A Blank Slate

Hi there. I spent quite a bit of my personal time last year reading and writing content on the internet, only to find all of it vanishing away into the bottomless depths of the Twitterverse. So I decided to start off this year with a personal blog as a less short-lived alternative. Strictly speaking, that would make it a New Year’s Resolution™. Let’s find out how long it lasts.

Now that we’ve got the tedious stuff out of the way, let us do a quick recap of my time with my previous company, where I was tinkering on a large German eCommerce platform . Last year I spent eleven of the twelve months working in a leadership role which combined software engineering and product management.

I joined this company in early 2016, when it was but a fledgling startup. And as it continued to grow, I was able to grow my personal and professional skills alongside it, while getting familiar with their technical stack and their platform product’s features.

As it got acquired by a large corporation in early 2017, I was asked to lead one of the (at the time) three software engineering teams through the transition. That was my first taste of engineering management, and it took me a while to realise that it was not a promotion, but a career change where I was starting from scratch. Luckily, I had an amazing team that was in equal parts supportive of my learning curve and forgiving of my subsequent mistakes.

Mistakes were made. 🙂

At the beginning of 2018, the company was looking to double its engineering headcount (again), and it took us a while to figure out some organisational rules on how to scale from 50 co-located people to well over a hundred colleagues in several different offices and locations.

I was given responsibility for a second team of frontend and UI engineers servicing the entire platform, and failed miserably at trying to lead two completely disjunct teams of about 20 people. Apart from being stretched too thin, I had no experience with the working style of the – itself just recently formed – frontend and UI team, and was way out of my depth.

Luckily, we made the switch to cross-functional teams in the middle of the year, blending data scientists, UI / UX designers, backend / frontend engineers and product managers into small-ish independent-ish teams. Even though it initially felt like a demotion, since “my” frontend / UI team got split up, it meant I was able to focus wholly on a single team again, which was a tremendous improvement.

While some of this growth was pure unadulterated chaos coupled with regular re-orgs for a few months, it provided me with an immense opportunity for learning and practicing leadership skills. As the company added agile coaches to the mix, I was amazed at the speed at which our team was absorbing knowledge and experimenting with different styles of working together as a single purposeful unit.

We even made this lovely physical wallboard, which got us very excited.

So why, you might ask, did I jump off this wagon just as it was picking up even more speed? At the time I asked myself that question, there was no doubt that I had every chance to grow further along with the company as it was heading into the triple-digit engineering headcount.

I was part of a steadily growing and successful team, with a well-scoped product area and the freedom to experiment with it. Additionally, I got a lot of personal and professional mentoring from colleagues, coaches and my direct superiors, who had supported me extensively as I set out to speak at my first few conferences, reviewing my abstracts with me and providing insightful feedback as I started fleshing out my talks.

However, a few months ago I had been asked by a couple of founders to join their new tech startup as first employee. The brief was to help shape and ship their initial product line while building up a tech team for further growth, along with the multitude of random responsibilities that come as part of working with a very small startup.

After a lengthy back-and-forth over a couple months, with everybody doing their due diligence along the way, I decided to take the plunge and try to build up a company from scratch rather than just continuing to ride the wave at my (now former) company.

And so it came about that in December, a timid but excited Sven, along with a healthy dose of imposter syndrome, joined his two colleagues in a downtown café, seeing as the new startup did not have an office yet.

2019 starts off with me being way, way out of my comfort zone. Which is nice, but also terrifying. It is going to be a completely different set of problems than I am used to:

  • Designing and shipping products to individual businesses instead of an anonymous mass of customers, with a completely different speed : quality : reliability ratio.
  • Shaping the company, together with my two colleagues, into a place where people want to work, and actually finding people willing to work with us.
  • Building the first tech team from scratch, including hiring for roles I have little professional expertise in.

2019 starts with a blank slate. Let’s go.