I joined Schibsted back in 2016 when the relatively new Products and Technology (SPT) unit was filled with ambitious, smart and visionary people. There was a special energy in the company those days. I was happy.
As anyone who has been at the same place for too long would testify, the pace of learning slows down over time.
I artificially prolonged this period by swtiching teams a couple of times to work on new challenges. But a lot happened since the last time I did the switch. Things that made it very hard to switch again and that was one of the reasons I pursued my career outside Schibsted.
Schibsted has many business areas from news sites to marketplaces to financial services and even a dating site! The experience is vastly different across the board. The rest of this post is primarily focused on the media side of Schibsted since that’s where I’ve been working in the last 3.5 years.
As the learning curve started to flatten. I applied for 4 internal positions but none led anywhere: 2 positions disappeared as their respective managers quit. 1 was a bit out of my league (security specialist) which would provide a good learning opportunity but they were looking for a security specialist with several years of experience.
Last but not least, there was a position in one of our marketplaces with a matching skill level but instead of looking at my internal contributions or references, they wanted me to go through the entire recruitment process. With that level of investment I might as well apply to another company. So I call it off and started looking externally.
The enemy of progress is the victim mentality.
For me even the internal tourism would do. Although one disadvantage of staying too long at the same team is that you become a “dependency” and your manager may not be very eager to move you internally because it may leave a gap in the home team. That is why “deprecate yourself” is one of my core principles.
Change to same
In the past few years Schibsted went through some tectonic changes. In 2019, Schibsted split into two half and the CEO took Adevinta with him. We got a new CEO who in turn renovated her management team and they in turn assined new managers all the way down.
One of the objectives was apparently increasing equality, and increase they did: the management chain from me to the CEO is comprised of 5 women vs 1 man who is recently hired.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the ethnical diversity. In fact we lost many expats at all levels which led to a more homogeneous demography. This manifested itself when “one of us” was promoted instead of “objectively the most qualified” and “an idea like ours” was executed instead of “the most effective idea”.
Not only we lost expats but the remaining ones seemed stuck in a position despite their native peers making progress sometimes even hopping over them in the career ladder!
While I fully respect the natives on a country, I firmly believe that:
You cannot change where you are born but you can choose where you live.
The freedom of movement indeed is the article 13 of UN human rights. The Scandinavian countries are known for many good things but xenophobia is not one of them. Back in 2016 it was very refreshing to join a diverse team. Same cannot be said about the team I left.
There’s A LOT that Schibsted gets right. I’m positive that the ethnical diversity will catch up with gender diversity going forward but it’s past my time.
PS. 5 months after I wrote this, Schibsted appointed a person “responsible for ensuring that Schibsted has the right practices in place to attract and retain a workforce that is as diverse as our customers.” Let’s hope it’s not another media PR stunt and things happen. I like the wording though: the ambition is for the company diversity to match the customer diversity. Assuming the customer demography matches the country demography, for Sweden it means 30+% of employees should have foreight background. But given that the media sites are primarily targetted at Swedish speaking news consumer, the percentage might be different. In any case, appreciate the effort.
As I took more initiatives, my role unofficially grew into many areas of operation that spanned across multiple teams but it didn’t become official. In how to handle a reorg I mostly focused on its opportunity sides, but I have to confess that same perspective blinded me to the turmoil happenning around me. For example in a span of 2 years our team changed managers 4 times. This made it hard to build a history with a manager who could sponsor my promotion. After half a year of back and forth, my last manager told: “for climbing to the next level of the career ladder a position must show up and you have to apply to it”. But there was no openning!
PS. Later I learned that someone at my team indeed have been at a higher position and I was not told the truth. The very fact that the career ladders were not public and promotions were carried behind the scene was bothering me.
The main issue? Someone was doing that job so there was no need for announcing a vacancy. That person is writing this post. Eventually I got promoted on paper but with a salary bump of zero! So Schibsted recognized the extra work I was doing but didn’t feel that it needs compensation. And that brings me to the next point: cost saving.
Back in 2016 Schibsted had an ambition goal of defeating Google and Facebook. The threat was real: like the majority of sites on the internet, the primary business model of the media sites were based on advertisement revenue. Google and Facebook were increasingly biting Schibsted’s share of the pie.
Althoug the mottor of “freedom of press” is omnipresent across the media division, Schibsted is still a company with the primary goal of generating profit for the shaleholders.
After the new CEO started in late 2018, we changed course. Schibsted acted as it was defeated in the battle against the american tech giants. So the focus was shifted from increasing revenue to reducing costs.
This is nothing crazy. In a capitalist economy companies loose and win battles all the time. What was crazy is the consequences that it had on our day to day tasks. Our primary focus shifted from shipping new features to keeping the lights on. In the past year of my work, we have refactored numerous systems to be cost effective. Sometimes it even meant getting rid of the tools and technologies that made us more productive.
When an organization looses its growth mentality, people with that mentality turn into misfits.
One of the major reasons I stayed so long was the talented people who work here. I firmly believe in this:
Always be the worst guy in every band you join. The people around you define the contours of your growth. Choose your crowd wisely. (source)
Unfortunately we lost many talented people reorg after reorg. Meanwhile the size of the product I was involved with grew from 1 site to 25 all while the team bandwidth effectively shrunk. When these issues were raised, the response varied from excuses to total radio silence. A thick management layer made it increasingly hard to push for meaningful change. The gap between decision makers and those who had to execute the decision and live with its consequences widened to a crippling level.
In reaction to the aftershocks of the previous reorgs combined with the common tradition of putting the older employees in charge, the remaining staff grew more protective of the status quo to feel at least some control and order. As a result there was an ever growing resistant to change which challenged new ideas and defined its existence in iterations that were in fact loops!
Covid has taken many lives and affected the economy of even more. We in the software industry are fortunate enough to have the luxury of working from home. In general it hasn’t affected us as badly but the job market has certainly shrunk (with a few exceptions which grew due to Covid like online retail, streaming, cloud technologies, etc.)
Initially I waited to see how Covid may affect us as a company and the economy and job market as a whole. When the cost cutting and potential lay offs were announced despite a “good year”, I couldn’t relate to how we as a company reacted to the crisis. To save money, we lost access to online courses even when I was in the middle of one. Oferring non-competitive salaries to new candidates we lost a few potentials. We didn’t get any raise in 2020 and I voluntarily bailed out of the salary raise of 2021 so that the team budget could be spent on the other colleauges.
Life is what happens when you’re waiting for the next milestone to happen.
Eventually I got tired of waiting and decided to leave in the middle of the ambiguous new world that the pandemic has created.
We know for a fact the world will not be the same. The job market is shifting. Working remotely is becoming the norm and the team distribution is spanning across borders and time zones. It is the time to run forward with calculated risk.
The best way to predict the future is to create it. — Abraham Lincoln
To my ex-colleagues
Since I’ve shared this post internally, let me take the chance to say a word to my ex-colleagues:
Thank you Schibsted! It was a great learning experience and I’m excited to graduate to the next level.
If you want to stay in touch, follow me on LinkedIn.