“Has it really been 10 years since I started working for SiteGround? The calendar is never wrong so I guess it must be true. I have to write something about those last 10 years (f**k I still can’t believe it).”
The above is a good summary of my thoughts during the last couple of months. It’s hard to write about my own past. It really is because this is the third time I sit in front of a computer to write a post and every time:
- I just don’t know where to start.
- I get hit by a storm of feelings.
- I start asking myself “What if I did this other thing…” questions.
- I ask myself what is the purpose of this post.
This post has no single purpose. The goal is to share my amazing experience. The goal is also to document my thoughts at the age of 30 and laugh at them 10 years from now. The goal is to give back to everyone I’ve met because of SiteGround. The goal is to learn. Last but not least the goal is to thank so many people that they are part of my life.
Now go grab a beer because this is a long post 😉
I still remember how I joined SiteGround. To this day it makes me laugh. It’s funny because joining SiteGround was pure luck. If I have to apply again today I probably won’t do it.
I was a university student in Plovdiv. I studied “Computer Systems and Technologies”. In just two short months, I got fed up with what I had to study, because it had nothing to do with modern software development, system administration and networking. Thus, I just started hanging out with friends. I did not quit the university but it was just a matter of time. One evening a friend of mine introduced me to a guy who later became a good friend. He is also the main reason to join SiteGround. His name is Stanislav Katsarov.
He was a technical support engineer at SiteGround. He told me that the company was growing and he thought I could be a good fit. I laughed at him. I told him that I knew nothing and I did not think that I could make it. I just did not believe that someone would hire me because I literally knew nothing and I was just 19 years old. No programming experience, no system administration, no experience at all. All in all, up to this moment I have used FTP several times and I knew what PHP was. The conversation got stuck in my mind. I got curious if I can really apply for a job and see what happens.
So I just did it. I did not have any expectations and I quickly forgot about this.
In the meantime I signed for a Cisco networking course. A friend got a job working for a small ISP in Plovdiv. He said getting Cisco certified can get you a good job and networking is an interesting field. What got me hooked was that the Cisco course was focused on very specific things. Thus, I did not have to waste time learning things I didn’t really need. One night I went out with friends to celebrate successfully finishing the first part of my Cisco training. At the time I did not know this was going to be my last Cisco training 😀
That night we partied hard. I went home and on the next day my Siemens C65 phone rang. There was one special thing about this phone. The back of the phone was broken and the battery had issues giving power to the phone. That is why I patched it with a rubber band. It was used to hold the phone together so that it doesn’t switch off all the time. When the phone rang I thought it was an alarm and wanted to turn it off. Eventually I did figure out that this was not an alarm. I tried to pick up but the rubber band slipped and the phone switched off.
So I went back to sleep. I was not able to fall asleep anymore. I also wanted to know who called me so early in the morning. So I fixed the rubber band and turned on the phone. The phone, of course, did not save the caller’s number and I had to idea who was it on the phone. For some reason this irritated me so much. I was awake and I wanted to know who tried to contact me. There were just a few options. Then it hit me and I asked myself if this could have been a call from that company I applied for a job some months ago. There was no way to find out. It was about to be a bad day because I had university exams later during that day. I thought to myself – “I should find the phone number of the SiteGround office in Plovdiv, call them, and ask if they wanted to get in touch with me in regards to my application. Worst thing that could happen was to learn that my application has been rejected and nobody has ever decided to let me know.”.
I called my friend and got the phone number. I called the office, introduced myself and asked if they tried to call me earlier today. I expected a really quick phone call and this is what I got. To my surprise, however, the lady on the other end of the phone confirmed that she tried to reach me and she told me I will get a phone call to schedule an interview. And this time she said I better pick up my phone.
When she hung up I stood speechless in the middle of the room for about 5 minutes. Then I got worried and all of the following thoughts hit me at once:
- You should get a new phone you stupid idiot!
- Wait! What? An interview!? But I know nothing! Should I go to this interview?
- Do I really want to apply for this job? The Cisco course was pretty interesting after all.
