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Episode 5 - Gergely Orosz

Ben is joined by Gergely Orosz to discuss competitive swimming, engineering career paths at big tech, his path to self employment, and the writing process.

Ben is joined by Gergely Orosz to discuss competitive sports, engineering career paths at big tech, his path to self employment, and the writing process.

Gergely is an ex-engineering manager and current author.  He's a prolific tweeter, blogger, and writer

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Transcript -
Ben:
Hey. Welcome to this episode of The More Than Code podcast. Today, I'm really excited to have Gergely Orosz here with me. Hey, Gergely, thanks for joining.

Gergely:
Great to be here.

Ben:
I'm going to start off with, where did you grow up? And where do you live now?

Gergely:
I'm originally from Hungary, so quite a bit away. But after college... During university, I lived for two years in Kansas, middle of nowhere, I guess, but as a kid, you don't really notice that. And right after graduation, I moved to the UK, so I lived a few years at Edinburgh, a couple more in London, and now I'm in Amsterdam. Probably a bit more friendly here and now I have a family and kids, and this place is amazing with kids. But yeah, moved around quite a bit.

Ben:
Kansas, as in Kansas in the States or is there another Kansas somewhere?

Gergely:
Yeah, in the States. No, it's Kansas in State from when I was five to seven. My parents were researchers, so they got a grant there to work there. So I was in this tiny town, which seemed huge at the time called Lawrence.

Ben:
Cool. Is there a specific field they research in or what did they do?

Gergely:
It's Chemistry. It was really ironic because my dad told me that. This was in the... When he graduated, it was in the '70s or, yeah, I think late '70s. And at the time there were two fields that were really booming, chemistry and tech, as in software development and he wasn't sure which one to choose. He actually programmed in Fortran a little bit, but in the end he chose chemistry. And he said it was really interesting because it was pretty clear that chemistry would change the world, all the drugs were coming out.

Gergely:
By the time he graduated, things started to slow down a little bit, and now he's telling me that. This field is pretty difficult, there's less innovation and that his biggest regret was that the barrier to entry is really high in terms of, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you need to have hundreds of millions of dollars to set up a plant, research and some of those things. When I was growing up, he bought a lot of tech books just around the house. I think he tried to encourage us to just get into this.

Gergely:
I have a brother as well, we both graduated, we both chose university to study tech and we're both in tech field now.

Ben:
Nice. That worked out pretty well, I guess.

Gergely:
Yeah.

Ben:
You've had a very impressive career, companies like J.P. Morgan, Microsoft, Uber, and now you're a full-time author. What led you to transitioning from that traditional big tech career to being an author?

Gergely:
It was more situational, I never planned for it. In fact, I don't think I planned for anything in my career. When some people look at my career, it does look impressive now looking back with the names. Honestly, I think a lot of it is luck. I joined some companies at the time when they were growing, for example, I joined Skype in London. I didn't know where I was going, all I knew was it sounded like a pretty cool opportunity. And it was right when Microsoft bought them and there was a huge growth following and I got to work on some fun projects.

Gergely:
Same thing later, I managed to join this smaller startup called Skyscanner, which had a tiny London office and it was in the middle of an explosive growth. And the same thing with Uber. I joined Uber when it was really hyped at the peak in 2016 before a lot of the negative press and negative news. Uber as a whole maybe didn't grow as much while I was there, but the office that I was Amsterdam really did.

Gergely:
Why I decided to become a full-time author, frankly, it's a few months, I just had to hit a pause. I was four years at Uber and I told myself that after four years, I'll look back and decide what do I want to do. Interesting enough, before Uber, I... My brother is in startups, he's on his second startup. Sold one and now he's starting a bootstrap, but he's raised capital for a second one. So in the family, I was always in the big stable companies and he's always doing his own thing, and I saw how difficult that is. It's really difficult to do a startup.

Gergely:
A lot of people are talking about how they want to do it, but after spending a few years at Uber, I felt a lot more ready for this surprising to myself. My main goal is potentially to start a startup or at least explore this opportunity, but I don't want to rush into it. And there was this book that's been on my mind for a long time and I've been writing it on the side, and I just found that a good timing to take a break from basically big tech or working as an employee at companies for a few months.

Gergely:
I also found I have this vivid memory. When I was in the US, in college, that's where I met my wife now. In Hungary, the average salary for engineer is like $20,000, something like that. Maybe these days it's a bit higher, 30,000. And someone told me that their dad works in tech and he makes 150K. And I was thinking to myself, oh man, if I ever made 150K, wow, my life will be sorted. That's just so much money.

Gergely:
And I had this memory of I was making more than 150K now, even in Europe with companies like Uber. And I also have good amount of saving because then I was reflecting on, hold on, I do have options. I don't have to stay in this field. I can explore, I can take some risks. So I just decided to take that risk. It felt like the good time for me and just push myself to do something new. One thing I've noticed about myself, I get bored if I do the same thing for more than a year. So this is just doing yet another challenge. I don't know how it work out. I might go back or I might just learn some new skills.

