This post took a while to write – when I started, it was my last day in MongoDB and finishing it I am over a week into my new role in Riot Games. It was a bittersweet moment – I was very excited to move on to my new adventure in Riot Games, but I was sad to leave a company that has been such a great place to work for the last three years. I decided to write this post partially as a record of what I enjoyed most, partly as a list of some of my accomplishments – memory fades and I have very much enjoyed reading similar posts from several years ago. I often wish I had written more in fact.
So, here it is, some random reflection on three great years, in no particular order. Due to the length, I’ll insert a jump, so click through if you would like to read on.
Supporting the Community
This is still happening, but particularly in the early days, there was a massive effort to support people on Google Groups, the Stack Exchange sites (StackOverflow, ServerFault, DBA mostly), IRC, and anywhere else people were popping up looking for help with MongoDB. It was amazing to see everyone from the co-founders and CEO down to the newest hire engage with end users and help them. I once asked Eliot (with my support hat on, thinking about commercial SLAs and the like) how long we should take to respond to someone on Google Groups and he responded: “15 minutes” – he was serious, and given that he was then still the most prolific poster on the group, it was hard to argue
Founding the DublinMUG
The DublinMUG is now over 600 people, which is amazing given that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing back in 2012 when I started it. The beer and pizza certainly helped (with major thanks to my wife for the help sourcing and transporting the beer in those early days), as did Eamon Leonard and the fantastic people at the Dublin EngineYard office by letting us use their office for the meetup for free. For the first talk I somehow managed to convince the folks at Intercom and Scrazzl (both awesome) to come talk about their use of MongoDB (and rambled on myself a bit). Thankfully it was interesting enough to convince people to come back, grow, and continues to thrive in the safe hands of Gianfranco, Eoin and the rest of the Dublin team.
Hiring Amazing People
I got to talk to fantastic candidates (there were plenty of poor ones too, but the good ones stand out in your memory), and got to hire quite a few personally. Again, not something I had ever done before – and discovering just how good it feels when a team you have built does a great job, or when someone you brought in knocks it out of the park is what makes me want to do it again. At the same time, you get to work with people that are very smart and good at their jobs – it’s a win-win.
Of course, it’s not possible to get it right every time, and there are lessons to be learned about the cost of the wrong hire too, but again I like to focus on the positive.
Tech Reviewing an O’Reilly Book
When I flew to New York to interview with MongoDB, I read the O’Reilly Definitive Guide (1st edition) on the flight over as preparation. I was then interviewed by one of the authors (Kristina Chodorow). A year later and despite the rudimentary coding skills I displayed during that interview (in addition to the book Kristina also wrote a large chunk of the MongoDB replication, the Perl driver and more), Kristina asked me to be a tech reviewer for the second edition of the guide. I accepted immediately – I appear(ed) in the MongoDB recruitment video and talked about all the smart people that you get to work with in MongoDB, and this was the perfect example of that. Such extra curricular activity is so much easier (and enjoyable) when you get to collaborate with awesome people.
As an aside, I took my payment for that review in credit from the O’Reilly store, which means I may never actually clear my to-read list
Writing, Recording M202 Training
About 18 months in, the education team approached me to design a new course as a follow up to the M102 series which had been recorded by Dwight Merriman (one of the co-founders, and quite big shoes to fill). M202 was to be the first advanced course recorded for MongoDB University, and I had no idea at the time the amount of work I was signing up for. The entire project took over a year, not least because I had my day job to do, but completing it and seeing the engagement and the final product was amazing. As an individual accomplishment (as opposed to the team I built and the work we did), it is probably what I am most proud of from my time at MongoDB. I am sure the people that take it on after me will only improve it further.
A couple of people have even recognized me as a result of taking the course – one just by my voice, which is very cool.
The Night of the $1bn Evaluation
It worked out that the day the news of the $150m in funding broke, which valued MongoDB at over $1 billion for the first time, Eliot happened to be in Dublin, and so I had the honor of making sure we toasted the occasion appropriately that night. It’s a pretty surreal thing to hang out with someone when that kind of event happens – hopefully the drinks, and the company were suitable for the occasion.
