{Between brackets with… Adam Byrtek, CTO, Airsorted}

As promised, we return to our new series with an exclusive interview with Adam Byrtek, CTO of Airsorted and a well-recognised figure on the Python scene. We spoke to Adam about his work at Airsorted, his team of developers and his love for sailing (did you know he took a year off to sail around the world?).

Find all that, plus his advice for junior devs, but also senior developers looking to grow their managerial career in our article below.

Adam’s remarkable programming career started in the early 90s in front of a Commodore 64 computer playing video games and coding in Basic. Discovering his passion for numbers and wanting to pursue a career in this field, Adam went on to deepen his studies in Maths before specialising in Cryptography and Information Security.

His career took off when he joined Google as Software Engineer. Speaking about his time there, he admits the company lives up to its reputation; it’s a great place for developers to meet extremely smart people and see how they function as part of one of the most successful tech companies in the world.

With a desire to build something from scratch, Adam decided to move to London, a city he felt was the best place for startups in Europe. He became the first ever employee at Squirrel, an award-winning smart banking app that empowers people to take control of their money. In the company, Adam was able to build the development team and the product from scratch. 

Adam then joined Airsorted in 2016 when the team was formed of only two developers He felt that in the startup world he could make a bigger and faster impact, as opposed to a global organisation. At Airsorted, he was faced with two big challenges: to rebuild the architecture of the platform and to grow the dev team.

With a backend initially built in Ruby, Adam wanted to re-architecture it and have it broken into individual services, each having its own responsibility and allowing services to communicate with each other. He chose a language that he felt was the right choice for the company: Python. “New services are built using Python as it’s a language that I personally like and one that makes developers very productive.”

“Python is an interpreted language which is well-suited for startups because it makes prototyping and changing things easier and it gives developers flexibility as long as they maintain the best practices: testing and continuous integration”.

Python doesn’t have exclusivity in the team and Adam mentions that the team chooses the best tool for the job as they follow a polyglot approach to programming languages.

The Airsorted development team uses JavaScript, React, React Native, Flask for smaller services and RESTful APIs and Django. Database management is done in SQLAlchemy, PostgreSQL and Redis for job queues and caches.

First of all, Adam highlights the collaborative nature of his team, and as our conversation goes deeper into the team structure, it becomes clear how tight-knit they are and why their results are so successful.

Since Adam joined as CTO, Airsorted has launched in more than 25 cities around the world and has become a hosting industry leader.

In May 2018, Airsorted also secured an additional £2.2 million in funding (on top of a £5-million series A), following a highly successful crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs. The latest round of funding will allow them to accelerate their plans for international growth.

Airsorted have managed properties for over 3,500 hosts and are growing fast.

On the developer side, Adam’s team grew from only two developers to a team of 15, both in London and in Krakow (where the other development team is based), and they’re looking to add more people to this team.

 

The development team now works in cross-functional squads led by a Product Manager, each squad having a specific service or feature that they work in, either client-facing and internal. When the team works together, they follow agile development with processes from Scrum and Kanban.

Bi-weekly, the team discusses user stories with all the main stakeholders, following the business priority backlog. The development team works in weekly iterations, starting with a planning meeting. 

“Programming is about teamwork and there’s only so much you can do on your own. A good team only multiplies the skills of everybody in that team.”

The team always has code review sessions and Adam sees this as a great way to share knowledge: “It’s a process helpful both to the code author but also to the reviewer. It’s a two-way conversation”. They see code review as a way to dig deep into the mind of a developer and see how they think and how they problem-solve.

Every change in the code has to pass continuous integration to ensure that all the existing tests pass. Adam’s team is also keen on maintaining a consistent code style.

It’s not all coding though, as Adam usually has 1-1 meetings with the team to discuss career progression and personal development.

“Developers take pride in what they build especially when they see people using their products, either external users or users inside Airsorted. Seeing a staff member reach their objectives or seeing how their job becomes more pleasant as a result of our work is definitely rewarding.”