Ben:
Starting with the book seems like a pretty cool intro to a startup, because it has a lot of the same challenges, but maybe the hurdle is a little smaller. You finish the book and then the thing's done, whereas the startups, now they're quite done. Is that how you're looking at it or how do you approach that?

Gergely:
I really wanted to get this book done, and the book is about just summarizing a bit of my experience and outlooks. I was a software engineer for almost 10 years and I was lucky enough then to have the opportunity to move into management, which I also really enjoyed. And I really, really enjoyed helping people grow. I got such a kick out of it and I thought I was decent adage. What I also noticed is, especially in Europe, I am based in Europe. Here there is a lot bigger divide between the, I will say modern tech companies that are pretty common in Silicon Valley versus traditional tech companies.

Gergely:
And a lot of people I talk with have no clue what a senior should even look like. For example, if you're a senior manager, they think, no. A lot of companies here discouraged seniors mentoring, it's crazy. And they also have no clue what's beyond senior. At traditional tech companies, you have the levels, junior engineer, senior engineer, and a manager in terms of seniority, and salary, and all those things. So I wanted to open this up a little bit.

Gergely:
There's a lot of engineers who are really frustrated not being able to move from small companies to larger companies because they just don't have the skills and they don't know which skills are missing. This was a bucket list item, and it just made it easier to leave Uber because I have something to do. I don't think I would have been comfortable with just spending months just figuring out what I'm doing next. I'm writing the book.

Gergely:
I'm also talking with folks getting some ideas, but it's keeping me busy. It's forcing me to complete it in a shorter amount of time, and then we'll see. The startup is, if I have a good business ideas that I truly believe in, I'll give it an honest shot. If not, I'd probably meet some interesting people on the way and I'll decide what to do from there. So honestly it seemed like a safe way to transition into this, and it's forcing me to deliver something, specifically a book.

Ben:
Oh, the perspective. What is your writing process like?

Gergely:
What my ideal writing process would be is-

Ben:
Ideal and reality don't quite match up?

Gergely:
No, ideal and reality. I had a really good process when I was on my parental leave. I started writing this book a year ago when I was on my parental leave. Uber was really generous and they rolled out this new policy of having a four-month parental leave which sound amazing, but first three months I was home with my son, and then the last month he started to transition to nursery. Here in the Netherlands, kids go to nursery. They can go from three months old and he was seven months old, and so I had a couple of free days.

Gergely:
Because I only have very few days, I went to cafes and I wrote there. So my ideal writing process would be going to cafes and writing there. It's COVID so it's a little bit more challenging, but I am having blogs. I need to force myself to make progress. I was working with a publisher, which is really useful, in the end we decided to part ways, but they helped me set a structure for... So I have an outline for the book, and this is... I talk with a lot of authors.

Gergely:
Most people tell me it's super easy to get excited, and a lot of people have gotten excited and they start to write a book, but they never finished it. And the key to finishing it is you need to have an outline that you follow and you check off. So every day, I'll choose a topic, I'll write about it. And then often, I'll... I'm going to self publish under two reasons for this now that I'm doing this full time. The royalties with traditional publishers are not that great if you want to have any hopes of seeing any monetary value and they're very delayed.

Gergely:
But more importantly, working with a publisher, they want to copyright everything you own, and one of the things I really want to do is be able to publish as I write. This would have been a hard sell for most publishers. So my writing process is I'm writing it and I'm posting it on my blog as well. I'll get some feedback, just draft ones, and that's the idea. And I'll be doing that for a couple of months and hopefully then there will be editing process, which again, a lot of people underestimated, but I'm hiring an editor.

Gergely:
When you work with a publisher, you get these things for free, basically, so the publisher takes a cut, but they provide a lot of value and I'll fund that from my own pocket. So yeah, writing, and the editing process, and alternating, and in between, I'm trying to just have interesting conversations because one of the most difficult things about writing is... The reason it's great to write a book or an ebook while you have a job or something is you have a lot of interesting stuff going on in your life.

Gergely:
It can be a bit isolating just writing, and you're not going to get anything good if you just kind of have yourself to converse with. At least that's my take.

Ben:
I did two books, I did one self published and one with a publisher, and you're definitely right, the margins are a lot better with the self publish. I think the thing that helped me the best with the publisher was you do have accountability, someone's expecting you to deliver something. But probably even better with the self-published I sold pre-orders, and the pre-orders really motivated me more than anything else to finish. Probably because it short-tracked that weight, I was already seeing some reward from the work.

Gergely:
Yep, absolutely. It is self-disposal, in this sense, I guess you're right, it's probably not too different having a startup or writing a book. You need to pace yourself, you need to hold yourself accountable, have those deadlines. Because what I found after leaving Uber, it's ridiculous, but I thought I would have all this time and I could do all these things. If anyone was thinking about leaving their job, you won't. The day suddenly gets shorter, for example, I drop my kids off late, I pick them up earlier.

