Thoughts after leaving noris network after two years

After two years at noris network AG, yesterday was my last day with this company. It has been a long time since it felt so hard leaving a company. In my two years I worked with really great people on some of the most cutting edge technologies. Mostly, I served as a Kubernetes and Cloud Native advocate\Architect\Developer. It's hard to say exactly what I did, but at times it felt like I was doing a lot.

All these things were not possible without the help of so many great people with whom I worked. Some of them might read this post, so here is a big thanks.

I would like also to reflect on a few good things we - the small team I was part of, but also the company as a whole - did together in the spirit of open-source. I believe this really helped us succeed in pushing noris network to quickly adopt new technologies and habits.

To start with, my team has adopted a git first workflow. We tried as much as possible to avoid using our company's wiki, because internally we wanted to have rigorous review process on all documents we produced. This allowed us to stay in sync with what the team does. As much as we could, we used markdown and RST formats together with Sphinx. This allowed us to create documents in HTML format which are pleasant to read, and also have a very shallow learning curve. Markdown formatting isn't more complicated than the syntax of MediaWiki or Confluence. However, the most important feature of using Sphinx is in my opinion is that the documentation is stored in files which can be put in a version control system. Having git as version control allowed us to collaborate on the documentation and have review process. To some extent one can create automation for this review process (for example spell checking, or style). A second great feature of Sphinx is that one can have documentation weaved into the code of software projects. Sphinx is widely used in Python projects, but not only. The Linux kernel is using it, and some other highly visible Open Source projects. There are plugins for documenting software project in many languages using sphinx.

Writing documentation is not enough. If you don't advertise, no one is going to read your documentation. As the goal of our team was to spread the use of Kubernetes in the company, we used every possible opportunity to shout Kubernetes cloud native, CI\CD. This can be very annoying to some people. But it worked. We managed to get this thing going. This opportunities might vary in your company, but the ideas might still apply.

Talk about your ideas repeatedly: in the corridor, in the line to the coffee machine, in the companies' training events and barbecues and bar-camps (noris network as a great biannually conference which allows people to share their ideas). Hold a 15 to 30 minutes talk about your ideas. Pitch your idea and see if this solved people's problems, there is a great chance someone else has the same problem, or he is already started working on a solution. This allows you to recruit people to support your idea or allows you to build on their solution and collaborate. Either way, it's a win-win if there is no ego-fighting. If your company has an Intranet or internal blog, post there too. And when you release a software package or a library make sure to create a news article about it.

In the spirit of open-source, if your company has a chat software, create a channel dedicated to this idea or software your are trying to promote where people can share information and help each other with problems. Expect this to be time-consuming at the beginning, since you are probably the best authority for that.

Find a local meetup that relates to the software\technology\idea. If there isn't an active meetup, consider creating one. It's a great way to find even more people that share the same idea, or have the same problem to solve, or have interest in learning this cool new technology. We did, by the way, happen to launch the N├╝rnberg CNCF meetup.

Help foster an Open Source mentality: Every company with a decent size is pre-destined to re-invent solutions locally. This means a lot of wasted energy, time and money. Adopting inner open source culture means that people know what happens currently in the company. In noris network we adopted a process similar to the one already used by large open source communities - we called it PIEP, which stands for Products, Innovations, Enhancement Process. Sounds similar to PEP, KEP or JEP? Right, we didn't invent the wheel. We fostered a process where everyone can suggest the most crazy idea, or not so crazy solution, pitch it, get budget and time to work on together with other stake holders. Sounds crazy? Consider the alternative where two different departments or employees implement a similar-we-have-a-workstation-under-the-table-with-build-server-style solution. You know what I mean right? Your last company's chat server was set up this way, right? Managing any project like a software project isn't a bad idea. It forces your to write your assumptions, assess the risks, and gather supporters. Alternatively, you find out that somebody has already solved your problem, which, allows delivering more value.

Remove barriers and lead by doing. If you want people to use your software or ideas it is not enough to talk about it, or create management guidelines. You should make it darn easy to use. Want people to adopt Kubernetes? Find and installer that is easy to use or build one.

At times, it felt like moving a 300 person company is impossible. Days like this where mentally dragging down. As my fellow put it: a company culture is read only. But at other times, most of the time actually, it felt like small battles are won. You see fellow engineers using Kubernetes, people coming through the door to ask you something about CI\CD, Docker, Kubernetes or even simple stuff as coding style guidelines. Being on the cutting edge, or simply being an innovator, you will always feel like change is impossible. However, changes happens slowly, and people start seeing your work as valuable. That feels fantastic, but you need patience.

To summarize, my two years in noris network felt almost like a decade, and I wish I could see seeds I planted grow into mighty trees. On the other hand I am already looking forward to starting the next challenge in my life. Managing a small distributed team of software engineers. It's going to be fun!

This entry was tagged: career, life

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