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Twelve months after
it's not zombies, also is 14 but 12 sounded better
Humans like to create order from chaos: for example seeing familiar shapes from moving clouds, a loving god that govern the world or imagining edible food from pineapple and pizza.
It’s our way to not go crazy, the world is a scary place and our frontal cortex just can’t take it. That is maybe why we love anniversaries, time is an abstract concept, and one exact rotation around our star is the best way to make time concrete.
So one rotation ago I started my new gig, jumping from the comfort of a well-paid job in a company I knew very well to an unknown small startup in a business I knew nothing about.
Why did I do that?
Many Linkedin influencers will tell you that is an “humbling experience” to go from leading ~150 people to leading ~20 people. But let’s face it, nobody in the world accepts a job offer “to be humbled” that is just a way that those influencers have to try to be relatable with people that they secretly despise.
Instead, if there is something I have learned about myself and all the people I met in similar positions, is that you don’t get into this job because you want to pursure an humble career, you get the job because you truly believe that you can do it better than anyone else.
And you shouldn’t be ashamed of that, only people with a god complex would get into a large washing machine, get shot on a giant missile and be happy to be called astronauts.
So the true reason why I accepted the job was pretty simple: in the last round of interviews I was asked to talk with some representatives of the team, and in that precise moment I realized with absolute clarity that I could come in, turn the place upside down and succeed.
Sure, there are always other considerations (money, prospects, culture, mission etc) but those are never going to be reasons to accept, only reasons to reject.
The path forward however wasn’t going to be a straight line, I could foresee that already.
In the following weeks I will post a series of reflections on a number of topics that I encountered over the past year, not necessarily in cronological order.
For this first issue I will start from the very beginning.
A cold shower makes you sweat
What a CTO really does? There are no instructions for it.
This question kept resonating in my head, like a coin dropping in an empty metal container.
The more I asked myself, the more it felt pointless, at times as pointless as Rick’s butter robot asking “what is my purpose?”
Only a few months before I was cuddled in the little politics of the big company, I could always call up someone if I had a problem and had plenty of stuff to do if I didn’t feel like doing any actual work that day. My biggest problem was how to play the game to increase my paycheck, nothing existential.
Now I had expectations, people looked at me expecting a white rabbit to come out of my hat. But I had no white rabbit, and no hat.
And in case like this, my primitive brain went into fight or flight mode, and I don’t generally choose flight.
Making your brain bleed like you are Ashton Kutcher in “The Butterfly Effect”
In The Butterfly Effect the main character is able to travel through time and, each time, his brain gets stuffed with years of new information to adapt to the new temporal line. Until everything falls apart, etc. etc. you should watch the movie.
This is how I felt for a couple of months, I was new to the game, and my knowledge of the business, the product or the tech stack was negligible. Yet my job was about meeting people, discuss topics and make decisions.
The only way I found to solve the problem was to ingest information at a speed that I never experienced before. Ending days with migraine and tiredness, but growing as a professional.
I see often bad takes around startups, that you will not grow technically or that is bad for your career unless you make a lot of money out of it.
I think those takes come from the narrow view that your growth is about your net worth or if you can get hired by big tech afterwards.
I think that professional growth is a long game, some people will hit the jackpot and make a lot of money in their 20s, most people won’t. They will have very long careers that will span across multiple technologies, trends and business models. Being able to learn anything, onboard anywhere and work in any company is your superpower.
A superpower that goes to sleep in a big company. I had this feeling that I haven’t used my brain in a long while after this stretch. I felt sore, I didn’t know that I could learn so much in a short period of time.
You know more than you think
The flip side of this, is that I never realized how much knowledge I had that isn’t obvious to other people.
It’s not a mistery that many businesses have been created by people that brought practices from one industry to another, intuitively it makes perfect sense but is hard to really convince yourself until you experience it.
I realized that from my experience in Booking.com I brought with me a ton of in-depth knowledge from large scale infrastructure, observability to dealing with operations and organizing customer service.
And you will never imagine that knowledge is impressive to others, you gave it for granted for so long after all.
We are all terrible at estimating what we are good at and what’s interesting to others, otherwise everyone would be a great comedian.