When preparation meets opportunity

Today I want to talk about what it means to be given a chance against all odds and the how important it is to find in life people who believe in you and are willing to give you a shot.

Struggle

Back in 2010 I was working in Portugal, my country was going through one of the worse economical crisis in recent memory. It was bad, not poverty bad, but it was a real struggle. Every single month was a battle to pay rent, pay the bills, get food on the table, no matter who you were or how good your job was, everyone was affected. 

Source: https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2018/04/04/2199417/whats-up-with-portugal/

We were operating in a mind set of scarcity; business was slow, rents were high, taxes were unsustainable, young people were trying desperately to survive in order to sustain an economy that was very much reliant on a fraction of the population that was active and supporting the country. In 2012 our Prime Minister went to the extreme of recommending young people to just leave the country, migrate

I just knew it was time to go, I began preparations to move out of the country with no real plan in place on how to do it, all I knew is that staying was not an option. 

When preparation meets opportunity

During the worse of times I was lucky enough to work for a great company that gave me the support I needed to grow as a professional,  believed in me and stood by their staff throughout the worse circumstances imaginable. Obrigado Ricardo! The company was employing hundreds of professionals that were adding value to a very fragile economy. Its because of companies like this that the country managed to pull through. 

In 2011 something unexpected happened, a friend of mine forwarded me an opportunity that he felt was suitable for my profile, it was a technical management role for a company in the UK that was looking for a technical programme manager to help run the technology for their Asian Brand Asiarooms.com. I had lived a large part of my life in Asia (Macau) so Asia was not a foreign continent to me. While my focus wold be in the AEAN market my job location was in the heart of Manchester. 

I had all the technical skills required for the job, I could code, I had a proven track record of managing both large and small scale projects, and I had cultural exposure to the market the company operated in. 

On paper it looked like a good fit, only problem was that I had no experience whatsoever working for an international company and at the time living in Portugal meant that I would be up against local candidates that were vastly more qualified than I was. 

In truth I had very little to lose, the worse thing that could happen was rejection, something that I was more than familiar with as an entrepreneur. 

Focusing on the experience 

As with everything, when a person focuses on the experience versus obsessing with the end-state, wonderful and unexpected things tend to happen, in my case life put in front of me someone that would become very significant, this person was Jonathan Potter

Jonathan was managing the recruitment process on behalf of Laterooms and he saw something that I was not prepared to see myself, he looked beyond all of my limitations or what I perceived them to be and focused on the value he felt that I could provide to the company. 

In truth, it was more than that, this person had faith in me and after having done a full due diligence on me as a candidate, he was truly convinced I was the right person for the job. Jon made sure that I could help his customer and that I was the right fit, and once he did, he backed me up with everything he had. 

My hiring manager and future boss was Dr. Christopher Burtcher. Jon held Christoph in the highest regard, "Christop was like a Swiss clock" he said, always precise, always on time, very technical. 

My first interview was a skype call in the an early Tuesday afternoon. Christoph was on time, precisely on time. He began the call by asking deliberate specific questions, there was nothing ambiguous about the process, every question was technical, to the point, structured, logical, with no space given for broad answers, it felt like I was being tested and stretched to see how much I would bend and if I would break.  

The interview ended as concisely as it began, I had no idea if I had done well but I knew I did the best I could. A few days later I heard from Jon that I had moved onto the next stage of the process. I was thrilled! 

In the next 2 weeks I had 6 subsequent interviews with other stakeholders and few more with Christoph. By the end, I reached the final stage of the recruitment process and it was all down between me and another candidate. 

The day everything changed

It was a rainy cold day, my phone rang, it was Jon, what followed will stay with me forever;

  • Jonathan: Pedro, are you sitting down?
  • Pedro: .... yes? (I could sense Jon's excitement) 
  • Jonathan: Would you like to take a job as the next Programme Manager for the Laterooms Group?
  • Pedro: ...
  • I remember literally fighting off the tears, it just felt that everything was about to change, a chance for things to be better.  
I didn't hesitate and took the job, the rest they say, is history. 

