My first 12 months working for a start-up
November 30, 2016 2 Comments
On December 1st of last year, I joined a new start-up called Roadmap as a DBA (Database Administrator). This start-up was founded 8 months earlier, and 2 of the members of the initial team were very close friends of mine. After a few months they needed some help in the area of data, and I was looking for a new challenge at that time. So 1 plus 1 equals 2, and after a short conversation with HR, the CEO and sharing a lot of laughs, they offered me the opportunity to embark on a new adventure.
My first day was a… ehm… let’s stick with “special” day. On this “Roadmap Day” every member of the team shared his or her thoughts about the past year, and their plans for the new year in a short presentation. But, and I say this with the knowledge I have now, this day started “the Roadmap way”. Before I knew it, I shook hands with a lot of people that would become colleagues, of which I could hardly remember the names of until many weeks after this event took place (I’m really bad with remembering names, which also doesn’t help). Then it became rather awkward. We started to jump, dance, and do all other kinds of funny stuff to “kickstart the day”. Coming from a “normal company”, this took some time to adjust to. But if you think you’ve seen the worst, wait till I tell you about… Neh… I’ll tell you about that over beers sometimes. Ask me about it, and we’ll have a great evening with a lot of laughs, I promise you!
Getting ready for a “normal” workday in the office
After this experience, the first day in the office started. I was handed the credentials to my email account, and had a talk over a cup of coffee with the 2 friends that already worked with the company. This talk included all kinds of information including the catch phrases: “cloud-first company”, “cool new technologies” and “do whatever you want, as long as it brings you and the company forward”.
As you can imagine, coming from a (again) “normal company” and joining a bunch of (semi-professional) lunatics was quite a culture shock (more than once I called this group a sect to be honest). All of a sudden nobody told me what to do anymore. I was handed over the credentials for the database servers, the domain (Active Directory), and they just let me go berserk. So with no idea where to start, I did what every DBA would do: check the configuration of the production environment. That should’ve been the first warning sign already. The entire production environment was literally build by developers…
And if that wasn’t a big enough culture shock, on the first day of my second week they decided in a scrum-like stand-up to give employees control over their holidays. So basically it meant that you can take as much time off, whenever you want to and how long you want to. I can’t emphasize this enough: coming from previous companies with a default policy of 20 to 25 days (this is normal in the Netherlands) where I needed to ask 3 or more people for permissions, this was kind of hard to cope with.
The first 2 months
During my first months, I considered my options regarding the company, the team and the job. Would this be the company for me? Would I be able to cope with the working environment? Would I fit in with this group of people? Looking back at this, one of the reasons I stayed was the fact that I was working with friends again, because I missed that the last couple of years. They kept me on the right track, and for that I’m very grateful, and can’t thank those 2 guys enough!
After about 2 or 3 months, I started to notice the change in the performance and stability of the platform, and my team. This meant I was getting more comfortable with suggesting and making changes, and the team responded in a different way. They’d seen what I could do, and all of a sudden they started asking questions. This was the first indication for me that things were improving.
Do whatever you want
One of the strangest concepts at first when I started at Roadmap was to “do whatever you want, as long as it brings you and the company forward”. So I decided to test this out.
On June 1st Microsoft released the long awaited RTM version of SQL Server 2016. For me, as a data professional, that meant new and shiny stuff to play with. But instead of installing it on a VM on my laptop (which I was used to in previous companies), I decided to use some of our production hardware. So I literally installed SQL Server 2016 during my morning coffee, put it into the production domain, and cautiously shared with 2 colleagues what I had done.
The reaction was nothing less than enthusiastic. They wanted to know all kinds of stuff: What are the cool new features that we can use to solve issues we have right now?! How can we leverage this when we think about information security?! When can we migrate our production server to SQL Server 2016?!
Every single one of these responses blew me away. I was used to responses as: “can’t you do this during the weekends, on your laptop, and in your own time?”. This gave me another boost to try and start leading the data- and operations-revolution for the Roadmap platform.
Getting more responsibility
At previous companies I worked for, I was always told what to do. As mentioned before, that’s not Roadmap. But by taking the lead in certain conversations, projects and areas, I showed people what my addition to the company could be.
To my surprise, after only a short period of working for Roadmap I was given on-call duty. So without the proper experience within the company, and without knowing all the systems, I was responsible for keeping the business alive. It couldn’t get any scarier that that!
After working 8 months together with the team, we decided to start working on splitting up roles and responsibilities. This meant that from that point on I was responsible for IT operations and the data platform. I’d never dared dream about this happening so fast, even if I would’ve known I was ready for this. To be honest, I think Roadmap is the only company that would give me such an opportunity so shortly after joining the company, so I’m very grateful for that!
Over the past months, the team grew closer and closer. And not only the direct colleagues with who I worked, but also the rest of the team. It might be a cliché, but the colleagues started to be more than colleagues, they became acquaintances. And after a few more months, they started to become friends.
And I know how this sounds. Before I joined Roadmap I would’ve been the first one to call b*llshit on that! But you know, Roadmap has changed me. Even the colleagues of which I least expected it, became people I would love to have a beer with on a Friday night. I didn’t realize that until I started writing this blog…
And of course, there are downsides…
But in all honesty, of course there are downsides to working for a start-up. Especially the last few months were crazy! There were moments of stress, frustration and hopelessness. At certain times I even felt like killing my colleagues.
Crazy working days turned into crazy workweeks. Normal 8 hour workdays ended up in 16-hour workdays. There were weeks when I had to survive on 2/3/4-hour catnaps between workdays. Nights turned into sleepless nights. There were nights in which I started working at 4AM from home, put in an hour or two, before getting into the car and drive to the office. But in the end, it all worked out for me.
In all honesty, I don’t expect anyone to fully understand this. I don’t even understand it at moments! This might be something you have to experience yourself before you can understand why I accepted this. In any other “regular” job I wouldn’t have done this, but for some reason it’s part of the job at this point in time.
You know what kept me going (besides the tons and tons of coffee)? The team of crazy bastards (and I say this with a lot of love). The team that has a clear goal for the company. The team that is motivated enough to spend private time on bringing the company forward. I’ve had moments where the name on the building didn’t really matter anymore, but I kept going for the team. They changed me, and made me into someone who wants to constantly improve and broaden his horizon, more than I already was. They gave me the confidence I needed, at the time that I needed it the most. And there’s no way to pay them back for that, besides giving it my best to bring Roadmap forward.
And trust me, you’re going to hear from us soon, because we’re going to take over the world with Roadmap!
“You gotta fight ’til it hurts,
and then you do it again
Ain’t no room for second place,
Go big or go home!
Dust off and then come back for more”
Source: Five Finger Death Punch – Back For More