Growing a second engineering hub in Warsaw

Fourteen months ago I wrote about the birth of our new engineering hub in Warsaw, our second location in addition to BlaBlaCar’s headquarters in Paris. In the meantime BlaBlaCar continued to grow, and fast. As did the engineering team as well as the entire tech team. Today we count 100 engineers and 130 tech people respectively. That’s quite some growth, which brings with it some challenges as well. With this article I’d like to share some of the key learnings and perspectives of this growth, focusing specifically on the challenge of living and working with two engineering hubs in both Paris and Warsaw.

The Warsaw engineers in August 2016
The Warsaw-based engineers in August 2016, with Patrycja, Mirek & Blazej missing on the photo.

Headcount evolution

Back to Warsaw, where the first person—Piotr, see the last article’s section 6: Find the right leader—joined in May last year. I labelled him the best possible ambassador of the BlaBlaTech in Warsaw/Poland, and that’s what he’s been ever since. We quickly hired the first engineer—Marek, who joined early July and whom we met at our first meetup in Warsaw as part of our efforts described in section 7: Integrate into the community. Błażej, Wojciech and Michał joined in September, and we kept on adding top talents to reach a total of 9 engineers by the end of 2015. The team kept on growing throughout 2016, and today there’s 20 engineers and an agile coach. We’ve learned that it makes no difference whether a new engineering position is based in Paris or Warsaw, as it both helps to further grow the team.

Towards autonomous teams

Over the next few months we’ll not only keep on hiring (eventually having 25+ engineers in our Warsaw office) but will also add other crucial roles including product managers, UX designers, quality assurance specialists and ops. The latter effort is perfectly in line with our reorganisation from end of last year—read here how we’re organised & function today—that is strongly relying on autonomous full-stack teams. The goal is to always have squads—which are teams within our tribes—in one single location, something we’re slowly but surely achieving.

Ongoing challenges

Having teams in two different locations is never as easy as being all together, but that’s nothing new. The challenges we faced and solved were mainly linked to videoconferencing (thanks to Lifesize) and to team organisation (thanks to our switch to Tribes and Squads). Until we’ve rendered squads fully independent—meaning having all required skills and roles united in one single location—we’ll keep on struggling with split teams and the discomfort of working and having dependencies with those far away. And getting there won’t come for free either since it will require teams that are for now in one single location— such as product, quality assurance and ops which are today only Paris based—to expand and welcome people working in different offices.

Having many people from different countries and thus with different backgrounds also underlines cultural differences that pop up when working together on a daily basis. Language was the first obvious obstacle, but also the first to get removed quickly. Office hours is another, with very different lunch habits for instance between the French (where a déjeuner can last up to 1.5h, not to forget the coffee) and the Polish culture (where it’s about having lunch in under 20 minutes). Fortunately both cultures are pretty close, and most attitudes and habits are actually shared (e.g. the mutual respect, valuing quality, or the thirst for our Thursday night drinks).

The BlaBlaCar Warsaw offices at Plac Unii Our Warsaw office corridor
The tech space of our Warsaw offices Table foosball at our Warsaw offices
The tech space of our Warsaw offices Table foosball at our Warsaw offices

Joining the crew in Warsaw

First and foremost we’re very lucky to have extraordinary offices that also host the Polish marketing and community management team. And actually we’re even luckier, since those offices are filled with great people. As one of only a few true product companies we rely on employment contracts as regulated by the Polish Labour code, which aren’t (yet) very popular but actually come with some pretty interesting perks (like free shares for instance).

Joining the BlaBlaTech team in Warsaw actually also means joining our Paris-based team. Newcomers spend their first weeks in Paris, which remains an important part of their onboarding. At the same time, there are also always people from Paris in Warsaw, multiplying in return the facetime with our engineers there. It’s very important that strong bonds exist and link both Paris and Warsaw employees, and we happily invest what’s needed to make this happen. We definitely didn’t go to Warsaw to save on salary. In fact, having a remote hub is actually more expensive but in return we get to work with so many talented people.

Company language is English although outside meetings mostly French is spoken in the Paris offices as well as Polish in Warsaw. Warsaw-based engineers come several times per year to France, lodging in a fun company-rented flat. And just like for everybody who’s part of BlaBlaCar’s tech team, we highly value sharing and learning, with countless conference participations in Europe and the US. Have a look at our open positions if this sounds interesting for you.

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