150,000 miles is a rough estimate for the miles traveled while in MongoDB – mainly back and forth to New York (managed to get my Delta status up to Gold), but also including Sydney, Melbourne, Palo Alto, London, Zurich and Miami. I actually managed to be the first person to visit all of the (then) offices world wide – if I remember correctly, I beat Max by a couple of weeks and given his performance in the penguin challenge I know he’ll be annoyed he didn’t win
Building a Team, an Organization, an Office
I had never built any of these before doing so in MongoDB, and seeing an organization (Support), a team (EMEA), and an office (Dublin) grow from scratch is an eye-opening experience. You get to appreciate how things evolve, the compromises that are made, that processes don’t magically appear. You gain a new appreciation for roles you took for granted previously (office management, facilities in the office for example) and see that individuals in any role can be the key to shaping (or destroying) the culture you are trying to create.
It seems obvious to me now, but it was not before I actually did it myself: working inside an organization that you helped create is a very, very different thing than joining one that already exists and is extremely rewarding. The same goes for running a team that you built yourself – the sense of accomplishment is fantastic.
There are downsides too, of course. You are far more invested in the current structure, personnel, processes because you were personally involved in all of it and so it can be harder to see where mistakes have been made or where things can be improved. You tend to be more defensive of the status quo (I found myself defending my choice of coffee machine way more than I should have for example), since you had a hand in creating it. Keeping an open mind, listening to new ideas, recognizing problems (and fixing/failing fast) is essential.
The fact that we had the Tánaiste open our offices in Dublin was pretty cool too
New York deserves a section all to itself – from the old company apartment on 2nd and A to the amazing bars, restaurants (thanks Jackie!) and general craziness of working in Manhattan. By the end of the three years, it felt like a second home – I had fallen in love. Going to New York never felt like a chore, even when it was a <48 hour turn around – there was always something cool to do (even after the interviews I killed some time before my flight by seeing the tree in Rockefeller plaza). I got to see U2 perform with Bruce Springsteen on Times Square (randomly walking back to my hotel from fetching food), I went to see a taping of the Daily Show and a showing of the Book of Mormon on Broadway with my wife. We also ate in Atera, a unique (in my experience at least) restaurant, and had the most interesting (and as it turns out, most expensive) meal of my entire life.
If you get the chance to work in New York, take it, even if you are just visiting – it’s very different from visiting as a tourist, and I can’t recommend it highly enough even if big cities aren’t your thing.
Sonoma and Miami
My first official day in MongoDB was at the first company off-site meeting in Sonoma. At that point we were still able to fit the entire company at one (admittedly very long) table. We built rockets, figured out who was who, learned all sorts of things about MongoDB. I met my boss for the first time (he had not been hired yet when I was interviewed) – it was a blast, especially because at that point I had no responsibilities and could just relax and enjoy the experience. Then I went to New York and was at a loose end on MLK day, so I went in to help set up the new office in SOHO for a bit – I remember thinking how huge it was compared to the old one – Eliot had had a similar idea and had brought his daughter in to have a look at the new place.
The second (and, as it turned out, last) company all-hands in Miami was on a much larger scale and much more manic (I now most definitely did have responsibilities). Waking up to see the sun rise over the Atlantic from the 19th floor was amazing, as was seeing the crazy growth of the company over the intervening year. If only the third all-hands in PR had actually happened – it would have been insane, but also insanely fun.
The amazing people I worked with in MongoDB are too numerous to mention here, and the post is already too long, but I think the opportunity I had at MongoDB is a rare thing, especially in Dublin. So, I will mention that without Alvin Richards deciding to look outside the normal profile when hiring a support manager, taking the chance to talk to me and bring me into MongoDB I would not have had that opportunity. Thanks Alvin, and thanks to all the other fantastic people in the company for an amazing three years, I will miss you all