Combatting tech debt in war rooms

In this episode, I talk to Tomasz Łakomy, a senior frontend engineer at OLX Group.

We also talk about:
  • how they develop, test, and reviews software at OLX group,
  • what war rooms are and how they help to combat technical debt,
  • how he managed to create over 170 video tutorials about software engineering,
  • why he is AWS certified as a front-end engineer, and
  • how skydiving helped him to be a better software developer.
 Picture of Tomasz Łakomy
About Tomasz Łakomy
Tomasz Łakomy, is a senior frontend engineer at OLX Group. Tomasz is fascinated about teaching everything he knows and has over 170 video tutorials.
Today’s episode is sponsored by CodeSubmit – the best take-home assignments for your tech hiring!

Read the whole episode "Combatting tech debt in war rooms" (Transcript)

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Michaela: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to the Software Engineering Unlocked Podcast. I'm your host, Dr. McKayla. And today I have the pleasure to talk to Thomasz Łakomy.

But before I start, let me share something fantastic news. The podcast has gotten its first sponsor. I'm so happy about this because it means I can focus even more on producing episodes for you. And it's not any sponsor. It's an amazing match. Actually, two founders, Tracy and Dom reached out to me. They are building CodeSubmit, a take home assignment platform to streamline your tech recruiting. They're already profitable and they are part of the TinySeed Accelerator. The reason for them to build CodeSubmit is because they strongly believe that take home challenges are the most candidate friendly way of assessing developer talent. And they could not find a dedicated tool for them. So they set out to build the best experience for take home assignments for hiring managers and developers. It's built on Git and they support 64 different languages and frameworks, even though it's a young startup, and it's built the Indy Way, they already worked with hundreds of companies. Well, last weekend to show me the whole experience and it's fantastic. So I really hope you go and check out CodeSubmit. You can find it at And they also offer a free trial. Well, if you like it, please give them some love and social media for sponsoring this episode.

But now, back to Thomasz. Thomasz is a senior front end engineer at the OLX group, which is a fast-growing platform for trading businesses. Thomasz is also an ad hack instructor. He's certified for AWS and he's a speaker and blogger. So I'm really happy to have Thomasz here with me, Thomasz, welcome to the show.

Tomasz: [00:01:46] Hello, everyone. I'm very happy to be here.

Michaela: [00:01:48] So, Thomasz, maybe as a start, can you tell me a little bit about your role at OLX group on the website? It says it's a platform for buying and selling cars, finding housing, getting jobs, buying, and selling household goods. But what are your team's responsibilities? What are your tasks at this company?

Tomasz: [00:02:05] Sure. So, as you've mentioned, like basically what we do at Alix's group is, but we did a huge number of different websites for like buying stuff, selling stuff. So as you mentioned, we have cars, we have real estate, we have goods, we have services. So there's obviously a lot of things going on. And obviously, you know, my team in particular, like we cannot be responsible for everything. The way we work at all OLX group is about each team is focused on a certain area of the business and they own it completely. So my team is focused on OLX jobs because not only you can bounce stuff, but you can also find a better hopefully job at OLX. So what we are building is what we are building solutions. That has people find a, you know, a newer better job in particular, we are working on something that is called a candidate profile, because the idea that we have in mind is about, you know, CV's are kind of outdated because this concept of a CV has been around for, for ages and when we need something better. So not only people can create basically are four fires at OLX, but we also are going to use the data in the profile. In order to find people a better job automatically because we send them recommendations based on their profile and also the base on the job ads that were actually, they were going through on the other side. So we are kind of, kind of trying to find a better job for them.

Michaela: [00:03:34] Okay. So can I imagine it as like LinkedIn, but a little bit different or is it very different?

Tomasz: [00:03:41] Is this somewhat different than LinkedIn? I think LinkedIn has this very, very focused on like white collar jobs. So, you know, white collar, basically what I mean by that is that, you know, you work in the office, you probably have a product to probably have a, you know, a title that is in English and you probably spend your time in front of a computer. And this is not the reality of like, I suppose like majority of people, because people have different careers, people have different skill sets and whatnot. So what we are trying to build is to have a product that is somewhat similar to LinkedIn as a new, create a profile. And you can use it to find a better job, but with a much broader focus. So we are wanting to target basically everyone who is looking for a job in Poland. And also help them find a better job because like not everybody is used to, you know, searching for a job, offer online, not everybody's used to negotiating. So one of the experiments that we've had a couple of times, I go, there's also building a platform in which the employer would have to provide a salary range, because we also would like to in ideal a scenario, avoid this process of, you know, Whenever you have to negotiate a salary, how much do you want? How much are you willing to give me? How much do you want? And so bucket and so forth.

