One year at trivago: What I’ve (un)learned!

Time flies! It’s been a whole freaking year since I’ve moved to Germany, yet it feels like a couple of months. But here I am, trying to express myself about what I’ve (un)learned not just about work, but also about life during this one year.

Disclaimer 1: This is a personal article and there is no influence from trivago or vise-versa on writing this.

Disclaimer 2: This article is solely based on my personal experience while working with my amazing Visual Content team for the last year. So the experience in other teams might differ.

Disclaimer 3: This is NOT written to advertise trivago, but only to explain the good working environment I stepped into.

1. ‘Save your vacation days!’

While working in Sri Lanka, I used to get 14 days of annual leave, 7 days of casual leave and 14 days of medical leave. So, I had to be very careful in taking a day off, because I needed to save some in case of an emergency.

(source: https://www.videoblocks.com/video/man-with-laptop-relaxing-on-hammock-on-exotic-beach-43msnjngdeijg3g3hi)

However, when I heard that trivago offers unlimited vacation*, I was like “WHAT THE….?!”. Yeah, you read it right- theoretically unlimited vacation. You might think “theoretically” sounds a bit tricky- so did I! But after one year, I can safely say it is kind of accurate. In fact, I MUST take at least 21 days off, otherwise I will be forcefully sent for vacation 😛

You can take as many vacation days you want, provided you meet the team’s goals, and of course, you perform well. Nobody will keep track of your holidays and use it as a weapon against you! It’s embedded in their mindset as well. That’s why I took one month off last year and spent the entire time in Sri Lanka! My colleagues constantly take days off to go on trips or even stay home with their families. No one questions them or even think of asking “Why do you take this much of vacation?”. In fact, people prefer that because they get to live life!a!

As a result of this freedom, it’s very rare that all our team members are present in the daily stand-up (rather, we tend to celebrate when we have a full house).

*Does that mean, I can take a whole year off and still get paid? Well, don’t be that stupid (and selfish)!

2. ‘You need to be at office to work!’

I know a lot of companies indirectly enforces its employees to be present in the office building to be counted as “work”. When you have an important personal task to attend to, you should inform your team earlier and do “Home-Office” aka “Working from home”.

But I realized that it’s not the case in trivago. I shouldn’t necessarily be at the office or even in the country to work (not the remote jobs). In fact, as I mentioned earlier, it’s very rare to have all our team members in the daily stand-up. Either they are working from home, or remotely or on vacation.

trivago even offers remote working schemes where employees can work for one month in total per year in different trivago offices. So this year, I’m planning to go to Palma de Mallorca in Spain. Fingers crossed!

(source: https://engineering.upgrad.com/how-to-be-a-remote-working-rockstar-b0cc417f2cea)

But, how can we know if this person is truly working when they’re home or not even in Germany? Well, that’s called “trust” from both sides which people tend to keep.

As long as you get your work done, nobody cares where you are.

I wake up at 9 am, reach office by 10 am because we have the daily stand-up at 10:15 am. People usually start leaving office from 5 pm onwards, some people even leave around 4 pm, but NOBODY CARES! They don’t question “Why are you leaving early?”. But they usually ask “Why are you staying late, is everything okay?” when I stay past even 6 pm.

People have their own schedules for work. Some people come at 7 am and leaves the office by 4 pm. Some people come to office after lunch and leave office late, or in some days they leave earlier than others. But still, no body really cares because they trust that person and the same vise-versa.

3. ‘Senior Engineer said “No”!’

When there is a big hierarchy, senior people usually have the power. It’s very common in Sri Lankan companies or organizations where people say “My team lead said no“, “He’s senior, so you should do as he say and only a very few companies don’t have this kind of culture.

People use their title of the job as a mode of showing off their seniority and experience. That’s why companies give promotions, even without increments.

Guess what, we don’t have “Senior Software Engineers”, “Tech Leads” etc, but only Software Engineers. Even if you have 10 years or 10 days of experience, every engineer is a typical Software Engineer. It reduces a lot of friction between individuals and encourages equality. Everyone’s ideas are valued in the same level! So, you have the same influence in taking decisions as any other engineer, not just in your team, but also in the entire company.