Gergely:
These chores that I usually do really quickly because I don't have time, they stretch out a lot of time. And it's interesting, I thought I was joking. I told my wife that once I'm not going to have a job, I'm going to play two days straight with X-Box because I never do that. I don't feel like it's a good use of my time and I still haven't done that. So there you go.

Ben:
One day.

Gergely:
Yeah, one day. One day, yeah, maybe when I retire.

Ben:
Do you have family there in Amsterdam or do you plan to stay in Amsterdam?

Gergely:
Yeah. I have family. I have my wife and we have two kids. We're definitely planning to stay. It's incredibly family-friendly place, so very happy with the move. We moved here actually, because we were living in London, my daughter was born and there's a lot of great things about London, it's like one of the big metropolitan, I think it's somewhat comparable in terms of living to like New York or maybe San Francisco. It's just not great with kids, so... In London, you don't see young people, you don't see old people because they just moved out. There's better place if you're neither situations.

Ben:
Got you. Thinking back on your career, what is the project that you're most proud of?

Gergely:
I had a lot of interesting projects, I guess there's two that are really stuck with me. One of them is at the beginning of my career and one is a bit later. The first one was... It's a very interesting one. When I went to university with my brother, we got a small contract to build a gambling game for a German entrepreneur. In Germany, casinos are really easy to open and you have like family-owned casino, so you can open like one or two of them, and this was a guy who owned like three small casinos and he wanted to do just a simple slot machine type of game.

Gergely:
All of this is... It's really easy to do and it's legal. My brother was doing the front-end development, I was in the backend. I was at university and it just felt... I knew this was a lot of responsibility because that game was registering points of the player, but that translated later to money. We weren't handling the money movement, but it went there. And I was really worried about how I'm going to get this right and what if I make mistakes.

Gergely:
And I just read about this thing called unit testing and I was like, "Yeah, I'll need to do that." It was just a gut feel and I started to add it in. My brother was basically the project manager, he was in contact with the client and he started giving me a hard time about it as a typical, "Oh, let's just skip the test because the client is waiting and we need to ship it." It just felt wrong and I put my foot down, we got into a huge fight. The project was late by a week. We didn't talk for two after and I wasn't sure if I did the right thing, but it just felt wrong to not have the tests.

Gergely:
And it paid off because two years later... We handed off the project, it was, I guess, a success. We got paid like peanuts at the time, but the still was a good experience. And two years later, I met the team who... There's a team actually maintaining it and they told me that those tests, it just saved them so many times and they're so thankful that there were some tests. And I just liked this project because I've had multiple times in my career where I was unsure if I should listen to my gut and I did, and it did work out later. This was a reminder.

Gergely:
And the second project that I'm quite proud of is, when I joined Uber, we were writing... I joined in the middle of a project, we were writing Uber's rider app. This is the main Uber app the most people know, which would doesn't sound very impressive, but it was an app with about two million lines of code, and we have 400 engineers doing it, and it was a complete to write from scratch. And we had this really short deadline of maybe like three or four months, which was a self-imposed deadline, a TK at the time.

Gergely:
The CEO, he just made up this deadline. A year before he said, "We're going to have a new app by the end of the year," and I think he told the media about it and we have to do it. And the challenge was I was brand new to the team. When I joined, I came from environment where we have scrum and some structured work. At Uber, it was a bit more freeform. Again, remember this was time where Uber was seen as they couldn't do anything wrong. They were the biggest, the best, the fastest growing.

Gergely:
As soon as I joined, I just got suspicious. It just seems to me that people are lying to themselves, a bit like putting their hands in the sand because everyone was working on their own work. There was like 16 different streams. People were doing their own estimates and everyone was behind. It was the classic people commit, engineers commit, but then they're late. And from, I guess the first week, my manager asked me and other people asked me, "How's it going?" And I was like, "Is going good, but I'm pretty sure we're going to be late with this project." And they're like, "No, no, don't worry. We know what's going on."

Gergely:
And sure enough, three weeks later, I was completing my bootcamp, four weeks was my bootcamp and my manager came up to me and asked me to manage this project, to be the project manager. I was like, "What? Why are you asking?" And it turns out that some other people noticed that the team was late, but no one said a thing." And they said, "Oh, here's this guy who's saying that this thing is late and he has some ideas." From there on I was pretty certain we couldn't turn the project around, we had about four weeks to finish work that seemed to be like three months, but we somehow managed to do it.

Gergely:
We just scoped this, we started to put our A team on the golden path, on the most important things, and we cut more scope and we had this hard conversations. But in the end we shipped something that was good enough. Even on launch day, it was a really stressful launch, but we somehow turned it around. And this project, it was very stressful, we worked through the weekends. I didn't do anything nearly since then as well. It really got the teams together. Even years later, people are telling me, "You know what? I wouldn't..." It wasn't that great, but actually I missed that project.

Gergely:
There was some sort of camaraderie at that point and we pulled off something that all of us thought was impossible, and somehow we did it. I still don't know how, but it was a defining moment and it still bonds me to the people that I work with. It was a terrible/great project. And I think sometimes, what I've learned is, sometimes if you're you have this stressful project that is terrible and you're hating your life, obviously try to fix it, but sometimes you might look back and you might learn something really important from that.

