This special date of 22.02.2022 is my last day at diesdas.digital. After four and a half years I’m looking back at my time there, share how my decision to leave diesdas evolved and what’s lying ahead of me.
From hypergrowth to super small
Before diesdas, I was a software engineer at Improbable for almost two years. During this time the company grew from 40 to 200 people.
I thoroughly enjoyed working on their product and had lots of time and opportunities to learn from very experienced developers, who previously worked at the big names of our industry. And I had almost full autonomy to build an exciting and complex user interface for their distributed cloud simulation technology.
But the city of London took its toll on me. The stress of living abroad and the stress caused by bad city design had a negative impact on my mental and physical health. So after these two years my girlfriend Martha and I decided to move back to Berlin. Shortly after, I got in touch with Harry and Lorenz and started at diesdas.
A warm welcome
When I joined diesdas I was employee number seven. It felt great to be part of a small team again, as it allowed me to get to know everyone. In the beginning we even had daily company standups because we were so few people.
I knew most of the partners already, since we were colleagues at Edenspiekermann, therefore we already trusted each other and knew that we enjoy working together. They also believed in me, so for the first time I was hired as a manager instead of a programmer. This was super exciting as I had been at a couple of companies by then. Based on my previous experiences, I had formed a clear vision of what a good engineering culture should be like and this was my opportunity to make it a reality.
I believe one of my biggest achievements at diesdas was writing down this vision of our engineering culture and share it publicly in our wiki. We received a lot of positive feedback for it in our hiring processes. Sometimes I received messages on community forums, Twitter or Linkedin about how much someone enjoyed reading our wiki. Some even mentioned that it had a great impact on their choice to become a developer. I had never envisioned something like this.
And it’s just one of many positive memories.
Working at diesdas never felt like work
We hired a lot of amazing people who I will miss greatly. Work was fun. The first day coming back from holidays was like coming back to a group of friends you haven’t seen in a while. Whenever work got stressful (which was super rare) the lunch breaks, chats and giggles in between meetings or having drinks after work completely eliminated any negative feelings.
I learned a lot about being a manager at diesdas. I created hiring processes, mentored people, was there for my team in 1on1s and did a lot of other things along the way. My biggest reward was when I noticed that our mentoring, guidance and culture worked perfectly, resulting in our developers learning faster than I could have imagined. And it felt great to look around and see happy people who enjoyed working at our company. I think not a single day passed without laughter in the office.
With the development team having grown to the biggest one in our company, I started to take part in the weekly partner meetings. There I learned what it means to run a company from the other side and the tough decisions that come with it. It was a really good experience for me and I’m thankful that the partners let me be part of it, despite not being in a partner position.
Making decisions in a group of five partners is hard, therefore I started to research methods that moderate group decisions. This was the moment where the idea of building a web tool to facilitate this process developed. But at this point in time I was happy in my role and completely focused on my team.
Years passed and everything just got better. We hired more people, slowly got into backend development as well, got a second office space in the same building and the quality of our weekly developer meetings reached a new level. We covered computer science topics, evaluated and tested new technologies together, had external people giving talks, did workshops about our fears and doubts we face being in a developer position and taught each other new skills.
This was the development culture I always wanted and I’m super grateful it turned out this way.
When the pandemic reached Germany
To keep everyone safe we were precautious and started working remotely before the first lockdown. The first couple of weeks were a bit weird, but nonetheless exciting. Remote work highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of our internal processes, so there was a lot to learn and improve.
Overall we had a pretty good setup and our work basically continued like before. I thought this emergency situation would be a temporary thing and in a couple of weeks or months we’d all go back to the office. As we all know by now this is not what happened. Two years later I’m still writing this text quite isolated due to Omicron causing high incidents across the globe.
Before the pandemic I wouldn’t have chosen to work in a remote company, but now there is no other way. The personal connections and our office culture were not only the things I loved about working at diesdas, but also why I enjoyed being in a management position. I enjoy spending time away from the screen, preparing in-person workshops, having conversations one to one in a room and being available for spontaneous mentoring and pair programming in the office. From one day to the next all of this was gone and got replaced with sitting in front of a screen.
As a programmer one can at least work towards having the freedom to structure one’s day and work, but being in a remote management position I found myself in back to back meetings from morning until evening. I have no intrinsic motivation for managing people remotely and it was one of the first things I said in my semiannual feedback talk. I still have mixed feelings about remote work. While I believe employees should have the choice to work from home and go on workation, I also see and feel the impact it has on personal connections inside companies when it becomes the norm.