I had nothing to lose and I decided to go. For about a week I bugged my friend Stanislav with questions almost every day. Technical questions, questions about the interview, questions about the nature of his job, etc. The more I talked to him, the more I got interested and excited about the job. Now that I go back in time, I understand why I wanted the job so much. The things Stanislav told me looked so cool to me. I was like Neo from the Matrix and I wanted to take the red pill and fall into the rabbit hole. Every time I spent time with Stanislav and learned new things. I wanted to not only hear his stories about interesting cases at work, but also be part of the company which in my eyes looked and still looks pretty amazing.
I also realised that I was not prepared for this interview. The first interview was kind of a test made of technical questions you need to answer and problems you need to fix. I knew very little about web hosting, e-mail services and so on. I went to the interview and did not so good.
I was surprised when I got another call in several days and I got invited to a second interview. I went to the second interview and met Niki who is now our CTO. He was the manager of the tech support team at the moment. He told me I did not do great at the test and I had to learn many things in order to become part of the tech support team. He also told me more about the job. I got inspired so much and I wanted the job and I remember that I said two things:
- “I’ll do my best and as long as I don’t have to learn about milling machines and lathes I think I will quickly get on track.”
- “In regards to my monthly check I have no requirements because I have no experience and I just want to see if this is the right job for me. It sure sounds interesting!”
I later found out that Niki also used to study in the same university and obviously my joke was funny.
I got invited to be part of a trainees group and participate in a 2 months long training in the Sofia office. I worked my ass off and studied 8 hours in the office and then another 8 hours at the hotel. The more I learned the more I realised I knew nothing. I was hired after the training but it then took me years to become one of the best technical support team members. I really do believe that such things take time and there is only one way to learn something – just do it regularly and start as soon as possible.
If I have to apply for a job at SiteGround today I probably won’t do it. The guys we hire today know so much more compared to what I knew 10 years ago.
When I am in doubt about doing something I just remember this story. My career started by me dedicating tons of my time learning new things. I also got very lucky with that phone call. Get out of your comfort zone, make that phone call, dedicate time and start learning new things.
FEELINGS! FEELINGS! FEELINGS!
Those who know me will tell you I am not the emotional type of person. I focus first on facts and logic when I make decisions. Those who know me best, however, know that emotions are the single most powerful factor which I take into consideration when it comes to big decisions and communication with other people. I just don’t show this the way other people do.
My job is a really big part of my life. When you work for one and the same company for 10 years it’s inevitable to have feelings for the company and the colleagues/friends you spent so much time with. When I look back at my SiteGround career I see three distinct emotional periods. I want to tell you why each of them is important to me.
The eager-to-learn phase
The first 2-3 years of my career were focused on getting the technical knowledge for my job and generally speaking learning new stuff. Most people ask me why I needed so much time. The answer is that web hosting and cloud computing is pretty complicated and you need to understand many things (I’ll definitely write a separate blog post about this). The more you learn the more you understand and the more you understand you find out there are many other new things you have to learn. And this is damn hard from an emotional perspective.
Every human being has limits and it is really hard to remain curious, creative and passionate when at the same time you are tired and angry that you don’t understand a big chunk of the things you need to understand to do your job. I am grateful that I had some of the best trainers and mentors during those first years at SiteGround. They taught me how to ignore negative emotions and learn new stuff. Some of those people also became my heroes and I wanted to know what they know and be like them.
At some point I understood that I will never learn all the things and the more important thing is to keep the eagerness to learn. When I managed to do this I found out that learning can be a journey and not a goal.
The burnout phase
Ten years is a really really long period of time and people often ask me how I stayed at SiteGround for so long. The truth is that I have changed positions probably 6-7 times – at some point I stopped counting. Doing something new gets you energized and gives you new challenges. This is how I never get bored at SiteGround.
There is, however, another side of the story which I’ve told very few times to my closest friends and family members. I think it is worth sharing it because others may fall into the same trap and I’ll be glad if this blog post helps people avoid such situations.
The truth is that when a person changes positions but still works for the same company very often this person continues to dedicate time to help colleagues from previous departments and can’t let go. I did the same for a long period of time and I was just not able to simply delegate. It doesn’t sound bad at first but believe me sooner or later things will go wrong if you can’t let go of your responsibilities and you continue to try to please everyone and work on many things.