Ben:
Yeah. When I think back on my career, probably the worst projects are the ones that bonded me to the team the most. We came out as a much stronger team at the end after getting through those just horrendous projects.

Gergely:
Yeah. It's really counter-intuitive because I think... I've been a manager since, and as a manager, what the conventional wisdom is, protect the team, don't let people burn out. I have a little bit of contrarian view on that. I like to think of teams that having this like sinus spline up and down. I think a good team is where you have some stress, not too much, but you have like a deadline, something you march towards. Again, not crazy, but you have some sort of stress. But when that's over, you have a release, a chill.

Gergely:
I think it's good to repeat that, so just having a flat line where everything's the same every single day, I'm not sure that will lead to the best things. Obviously, take care and look out for people, but I found that people do appreciate pushing themselves. It's a bit like training for sports, let's say athletics, you want to do some sprints and then some slow jogging as opposed to just doing a continuous run in the same pace.

Ben:
Yeah. I love that. That definitely reinsured for me as well, I think. The worst companies, weren't the ones where it was just a nonstop sprint.

Gergely:
Oh yeah. We can agree on that.

Ben:
Yeah. I've been in other companies where it was stable and those don't really stand out. It was boring, I didn't stay very long because it wasn't interesting.

Gergely:
I like to think that those jobs are the ones you want to join when you're about to retire, but I think in our industry, we'll see one when we're going to retire actually. I just read a Hacker News comment on some, I think an 80-year old developer who said like, "Am I the oldest developer who's still active?" And there was other people in their 70s replying, "No, I'm still doing it," some even older replying, so who knows how long we'll be able to do that because unlike a lot of professions, physically, a lot of us will be healthy when we're 80 or 90, and hopefully mentally as well. So there we go. I love the long winded thought.

Ben:
Yeah. Hopefully we're still at it in our 80s. All right, the hardest question of the day, Star Wars or Star Trek.

Gergely:
That's a hard one, and you know why? Because I'm one of the few people who just didn't watch either. I'm all for science fiction. I read Star Wars in the book. I had it on my bookshelf and I watched a bit. Again, one of the very few people, I just didn't have a strong bonding with it, but Star Wars-

Ben:
All right.

Gergely:
... if you need to get an answer. I still like the modern one.

Ben:
Got it. What is your favorite cocktail?

Gergely:
My favorite cocktail. It's funny you should ask because one of the things that I'm also most proud of, the third one is I built the most popular cocktail website in all of Hungary when I was in high school or, well, a bit after high school. Because I was just fed up that I couldn't find cocktail recipes. And then later on Windows phone, I built together with my brother, the most popular cocktail app on Windows, which later put to iPhone and Android. And if you search for cocktail, it still pops up as number one or number two, is called Cocktail Flow.

Gergely:
But my favorite cocktail is Cuba Libre with Spicy Rum.

Ben:
Good choice. You started out as an engineer and then you late moved to management. What was the impetus for that change? And would you recommend that career path?

Gergely:
Moving into management was an interesting one because before Uber, I was at Skyscanner where I just suddenly found myself in management. I joined as an engineer, was a principal engineer, which was just honestly a fancy title. I joined a small team, which was an acqui-hire, the two founders and we have to build a product. And suddenly we had to hire people, I was doing mobile development and they told me, "All right, hire a few mobile developers under you or with you to do this stuff."

Gergely:
So I hired them and I looked up mentorship and all that, but I didn't know anything about this. So I was acting as a manager with no training and I did it as I could. I was thinking myself as a leader basically. When I moved to Uber, I joined as a senior engineer. I was actually interested in moving as a leader or tech lead, but they told me there's no open positions and I was completely happy with that. I figured that Uber's really interesting at this. In hindsight, I'm really happy I joined as an engineer because I spent the first six months just coding, getting to know the code base, getting to know all the engineers.

Gergely:
And then there was an opportunity to move into management because my manager had 30 directs. All of Amsterdam was reporting to him and we were trying to hire engineer managers and it just didn't really work out. He delegated a bunch of work to me, I was leading this project, which is a big one, so I was practically managing like 10 or 20 people. Most of my time was spent with project management and one-on-ones, and I just told them, "Look, I see you're overloaded. I'm interested in actually giving management a proper shot unlike last time where I was thrown into this."

Gergely:
Uber had apprentice management program. This meant that in order to become a manager, you first become an apprentice manager, you have to go through an application process with interviews with director. Basically, they made sure that you have the right motivations, you're not going in there because you want more power or that kind of stuff, and we also got training. It was a bit of a safety net as well. And the other thing that in hindsight I really liked about Uber is... Different people think different things about Uber, but Uber was pretty self-conscious.