Michaela: [00:05:02] Yeah, for me, it's always mind blowing that, you know, I, to be honest, I haven't known about OLX before. Right. And so for this podcast, I researched it a little bit and I went on the website and I see like this large numbers of employees that you have. And then I went to the career side and I see, wow. There, I think if, I on the top of my head, I think there were like 16 open positions in data analysis or data engineering, something like this. Right. Then there were like 80 positions for engineers. Right. And I was like, Wow, because I worked as a data scientist or like a researcher before. Right. And sometimes struggling, like where are the companies that actually hiring, you know, people with these skill sets and then you're stumbling across a company that you never heard of anything like, well, this is not a small company. It's a large corporation, right. That you're actually working for. And so, yeah, maybe what would be interesting for me is like, well, you said my team, right? So my team, and then you're working with data scientists. What are other engineers that you're working with? Right. You're a front-end engineer. So who is on your team? You know, do you have like testers on your team? Do you have like designers on your team and, and then you're working with data scientists. How does the communication work like this? Can you tell me a little bit about the structure and you know, how, how are teams collaborating at OLX.

Tomasz: [00:06:13] Sure. So the way we kind of work at OLX or OLX group is, but each team is a park. So we are defined the divided into something that is called a park and a park is this like self-contained unit of the organization that can ship their stuff to the production. So each park has, you know, If you need front-end engineers, you have a front end engineer, you have bucket engineers you'll have product managers. There's usually an engineering manager. If there are no engineers on the team, that's kind of all, it is also useful. Some teams have a dedicated designer, some teams are working closely with, you know, with the designers, but they're not necessarily in that team because some teams have like different needs when it comes to things like design. We also have a business analyst in our team. So again, like this is a very kind of self contained unit. What I like about this setup is because I used to work in the companies where we have, we had a front-end department and we had a backend and not only was communication tricky, but also working in an actual agile way was some somewhat difficult because as a front end engineer, if I wanted to get, by the way, I would like to get this one more piece of data from the backend. Then you had to go do the backend team, talk to them, but they apparently have the authority for this, for this space. I have to wait for the next bit and whatnot. Whereas in our current setup, we've worked very closely together. So we are not working in a silo, but quite the contrary, we are working very closely together with backend engineers, front end engineers. All of those skill sets that are required to build amazing products. Everything is included in that team. And I are very proud as a front end engineer of our backend engineers, because there are actually submitting a feedback when it comes to design and when it comes to UX solution that we build it. So this is honestly, this is something that I haven't seen before then. Just the level of commitment to building great products and not only, you know, juggling Jason data, as some of bucket engineers are used to doing.

Michaela: [00:08:23] Okay. Yeah. And so how many front end engineers are, for example, in your team?

Tomasz: [00:08:29] Those teams, they don't have to be very large. So in my team currently, we have two front end engineers. There's two backend engineers. We have a dedicated contact in the data science team. So he's not technically in our team, but we are working very closely together. We also have a dedicated designer, a product manager, business analyst, and my engineer manager. So there's less than 10 people in total. I like this role that each team should be large enough that a one pizza can fit the entire theme. And I think this is not a good metric for how large the teams should be. Yeah, I like that.

Michaela: [00:09:07] (laughs) Yeah, I like that. But with 10 people and one pizza, I mean, everybody gets a little slice. Really?

Tomasz: [00:09:14] Yeah.

Michaela: [00:09:15] Yeah. And so one of the things that I love is code reviews. And so if you have like two front end engineers, do you do code reviews for each other? Or do you have like the back end engineers also looking at your code? And are you looking at the code off the back end engineers and visa versa? Or is that like very dedicated, like for the roles?

Tomasz: [00:09:35] So there there's a couple of things here. First stop. We it's one of us. Tries to grow. So I am trying my best to kind of review infrastructure changes. We are using several of the framework, something bucket the engineers are eager to take a look into what's happening on front and side, but. The the way it's usually happens is, but my team is only a smart, small part of a way larger organization. So we have lots of front-end engineers, backend engineers and whatnot. And so, because those teams are self-contained, you may have this impression that we are working completely alone in a silo. We don't look at what we are doing. Leave us alone. This is not the case. So front end engineers from other teams, There are even with my staff, I am doing my best to review their code and whatnot. So I think this is quite useful because first of all, we do require two approvals on each request. So by definition, if there are two of us, I cannot approve my own stuff. I have to get somebody else from another team to also approve my changes, but it also builds this culture of at least having this vague idea of what the other teams are doing. And if should they be uneasy, they can also contribute to the other codebases and visa versa.

Michaela: [00:10:51] Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. And so now I imagine you write you like this one pack, and now this is a large corporation or a large organization. So I'm thinking, well, there's your pack. And then you're probably. Maybe 20 other packs or even more. Right. So how do you, how do you select the packs that would review your code and would it be obviously the same, you know, like have you, do you have like two other packs that you are like, you know, working together or do you randomly allocate people from different packs to look at your code?

Tomasz: [00:11:21] I would say it depends on the, on the scope of the changes, because I am working in a pocket that is, like I said, we are building products for jobs. So we are helping people find a better job. There are also other packs that are also in this kind of like job ecosystem. So there are other solutions for instance, for recruiters. So if something, if it might change, is. Or actually in this domain of looking for a job. So this is like in this part of the code base, or there's this context of, you know, the stuff that we are actually currently building if necessary. I am probably going to ask for code review some of the members of that team, but if I'm doing something that is more like platform related, so I'm making kind of like core changes. I don't know, I'm updating a very major dependency in our code base. I am probably going to reach out to somebody from our platform team, because one thing that I especially hate as a front end engineer is breaking production. And my goal is as a developer. And the question about testing in general is I don't want the big production.

