Working in a fast-growing, multicultural ad tech company: Simon Kröger, VP Technology
A few weeks ago, we introduced you to Fyber’s VP Engineering, Juan Vidal, as he shared his thoughts on how to get started in the mobile industry. This week, we’re catching up with Simon Kröger, VP Technology, to talk about how he grew with the company, his thoughts on how Fyber has maintained a “startup spirit”, and the benefits of multiculturalism in the workplace.
As VP of Technology, Simon is responsible for everything at Fyber that moves on its own without having a brain (besides the coffee machine). The various projects he’s managed over 12 years of freelancing prepared him for the technical challenges faced by Fyber’s complex platform, which serves thousands of external interfaces and millions of users everyday. A man of many talents, Simon knows half a dozen languages inside out and will happily share his technical expertise with everyone willing (and able) to follow.
AN: You’ve been with Fyber since the early days. Since you joined in 2010, Fyber has evolved to a global company with over 260 employees. It’s opened international offices, re-branded, and significantly grown its business and product line. What has it been like growing with a rapidly-expanding organization – and what were, for you, some of the highlights of the past 5 years?
SK: The company has, indeed, grown and changed a lot. To me it feels like a new company every two years, or sometimes even more frequently. This constant change is the reason why I still enjoy working for Fyber. I started as a developer and my personal growth and development within the company have been a definite highlight. I now hold the position of VP Technology and my career path at Fyber has presented many interesting challenges, not only in terms of the shifting focus of my position, but also in the new technical challenges that the company faced. We didn’t just add employees to our company over the past few years, we also added many new partners and clients and that has presented us with many interesting technical problems to solve, specifically when it comes to scaling.
AN: Organizational growth and spending years in an industry very often make firms move towards a more rigid, corporate mentality. Do you think Fyber has managed to preserve a startup mentality and spirit in communication within teams and cross functionalities?
SK: I think the startup mentality at Fyber still exists. Of course, you need to have a different structure to support and allow a company of 260 people to function. A company of 20 people sitting in the same room and going to lunch all together allows for very direct communication, but with a company of Fyber’s current size, you need to add more ways of ensuring that communication flows efficiently and that certain rules and regulations are followed. Fyber has managed to create smaller teams which, in themselves, work very similarly to how we did in the early days. Many people that hold leadership positions at Fyber have been with the company for a while and experienced the early startup days themselves. They liked the way we worked back then and are trying to ensure that we preserve this sort of “startup spirit” in our day-to-day operations, while of course adding functional levels on top to ensure that the larger structure is accounted for.
AN: Obviously with great growth, comes challenges. Can you tell us about a technical challenge that was particularly significant for you? How did you and your team tackle it?
SK: The growth and increase in traffic on our platform is the main challenge – we’ve not only grown as a company, but we’ve also evolved the product line that we offer to our partners. We started with a pragmatic approach that was managed by a pretty straightforward Rails application. But that grew over time into a not-so-easy-to-manage monolith! We knew we needed to change it at some point in time, so about one and a half years ago we started the process of tearing that big application apart into smaller, more manageable modules. The smaller modules are now managed by various teams and we ensure that the interface between these modules is well defined so that we can continue to run and update them without the fear of the whole platform crashing. I find this exceptionally interesting and have even presented at a number of conferences on this topic.
AN: You’ve worked in both the US and Berlin. How would you compare the working cultures in each country?
SK: That’s a tough question, I’m not even sure that Fyber is a typical German company. People that join tell us that we’re very focused on our product and on solving the challenges we’re faced with – and of course, we enjoy mastering those challenges. Once they’re solved we celebrate, but until the job is done we remain very focused. This might be a different compared to other countries. I also think we’re extremely thorough and we want the product to work immediately as it goes live, so we spend extra time and care on making and testing it before launch.
AN: With over 40 nationalities represented in our two offices, Fyber is a pretty international company. What do you think are some of the benefits of working in such a “melting pot” environment?
SK: There are plenty of benefits. On a personal level, going for lunch or having a beer with people from various countries and cultures and listening to their stories is a benefit in itself. Sometimes it makes me feel like I should travel more. Personally, I spent my whole life in Germany and had been living in Berlin before I started at Fyber. Exposing yourself to other cultures gives you insight into how the world looks outside of your own country, even if its not through first-hand experience, but instead by talking to people that grew up and worked abroad. Work-wise, there are different approaches to problem-solving, although I think the tech community is very international nowadays. If you look at all the meetups and startups, they are so multicultural that for us it’s becoming the norm to work in such environment.
AN: Do you have any anecdotes or examples of multiculturalism leading to innovation or unusual problem solving in the workplace?
SK: We have very interesting and wonderfully weird people and great stories. We had a couple Spanish guys who only worked for us in the winter because they had no heating in their homes in Spain, so they would come to Berlin to work when it got too cold in their hometown. People from other cultures bring us a very different approach to looking at problems – many times a more relaxed approach, they are very often able to step back and look at the problem from a different perspective, a skill which I sometimes personally lack.
AN: Do you think it is better for the personal development and growth of an individual to work in an international team? Do you have examples from your own career path?
SK: I think this depends on what you want to achieve with your own career path. If you are, for example, planning to travel and work abroad at some point of your life, it makes it much easier if your company supports you doing so. However, even if this is not the case, when you meet people in an international working environment you build networks – some colleagues will leave and go back home or move on to another destination, but the ties will remain. I think there’s also a benefit to learning how to work together with people of different cultures and backgrounds, as some of them will have very different working styles than Germans do and this can definitely help you in your future career growth, whether that’s in Germany or abroad.
Interested in joining Fyber’s growing, international team? Check out our careers page for current openings.