A developer’s perspective after one month at Anaplan

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As I write this, I’m just a matter of a few days over a month into a new job at Anaplan’s office in central London. That seems like a good enough point to jot down some initial thoughts: It’s long enough to be getting more than just first impressions, but early enough that I’m still keenly aware of how Anaplan compares with other places I’ve worked.

But first, some background. I’m a fairly experienced developer. My first-ever programs were written in BASIC for a ZX81. If you’re into retro computing, that should give some clue as to my age. I studied Maths and Physics rather than Computer Science, so as a developer I’m mostly self-taught, but I’ve been about a bit; I’ve seen the inside of all sorts of development organisations and seen all sorts of innovations in the practice of cutting code.

There’s a lot to appreciate about life at Anaplan. And what’s more, it’s not hard to pinpoint what makes life good here. There are some unique circumstances that conspire to make this the right place at the right time.

Here’s what I see:

A lot of companies will boast a start-up vibe, but miss the point that it’s not all about beanbags and ping-pong tables. Anaplan London has the start-up vibe in buckets. And here’s why: The London office pretty much is a start-up. Anaplan is a well-funded company with an established and powerful product (more on that later) but the London office is brand new. And in creating a new office, the leadership team have spotted an opportunity – instead of creating a new team in the mould of the existing ones, why not take a blank slate and use it to explore some modern practices with fresh eyes? So we’re part of the Anaplan team and work closely with our colleagues at other sites, but there is a sense that we have a real opportunity to help shape the culture, processes, and practices of our office. That’s about as start-up as it gets and the vibe is helped along by the fact that everybody here gets it.

Furthermore, there’s a real sense of shared ownership and that gives you something more than just a nice start-up vibe. That’s empowering, liberating, and frankly, rather exciting. Additionally, the maturity of the organisation and its product means that some of the disadvantages of working for a true start-up don’t apply at Anaplan; many of the compromises that you must make in a precarious new company are not made here. Moreover, our Product group have the benefit of a solid customer base solving real problems with our platform. That means that innovations are driven by real needs and adds to the sense of purpose and direction in what we do, but eliminates the need to chase every whim of a small number of critical customers. To me, that’s a dynamite best-of-both-worlds combination: the maturity and direction of an established company with the engagement and shared ownership of a start-up.

Then there’s the people. Anaplan is growing and has ambitious targets for the number of people it wants to onboard this year. But here again, the leadership team have shown some smarts. They haven’t bowed to the pressure to fill seats and so lowered their standards; they’ve set the hiring bar high, even if it doesn’t make meeting recruitment targets easier. That’s because they have a clear vision of the type of team they want to build, and it’s basically best-in-class. And that’s another good reason to be delighted to land here.

I’ve never enjoyed this industry more than when I’ve got to work with technologists who meet two criteria: be great at what you do and be a team player. Ninja-level coders are not uncommon, but if you’re not allowing other people to complement your strengths with theirs, you’re missing out. And development teams full of people like that are rarer than they should be. They do exist, though, and there’s no doubt that Anaplan are building just such a team. When I’ve worked in teams like this before, I’ve been astounded at how much you can learn from your colleagues.

And about the product. I won’t extol its virtues from a customer perspective, though I’m convinced it has many. From a developer’s perspective – that is, from the inside – it’s some pretty hot stuff. There are plenty of opportunities out in the job market for developers who want to integrate a few frameworks to build a web app: Chuck a few model objects over the top of some DTOs in a persistence framework, code up some business logic, maybe add a workflow, and give it an MVC GUI. Job done. But not here; we’re working on some seriously interesting engineering challenges with a view to pushing machines to their limits.

That’s true at all levels, from the macroscopic architecture, down to individual lines of code. There are plenty of worthy challenges in putting together a decent e-commerce website, of course, but I think this is way more fun. Personally, I’d rather be wrapping my head around functional transformations over hypercubes than worrying about compliance for credit card payments.

Anything else worth mentioning? Well, there’s the seriously cool buildings. I’ve only seen the London and York offices so far, but they’re both iconic. The London location couldn’t be better: There are great transport links and a superb street food market practically on the doorstep. And then of course there’s free prosecco on tap. And I’m not even joking.

So what’s not to like? Honestly, nothing yet comes to mind. Inevitably, something will come up that niggles me; no job or company is perfect. And that’s not to say that everyone would thrive here, either. If you’re the kind of person who wants to be given explicit instructions on what to get on with and then be left alone to do it, you’re likely to struggle. But for me and for now, I’m thinking that the inevitable niggles are going to have to be pretty damn significant to sour my view of this job and this company. Bring on the next few years!

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