SRE Lead Titas: Leave It Better than You Found It
Titas Norkūnas

The Lead of Vinted’s Site Reliability Engineering team is sharing his thoughts on work and life.

Tell us about your career path

Before joining Vinted, I worked for a couple of US companies. It was an exciting time, since it gave me the opportunity to work remotely and visit places around the world.

When I decided to come back to Lithuania, I was certain that Vinted would be an ideal company for me. I already knew some people who worked here, a few of them have been my friends since school. What can be more fulfilling than working on common goals with colleagues who are also your friends?

What is your typical day like?

I come to work and write a stand-up. Normally, this would be a short meeting promoting a follow-up conversation between team members. My team members often work remotely, so we do it in written form instead. Meetings take up about half of my day. At the moment I’m looking for a new person to join our team, so I’m meeting candidates. I also take care of ongoing projects.

I love Wednesdays. That’s when you will find me in 1 on 1 meetings with my manager and my teammates. I leave the office before the traffic jams and come back home just to drop my backpack. Ideally, I end my workday in a cafe, close to my apartment.

What challenges do you face daily and how do you overcome them?

One of my major challenges was learning to finish my workday. I enjoy working and if I am not careful, I will end up spending my whole day at work.

Despite the temptation to stay longer, I have taken steps to break this habit. Every day, after my office hours, I try to do something unrelated to work: spend time with friends, go to concerts or listen to music. Weekends are for rest - I sometimes come to the office, but only to play ping-pong.

What is the key to being a successful manager?

At the moment I am reading High Output Management by Andrew Grove. I like how he defines what the manager’s role is. According to him, when a person is not doing their job - they are either not capable or not motivated enough. So the main role of every manager is to train and/or motivate employees.

But how do you know if you have to train or motivate?

Andrew suggests using the ultimate motivation test:

If you pointed a gun at the person you are asking to do something - would they be capable of doing that?

If they wouldn’t - train them. If they would, it means they lack motivation.

You also need to stay authentic, understand yourself and be exactly who you are. So I am always open with my colleagues. I want them to know what they can expect from me in different situations and show them a good example.

Good leaders live by employees’ rules. Being a manager doesn’t garner more rights. To improve the team’s performance, you must exhibit the same behaviours you expect from others.

This sometimes required me to give up comfort. When I joined SRE team I didn’t want to be on-call (engineers who work on-call shifts, which are scheduled after office hours, are supposed to be available to respond and resolve incidents after being alerted). One of my colleagues also refused to do that. However, I thought it wasn’t fair that people within the same team had different responsibilities. I realized that if I wanted to see a change, I had to begin with myself.

Which events changed you professionally?

Every new workplace changed me in some way. My most intensive professional development happened at Vinted.

One of my most memorable experiences was being an intern’s mentor. For the first time, I had to choose a person to work with me at Vinted.

I got to choose from strong graduates / students from leading tech universities. There was also an application from a 17-year old guy - Ignas, who was on his school summer vacation. Surprisingly, his homework assignment impressed me the most. After interviewing him, I was convinced Ignas was the perfect fit for the position.

The internship program started at a very convenient time - I had many ideas, but not enough time to work on them because of other priorities. We set clear objectives for three months and followed the progress. I dedicated half an hour, at most, to Ignas every day. He worked independently and achieved great results - his internship has paid for itself in a few months.

Working with him has taught me to lay out objectives clearly and delegate tasks well. I sharpened my people management skills.

Two months after the internship, I received an offer to lead the SRE team. This new role demanded a completely different set of skills. I stopped programming and began discovering ways to work with people and manage them.

Leading the team made me become a calmer person. I noticed that usually, poorly understanding each other’s intentions ignites a conflict. You really can’t make harsh comments about what others do and expect to keep the work climate healthy. I learned to consider another person’s perspective.

Tell us about the principles you follow in life

One of the principles I follow is the “Boy Scout Rule” which is “Leave the campground cleaner than you found it”. In my work, that translates to “Leave the code better than you found it”. I also apply it in daily life. For example, I bring my pint glass back when I finish my beer at the bar. I learned this from Michael, my friend from Hawaii, from following his example.

I constantly seek to meet people who are good at something and learn from them.

One of our colleagues, Paulius, is very into fitness. I feel bored lifting weights, but I know how I would like to look and I know that Paulius could help me out. He was excited when I asked him to help me achieve my goal - now I have a plan for the winter.

Who inspires you?

People who inspire me are my friends and colleagues.

One of them is Mindaugas, Head of Engineering at Vinted. I understood he inspires me after a conversation we had made me rethink my behaviour.

We have an internal platform where we communicate, called “People”. I made a sarcastic comment on a post. I knew it could be misinterpreted and taken personally. I ignored that - I wanted to make my point. Mindaugas questioned my attitude. “Do you think I would do the same?” he asked. I knew he wouldn’t - so I edited my comment. I realized then that my schoolmate had become an authority to me.

I’m also inspired by my friend Aurelija’s interest in science. She’s wanted to be a scientist since childhood and now she’s writing her PhD in Oslo. Having spent a huge amount of time with her, I became passionate about science too. That affected my professional life. I could only work in a company where decisions are scientifically verified. If the company hasn’t adopted A/B testing or other methods to verify ideas and plans, I’d find it impossible to work for it for a longer time.

What do you like most about your work?

The fact that I can work with people who are my friends. Moreover, I love the cause encompassed by Vinted - it aims to make the world more sustainable (as its mission declares, “make second-hand the first choice worldwide”).

In other companies, I was motivated by a good salary and the opportunity to travel. Now I am happy to meet my friends everyday and work on the same mission.

Do you try to make more sustainable choices in other areas of life?

I’ve recently gotten a bike, which is only made of used parts. It was constructed by one of my friends who is a bike mechanic. Now I have a bicycle with a frame that is older than me - made in 1984.

I also buy groceries at the local market called “Halės turgus” - I even have my favourite sellers there!

If you could ask any person a question, who would it be and what would you ask?

It would be interesting to talk with people who achieved something extraordinary, whether that’d be a CEO of a famous company, a president, or a prisoner. So I’d probably choose a famous person, like Pablo Escobar, Vladimir Putin or Elon Musk, but not necessarily. If I had a chance to have a conversation with a person who did something unconventional - for example, meditated for 40 years - I wouldn’t miss it.

Is there any book you could recommend?

Professional

High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove

To anyone who manages or is managed. Basically - everyone who has a job. Working under a great manager is key to career success. Learn what great management is. Demand to be managed according to this book.

The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim

To anyone interested in running / working in a lean organization.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

To anyone working in a team or running a team.

Philosophy

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Art of War by Sun Tzu

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Fiction

Anything by Terry Pratchett

What music do you like listening to?

Maybe the best way to describe what I like to listen to is to share my favorite playlist. Here it is: