I will never forget the excitement of ordering my very first book from Amazon, back in 1996(!). It was “Java for Dummies.” I bought it together with Ohad, a good friend from university. We both started working at this new cool start up, and felt that bringing in a brand new, sexy language (object oriented! Imagine that) is exciting as hell. We were students, we worked part time from our dorm rooms, and we had so much fun fighting over how PRETTY the code should be. We didn’t call it Agile, we didn’t know anything about Best Practices, but we considered ourselves artists - not technicians. And so we took pride in writing pretty, sustainable code, and kick-ass algorithms.
The projects was fascinating - creating a wysiwyg graphic editor, and an algorithm for the automated pagination of the commercial part of the Yellow Pages books (read more about the automated pagination challenge here).
Yellow Pages Israel, until then, was doing the commercial pagination manually, on graphic boards. Publishing over 100 books each year, this manual work became more and more daunting. Moving to a complete automated digital system was a real revolution for the YP company, and quite a challenge for two computer science students.
We started with a small data-set, built our algorithms on it, and only then (i.e., a few months later) progressed to the full blown solution. We had to face the pressure of the company owner, who was an old-school businessman who wanted a quick and dirty solution. There were heated discussions with him. We even threatened to leave once. But at the end we got our way.
Our first live launch failed horribly. While we were able to crack the algorithm for the large (real life) dataset, we failed to optimize it. This resulted in a spread of two pages to be paginated in over 60 seconds. Not good.
However, due to the (some would say overly-) engineered nature of the code, we could rather quickly, over the course of a few weeks, pinpoint the areas that needed optimization, and fix them.
This failure actually taught me one of the most important lessons I have ever learned - that in order to get better, you need to fail. It’s inside those failures, that you get to develop your sixth sense, your intuition, the instincts that help you later on avoid similar failures from early on. You almost learn to smell them coming, and steer away.
Looking back at those days, I realized that we used time boxing naturally, and almost as a necessity, since our programming (and pair-programming) time was very limited. We couldn’t afford to digress. We had to create sustainable, never-broken, test-proof code - since we couldn’t always work on the code together, and we had to make sure that whoever was diving in to fix bugs or to create a new urgent feature, will find a clean, working, understandable code to work on.
And we naturally and unknowingly had to use Budget Goggles, in order to fit into whatever time (i.e. resources) we had, the most essential parts of the requirements. We did this simply because we needed to keep both our client and our manager happy and as silent as possible while still having our way with that pretty code we wanted so badly.
And so at the end the project was a major success. We took pride in it for many years later. It was not just my job. It was who I am, part of my identity - as a person, and as a professional.
Then life became life. After graduating from university I was tempted into what seemed like interesting positions in big corporations (IBM, etc). I slowly became a team lead and a few years later a project manager, and somewhat lost touch with coding.
In large corporation, you can get lost easily. I no longer felt like an artist anymore. I could manage my way and my teams through the piles and piles of bureaucracies, I even promoted the introduction of the Agile methodology into IBM Israel labs, but I felt that the essence of corporate coding and managing was not my style. That projects fail, and no one is happy. And no one really cares too much. You get your salary at the end of the month regardless, and you can go for years without ever meeting or talking to a real client. It was a golden cage - salaries were high, and by then I already had 6 kids (yes - time flies!!), and the need for stability was weighing me down.
My job no longer reflected who I was. It was just a job. Something that I needed out of necessity, but didn’t want to identify with. I even remember, when facebook started, I made sure to not connect on social media with people from my work.
After about 14 years, I couldn’t take it anymore. I got really bored, and really out of touch with what I love and with what I believe in. It took me some contemplating, but when the project I was managing back then came to an end, I decided to take a break from everything. To leave the software industry, do nothing for a while, and figure out my way. I guess you’ve heard this one many times before - the famous mid-life crisis.
My passion for art and music and my inclination toward management, soon lead me into my new career - as an artistic manager of music festivals, and as a musician’s personal manager. (few of my favorite productions and artists: David Lavi, Aviv Guedj, Shai Tsabari, Rabbi Haim Louk, Danny Bassan) Getting in touch with creative people, and living a creative lifestyle, gave me back what I needed - a sense of purpose, the joy of creativity, and of living up to your own standards and beliefs (there is zero bureaucracy in recording studios, believe me. You sometimes even miss bureaucracy in the creative chaos there :) )
But most of all - It gave me back my identity.
