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. I learned a lot over the past 5 years. Anyone who has been at the same place for too long would tell you:
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.
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 mostly 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 tried to change, but no luck this time. I applied to 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. Sadly they were looking for a security specialist with several years of experience.
The enemy of progress is the victim mentality.
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, they wanted me to go through the entire recruitment process (just like an external applicant with a take-home test that would require roughly 20 hours of work!). With that level of investment I might as well apply to another company. So I call it off and started looking externally.
For me even the internal tourism would do. 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.
Change to same
In the past few years the company split in two, we got a new CEO who in turn renovated her management team and they in turn assined new managers all the way down. This greately improved the gender balance: the management chain from me to the CEO is comprised of 5 women vs 1 man. That’s nice. 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 which 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”.
We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them (associated to Einstein)
Not only we lost ex-pats but the remaining ones seemed stuck in a position despite their native peers making progress (sometimes even jumping over them in the career ladder).
There’s A LOT that Schibsted gets right. I’m very positive that the ethnical diversity will catch up with gender diversity going forward but it’s past my time.
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. I was told: “for climbing the next level of the career ladder a position must show up and you have to apply to it”. This meant that our team, the core team behind all media sites at Schibsted Media did not have the capacity for a more senior role. Practically, that position never showed up as long as I kept fullfilling its duties in the past 19 months.
When an organization keeps promotions and seniority levels secret, it misses the chance to set role models and lead the organization growth by example.
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.
Different people have different career priorities. For me, the most important aspect is to learn new skills while solving impactful problems. The higher the impact and the more positive its magnitude, the more I am motivated.
And in that area Schibsted delievered! I got the chance to:
- grow my knowledge of backend development and cloud computing with the support of one of the best managers I ever had (who later went to co-fund Kitemaker: the love child of Slack, Trello and Github!)
- rewrite an Identity SDK serving millions of users across a wide range of businesses
- refactor legacy systems and create new ones to comply with GDPR regulations protecting our users’ rights and privacy
- work on high load secure backends serving millions of requests per day and optimizing them to run smoother and with less resources
- implement various serverless products and learn kubernetes
- write technical documentation for complex and critical systems which raised the bar across the org and received great feedback
- present our code governance model at a company-wide conference in front of ~100 engineers
- work on a massive (by any measure) and critical inner source with a community of 150+ contributors
- take various courses about leadership (S-PACE), AWS cloud, web application security and personal growth
- build connections with some of the brightest people I had the previledge to work with
- implement our observability solution for logging, metrics and tracing and set up live observability screens
- write the incident handling guideline and carry “fire drills” with my team and be on-call for some of the highest traffic web sites in the nordics
- interview candidates and onboard new recruits and mentor some of our best fresh talents to have a positive and productive start
- take part in great initiatives like Tjejer Kodar to improve gender balance in our industry and represent our company at various popular events that we sponsored (eg. Nordicjs)
- be elected democratically as the tech lead (9 out of 11 votes) which is truely an honor (it’s been 10 years since the first time I held that title)
- be a member of the editorial team behind the company tech blog
- contribute to organizational learning pushing for internal tourism and kick start our open source strategy (being a long time open source consumer and producer)
Most importantly I learned to collaborate more effectively and contribute to the growth of people around me. I never asked for it but a few great people approached me to be their mentor even. I had 3 mentors myself (2 quit)! For most of what I got praise for, I tried to scale it horizontally by motivating others to do similar things instead of me becoming the “documentation master” or “Datadog master” or other title that some tried to box me in. I knew the moment I become the “master” of something my growth will turn 1 dimentional. As a knowledge worker (more on that in an upcoming post), my main skill is to seek information and use it to solve problems.
My goal is to set an example, not to become the authority in a specific area.
I love it when I’m the least knowledgable person in a room. I love to facilitate collaboration between those who are way more knowledgable than me, ask the right questions, tell the hard truth, remove the obstacles, sum up their ideas for clarity and maybe add some of my own while keeping the eyes on the goal.
I became a better communicator through sharing most of what I had learned using various workshops, tech talks and training videos since it’s one of my core principles to deprecate myself so others can grow while I move to the next challenge.
If you can’t explained it well, you haven’t understood it well. Your students are your best teachers.
Work life balance
Schibsted has a great work/life balance and that’s exactly what I needed with two small kids. Having the luxury of focusing on the family was great for the kids but it also meant that I lost my edge careerwise. Now that the kids are older, it’s time to “go back to work” by facing new challenges.
Why leave now?
Which brings me to this post. Why so restless? Why shy away from being “documentation master”? What’s wrong with “typescript guru”? Why not “own” a system and guarantee job security? Why seek new challenges in the middle of a pandemic?