I went on to have a wonderful career at Laterooms where I made a lot of mistakes, learned along the way and became a better person at the end of it. 

What happened , didn't just "happen" to me, there are no coincidences or lucky moments. Everything in life comes down to preparation, hard work and the willingness to step towards something that you want, every day, even if you are unlikely to get it. 

In the process of doing this you will make mistakes, fall, stumble, find out things about yourself that you have been avoiding for a long time. You will meet people that want you to fail, that will applaud every-time you miss-step, but in the midst of all this you will also regain your faith in Humans when you realise that there are people that will stand by you and help you along the way, even when the odds are stacked against you. 


I like to think that their faith in me was not miss-placed. 

KPIs for engineering teams

There are essentially two types of KPIs, the ones you can control and the ones you can't. The later ones essentially suck and no matter how aspirational they are they should not be used to measure the performance of engineering teams.

Engineers typically enjoy operating in a very tangible universe that is almost binary in a way: something either works or it doesn't, a deployment either passed or failed a set of automation tests, an HTTP request is successful or it isn't. 

This means that engineers expect to be measured in a very concrete and objective way, and this is only possible if whatever metrics they need to work towards are realistic, achievable and within their control.

A few examples of KPIs that suck:

- Audience or conversion metrics that they cannot directly influence,

- Overall financial / P&L metrics that they can only impact indirectly,

- Everything and anything they cannot directly change, influence of fix

KPIs that work for engineers:

- Software specific KPIs: Code quality (peer reviewed against specific pre-set quality standards), roll-backs that a specific piece of code has caused, estimation accuracy (initial estimation versus actual delivery time), time to market of new features within a specific part of the code or component, tech debt reduction over time (assuming its being tracked). 

- Business centric KPIs: Business metrics of features that the developer has worked on with a direct impact on key business metrics: i.e. when an engineer is working on a search results page; conversion rate from search to the details page or to the end of the funnel would be something he/she can influence. 

Whatever you do, make sure that engineers understand the WHY before the WHAT and that any key performance metric that is put in front of them is realistic, achievable, measurable, and most importantly, something that they can directly influence.

Above all else, make sure that Engineers have KPIs to work for, even if they suck.    

The different levels of Commitment

What commitment is can be hard to define and measure but its a trait that is always present wherever we see success. Highly committed individuals drive change, leap through obstacles, they influence others around them to feel and act the same way. 

Companies that are fortunate enough to have them typically embrace change, they tend to have a very special kind of DNA where innovation is not a special project mandated by management but part of what the organisation is made of.

Since watching Connor Neill's video (I highly recommend you follow his channel) I have been thinking a lot about my staffs level of commitment as well as my own personal commitment to what we are all trying to achieve as a team.

If there is one thing I am extremely proud to see is the passion and desire that I see in my team to achieve very difficult things. I see products being built where resources at times are scarce, people overcoming obstacles by finding resourcefulness within them.

The four levels of commitment (from Performance coach Pep Mari

  • Level 0: There is no commitment, no willingness to learn or grow,
  • Level 1: Willing to improve,
  • Level 2: Will to improve to one's highest potential,
  • Level 3: Wiling to do whatever it takes to achieve a goal.

Reference: https://youtu.be/ROuhUV4jQRQ

    How to get committed people around you:

    • Make sure you have not hired 'zero level commitment' people In the first place; Do not waste your time with none believers, a highly self driven person is very unlikely to reach such a level commitment, 
    • Make sure you are at Level 3 yourself; Getting people to connect emotionally to a cause requires absolute determination and obsession with the cause at hand. If you are not actually committed and seen to be committed (both are equally important) nobody will follow you.
    • Embrace failure; As your people are moving up the commitment scale, they will make mistakes, a lot of mistakes. If people around you are afraid to fail they will stop moving forward. Failure is an essential part of success, make sure you make this clear. 
    • Have an inspiring mission; There needs to be something worthwhile to follow, the mission of a company cannot be revenue or profit, both these things should be a consequence of a much more meaningful journey. Make sure people understand the why more than the how. 
    The good thing about commitment is that it is something we control, it starts with a decision and a first step forward. 

