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I was a director of an engineering department for SoundCloud for a time and left several years ago. Frankly none of this should be surprising: nobody there could figure out a product definition nor a monetization plan. What is more: the engineering organization at SoundCloud at large was completely fractured and suffered from in-fighting. Nobody trusted anyone across organizations. There was no shortage of bullying even. Taking that in mind, SoundCloud's downfall was to be expected. Because of caustic environment even before the financial crunch, they couldn't execute. Blame the incestuous Brazilian boys club there for it (I'm male, by the way); they bullied just about everyone.

As for Berlin, I am sorry to say: I had high-hopes for the tech culture there, but to call it Mickey Mouse would be a charitable statement. It was laden with confused hipsters who couldn't differentiate between language du jour and its monads and delivering a product.

When I applied, the warning signs were strong. Nevertheless I ignored them — to my own peril. Needless to say, I won't make those mistakes again!

Right before I resigned, it was revealed in a private leads meeting that 18 percent of the engineering force had resigned in that given quarter. Was I surprised? Not in the slightest. That knowledge gave me resolve to get out, which I hadn't yet announced.




I was a long-time SC engineer and can confirm, the influx of Brazilians and especially former ThoughtWorks folks was the inflection point in the destruction of the engineering organization. Conniving and intensely political, they absolutely ruined what was a compassionate, innovative, and productive culture.


Could you go into a bit more detail ? What did the Brazilians do / change ? As for ThoughtWorks, I've been at an interview with them and got a strong cultish vibe from the whole thing. Especially when they made it clear that their 'social responsibility pillar' is cool and all, but "we're still a commercial company that needs to make a profit so don't imagine you'll be doing charity here"... I'm curious how the people from that environment affected SC's culture.

I'm sure the company had a much nicer culture when they started, given that their product attracted so much original content.. So what went wrong ?


I happen to be one of the "incestuous" Brazilian boys. Also, I came from ThoughtWorks. I doubt thowaway999 considers me one of the "bad ones", but I do need to give my two cents here.

1. I fully agree about the fractured organisation with lots of in-fighting.

2. I relate with the statement about "confused hipsters who couldn't differentiate between language du jour and its monads and delivering a product". I think it was more a matter of very clever yet immature kids that loved to play around with eccentric language features. That was not the root of any problem, though. The problem was lack of leadership to curb the in-fighting and give the engineers some direction so that they don't get lost on their drive to experiment around with whatever they feel like it.

3. It's ironical to blame the ex-TWers Brazilians _and_ the monad-loving hipsters. From my perspective, these were distinct groups. The Brazilians were not the stronger advocates of monads and other Scala typing tricks. Quite the opposite. The few Brazilians that were more fond of Scala were not ex-TWers. In short, simplifying the blame to one nationality is very short-sighted.

4. I'm very curious about who we supposedly bully. Or who was bullied at all, for that matter. Perhaps, I was too far from the director ranks to witness that. I'd imagine a director could do something about lowly engineers bullying people.

5. About ThoughtWorks, there's another misconception here. There's a strong cult-like culture there, yes. It happens that the former ThoughtWorkers that joined SoundCloud were exactly the ones that we dissatisfied with the cult, and joined SC in search for a better work culture. The ones that I knew personally have some quite strong feelings _against_ the "social justice" hypocrisy that is rampant at TW.

6. How were we "incestuous"?


I apologize about calling out the entire Brazilian group by name. That was unfair. Not all of you were bad. I think if you asked folks at large anonymously they would say that their was a whiff of nepotistic networking privilege in whom was hired, why certain immature acts were tolerated from members of the group, and why certain favored outcomes occurred to the Brazilian network disproportionally.


no need to apologise. By no means I read your post as an attack to Brazilians in general. It was at a particular group. That's fine. I just think it's an incorrect assessment.

I concur with the nepotistic networking in part. Everyone tends to refer people they know personally. Our network was strong enough to become some sort of inner joke. I doubt that this was what brought SC down. Immature acts were not restricted to us.


Can you go more into detail about the Thoughtworks culture? I applied there while in Chicago and got a strong sense of that from the culture portion of the interview (after the programming challenge).


Yeah, that's pretty much dead give-away that you're in some kind of stealth cult environment:

"We're all big believers in X here. But actually, we don't really believe in X"


My favorite example for the above:

"Great news, bro - we offer unlimited vacation! But actually you aren't expected to take more than 10 days of vacation per year."