I feel previledged to live in one of Europe’s hosttest tech hubs at a special time posessing a set of special skills. Like everyone else in the league recruiters approach us on a weekly basis. One of the major reasons I stayed so long was the talented people who work here.
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. Don’t get me wrong: I support a justified and sane reorg that has clear vision, sets realistic and measurable objectives and is executed gradually. Not a fan of big bang reorgs that are the result of new managers not understanding the current structure and wanting to leave their own mark. My team had 4 managers in 2 years and we lost some of our most skilled people who we still haven’t been able to replace despite having open positions. 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 thicker 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!
It’s sad to see your colleauges go but the silver linings is the vaccum they leave behind: it is a good opportunity for the rest of the team to grow. Being at the same team for over 3 years, as ppl quit I gradually became the go-to person for a few matters like security, observability and a few sattelite services supporting our main products. Some may find it flattering to become the go-to person but to me, it was a red flag indicating that I haven’t done a good job in spreading the knowledge that I have accomulated. So I tried my best to reduce the bus-factor by sharing any know-how and delegate and coach instead of doing everything myself.
Deprecate yourself and move on or the world moves on and deprecates you.
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 uncompetitive 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 other colleauges.
A crisis is also an opportunity to discover untapped markets while doing good for the community (both employees and the society).
Eventually I got tired of waiting and decided to leave in the middle of the ambiguous new world that the pandemic has created.
Life is what happens when you’re waiting for the next milestone to happen.
We know for a fact the world will not be the same. The job market is shifting. Working remotely is becoming more normal and the common distribution of teams are changing. It is the time to run forward with calculated risk.
The best way to predict the future is to create it. — Abraham Lincoln
I decided to take my chances and generate options (more on my job application strategy in a later post). It went well. In a short time I had 3 recruitment processes with 2 more in the line.
Options give YOU the power. Try to make as many of them as possible.
Let me tell a short true story to put things in perspective.
Back in 2014 I was a co-founder at a tiny startup which failed like 90% of them tend to do! My official title was the CTO and I developed the first prototype to aiming the product/market fit. However, in practice a big part of my time went to discussions about funding, customer aquisition and legislative matters. For me, the technical and human development aspect of the job was the most interesting part. Also it was around this time that I got my first child and I caught myself stealing family time for the startup. After that experience, I had to take a hard look at my life priorities and decided to go back to being an employee but this time with more awareness and confidence about my priorities to learn, share and have high impact. It’s more fun to do that together with the resources of a big company which has a mission and culture that aligns with mine.
When I was younger, I used to think that there’s a direct relationship between the value you created in the world and the wealth you have accumulated. The world is full of counter-examples.
As far as it’s in my control, I live cheaply and keep a low profile to freely learn what makes me curious. A startup can potentially yield greater financial benefits, but for me that’s not the goal. If I wanted to “own” a system or have a fancy title or earn big numbers, I would co-fund another startup or honestly choose to stay at most of the companies I have worked for so far. Many of them are great places to learn and grow. After all, I picked them for a reason!
So far I’ve had the chance to have an impact at telecom, fintech, medtech, robotic, media, online retail and a few other sectors. At every business sector I did my best to absorb as much knowledge as I could accumulate to solve real problems.
Most people are at the best place they can be given their priorities and options.
To my ex-colleagues
Since I’ve shared this post internally, let me take the chance to say a word to my ex-colleagues:
From my own experience when someone leaves, it’s easy to get worried:
What did go wrong? Doesn’t he like working with us anymore? Did I do something? Did the company mistreat him? Have he found something much better than what we are doing here? Does he make more money somewhere else? Who is next?
That is all normal. Everyone’s life path is different. The only constant thing about life is change. Everything that had a beginning has an end.
One of the places that makes me very calm is the graveyard. As awkwards as it sounds, every time I pass by a graveyard I think about the people whose bodies rot there: each had dreams, plans, knowledge and potential. May they rest in peace but the rest of us should make the best use of our short time to do what matters. I know it’s a pretty grim way to end a blog post, but the key point is this:
Nothing lasts forever. Life is too short to settle. Make the best out of it. Try new things. You either achive something or learn. You got nothing to loose!
I do acknowledge that not everyone has the same criteria or the same conditions as me. Everyone you meet is fighting a war you know nothing about. However, this goes for everything in life: be honest with yourself because the worst lie is the one you tell yourself. Invest in yourself, deliver your best and challenge yourself.
YOU build your environment, not the other way around.
PS. traditionally I don’t announce the next gig until I’m sure that we are a match. There will not be a goodbye party over VC. I’ve asked my manager to divert any gift money to charity. Also no final generic praise to people who I had the honor to work with. I’ve been pretty good at giving praise and specific feedback as soon as it is due. There won’t be an org-wide goodbye email either. I don’t want to spam people, those who know me, will find this post anyway.
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.