Gergely:
They saw that they have a lot of new managers and they also knew that if you have a lot of new managers, you're going to have a lot of not great managers. So the design of this program to make it safe to go into management, and even even more important, safe to go back. So there was no salary raise, there was no... In fact my compensation pretty much dropped because my bonus was lower because I was now compared to my manager peers, and when you're a new manager, you're not the best manager, and I was pretty good on the senior engineer side.

Gergely:
This was great that I got some training. It also gave... Because I was an apprentice manager, people... When you've got that L letter when you're driving, people knew to go a bit easier on me. And I really like this experience, and the fact that my salary didn't change, the fact that I was leaving a little bit of money on the table, it was great because I had to ask myself the question, "Do I want more money or compensation and a higher level?" Because on the engineer track, I could have gone to the next level, "or do I want to work as a manager and learn about this and then help people?

Gergely:
I decided I... I felt I was growing a lot more, I was learning a lot of new stuff, so I stayed on this track. To your question, what I recommend it? I absolutely would recommend trying out what it's like to be a manager for anyone who's reached a senior level. I would not recommend it before you got into like being a confident engineer, maybe even changing some tracks. And the reason I wouldn't recommend it is I talk with a couple of people who did this change earlier in their career. After a few years, a lot of them went back to being an engineer because they didn't feel comfortable mentoring other people, especially when they have like people with 10 or 20 years of experience.

Gergely:
But I've seen people, at Uber, especially because it was easier to go over to management. I've seen a lot of people succeed. I've seen some people go back into being an engineer and that made them a lot better engineer. Some of the best staff engineers I worked with, the principle engineers, they were managers at some point, but they decided they could do it or some decided they didn't want to do it, but you get such an empathy. And I think a whole new world opens and you realize it's not black and white.

Gergely:
A lot of people complain about their managers and performance process and promotions. When you're a manager, you realize it's all about constraints as a manager, your hand is tied. For example, I had no control over what salary my directs have, it was all centrally decided. Even bonuses, I didn't have ability to divide bonuses, whatnot. So it was just really revealing to see. And it was also willing to see just how much behind the scenes work. I had to do that, for example, I couldn't even share with people. I'll give an example.

Gergely:
Someone is not doing... A few people are complaining about this person and I need to figure out how to handle that. And in some cases, there might even be a performance improvement process going on the pip, which you can't talk about. Or in some cases I was working to make sure that this doesn't happen and I had to be away from the team, and I couldn't share this. All my teams saw that I was distant, and I now had a new appreciation for... When you think your manager is flaky or doesn't do any work.

Gergely:
Maybe that's the case, but there's a chance that they have something even more important thing to do then attend to the staff, for example.

Ben:
Yeah. I went through the path of starting as an engineer, went into management, and then now I'm back as an IC. And I'm very thankful for the experience because I use it every day, the skills I learned as a manager. Building consensus, bringing people along for decisions, how to communicate, those things have just been incredibly helpful as a staff engineer, so I really recommend it. Even you decided not to stay or if you go back and forth over your career, I recommend trying it out.

Gergely:
Yeah. And the interesting thing about becoming a manager is I do see some people being hesitant. I know at least two or three people who I think would have made good managers, but they decided to... And there was an opening, but they decided after a lot of diversion to not do it because some of them saw how messy it was and they talk with other managers. One thing to keep in mind is, it is hard to move into management.

Gergely:
It is rare to get an opening in the grand scheme of things, your company needs to be growing, and those openings, if you don't take it, they can close. My point is that even if you're hesitant, it might be worth to give it an honest shot because it will make you professionally stronger. Again, I don't think you should ever go into management saying, "Oh, I'm going to try it out." You need to be committed.

Gergely:
You need to say, "Okay, I'll try this for like one year or two years and then see what it's like..." As a manager, you do impact a lot of other people. But as you said, I think you're proving my point. I can't really think of any staff engineer who I really look up to and who either has not been a manager at some point, or just has the skills that a lot of managers need to have, a lot of the soft skills, understanding the business, collaboration and influencing without authority.

Ben:
I've read some of your writing, one thing you talk about is why writing is important skill for engineers. Can you pitch that to us? Why should engineers care about their writing?

Gergely:
Oh boy. At Uber, one of the biggest, most frequent questions I've got from people, we have a lot of people whose native language is not English, especially in the Amsterdam office. I've had a lot of senior folks, so people at the senior level asking me for advice and support on how they can improve their writing, because Uber was a distributed company. In Amsterdam we would be working with San Francisco, with India, with Denmark. And this is true for any office you're sitting in.

Gergely:
And a lot of the communication was done asynchronously. And some of these... There were a couple of engineers who found themselves, they were pretty good at talking with people and convincing them, but in writing that they struggled to get the right phrases to not come across as too aggressive or just someone who doesn't have an opinion. And they really, really struggled with this. What they were missing is both a little bit of professional writing, but also there were people who didn't really practice writing and collecting their thoughts.

Gergely:
And I do think that in any larger organization, that when you go beyond an office where you're all sitting together, being clear in your writing is really important. Email is a key tool for any senior or above engineers these days, you need to be able to communicate with a variety of stakeholders. And yeah, I found that writing and communication, which goes hand in hand has gotten in the way of people. And it goes the either way as well.

