Career Growth and Leadership at Givery

Career Growth and Leadership at Givery
August 25th, 2023

In this episode, host interviews Lucian Sargeant, a software engineer at Givery. Lucian discusses his role as a team leader and backend engineer, emphasizing the company's focus on delivering high-quality software. He explains his daily routine, which includes checking production logs, reviewing tasks, and engaging in code review and meetings. Lucian also touches on the positive company culture at Givery. Tune in to learn more about Lucian's experiences and insights at Givery.


In this episode, host interviews Lucian Sargeant, a software engineer at Givery. Lucian discusses his role as a team leader and backend engineer, emphasizing the company's focus on delivering high-quality software. He explains his daily routine, which includes checking production logs, reviewing tasks, and engaging in code review and meetings. Lucian also touches on the positive company culture at Givery. Tune in to learn more about Lucian's experiences and insights at Givery.


Ryohei Watanabe: So hello everybody. I'm here with Lucian Sargeant. He is a software engineer at Givery. Thanks for coming on, man.

Lucian Sargeant: Thank you for having me.

Ryohei Watanabe: So Lucian can you introduce yourself and tell the audience what you do at Givery?

Lucian Sargeant: Yes, sure. So my name is Lucian Sargeant. I'm a backend software engineer at Givery. I've been working here for a year. Recently I was promoted to a team leader position. So on top of my existing backend responsibilities, I have a few additional responsibilities just to represent the team in terms of any issues that might arise and kind of help keep processes streamlined.

Ryohei Watanabe: Cool. And so as a team leader and a backend engineer, can you describe what a day looks like in Lucian's life?

Lucian Sargeant: Yeah, sure. So I think something that we pride ourself on at Givery is that we deliver high quality software. So we very seldomly have any production issues. All of our production logs or our error logs are piped into Slack. So to answer your question, kind of average day will start with me checking those production logs to see if there's been any issues through the night. There's almost never any issues and any issues that do arise, the majority of them are solved during working hours. So that's one of the things we like about working here. Generally speaking from there onwards, I will start to review the tasks that I've been assigned for the sprint.

Lucian Sargeant: Whatever I'm currently busy with, I'll do some work on. Personally, I like to do my focus work early in the day. So I'll do my deep work then and sort of as the day progresses, I'll transition into things like code review, maybe some one-on-ones with the other team members, some meetings and things like that. Nice.

Ryohei Watanabe: Can you speak a little bit about the overall company culture at Givery?

Lucian Sargeant: Yeah, I think I can. I think it's very inclusive. Before I came here, I was a little bit worried about coming to work for a Japanese company. I had no experience with any Japanese companies and I kind of heard horror stories, you know, how things can be very strict and there's lots of expectations for overtime and things like that. So I really didn't know what to expect. In the interviews, everyone seemed very nice and I was hopeful. Now that I've arrived, I was very pleasantly surprised. In my previous position, I really enjoyed it and I didn't think that I was going to find a better job, but I think I've found that here, which has been a nice surprise. I think everyone is just very helpful. I think that stands out to me. No one shies away from responsibility. I think that's probably the best way to phrase it. People take charge of what tasks they're assigned and they do them to the fullest. So yeah, that's always just a relief to know that the people that are receiving the tasks are going to do them well and you know, you can kind of rest easy.

Ryohei Watanabe: I guess your job as team leader becomes quite easy at that point.

Lucian Sargeant: Very little friction.

Ryohei Watanabe: Is there like a specific aspect of the culture that's important to you personally?

Lucian Sargeant: I would say kind of just apart from all the day to day working aspects, I think there's a general sense of camaraderie here that maybe I haven't experienced before. People kind of will almost go out of their way to be friendly and get to know you a little bit. It's not just a job and it doesn't feel that way. Yeah, I think I've made some genuine friends here that I'll probably have the rest of my life and yeah, so I think that's important to me.

Ryohei Watanabe: So apart from having an awesome team leader like yourself, what do you think contributes most to your team's camaraderie?