Michaela: [00:12:29] So I actually read through one of your articles that you also have mentioned on LinkedIn is one of the articles that you are most proud of. That's most popular, something like this, it's called a seven years as a software developer, right? The lessons that you have learned there, and you were talking about code reviews again, right? And so one of the things that you were saying, and I'm just, I'm now quoting you verbatim more or less, right. You were saying "I've personally seen people submitting code reviews when X, right, the person wasn't in the office, or why was it a business trip? X was a brilliant programmer, but enduring through his code reviews process was a chore. If you leave 15 nitpicks, unkind comments, and there are PR of someone who is a junior programmer, you're not proving your superiority as a developer, you are proving that you're not a good human being." Right. And so. How do you handle that? Like how, how do you, how do you handle unkind comments and how do you surface that at, as a company, as a team? You know, how do you deal with that?

Tomasz: [00:13:33] So, at the beginning, I would like to add, if I were to write this part again, I would probably add some more new ones with. But that was the, a bit of a, of a hot take. And, you know, there were lots of comments on Reddit, regarding that part, because it seems to kind of cause a little bit of attention, which I don't think it's necessarily for the book, because the main point is still there. You should be kind to other people. When it comes to kind of like dealing with that, I think it's not easy and you are, you are probably the best person in the world to having better code reviews. But nevertheless, I guess my personal idea is that you should always try to reach out to somebody when there are, for instance, like kind of comments in photos, because there are two things that maybe happen. First of all, they may be, are not aware that their comments are on time. Maybe they're just trying to be direct. Maybe they didn't have the time to kind of, I don't know, use the word please in a sentence, which I think it should happen anyways, but it could also be that something is actually happening in their personal lives and there are not, or the feeling, you know, like doing code for this today. So that's why I'm, that could happen. But nevertheless, I would always reach out to them and say, by the way, those are kind of like review guidelines. We are reviewing the code. We are not agreeing with the person. So, you know, please try to be kind, and regarding like bad code, because you know, when you leave like 50 comments on the code review and you are very nitpicky and you probably think that this code is terrible. I like to think that everybody tries to do the job as fast as they possibly can. Nobody is a developer. Nobody is going to go to work in the morning and says, I'm going to write some terrible codes today. Nobody does that. So when you are seeing something in code review you, that you are shocked, that you think is terrible, consider that you are maybe not aware of their constraints, maybe there's some context that you are not aware of. Maybe there's something that should be improved. Maybe you should talk to them. Maybe if you see a code review, that doesn't have any tests whatsoever, maybe propose to pair up. And write those tests together.

Michaela: [00:15:59] Yeah, I like, and you also had that actually in your, in your blog post, right? You were saying, well, go and change the channel, the communication channel. Right. So instead of leaving all those comments in the code review, why not reaching out to the person directly and asking, you know, if you can be, as you said, of help in a different way. Right. And I think that's really important. So, and maybe I want to come back to one of the things that you said at the beginning is like, well, I will definitely reach out, but do you see yourself reaching out as the person that gets this critique? Or is it like you're a senior engineer, right. So would you also reach out to the person if you see they are leaving unkind comments for somebody else?

Tomasz: [00:16:36] I would be much more quicker to reach out if it was somebody else for the code, because I have a feeling that. As a, as a senior in the organization, that your job is not to only write code, but your job is also make others more productive and also builds an environment in which people are feeling okay to kind of express their ideas, express their concerns and whatnot. So if luckily, it doesn't happen for record this. The thing that I've written about in the article, it happened years ago. It doesn't really happen in my current company, which is something that I'm very happy to see. But nevertheless, if I were to see a situation in which somebody more senior is kind of attacking a more junior engineer in the code review, I would definitely reach out to, to that reviewer saying this is not okay. This is not something that we do, because think about it. Some people are not used to code reviews. Code reviews are very public. And it doesn't make people excuse necessarily the good that I am. You know, I've just started at this company two weeks ago and now I have a bunch of quests with like 50 comments in it. Maybe I'm a fraud. Maybe I shouldn't be hired through the first place. Like this is not the kind of environment that you want to build in a software organization.

Michaela: [00:17:56] Yeah, I think you're talking about a lot of different things here. And one is for example, that the context that you have when you're doing code reviews, right? So this person you were talking about, the person that's just starting, so this person probably needs something very different in a code review than a person that's, you know, at the stable at this company already, or have found their place in this company and the team, for example. And, and so, yeah, you're, you're totally right. There are so many different things that influence that. And so when I work with, with engineers on code reviews and they are telling me those, or, you know, sometimes people are afraid even to, to tell that, but somehow it surfaces, right? And they say, well, code reviews is the problem. But I really think it's not the code reviews is that other problems that the team culture. So if things like this happen in code reviews, then it's not the culture base. It's the culture is surfacing that. And I think on one hand, this is even. Good because now you can see it, right. You can see things that are happening in a more subtle way in meetings and, you know, in work coordinations or collaborations, you know, who reaches out to whom and how do you give, you know, orders or things like this. So in hierarchical organizations, Well, so I know something else that I wanted to talk with you about and that's technical debt. And so I noted your organization is doing something a specific here. Can you tell me a little bit, how are you tackling technical debt and you know, how you're working on it? Do you say well happens and we never look at it and close our eyes? Or what are the strategies that you, that you have here?

