I recently consider it my favorite hobby. I really enjoy talking to someone I don’t know and listen to their story. But this pandemic made it really hard to meet people. And living in Germany makes it worse. Conversations here have to be for a reason. People give you this weird look if you talk to them just trying to get to know them.
Where I am coming from this totally the opposite. I can talk to almost anyone. Same when I visited the US, and the UK.
The internet makes it a lot easier. I get to talk to a lot of people that I don’t know. But I truly miss the face to face part.
I don’t know what I want to say. I decided that I want to write something to try to get back into the old good habit but I am out of words so here we are.
As I always say when it comes to writing, quantity trumps quality. Quality gets better as you write more but if you try to write the perfect one without practicing on many others you will achieve neither.
I wanted to say a few words about Germany, the lockdown, my huge frustration, and my loneliness in this place. But I feel enough has already been said and this year should be written off too.
After spending December-Feb in sunny warm Egypt, I think if my current employer doesn’t find a solution that allows us to work from outside Germany like many others did, I will just go apply there. I don’t think I will spend those months in Germany again.
I am recently obsessed with APIs. The first time I worked on an API was when I integrated travel companies into the Omio platform. Back then I wasn’t that deep and didn’t bother much about the technical details.
In recent years I had to deal with Shopify, DHL, Buchhaltungsbutler, and PayPal APIs for the small business in which I am a co-owner. And I currently manage an API at Delivery Hero that handles 3-4 million orders daily and responsible for transitioning a customer order between the different states in a state machine.
It is fascinating how all those systems talk to each other without any of them having to know how others work. It is something I didn’t think of and now the more I think about it, the more I appreciate it.
Some hard learned lessons. All generalizations below are subject to exceptions, but I am writing them in absolute language to not make the writing boring. I will keep updating this list as new lessons are learned.
Negotiations: If you are negotiating with a German person, they will defer to whatever in the law even if it is not in their best interest. There is an interesting dynamic between Germans, processes, and rules. It is stereotypical in many aspects but it is real and strongly present. My advice if you are entering a negotiation with a German person is to read the laws first. There are laws for everything here. My second advice is that Germans consider whatever in the laws as fair. There is no judgement here. This means if you sign a lease on an apartment, and 1 day before moving in the landlord decides to cancel the lease even if it is not fair since you cancelled your current lease they won’t care as long as it is legal, or illegal and you don’t know about it. Read the laws.
Reciprocity: In warm cultures such as Egypt, most Arab countries, India, and Mexico there is strong emphasis on personal relationships and reciprocation. This dynamic is non-existent here. Why is it important? Because if you think someone will do something because you have a great inter-personal relationship then you have a problem with expectations. At times of conflict of interest, your social credit will be erased in a moment and again, what’s fair will be whatever written in the rules. The good news here is that people don’t take those things personal, you will find them calling you to have a drink after whatever you or them did.
Context awareness: You have to be explicit and literal. Again another stereotypical item but it is way stronger than I thought. I would be in the supermarket looking at a high shelf hoping someone will ask me if I need help, and most of the time people pass behind me not asking. While I don’t have a problem asking for help, but with the current pandemic I was afraid that someone may not want to hand me something out of fear of infection. Luckily it didn’t happen yet. The biggest exception to this rule is parents, for some reason they always sense I might need help and they come asking. Sometimes they even tell their children to ask if I need help. And of course many kids just ask even if their parents aren’t around. Have more kids please.
One of my recent professional failures was a project I got assigned to. It was one year in the making without ever seeing the production light. When I saw the situation and the amount of assumptions that were made, I made my first priority to release and test it with users. Unfortunately this desire to wrap things up and release got resisted by the stakeholders, believing that all those missing features were necessary. One ops guy even said to me “it is just a few case statements”, not understanding the complexity of software and how the smallest changes can lead to big delays.
Shopify recently released a new version of their iPad POS software that was missing being able to connect to the credit card reader. When my business partner told me about it I said they told me about the new app last year, at some point you have to stop building and prepare for the release even if it is not fully ready. To their credit they made the upgrade optional and so you could stay on the old version until you feel confident to switch.