At some point I tried juggling more and more balls and of course I failed. Here are some of the things I tried doing at one and the same time:
- Project management
- Mentoring colleagues
- Technical Support
- Research and Development
- Attending and speaking at conferences
- QA engineering
- Writing blog posts
- Building Enterprise Cloud Infrastructures
I am even sure I missed some of the things but you get the idea. This continued for some time and I kept saying to myself that I will manage to work on all those things and do them properly. Of course there is no way for this to happen even if you sleep just 40-45 hours a week. Even if you manage to cope with all the work there is one thing which will definitely ruin you emotionally – failing to be human and to communicate with other people. When I got to that phase I stopped being polite to colleagues and got angry at people for no obvious reasons. I then I decided I had enough. I am happy I have good friends at work and they helped so much in this case. My advice is to keep an eye on your colleagues/friends and let them know if they are going down the same road. You will spot it much faster than they will. Take good care of them and don’t let them burn out.
The focus phase
Right after the burnout phase I made a decision that I want to focus almost entirely on the SiteGround enterprise product. It was the perfect area of expertise for me because it combines the technical things that I am most interested in and it also presented a new challenge to me – building and managing the SiteGround enterprise team.
When SiteGround introduced the enterprise cloud services about 4 years ago it was just me and one more colleague on the team. Right now we have enterprise sales guys, an enterprise support team and DevOps engineers focused and working specifically on our custom cloud infrastructures. You can’t build something like that without spending almost all of your time and energy on it. I dropped all other things. At the same time I tried to be a good human being and colleague.
I also embraced a give-back culture in order to avoid fatigue and burnout. The logic behind this behavior is that burnout is caused by too much work and focusing on the work itself. This way you lose the focus and bury yourself with more and more meaningless tasks. Giving back on the other hand focuses on people and relationships. When I focused on the people and I started giving back to them I found out something extremely important – people appreciate it when you help them without any reason and are always ready to help you out when you need assistance.
This is how you build a team and a great product. The SiteGround enterprise clients will definitely confirm that this philosophy works 🙂
COMMIT, PUSH, REPEAT
This section of the post is quite short. Don’t have regrets about your past and what could have happened. If you like something, and you believe it’s worth it, commit to it! Do your best! Push the boundaries and repeat until you succeed. The more times you fail in the process, the better. Ultimately you will learn if you really like this thing you are working on and you will become a master of your craft.
The best example I can give you is the story of how I started speaking at conferences. I applied for a lightning talk during an event in the office. I got approved. Our marketing director liked it. I was surprised when they asked me to go to a conference and apply for speaking. My first talks were boring. I still think people did not like them. I almost gave up. I couldn’t let go because I liked presenting. Moreover, I also loved going to conferences. So I found another way to overcome this. I participated in webinars. This way I became more confident at speaking. I remember it took me so much time that I almost gave up again a couple of times. However, I just did it. I decided I have to try to get out of my own comfort zone. I am an experienced speaker now. When you dedicate your time to something, people see that. You make new friends and change your own perception of how things work. You get more focused and more knowledgeable. Simply put you feel satisfied 🙂
A BIG THANKS
Thanks for reading till the end! If one beer was not enough just ping me and I’ll happily get you some beers at a conference 🙂
For me the last 10 years at SiteGround were:
10 years of learning
10 years of meeting new people
10 years of traveling the world
10 years of happy moments
10 years of true friendship
10 years of “Tell me more about why it can’t be done!”
I can’t possibly thank all the people I met because of SiteGround. I’ll try:
- Thanks, Stanislav Katsarov, for telling me about SiteGround.
- Thanks, Niki Todorov, for giving me the chance to work for SiteGround.
- Thanks, Anatoli, Svetlio, Dimo, Nikolay Aleksandrov, Yanislav, Ivan Karpov, for being great trainers and mentors.
- Thanks, Valentin, for being an inspiration and for proving that nothing is impossible.
- Thanks, Hristo, for helping with all things WordPress related.
- Thanks to the whole DevOps team. Thanks, Marian, Mitko and Joro for making the impossible possible.
- Thanks, Tina, Lily and Reni, for helping me with public speaking.
- Thanks, Tenko, Ivo, Reni, for making SiteGround such a cool company.
- Thanks, everyone else, for your dedication!