The year of 2018 has been a wild ride for me. It started at EmCasa.com, the startup I described a year ago. We were in the process of putting out a successful MVP, engaging clients, becoming accelerated by Harvard University and closing out an excellent seed round with important investors. All this in just a few months.
Very quickly my job morphed from do-it-all (think product and CTO duties, plus co-founder responsibilities) to team-building. This was a highlight as I was lucky to bring in great people like Gabriela Seabra, Nathan Queija and Rodrigo Nonose, each respectively owning mobile, web frontend and backend. On the design side, Plau.co did great work.
For the first time I felt fully ready to create a digital company in style. The Elixir-React stack worked beautifully, we rolled out features fast and the development team became a cohesive unit very quickly.
Towards the middle of the year, as the company reached 14 people, it had become clear to me that there wasn’t a good cultural fit among the founders. It was one of those very painful decisions but ultimately not difficult to make when visions don’t intersect well enough: we parted ways amicably at the end of July and I went looking for a new job.
That month was tense for me. I knew I had a deadline to basically stop getting paid, my wife was 6 months pregnant with twins and I had nothing lined up as far as work.
I am part of Toptal’s network of freelancers and that was one of the main ways I tried to find the next thing. I found something that really interested me: they had posted an opening to join their Core Team. I applied, passed, and joined the team as a freelancer in August.
The first few weeks were hard in a sense: I and two other developers coming from Toptal’s talent network had a kind of secondary status, without access to many tools. Luckily our teammates were extremely helpful and welcoming. In a few weeks we became official team members and got access to what the other engineers see.
My team works on Toptal’s public pages, from home to skill pages, basically everything a logged out user can access in the website.
It’s been a tremendous experience for me so far, as it’s the largest organization I’ve been a part of in technology. Toptal is in fact the largest fully distributed company in the world today. As such, I work with people from all over the world, and that’s the part I like best. To do it from home is the cherry on the cake as my children are very young and being close to the family is priceless at this moment.
At my team I’ve experienced the most well-developed set of processes I’ve ever come across. The firm has reached a level of maturity that allows for very well written task tickets, a proper retrospective at the end of each sprint, interesting strategic discussions among executives, and work that has large-scale, immediate impact. On the other hand, I am very far from top strategic decisions and information, and this feels weird to me having run my own company for so many years.
To a very large extent, this was the year when, for me, technical concerns became secondary to human concerns. Sure, if you’re starting a product alongside just one other person, what tech stack exactly to choose is of paramount importance. In a team of 200 that’s much less important, as each person can focus on a narrower part of the work, and the human interactions can catalyze or hinder progress.
Thus, I gave myself the chance of observing all the teams in the organization: dialogs, processes and rituals. Whatever was visible to me, I tried to learn from. It wasn’t long before I got the opportunity to onboard newcomers, help interview candidates, conduct daily standups and interface with other companies. That’s not to say I didn’t study programming this year: I continued my deep-dive into the Elixir codebase, studied GraphQL, some more Elm, algorithms, some Python and a little bit of Natural Language Processing.
It’s much easier to paste some code or links to a framework and illustrate what goes on as a programmer. Human interactions seem to me much harder to communicate. A book that does a great job of explaining management applied to software is The Manager’s Path, by Camille Fournier. I read it this year and it very neatly sums up many things we learn the hard way, plus many others I simply did not know.
So this year was one in which I started out as CTO and ended-up as an individual contributor. But each experience has taught me a lot about management and leadership, which will be my way forward in technology.