Tomasz: [00:19:24] Okay. So first of all, if any large software organization is saying that they don't have technical debt, they're absolutely lying. Everybody has technical debt that including, including us for record. So from my own perspective, I'm very happy to be in a somewhat Greenfield project. So we don't have a lot of tech dept. Well, mostly because we are building, you know, completely new features and functionality on top of existing stack. But, nevertheless, we are also integrating with something that was certain, that some of it is definitely technical debt. So there are a couple of things that we have been doing so far. You know, the two are just because we have to continue, we have to continue to develop and we have to continue building, you know, experiences for our users. We have to be able to do some of the fast and when technical debt is high enough, you cannot do it anymore. So we having this concept of a wall. And this is something that we did a bunch of times, and we basically about two types of worms. So first up we have those worms ?? where you get together a group of engineers who are interested in a certain area. So for instance, I don't know, we have problems with our, redis, or we have problems in our front end performance. We've been together, a group of engineers who are interested in that, and they will be able to help. So they would be not like full-time visit on new features and experiences about some part of the work versus like 50% will it be spent, you know, focusing on fixing technical debt in order to unlock everybody. But we also had a case in which we unfortunately had to stop. And we had a, basically like a company, maybe not necessarily a company wide, but department wide, a worm. By this, we were not working on anything new for if I remember correctly two weeks and we did manage to combat in massive portion of our tech debt. And my takeaway from all of that is you have the activity plan for fixing tech debt. For my money, this is not something that happens in the meantime. This is not because I, I work in on some teams and there was this idea about. Each sprint, we're going to spend 20% of our time on tech debt. This rarely works, what I think works so much better is to have dedicated time and dedicated people who are passionate about, you know, fixing technical depth. In my humble opinion, the best way to address, for instance, like performance issues is together. For engineers who are passionate about performance and leave them alone for two weeks, he will be very much surprised with the results.

Michaela: [00:22:08] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Then it becomes, suddenly becomes a project, right? It's not like something that you have to fix on the side, which is, you know, in your way and actually distracting you from something. And it's also an achievement. Like if you give them, this is a project then, and it's achievement that you can achieve and it not something like, Oh, you haven't worked on that feature. Well, I did something, you know, but because you're always like, it like drops that you're putting, right. So you don't see them, they are dropping and you know, like the, on a stone and it's so hot that you don't see the drop. Right. So you really have to have a drain that the stone somehow pulls down, which also reminds me on automatic for examples. I had like likes the singer on my show. And he was talking about automatic and they, what they do is they stop feature work for, I forgot the timing, but it's, it's impressive. And they just do technical death, right. Just to just do everything that they didn't do before. And they also get so much done. And it's the whole company. Everybody does this now, and this is our number one priority. And yet he also said that it's really helping a lot because you know, you have this focus, you have this dedication and it's not like a distraction on the side that nobody was ready to take on. So when I looked at your LinkedIn profile, I not only saw, you know, where you're working at right now, but I also saw a list of things that you're doing. Outside of work or, you know, partially at work or whatnot. Right. So you are also an egghead instructor. And I think I remember correctly, you said like you have 150 videos or something, is that correct?

Tomasz: [00:23:39] More than 170 at this point?

Michaela: [00:23:41] Wow. 170. So how are you doing that? Like, this is something that fascinates me and I just have to get more time and get better at all of those, you know, recordings. Staffing things like this, but this is definitely something that I aspire to do as well. How do you do this videos? You know, what, what motivates you to do them? How did you become an egghead instructor? And yeah. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Tomasz: [00:24:05] So, first of all, I was not really recording videos before I started in a bit as an egghead instructor or I was doing, I was trying to think on my blog, I was doing conference talks. And that is basically how I got noticed, because people at egghead basically noticed that I have a way of kind of teaching people what I know and I'm passionate about, you know, teaching basically everything that I know that that was kind of my, one of my personal goals is just sharing as much as, as from what I know with others, when it comes to recording over while I have that 70 videos, I recorded one video, then I did it again. Then I did it again. And I did that again, because this is how you get to, to this kind of level. I was absolutely not planning on the coding. So many videos when I started two years ago, nearly to the day two years ago. I remember at the very beginning I had this feeling, but what am I going to record? I have nothing to teach. Um, this is not exactly true. I think that if you have non trigger experience as a developer with defense, they have something to teach others. And if you are, if you have this feeling that you have definitely nothing more to teach, well, this is a good time for you to learn something new. And I found with myself that I learned the best by teaching. So the best way to, for me to solidify something that I've learned related to the recently is to write a blog post about this, or record a video.