Lucian Sargeant: That's a difficult one. I think up till now, and we've discussed this a little bit, I think a lot of it comes down to hiring. I think people who are in charge of like, you know, reaching out to new people and fielding resumes and stuff and then the actual interviews themselves, they get a very good sense for the personality of new hires. And up till now I think quite a few people have been hired since I arrived and all of them just seem to gel so well with the team. So yeah, I think it's, I think it's that personality sort of detector one might say that helps a lot.

Ryohei Watanabe: So you said that everyone's helpful and everyone or nobody shies away from responsibility. When I hear this, I think of like the value at Givery called give and give. Why is give and give an important value or is it the same thing as what you were talking about earlier or is it something different?

Lucian Sargeant: I think it's the same thing. I think it ties in. I think perhaps in other jobs one can, one can feel a bit siloed perhaps and you get assigned your task and all you really want to do is finish that task and that's kind of, you know, where it ends. But with everyone giving and giving as it goes,

Lucian Sargeant: I think what you start to find is that it's actually a very rewarding process. So you come to be able to depend on your team members and even if you might go a

Lucian Sargeant: little bit above and beyond what is expected of you for the current task, you know you will receive that back from everyone else. So it creates this general environment where everyone is just very giving and as a result it makes a lot of collaboration a lot easier. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: I imagine that what you're describing is like really depends on like I guess trust as in once if you do good work, you know it's going to come back around in that way.

Lucian Sargeant: Yeah, definitely. I definitely agree with that and I think there is a lot of trust here. I at least trust my colleagues a lot. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: Apart from I guess hiring, is there any way that like the company helps facilitate the I guess creation of trust between the team members or is hiring more than enough to do that?

Lucian Sargeant: I think if I were to think about it, I think the team members themselves facilitate trust between each other. I wouldn't say it's imposed by management or anything like that. I think just based on the quality of work that people produce, generally there is trust between different team members. Yeah. And then I think there's also some additional things like sort of after work functions and they might be silly, but like we'll have a little pizza party at the office and do some like strange team building activity, you know, where we try build the highest tower out of chopsticks or something like that. Right. And like on the face of it, it might seem a bit silly, but I think it helps sort of bridge the gap between different teams just because maybe everyone on a day to day basis don't get to work together. And those little things definitely help to get people out of their silos and talking to other people and just generally like building a better team, I think.

Ryohei Watanabe: So you talked about there are separate teams at Givery. Can you explain what those teams are and how the it's kind of set up in terms of who you work with the most and how you get the work done?

Lucian Sargeant: Yeah, sure. So generally speaking, we have kind of our three products. So there's the track test team, the track training team and the track jobs team. I'm currently working on the track test team and a fair amount of the time the work we do on the track test team is quite isolated. Obviously we have consideration for how we fit into the ecosystem as a whole, but individual functionality that's added to our product doesn't necessarily affect the other products. What we do do though, that we've introduced fairly recently that I think works very well to kind of bring down the walls and prevent siloing is to have biweekly meetings where all the teams will come together and sort of discuss the work that they've been doing and see whether any of the work has any kind of unintended implications for the other projects because sometimes we'll be making some change and not realize that it doesn't actually affect one of the other products. So I think this meeting has been quite pivotal in terms of identifying issues early as we kind of start work on things to make sure we catch when one change might affect everyone else.

Ryohei Watanabe: I see. Yeah. So apart from the biweekly meeting that you just described, is there anything that you are expected to communicate in terms of getting your job done or anything within your purview as a team leader and a software engineer?

Lucian Sargeant: Do you mean to communicate that to management or just to other people on your

Ryohei Watanabe: team in terms of, so I guess the question is trying to get at how work is done here in terms of tickets and how that product requirements are made.

Lucian Sargeant: Yeah, sure. I can expand on that a little bit. So I think we, in our team, we have two week long sprints. We use Jira to manage our ticketing and people will be assigned things quite organically based on what they're interested in working on and their availability. From there a sprint will start and we will have daily standups which just helps keep everyone on the same page and if there are any issues we can kind of get through them as a team and unblock each other. What we like to do is in the morning we have like a check-in system on Slack. Everyone just sort of sends a short description of what they plan to work on during the day just so we can all be on the same page of what everyone is doing and then at the end of the day we have a little checkout message where we just indicate what we've managed to accomplish. Cool.