Gergely:
I never thought of myself as someone who writes a lot, but it turns out that compared to my peers, I do. I have this tendency to write down quickly notes, share them out, put together presentations. And the feedback I've gotten consistently is people were a little bit amazed on and they found it really helpful. Some of the things I wrote internally within Uber, which I spent an hour putting together presentation sometimes got circulated for months and referred to. That's another thing.

Gergely:
I don't think too many engineers do take the time, even managers, do you take the time to write things down. And when you do, you really stand out because you're not able to transmit information to very different parts of the organization in time or in space. And especially with the current remote work, if I could advise something, I would say getting coding and getting those hard skills is really important. But once you've done that, I would suggest people writing, people, for example, blogging, or writing emails, or you're practicing, however you can. And also reading, reading fiction, nonfiction, it will help you grow as a professional.

Gergely:
And this is really strange. I never thought I would give this advice thinking back when I started software engineering. Because all I thought... When I started, I thought it's all about code and writing clean code and some of these things. Those things are important, but this is just as much.

Ben:
I couldn't agree more. I'm fairly new to the position here at Wayfair and it has been so nice to read what people have written because otherwise building context is such a chore. You have to do 10 calls or tell some people to track down the context on one thing. But all it takes is one-page document to get this amount of clarity.

Gergely:
Yeah. I will share one really interesting example that I had that just reinforced on how at times, again, I think it's important that you don't go overboard. You don't want to work in an organization where everything's just written and you don't talk with people. But we once had the managers offsite at Uber and there was a lot of managers and a lot of high-level managers coming in, and we had this meeting. This was before COVID, so we were in-person. This meeting with about like 20 people and I felt we didn't get anything done.

Gergely:
We didn't have good facilitation, and we were rotating who's facilitating and the next one was on me. I knew there was a lot of people, a lot of cooks, a lot of opinions, it's going to be hard to make progress. So I just took a page from the Amazon cookbook, which is I put together one-pager document or I think with mental health pages what we want to accomplish. I sent it out in email, but I just printed it out and put it on everyone's table. On that meeting, that next meeting in 60 minutes, we went through more things with more deliberately than we did.

Gergely:
And it was possible because I wrote down something that then people were able to read and comprehend. And then we were able to have a conversation on the app. Again, I haven't talked with people who work at Amazon. It seems a lot of people are saying it's a bit overboard and it can get in the way. But if you're a senior engineer or above, I recommend just try it out. Once you run a meeting where you facilitate, where you just have an agenda that was hard to print it out these days, but put it on the screen and have it forever and read it for, let's say five, 10 minutes and see how it goes. And maybe you'll find it useful or maybe you'll learn something else.

Ben:
All right, I'll try that. You're a fairly prolific twitter. In general, you submit work in public pretty often. What is the motivation behind that? What drives you to, this will open?

Gergely:
I didn't really think too much of it. While I was working at Uber... I think one of the things, while I was working at Uber, it was definitely a lot more difficult. You have to balance. Of course there is whenever you work in a company, you're associated with that brand and you want to be careful on what you're saying. I even got in a little bit of trouble once where I... There was a thread on microservices, this microservices that and I made this innocent tweet. It was just under the tweet and saying that for the record, at Uber, we're moving to microservices.

Gergely:
And suddenly I felt the whole internet exploded. This got retweeted, like a thousand times. I got DHH commenting and a CTO Spotify, and a lot of people were just make comments of like, "Oh, Uber this, Uber that." So people were certainly associating me, my opinion, which was just a very limited view of what I'm seeing in my team with all of Uber. I had comms reach out to me within Uber because they also saw it. So suddenly I was very conscious of it is very easy to get mashed, and especially in positive or negative context.

Gergely:
But the other part on... Where I can... I found that I'm getting really good feedback and I get more ideas this way, so I found... I know everyone has different experiences. I had a positive experience with the Twitter as well as with Hacker News, so... And my whole, I guess, writing in public started with the interesting setup about... I had a blog, which is my first name, last name.com, I think is full of spam with WordPress app. I'll have to clean it up. But I wrote on that for years, just not having any strategy, I just wrote whatever.

Gergely:
I had this bug fix and I put it there and I never got much interaction. But about four years ago, I read this blog post from Jeff Atwood about how he started his own blog, CodingHorror, which I was a big fan of when I was younger. And he said that he just blogged twice a week for a year, and then the magic happened. And I decided, oh, I'm going to give this a go. I'm not going to do that, but I'm going to write once a week for three months. So I started to write an article every single week and I got inspired by his style.

Gergely:
I did this for six or seven weeks, I didn't get any results, so I stopped. But two months later, one of my articles got a huge traffic boost because I think the servers were down and it was submitted to Hacker News and I got 50 or so comments with people agreeing and disagreeing. And that's my thought, hold on, if people care about what I have to say. So that's when I started to write some of these opinions a bit more well-researched opinions, so a lot of my writing is... Or used to be a bit longer format and researched, and it often resonates with people. I get feedback on it.