You know how it is with artists - their job is who they are. It’s not just a job for them. And this is how I felt about my job in that field. I loved my work, and had a strong sense of reclaimed identity. I suddenly was able to talk about my work in social events, and to feel good about it.
After a few years, when I felt it was time for me to move on again, I started thinking about going back to software management. I wanted to, but I also knew that I’m never ever going back to corporate-style management, and that most managerial jobs are way too off-balance for me now (way too much work, way too little life). I was also out of the loop for too long (4 years).
To put it simply and bluntly - who will hire a forty-two year old mother of six, who lives in Jerusalem (which is way off-center in Israel), hadn’t written code in a decade(!), out of the software loop for many years, and is not willing to ever go back to a full time stressful job? I was very skeptical. and scared. and kept postponing the dreadful task of updating my CV before actively trying to find a new job.
I think what scared me the most, was the fear of losing my identity again, by giving up my cool music industry job to go back to my old world. What does it say about me? That I gave up my dream? That I failed in trying to create a new life for me? How could I even think about going back? Those questions kept occupying my thoughts, and kept me away from the job hunting boards.
Then, on one of my facebook feed scrolls, I found what was already becoming (drum roll please…) Amitai’s famous viral post.
To say that my jaw dropped would be an understatement.
I loved what Amitai was saying in this post, and the good spirit that I could feel through his writing. It led me directly to Gizra.com, where I found some of The Gizra Way blog posts, and it immediately hit home. Home in the sense of my old academic days, when I loved what I was doing and loved how I was doing it.
Everything about The Gizra Way made sense, and sounded so familiar. The Budget Goggles, the time boxing, the tests, the work-life balance, and most of all - the good spirit and the joy of work (and life!) that was evident from the posts. Gizra was looking for a web developer, and I was never a web developer, but I decided to drop Amitai a note, telling him how impressed I am to realize there are real companies out there who do things the right way.
Amitai wrote back, saying that I could send him my CV if I’m interested. I then told him - “I live in Jerusalem, I’m a mother of six kids, I won’t work full time, and I’m not a web developer - if this doesn’t scare you, then here’s my CV”
You all know Amitai by now. He doesn’t get scared easily… so I received an interview invite from him.
2 minutes into the interview with Amitai and Brice, it was immediately clear to the 3 of us that Gizra did not find their wanted web developer. It was also clear, and stated by Brice and Amitai - that Gizra was a flat company with no project manager’s positions. However, I felt one very clear thing - that I like the way these guys work and live, and that I can see myself joining them. They had that undeniable artist quality about them that I was looking for. They were rockstars. And I love working with rockstars.
It turned out, that Gizra was at an important stage those days. As Brice told me when he called me a week later - “10 minute after your interview we decided that yes, Gizra needs a project manager”.
So one month later, I stepped into the office again, for my first day. I think I was shaking a bit. Way too scared from this step I took back to “old life,” and doubtful of my ability to ever love this kind of job again. But my first meeting with Amitai started with him saying “Listen, I have never trained a project manager before, and I don’t exactly know what a project manager in Gizra is, but let’s find out together”. His language felt, again, so familiar. So non-corporate, so refreshing.
I felt that I have made the right choice, and that wherever my path here will lead, it’s going to be ok.
A year and a half later, when Gizra already had four more Project Managers on board, Brice and Amitai felt it’s time to take things one step forward, and decided to offer me the amazing job of managing the company, in order to enable them to invest time in other venues and directions.
This offer came as a huge surprise. I actually thought, before the meeting, that they’re going to tell me that I need to get better at my project manager’s job. I guess the reason for this was that up until that point, I was still in a “trial” mode within, I still felt like this was temporary and that I’m not totally sure moving back to software management was a good decision.
I asked Brice and Amitai for the weekend to think things over. And I think that I realized only than, how far I’ve come since I joined Gizra. How far away from what I was scared-of before I joined. I realized that I’m actually talking to people again about my work, and taking pride in belonging to a company that does things differently (and willing to pay the price, because there’s always a price to pay for doing what you believe in. Aviv Guedj said it so precisely in an interview once: Freedom is an expensive product).
I realized that I felt like an artist again, the same way I felt back in 1996. And this feeling is priceless.
Click here for the full Spotify playlist (contains the songs above plus some bonus tracks)