The Muselet #33: What Matters

Two weeks ago I announced my time with OLX had ended, but didn’t tell you what was going to be next. I have by now finished my first week at my new company. If you’re following along on LinkedIn you will already know, but that new company is Mattermost. Now, I will not turn these newsletters into an ongoing bragging session about how awesome Mattermost is, because that’s not going to be very helpful for you (at least until my hiring spree starts). However, I thought at least to start, I wanted to give some context on what Mattermost is, about my role, and why I joined. No matter what (it will be very hard to use the word “matter” with a straight face going forward, but we’ll deal with it) it will start to affect the topics I’ll be covering, so it good to understand where it comes from.

Let’s go.

What is Mattermost

You can think of Mattermost as an open core (open source with some closed enterprise premium features), self-hosted or cloud alternative to Slack and MS Teams. Its primary audience is IT and DevOps teams. Of course, it will serve any type of use case, but in terms of extensions and integrations, you’ll find Mattermost is stronger in the IT/DevOps area than other places. If you want to get a feel for it, join the Community server (which is the same instance the company runs on), sign up for a cloud instance (free for up to 10 people), or spin up a cheap VPS somewhere and install it yourself (I have one running on a $5/month Linode). 

Of course there are web, desktop and mobile clients and a comprehensive API. This is what the desktop app looks like:

If you use Slack or MS Teams: you know this type of tool. There are some differences (some more significant than others), but overall the concepts are the same.

Who is using it? It’s used a fair amount in the open source community, and by companies that value security and controlling their data a lot. For instance, banks, insurance companies, financial institutions, government agencies. However, as I announced my move to Mattermost, I learned that for instance my former university uses it, and a whole bunch of people from my professional network tell me “oh Mattermost, that’s cool, we use it too!” Obviously, Mattermost isn’t as dominant as Slack or MS Teams (yet) but it’s growing.

Why I joined Mattermost

I summarized why I joined Mattermost in a tweet storm last weekend, but let me replicate it here (edited):

There are many reasons I’m excited about joining Mattermost:

  1. Working on a product that is dog food’ed (dog fed?) to an extreme, that is: Mattermost uses Mattermost heavily to develop and operate Mattermost. How many products are there that can claim that? It reminds me of my Cloud9 IDE days.

  2. Working on open source again. I started my open source journey 20 years ago with YaBB (when “bulletin boards” or “forums” where all the rage) and have started and contributed to various open source projects since (e.g. persistence.jsAceNixOSZedAx — many of them now defunct), but less so in the last few years. I always really enjoyed working with the open source community, and Mattermost seems like a place that values that.

  3. Working in a remote-first company for the first (hah) time. I worked remote for three years after moving to Poland, but never in a fully distributed set up. I’m very interested to see and iterate on these practices of asynchronous working. 

  4. Being a bit more hands on again. In the engineering lead role I will need to figure out if it’s best to spend my time on pure management stuff, or I can get to write some code again. For sure I’ll be involved with concrete feature development, which is great. 

  5. Mattermost, compared to OLX Group (about 10k employees) is a smaller company (about 150 people), a start-up in growth mode. Fast moving, lots still to figure out and scale. 

  6. The tech stack. Purposely put on the last spot, because it doesn’t matter most (ahahahah), but I appreciate it anyway: React, React Native, TypeScript, Go: awesome. 

In terms of product, there’s a few things that make Mattermost particularly interesting to me:

  1. It’s significant more open than any of the serious competition. Most obviously: most of it is open source, but even if you don’t want to dig into the core product, the amount of stuff you can extend without touching the core product is pretty wild.

  2. The world is slowly coming to realize that just a few companies in the world owning all our data is somewhat scary. I see a trend to more decentralized and privacy oriented alternatives. I definitely see Mattermost as very well positioned in this wave. With Mattermost you’re in full control: you can host it on premise if you like, and in the cloud deeply isolate it from other customers, you will never be locked in. 

  3. With a focus on engineering teams as primary audience, it’s a natural fit to get a lot of community engagement as well as internal. Engineers building tools for engineers. That’s the dream. 

My role

My role is “Engineering Lead” which is equivalent to what is known as engineering manager in other places. This means I’m going to be significantly more hands-on than where I ended up at OLX Group. I’m perfectly comfortable with that. My team is the “Core Features” team, whose scope we still have to fully iron out. The primary project right now is “collapsible reply threads” (yes, Slack has had these for a long time, they’re coming soon in Mattermost) which is extremely concrete and core to the product. And looking at the designs, I think we’ll do something better here than what Slack has, so whoop!

Early remote and async culture observations

As I mentioned one the reasons I joined Mattermost is to experience a “proper” remote-first company, the other is to see how Mattermost dogfoods its own product. 

A few random observations after the first week:

  • Meetings tend to be either 25 or sometimes 55 minutes (to allow a 5 minute break). Simple idea. I like it. As a result, everybody seems to be joining meetings in time. 

  • Also regarding time zones and meetings: there are no regular meetings scheduled on Fridays to allow people to start their weekends nicely.

  • This entire week the only email I’ve received is auto generated coming from tools we use (Google, software license information, Github). I only received 1 email from a person: a forward with info about a new person starting in my team. The rest is all on Mattermost. 

  • Timezones, so many timezones. Luckily, I can see them in Mattermost for the people I talk to, and most meetings happen in (for me) reasonable hours.

  • Regarding timezones it took me a few days to figuring out the proper messaging etiquette: should I consider the timezone of the recipient when sending a message? Conclusion: no, just send messages whenever and assume you will not get an immediate response. What I now have to learn myself is disable or ignore notifications to properly switch off. I’ll get there.

Alright. I think that’s enough context for now. As I said, I don’t intend to turn this into a Mattermost-so-awesome newsletter, but I imagine you were probably curious about what I was up to and why.

That said. It’s Friday as I write this. And Friday is “Open Source Friday” at Mattermost, where we’re encouraged to contribute to open source projects we benefit from as a means to “give back.” So let me get to my coding.