Michaela: [00:25:38] And so you do it from a, from a work from, yeah. From a book process perspective. Do you write a blog post first and then you make the video or do you make a video first or you just make videos for things that you think that are better covered in a video and you write a blog post for things that you think better are covered in a blog post. How does that work?

Tomasz: [00:25:59] That's a good question. What I basically do when I want to share something with others. I mostly tried to think, what resource would be useful to me? Because some concepts of amazingly well explained as a blog post, because, because you can search through it and whatnot, some topics are better when it comes to, to a video. So for instance, if I were to, I have a book post on my, on my screen right now, uh, I was watching this amazing talk about cookies, tokens, and API is kind of this in depth, dive into, into those topics. And that was doing some notes and basically turned them into blog posts that I published yesterday. So this is, this is good. This works great as a blog post, because I have video of me doing this content is no better than the conference topic that I've just watched. But if I were to try to explain something that is a bit more visual. So how do you do something in AWS console? Then the video works somewhat better than this.

Michaela: [00:26:56] Yeah. Yeah. And so you just said AWS, so I noted your are AWS certified. What do you do there? How did you know, was it a requirement from your job, or why did you set out to do that certification? And I also started, you're going to the next level from AWS certified and yeah. What motivates you to do that?

Tomasz: [00:27:18] So there are two things here. So first of all, OLX has been largely, I mean, OLX it's basically on the books, we have migrated everything to AWS. I think like two years ago, my team we are working with GraphQL stack which is based in AWS. So we have API gateways, we have Lambda functions. We are using dynamo DB, a storage SQS. So there's lots of differently diverse services. And I've joined today, a company as a front end engineer, and I am still a front-end engineer, but when I joined, I had, little to no idea about AWS. I was completely green in that area. So after a while, my manager and encouraged me to learn more about this, because the idea was, if you want to be able to contribute more, if you want to be able to contribute to the technical discussions that you have to architecture decisions, you should probably know what is going on. And getting certified is a good way to accomplish that for two reasons, because there's this texture system of learning in order to become a certified, because there are, there's basically a list of topics that you have to be knowledgeable in, in order to pass the exam. Right? So we have the sector idea of what do I need to learn as opposed to, I'm going to learn everything, because this is not viable with AWS. And secondly, you have some sort of a proof that you have at least vaguely. Vague idea of what you are talking about when it comes to AWS. And like I said, in 10 days from now, I am going to pass my another exam. So this is the AWS developer and I sure hope I'm going to pass it because this episode is going to be live after that exam.

Michaela: [00:29:03] (laughs) Yeah, it could be. Yeah. So yeah. And well, one of the, the, the question that comes to my mind, you said, well, when I joined OLX, I was a front end engineer. I'm still a front end engineer, but at that point, I didn't know, AWS. I guess in their job posting, I don't know. Maybe you reacted to that or I don't know how you were hired or how you were, you know, getting, getting the information that there is this description. Maybe they, they said you should know AWS, or it's preferred that, you know, it's something like this. And how do you, you know, how do you communicate that? Can you tell me a little bit about your hiring experience? You know, and you know, what questions were you asked? How was that process going? And, yeah, that would be interesting.

Tomasz: [00:29:48] So the fun thing is that I've joined two and a half years ago. And I haven't been in that I've joined a somewhat different company because we are, you know, changing and growing quite rapidly. So, I mean, I can talk about the process that we have today because I am also kind of involved in the hiring process because I'm interviewing somebody basically every week. But nevertheless, when it comes back to AWS for us plus front end, we absolutely do not expect front engineers to have AWS experience. I wanted to learn something new. There was something new I wanted to grow. This is why I am interested in investing in that area. Nevertheless, I do a recommend to keep your eyes open. Like we don't explicitly expect, expect AWS experience, but nevertheless it is useful.

But when it comes to hiring process itself, we have a bunch of interviews. And our hiring process. So from my kind of technical perspective, we have two types of interviews. So there was a strictly technical interview in which we are talking about somebodies experiences. We are also kind of diving into some topics when it comes to JavaScript to react and whatnot. And we also have a second interview, which is a system design interview. So the idea is that we give you a problem. And architectural problem. And basically have this conversation about how would you solve that problem? What kind of technologies would you use? How would you use them? How would you test that? How would you monitor that? and so on. And then so it's actually one of my favorites because he had get to learn how other people are thinking about building software and, you know, front end architectures and this just, I learn as much as, as they do on those interviews.

Michaela: [00:31:36] And so now you are at the company. Do you have like a career ladder there? Do you have like some, you know, when I was working at Microsoft, there was like this really set in stone, things that you have to accomplish to get to the next level, you know, what should be your, you know, skills technically, you know, professionally and so on. How does that work at all OLX.

