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Land Life’s Software Secrets

Land Life’s Head of Software, Ariel Delgado works hard with his team to create the tools that make Land Life’s projects tech-driven and scalable. From monitoring trees to calculating carbon capture predictions, software is an imperative part of how we at Land Life approach reforestation. His team links the expertise within the company and ensures that everything runs smoothly. We decided to chat with Ariel to get a better understanding of the exact role software plays and learn more about the challenges and opportunities that creating our own tools brings… 

 

Software for Land Life Company means building internal software solutions that are useful, dependable, maintainable, and scalable. Can you tell me a little bit more about what this actually means? 

By internal software, we mean building software applications ( Slack and Microsoft Word are examples of software applications) for our Land Life colleagues to make their work more manageable and enable them to work more efficiently. 

There are four principles we follow when creating software. It needs to be useful for the company, it should be dependable or work as expected, it should be maintainable, and it should be able to scale with the business.

What kind of software solutions are you working on for Land Life?

The software we use at Land Life aims to provide the following four solutions:

  • The first one is monitoring field assets. At Land Life, this means keeping track of the trees that we plant and making sure that they survive, that they are healthy, and that we can analyze the different treatments that biologists and ecologists apply to them. For example, the different kinds of shelters, the seeds, and the coatings that we use. We also look at the quality of our plantings, in terms of how well trees were initially planted. Our monitoring systems allow the team to monitor all kinds of field assets in an efficient and consistent way.
  • In addition to monitoring software, we use a set of administrative tools to capture the administrative information of our plantings. For example, the way we allocate the output of reforestation projects to customers, the different partners we work with, and the progress of our plantings. As we increase our number of reforestation projects around the world, it becomes important to have tools that allow us to properly manage all the different administrative challenges that arise out of that.
  • The third is the Science Admin. This is a set of internal software tools that help us decide if we should reforest a particular area or not.   The Science admin combines scientific models, big data, and the forestry expertise of our resilience team in order to consistently and accurately answer this question.  As you can imagine, there is a lot of potential land out there to analyze, and it is critical that we have a set of tools and processes that allows our team to make decisions on where to best focus our reforestation efforts.
  • And last but certainly not least, our reforestation dashboard brings customers the opportunity to track project progress transparently.  We gather a load of information about our restoration projects using our monitoring systems, and we share that information with our customers. The end result is a visually appealing portal where both customers and landowners can look at the outcome of restoration projects and track the progress over its lifetime. We do that in a way that is consistent across projects.

Why do we need these tools and what do they do for the company?

We need these software tools to help us manage the complexities of reforestation projects across the world. From deciding which projects to invest in (science admin), to communicating with partners (dashboard), to managing the day-to-day operations (integration/reforestation management system), and keeping track of how our projects are performing (monitoring systems). All of these tools help us manage reforestation projects at scale.

What are the impacts of having this software for effective reforestation? 

With these tools, the team can work more efficiently, reduce errors, and scale up while keeping the quality of our projects high. You can have an effective impact through reforestation without these tools, but if you want to reforest on a large scale, then they become crucial. They help us organize and maintain a large number of reforestation projects across the globe.

Are these software tools fairly unique to Land Life would you say?

As far as we are aware, yes. There are currently no commercial tools available we can buy to do these things.

Nice! With that in mind, I’m sure it isn’t a walk in the park developing all this software, what are the biggest challenges you face?

There are a lot of challenges that come with building custom software solutions. For example, choosing the right tools for the job. There is so much new technology coming out these days. The software world moves very quickly. We are always looking out for new ways to solve problems, but at the same time, we want to make sure we use tools that have been battle-tested, have a good community around them, and are well documented. It is always a challenge to figure out the right balance between cutting-edge and older more stable technologies.

A lot of the solutions we are building are quite new. The forestry industry is not very up to date with software. There is no blueprint for what a monitoring app for reforestation projects should look like. That is something we have to build ourselves and learn from the mistakes that we make. If you were building something like a chat application or a social media site, then there are more examples you can follow. A lot of the problems we try to solve with software are quite unique to this industry, which makes it challenging but also very fun. You get to build new things, but you also make more mistakes along the way.

Like other software teams, managing the complexity of our codebase is also another big challenge. Keeping all of our code well organized, readable, and tested is not easy.  An overly complex codebase can stall a development team. It can make it quite difficult to change the system, add new features, and fix bugs. It makes onboarding new engineers more difficult. We try to tackle this by doing code reviews, dedicating time to refactoring, discussing design decisions with each other,  and automating tasks where we can. We do this so that we ensure all of the innovative solutions we are working on don’t just solve an immediate problem, but can also be used in the future.

How does your work merge the science we use at LLC and technology to create effective solutions?

The most special thing about this job for me is that because we are a relatively small company, we can literally walk up to a biologist or forestry engineer and we can directly talk to them about the problems they are facing. We can then build something and then ask them, is this what you meant? That quick feedback loop allows us to combine our expertise on software engineering with the knowledge of our scientists to create impactful tools. 

I would say that that’s the best part of it, software alone is useless. Land Life is essentially a reforestation company and we have a lot of people who over the years have gathered and continue to gather knowledge and best practices on how to carry out successful reforestation projects. What the software team does is capture that knowledge, into a set of programs that anyone can reuse. Then new people can start in new geographies and reuse the knowledge that has been accumulated from these experts and scientists who work at Land Life. 

That’s so well explained and really underlines that the tech team is so collaborative, with experts in completely different areas coming up with really important solutions. The collaboration of science, software, and data make it the tech team within Land Life. Thank you so much for explaining this in detail Ariel, it’s super interesting to hear what you’re working on!

Of course, thank you!