5 Years of Learning at Malt
I joined Malt as a Full-Stack developer after its first fundraising. At the time, we were less than ten employees, and the two other members of the dev team and I were coding on the same desk in a crowded co-working. Today, Malt generates multi-million euros in revenues, and the company employs 200+ people in 3 countries.
Useless to say that things have changed since I joined, and being a part of this kind of transformation is a rare opportunity.
During all these years as a lead engineer, I inevitably learned one or two things that I wanted to share with you.
The first year is tough.
Joining a company like Malt, with exceptionally skilled individuals is scary. When you realize how much your colleagues know compared to you, it hurts.
It took me a year and a half to catch up on everything I needed to know to feel like I was sharp enough to work with them. Tough love, but it's the best way to save a few years off the learning curve.
I. Make sure you join a company with people way better than you and strive to catch up. When there is no one left to catch up, quit.
Early Full-stack development is over-powered but cannot last.
During the first year or so, I got to do full-stack development (as in sysops, back-end, front-end, architecture, support, design, project management, etc.). The kind of full-stack that you must do when you are only a handful in the product team.
During these times, the adrenaline is continuously high. You ship a ton of features (and inevitably bugs) at the speed of light, and the feeling of freedom in your craft is intoxicating. But make no mistakes, even though it feels gratifying, this pace is not sustainable in the long run.
The startup myth of exponential growth is, well, a myth. Soon enough, your bug and support backlog will, in turn, grow exponentially as well.
II. Reevaluate your organization and method at least every quarter. Perform adjustments as soon and as often as they are required. Don't fear looking like you don't know what you are doing. When dealing with a fast-paced organization, only time can tell if you were right.
Burnouts are avoidable
In one year, I got to rewrite the quotation workflow and the search experience (two of the core parts of our product), mostly alone. On these occasions, I burned out, and when I had severe health issues, it was just after a big rush. What a coincidence...
Each time I worked myself to death, there was one thing in common: Me. Even though I felt that I didn't have any choice, I was the instigator of the unhealthy deadlines, and I kept pushing for too long.
III. You cannot avoid big rushes and tough times, but you must make sure that they don't last more than a week or two. Longer than that and you will get sick, one way or another. As soon as you feel uncomfortable, take a break and ask for help from your manager. It's literally their job to solve the problems you can't.
Even though I have bitten off more than I could chew, it was still the opportunity to create something meaningful all by myself. It helped me understand many of the ingredients required to make a great product (here I am, writing about it, right ?).
Treat every project as a small company.
With some mates at Malt, we built a CRM from scratch without having ever used one (oops).
We did it in 1 year and created a great product used every day by many in the company ever since. By the way, we could have undoubtedly sold it as a stand-alone SaaS product.
But more than the software itself, our real success is that we internally created a whole brand. We created a logo, a culture, a tone of voice, and a technology stack. Most still don't realize it, but a lot of what we did there shaped the product team for good.
IV. At this point, it was clear how a small team (*of exceptional individuals with full focus and creative freedom) can significantly impact a large scale company.
If you can't feed a team with two pizzas, it's too large - Jeff Bezos
Mentoring is key.
I helped and got help from the brightest engineers in my fields. It was hard and required a lot of adjustments in my verbal and nonverbal communication. Mentoring and accepting mentoring made me a better developer, communicant, and person as a whole.
V. Mentoring is good for others, but mostly for you. It teaches you to excel at your craft, reevaluate your decision early, understand the big picture, and, most importantly, be an egoless programmer.
The perfect team does exist.
I am very proud of the way I lead the mobile team. We made the best product possible with the highest quality standards and a sense of democracy and participation that I had never felt in a group. Our communication was flawless, and our motivation through the roof. I loved my time in the team, and to be honest, I sometimes regret that experience.
Like the CRM, the key ingredients are :
- Excellent (i.e., skilled and friendly) people
- Full focus
- Full creative freedom
- Small team
- No pressure
Project Management is hard.
Finally, I got to be the dreaded project manager. Not dreaded by my team, obviously, but by me. It would require a whole article by itself, and I don't have enough perspective yet. Therefore, I won't get into detail here. Spoiler alert, it sucked a lot and took me months to acquire all the required skills and tools.
Along the road, I met many people. Nearly all of them were smart and awesome, and I got to open my mind to many topics that I did not even know existed.
I also made real friendships that will live way beyond Malt.
All these experiences (and so many more) made me what I am today, a senior product engineer. In other words, I feel confident about my capacity to imagine, create, test, run, package, market, support, and sell a product.
Huge thanks to everyone at Malt, and specifically to Hugo, for everything you did for me ❤️
Why leaving then?
Earlier this year, the COVID crisis hit everybody hard on both a professional level and a personal level. Many people felt the need to reconsider their life choices, and many left their current position. Of course, the crisis did not spare Malt, and some left while others talked about going.
Last but not least, this crisis coincidentally happened during my early thirties (and, therefore, the thirties of many of my friends and colleagues).
In this unique context, many envisioned another life. I must say that that made me think too until I could not escape the inevitable question anymore.
Should I keep this very comfortable position or take a risk and try to realize my dream?
During months I could not decide and kept wondering if leaving was a sound choice. One day, without knowing really why, I knew it was time.
In a matter of seconds, I just could not bear the idea to reach my forties without having at least tried for real to create something. Funny how the brain works.
And it felt right! Since my twenties, I have always wanted to create a company and live off its revenues without having to do a 9 to 5 job most of the days. I created several products, and some of them (2 to be exact) had paying users. Still, I never bothered to develop a real business out of them.
Finally, I knew it was the right time to move on to another chapter of my professional life, from the product engineer & entrepreneur wannabe to an actual entrepreneur.
With this article, I take the first step toward the realization of one lifelong dream. Whether or not I find success in this path, I will always cherish the time I spent at Malt. Counterintuitively, I will never regret leaving this wonderful place.
Keep up the excellent work here at Malt. You are changing the world for many freelancers.