Tomasz: [00:31:57] So we do have a, we have a career ladder that is branching at the end into somewhat like a tree. So there's junior, there's mid-level slash regular engineer there, senior engineer and after a senior engineer. So basically where I am there's this change is going to branch out. So there's a manager stuff and there's an individual contributor path. So in the manual, just powerful can become an engineering manager afterwards. You can become a head or director of engineering after work, probably a CTO or something. I'm not even thinking about this level right now. On the individual contributor path, we have fleet engineers and principal engineers, and chief engineers if I remember correctly. So basically what we want to do is to avoid this problem that I saw at my very first company where you had senior developers who are promoted to engineer managers, not only, not because they had, they had manager skills. But you had to promote them somewhere. That that was the only basically option. And some engineers are terrible managers because managing people is a completely different job than, you know, being a senior software engineer.

Michaela: [00:33:18] And so where do you want to go? Like you're now in this, you know, one step before, so when you're branching out, which direction will you go, where are you going to the management route? Or will you go into the lead engineer?

Tomasz: [00:33:29] I would have to go into the lead engineer route because I'm the kind of person who likes to make, make an impact in the organization, but mostly from like a technical perspective and mostly from the perspective of, how do we build software, how do we think about front end? How do we think about, you know, quality and whatnot? Because like all the companies we have more work to do, as all companies we would like to improve and having, you know, people and having more people in those kinds of like leadership, technical leadership roles helps us can kind of drill the picture of where we would actually be in, I dunno, two years, in five years and whatnot. I am not entirely sure whether I would be the best manager alive. Definitely not a remote manager. Maybe if this wasn't no, the year of 2020, where everybody's working remotely, that would be probably a different story. But as of right now, I am gearing towards the lead engineers path.

Michaela: [00:34:29] And so one of the things that when I hear you talking, right, it feels like you're very involved in the decisions that are made about, you know, for example, well, how do we tackle technical debt? Right. Do we do this war rooms? Are people involved in those discussions about, you know, how do we actually. Build our culture internally. How do we, and especially obviously also, engineering, right? What role does code review have for us? Is that something that you feel that you can actively change or is it something that others are thinking about and your are adopting it?

Tomasz: [00:35:03] So we have, we have a couple of confining values and two of them are my favorites. So the first one is be open. And the second one is to take ownership. And I imagined the thing that, because most kind of like senior engineers in our organization, like we have this strong sense of ownership. So we are not building something in a bad way because I don't know somebody from higher above told us to. We want to build the best experiences that we that we possibly can. And if we feel like we should improve in some area, So for instance, well, I don't know, imagine that we were not doing code reviews at all. And I thought we have a group of engineers who are saying, we want to do code reviews and we get to kind of influence our, you know, technical directors are very open to communication too, to discussion. So it's not like there are know them all kinds of people. There are very, you know, kind of eager and to not only do discuss, but also to listen to our feedback. And to improve and also grow, grow on each other. We also have this process of kind of like a request for comments document. So if you, as an engineer, if you feel like somebody, something is not 100%, okay. Like there are some processes that could be improved. You can always write a document and ask other for feedback. And maybe like this document has become basically the, the way we do that thing from now on at OLX.

Michaela: [00:36:40] Yeah. So one of the things that I know is your area is somehow testing. And I know that you, I mean, I asked that question today on Twitter. You know, what people want me to ask you? And testing was one of the things and they said, well, yeah, you're doing testing. If your skills are not really good. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Can you tell me a little bit more about your philosophy here and.

Tomasz: [00:37:05] So my philosophy when it comes to testing is that I want to sleep better at night. I don't want to worry about my changes back in production. I am not brave enough to push major features to productions that they don't have tests basically. So when it comes to that, I strongly believe that something that is not tested, it's not done. And this tweet that you are referring to is from my colleague of mine. Right. And we have this internal job that tests slow down development, because if you build a feature and you guys did the test, it is twice the work. Right. But imagine that you are building a house. You could probably, you know, build it's faster, with, you know, having cheaper materials, maybe those were wait, maybe you shouldn't wait this long for the concrete in order to, to finish like whatever the concrete is doing. If you know what I mean, maybe it is a better idea to have solid foundations on how we build software and then to kind of improve upon them. Because my own impression after working here for two and half year is that, we are building websites and experiences, for a huge number of people. OLX in Poland is in top 10, most visited websites in this country. My mom is using OLX. I do the gets the break production. Some like, you know, obvious mistakes because production incidents will happen, always. But I have a feeling that as engineers, we kind of get to choose what kind of productions incidents are not going to happen at all, because we've managed to test and make sure that I don't know, it is not possible for our login page to be empty.

Michaela: [00:38:51] Yeah. And I also think, I mean, Slowing down. I think it's a, it's a little bit a wrong perception because you're not only writing code. Right. So there's this task that you're writing code, but an actually code lives on. Right. So, and you wanted to have it live on for a long time. And so if you think like this is the first investment that you're making, and then based on this investment, you're profiting from it. Right. But by your profiting, you actually have to maintain. The code. And so if you're, as you said, if you're building a better foundation and if you are adding tasks right in, you know, your foundation is actually good in the long run, you will have less iteration on, you know, maintaining that thing to improve it, to fix things that are broken or wrong. And so I think in the end, it amortize it itself over time. Very, very quickly. Yeah. So yeah, I definitely think that's true. So one of the things that you also mentioned was product driven mindset. What is a product driven mindset and you know, how can we get that?

