patkua@work

The intersection of technology and leadership

11 years at ThoughtWorks

I had planned to write a 10 years at ThoughtWorks post but was busy on a sabbatical learning a real language (German!) This year, I decided to get around to writing an anniversary post. One of the current impressive employee benefits for long-time employees is a 12-week paid break (it’s mandatory law in Australia but not true around the world).

When I think about my time here at ThoughtWorks, I can’t believe that I have been here so long. I still remember, after graduating from University, thinking how unlikely I would stay with a company for more than two years because I wanted to learn, change and grow. I thought that would be difficult in a permanent position in any other company. I wanted to stay in the zone but also find an opportunity to do interesting work. Consulting proved to be a good middle ground for what I was looking for.

What a ride it has been. Oh, and it’s still going, too 🙂

Facts

Like most companies, ThoughtWorks has changed and evolved over time.

  • When I started, we had (I’m guessing) about 10 offices in four countries. As of this post, we have 30 offices in 12 countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Ecuador, Germany, India, Singapore, South Africa, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States) in some places I would never have guessed we would have had offices.
  • When I started, we had maybe 500 employees worldwide. We now have around between 2500-3000 people.
  • When I started, we were pretty much a consulting firm doing software development projects. Since then we now have a product division, a highly integrated UX capability, and are influencing companies at the CxO level which means a different type of consulting (whilst still keeping to our core offering of delivering effective software solutions).

We don’t always get things right, but I do see ThoughtWorks takes risks. In doing so, that means trying things and being prepared to fail or succeed. Although we have grown, I have found it interesting to see how our culture remains, in some ways very consistent, but adapts to the local market cultures and constraints of where we are operating. When I have visited our Brazilian offices, I felt like it was TW but with a Brazilian flavour, likewise when I visit our German offices.

Observations

I find it constantly interesting talking to alumni or people who have never worked for ThoughtWorks to see what their perceptions are. With some alumni, they have a very fixed perception of what the company is like (based on their time with the company) and it’s interesting to contrast that view with my own, given that the company constantly changes.

We are still (at least here in the UK) mostly a consulting firm, and so some of the normal challenges with running a consulting business still apply, both from an operational perspective, and being a consultant out on the field. Working on client site often means travel, and still affected by the ebbs and flows of customer demand around client budgeting cycles.

Based on my own personal observations (YMMV) we, as a company, have got a lot better about leadership development and support (although there is always opportunity to improve). I also find that we tend, on average, to get more aligned clients and have opportunities to have a greater impact. We have become better at expressing our values (The Three Pillars) and finding clients where we can help them and they are ready for that help.

It is always hard to see colleagues move on as it means building new relationships but that is always a reality in all firms, and occurs often even more so in consulting firms. After coming back from sabbatical I had to deal with quite a bit of change. Our office had moved, a significant part of our management team had changed, and of course there were lots of new colleagues who I hadn’t met. At the same time, I was surprised to see how many long-time employees (and not just operational people) were still around and it was very comforting to reconnect with them and renew those relationships.

Highlights

I’ve been particularly proud of some of the impact and some of the opportunities I have had. Some of my personal highlights include:

  • Being the keynote speaker for the 2000-attendee Agile Brazil conference.
  • Publishing my first book, The Retrospective Handbook, a book that makes the agile retrospective practice even more effective.
  • Publishing my second book, Talking with Tech Leads, a book that collects the experiences of Tech Leads around the world aimed at helping new or existing Tech Leads improve their skills.
  • Developing a skills training course for Tech Leads that we run internally. It’s a unique experiential course aimed at raising awareness of and developing the skills developers need when they play the Architect or Tech Lead roles. I may even have an opportunity of running it externally this year.
  • Being considered a role model for how ThoughtWorks employees can have impact on both clients, the industry and within our own company.

1 Comment

  1. Natasha Postolovski

    May 16, 2015 at 3:00 am

    Hi Pat, my name is Natasha Postolovski and I’m a new ThoughtWorker (Grad Dev) based in Melbourne, Australia. I’ve really been enjoying your writing, books, and talks. I’m interested in being a Tech Lead one day – still so much to learn! – but have found your teachings really useful.

    Hopefully our paths cross someday!

    Natasha

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