I've met many decent people who work at ThoughtWorks, so it pains me to say this, but based off the interactions I've had with the organization professionally I've started to ask in interviews if the company does any work with TW (and a couple other firms, Pivotal has a poor track record as well). If so, the conversation usually ends there unless it's followed by a qualifier where the interviewer understands my reticence. I've been at two companies where TW involvement torpedoed projects, the culture, and even a sound business model. Not again.


This is interesting, as both these companies have high reputations and at times low reputations depending on your perspective. All consulting companies have their mix of failures and successes. Is this a correlation/causation thing, or do you truly think Pivotal or TW do something uniquely horrible to companies?

( I work for Pivotal but not Labs and am curious. )


I know the type. It's unfortunate that you have got a taste of the worst we have to offer. There are entire companies that are composed of nothing but these types. Most do not survive abroad and self select so you tend not to get the bad bunch – unless you reach a critical mass, then it becomes self-sustaining.


beware that this is only one side of the story.

I joined after the re-organisations that Phil mentions in the linked post here were well underway. From all I could tell, no one regrets it. At the position I head, I only heard rumours about the struggle that he went through trying to improve the engineering problems there.

Everyone (with perhaps a couple of exceptions) I know personally there (Brazilians or otherwise) was trying very hard to improve things. Their efforts could have been misdirected. Their strategy could have been even counter-productive. The intentions were good, though. And I did see some ill-intentioned people in other places.

I even think that thowaway999 was probably well-intentioned. However, an anonymous director calling people that he disagrees with "conniving and intensely political" and claiming a moral high ground is almost comical.


Note that I never used the term "conniving" myself nor called anyone by name. Someone else did, and that is on them.

For me what was most difficult and disappointing was not being able to rally peers or their teams to get the necessary work done. Rather they were too busy sniveling amongst themselves — too jaded from burnout, I suspect. I felt incapable in the role at first until I recognized that it was really a maturity problem that pervaded much of the engineering organization.

I knew it was time to call it quits pretty early when seeing that nailing myself to the cross wouldn't affect change but hung on for two years. I was able to help a few people along the way by shielding them from the bullpen and the drama and giving some good career development opportunities. Let's face it: my peers in the leadership circle were long burned out, and I was quickly becoming so myself.

I have nothing but respect for the founders. They had their work cut out for them. Never asked a whole lot from them but they gave it their sincere all when I did. Maybe a learning opportunity for them would be having someone in their steed who was less conflict averse who could have helped referee the discord.

If anything, I wanted to caution folks to not be under any illusions with respect to SoundCloud's organizational and personnel context and work environment in Berlin. Everybody held it up as a panacea, which it sadly wasn't. Irrational exuberance is dangerous.


> Note that I never used the term "conniving" myself

That's true. I only realised it later. My bad.


beware that this is only one side of the story.


Hi, former SoundCloud VP here. First I think it is highly inappropriate to use this sad event to blame certain nationalities/groups. I hope everybody agrees that SoundCloud is a much needed product and we all hope for its success. Some general points: Was there a lot of chaos at SC and were some people treated unfairly during that chaos? Yes, most certainly... I am not happy about it. But we were growing like crazy in headcount and every day we were afraid that the site was going down. Everybody tried to do their best to cope with it, but it was a huge challenge... People had different opinions how to deal with it, and that led to heated discussions and some fights. Then to come in from a established organisation and complain about it, is at the very least naive.


Growing engineering organizations is simply not a reproducible science. Successful companies are so rare and the conditions which led to their success so exclusive that it's much easier to point fingers at the people you disagree with. I think the parent captures this.

The backlash which is emerging now are really a products of pent up frustration. SoundCloud was never able to develop a culture which resolved differences. Lots of acquiescence, lots of political assassinations but no mechanism for reconciliation. That's where I point my finger at least.


ding ding ding. we have a winner!

when conflict cannot be meaningfully reconciled the whole system tumbles apart.

fwiw my critique focuses less on specific disagreements but the overall culture. i personally observed more innocent people eaten by this angry machine than necessary. that machine can't be the sole reason the company finds itself in this position today but friction from discord can't help an already uphill battle.

lesson number one: the no asshole rule is inviolable.


Is growing like crazy the issue? You lower the bar for hire and not enough time is given for the new employee to integrate into the culture. Instead new teams make their own cultures, and fight hard for their own success at the peril of company's success.


s/political assassinations/political maneuvering.

Maneuvering is a far better less inflammatory word here. Nobody died from disagreement working at soundcloud.



As they say in the German, der Fisch stinkt vom Kopf her (a fish rots from the head down). This man bears a tremendous amount of responsibility for everything described above.


