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My one year Spotiversary


Today marks my first anniversary of joining Spotify, my one year Spotiversary as we call it here. During this time, I have had a pleasure of meeting and working with many excellent people, felt a deep sense of anxiety while surviving layoffs, learned to communicate with a greater degree of clarity and empathy, and grown in skills, experiences, and confidence as a software engineer. Mostly though, I appreciate how lucky I am to be where I am and have the opportunities made available to me. And the best of all is, my journey here isn’t over yet.

I don’t have any epic adventure story or distilled word of wisdom to share, but still want to jot down some thoughts and lessons learned as a reminder for my future self.

Working on advertising

I didn’t expect much from working in the “Ad Tech” space. To be honest, the idea of working on selling more ads never really interested me before. It just sounded boring and uncool. In fact, I’ve generally held a pessimistic view on the modern digital advertising, which seemed to get more intrusive and more relentless with each passing day. Such ads more often than not hurt my experience of using any product or service. So when I switched jobs a year ago, I felt as though I was trading a chance to make a meaningful, positive contribution to society (i.e. helping to advance pediatric cancer research) for the privilege of working at an established tech company with a big salary bump.

So I’m pleasantly surprised to see that Ad Tech is a very dynamic industry with many opportunities. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised knowing how much more ads I encounter in my digital life today. Still, when it comes to my day to day work, I’m regularly challenged to think hard and solve problems to build features that seek to provide more values to the clients. Indeed, many come to us to reach their audiences and offer their own products and services on our platform. And we are trying to meet their needs better by improving our product in each iteration.

Okay, I can’t speak to the end user experience piece since I don’t really use Spotify as a free user except on specific occasions to test ads. Plus, the product I work on building, a self-serve portal for managing ad campaigns, sits on the other end of the advertising pipeline. For now, I can only hope Spotify’s ad serving machine is successfully balancing the pros and cons of placing more ads on the end user experience. That said, I now can at least acknowledge the value of well placed ads. Is this just me drinking the Ad Tech Kool-Aid? I think not.

Going full stack

When I got started, I was a first engineer to join a new team (or a squad as we call it here). Soon our team welcomed another engineer, also a Web Engineer like me, about a month later. But the third engineer came more than half a year later. Here, each team is meant to be self sufficient to build and own features end-to-end. So my coworker and I had to reach beyond our comfort zone of writing JavaScript and TypeScript to build a React app whenever some project our team took on required it. I never touched Java before, and I believe my coworker didn’t have much prior experience with it, either. Sure, we could always reach out to engineers in our sibling teams for help and they would always be so nice to lend us a helping hand. But it was clear that we needed to be better at doing backend for our team to succeed.

A year later, I’m glad that I was pushed to learn other technologies. Thanks to this push, I now can build or modify a feature on frontend as well as an API endpoint on backend to support it. I can also be a resource to my teammates, backend or frontend, who joined later. Though I still consider the frontend web to be my main expertise, I no longer feel anxious about contributing to backend codebase in Java and Protobuf. All those XML and YAML files don’t scare me any more even though I still feel more at home to see configs in JSON. Could it be that I even enjoy Java a little? I’ve certainly grown to appreciate how approachable it can be! There’s still much left to learn, especially on the cloud infrastructure side, but I’m surely getting there. Slow and steady.

One more thing on this topic. Being skilled at code navigation is a superpower. Not just within a single repo in its current state, but across multiple related repos following the dependency graph and across the git history—commits and PRs. Trying to restore context from code alone has its limits but still got me quite far in getting started with existing projects—even those written in languages and frameworks unfamiliar to me—and getting my job done.

So lucky

A year ago, I wasn’t sure whether joining a new team would be good for me or not. I knew that this would give me an opportunity to make a great impact and shape what the team would be in future. On the other hand, I would miss a change to work closely with and learn from more seasoned engineers who could help me settle in and grow. After all, one of the key reasons for me to switch jobs was to precisely that, to be part a larger engineering organization and learn from many.

Turns out, I’ve been immensely lucky. Lucky to join the company when the tech industry was still in the hiring phase. Lucky to be part of a growing team—now a home to 6 engineers—making contributions to a growing project that is an important revenue generator and has many exciting plans for future. Lucky to have months to gain experience, build domain knowledge, and earn the manager’s trust before the team welcomed more engineers—so that I can serve as a resource to my new teammates and leave them a positive impressions of me, and be asked to take on a larger part in the team’s new projects that are more ambitious in scope and impact than anything we worked on before. I can only speculate on counterfactuals, but this version of the reality must be among the best possible ones.

Although I don’t wish to defined by my job only, it’s still a significant part of who I am and what I do in my life. So I’m very glad that things have worked out well for me. I know I cannot take these for granted. But I think I can celebrate a little. Here’s to another great year!