by Martin Gallwey

Sofia Engineering Summit Builds Connections

As the reality of our Sofia office moved from concept (one engineer working from home) to reality (six engineers working together in a real office), it seemed that the time was ripe to have one of our almost-quarterly Engineering Summits in Bulgaria. We still have several open positions there so I felt it was a good opportunity to meet some of our recruitment partners and personally reaffirm our commitment to investing in, and growing, our office there. We believe that the strong engineering talent we are continuing to find in Sofia will be integral to realising our vision of where we are going with our container-native SQL database.

Distributed SQL Team Joins Together to Create Distributed SQL Database

Our SQL Engineering group is heavily distributed — much like a typical customer deployment of our product —and so we really value the opportunity to get together as a team. Meeting in Sofia was a very welcome variation from meeting in Dublin or at our corporate headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Our Bulgarian colleagues proved to be excellent hosts. We were met at the airport by one of our engineers holding a clipboard, which at first we thought was somewhat tongue in cheek, but later realised that every arrival was being tracked and we were running on a strict schedule. It seems that putting QA people in charge of making sure everything happens on time works quite well!

One of the major reasons we hold frequent summits is to outline our plans for the next 3-4 months (until the next summit) in great detail, but also to sketch out the longer term strategy for the next 9-12 months. We were very fortunate in the timing of the summit, because some of our new hires in Bulgaria were able to make significant contributions almost immediately and help guide our strategy based on their hard-won expertise in the area.

A significant reason for our Engineering Summit is to bring new team members into the same room as our engineers who have been with the company for some time. There’s really no substitute for facetime when you are having highly complex technical conversations. We’re making decisions about how to build and optimize our database, and time in the same room makes it much easier to rapidly achieve consensus.

Bulgarian Workshop

With a distributed team who communicates mostly electronically, we find that face time, combined with sufficient white boards, coffee, and high speed internet are the best way to workshop solutions and quickly reach consensus on an approach. This is more efficient than the usual communication mechanisms such as Google Hangouts, Slack, and email.

Some of the major pieces of feedback from each summit is always the same:

  • Time together is a gift.
  • It is unfortunate that they are so infrequent.
  • It is only through facetime and unstructured time together that we reaffirm our belief and understanding in our shared vision. Without it, we risk the vision fracturing.

Exploring Sofia Restaurants & Sprints

The social element of our engineering summits is at least as important as the technical element. For many of the engineering team, this was our first visit to Sofia, and indeed to Bulgaria. Our newly minted Sofia team did not hesitate to make us feel at home. Stanimir, only weeks into his time with NuoDB, was kind enough to pick many of us up at the airport and drive us to our hotel during rush hour— no mean feat!

Timour and Philip organized our hotel and restaurants for both lunch and dinner. The hotel was described by one of our team members as: “The best hotel I have ever stayed at during any business trip across my entire career.” The restaurants were the right blend of good food and good fun. One highlight was the person in the NASA uniform blow torching my dessert…

Beautifully blowtorched dessert

One of my UK colleagues said that he has never worked at a company with such a fixation on good food. With so many fussy eaters (we have a range from vegans to vegetarians and pescatarians to carnivores) good food can be a challenge — but everyone was catered for brilliantly.

We didn’t just eat and work, however. Sometimes you need to get your body moving to refresh your brain after deep technical discussions. The Borisova Gradina is a great place for a run; we went there several times for lovely long trail runs through the woods. We also bussed the whole team up into the mountains for a run or hike depending on individual preference. This is a selfie we took while stopped next to a waterfall with what would have been lovely views out across Sofia if it hadn’t been for the clouds and rain!

Bulgarian Team Hike

We also met some of the natives - a bit of a novelty for me as we have nothing like this in Ireland:

Wildlife in Bulgaria!

How perfect is this for a run in the mountains?

Run in the Bulgarian Mountains

Sofia is beautiful and I’ve already booked my next trip back. Next time I hope to have more time to explore the city, but I’ll be revisiting some of my favorite restaurants (in particular, the Soul Kitchen — yum). More importantly, I’ll spend more time with our growing engineering team. In the meantime, I plan to build on the face-to-face work we did last week and keep communicating with our distributed team.

Martin Gallwey in Bulgaria

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