Gergely:
Honestly, I had a positive loop and that kept me going. Same thing on Twitter, I'm trying to avoid talking about small talk where I see some people do like motivational squeeze, that kind of stuff. I usually research something, I put it out there, and I've got a lot of inspiration. So often I will share something that I have a draft with and I ask people, "Hey, does anyone have anything else?" Good example is I'm trying to write still about platform engineering, and I put together a few notes that I had and I asked like, "Anyone have any other ideas?"

Gergely:
And a lot of people said, "I'm really interested if you're writing about this because I'm also in a platform too. I have no clue what I'm doing. Me neither, me neither." I find Twitter a great way to connect with some part of the tech community that I didn't even know existed. It's a really surprising one. Again, it works better for me than LinkedIn for example.

Ben:
Subscribe me to that post as well. I'm also on platform team, so-

Gergely:
There you go. Nice.

Ben:
What are you struggling with right now? Personal, professional, both?

Gergely:
What am I struggling? One is, I am a bit struggling with... I thought it will be easier for me to have a structure after I left Uber. I am struggling a bit with, when you leave a company, I was joking that I feel that the company... Everyone either goes to a new company or start a startup, and that's what I saw. Either people jump ship and you don't really... are in between. Sometimes I do feel like, am I doing the right thing?

Gergely:
Again, I have people reaching out to me for... Some people are like, "Hey, do you want to work at this company? Or do you want to do that?" I do sometimes ask myself like, "Did I do the right thing by actually just taking a bit of a break?" Which is just very unusual. There's few people in this situation, there's even fewer people. There are some people who say they're sick of tech and they're going to lead an indie lifestyle and a bootstrap things, and I'm not doing that. So I feel I'm a little bit alone with what I'm doing.

Gergely:
I have some support from my brother who does something similar. After his startup got acquired and he worked for another three or four years at this larger company, he took a full break from things, he didn't know what he would do. And he told me that it did him really well to just do six months of not having a plan. He told me that it actually helps him reflect, helped him grow and it helped him decide what he really is excited about doing. Again, this is not a sabbatical, it's something else, but it's more of a struggle than I thought it would be.

Gergely:
I was really confident when I said, "All right, here I go." And it is a little bit surprising, scary. After living in big tech, I realized I had such... Sometime I'm asking myself, "Was I crazy?" I had a great package, amazing benefits, even here in Europe from health insurance, to food, to all sorts of allowances, gym, everything. I'm just thinking to myself, wow, a lot of people would be really happy, so I'm questioning myself...

Gergely:
When I was in university, I said like, "Oh man, if I had a job like that, why I would ever leave it." But I think the adventure is what... There's a sense of adventure that keeps me going.

Ben:
Makes sense. The grass is always greener. So when you're in the bigger company-

Gergely:
Oh yeah.

Ben:
... it sounds fun, and when you're on our 90, that week of working on a startup, a big company sounds pretty nice.

Gergely:
I think that captures it really well.

Ben:
What do you do for fun away from the computer? What are your hobbies?

Gergely:
One of my hobbies is swimming. I used to do the sport, a very few people know about is called pentathlon. Have you heard of pentathlon?

Ben:
No.

Gergely:
It's one of the five original Olympic sports. The founder of modern Olympics, Coubertin, he put five sports that always need to be in the program. And one of those pentathlon, it's a military sport. It's running, swimming, shooting, fencing and horseback riding. This came from like early in the part... In Hungary it's really popular. There's multiple Olympic champions. When I was a kid, I started doing this and this is running and swimming for a bunch of time, and then you get the technical sports.

Gergely:
It's a bit of an expensive sport, but I quit when I was in my teens because it was way too much. Some of my friends are still doing it and they were on the Olympic team, which is really cool. But had swimming left from here. I was a pretty good swimmer when I was younger. And ever since I quit, I've been swimming on masters swimming teams. I even swum under European Master Championship, so I just find that a really relaxing sport.

Gergely:
It's a bit of a tricky one because when you used to be at a pro level, you can't really go to public pools because you're faster than others, so it's nice because there is always a team that I swim with. That's one of the biggest ones. And I sometimes do the hoops, so just throw on the basketball.

Ben:
Awesome. That's pretty cool that you did it so seriously.

Gergely:
Yeah. Again, we have a family story. My dad was a really good swimmer. He was national top three, something like that when he was 14 and his parents were... My grandparents are teachers and this was again, this was in the '70s or '80s, so Hungary was still part of the USSR. Some people showed up from the capital saying they wanted to take my dad to private school because they're going to make an Olympic champion out of him, because they see the talent.

Gergely:
This was an honor, really. And my grandparents had none of this. They were like, "No, he's a smart kid, he's not going to do sports." I had something similar happened with me and my brother as well. We were both pretty good at what we're doing and my parents said, "No, you're not going to dedicate yourself to sport because you see that you've got other talents." And at the time there was a lot of rebellion like hating your parents, but in hindsight, they were right. I am a lot happier that I managed to find a career that I really enjoy and you can keep getting better at even when you're older.

