One of my New Year’s resolutions is to write more on this blog. After taking a break in 2023, I realized that I miss writing in public. Additionally, I have accumulated a decent backlog of rough ideas, so I have a plan of topics that I want to cover. I believe there are significant changes happening in the tech sector in Romania and Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) as a whole, so I want to delve a bit into providing commentary and advice on this topic!

I’m now 6 months into my adventure with Stripe in Romania, so I thought I’d share my impressions and surprises thus far. It’s a change from what I was doing at Bolt, but I’ll cover the differences in more detail in a follow-up post.

Stripe is a surprisingly dynamic place. There are re-orgs, changes in direction, urgent projects that need attention, etc. However, I perceive this thing as positive and healthy. It indicates that there is ongoing progress towards something better! I was looking for this sort of setup when leaving Bolt, but I was concerned that Stripe, being an older company with experienced individuals in a regulated industry, would be more “settled” and my only source of dynamism would be the bootstrap. It turns out that is not the case.

Engineering management is much more product oriented. Each company does engineering management slightly differently. At Stripe managers have a lot more say in product direction, and many times act as the final owner of a particular piece of the product. At the same time, they’re expected to be deep enough in the weeds of problems, even those folks that lead large organizations. The manager archetype most common is that of the proactive front-lines leader, than that of a supportive leader.

There’s a firehose of information. The culture is heavily focused on writing and tends to produce a large volume of written artifacts. Additionally, people often iterate on the same idea multiple times for different forums, resulting in a potentially low signal-to-noise ratio of any one doc. It requires a special skill to determine how much time should be allocated to each document and how to manage time effectively to absorb all of this information.

We have a clear understanding of our strengths and weaknesses. While Stripe is not a perfect place and there are areas where we could improve, we are constantly striving to do better. We are highly analytical in tracking our progress and improvements. Although I wasn’t present at the beginning, it’s gratifying to witness the enhancements in focus time, understanding of our strategy, and reduction in wasteful work that folks report now.

Building high-availability systems is an act of will. Nowadays, achieving 3 or 4 nines of availability is decently easy by following “standard practice”. However, Stripe aims for 5 and even 6 nines. This is not just a technical choice, but a deliberate business decision that affects the entire organization and shapes our approach to building and operating systems. One notable example is our tech ops review, where leaders from across the company gather weekly to discuss incidents, remedial actions, track SLAs, and drive systematic improvements across the board.

The company is part of the zeitgeist. For a private company, Stripe is very public. It’s deeply embedded in the startup world and Silicon Valley, it is a lot of folks’ top of mind when they think of payment processing, and we work with a lot of well known clients. It’s an interesting experience to be in a place that regularly features on HackerNews, or where famous folks in the industry work or have worked.

My role is very fluid. My initial priority is to bootstrap the site and ensure the success of Stripe in Romania, as well as the success of the Romania site within Stripe. It’s not a traditional engineering mission, but it’s crucial for the company as a whole. My approach is to do whatever is necessary to make things work, whether it’s making large-scale changes to the interview process or ordering office snacks. Additionally, I handle sourcing, selling, and conduct many interviews. It’s a “choose your own adventure”-situation with a broad range of success criteria and multiple paths to achieve them.

On the other hand, I was expecting to work with a lot of great folks, and there are indeed a lot of great folks around. Ditto, I am really excited about the people we hired so far in the Romania office - they’re great humans and great professionals too! Finally, I was looking for a place that would recreate the magical first years at Bolt with hyper-growth and a lot of challenges and opportunities, and Stripe seems to be indeed that place.

That’s all for now, I promised myself I’ll write more atomic posts, so ti’ll next time, stay frosty!