Conversations with the Crew – Meet Sander Hoogendoorn

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In case you were lying under a rock somewhere and missed it, 101 Ways has crossed the North Sea and ventured to the beautiful, diverse city of Amsterdam. A hub of hot tech talent and a thriving market (plus LOTS of cheese) meant it was the perfect place to set up our second home.

But rather than rocking up on Dutch shores and hoping for the best, we wanted the Amsterdam crew to be as bold, brilliant and… bonkers as the London lot. So when Sander Hoogendoorn appeared on the scene, it was a match made in heaven (known as Codemotion to engineers) and the 101 Ways Netherlands’ dream was born.

So, I grabbed some time with Sander (for a man who’s visited more countries this year than I have fingers, it was no mean feat) to hear what he had to say on strategy, leadership and you guessed it, gorillas.

Hi Sander, welcome aboard the 101 Ways train! Thanks for taking time out from your busy jet-setting schedule to chat to me. Would you like to share what you’ve been up to as our first official member of the Amsterdam team? 

As one of the Directors, it’s my role to help bring the concept and culture created by 101 Ways in London to the Netherlands, where I’m based. Alongside Jamie [North – Head of Client Partnerships], I’ll be getting teams rolling, connecting with new clients and familiarising the Dutch tech communities with the 101 Ways brand.

Where did your career take you pre-101?

At my core, I’m just a developer with a big mouth. I’m probably the exception to the (stereotypical) rule that developers are introverted by nature. My personality and love of working with teams led me to become more of an innovator over time. However, I still love writing code.

Over the last few years I’ve been in a number of CTO roles, for instance at a well-known Dutch insurer. Prior to that I was one of Capgemini’s global agile thought leaders. I got to travel around the world for the role and was involved in making projects become more agile. Alongside that, I write articles for international magazines and have also published a couple of books. In fact I’ve just started working on a new book as we speak, on the topic of autonomy, flow and micro-teams.  

I finished my previous CTO role in June this year. Although I had intended to lay low during the summer months, other than do talks at a few conferences, the opportunity at 101 Ways came up and I just couldn’t say no. So busy again, but excited!  

Other than the incredible people, what made you want to join 101 Ways?

I met Kelly by chance. We were both on the CTO panel at Codemotion Amsterdam, together with the CTO from Picnic, Daniel Gebler. When 101 Ways launched in the Netherlands a few months later, Kelly and I reconnected and he asked for my help in forming and developing the company’s first international arm. Even though it’s slightly out of my comfort zone, I thought the opportunity would be really good for me; its a good way to keep learning new things.

So, what excites you most about the Netherlands expansion?

101 Ways has a great culture. I love the what the company does and it’s a model I agree with: taking independent people and putting them together to create a team. It may seem simple, but I’ve been a contractor for years and you’re either always on your own, or on your own in a team you don’t really know. You never really 100 percent belong to something. Contractors still want that feeling and that’s what 101 Ways offers – a tribe.

The ability to create teams of experts from the offset is really cool. I usually work with mix skilled teams, who need to learn the basics. But with 101 Ways, everyone is already highly experienced when they join. This means we can spend more time looking at how we can work best together. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been working on some new ideas around collaboration and shaping teams, which go beyond Agile and Scrum. I’m eager to try out these at 101 Ways.

Tell us a fun fact that no one knows about you?

Being an extrovert there is practically nothing people don’t know about me, haha! I’m sorry, but I don’t have any crazy hobbies. This year I finally got around to getting some tattoos, including a Led Zeppelin logo on my right arm, illustrating my love for music. I’m so happy to see that two of my three kids became musicians. Other than that, I’d say I’m an avid traveller.

You’ve been doing this so long, what do you enjoy about being a leader in your field?

Many things! For example, last month I met with a young, female developer who had asked me to mentor her. In recent years, I’ve become more aware of what drives people, and I love giving advice to people, based on my own personal experience.

One of our developers, Willem Hein, recently asked me if I think developers around the world are the ‘same’. I replied that if you look at their characteristics, they tend to be gentle, friendly, helpful, smart, and slightly introverted. In fact, they are some of the sweetest people I know and it’s nice to see that it’s like that wherever I go. I love talking to fellow developers about their lives,  fears and what they hope to achieve; they’re my people. I am extremely happy that I made the career choices I did at 21. I’ve never looked back.