Ryohei Watanabe: I wanted to go back to, I guess, your career here so far at Givery. When you think about the you that joined and the you now, what do you think has been the biggest change?

Lucian Sargeant: Okay, that's an interesting one.

Lucian Sargeant: I think prior to coming to Givery I had started to find myself in more leadership kind of positions but nothing as formal as now. Yeah, I think that's probably been the biggest change. I was honestly a little bit nervous to accept the position since I didn't have any experience being a team leader up until now but I'm very thankful I did. It's been an interesting challenge. I think up until this point my career has probably been characterized more by technical skills than soft skills. I've always tried to keep my soft skills stretched. I don't know what the correct term is there. But yeah, now I'm getting the opportunity to kind of delve into more soft skill based things and it's been interesting. What have you learned so far as team leader in terms of just soft skills

Ryohei Watanabe: and how to do them well? Or how to do your job well? Yeah, it's still quite fresh.

Lucian Sargeant: It's only been a few months. So maybe I can't expand too much on that. But I think just generally listening to the team I guess. I think as an individual on a team it can sometimes be easy to sort of be involved in your own tasks and not quite realize that you're doing tasks and not quite realize when other people are facing some issues. And I don't think we have any major issues at Givery. But there's like small day to day things that might be irritating about the code base or certain processes that might provide a bit of friction and things like that. That perhaps people don't necessarily always speak openly about in a public space. So I suppose that's been interesting just to see, get a bit of a behind the scenes view of how things work.

Ryohei Watanabe: So apart from being someone that listens and helps solve those kinds of issues, when you think about the kind of team leader that you're trying to be, do you have any other goals apart from being a good listener?

Lucian Sargeant: Yes, I think I do. I think in previous positions I've always admired people in management positions who aren't too hands on. I don't like the management style of kind of micromanaging. And I think the more trust that you can give to people and the more opportunities you can give them to kind of show what they're capable of without being too involved in that process, I think it gives them a chance to shine. So I'm trying to do that.

Ryohei Watanabe: So I feel like this idea that giving people the trust and the opportunity to kind of grow their skills is actually the best path forward. It's like a cultural tenet here at Givery in terms of just personal growth. Do you know what Givery does to kind of support this kind of culture of personal growth? Just I guess in a more abstract way I guess.

Lucian Sargeant: Yeah, I can I suppose speak about that on abstract and a more specific level. What I've found and has been a pleasant surprise is that what one wants to work on here is not so rigidly defined. In other places where I've worked, it's been a bit more siloed. I think that's probably the best way to describe it. Where you might be excelling within the team that you're in, but if you wanted to do some, I don't know, work with DevOps, it was just not possible because there was a dedicated DevOps team and you shouldn't go near there. And so far I've found that basically whatever you're interested in here at Givery, there isn't that kind of restrictive feeling. If you want to get involved in some of the kind of architecture of how the infrastructure for a new feature might look, you're perfectly at liberty to do so and suggest, I don't know, approaches that might not have been considered or get involved with the infrastructure team. Yeah, that's really cool.

Ryohei Watanabe: Can you talk a little bit about TrackTest and kind of the product vision for what you guys are trying to solve and achieve with that product?

Lucian Sargeant: Yeah, sure. So I think probably at the core of it, what we're trying to do is help people find their dream jobs and enable companies to better find those candidates in perhaps a large pool of people who may be suitable and may not be suitable. And kind of narrow down that pool into something that connects the right people and gets people working where they should be and where they want to be.

Ryohei Watanabe: Is there anything about the difficulty of solving that problem that somebody outside of Givery might not understand in terms of how you do help people get their dream jobs? Is it a harder problem than it looks on the outside? Although it does look like a hard problem on the outside anyways.