I definitely feel less connected to everyone at diesdas now and I wish this wasn’t the case. This isn’t just a consequence of the pandemic, meaning reduced possibilities to meet generally. It’s not seeing my colleagues on a daily basis, not having lunch together and not occasionally staying longer to chat or go out for drinks. I do miss seeing my colleagues in person and would have loved to get to know everyone personally who joined diesdas during the pandemic as well.
With the personal connections and office culture slowly fading out, what was left from my role was the work itself. The pandemic left its mark on our people, especially during the first winter in lockdown. I had multiple 1on1s with people from my team who weren’t in a good state of mind. I did my best to support them and we got through it together, but it still really sucked that I wasn’t able to hug some of my friends/colleagues when they were going through a rough time.
These are also moments were remote work doesn’t work for me. It can be productive and liberating when working on your own, as a freelancer, or when you want to separate work and personal life. But when you want to spend work together with people you want to get to know, have fun together and potentially become friends, then remote work isn’t the right choice and can’t get close to meeting your colleagues in the office every day.
My positive remote experience
On the other side, I also had a positive remote experience last year where I was able to get to know a lot of people. If there’s a single vision that unites people, it’s like a boost that allows strangers to get to know each other quickly, even remotely.
This was my experience when I joined a political party called »Klimaliste Berlin« at the end of 2020. It strives to push policies forward which fight the climate crisis on a city level. Despite being in a lockdown during a global pandemic, remote collaboration via Zoom and Mattermost and our shared vision of a climate-positive Berlin allowed us to form connections during that long and isolated winter lockdown.
I need to add though, that these relationships and my experience of political activism became fundamentally better when we were able to meet in person. The experiences I had during that summer, joining climate protests, talking to strangers on the streets and handing out leaflets together until it got dark, are invaluable and on a completely different level compared to everything we did before.
Leaving the tech bubble also made me realize again how valuable my knowledge of software development is. Previously I couldn’t see how my job and my interest in politics could be combined, but this experience opened my eyes for the many possibilities that exist. It was also the first time that my girlfriend Martha (UX designer) and I worked together on digital products. Both of us decided to become candidates on the district level. In the end the party unfortunately didn’t receive enough votes in the election and we didn’t make it into the district level parliament.
The logical next step
Due to our political activities Martha and I weren’t working full-time anymore. I wanted to have more time for my political activism outside of work, so I asked diesdas and was able to reduce my working hours to 24 hours per week until the election. Martha decided to quit her job last year to have all of her time available. After the unsuccessful election and a bit of time to recharge, we started thinking about our future.
At diesdas we just had hired Ella, our second engineering manager, to support me in my role. The size of the development team had reached a point where it wasn’t possible to handle it on my own anymore. Just doing bi-weekly 1on1s with everyone basically filled up my whole week, no matter if I worked part-time or full-time. That’s also why we started to restructure the company into teams and delegate responsibilities.
Martha applied and was accepted to receive funding from the state to set up her own business. To keep a stable income after the funding has ended, she decided to start looking for a part-time job.
One day while she was browsing open positions in Berlin’s tech industry I saw a developer position at “Mein Grundeinkommen.” Mein Grundeinkommen is an association researching, promoting and allowing people to win a universal basic income.
With a similar company culture like diesdas, a clear political vision, a product and business model that provides room for long-term thinking and a holacratic organizational structure that keeps some of my current management responsibilities without being the person in charge, the job description had everything I wanted – without realizing or searching for it.
As 32 hours per week are considered full-time at Mein Grundeinkommen, I still have time after work / one day per week for Martha’s and my part-time business. After getting to know their team in the interview process, learning more about the way they are organized and receiving an offer from them, I knew this is the logical next step for me considering everything I’ve learned in the past year.
I’m excited to start on the first of April as a developer at Mein Grundeinkommen. Martha also accepted a fantastic part-time position last week, which starts in May. There she’ll work for 24 hours per week. Until then we will spend all of our time on tinyteam.
In March I will mainly focus on implementing our first product konsens. It’s a free online tool to make group decisions easy – inspired by my research for the partner meetings at diesdas. But we have a couple more ideas and plan to tackle those afterwards part-time beside our new jobs.
I’m looking forward to combine my knowledge of software development and politics at Mein Grundeinkommen while starting something on my own together with Martha. Exciting times ahead!