Who makes The Book of Everyone? Well – YOU do, of course. But there’s a whole team of marvellous people behind the scenes that make it possible. This series looks at who they are: what makes them tick and what makes them – and you – shine.
To make a book like no one’s ever seen before, you need a tech team that can tackle problems no one’s ever solved before.
Zi Makki is the guy that makes it happen.
After months of popping back and forth between London and Barcelona, he finally made the move to Spain to become our CTO [Chief Technical Officer]. I sat him down for a coffee to find out what drew him and his family here for good – beyond the sand, sunshine, and sangría.
Turns out Zi’s got enough experience in other start-up companies to know that the standard way of running dev teams is totally out of whack. His experience includes “psycho ball-breaker bosses,” vertical power structures that stop efficiency before it starts, and endless arguments about underscores.
Writing extra complicated code on purpose is far too common, driven by hierarchies that encourage developers to padlock their own work over seeking the easiest, most legible solution.
“It makes it so that it seems like what you’re doing could only ever be done by you,” Zi tells me. “Coding is hard, but bad management leads to overengineering – like NASA and the pen.”
The famous story Zi’s referencing is from back in the 1960s, when NASA realised that regular pens wouldn’t function in space. They spent millions of taxpayer dollars on developing a high-tech Space Pen that worked without gravity. The Russians, however, took a pencil.
Many dev teams focus on completing the given task at all costs without considering whether there might be a better approach to the problem itself. Giant releases only happen on a quarterly basis, meaning change is slow at best.
So when Zi got started with The Book of Everyone, the first thing he did was enable a continuous integration server. Basically, this means no giant releases: every time someone writes even a small improvement to the code, it’s released within minutes. That way, everyone can see changes to the code as they happen. If something breaks, it’s obvious what did it.
Saying “this is live” is a big deal for devs – it means their code’s about to be put to the test. For Zi, it’s critical to have a team that has the confidence to announce “this is live” several times each and every day, day in and day out.
Zi’s team must be able to jump into any part of the code, whether front end, back end, or database. “I believe in full stack devs – as a developer, you should be able to talk to anyone,” says Zi. “I don’t even hire based on coding languages – I´d rather hire polyglot developers who are problem solvers.”
That said, the tech team at The Book of Everyone uses a particularly unusual language and framework: Elixir and Phoenix. “A lot of CTOs think you’re crazy,” Zi laughs, “because how are you going to find staff if you use such an uncommon language? The thing is, because there are so few Elixir devs, it’s a self-selected group, usually full of passion for developing.”
I liken it to Harry Potter fans versus JK Rowling fans. I’m a huge fan of Hogwarts – who isn’t? – but if you love The Cormoran Strike Novels, I can already guess that we’ve got a ton in common.
Zi susses these cutting-edge devs out of the crowd by hosting an Elixir meetup in Barcelona, which actually takes place in the very same office as The Book of Everyone.
When considering whether someone new would make a good fit for the team, Zi tosses CVs aside and looks at someone’s presence in the developer community: “If you have a GitHub profile, if you’ve got blog articles, if you’ve worked on open source software, then I’m interested in having a conversation with you.” If that conversation goes well, then a second one takes place with at least one other random person from the team, because the right person is going to be right for everyone.
The final step is an assessment of technical ability, which most organisations present as a type of standardised test. But Zi’s looking for passion as well as skill, so asks candidates to bring in a code base that they’ve built themselves on their own laptop, present a feature that they want to add to it, and create it right then and there, with the help of someone random from the team.
And if the fit is right? As Zi’s found out, Barcelona is a fine – and sunny – base of operations. The TBOE position enticed him to pack up thirteen years of London life and make a move down south along with his partner Daria and young daughter Mia. These days, in sharp contrast to drizzly London, Mia spends the majority of her time in Barcelona outdoors – dancing, whooping, and loving it.
“It’s a very flexible office environment,” Zi explains, “In order to do our job, we don’t really need to be in the office – but most people enjoy coming in anyway, because this is a project that we do as a team. It’s an extremely interesting problem to be solving.”
If you’re a passionate developer interested in solving extremely interesting problems, check out our job posting, or just get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org and start the conversation. We’re always looking to meet people who absolutely love what they do, and we’re hiring.