Working at OpenSky has been a rewarding and exciting experience, I’ve met developers from around the world, attended conferences (even got to speak at one), helped build open source software and have seen others consider my contributions valuable. However, the following two weeks are gonna be my last two weeks at OpenSky, after which I’m moving to San Francisco to join Twilio. This post is a recap of my days at OpenSky and thoughts that pushed me to make this decision.
I’ve started at OpenSky mid August 2009, almost two years ago. At that time the company had a total of about ten employees, with a technology department consisting of two people, including an enthusiastic CTO and a bright software engineer. I was the second software engineer hired at OpenSky which allowed me to see the company grow from its infancy and take part in most of the technical decisions made here. A position at a young and promising startup one can only dream of.
Follow your dreams, because life is too short
During these two years OpenSky survived an office move, several system re-builds, one major pivot and two CTOs and is now growing more rapidly than ever before. We have about fifty in-house employees and the technology team grew from four to over a dozen engineers and sys ops workers. In addition, OpenSky has a product team of almost the same size, that consists of great product managers, a creative director and several front end and interaction designers. The revenue and member numbers have been growing exponentially every month after the latest re-launch in April, showing the true potential of the company.
OpenSky is the most successful company and the smartest team (engineering, product and business) that I have ever been a part of.
I was always comfortable here. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time working with different open source ecommerce systems, studied how they solved similar problems and got to pick solutions that worked best for me even prior to joining the company. In fact, almost all websites I’ve worked on professionally (for money) were ecommerce related and since I’ve had experience building these before I started at OpenSky, most of the problems I’ve been solving there I already have solved or have seen solved somewhere else.
PHP has been my tool of choice as its ability to solve a great number of web-related problems is still unmatched. Thanks to OpenSky’s modern approach to software development and my obsession with programming I’ve come to learn what clean code looked like, at least in PHP, practiced Test Driven Development and got involved in the open source community. We always worked with the best tools available at the time, even if their stability or completeness were yet to be proved. We thought that it was better to start with something promising that we could help grow instead of forcing ourselves into tools we had already learned were limited. That was overwhelming at times and I appreciate the trust and support the management has shown us during those periods, those were very exciting times otherwise. Most of the tools we use now are either stable or close to it, and the sense of innovation for me is gone. As someone said if you understand what you’re doing, you’re not learning anything. So here I am, with more than four years of experience of building small to medium ecommerce systems in PHP, building, although the most successful so far, yet another ecommerce system. Comfort is the word that describes my current situation best. And comfort is something I feel I’m too young to stop at. I need challenge and since PHP is widely used to solve a rather narrow set of problems, I realize how much of the computer science fundamentals (algorithms and data structures, memory management, processes, threads, locks, networks) I’ve never had to deal with.
There is a great idea expressed in Chad Fowler’s “Passionate Programmer” - one should always try to work in a team where he is the worst member. This doesn’t mean that you need to be dumb or not passionate about what you do, rather - try to work among people more talented and experienced than yourself. In other words, to become a better chess player one should play with a more skilled opponent.
When it comes to challenge Twilio is a unique company. It is the only company I know of, that provides telecommunications (voice and sms) as a service. The initial version of Twilio’s product was built entirely in PHP by the company’s CEO and co-founder, Jeff Lawson, and the majority of that code is still in use. As a result, it has complex architecture, uses a variety of technologies for a large set of different and rare problems and has a brilliant team of engineers, experienced in scalability, networks, databases and api design.
We’ve been through a lot together, me and OpenSky, and that our affair ends is sad. However, my dream of becoming one of the world’s most knowledgeable people in software development is awaiting and I’m quite confident Twilio will bring it even closer to reality.
Until next time, Bulat