The journey in MPM as a software engineer
September 7, 2014
This is a shortened version of being a Software Engineer in MPM. MPM was providing mobile payment service for both consumers and merchants. Merchants could have a whole new channel to interact with their customers and vice versa.
I am the employee #41 of the company. When I first met Alan, I felt the prospect of the company is very great. Her value proposition was so high because she positioned herself perfectly as the enabler of new commerce and allowed merchant to have a better insight of their customers. If we succeed, the benefit will be so high and everyone will be a fool not to join.
Finanical sweetness aside, the work environment was very attractive too. When I met Kenth, the scrum master of the company, he enthusiastically introduced the scrum board 3000, and I was sold immediately. Back then I was very dogmatic about process and thought agile and scrum will be the only way to do software and I am very drawn to the scrum board. The stickers, the Todo-doing-done sections, the title “Scrum board 3000” on the board makes me almost jizzed . Combining with the ambitious plans drawn by Alan and Kenth, made a very sweet offer that I simply could not refused.
After saying goodbye to the sweet ex-colleague and family like old company, I started experiencing the Scrum process. The stand-up, the scrum board, the 3M sticker that always falls take over my daily life. All of this was very new to me and I like new things. Everyday I am improving, both in craftmanship and communication skills. Although we were working day in and day out, putting in 60 hours per week in work, we were contented. The team was very strong and very open to teach young padawan. Davey, my superior is a very skilled and very smart Android developer, he refined my code immersely. Also Jerry and Desmond is the backend team champion, they have taught me how to think in system. I also met Bruce, who shared the same clan name with me. He and Kenth make me understands what a true leader should be - be over trusting to his suboordinate and do anything to help the team. Also Roy, who is so talented and pocess depth of knowledge no one can rival. Most importantly my bro in university, Eason is always a good company in such rough journey. Surrounded by such a talented team with no missing pieces, I must work extra hard to be up to standard.
1.0 and the golden transaction
One of the irony of life is that, the time flied fast when people are happy. The 5-month crunch seemed to be so short and fulfilling. We had our “golden trancsaction” on the 2013-01-29. The whole company gathered in the lobby of office. I was helping the courier to hold the merchant application for the courier. Our manager in business development Leanne holding the consumer app, and we did the first ever production transaction in front of the whole company. I am still thrilled by the scene. I was one step forward to my dream. The celebrating wiskey never taste so good.
The plan for 1.5
After the 1.0 is released, we were expecting minimal downloads. This is understandable as this should be a pilot program among pilot merchants. We received some feedback from the customer and Alex decided we are heading the right direction, but we need some very advanced features. But we have little time to market. We needed to deliver 1.5 version before the fall season. Hence our CTO decided that the whole development team needed to work extra miles for the company. The death march hence commenced in April for two months. The management promised there will be time to clear up technical debts afterwards. And our overtime would be paid. The development team was not impressed by such policy. Although I was not very happy by such policy, but I complied because there is hope in the company. The team is strong and hitting target by target with such a precision. With the addition of a very talented architect Leonard, I have to say we had the best team in Hong Kong. But God is a naughty boy with a magnifying glass. This time he put the glass on us.
The death of Scrum
After a 6 week long march, we were being hit by a truck. For whatever reason, our product didn't work as Alex, our founder and CEO think. We had to redo some parts of the product. I guess because of this, he has called for a all-hands meeting and relocate Kenth and Bruce, the two avocate of Scrum inside the company to product team, effectively ending SCRUM as a practice. I am still constantly thinking about agile manifesto and the implication of it in a Hong Kong team and big team. By that time I am convinced by the convention wisdom of Jacky Cheng, 'Chinese must be managed and orderd around'.
So I picked myself up, thought SCRUM is just a process, and Leonard is now our rockstar, introducing saltstack, jenkins and other open source software to the company. With such a great addition to the development team, I accepted that the fact scrum is clearly not working for us and carried on.
Auto-build tools and Charity Run
After the death march, the 1.5 release was considered as a internal release. As the feature set is too big and the product was very flaky. The investors were impressed nonetheless. The next round of funding arrived and we could concentrate on delivering values to the company. I am focusing on team building and improving toolings in the team. We joined the charity run of unicef and over 10 of us join in to the event. All of us have practiced weekly and won themselves.
Another achievement we show was a deployment tool created using Jenkins and shell script. Thanks to Roy, Joseph and Davey to clear obstacle for us, Eason, Gary the configuration specialist, Dino the software engineer in test and I could form a small task force to deal with the manual deployment process and sped up the process from up to half day to at most 5 minutes.
Although I was able to deliever values to the development team, I failed to see the big picture was starting to crumble, with no merchant willing to pay for our product in a meaningful way, the sendiment of wasted effort was rampart in the IT team. I feel the problem is not whether IT use any process, is the inate distrust between sales team and development team that had problem. All I could perceive is the user figure doesn't goes up and less all-hands meeting was held to announce our progress with merchants.
The downward spiral
In the meantime, the investors were becoming more skeptical and issued funding in a cautious way. The upkeep is high with so many headcount. Rumors ran amok and morale is low. Eason and I tried to keep our head above the water. The water occasionally overflew but I was convinced this is what startup means. But the rollercoaster of emotions even in the employee level is taking us a toll in personally well-being.
Even in such a low time, the management seems to have different priorities higher than maintaining morale. The stock option plan is at last in place and I received less than 0.01% of the company ownership as the expected valuation of the company is a quarter of Dropbox. DAS IST UNGLAUBLISH. I immediately switched from startup mode to employee mode, putting my side projects in a higher priority than work.
Merger with PWA
In this April, rumors of aquiciation was getting confirmed by Alex in an all hands meeting. We were at last relived as we had job security at last. PWA is a company offering similar solution and received 10-fold of our fundings. It is based in UK and owned by a high profile serial entrepeneur. Our relief didn't last long. Someone looked online for some information of the company which acquired us as didn't looks good. The employer-employee relationship is so bad that some of the ex-employee even went to those second tier news website to bash the founder and CEO of the company.
Bruised and broken closure
The announcement of a 5 week project to smash two products to one is a laughable attempt. I found all the comment on the interweb is true. And I found the goal of the company is not going the direction I would like to be. I literally gave up and started looking for another journey.
This journey is a very thrilling and life-enriching. I never regret working with such a great team, but when I has more experience, I learned a lot of coding as well as living in an international environment. But my coding practice need to be brushed up as it goes rusty amid crises.