Five Years at Open Social

Today marks the day that I work for Open Social for five years, starting September 19th 2016. All advice for people my age tells me I should’ve switched jobs 2-4 times by now. I’d like to use this milestone as a moment to reflect on why I haven’t followed the trend.

I started working at Open Social right after I dropped out of my Electrical Engineering study at the University of Twente. I had tried completing the study for four years but was distracted by board years, committee work and parties. While in theory I had only one year to go I didn’t realistically think I would be able to study full time, especially with my fingers itching to try my hand at a startup idea.

The decision I made at the time was that I could stop with my Electrical Engineering study, hopefully start working for Open Social part-time, try launching my startup idea on the side, and work on a diploma in Business Administration with any time that’s left — as some sort of social safety net (“Here’s a diploma, now please actually look at my CV”) as well as a way to formalise knowledge around how to run an organisation.

I had met Open Social’s founder, Taco, at DrupalCon Prague in 2013 after I had used Drupal to build the website for my sports association. At the time I was too busy with school to start working but he told me the door was always open. A few years later I took him up on the offer.

I vividly remember my first day (this was in the agency days when Open Social was still called GoalGorilla). The project I would be working on had been discussed a little bit before I started but on that first day I was told what my next steps would be. We were working together with a different agency and the project had been ongoing for some time. I would be visiting our partner the next day to get up to speed on the project. Oh, and I would be going alone.

Over the course of 6 months I worked intensely with our partner and the client to finish the project and bring their Drupal based eCommerce site online. Though some readers may be aghast at such a start, I was happy to use the opportunity to prove my worth. Besides, it’s still a fun story to tell at parties.

When I joined the organisation we had only just started working on Open Social as a product. At the time still balancing our existing agency commitments with investments in the product. It’s been an incredible learning experience to see what it takes to transform an agency into a product company. After the initial client project I worked on I joined our marketing team to work on the Open Social marketing website. Later I moved to a dedicated support team before moving into the core team, responsible for maintaing our open source core. From the core team I was involved in our deployment automation before spending nearly a year to build our real-time chat.

Throughout these years I’ve been accompanied by great colleagues. Some of whom work for Open Social even longer than I do, still going strong. Some who we’ve said goodbye to but still see at drinks or parties. More recently new colleagues who share the enthusiasm for the work we’re doing. One thing that's been a constant throughout the years is room for growth and sharing both lessons learned (through conference speaking and mistakes made, through our minion of the month.

Now, five years later, we still have the habit of throwing people into the deep-end. Though I’d like to think we offer a bit more help in learning how to swim. Luckily the feedback from the people we’ve hired in the last year has been positive in this regard.

As to why I’m not yet looking for the next thing? In the past month I’ve explained to new colleagues, potential hires, and partners alike, over and over again, what our plans are for the future of Open Social. Each time I’m excited about the challenges that lie ahead, the improvements we’ll be able to make and the things that I can still learn.

We’ll be accelerating our push towards a GraphQL API on top of our existing product. This allows our customers to better integrate Open Social into the other tools they use to achieve their mission. It will allow us to further improve our mobile app experience. Finally, my personal focus will be on building a new front-end experience that moves away from Drupal’s page-based world and provides users with a smoother and more interactive experience.

When discussing these plans with developers outside of Open Social I notice that our focus on privacy and customisability, where customers have their own isolated Open Social installation with just the features that they need, provides interesting twists on challenges that others in the headless/React space are facing too. Those coming technical challenges (and the amazing list of clients that Open Social helps reach their goals) are what gets me excited for the years ahead.

Although I’ve written this post without input from anyone else at Open Social, I have asked them to proofread before publishing. Some of the things that excite us are not quite ready to be shared. Want to help us achieve our ambitious plans? Open Social is hiring!