Tomasz: [00:39:53] Sure. So the way I think about it is my job is not to push tickets in JIRA for them to do till done. My job is to build products. So the way I think about it is as an engineer, I think that the best part of our ability by people who have this great understanding of what exactly are they building, and this is sometimes referred to as business context. So I don't know, I am not adding this form to make my manager happy. I am adding this form so that our users can either know their bank accounts number to the account. But when you go one level above and think about what kinds of problems am I trying to solve then actually you are building better products because it's not about the form. The form is the way we address an actual problem that our users have their actual needs. So as an engineer in my team, okay, why are we adding this form in the first place? Maybe we could do it in some other way. Maybe we could get this data from this other, I know microservice that already has this data. Maybe we'll go to talk to that people. And this product driven mindset means that you don't necessarily think about the structure of building in terms of, again, JIRA tickets you think about, okay, this is the problem that we are trying to solve. How can we do that with maybe without even writing any code at all? Because some problems can be solved. By, I dunno, an email. I have a, I have a, this example that I often give, that we had this idea that we wanted to ask our users feedback on a certain feature. This feature was not used by many people, so we want them to kind of have a survey inside of this page, but then we decided that we are going to send an email to them because it took us 10 minutes and we get the, exactly the same kind of feedback that we had. If we were to build a form or survey.

Michaela: [00:41:48] Yeah. And so what came to my mind when you were talking about this, is that I think. I mean, they're definitely engineers that don't want, or don't care so much about the product. And I, again, think it's not the engineer themselves. I think it's the culture in the company, right? That at one point you give it up maybe and just say, well, yeah, it doesn't actually matter what I think. So we just do what we are asked to because that's what we are incentivized for that, you know, that's what our incentive structure is all about. And, and I don't, I cannot change anything. Right. Even if I think this is not. The right step for the product. But I also think that sometimes there's like this business driven mindset, right? So there are like those two things that are a little bit competing with each other, right? So there's this product driven mindset, which I think is maybe easier to adopt as an engineer because we like to create, and we maybe are even taught about, you know, how to think about the users and how, but then what's a little bit, even further away from an engineer. Is this business driven mindset, right? So. Let's say a large corporation, right. And they wanted, they have like a tool and it's for code reviews. And so you have all these great ideas as engineers, how to improve this code review tool. But there's this business aspect, which says, well, we are much bigger than code reviews, right? We are doing so much more. So right now we don't have to make the best product for code reviews. And so somehow this idea about, you know, making the best product comes becomes a little bit diluted by, you know, the business goals that you have as well, which are not always the product goals. I don't know if this has makes sense to you if you feel that as well, but this is something that I feel it's. Very often, very challenging and very de-motivating can also be very demotivating because I think, you know, there's, it's easy to fall in love with your product, right? It's a little bit harder to fall in love with business goal.

Tomasz: [00:43:43] Exactly. I know, I know definitively what you mean, because I can give you an example. So we are on running ads on OLX. Every large website is running ads. We are no exception. And engineers are, you know, we, we don't like ads. We don't like, you know, having additional scripts that are loaded on our beautiful, beautifully crafted pages with Google ads or whatever. And then we get, you know, get informed that by the way, this is paying X percent of your salary right because, you know, we are not putting those ads for, because we want to, right. We are putting those ads because they help us, you know, build our business and, you know, earn more money for the business. And I completely agree with you, but sometimes it is difficult to kind of figure it out. Why we should do a certain thing. And I think it's always important both in programming, product and business, to try to figure out what do we optimize for a given moment, right? So are we optimizing for growth in our user base? Are we optimizing for the best possible product or are we optimizing for the greatest revenue? Because doing all of those at the same time is largely impossible.

Michaela: [00:44:59] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, definitely. Yeah. I find it always quite challenging, especially like all those, even though, you know, it, it's not pleasant. Right. So even though, you know, okay. To add some now paying part of my salary, it's still not a pleasant feeling like, Oh, the performance goes down. That's horrible. Can we block it? Where's the ad blocker, right? Yeah, exactly. Right. Yeah. Yeah. Very cool. So, well, I think we actually reached the end of our session today of the interview. Is this something that you want to share with my listeners that we haven't touched on that you think would be important or something that you want to tell them? Some advice that you want to give them on their way?

Tomasz: [00:45:43] Okay. So I had this thought, literally like yesterday, because I'm not sure whether you are listening. You know, you listen, if you're a student or if you're younger than me, apologies, I've turned 30 this year. And this is a major moment for me. But I was thinking today about when I was studying at the university, I have a master's degree in electronics and telecommunications. How somewhat relevant this degree is to my career. If you are studying for, in a computer science degree, you were probably going to become a developer and some of those skills are going to be useful. But nevertheless, I wanted to kind of express this idea that if you are in college, if you are, if you basically should have chosen the wrong major, for a set and you have ended up. I have this strong feeling that as you know, your university is basically not kind of like a defining point of your life. I am standing to name like most of the names of my professors from the university, not to mention the, kind of the content of the class that they taught. I am a JavaScript developer and I didn't write a single line of Java script doing my engineering degree. So this was something that I would love to hear about 10 years ago.

