For those of you who would like to work at Container Solutions, we figured it might be nice to give you a rundown on what a week looks like.
We started this week early, on Sunday, with a hardware hackathon in our Amsterdam office.
We get involved in a lot of events and initiatives like this and we create the space and budgets to support them. There are at least three reasons for doing this.
Firstly, engineers and the sorts of managers who work at Container Solutions are a curious bunch. This basic need needs satisfying one way or another. Supporting hackathons, research (structured and unstructured) and encouraging play is one way to do that.
Secondly, it makes good business sense. Some of you may be aware of McKinsey’s three horizon model. This model says we should spend something like 70% of today’s cash on generating today’s cash flows. In other words, a large amount of your money and time goes into running and improving the business activities that pay the bills today. For us, these activities include delivery, sales and creating content for existing and potential customers to consume.
Image 1 - A blank three horizons model. Fill in your own numbers - as long as you have the cash!
About 20% of your cash flows should go on things you might need next year. It’s no secret that last year, 2017, Container Solutions began investing more heavily in machine learning and serverless technologies. The former is now part of two of our most prestigious - and profitable - projects. This means the investment we made last year is returning now. Finally, the other 10% of your cash goes on longshots, the mad things that will most likely never see the light of day but hold the potential to change the world.
The hackathons, as fun as they are, are part of how we spend 20% of today’s cash flows on horizon 2.
On Tuesday, the ladies (or those who identify themselves as ladies or non-binary) went out for a drink. Even though we don’t encourage cliques at CS, women have a hard time in tech. They have to overcome challenges that many white, male engineers don’t bump into. The women at CS support each other, have the support of the rest of us, and every now and then hang out with each other so they can focus on the things that they want to talk about.
Some serious meatings happening here, girls only... @Eryckaaaaaa @Chimney42 @Juul____ @rmbrtoplay @loredana_mo @switlana_c @elipDelReal @containersoluti. Just missing @anne_e_currie pic.twitter.com/41PeGmEAeM— Andrea Dobson (@andrea_kock) May 29, 2018
On Wednesday we had our Hot Wheels competition. This included a head-to-head and a distance challenge. Lian won both of these. In the evening the Dutch team had their monthly movie night - in London, where many of the social activities fall to me, we have ‘Borough Market Nights’ which are more about craft beer and overpriced food (and my lack of imagination at organising events).
The social activities are important. Many people at Container Solutions are expatriates; they include Canadians in Amsterdam, Italians in London and Germans in Switzerland. For our teams, the emotional support that they would usually receive from their families needs supplementing with something else. This is what movie night and Borough Market Night is all about.
Wednesday also saw two of CS's engineers give talks. In Amsterdam, Jose gave his first public speech - well done to him! - about Fuse. Over in Berlin, Cyle was giving a talk about serverless, which is becoming a classic for him now. (In Amsterdam Lian is organising Serverless Days. And the CFP is open.)
Thursday saw another community event - of course.
We’re in Utrecht tonight for the #Docker meetup with presentations on running batch jobs in the @nerdalize cloud by @advanderveer and docker for testing by @ngurov from @bol_com_Techlab pic.twitter.com/XznrsBZkSm— Catalin Jora @ DockerCon Barcelona (@JoCatalin) May 31, 2018
Back at HQ, Thursday for Ian was about content. He is working on a white paper to support his current research topic, which is about the diffusion of Kubernetes as a technology. This includes some new visualisations but mainly writing. The white paper will be out in the next few weeks and Ian’s next talk on the subject will be at Goto Amsterdam in a few weeks.
Image 2 - One of the visuals that we think might make it to Ian’s white paper.
Why All This Public Speaking?
We have an simple principle at Container Solutions, we want thought leadership at every level. So, I contribute to strategy. Pini, who controls 20% of our total engineering time, contributes to emerging cloud technologies. Andrea contributes to leadership and hiring. Ian contributes to Kubernetes. Jason is working on Istio… The problem is, I can’t list everyone here, it’d take up too many words. It’s sufficient to say that every single person at Container Solutions contributes to a project / body of knowledge outside of their normal work. Even our CFO innovates around teaching finance to engineers and changing our business KPIs’ to action plans.
But why thought leadership at every level? This is really a question of identity. We love new things. We believe - and there’s some evidence to support this - that consultancies work best when utilisation rates and short-term profitability are not the key performance indicators. We are customer centric and what our customers want from us are ideas and the ability to change those ideas into concrete, ordered actions. If we move all our consultants to on-site engagements for 6 months at a time, we’d massively increase our profitability and massively decrease our ability to think. Motion is not equal to productivity, and just because profitability (and utilisation) are easy to measure, it doesn’t make them the best measures.
Friday. Probably the best day. As a rule, Container Solutions engineers have 20% of their time set aside to do non-client work. Some people use Friday as their non-client day. Others work full time for a spell and then take a few weeks to work on something. Also as a rule, we don’t go on client site more than a few times a week (clients do spend a lot of time in our offices, however, as they’re pretty cool places to hang out!). This means Fridays can be awesome. We have Friday updates, sometimes with our clients, we have Friday drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic). Many people return from their away missions with stories to tell of new clients, conference experiences, and industry gossip - which of course we’d never share on our blog (for that you’d have to come over on Friday for a drink).
And that’s a pretty typical week. And you can see we care about three things. We care about telling stories, often visually, to anyone who will listen. We care about each other, with psychological safety being the number 1 principle and priority at CS. But we also care very much about our clients and their well being (many of our clients are taken aback by this until they see it’s a very genuine concern). And finally we care very much about learning. We have not optimised our business for short-term profitability - what a drab company that would make us - but rather for personal and group growth, which of course translates directly into our clients’ growth. We don’t get it right every time. But we get it right more often than we get it wrong. And this is probably the real KPI for our business.
Appendix - Carlos’ Away Mission
This week Carlos is in South Africa. Here are his pics, which he makes us all jealous with. What’s interesting about the away missions is how much people love them but also how happy it makes people to come home. He's home on Saturday. We can't wait, because next week we go again.