Capabilities Focus: Wenbo Zong on Tech & Engineering

Wenbo Zong
February 9, 2023

We’re starting a new series called Capabilities Focus, which is highlighting members of our Portfolio Success team and the integral role they play at Openspace and for our portfolio companies. Here, we’ll be asking them questions about what they do as well as for advice for founders and other industry leaders with regards to their specialisms.

Today, we’re kicking this off with Wenbo, our Director of Tech & Engineering. He has extensive experience in the area of technical development, particularly in the area of audio signal processing and distributed systems.

At Openspace, he mainly spends time helping our portfolio companies on anything and everything related to software engineering or technology in general. More specifically, he works with the CTOs on various issues, ranging from team management, project management, development processes, system architecture, performance tuning, etc. Additionally, he is sometimes referred to as the interim CTO at boarding meetings.

An example of the work he does would be working with Freshket to refactor the previous monolithic Order Management System into a microservices architecture, in order to make the system more scalable and the development faster. He also helped Jiwa Group build their new Jiwa+ app from scratch, starting with hiring the first engineer, putting in place development processes, determining the architecture and managing releases.

Prior to Openspace, Wenbo was with Sea, specializing in building large-scale backend systems. What motivated him to move into Openspace was that he would have the privilege to work with many different startups, each having a unique business problem to solve and a unique tech stack, an exposure that he found rare to find anywhere else. In addition, he felt that could make a big impact on these early-stage startups.

We asked him about important lessons that he picked up over the course of his career. Here’s what he had to say: “A sophisticated system is rarely designed in its final form in the beginning; it evolves to it over time. So try not to over-engineer your system because you will very likely find your original assumptions to be wrong or irrelevant. Instead, keep a lookout for opportunities to evolve it.”

He also shared that software engineers like to argue about what programming language is the best. He believes there is no point getting into such a debate. Instead, we should try to use the right tool for the right problem. Wenbo also feels that becoming an expert in one or two languages/frameworks is more important than knowing a lot of them at a so-so level, because one’s cognitive ability will only improve when they gain an in-depth understanding of the topic.

We invited him to share a tip for startup founders and business leaders with regards to what he does:

“Software engineers, especially young ones, are often eager to use the coolest tech stack (language, framework, architecture, etc.). I’ve seen over-engineering much more often than under-engineering. I believe both the human factor (i.e. team members’ capabilities) and budget should be an essential part of the equation when designing the system, in addition to business requirements. It is often very difficult to foresee what is going to happen to the business, hence if you plan ahead too much for the tech system, you’ll likely end up wasting time, money and resources. So my advice to early-stage startups would be to keep the tech simple in the beginning and evolve it when needed.”

And as a closing comment, Wenbo also dropped this valuable piece of advice: “Intellectual honesty is easier said than done. The best way to become better than who we were yesterday is to be intellectually honest.”