Lessons learned at my former company – Part I

It was the 13th of November, when I made the descision to leave my current company. I can remember that date, because according to my browser history, it was the day when I’ve choosen the song for my farewell mail (we had the tradition, that everyone who’s leaving links to a song in their last email). Some days passed until I’ve finally realized, that this was the moment, when I’ve switched my mindset from “keep going” to “I’m leaving”. After three tremendous years, I will quit my job as a lead developer and reach out for something new. Propably one of the hardest decisions I had to make.

Since then, I was often thinking about what happened in those years and what I’ve personally lerned from it. So I’m doing this post mostly for myself to recap, but maybe a former colleague or someone else will find it useful. Maybe you’ve made similar experience. So, this is about my lessons learned, as a member of a startup, as a developer, as a team lead. Let’s start with number one.

1. Know Your Limits

Let me tell you a story, a “war story”, that took place in the first months of the company, when everyone had that pioneer spirit. For me it was the most intense time at that company. The time when some individuals, who haven’t worked together before, became a team.

It was early 2012, when we just had licensed our first game and announced it to the press. The date for the closed beta release had already been choosen (for the non-gamers: closed beta is when a game is released to the public, but only for a limited amount of users). The plan was though, but it was possible. Unfortuately we got more and more into trouble, when some of our partners struggled with delays. The game developer needed more time to deliver the server software and we had similar problems with other service providers. We had to wait, until we received something to work with. It was only four weeks to prepare everything for launch – and nothing was ready. No game servers with the game running, no website, no account management. Everything needed to be built within those four weeks.

At that time we’ve been only two people in the tech department. Me, responsible for development, and my colleague, responsible for IT. So we did, what everyone working in tech is doing in such a situation: crunch time. It wasn’t a problem for us. We’ve been full of power, everyone was euphoric about our first release. Usually we started working at 10 a.m. like everyone else. All the other colleagues left at around 7 p.m. and the best part of the day began. No one randomly popping in and asking for stuff, we were able to concentrate on our tasks, at last. It was us two and the CTO sitting together and pushing forward. The atmosphere was nicely startup-ish, we ordered food, had a few beers and when everyone needed a break, we played a session of Minecraft and continued after an hour or so.

Our valley on the Minecraft Server
Our valley on the Minecraft Server

We’ve usually been exhausted late at night when everyone went home. For the next weeks we continued like this, almost seven days a week. Going to work, working, food, working, food, working, going home, sleeping, going to work… Looking back, I have to admit to myself that it was totally insane. I litterally had no life. Laundry piled up at home, the fridge was empty, but at least I’ve learned a lot about Berlin’s night bus lines.

Berlin Night, shot at 16.02.2012 at 2:30 a.m.
Picture shot on the way home, 16th of Febrary 2012 at 2:30 a.m.

So why am I telling this? Because at that time I’ve permanently exceeded my personal limit. I was so fueled by the challenge of making it happen, that I didn’t care about myself. And as usual, if you drive above the limit too long, something will go wrong. In my case it was the result of me being totally wasted by the previous weeks, suddenly all that pressure fell off on the launch day and I made a decision I’d have better thought twice.

Although it was kind of harmless, many month later it made me realize, that exceeding your personal limit is a real problem. It may be ok from time to time, but you should make sure not to exceed it for too long. Otherwise you will most certainly harm yourself. A former colleague of mine did not get off that lightly – he got a burnout and needed to start a therapy. That’s certainly an experience nobody want’s to live through.

Today’s working environments make it easy to reach your limit and going further. Therefore it is even more important than ever to be aware of your personal limit and – that’s equally important – you have to be able to realize when you’re exceeding it. I’m not saying you have to avoid it under any circumstances. Sometimes it is necessary to give 120%. But if you see yourself permanently running at 120%, something is wrong and you must not hesitate to change it. I can’t tell you what to do, because it strongly depends on your indiviual situation. For me the solution simply was to keep an eye on myself and to force myself into some spare time away from the workplace, instead of doing extra hours just for fun, when I had no plans for the evening.

Altogether, find a healthy balance between work and leisure time. Oh, that sounds so much generation Y 😉

To be continued…