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'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 ?
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 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.
"We're all big believers in X here. But actually, we don't really believe in X"
"Great news, bro - we offer unlimited vacation! But actually you aren't expected to take more than 10 days of vacation per year."
( I work for Pivotal but not Labs and am curious. )
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.
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.
That's true. I only realised it later. My bad.
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.
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.
Maneuvering is a far better less inflammatory word here. Nobody died from disagreement working at soundcloud.
What were the unintended negative side-effects?
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 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.
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.
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.