I've recently turned 10 years working at Manas, a feat I didn't expect to reach at anything in life - let alone a job. So I took some time to reflect on how that came to happen, and wrote kind of an open letter for the rest of the people I share this project with. And now I'm sharing it here.

Here's, not to another 10 years, but to as much time as it keeps being this enjoyable.

I'm a couple of months short of reaching 10 years at Manas. Back when I joined, I spent my time here 100% developing software. I've been involved as a developer in many projects, some big ones like CDx, others small like TrueBites. Nowadays, you may already know, I'm mostly not coding, except some small tweaks and fixes here and there.

My first attempt at a different role was being the lead of the team that redesigned our own website in 2016. I was really involved with the rewriting of the website - the idea of statically generated sites was kind of novel to me, so I got really involved in our previous migration of the site from Wordpress to Middleman. Now we had to completely redesign it (instead of """just""" changing the underlying technology), and somehow ended up being the Team Lead. The project was kind of low-stakes (there was no hard deadlines to meet for any other customer than ourselves, even if its artifact would be nothing less than potential customer's first contact with us), and I counted with Nico's support through the project - we would regularly meet to check how things were progressing (or not), and his experience here helped me understand a bit of what I was supposed to do.

But you've probably never seen me lead a team, right?1 That was one of my takeaways from the project - I like Middleman, but I don't like dealing with the tensions that arise from a group of people from different backgrounds having to work together towards a common goal. I really don't like confrontation2, and don't know (and probably don't want to learn) how to deal with that.

Some time later, I tried working as the Project Manager for one of NCD/Surveda's country implementations. I was already involved in setting up the technical parts of the implementations - I was learning how to set up a new instance of Surveda after someone dealt with CDC, telcos, Ministries of Health and other actors, so I also got curious about how that someone did that. I had already got some insights on that during the discussions we used to have with Manu (the main Project Manager for Surveda back then), and with MartínV, Palla3 & Waj4 before (for their different roles, which I never got to remember), and I guess seeing Manu juggle so many things on his own was the ultimate trigger for us to decide that I would test the role. I started joining the calls and email threads with him, getting to know the vibes of the project, and kept gradually owning more of the tasks that were involved in PjM'ing that5.

Turns out - did I already mention I don't like dealing with the tensions that arise from a group of people from different backgrounds having to work together towards a common goal?6 I don't. And here the group was even more diverse, the goal was even tougher, and - as we ended up guessing after 10 months of failing to get a telco to sign a contract to provide telco services to us7 - it probably even wasn't a common goal. And that, kids, is how I met your mother learned I'm not that interested in PjM.

But, hey - do you know why I was involved in Surveda installations before that? That's because some other time before, I got curious about our servers' deployments. I don't remember which one specifically, but I do remember that one time an app I was working on was deployed into production - but there was an error there. I think the error was verbose enough that I, as a visitor, was able to understand the underlying issue on the server (maybe some disk was full? a file permission's issue?) and kind of knew (in a probably working but wrong way) how to fix that - so instead of simply asking Waj to solve the issue, I offered to help fix it8. I had some Linux experience from my being a Teacher Assistant at university, but not in a professional way - and this is how it started. I know I also was a bit tired of having to wait for Waj to solve an issue9 I kind of understood how to fix - the guy was overburdened, so chiming in was also a way to help us all. First time I got involved, I'd just sit next to him, spectating how he fired up AWS' web interface and surfed through pages until the issue was resolved. Next time - I watched again, but understanding some of the clicks he did. After some repetitions, I started getting a sense of what was going to happen next - up until I was ready to not only do some stuff with his supervision, but also to start documenting how to10. And I enjoyed it :)

And here I am now. 10-years-ago Mati didn't plan to be The Infra Guy. Today's Mati doesn't, either11 - but I know how to do lots of stuff there, and how to improvise the ones that I don't.

The important lesson from this story for me is not that I got to grow - but the fact that I was able to. My best summary of Manas is the "forever draft" phrase we have in so many documents - we are something today, but we are probably going to be another something tomorrow12.

You are not your role - you are a person that performs tasks associated with a role, and that can start to perform others, and stop performing some of those. Everything here is set up to let us try and find our better selves - the price to pay is to think how to, and to put in the effort to try it.

So if you've ever thought that you would like to try doing something you still haven't - stop thinking about it, and start talking with somebody so that we help you give it a try. Check who is already doing it, or something close to it, and let them know you're interested. Think about how you could help them, how you could watch them do their thing and learn from them. Instead of waiting on some position to open up or something, think about something you may enjoy doing - and let people know that you want to test it. It's OK if you're OK with what you already do now. The only thing that's not OK is to want to try something different - and not doing anything to actually try it.

Having been able to test 5 different roles during a 10-year span is one of the main reasons for me to have reached that 10-year span in the first place - instead of having 5 different 2-year tenures at different companies. Upon my first reading of the handbook, back in 2013, my first reaction was "OK, where's the catch?" with my CV attached. 10-years in, I've found no catch - only this one weird trick that allows people to make their jobs relevant and meaningful, and enjoy doing it. And it's up to us to keep playing that trick.

  1. I mean, some of you did see me - you get the point 

  2. "Classic Libra", says a friend 

  3. For those of you that are too young around here, Santiago Palladino was not only one of the key people in the development of Surveda at some point in time, but also my first mentor when I joined Manas - and a really great guy in all regards. 

  4. For those of you that are even younger, Manas-wise, than some in footnote 3, Juan Wajnerman was Manas' employee number 2, CTO, Infra Guy, (at least) Team Lead at the beginning of Surveda's development, and who knows how many other things. Yes, he's a great guy, too. 

  5. I ended up spending almost as much of my working time in project-management meetings and calls with providers & partners as I spent doing technical work - something I've really never ever expected to do in my whole life. 

  6. I know I did. And, in case you didn't notice - I love footnotes. 

  7. The telco was based in the other half of the world, so I had lots of meetings after midnight - but of course the worst for me were the ones at around 7am. 

  8. After some digging in Slack, I found my report from back then - AWS asked us to stop-then-start a VM, since the underlying hardware had issues. The poweroff took its time, so I started snapshotting its disk in case we had to fire up a new instance from it. Luckily, it wasn't necessary. 

  9. Can't help but notice the irony in my now being slow to reply to people's infra's requests. 

  10. I still use this thingy from time to time. 

  11. I don't like using the P-word, really 🤡 

  12. I haven't read Galeano yet, so "We are what we do to change what we are" is Manas-speak to me.