I haven’t written here for almost a year now, and some things have happened since.
I’m happy with myself and my life, but I’ve missed writing: it feels like I’ve been silent or whatever for a long while. A blog is a great outlet, even if you don’t have anything in particular to say. My personal blog, log.johanbrook.com has been the mind dump since I started it, and it’s really awesome to just post things there.
Getting a degree
Last year, I did my Bachelor’s Thesis at my university: Chalmers University of Technology. It was great — I loved our project and my group members. The project was called RymdJS (“rymd” is Swedish for “space”), and is a modular, distributed system for peer-to-peer based encrypted storage. Basically, it enables you to send files to another person with P2P technology with web technologies in your browser. Pretty cool. Involves fancy tech like WebRTC, IndexedDB, and the HTML5 Crypto API. So much fun to work on. Here’s the final paper.
I haven’t “had time” to formally request my Bachelor’s degree papers yet though.
During the spring last year, I was contemplating what to do during summer. I had freelanced since 2010, and even though it’s kinda lucrative and connected with being free, I wasn’t too stoked about it. I wanted to work with and be passionate about a product in a team in which I could learn from. I was sick and tired of clients, and building things where the time of life was close to none. The chance would come when I contacted Jonatan Littke, whose startup, Lookback, had me impressed so much that I was so ready to apply for some kind of summer work.
The original product of Lookback was based on a “quick hack” created by iOS wizard Nevyn Bengtsson while working at Spotify (Nevyn built the original Spotify app for iPhone and later iPad). He found a technique to record the screen, voice, face and touches of a user while using an iOS app — in super nice framerate. It was so good it could revolutionize how we collect feedback from consumers, do bug reporting, and UX research — basically in order to better understand people using digital products. Nevyn, Jonatan and Jonatan’s brother Carl started Lookback in 2013, and they were still the team when I emailed them in 2014.
I emailed Jonatan with a (probably generic and polite) text, asking for the before mentioned consultancy work during the summer. Jonatan trolled around with me for a bit (it’s a “love language”) but we ended up getting along and decided that I’d join them for the summer before the beginning of my Master’s in Interaction Design at Chalmers.
Working at Lookback during the summer was so awesome. I loved it. I could use my (pretty well developed) skills in building a product people used, I learned more about Meteor, I learned more about remote working (which is practiced at Lookback). They gave this long-haired guy (me) the freedom to potentially fuck up their code base. I shipped features and fixed bugs.
I didn’t feel like a junior in the sense of the technology used — I was and still am perfectly aware of my skills in front-end web development, and I’ve used much tech (both back-end and front-end) during my days in school and during freelancing. This sounds cocky, but I never ever doubted my technical skills. However, what I learned was how little I knew about product development and building a large scale web app. I was taught how to:
Communicate and work remotely
The guys were in the same office, but communicated over chat with Flowdock. They had some consultants working remotely, and it’s been in Lookback’s ethos since its beginnings that remote work should be a baseline. I learned how to over communicate and explicitly ask for help and give status updates more than ever before. More on Lookback’s way of working in another post (I recommend Lookback’s blog in the meantime).
Moving fast and breaking things is bullshit.
Everyone in Lookback are concerned with design — product, UX, and UI. Especially Jonatan is a blood hound when reviewing features in the product (which of course is a good thing). Nothing beats manual QA. But I learned to hold my horses and go through my proposed solution or bug fix one more time. Moving fast and breaking things is bullshit. Jonatan taught me how to take a step back and see further than the checklist on the Trello card. How to ask “What if .. ?” questions regarding the usage of the product. “Does this create value? Can it be improved further?”. Tasks and features weren’t simply mine to take to just code up and release like a mindless zombie. I had “creative responsibility” for them, which means I had to care for them through the whole process: researching, planning, creating, releasing, monitoring, maintaining (common stuff).
How freaking fun a startup is
It’s like night and day compared to client work. Sure, it might be more pressure involved depending on things like funding, runway, and user engagement, but gosh it’s more fun caring for a long-lived product that coding on a promotional website for some weeks and deliver it - never to care for it again. It’s an incredible feeling building a product together with few other people, and have those magic moments of cheer, laughter, and joy with each other. I will always treasure that.
Going for it
The end of the summer came, and the guys at Lookback asked me if I shouldn’t start working for them full time. I was really flattered, but responded robotically with something like: “I’m going to start my Master’s degree, and I really wanna finish it, so no thank you”. I held on to that thought for a long while, repeating it my head like a mantra. I had gone to university in the first place, much in order to attend that Master program.
But I changed my mind. I’m in the IT industry, for god’s sake. What would I do with a Master’s degree? Create better web apps? Perhaps. Perhaps not. One thing was for sure: I didn’t want to “waste” the prime of my twenties attending school for another two years. To waste this chance to join in early in a tremendously promising startup, working with a product I loved, with people I loved, and miss out on all the learnings the courses at school couldn’t give me.
Working in a startup is real. School is not. Academia might be interesting for a while, but no longer. I was done. I was tired of writing papers I didn’t care about, and the overall feel of not doing anything of value to me. Everybody are different. Some think they need more time in school in order to gain more knowledge, improve hard skills, network, and generally boost their resume in some way to land that sweet job after the Master’s thesis. I thought I needed some of those things. But then I realized many others had dropped out of school when they where younger and/or less skilled than me — why wouldn’t I?
So I filed for “taking a sabbatical” (code for “I’m gonna start working and won’t probably come back”) and phoned Jonatan to say I accepted their offer. So then I became employee #1 at Lookback, and it felt so right.
Right now, Lookback has grown into a twelve people strong team, and we’ve moved our HQ to San Fransisco. The team consists of developers on two more platforms: Mac and Android, thanks to the acquisition of Quickcast from the UK, and the hire of the most clean-coding Java developer I’ve seen — Marcin from Poland. We also have Tobias (previously Spotify, GitHub) on design, Karim (previously Automattic) on QA/Support, Mai-Li (co-founder of Mutewatch) on Sales/Marketing, and Heidi (Geek Girls founder) on UX research. We’ve shipped a redesign. We’ve upped our growth and web dev game with Francis, whose opinions and conversations I deeply appreciate.
We still do remote though. It’s in our DNA (we’re still learning new things with remote work at this team scale every day). It feels things have gone really fast since last summer, but I’m so proud and happy of my decision, and of the things I’ve created in Lookback. This is the best first full time job I’ll ever have :)
What I love most about this way of working is the freedom. Freedom to work how I want, when I want, with (almost) what I want. It’s freedom with responsibility, and it has always suited me. By allowing full remote work, you’ll reach the best individuals — those who won’t go into an office, but instead creating miracles from their laptops in a café somewhere in south France.
It’s the freedom to wake up when you want. It’s the freedom to work from wherever you want.
It’s the freedom to form the environment around you, instead of the other way around.