    Being successful is about accepting that one is about to take on a journey with extreme uncertainty but with a limitless destination. 


    Cynicism is like a virus

    Cynicism is an attitude characterized by a general distrust of others' motives.[1] A cynic may have a general lack of faith or hope in the human species or people motivated by ambition, desire, greed, gratification, materialism, goals, and opinions that a cynic perceives as vain, unobtainable, or ultimately meaningless and therefore deserving of ridicule or admonishment. A common misapplication of this attitude involves its attribution to individuals who emote well-thought-out expressions of skepticism

    Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynicism_(contemporary)

    If there is one thing any organisation should aim to eliminate completely from its culture, that is cynicism. 

    Cynicism is a symptom of something that is lacking in someones life, its not a natural 'by default' Human trait, it is a conditioned mind-set that is very difficult to manage because its part of a defensive mechanism that aims to avoid disappointment at all costs. 

    To me it is infuriating because its such an irrational and unscientific state, believing that an output will not change given a different set of input goes directly against the scientific method and the experimental approach that is a Human Trait. We learn through trial and error, mostly error, this work-flow is a direct antagonist to the cynics approach. 

    Cynics deny the existence of variables and treat the future as a constant, its an inferior illogical approach that often is highly contagious, as most easy things in life are. Its like fast food for the mind, being a cynic is easy, effortless and evasive

    How to spot a Cynic inside your organisation?

    • They tend to think they are the smartest person in the room without really sharing their ideas,
    • They reject any new idea almost instantly,
    • A lot of eye rolling and general bad attitude even in the most casual of meetings,
    • They instigate negativity in others,
    • They use objection as a tool to elevate themselves versus actually use it to build or move forward, 
    • They tend to think successful people are lucky, see no merit in others,
    • Will be the ones making remarks like: management is clueless without really having been in the role and understanding the inherent complexities of a job of that nature,
    • Think they can do a better job in any role,
    • They have a deep sense of entitlement, 
    • They rarely showcase to the public their own ideas. They talk about it, but when the time comes to actually surface them, they dont.
    • They do not tolerate criticism from others,
    • Their productivity is murky and difficult to measure,
    • They often are very articulate in the way they speak, but they weaponise communication. 

    Cynicism is the opposite of growth and improvement. We can only truly improve if we embrace failure and deep down believe things can be better if your our input changes, this is a principle that I will stand by until my last day on this earth. 


    Strategic Thinking & Lessons in Management by Jeff Bezos

    I learned a lot about the way Jeff Bezos thinks and looks at business and life after reading early this year 'The Shop of Everything' by Brad Stone. As I grow older I realise what thinking long term really means. 

    You see, when you are young, strategic thinking is something that you need to force yourself to do, you think of it from a time perspective; strategic decisions are important because they provide better returns, but they take considerably longer than a more tactical approach.  

    While this makes perfect sense, it's a very narrow minded immature of looking at it. 

    When I ran my own company I thought that making a long term decision meant I would see an outcome in a specific date, as if there was a mandatory waiting time that I needed to endure in order to get a return on my investment, since I didn't have any money to bank that waiting time, every decision I made was short sighted, focused on our day to day operations. The result were what would be expected, a company that ended up living and surviving day to day. 

    I now see things so differently, strategic thinking is not task orientated, it is seeded in a set of principles and philosophies that drive a set of actions without a specific output date set in stone, strategic thinking is malleable, it bends but does not break as its existence does not exclusively depend on external circumstances. 

    It's still focused on obtaining a return on investment, but it takes other things into account as well, such as sustainability, scale, competition. 

    Im not sure if at that age I would ever be able to understand this, specially without having gone through the hardships and failures I went through due to my limited view of things in general.