Day 1: Monday - Initiating Lift Off
Through the haze of Monday morning brain fog and rising coffee steam, the team assembles for our morning standup.
This first meeting of the week is our most important. It serves three primary purposes:
1. To outline your achievements from the previous day, and your project for today.
2. To highlight blockers or areas where you could use help.
3. To get the excuse to hang out with your team members (most importantly)
The concept of a standup is hotly debated in the tech world.
The concept of a standup is hotly debated in the tech world. Purists believe it should be over in minutes, only covering the essentials. Others seem intent on making it long and onerous. I like to think that our team strikes a nice balance between the functional component of a standup meeting but also realising everyone is on the same team and we’re working towards the same goal. It’s nice to take a minute to enjoy that fact and just have a bit of a chat with one another. Your standup is the first thing in your diary every morning. It sets the tone for the rest of the day. We try to make them a good laugh - something to look forward to.
Standups highlight key insights, allowing everyone a moment to say ‘Shite’, regroup, and potentially inform the week’s work alongside the work we have planned in our two-weekly sprints.
Standups are particularly key for unveiling an issue that someone is facing. Perhaps a design challenge from Irina, our Product Designer - maybe she needs insights from another part of the business to understand if a proposed feature will work? Or maybe Sam, one of our Senior Software Engineers, has realised planned architecture for an upcoming feature won’t work in practice. Standups highlight key insights, allowing everyone a moment to say ‘Shite’, regroup, and potentially inform the week’s work alongside the work we have planned in our two-weekly sprints.
After standup, the team executes.
After standup, the team executes. The product side of the team will head off to speak to our members to understand their needs and how we can support them with our technology. Engineers will get their heads down into code, from writing code, to reviewing pull requests from other engineers. This is a vital part of our process - we don’t release anything that hasn’t been reviewed by at least one other person (including robust automated testing), so we can change things quickly without worrying about side effects across the platform.
We are a young startup, and we need to come together to maximise collaboration.
Day 2: Tuesday - A Journey into Code
Everyone is in the office on Tuesdays after remote Mondays. We are a young startup, and we need to come together to maximise collaboration.
Tuesdays are for execution - ‘doing’ days. With headphones on and fingers flying across the keyboard, the office is a symphony of productivity. The Engineers are collectively hard at work, tweaking our database structure to support new features. Rebekah, our Product Manager, is floating between the Operations, Brand and Tech team, making sure that the implications of the product align with the strategies of these other teams.
One Platform, One Journey. This is a mantra that we have in Zero Gravity. It’s the ethos that binds us together as a business. Maybe we should add ‘One Team’ to the motto. We have to work together to create a seamless experience for our users to maximise our effectiveness as a product. The pressure is high, we play a vital role in young people's lives, a lot is on the line. Pressure is mitigated by frequent trips to Dose, the local coffee shop in Farringdon.
One Platform, One Journey. This is a mantra that we have in Zero Gravity.
Lunchtime presents a much-needed break. The team needs a breather, perhaps a visit to the gym or a class to unwind and keep themselves fresh.
The afternoon is spent working on individual tasks and preparing for whatever else the week has to offer. Likely, this means reworking our into-work product, our focus of Q2, designing it to support a wider range of jobs and employer partners to maximise our impact.
It’s the first step to moving code up into production, out into the wider world, and into the hands of tens of thousands of users.
Day 3: Wednesday - Deployment
D Day. Deployment Day.
Today, the Engineers have deployed some of their recent work to one of their branch environments. This flow allows the engineers to test new features in isolation in a Cloud environment. It’s the first step to moving code up into production, out into the wider world, and into the hands of tens of thousands of users.
Dan, one of our engineers, calls over Elliot from Operations to review a feature, making sure that Elliot’s concerns have been addressed and that he’s happy with how it works. Thumbs up from Elliot. Sigh of relief. Green light from Dan to merge the code to staging, the next phase in our engineering pipeline.
With staging signed off, the engineers click the big red button button to deploy the code to production.
Staging is a clone of our production environment. It uses anonymised user data, replicating exactly how the code will perform in the real world. After Dan has merged the code, Ollie, another Engineer, performs a similar function with one of his front-end updates. Ollie has reworked one of the platform’s Sign Up forms, making it quicker and easier to use. Both sets of changes are in staging, ready for a final click through and sign off by the Engineers.