You told me you work flexibly to be with your children, which I think should be celebrated. Do you think the work/life balance is still achievable in this 24/7 world?

Yes. I suffered serious burnout in 2008/9 which took me almost a year to get over, but it ended up changing my life and my outlook. I realised I had to focus on the things that really mattered to me and when I evaluated it, there were actually only a few.

It hardly needs stating, but my kids are the most important thing in my life so with any job I take, I make sure I have Monday and Tuesday afternoons off so I can be there when they got home. As a result, I am a huge advocate of flexible working and appreciate companies who work hard to enable this within their cultures. For example, my girlfriend Kim recently started a new job that allows staff to take as much leave as they want and I think it’s a great thing. You need to be able to trust your crew.

Engineers are well-educated, smart people – you don’t need to tell them what to do. The whole model of managers-and-doers doesn’t really work in this industry; it’s outdated. If you move towards self-organising, self-steering organisational models, having managers to tell highly experienced workers what to do is simply unnecessary. People are much more reliable and effective when they are trusted and are empowered to make their own decisions.

I believe (and indeed hope) that hierarchical, 9-to-5 structures will eventually disappear as companies become more progressive and agile. While it may be frightening for some people, due to higher levels of automation, in the end there is far less work to do as a society. As a result, we’ll have to find a way to ensure that work is no longer the centre point of which life is built around anymore. Countries like Sweden and Finland already recognise that working eight hours a day is not the ‘be all and end all’, and I believe they are right.

We all love a bit of downtime, what do you do in yours?

I’ve always travelled a lot for work and that has become a real passion. For the last 12 or so years, I’ve tried to visit two new countries a year. Since January this year I’ve been lucky enough to visit Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Siberia, Belgium, France, Poland, Russia, Indonesia and of course, the UK. I take my girlfriend and my kids with me as often as I can and they too have become adventurers.

Aside from that, I am a huge gorilla fan (the animal, not the band). Whenever I get a chance to go to a zoo, I will. For my 50th birthday, my girlfriend gifted me a zoo keeper experience for the day at Port Lympne Wildlife Park near Folkestone. They breed gorillas before putting them into the wild. I got to muck out the cages and hand feed the babies; it was amazing. Then in September 2018, during my visit to Indonesia for a keynote conference, I went jungle trekking in Sumatra for a few days, where I stood eye-to-eye with some huge orangutans. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

What do you think the challenges are going to be, both in your role and the wider industry?

At first, I thought it would be challenging for Jamie and me to get the brand as well-known as it is in London. But between us, we have a big network, so getting people to work with us and understand the concept has actually been  easier than anticipated. On a personal level, the administrative part of being a manager! It’s something I’ve never done before, so need to learn.

The world, technology and the way in which humans collaborate is changing so rapidly. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of the more traditional models no longer work. There needs to be a shift away from current structures to more autonomous teams and a focus on continuous delivery, even going beyond Agile and Scrum. There needs to be an increase in flexibility; companies that are integral to our way of life such as car producers, banks, travel agencies will be very different to what we know now. Although IT is at their core, they will need to adapt because they are now competing with startups who have everything in the cloud, or new larger competitors that will enter their market from very different angles.

Limited to three words only, what makes you a good fit for 101 Ways?

Keen learner, team player, and sociable. Technically five!

Everyone would love to be a millionaire app developer, if you could have invented any app, which one would it be and why?

Google Translate – it is incredible and I don’t even understand how it works! I was in Siberia with my son earlier this year and we were queuing to enter a museum, but I didn’t know whether we were in the right queue. I was able to use Google Translate to ask the man in front of me – who only spoke Russian – a question and he answered directly to the phone and it was translated so I could understand. It can help people connect who would otherwise be unable to. Just brilliant.

From your experience, what advice would you give to a young person thinking about a career in tech?

Realise what’s important to you, focus on that and learn what you can when you can; whether it’s about code, working in teams or with people who have different ideas to you or even people that don’t like you. Just be agile and you’ll be fine. Being a developer is the best job in the world; we are the people who bring about change.