A year of growth and change with Intercom

Not long after I joined Intercom I wrote up some notes on my first impressions of working at Intercom on our internal Facebook group.

They went down well, and we ended up publishing them on this blog. It’s now a year since the original blog post was published, which is a good excuse to reflect on it and provide some additional insight into what it’s like to work at Intercom.

What’s changed?

What would I put differently if I were writing the same post today? Nothing, pretty much. All of the original points made in the blog post are still true today. I’ve continued to work on interesting, challenging projects, in a really nice environment, using a world class toolchain and surrounded by the best group of people I’ve ever worked with in my career. The screaming vikings outside the office are still around, and I’m still not content with our internal wiki. Plus ça change!

Intercom growth

A lot has changed at Intercom though. The product has grown and evolved, and so has the company. It’s been awesome watching exciting and meaningful new product features being built and launched, such as real time messaging and live chat – both of which I had a (very) small part to play in getting out the door. There were also some really impressive projects with a lower profile, such as writing our own internal billing system, migrating all our infrastructure into an AWS EC2 VPC and the ground-up rewrite of the Intercom message composer.

It’s also been fascinating watching our sales and marketing teams expand rapidly and kicking a lot of ass. They’re both really transparent internally in how they go about their work, what they’re working on and what they’ve achieved. Significant sales wins are celebrated weekly (using Slack, obviously), and briefings on new customers or interesting leads are regularly shared internally. This context plays a very useful role in closing the feedback loop between product development and customers. I’ve been able to work a bit with our sales and marketing teams, it’s been lots of fun and made a lot easier by how they go about their work.

Personal growth

More relevant to myself, I’ve changed roles in the last few months – from being an engineer on our Infrastructure team to engineering lead on Intercom’s Platform team. The Platform team own a broad surface of services and software that every Intercom customer interact with. The most obvious and well known of these are Intercom’s public facing APIs, SDKs and Integrations, but we also own the processing of all user data sent to Intercom – meaning we match messages, store user updates, create users, send user updates off to pipelines etc. We’re a pretty small team right now, but working on some ambitious and very impactful projects. We get to build, own and operate software we write on the platforms we choose. Our customers are Intercom’s end users and internal developers, and we own our roadmap. What’s been particularly new and challenging for me is figuring out how to think as a product owner and not just as an engineer solving a problem.

So far my time in Intercom has been varied and empowering. Working in a relatively small, growing environment means you get to directly influence a lot of stuff that goes on around you. In addition to day-to-day software engineering, people management and infrastructure operations, I’ve worked on improving our hiring process, spoken at a number of events, wrote our first public facing security docs and even manually spell-checked blog posts before they went live. I’ve also been involved in fruitful discussions on topics such as how we scale our infrastructure, grow our team and performance management. This kind of variety and influence is near impossible to get in larger organisations.

In the past in my career I’ve been frustrated that I couldn’t fix problems that I wanted to fix, even if I knew how to go about doing it, as it was too difficult to convince others to get involved or that the problems were even worth fixing at all. Sometimes spending the political capital just wasn’t worth it. Intercom is small and agile enough so that I can get things done fast – if I want to get something fixed, I can typically just get it done myself.

Overall working at Intercom has provided the most most challenging and rewarding environment I’ve been in so far in my career. I’ve had to learn rapidly, think hard, get things done quickly and take risks. Companies like Intercom are great organisations to grow as an engineer and leader.

Culture and fun

We have a lot of good wholesome fun at Intercom – and I don’t mean hanging out in the bar in our office every other night – any work environment can throw alcohol at employees in an effort to team build. At Intercom we’ve got regular pilates sessions in the office, gone kayaking off Dalkey, played tabletop gaming, gone rock climbing, and frequently meet up in the futsal courts at Trinity College for a game of 5-a-side football before work on a Friday morning. In addition to the usual celebrations of product launches and significant milestones, there are also regular family-friendly events that use our office space. It’s a nice touch that I get to work in an office where my kids are made feel at home and are welcome to drop in and grab a snack when they are in the city centre.

Intercom also takes contributing back to the local technical community seriously, and not just as a shallow hiring exercise. Numerous meetups are regularly hosted in Intercom’s offices, such as Functional Kats, DublinJS, Clojure Ireland, Node.js Dublin and Ember.js Dublin. Our staff are constantly speaking and participating at events and conferences around Dublin and beyond. Not surprisingly, we also contribute back to open source projects such as Ember.js and Rails, and continue to ramp up our contributions. We take this work seriously by deliberately making the time to do it and recognising good work done by our staff when they engage with external technical communities.

Necessary and ambitious

It’s very compelling to work in a small, fast growing company that’s building something both necessary and ambitious. My initial enthusiasm for working at Intercom hasn’t waned since writing last year’s blog post, and at the same time my own career has developed significantly.

If this sounds like a story you’d like to be part of, we’re hiring.