With staging signed off, the engineers click the big red button button to deploy the code to production. The process is quick, with deployment taking only five minutes to execute. No harrowing error messages are coming through on Slack, culminating in a few day’s work from both Engineers. They’re free agents to pick up the next task in the sprint.
You never have enough time in a startup to execute.
Day 4: Thursday - Igniting New Ideas
Thursdays are the final office day of the week. The team is here again, we’re mid sprint and execution is key.
You never have enough time in a startup to execute. There are always competing priorities, too many things that you could do, but not enough resources. Cutting through the noise is hard, as all of it is important, but we have to keep our North Star in sight at all times. This is a large part of my role as CTO - less executional, and more strategic. As dramatic as it sounds, I’m nothing without my team and the wider business informing me of progress.
As well as sprinting, Thursdays are for updating the wider business and the Executive Team on how things are progressing. Are we on time for this quarter? Has something changed? Is our direction correct? Are there any new technologies we’ve seen that could influence us? It’s my job to drive much of this, to keep ahead of the game and make sure we’re always best in class with our offering - like our decision to heavily utilise AI in Zero Gravity and keep our members on the cutting edge of tech. But it’s ultimately the culmination of everyone's ideas that drives us forward. The ideas from literally all angles - from Joe (our CEO), Tom (COO), Kim (CBO), the Brand team, the Product team, the Engineers, Operations… Everyone feeds into the machine to drive our product forward.
There is a big difference between having an idea and making it a reality.
There is, however, a big difference between having an idea and making it a reality. A good Tech Team will often say no, and unfortunately, I also have to say no quite a lot. Not because I want to, but because I have to to make sure we do not have a host of new features creeping into the sprint, or even into the quarter. Rebekah, our expertly focused Product Manager, helps a lot with this.
Rebekah and I call a meeting on the future of AI in the business. We’ve prepared a presentation on our direction as a technology unit to show to the Executive Team and the Board. It’s well received, but now the work begins. I start to think - What are the implications of all of this, how are we going to build it, and when?
Food for thought as we enter Friday, the last day of the week.
The hybrid working environment at Zero Gravity bookends the human connection and collaboration of the office days, with time for reflection and execution on your own.
Day 5: Friday - Preparing for Re-Entry
Fridays are remote again.
The hybrid working environment at Zero Gravity bookends the human connection and collaboration of the office days, with time for reflection and execution on your own - perfect in my opinion for a startup of our size.
We have our morning standup again. Today it’s quick, we’re halfway through the sprint, everyone knows what they’re doing, big questions have been answered on the in-person days. Heads down once again.
Jack, one of our Senior Engineers, sends the team a message on Slack. There is a problem. The Operations team have spotted something strange on our admin panel. Jack picks up the message as Friday is his ‘support day’, a rota that all engineers work answering requests from the operations team. Following the flag from Ops, he’s checked the database and confirmed a nuance in some of our data, meaning that there is a bug in our midst.
The quieter period is spent looking at new technologies, reading around what other startups are doing, speaking to other founders and CTOs in similar size companies.
Set to squish it, Jack swaps focus to fixing the bug. It’s not critical, but we have to be careful due to the nature of our data. Jack whips up a quick patch, a small error on one of our hundreds of forms has caused it. He then writes a quick test to help prevent the problem again in the future. Job done, the patch is swiftly dispatched out to review, then staging and production. Two hours after reporting the problem is resolved. The rest of the day is quiet. No more crises.
Tech Team takes the afternoon for reflecting. For me, this quieter period is spent looking at new technologies, reading around what other startups are doing, speaking to other founders and CTOs in similar size companies. I jot down some thoughts, send a few messages in Slack to gauge opinions on the products I’ve found. We schedule a few meetings for next week to discuss as a group. Always lots to be done.
A typical week of work within a Tech Team at a young, ambitious startup. A lot has been done, yet the destination seems forever just on the horizon. But this is all part of the fun. You’re always challenged to think on your feet and execute, you’re never bogged down in process or red tape.
The weekend is an opportunity to unwind and reflect. You’re not on, but you’re also never completely off. After all, the prospect of Monday excites me. What will be achieved next week?