiration.
How did you actually come to Mercedes-Benz?
I studied media informatics at the Stuttgart Media University. During my studies, I was fascinated by the new possibilities of digitisation for the interaction between vehicles and their environment. I subsequently examined this topic in greater depth in my Master's thesis. My supervisor at the time made me aware of a job opening at Mercedes-Benz, which he thought would suit me well. I then had an interview with my future colleagues, team leader and department manager. The team and its area of work convinced me straight away.
And that is how you started in the team?
Yes, precisely. By the way, I did not meet my new colleagues in the office, but in Lisbon, at a big tech conference. So I was completely involved right from my first week at work. The event was really cool and a very good introduction, because as a product owner I travel a lot with the team and meet a lot of exciting people.
What is special about Mercedes-Benz as an employer?
I think the atmosphere is just great, especially when it comes to innovations. Every day I work with many smart and creative people, to change the world a little and bring mobility forward. And of course, there are many opportunities for personal development within the Group. Data science, for example, is a field that really appeals to me. And when it comes to my career, I have many opportunities at the Mercedes-Benz Group.
Lastly, one personal question: If you could travel in time, what would be your destination?
I would love to travel 100 years into the future, just to see what inventions there will be in the years to come – how our generation and the following ones will cope with the current challenges, and how life in general will change – that would really interest me.
When applications that Manuel Schwandt (32) is involved in make life a little bit easier and more comfortable, his wish comes true. The product owner and developer from Schorndorf, the birthplace of Gottlieb Daimler, has been fascinated by bits and bytes ever since he was given an old PC by his neighbour as a child. Today, when he and his team are not ensuring that a whole new environment of digital services is created around Mercedes-Benz vehicles, he works on translating his own creative ideas into programming code. Or he relaxes by taking a tour on his new gravel bike (off-road bike).