One of the best things about trivago is the MDs and the CEO being approachable. They don’t even have their own office rooms, they just sit with other employees. Especially the CEO can be found sitting with different teams and having a good laugh about a production issue!

(source: https://aniketpbhave.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/page/3/)

4. ‘You broke the prod!!! You’re screwed!’

Many companies are very picky about mistakes made by the employees and even squash you with them during the appraisals.

In here, and many other good companies, they see the mistakes as a learning opportunity. Sometimes we hear “I mistakenly dropped this component in prod, now we lost this number of millions of data” and the other team members are like “well, we can do this and that… Let’s pair up and get them back“.

(source: https://i.redd.it/pv73fw7o4z721.png)

We start many projects, initiatives, and PoCs (Proof of Concept) and some of them fail so bad even after spending months on them. But still, people are encouraged to try things out and learn, and most importantly to document why it didn’t work.

Failures are bad as longs as you don’t learn something out of it!

Even now, I’m trying to finalize an integration test, struggling with some maven configurations for three weeks, but nobody points their finger at me, rather they encourage me to find the solution in different ways. Well, that does NOT mean we’re working so leisurely and don’t mind spending weeks to fix a small thing, but people understand that there are things to learn from these kinds of situations.

5. ‘Stay late to finish it!’

Even though I never used to stay late at work, I know people who never leave office before 8-9pm. That’s what happens when the companies put more priority on deadlines over the employees. Then people will never have time for their personal and family stuff. That’s one of the major reasons many countries are very low in happiness index.

Regardless of you’re working extra hours or not, almost all the tech companies don’t pay for your extra work. But they expect you to work late and finish the projects. So, regardless of how hard you work, you get the same return. It used to be called Slavery!

(source: https://memegenerator.net/img/instances/81569378/yeah-if-you-could-come-in-3-hours-early-and-stay-2-hours-late-thatd-be-great.jpg)

At trivago, people define their own schedule. If they finish their allocated work earlier, they leave early. If they think they need a day off, they do that. As long as you meet the team expectations, which are NOT unrealistic like other places, you’re not pressured by any means.

This gives you enough time to work on your personal stuff, including your family, personal projects and businesses. It encourages you to think out of the box and take risks because you have some free time. Because of this, I can focus more on my hobbies, such as photography, video games, making YouTube videos and even hanging out with friends.

Once, I was struggling a lot with a bug and had to stay a bit late. Then one of my colleagues returned from the gym and asked me why I still haven’t left. When I explained to him about my frustration, and he said “don’t stress yourself out. Let’s look at it tomorrow“.

I was (and still am) the technical driver for the current initiative we were working on, and that was the first time I had the chance in trivago to lead a team. So, we had a nice delivery plan and the team was smoothly going through that. But suddenly we had to drop several PoCs and we realized we will not be able to finish the initiative during the time frame (of three months). When I stupidly brought the fact “we’re behind the plan” they looked at me with surprise and said “that’s fine, no one will blame anyone for delivering it late. If it needs time, there is nothing we can do about it“. End of story!

These reminded me of the good old times when Project Managers promised some unrealistic deadlines to the clients and then the team has to work their a**es off to meet them.

6. ‘Someone is coming, I should minimize Facebook!’

I know many companies which have the social media websites blocked, or even slowed down! Because it’s claimed to be a distraction for work.

Well, this is not a school! People are grown up and they know how to behave and manage their work!

Maybe, that’s not the case in developing countries because of the lack of self-discipline in people (ouch!). One of the significant things about European countries is discipline, and I’m NOT saying everyone is less-disciplined in developing countries (so calm down 😛 ).

(source: https://www.coburgbanks.co.uk/blog/staff-retention/social-media-in-the-workplace/)

In most of the good companies, no website/tool is specifically blocked unless it’s banned from the government. Employees have the freedom to do whatever they want on their computers, and they don’t abuse it either.

7. ‘My company will get mad if they know I’m going for interviews!’

