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Becoming an IT Lead at 19 on my second experience

Posted in Experiences

Hello everyone, exactly ten years ago, I became the IT Lead at 19 for an agency. This may have been the most transformative experience in my career even though it came pretty early. And no, that line on my LinkedIn is no bs, from January to September 2011 I held that lead role. I think it’s about time that I talk about it.

First things first, how does a guy with only a two months internship lands such a position? As you can imagine I didn’t get it in a Fortune 500 company. However, this was far from a fictitious job or a family favour. I looked for and applied to various companies back then. I needed to find a company that would provide me with experience while paying for my private school. It’s pretty hard to imagine that I would struggle to find a low paying job back then when now I can basically pick and choose where I want to work and get spammed with offers and recommendations.

That was the reality of yesterday. After several months looking, I found that ad on some obscure website to join an agency that produces some music and aims to go digital. Obviously, I apply and within a few weeks, I get a phone call. This phone call was from the agency’s director, quite a smart and charismatic guy that could sell you your own car twice within the same hour. We have a chat, then a few days later he calls me back to offer me a role as the IT guy. The guy who will make the agency skyrocket. You know how newb devs are, they think they could rebuild the world as code, believe they’re gods. I was no different.

Over time, a few more people got hired, they brought in a guy to interview some rappers and other personalities. This content would go on the main website the agency ran which was something like TMZ but french. We even got Daniel Riolo on once, I doubt he remembers it. Me, being the IT guy, I didn’t get to meet him, only dealt with some website maintenance and feature building on occasion. I got into some routine there. Was it what adult life looks like? Switching between work, public transports and sleep? Not the greatest prospect but back then I couldn’t care less. This was all learnings I would take with me later on.

After a couple of months, we decided to expand IT and to hire a few more developers. Since I was the IT guy, I was leading the hiring process. Looking back, I did my best but present-day me would hate an interview with 2011-me.

I would talk with the candidates about their experiences and try to see if it would match the agency vision. One can summarise that vision in two words: profit and pressure. Lots of pressure with profitability as a goal. Not the best of vision as you can’t quite quantify it. You can’t measure progress when you can’t measure a goal. Also, the technical part of the interview was me giving the candidates a short problem that I’d either come up with or pull from one of my classes. Actually, it wasn’t so bad but my memory seemed worth before I wrote it down. I think I would have been fine with that process.

Eventually, after a few weeks, we found a guy. Obviously since one of the goals was to be profitable, we picked the cheapest option available. Surprisingly, it was actually the best candidate in terms of passing my interview process. A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one. An undergraduate from outside Paris. Once he joined us, we engaged in a few different ventures, mostly building websites for small nearby businesses and for artists the agency produced. It felt like we were on a pretty good track but any outsider would have found something very wrong.

Even though this may have been the best experience I could dream of at that point in my career, hiring a bunch of undergrads only gets you so far. They can be as skilled as you want, this will not replace the experience of running a business and making sound tactical decisions. We would build our own website application template, the kind which I thought look good back then but really I had no taste. At least now I will use existing UI libraries if I risk myself anywhere near a website design. I think that back then I even built my blog from scratch before moving to a pre-built solution. That’s a shame because all the cringe of my original blogging between 2009 and 2013 is now lost forever.

If you add to that a boss who is okay with screwing over employees you’re in for an explosive cocktail. Remember the brilliant undergrad I personally hired earlier, he did a pretty good job overall. His thanks were to not receive any salary in spite of the contract he signed with us. A contract to which both myself and the director appended our signatures. The worst part about this is that I didn’t find out until much later. Basically, the guy went AWOL and the boss told me he decided to leave because he wasn’t happy. I thought I must have been a terrible IT lead for that to happen.

However, a weeks later as we had a heated argument that the director finally spilt the beans and told me what he actually did. The argument began after I returned from an approved holiday but the director told me he never approved and/or changed his mind in between. No need to say I was furious, throughout the discussion he let me know that he wanted to reduce my salary and/or stop paying for my school. This was the straw that broke the nagger’s back. In spite of the pressure to pay for my school, knowing that I didn’t grow up in a privileged background I decided to resign. I sent my resignation over email with immediate effect as they didn’t think of setting a notice period in my contract.

I felt free, the experience was rollercoaster of emotions, from building solutions that helped small businesses to me hiring people to my first resignation. Despite the sour ending, I will always be thankful for that experience. I got to learn on picking up some cues, reading people and their actions rather than words.

Obviously, this was the very beginning of my career and I am continuously learning to this day. But that first “long term” experience granted me tools that allowed me to land some more interesting roles and got me on the path I am on today. Also, few people can claim to have become an IT lead at 19 so this gave me an early edge.

Many war stories I could tell from that time, but I feel like these belong to me and the other warriors. Those who lived through them and we shall share them again someday. It’s been ten years now so maybe it is time to catch up. If it does happen I will make sure to tweet it so don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.

If you need convincing as to why you should follow me you probably shouldn’t. But if you still want some convincing, why not check my Go Cloud blog series? When not posting vaguely interesting tweets, I share my blog posts on Twitter. It’s the best option to follow my blog writing and occasional poetry. Well, second best, the best is subscribing to the blog which you can and should do. Get posts fresh off my brains.

Signing off, thank you for reading, I will see you next time and happy new year!

Cover by Mike from Pexels

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