Michaela: [00:47:03] Yeah. And I also think that there's always a point to change, right? I mean, if you look at my, if you look at my path, there was a big. A big turning point that people would probably say, well, that's the big turning point, right? There's when I finished art school and I went on to do computer science. Right. And I didn't have an idea about computers. And so maybe that was, it seems like this is a turning point, a huge turning point, but actually it's not, it wasn't really like this huge turning point. When I started from computer science to software engineering, right. When I made this switch was again, It was probably the same turning point, right. When I then went to, you know, do for my first job was again, a very different, you know, experience when I worked as a researcher and actually over the years, you know, things really. They get less, less important and still, you know, every time you do something new, it's again, it feels like, Oh my God, can I do that? Right. It feels like, Oh, this is what I, so when I stopped my research position and people were telling me, you're completely crazy that you do that, right. Who would give up this position? And it felt crazy. And it felt like, Oh my God, you know, like what now? And now it's. One year later. Right. And I feel like, well, it completely changed again. And so I think it's always, when we are in this situation, we feel like, Oh, this is now so important, right. This is such a defining moment for my life. But actually we can always change. I mean, even if you don't have a computer. Science degree or no university degree, you can actually really change. And it's, it's a lot about imposter syndrome. Also, maybe getting over, you know, yourself and you know, your, your feelings or your thoughts in your head that tell you you're not good at that, or because you don't know it. Right. You don't know it. And I started my business. My first intention was I have to do an MBA, right. To be prepared. Let's do an MBA because somehow, you know, this gives you some security that you know what you're doing, but I felt like, well, this takes way too long and too much money. Right. I don't have it. So I have to just figure it out myself. And I think every step that you're doing, even if you're not, let's say you are, you know, in the fast food industry. And now you think I want to become also a JavaScript engineer or developer. It feels really unreal and impossible right now, but really this small steps that I think maybe just brings me back to what you said about your videos. Right. I made one video and another video and another video. Right. And then you look back and it's like it's two years later. It's probably not an overnight success, right? You're not waking up, you know, watching one YouTube video, writing your first website, and then the next day you are, you know, you accomplished your dream, but if you, every day, you know, work on that, I think. Yeah. And don't let you know whatever happens right now. Define you. I think we are giving too much, much, too much weight to what's in the now. Right. Which is important on one hand. But. You know it. Yeah. It, it, it becomes less and less important over the years. So I totally agree. Yeah.

Tomasz: [00:50:08] I was still supposed to tell this story because this was requested on Twitter. And I think it plays very nicely to what we just talked about. I went skydiving for the very first time this year, because as I mentioned, I've turned 30, my wife decided to, to attempt, you know, kidding me, therefore she booked out a skydiving session. Luckily I did get the parachute. So that was actually excellent. But the reason why I'm mentioning this is that it was absolutely scary, but the scariest moment was the night before. I was unable to see if I was in the plane, in my bed. I was going through the sky dive over and over in my head, even though I had absolutely no idea what it was going to look like. I, you know, I watched a video on YouTube. So I have this vague idea of, you know, I'm going to get into an airplane. We're going to fly up and then they're not going to jump out of a freaking moving airplane. But when I actually got there to the airport, Then I realized that, you know, some other people are also doing this and there are not dying, therefore I am going to be okay. So I think this is a huge, important life lesson for me is about this curious moment. When you are trying to make a huge impact, a huge change is a right before you make the impact. Because as soon as you get to work, as soon as you actually get started, it becomes, so much easier. It doesn't mean that it is going to be easy, but it is going to be easier. And with each kind of like additional challenge that you overcome, like those things have a good chance of getting easier. But going back to my egghead videos, I struggled a lot because they, my very first like five or 10 videos, that was a hustle. And honestly it took me, I don't know, three hours to record a two minute video. That was a disaster. I thought I am so much better than this, but it took me, it took me awhile. So you have to, basically, I would recommend that, you know, you should always try to kind of keep improving and go out of your comfort zone. And every once in a while, if you feel it feels like it, I think, you know, it is a good idea.

Michaela: [00:52:21] Yeah, I think so too. Yeah. That's, that's definitely, that's definitely true. So, well, I think that's a perfect ending. Thank you so much, Tomasz for being on my show and spending the time with me and telling me so much about, you know, how it is to be a software engineer at your company. And yeah. Thank you so much.

Tomasz: [00:52:40] Thank you very much for having me.

Michaela: [00:52:42] Yeah, it was my pleasure. Okay. Bye-bye

I hope you enjoyed another episode of the Software Engineering Unlocked Podcast, but before I let you go, let me tell you that this week black Friday, I have some special, really amazing discounts on my code review workshops. So if you ever think of the idea of booking one. I think now is the time. So hop over to And I hope to see you in two weeks for another episode of the Software Engineering Unlocked Podcast. Bye.

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