In many companies, you have to be very careful when you’re applying for other companies. Due to any reason, if they got to know that, you will have a bad time!

Apparently, not every company is like that. There are some companies which prioritize the development of the employee than holding them. When an employee wants to leave for any reason, they do a proper “checking out” process to help them. There were people who quit their job to travel the world and there are companies help them.

(source: http://www.thestaffingstream.com/2012/12/05/the-secret-weapon-of-interviewing/)

When I said my talent lead (the mentor who helps you grow in the profession) that I constantly get new job offers from other companies, she said me to consider them if I feel they will help me grow! I know the leads and even the MDs help the employees who are leaving to find better opportunities. I’m not saying everyone in the company is like this, yet again this is from my experience.

With this mindset, employees don’t feel bound or stuck to the company, and surprisingly they try to do even better than their best.

8. ‘My company doesn’t trust me!’

There are so many rules and regulations in normal companies where employees are kept squeezed. But many companies don’t realize, more the restriction, more the employees try to break them. Here are some examples I saw in trivago that made me rethink about freedom.

There are no CCTV cameras inside the buildings, and that is also because it’s illegal in Germany to monitor employees. But people rarely do illegal or unethical things. Because, trust is one of the highly valued factors, not just in trivago, but in the entire country.

There is a post room where everyone in the company gets their letters and deliveries. There can be so many valuables, and no CCTVs, but still people don’t take other people’s parcels!

There are free food and drinks in more than 20+ kitchens in the building, but people usually don’t take food home.

There are two or three shelves of each fridge are filled with different kinds of beer, but we don’t see anyone drunk during the office hours.

(source: https://nypost.com/2016/07/10/i-used-a-nanny-cam-to-catch-my-co-worker-stealing-my-lunch/)

People leave their laptops unlocked all the time (even though it’s not encouraged), but no one posts random stuff on Slack groups or on social media accounts of the owner. I’ve even seen people locking others’ laptops if they see an unattended one.

Yes, there still can be different people among these well-behaved people. But because the majority is not like that, the misbehaving minority can’t survive! So, it’s natural for companies to put more restrictions if the majority has issues, and that will affect the good minority as well.

trivago Values

One of the main reasons people here are different is the core values of the company. Every employee is assessed when being hired and constantly encouraged to follow them, which ultimately helps to maintain this kind of a freedom and a good environment to work.

  1. Trust
  2. Authenticity
  3. Entrepreneurial Passion
  4. Power of Proof
  5. Unwavering Focus
  6. Fanatic Learning

For more about the trivago Core Values, read the relevant company page.

So what?

There can be multiple differences between trivago and other companies I’m referring to, including the domain, market, technologies, etc. But I’ve seen companies doing critical stuff have a similar kind of a working environment. So, this is not any criticism of any kind.

It’s all about the attitude!

When I moved from Sri Lanka to Germany, I began to realize why these people live a happy life. We, spend our entire life at work and have no time for family because we need to save our job to survive! If we don’t work, we can’t earn enough money to spend a good life, but we lose our own lives during the process.

It’s not solely the fault of the employees, and maybe not even the companies. It’s a complete mesh where every factor is contributing to another. For example, because of the corrupted politicians, they raise the taxes to spend a luxurious life. Then people have to earn more in order to cover the living costs. Then the annual raise is not enough to tally the inflation, but people do whatever the companies ask to because they don’t want to lose their jobs. Then they spend their entire lives at work, not having enough time for families. Middle class families will struggle and vite for any politician who’s give financial support regardless of that’s their own money, and the cycle continues.

To break this cycle, each person should start changing. It’s tough, but not impossible. Then someday, people will be able to live a happy life.

In Summary

If you don’t already get it, let me summarize it for you.

I’ve learned and unlearned a lot about professionalism and life after I moved to Germany, and trivago played a huge part in it. Regardless of my next step, these lessons will help me throughout my journey!

And you are a real hero to read till the end! Here is a cookie for you!

Source: http://objectshowfanonpedia.wikia.com/wiki/File:Bitten_cookie.png

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