I would say one of the most important things I learnt at Grafana Labs is how important time is and how to leverage it for your goals. It also showed me that when the road is long, enjoying the journey is critical.
Let me start at the beginning, I joined Grafana in March 2018, right out of college when I was just 20 years old. I thought that I'll be there for around 2 years and then go on and do my own thing. I've now been here more than 5 years and I've made plans for the next 3 years atleast. So what changed?
Note: As an early employee, I do have a significant amount of stock options that could cause a huge tax burden if I left Grafana Labs. However, I'm pretty sure that its not why I continue to be there.
Good things take time ⏳
I was naive when I joined and completely underestimated how long it takes to build and scale good products. For example, we launched hosted Prometheus soon after I joined, but it started generating significant revenue only about a year later. It took us a couple of years to build Loki to a point where we could sell it to customers at scale. And both these projects are roughly 7 years and 5 years old and still growing in terms of revenue, scale and functionality.
Grafana Labs was founded in 2014 and is only accelarating in its growth 9 years later. We've launched a bunch of products and every single one of them became compelling and market leading only after a couple of years of investment into them. With this in mind, I was completely naive in thinking that my learning journey would come to an end in about two years at Grafana.
Time gives you different perspectives 👀
The company you know today isn't the company you knew a year ago. The challenges (product, scale, code) you see today are not the same ones you'll be seeing in a year. This is especially true for high growth companies.
I've seen Grafana Labs at 25 people where everyone wore multiple hats, and I've seen it at 150 people where we started growing exponentially in terms of people. and now I see it at 1000+ people. I've seen it in the good times (2022, the year of zero interest rate and free money) and now I'm seeing it in the not so good times (2023, the year of tech layoffs). The leadership set the tone for the year and managed to inspire and rally people and I find how they did it particularly interesting.
Even with code, time gives you perspective. I've seen how tech-debt I accrued came to bite the team 3 years later. I've seen how Mimir became a victim of its own success and hypergrowth, and became less stable than we'd like. We had to spend 6 months working on pure stability and didn't ship much, but we built the base that let us accelerate feature velocity by doing that.
While this might seem obvious, it was really not for the 20 year old me. If I left Grafana Labs after only 2 years, I'd have missed out on everything. And I am sure that the next 3-5 years will be just as interesting. I'm also sure there will come a point when I'm not learning quickly enough, but this is not it.
Time lets you manage change 🙀
I've only understood this recently but time makes change easier. Change is hard but nobody likes surprises. If you give people enough headsup regarding an upcoming change, they're going to love you for it.
Particularly, if you want to make a switch at Grafana Labs, time is your superpower. The "team transfers" doc internally says, once you see an open position on the careers page you like, please reach out to your manager and talk to your manager about it. If your manager is onboard, reach out to the recruiter internally and go through the interview process.
Imo, if you know you want to switch, that process is too late. For example, I knew I wanted to be a PM, so I reached out a year early and let everyone know that I want to switch. This meant they could plan around my switch, they knew sometime towards the end of 2022 I would switch. I could talk to existing PMs and understand the role and even understand how I could prepare for the interview. This gave me an unfair advantage during the process, but you could get the same too if you have a 6+ month headsup! And further, I could wait for the perfect role to come along in the team I wanted to be in.
I am using the same tactic for my sabbatical. I would like to take a sabbatical in 2025 and I already have buy-in from my manager and skip level. This is only because its two years away.
️The journey must be the reward 🥇
Planning change months and years in advance means its really hard for people to say no. Staying in the same environment for a long-time teaches you things that only time can teach. However, if you're not having fun, then none of this matters.
This is the difficulty with time, you have to enjoy the present while planning for the future. Otherwise its hard and it becomes a test of patience. I was initially hoping to transition to PM in Q4 2022, but it slipped to Q1 2023 (by 3 months), but I had no issues because I was still having fun as an engineer.
I am not a very strong person when it comes to the test of patience. And if you're like me, and you're not having fun, I'd try to switch into something fun immediately and then do the longer-term planning. It becomes easier and you can then plan longer-term bigger changes with ease.
️Time is a privilege 👑
I realise I am extremely lucky. I joined a high growth startup with an amazing culture where I could spend a looooong time. I can afford to wait for change to happen, and have no external factors prompting urgency. And I am honestly having fun most days. This is a combination that not many have, and I am grateful for that.
Sometimes you NEED to change now. Sometimes the right opportunity comes along out of the blue, and you have to pull the trigger right then. And thats okay. But if you're like me, plan ahead and reap the benefits :)