Lucian Sargeant: There's definitely a lot of technical concerns and technical problems to solve just in terms of us supporting our various coding challenges in different languages and making sure that our infrastructure scales accordingly when we have periods of high traffic and things like that. In terms of actually the connection process and applicants and people who will be using the software on a more organizational level, I can't really think of specific difficulties there.

Ryohei Watanabe: Just in terms of working on the right thing, the people that I've talked to at Givery have said that you guys do stuff for the customer. Do you know how Givery ensures that you guys are working on the right features and the right things for your users?

Lucian Sargeant: What we tend to do is we have quite a staged process. We have project owners for each of the products that spend a lot of time considering how new features might impact customers and how changing things might impact them as well. We go through quite a rigorous process of assessing what... We have a backlog of features and we have a rigorous process of assessing which of those is going to provide the most value to customers. We have a dedicated customer service team that's often working closely with the customers and as a result are receiving feedback about the product. What ends up happening is they will receive that feedback and then based on the process I just described of going through the backlog and our project owner, they'll be in close contact with the customer service team and any kind of requests from customers will go through a refinement process, end up in our backlog, be prioritized and we'll end up working on what we think to be the most valuable things.

Ryohei Watanabe: Is there a particular aspect about how Givery designs their products or I guess designs, figures out what to work on or in terms of the work itself that you like and that you find is important to you?

Lucian Sargeant: Sorry, could you repeat the question?

Ryohei Watanabe: Sure. I guess the question would be what do you like about working here as an engineer?

Lucian Sargeant: Yeah, I like a lot of things. I think on a very personal level, like I hold code quality in high esteem and in other places it sometimes seems like it's not prioritized, things are very feature driven and we as engineers often aren't given time to prioritize technical improvements that we want to. That'll just make our kind of everyday lives easier, you know, adding some new tool or something to our CICD pipeline or something like that, you know. And here at Givery, we are given the opportunity to do that, yeah, with a lot of value. It's not just sort of an afterthought, kind of at the end of the sprint, you know, if you have two hours left, you can do something. We have dedicated time to do technical improvements and what is very nice is that everyone is very on board with them and we reach consensus about how things should be done quite easily and then based on that approach, we like to sort of employ the Boy Scouts rule, so as you move through the code base and you're working on a feature, we try to leave the code better than we found it. So I think through those small incremental changes along with dedicated refactors, we keep the code very healthy.

Ryohei Watanabe: Must be a joy to work in.

Lucian Sargeant: It is nice.

Ryohei Watanabe: So I guess the last question from me is during your software developer career, what have you learned about what it means to be a better software engineer?

Lucian Sargeant: Yeah, I think something my, one of my first managers said to me, kind of stuck with me forever is that one should have strong opinions held lightly. So this idea that whatever ideas you do have, they should always be well thought through and you should defend those ideas, but if new and better ideas come along that challenge them, you should not be closed off to them and you should be fully open to changing the way you think and growing, I think. Yeah, I think at the core of it, that's probably what I've learned the most.

Ryohei Watanabe: Are there some opinions that you no longer hold, that you used to hold, that come to mind in terms of, I guess, the opinions in terms of software design?

Lucian Sargeant: Yeah, give me a minute. Let me think about it. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: So this is a really hard question, by the way. This is a really, really hard question.

Lucian Sargeant: Yeah, nothing's coming immediately to mind. Yeah, I suppose just kind of small ways of doing things in the code base and how everything adds up. I think maybe when you start in your career, you're kind of fresh out of university and you have all these ideas of, you know, how software should look. Sure. And personally, I've actually found a lot of those ideas to sometimes be unnecessary to solve simpler problems. So when you start out, maybe you're very eager to throw complex solutions at simple problems. Sure. So I think my attitude there has changed. Like, now I try my hardest to find the simplest way to do things because it's oftentimes the best. That's wonderful advice.

Ryohei Watanabe: Lucien, thank you so much for your time. That was wonderful. And today, that was Lucien from Givery. He's a software engineer and team leader at Givery.


In this show, Ryohei Watanabe talks with founders and engineers in Japan's startup ecosystem. We talk about their journey, their products, and their learnings.

Ryohei Watanabe