In January 2020 I joined balena as a
Hardware Hacker in Residence or HHR as balena call them. I joined a group of other HHRs in, what is now known as, the balenaLabs team and started on my balena journey. My first few weeks were exciting and daunting in equal measure...and then 2020 happened. Here's a look back on my first 12 months at balena.
During my career I've worked for big corporations such as IBM and CGI, and have been embedded into Microsoft development teams. I've worked on Space, SatComm, UK Defence, National Security, Telecoms and Energy projects. I started working on IOT projects back when most people (in the UK, at least) hadn't heard the term. Back then I had to give those "20 billion devices by the year..." presentations and answer countless questions about internet connected fridges from loud men in bright trousers whom people still referred to as "Major".
So I've been around a bit and experienced lots of different ways of working. I wasn't one of the people who had to learn how to do remote working in 2020 - as I've been a remote worker since my first son was born in 2011.
However, nothing in my career before 2020 prepared me for what it's like to work at balena. Here's why:
The first thing that struck me when I joined balena was that there was always someone online working and chatting. Although I'd worked on projects that spanned timezones, I'd never worked somewhere that spanned ALL the timezones. I was used to work communication stopping by about 6PM, so I never really had to think about notifications when I wasn't working. Back then I needed to see emails immediately, and reply ASAP, or else my peers would assume I'm not working, not dedicated, undeserving of a good annual review. It took me a good month to fully realise that balena meant it when they said "you don't need to answer everything straight away. We expect you to be async and reply whenever you can.". What that means is that I can turn off all my notifications. Nothing beeps at me any more. I don't constantly check emails or messages. I'm trusted to work when it fits in with my life, and to answer questions when it suits me and my brain.
The great benefit of this global team, though, is that there is almost always someone around to chat to, or hang out while we work. Often, during periods of national lockdown, I'll tend to family during the day and catch up on work in the evening, and hang out with some U.S colleagues while I do.
The next thing I needed to adapt to, was the way balena organises itself. No longer was I siloed into a given team, or an industry, or even a role. Sure I am a Hardware Hacker, and I tend to hang out in the labs, but literally nothing stops me from attending any meeting or getting involved with any piece of work technical or otherwise. All work is conducted in the open, so I can see all conversations, and contribute to anything I feel able.
Nobody tells me what to do, and nobody "manages" me. We make huge efforts to make sure everyone knows and shares the mission, and then finds ways to contribute towards this. We collect together in brainstorm and checkin meetings, share our ideas and progress, and get genuinely excited about each others work.
Nope, we don't do support like most other companies either. At balena all the technical people share support. We all do a few shifts per week, and we do this so that everyone gets to help customers, hear about issues and pain points, and dig into other bits of the stack which we might not otherwise touch. I'll be honest: support isn't my favourite part of the job, but it can be rewarding and does push me to learn more about system as a whole. This type of support puts the team into the user's shoes, and drives us to continuously make the product better and further reduce the friction of IOT.
This is my favourite thing about balena. The people who work here are SO clever and so fun. Work meetings used to be the worst parts of my week. At balena, they are genuinely some of the best. We make sure we have fun together, because making work fun stops it feeling like work. We hack projects together. We play games together. Even our brainstorm meetings are a game.
You can get a window into how we chill together by watching our IOT Happy Hour on youtube:
Well what has it been like? Amazing. Genuinely. Despite a crazy global situation in 2020, for me it was a great year professionally. I met and got to know amazing people who have become close friends. I've learned a shed load about linux, docker, single board computers, node.js, python and lots more. I've written blog posts, appeared on the IOT Happy Hour (--^) and M.C'ed release parties where we work live on YouTube and release a new feature. I've released labs projects and put apps onto our hub.
For the first time in my professional life, I'm REALLY excited about the year to come. Let's go!