Can you say why? I don't understand the link.


It's the fish?


I'm really curious to understand why a single person was responsible for a big failure. That sounded a bit personal.


I'm surprised that anyone architect or manager would blog that they're leaving a senior role after just 20 months. However when I've seen architects leaving a trail of destruction that looks familiar.


Everything mentioned in the linked article and his soundcloud post seems quite good. They greatly reduced new feature cycle time by bringing the right people together and having them work collaboratively rather than sequentially.

What were the unintended negative side-effects?


Hi, my name is Jano González, I work for SoundCloud and I'm from Chile, so it hits me when I see latino americans been stereotyped. I don't know if we ever met, but blaming things on people with a specific nationality it's super fucked up dude, please don't do that.


i apologize if i offended you or anyone else. the mention of "brazilian" is a relevant as a secondary detail. there was a group of problem engineers who were ring led. that group was brazilian. that they were latin american or brazilian is unimportant but a significant identifier of the social group. if they were there when you were you would know exactly who. otherwise it may have been confusing. prejudice is not at play. i was pointing out an organic association.

as i said they don't bear sole responsibility but rather signified the problem for the impunity of being able to break the no asshole rule. other immature apples spoiled the basket as well. plenty of innocent people suffered. none deserved that. burnout is evil. i hope we have all learned our lessons and become better people.


I worked for SoundCloud for about a year, I can attest that SoundCloud was a huge mess, mostly because the two founders (both Swedish) had no clue how to manage the business.

I think every nationality represented in the company gave a good contribution to make the place both good and bad.

I can't say the Brazilians there were an issue, but I can see how some folks, especially in the infrastructure team, wouldn't like them.

I personally had a lot more issues with German people, both in the company and outside of it, to be honest.


I hope you understand that you sound fairly angry and biased (no pun intended).

By being a director and having this sort of blaming outlook on other people, you most likely have a good share of responsibility for the downfall of the company.


I did my best to behave professionally every day of the job and help those around me. This is to say act better than the fray. Doing so for so long led to cognitive dissonance and personal burnout. My resignation was promptly tendered when I realized the burnout became so severe that I couldn't hold back from dispensing the most restrained of zinger, which was nothing compared to what was happening around me.

If I sound angry, it was because I sacrificed a lot of time, energy, and giving up a good life I had in other city for taking the job. Worse was realizing how much of a lost opportunity all of it was. We could have achieved more had we more trust and decency.

If you're looking for examples, consider scouring the annals of the web for "shit Soundclouders say" - a Tumblr feed of leaked statements from our colleagues. I don't know who put that together, but it certainly didn't help the trust or maturity aspects of day to day work. To give an example of the shit posted on their, English was a second language for the majority of us at the company. There was a fair bit of mockery for peculiarities about how people wrote in their second tongue - among memorable immature tantrums recorded on the Tumblr. Do you see where I am going?

I bear responsibility for not being more persuasive. I tried to get this damn Tumblr deleted but couldn't. Nobody cared - especially because it predated me and them. Everybody accepted that immaturity as a given.


Digital Ocean was smart to cut this short (the flock of brazilians from SoundCloud migrated there). Not all brazilians are like this tho - only the agilists.


Why were they smart to cut that short? What was wrong with those specific group?


Agilists? What has this to do with a preferred way of working?


Mostly a slang in brazil meaning people that use agile methods in ways to avoid real work. Not related to the agile manifest.


This all hits really close to home for me. I'm wondering if anyone else shares your opinion on the Berlin scene being "Mickey Mouse" and why?


I don't thing the Berlin scene per se is "Mickey Mouse" but there are a lot of companies that grew to fast with a insane amount of money. A lot of times the founders were installed as CEO and had little to none experience regarding leading a business. The were just happy to "make it" but had no clear vision what happens after the big money came in. Same for SC: They got a lot of money for a good idea (democratising music I would call it) but there was no clear vision or business model for the future just like OP calls it out. Some goes for a lot of other companies we've seen come and go. In the end Berlin is just not as mature as the valley but this is changing lately at least from what I see


Pretty much spot on.


Being a former Director at SC (Mobile), I highly doubt this a former director at SoundCloud (unless they joined after me). The Directors at SC were at least decent people that did not speak of the company or people like this. Please do not take this post seriously unless the person reveals themselves.


I stopped to read when you mentioned the origin of the guys... Sorry buddy there you lost the points of your argument


[flagged]


Heard people would disassemble his bed in hotels as retaliation




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