My First Week as a ThoughtWorker
Last week has been my first day with ThoughtWorks. Since many of my friends and former colleagues asked me to share my impressions and thoughts, I decided to write a short blog post.
For their induction, all new ThoughtWorkers were invited to the Hamburg office - which was the first TW office in Germany. We were asked to use environmental-friendly transportation so I went by train. The event started with a lunch in the office and it was a very familiar atmosphere right from the start. One of my first thoughts was: what a diverse group! Not only were there “far too many women” from what I usually experience at tech companies, but also people from all over the world it seemed… India, Brazil, UK, Germany, Switzerland… just to mention a few. Took me a little to get used to the funny mix of German and English but I really enjoyed it after a while. Some of my friends made jokes beforehand that since I started at a consulting company I would have to wear a suit - believe it or not: there was not a single person even wearing a “business shirt” - I felt comfortable!
After lunch we got a first induction session by TW Germany managing director Peter Buhrmann. Peter gave some insights into his career and how starting as a developer with little ambitions for becoming a manager he finally became head of TW Germany. For me one of the most amazing figures that he showed us is the 40% of women that work at TW in professional services (that is consultants, developers…). It was also the first chance for me to see who else will be located in Stuttgart office… 4 other new starters raised their hands, I was not alone :) To me, another positive surprise was that much of the information that used to be hidden from me in my previous companies is openly accessible by all ThoughtWorkers - transparency seems to be taken seriously.
The second session of the day was all about social and economic justice. At the heart of this lies the question, how technology can help to solve social problems and which new social problems (might) occur due to new technology. ThoughtWorkers are also asked to see the world from the perspective of the less privileged. We were shown concrete projects and further concepts of how social and economic justice affects the decision making and daily life at TW. The fact that this session was not put at the end of the induction or into some evening hours, but was second after the welcome presentation, gave me the impression that despite an obvious tension between profitability and charity this topic is very important at TW.
In the next session we’ve been given our tools: Macbook PROs - and were introduced to how internal IT delivery and support within TW is organized.
The last session on this day was about the ThoughtWorks clients in Germany. I learned that currently there are ~7,000 ThoughtWorkers in 41 offices in 14 countries around the world and that those offices follow the work - meaning they are opened up whereever there is new / enough work. First and most of all to reduce the amount of travel for the ThoughtWorkers. Besides we’ve been introduced to different kinds of engagements and what aspects influence the decisions on which projects we work on.
A self-organized dinner with some of my new colleagues from the Stuttgart office ended up the day for me and I was happy to make it back to the hotel not too late.
Wednesday started with an induction on recruiting at TW. A quick poll in our group showed that the majority of people came by actively applying for a job at ThoughtWorks, which I think is a good sign regarding reputation.
The second session was about Cultivation - a term that was completely new to me. In its core, cultivation is about intentionally and continuously growing each other. As we were told, this is something that always happened at TW and still there is an initiative to make this more intentionally. The basic assumption is that everyone has something to offer and something to learn - no matter whether you are senior or graduate and no matter whether you work for TW for years or just started. We were also introduced to the Schneider Model. In summary I really liked the idea that a company is centered around growing and enabling each other and that this does not happen randomly but intentionally via Mentoring, Feedback Advocating, Encouraging & Empowering, Sharing Knowledge, Connecting and Community Enabling.
The last session in the morning explained how staffing is handled at TW. Staffing is the process of bringing ThoughtWorkers and projects together. We learned about the challenges of happy employees vs high utilization and always having enough people to staff all projects vs people being “on the beach”, which is the ThoughtWorks term for temporarily not being assigned to a project. After the session I was lucky to see that people are not treated as resources but as individuals with expectations, wishes and a private life and that the staffing team is desperately trying to bring this all in line with a sustainable business and good utilization.
The first afternoon session was something I was really looking forward to: an introduction to pair programming. I knew that pair programming was the preferred way of developing software at TW but I also knew about some challenges and was eager to get some hints from the PROs. The first part of the session was a repetition of the benefits and challenges of and some common prejudice. One quote from Martin Fowler got my attention: Being told that pair programming halves the productivity of the developers he replied: “That would be true, if the hardest part of programming was typing”. The second part of the session as hands on. We first did pair programming in ping-pong approach where the first developer writes a failing test then hands over the keyboard and the second developer then makes the test pass, refactors the code and then writes the next failing test… and so on. The Dojo we used was transforming roman numbers into decimal numbers - a task that sounded quite simple at the beginning but turned out to be not-too-easy. At least it kept us busy. In the second iteration we used the driver-navigator approach pair programming, where on person has the keyboard and focusses on the implementation and testing of the solution whereas the second developer keeps the big picture in mind, manages a ToDo list and suggests what to do next. Both methods were big fun and even within our group of experienced developers we faced quite some challenges. For me it was really beneficial.
The final session was about Unconscious Bias - a term that I heard before but was not really familiar with. This video that we were shown at the beginning ot the presentation gives a very good impression of what it is about. We learned about different types of biasses and how we can overcome them. A key takeaway of the session for me was that biasing happens unconsciously and that what matters are our second thoughts and the actions we take.
For those who wanted the evening ended with a Stammtisch - I decided to use the rare chance of being in Hamburg for meeting a good old friend - whom I told a lot about my new employer :)
This was the first day in our “home office” in Stuttgart. Don’t confuse the term “home office” with working at home, at ThoughtWorks this is the office were you are usually working at if you are not at the client.
Since Stuttgart is the newest ThoughtWorks location in Germany there is no real office yet but rather some rooms in a shared workspace. I actually like the lean approach of settling in a new location although the Hamburg and Munich offices are way fancier :)
Since Thursday was a public holiday, the last induction day was Friday and we had a few more sessions. The most interesting topic for me was the onboarding session that explained how this works at ThoughtWorks. As with other companies you get a onboarding buddy that supports you with this task but what’s different is the approach of setting goals for yourself that you then discuss and refine with your buddy on a regular basis. Again, things that were more or less up to you in my previous work were made explicit and intentional at ThoughtWorks and there is a well organized way of helping people with their onboarding at ThoughtWorks.
The most exiciting 15 minutes was the introduction to my first project with the staffing team. I was really happy with my assignment since it seems like there is a lot of new stuff for me to learn!
A short introduction to how the finance department is organized and how I can reimburse my expenses together with an introduction of the marketing team and legal stuff rounded up the induction and made me go home a little tired with my head full with so many new things.
Generally speaking I had the impression that at ThoughtWorks many things that were always importat for me are made explicit and people take care of them intentionally instead of hoping that they would happen. The whole thing around growing people or how the onboarding is organized are two good examples of that.
It was also great to see that all the senior ThoughtWorkers who have been with the company for several years still share the same enthusiasm as the younger ones.
What’s surely different from other places is that everything is much more on yourself. So there are no people telling you what to do and how to do it - it rather depends on oneself, which is something I will have to get used to, but also appreciate a lot.
Although I knew some ThoughtWorkers beforehand and read a lot about the ThoughtWorks culture I was always a little skeptic on how it really feels to work there and how things turn out once you are “on the other side”. From what I saw during my first week, ThoughtWorks really seems like the place I want to work at.