Gergely:
I have some peers that I mentioned, there is one of the guys who's on the Olympic team and he was in top 10 in London. And for them, it starting to be the peak of their career and their sports careers over, and they have to start from scratch, which is... If I wouldn't have known these people, I wouldn't have seen this very different part, and it seems it's really hard for them.

Ben:
Yeah. That ought be because it just consumes most of their life, right?

Gergely:
Yeah.

Ben:
One of the last questions here, what is your production function? What this means is what is it that drives you? What is your motivation behind the work you do? And what makes you different than others? And just how prolific you are and how much you're out there in the world?

Gergely:
I'll see if this answers it, but I guess the thing that drives me, I really like to try out new things and I usually like a good challenge. When something is not obvious to do or someone's not done it before, or you've got a really small team, those things really motivate me and that's where I do my best. I don't like to settle for good enough. I've learned this... It probably helps me that I'm not... I'm from a small country where when I grew up, I always read the news about the US and Silicon Valley companies. I never thought that I would ever be around here.

Gergely:
And I still sometimes have this imposter syndrome that I don't believe, so I probably compensate for this. But I also see the more I do this, and I had a conversation with another person the other day who's from Indonesia and this person was one of the first entrants who ever interned in a Silicon Valley tech company. And he went back to Indonesia, and he started a company there. And we had a similar conversation on how both of us felt that Silicon Valley and that tech world is just so much better than us.

Gergely:
But when you're there, you realize like, all it takes is hard work and dedication. And the other thing that I realized, and I think any listener at your show can reflect on it, it is not that hard to be the best in the world in a niche. Tech is so large. It may not be writing a book on a specific thing. For example, I know the person who wrote probably the best book on Ansible out there and they're probably not a huge person. You probably did something similar with like a niche part of your PHP, but it's not really hard to do it, but when you do it, you just set yourself to just raise that quality bar because that's how you learn, that's how you get better.

Gergely:
People also noticed this. This was another thing that I've realized. If you put yourself, you will get noticed. A good example is my brother, he's doing a second startup, is sales startup. All they're doing, they're just trying to build a note-taking app that's more seamless than anything you've seen, and they're just focusing on iOS, Mac and iPad. They're in beta, it's not even in public, and they already have the major industry players notice them and reaching out to them, and they've never advertised a thing.

Gergely:
They're just doing something that is just really good and they said, "We want to do something that's better than anything there. Let's research what's out there. Let's make it better." I think there's still such a huge opportunity in tech to stand out, to do something great. And some of this will, of course fail, it might not be a business success, but there's no excuse for not trying to do better than what's there. And I feel we're still... tech has not settled.

Gergely:
When I look at chemistry, so I have this perspective from my dad where it kind of game over in the sense. It's hard to innovate and you need to get super lucky and you need to get those things. It's not the case with tech. So many things changing on the platform side of things, technology's changing. There's a lot of new engineers coming in, anyone with more than three or four-years experience, you're probably in the top 50% in terms of people with experience, so it'll be a really exciting decade to come and beyond.

Ben:
This is a great point. Patrick McKinsey always talks about niches and how it's easy to underestimate how easy it is to stand out in a certain field. Because if you get in any certain niche like note-taking, how many people in the world actually spent 1,000, 5,000 hours thinking deeply, and reading, and researching, and learning about this topic? Probably very few, so really, if there's something you find interesting, it's surprisingly easy to become one of the top experts in that subject.

Gergely:
Yeah. That's also where I'll be giving a shot after the book to see if I find a niche that I'm excited about and that I also find interesting.

Ben:
Awesome. All right. Leave us with any recommendations for games, or books, or a podcasts do you think listeners should check out.

Gergely:
For book, I have a recommendation that was really a pleasant one. It's on my desk as well. It's called The Philosophy of Software Design. Now this is a book that's not on Amazon, it's not. It's only on paperback. It has been published by a Stanford professor. It's a very thin book and I'm always... I was pretty skeptical when I read it because it sounded like it's from a university professor. It doesn't claim to be anything, and the book starts really humble. It says that it doesn't promise to teach you.

Gergely:
I think the author admits that they might not know everything or too much about architecture, but it's the only book I've found on software architecture, which is probably one of the most scientific books. This professor ran multiple semesters of the same architecture course, and he was able to observe what's happening there in a six-month course on Stanford. And the recommendations are super practical, there are a lot of aha moments for me, and they're very applicable.

Gergely:
A lot of principal and senior engineers who read this book told me the same thing, "Wow, I've got some cool ideas," and they're very applicable ones. So I think this is a book that is great for anyone. And I think it'll just change your way of how you think about books. Again, most books are written by industry experts based on shipping this or shipping that. This is really refreshing and I found it a really nice one.

Ben:
Awesome. Thanks so much for your time today, Gergely. It's been great.

Gergely:
It was great being here, so thanks very much.


2020 Ben Edmunds