Product and tech are always aligned with the overall business goals, and to better understand the impact that their code has on the business, developers are onboarded alongside different members of the Airsorted team. This process makes it easier for new hires to understand the roles inside the company, how processes work and how Airsorted deals with housekeeping issues.

“I’m most proud of building a great team from the ground up and embedding a culture of teamwork and best technical practices in it.”

Having worked in different-sized organisations, from Google all the way to Airsorted, Adam has a very clear idea of what makes a great developer.

“First of all, curiosity. Curiosity about technology, experimenting with personal projects, and getting involved in the community.” In Adam’s view, a great developer should always be learning different languages, be willing to try different frameworks and be open to working with different technologies.

“Developers have to be open-minded and willing to learn; the nature of our profession involves constant learning.”

There are great developers then there are perfect hires. Does a combination between the two exist? Adam explains: “the people you want to hire are both book-smart and get the job done. You can find people who are smart, but who struggle to be productive in a fast-pacing startup environment.” 

How does he make sure they find the best addition to their team at Airsorted? First of all, every candidate has to prove their skills during a round of on-site technical interviews. After that process is done the Airsorted development team take a candidate through a pair-programming session. As scary as it may sound, Adam reassures any potential candidates that this step is essential in understanding how a developer deals with actual code, how they solve problems, how they communicate, but most importantly “how they behave in an environment that is similar to a real working day at Airsorted. Of course, candidates can still check things on Google,” Adam adds with a smile.

For the lone-wolf developers looking to join Airsorted, Adam strongly suggests improving communication in order to become successful, especially in startup jobs, as this is an important aspect of any interview process.

Adam advises the more junior devs to try and become well-rounded developers and not restrict themselves to specific languages. If you’re a junior dev trained in a code camp, know that Airsorted supports this type of training. “For junior developers, the development team can mentor and support their progress, but overall we would like to see excitement about programming besides just attending the code camp, a lot of ambition and the ability to learn quickly.”

For the more senior developers, who might be interested in becoming CTOs one day, Adam recommends that they reflect if this is the path they want to follow, as “not everyone enjoys leading teams, and some developers still enjoy solving problems head-on.” “Try to become a tech lead on your project, but first try to volunteer to help with product management or just to coordinate the work of your team and see if you enjoy that.”

“The best way to become CTO is to join an early-stage startup because you can start small and then you can grow the team and the company if you’re lucky, and you’ll learn as you go.”

“Sailing around the world for a year made me a better CTO.”

After three years at Google, Adam took the decision to disconnect and take a year-long break. In the tech world, one year off might seem like an uncommon decision but for Adam, the time spent at sea taught him life-long lessons about facing challenges head-on and working with people, “especially when the lives of those people depend on you.”

In his gap year of sailing, Adam realised that “it’s good to disconnect, take a step back and get some perspective in life.”

He returned to tech with a hunger for building and growing teams and this is exactly what he is doing now at Airsorted. With a goal of growing his development team at Airsorted in London and Krakow, and building new revolutionising services, ones that place them in front of their competition, Adam’s looking forward to the unique technical challenges he and his team have in front of them.

“After we’re done coding, we can still enjoy each other’s company and play a game of Street Fighter or Mario Tennis together.”

The lucky developers who will join Airsorted on this journey should expect plenty of hard work and collaboration. They need to be just as hungry and invested in personal development as the members of Adam’s team. “We want everyone to feel like a proper member of one team. We’re inclusive, everyone works together as a team and we have built that into our culture here at Airsorted.”

There’s no doubt that any developer would enjoy working alongside Adam and his dev team in a startup that continues to grow exponentially.

Snaps about Adam

  • First employee at Squirrel
  • Codes in VIM
  • Favourite tech writer: Martin Fowler, ThoughtWorks

Airsorted is now hiring through Snap.hr. Reactivate your profile if you feel you fit with the amazing dev team at Airsorted.  

*photos courtesy of Airsorted

If you're looking for your next job as a software engineer, have companies apply to you by adding your profile to Snap.hr.