Aleppo, Traders, and Rotations (aka Hackamonth)

Disclaimer: This is part of an article/post I wrote at Noon when introducing Hackamonth for 2023. If you like what you read and are interested in joining Noon, please do reach out.

My Two Sisters

My two sisters, doctors in the US, did rotations for around 2-4 years. And let’s say they are not the biggest fans. It’s tough. Long hours, stress, and some more stress. According to Accumed, rotations are assigned shifts for doctors at a healthcare site. Once assigned to a site, doctors deliver supervised care individually and as a team. Doctor rotations happen a few times across the year.

Introducing Rotations at Noon

We’re not doctors. And no one likes stress. And obviously, if you’re here, you’re not a doctor either (and maybe don’t want to be one.)

But, the idea of rotations is still valid. As an engineer, you’ll amass enormous knowledge by seeding into different teams for a limited time. The teams will also benefit from all the great engineering minds that come through it.

We want to grant engineers the opportunity to seed into a different team of interest, for a month, learn from them, and give them a new perspective, and back to the original team. Or stay with the new team if they love it so much,

💡 This can be the seed of moving to more sparse, self-directed, self-assembled teams at Noon —something like the Valve model with 0 managers and desks with wheels (a really great read is Valve’s “New Employee Handbook” here or this blogpost). Basically, we can move toward a model where we have a constant feed of product problems or OKRs and teams self-assemble around them, get them solved (delivered), and dissolved. Yet to assemble a new team around a new problem. We’re not there yet and we’ll take it a step by step.

John Lusty wants to brand this as Hackamonth. I simply prefer Rotations and I’ll take my chance of coining it as Rotations here as much as I please.

Teams as Cities on a Silk Road, Engineers as Traders

The idea of rotations reminds me of Aleppo, a famous city in Syria – one of the oldest cities in the world and one of the most prominent cities on the silk road back in the day.

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Silk Road and Aleppo. Aleppo is on the middle left under Turkey. Credits Stanford. Damascus, where I’m from, is just below Aleppo, on the other extension of the Silk Road.

Here’s a snippet about Aleppo from The History of the Silk Road:

Aleppo: A pivotal trade centre of the Silk Road, Aleppo’s close proximity to the Mediterranean Sea and the Euphrates Valley ensured its importance as trade between East and West opened up. Aleppo was famous for its vast 13 KM bazaar, which served as an important trading centre for commodities and cultures.

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Aleppo Souk, Credits Trip Advisor. Note the old, very old ceiling.

We want engineers to be traders, not locals.

We want to shake things in 2023, to dare to experiment more. It’s OK to make mistakes that leads to better outcome. To learn from them. To iterate and be better.

💡 What Aleppo did is setting itself on the path of maximum contact with the outside world. The people of Aleppo learned that the more you increase the surface area of contact with other traders, the more you benefit from trade. Same for engineering teams: the more a team increases its contact with new engineers the more it benefits from their experience, skills, and way of work.

What’s the purpose of Rotations?

Over time, we want to achieve this for product engineering:

  • More playful work and end-to-end ownership. As an engineer, you don’t only have ownership of your work and delivery, but also ownership of where you want to be and what problem you want to solve. You know more about our product (e.g. learn how LJ and N+ should be tied closely in the student journey), generate more ideas (e.g. what’s a hot lead at Noon and how can we design a LJ for him/her in order to convert in N+) and learn about other technologies (nGraph, CI/CD pipeline, data pipeline, Android, iOS, etc.)
  • Placing Everyone at the Intersection of Passion and Talent. It’s when people have the opportunity to work on something they’re passionate about and something they’re good at that the magic really happens. We want to give everyone the opportunity to work on something that they love, they’re talented at, and that the world needs. These are the ingredients for purpose and meaning.
  • We want everyone to discover purpose and meaning in their work and their life. This is when work stops being a chore, stops just being a way to earn money, and becomes something more important, work becomes something that you want to do rather than something you need to do.
  • If you want to do something for an intrinsic reason rather than need to do something for an extrinsic reason you’re going to enjoy it more and you’re going to care more about the quality of the product you create.
  • No top-down structure. You have the choice of what problems you want to work on and what things of interest you want to pursue.
  • No single point of failure. Currently, if a backend engineer moves to another team, the whole team collapses because no one is there to do backend work. Enabling rotations does enforce our engineering teams to remove this dependency on particular engineers. This increases redundancy in engineering teams and pushes the EMs to work hard on creating redundancy – a pillar for rapid and constant delivery for high-performant engineering teams.

What a Hackamonth at Noon is.

At Noon, and over the longer run, rotations will be part of our product engineering process, not an ad-hoc, 1 off thing. Here’s what we’ll do:

  1. The engineer will self-initiate the rotation. As an engineer, you decide what you want to learn and what team you want to hackamonth with.
  2. We’ll take rotations on monthly basis. At the beginning of each month, we’ll open the poll for anyone who wants to do a rotation with another team. A hackamonth for an engineer to go to another team, work, and learn from them.
  3. After the hackamonth is finished, the engineer goes back to his/here original team. If he/she likes the new team so much, he/she can continue with the new team.
  4. First come, first served. The first engineers to submit their request on the poll will get their wishes granted.

What a Hackamonth at Noon is Not.

We’re gonna evolve this program over the coming months. Some of the stuff we laid out here will change and we can experiment with that. Nothing is set in stone. We have to start somewhere.

For now, we’ll limit:

  1. The total # of engineers who can change teams within any calendar month. 1 engineer per team.
  2. The # of rotations per engineer per year. Limit it to 1 rotation a year for now.
  3. Duration: 1-month hackamonth.

When can I do my first Rotation?!

The new year – Jan 9th, 2023.

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