My first month at Spotify
Time tends to fly by when we're having fun. So, I really shouldn't be surprised to find that already a month passed by since I joined Spotify. Even still, I think I've had just enough time here to take a step back from all that excitement and reflect on what just happened.
An obvious disclaimer: What follows here are thoughts of my own, not Spotify's.
A sense of shared purpose
I've always assumed that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for a fairly large organization like Spotify to successfully instill a shared purpose for the employees in general. This is not only because of the growing number of employees or the increasing bureaucracy to manage them, but also due to the inevitable need to expand and diversify one's business portfolio to keep the ball rolling. The more diverse the business portfolio gets, the harder it becomes for an organization to maintain a shared vision and purpose for all its members working on different products and services.
In that sense, I think Spotify is doing at least two things right. On one hand, it has successfully managed to keep the expansion of its business portfolio, from music to podcast to live events to audiobook, feel natural and cohesive. All the while, the story goes, Spotify has kept its focus on serving creators and their fans. On the other hand, Spotify continuously communicates its mission and vision to its members. Hours of the onboarding materials focused on just that are only one example. There are also a various forms of events and town halls for the internal audience.
Together, Spotify's deliberate focus on audio and continuous communication of that focus to the "band members" ensure that all Spotifiers feel they're working toward the same goal. Or is it that I, too, am drinking that Spotify Kool-Aid? Maybe so, but even that would be a further testament to an excellent job Spotify is doing at inspiring its people.
Thrill of growing business
What makes the beginning of my Spotify journey particularly fascinating to me is that this is my first time at a for-profit organization. My first job was at a government agency, and the next at an university. Naturally, the incentives as well as measure for success all differ across these organization types for good reasons.
That said, the for-profit business environment proves to be the most exciting of all. Found here is a strong sense of drive for growth and success, which are incessantly measured and often celebrated. Spotify is entering a new market! Spotify is releasing a new service! The growth in MAU this year is even greater than last year! So on and so forth. These are a kind of news I wouldn't hear at the government agency I worked for. While there existed some idea of expanding at the university lab I was part of (new data use agreements signed, new sources of funding secured, new disease areas beyond neuroblastoma, etc.), it was never to the same degree, frequency, or intensity. And once I see myself as part of Spotify's success, as I have been told so time and again over the last month, it is hard not to get excited.
Also felt are the heightened awareness of competition and ongoing need for innovation. It seems that the search for "the next big thing" never ends. While these may seem more like causes for greater worry and restlessness, they actually form yet another source of thrill and excitement especially when things are going well. It certainly feels ensuring to see how Spotify continues to expand in business and hiring while some big name companies recently made news for hiring freezes or even layoffs. That very contrast feels like I'm on a winning team: Spotify must be doing something right!
Catching up with practices and toolings
The biggest change about switching jobs often has to do with people we meet as new fellow teammates. Then, the next biggest changes are likely about practices and toolings, that is, how we work using what.
While there would be a lot to intake for a newcomer to any organization of Spotify's size, Spotify surely adds its own flair and flavor to it. And I certainly had a lot of fun learning about the current iteration of the industy-famous Spotify model,1 as well as the organizational cadence known as Spotify Rhythm to synchronize and set priorities. Of course, these are only the highest level practices, and there are a ton more to take in about how Spotify works in greater details--from the organization as a whole to the Business Unit I'm joining to the team my squad is part of.
Going through these materials has shown me that Spotify is very intentional about getting everyone on the same page early on. Every organization tries the same to some extent, I'm sure, in my limited experience, the details on how an organization works are more often an implicit knowledge only gained piecemeal over time.
On the toolings side, it's been also very exciting to get to know the internal toolings Spotify has built to support its peculiar business needs as well as the technologies that are considered industry standards but relatively unfamiliar to me. Here, Backstage has been a great help especially as a wiki for all the internal projects, processes, and best practices by Spotify engineers. Not all docs are up to date or free of minor typos, etc., but I get a feeling that this small imperfections can serve as an opportunity for new engineers to contribute to the health of knowledge infrastructure.
Challenge of a new squad
One complicating factor in my early days at Spotify is that I'm joining a newly formed squad, with only myself and my engineering manager in it as of this writing.
Our squard is created partly thanks to Spotify's ongoing efforts at serving a larger customer base as well as its high expectations and increasingly diverse needs. That's a good news. But this also means that there isn't yet any established rhythm or ritual on a squad level for me to simply learn and take part in. Nor is there any past work done by the squad members or, for that matter, any other squad member to learn from, other than a manager who herself only began a few months before me and busy setting up the foundation for the squad. I mean, we just got ourselves a name last week!
On a brighter note, this is a rare opportunity for me to make an impact. While it's not a total green field since we are expected to contribute to existing projects and codebases alongside other squads in the same team, I can help shaping the squad culture and values along with the engineering manager who leads the effort. Plus, I've been fairly busy with the onboarding process, including familiarizing myself with the new environment, new toolings, and new practices. No twiddling thumbs so far.
From what I hear, the main focus of our squad during Q4 is about building up our squad through hiring and figuring out how best to contribute to the team we are part of. Understandably so, and I look forward to it. Still, it's been a month, and I haven't had a chance to make any PR to a real project! I'd love to start participating in and delivering values by writing features and fixing bugs--instead of remaining largely a spectator of what the rest of the team as well as the organization as a whole are doing. Learning by reading docs, watching videos, following tutorials and digging through git histories is good and all, but learning by doing work is better.