There is a tendency in many parts of the industry to not emphasize shipping the software but rather making sure that everything is figured out from the beginning. The truth of the matter is no one cares about your software. And the second truth is you will never figure it out. So ship the goddamn thing and get real user feedback instead of just hoarding features. Because hoarding is the illness that kills many bright ideas.
A friend sent me this tweet recently and it hit hard
Since moving to Europe, I only experienced non-process oriented roles when I worked for Booking.com, and when I worked for Zalando reporting to Henning. Those were the most fulfilling experiences for me as a product manager. We were truly customer centric and doing whatever it takes to create great products. And we were seeing the results.
When I talk to friends I trust at other companies, they are suffering the same. Over time I am becoming skeptical of how the PM job is being portrayed vs how it actually is. You get interviewed for your ability to solve complex product problems and how they influence users yet – most of the time – you end up with a road map from the top and your job becomes constant negotiations with everyone to clear dependencies. I use the Arabic word مسلكاتى. I can’t find a descriptive enough word in English, if you have suggestions leave them in the comments.
Anyways, finding an empowered product team as Marty Cagan likes to call them is becoming really a challenge, and it is becoming one of the areas I hope to build a model for myself that allows me to find and be able to join them, until then I have to live with the PM dilemma of being the guy who clear out dependencies and establish processes المسلكاتى.
I feel sad for not understanding German but I am sure someone is talking about this in the German speaking media. I have a strong feeling we will witness massive layoff rounds in Germany by the end of year similar to what’s currently happening in US and other parts of the world.
Germany reacted well by the Kurzarbeitergeld law. To those who don’t know, the government now allows businesses to furlough employees instead of firing them, and the government pays for the salaries. Furloughed employees get 60% of their salary from the government for the hours they were supposed to work and didn’t. And it exempts businesses from paying anything else to the employee or social security or other employee related commitment.
There are some nuances like ability to do partial furloughs. For example, if an employee is furloughed for 50% of her time, she would get the first half of her salary, and for the second half, she would get only 60% of it. There are other details like if you are married or have kids but this is not the scope of this post.
I believe Kurzarbeitergeld is just delaying the layoffs. Businesses will struggle big time to get back to the level of revenues that allow them to pay salaries, and there will be a point where you can’t make enough money to pay salaries, and can’t furlough employees because you need them to do the work that will get you the money that doesn’t allow you to pay their salary. Then the layoffs will happen.
I am not writing this to spread fear or anything, I am sharing it to learn since I don’t understand German and don’t know what’s being talked about in German media. If you have an opinion on this or information that would make me believe otherwise, lets discuss them in the comments or message me through the “contact me” form above.
I recently contacted GitHub customer support. For some reason on their rating form they ask you to rate the service from Excellent to Terrible and not the other way around as most services do. It is almost like asking to rate something from 5 to 1 instead of 1 to 5.
My friend Fady challenged me to get back to writing. Here I am. I initially stopped because I was going through crazy times, but crazy seems to be normal and it won’t stop. I enjoy it a lot here. It is therapeutic and doesn’t have the twitter noise. Expect more of me.
Having lived through the Arab spring between 2011-2014, those were super intense years. I lived through the ups of hopes, the downs of failure, and the shocks of people dying because of injustice. In hindsight, this experience made me realize the world is much more fragile than we think. And it makes me think of current events that people are surprised with as normal.
The current pandemic as hurtful as it could get with thousands of people dying and the economy collapsing, I feel like I lived this before and the current episode is milder than what I saw in 2011. It makes me even wonder how it feels to someone who survived war. It doesn’t compare to me to Egypt 2011 even though that memory is 9 years behind.
Since I moved to Europe, and specifically Germany I am always surprised by how people are certain about the future. They send you a paper letter by post and ask you to respond within a number of days with zero regard to the possibility that it might get lost and never reach you. They plan social outings months in advance. They talk with absolute confidence about things happening on specific dates with low regard to uncertainty. It is a different worldview that I can’t operate in. Interestingly now I am seeing some of my friends converting to the uncertainty camp. I am having discussions on different scenarios that no one imagined before. It is becoming easier for them to see my worldview on uncertainty. And now I can teach them the concept of Inshallah which is deeply ingrained in the Egyptian culture regardless of how religious one is.