Meet the Aries Team: Dmitri Khodjakov, Business Systems Analyst
Tell us a little about yourself – how long have you been working for Aries? What did you do before joining Aries?
I have been with Aries for over five years, and have been on the Product Management (PM) team for four of those years. I actually came to Aries from one of our large customers, where I had spent a few years at the head of the peer review support team. That experience definitely helped make the move to Aries easier – not only was I already familiar with Editorial Manager, but I had already met many of the people I’d be working with.
What have your roles at Aries been?
I spent my first year at Aries as part of the Client Services (CS) team, but then moved to Product Management as one of the Business Systems Analysts. At first, the development projects I worked on were mostly small enhancements to one part of EM or another. Now however, my work has focused more on specific areas of the system. A lot of our recent API integrations and upcoming UI/UX enhancements are projects I am on.
How have your previous roles helped you in your current position?
Being an experienced user of EM before I even started at Aries was certainly a huge benefit. EM is a complex, highly configurable system, and coming into the company with knowledge of most of its features really flattened the learning curve. Working in scholarly publishing also gave me some context for what customers expect from our system, and what kind of features would provide the most value to them.
Within Aries, having a year of experience in CS has been useful in my PM work. It’s given me a feel for the requests and questions that we get from our customers, which is something that CS obviously has much more visibility into than PM.
How do you stay up-to-date with customer needs and industry trends?
There are many events all across the scholarly publishing industry where key players present on new initiatives and trends that affect how we develop our solutions. These are often webinars or virtual workshops. Back in pre-pandemic times, there were also several big annual conferences where these initiatives were discussed; this year, they’ve all gone virtual. I usually attend these events, or someone else from PM attends and circulates their notes. Either way, the things that come up in these meetings provide a good idea of what kind of requests we might expect to hear from customers, and what trends we need to keep up with.
On top of that, the rest of the team and I are involved in regular conversations with some of our largest customers to gauge interest in the developments they would like to see in the system. Many of our best improvements have started out as ideas in these conversations.
How do you collaborate with other departments within Aries?
Working on the product team has given me a chance to collaborate with every other department in Aries on at least one project. Engineering is the department that I work with most often, since they build the features PM designs, but there are many others. CS is a major source of enhancement ideas and feature requests, and I also work with them to onboard customers and vendors who want to use some of our new functionality. I work with QA/QE to identify correct behavior for parts of the system, and figure out how bugs need to be fixed. I work with Sales and Marketing to provide overviews of new functionality for sales prospects and press releases, and occasionally participate as a speaker for customer-facing webinars and other presentations. Lately, I’ve also been working on some exciting new projects with our newest department, UX/UI.
Tell me about your department and the people you work most closely with.
Product Management is a great team to work on! It’s highly collaborative and everyone is always willing to help each other out. There are a few people on the team who have been with Aries basically since the start, and whose designs are in the system going all the way back to the earliest versions of EM. I think that’s very unique, and is not something I’ve experienced at other companies. With our transition to our new development methodology, we are all stepping into slightly new roles, so it’s an exciting time to be part of the team.
Describe your typical workday.
This really depends on the projects I have on my plate at any given moment. Sometimes I’m deep into designing a new feature, and much of my day is spent on defining functionality and mapping out how the feature should work. Other days, I could be working with CS and one of our customers on a new feature request – this typically involves a lot of discussion with the customer, followed by writing a Feature Request Analysis. Still other days, there could be a customer or vendor who needs onboarding onto a feature that I designed, so that can become the main focus of my day. Needless to say, I never know exactly what project I might need to step into on any given day, which helps keep the job varied and interesting!
What do you most enjoy about your job? What do you enjoy most about working for Aries?
It has to be the people and the culture. Everyone is approachable, there’s no real office politics or power struggles among the different departments, and everyone is willing to help one another. It’s a good chance to do interesting work without the stress and negativity that a lot of people may experience at other companies. And we support the academic publishing industry, which is also a great community to work with.
What are you currently reading, listening to, or watching?
I mostly read non-fiction, and have been on a big history kick lately. I recently picked up a 900-page book about the history of the ancient world, so that should keep me busy for a while.
I usually listen to podcasts at least a few hours a day, with some music, science, comedy, and sports podcasts in regular rotation. Radiolab, Reply All, and Hello from the Magic Tavern are a few I’ve been really into recently.
Tell me about some of your hobbies/interests outside of work.
It’s winter right now, so if it’s the weekend, I’m probably skiing somewhere. Once the weather gets warmer, that tends to turn into hiking or camping. I just love the outdoors!
I try to travel as much as possible, and in the past have tried to use all of my time off to take a trip, either within the US or internationally – although that’s obviously had to change in the past year (thanks, COVID). I’ve been to 37 states, 19 countries and counting, and am looking forward to getting back into it in 2021.
I’m also a musician (guitar, bass, keyboards), and have been playing in local bands basically my whole life. I had been playing shows in the Boston and Lowell areas with two different bands recently, but that’s stopped in the past year obviously (thanks again, COVID). Right now, I’m working on an electronic project with a few other people that we hope to release this year.