Nona Blog

The day my life changed — NONA Internship

There was a time when I really never EVER thought I would become a programmer. I blame my applied math lecturers at UCT entirely for this.

A time before the beginning

There was a time when I really never EVER thought I would become a programmer. I blame my applied math lecturers at UCT entirely for this. There’s throwing someone into the deep end and then there’s throwing someone into the deep end with a 2-ton weight attached to them, while sharks are circling and a meteor is about to hit the exact spot you’re in. My lecturers chose the latter approach when it came to teaching us about programming.

This left me feeling demoralized, stupid and having a disdain for anything programming. Knowing how powerful and useful it could be, not only for getting a job but for bringing into reality almost anything you can think of.

Alas, a few years went by after graduation whereby I actively avoided anything to do with programming. I went into Sales, Marketing, Customer Support — anything you can do at a software company besides coding. Unfortunately or fortunately, due to my personality, I absolutely detest the word “can’t”. And this is the word I heard most often from the developers we had at the place I was working at. This lit a fire in me. Firstly, to show them that it can be done and secondly, to face my fears and learn to program no matter what.

I left the software company, changed cities and eventually ended up getting an internship at NONA. This is where the real story begins MWAHAHAHA …

The three musketeers 🙂 — I’m in the middle!

Remote working

When I started at NONA on the 2nd of January, the office was pretty empty. I figured this was due to the fact that everyone was still on leave. I came in the next day, still pretty empty. This persisted until Friday, where suddenly I arrived in an office full of developers and new names I needed to remember.

This was because NONA allows remote working — LIKE ACTUALLY ALLOWS IT. It’s not just a ploy to rope you in. I was ecstatic, finally a place that actually kept to its word. Not that I work remotely. I really enjoy working in the office, and — spoiler alert — free food. Having the choice though is powerful.

The way it works is you only need to be in the office on a Tuesday and alternating Fridays. The attitude towards this seems simple. You’re an adult, go be an adult and get shit done.

Results orientated. Not how many hours has my manager spied on me “working”. This is the future of work I have no doubt. It’s also a great feeling to “choose” to come to work almost every day. It definitely changes the way I have started to look at work.

Personally, it definitely beats the 9–5 rat race.

Learning Days

I’m sure you are wondering why do we only need to come in on alternating Friday’s? The answer is Learning Days. Now you’re probably asking what are these Learning Days…?

A day devoted entirely to learning — I know right. Unbelievable.

The day starts off with you being allowed to learn anything you want to. Some people have formed groups to learn about particular topics. One example is guys go through this book together and aid each other in trying to understand it. Personally, I try to continue a Udemy course (which NONA pays for I might add) I’m busy with or do medium tutorials on programming.

Then we’re off to a tutorial/workshop from 10 AM to 1 PM. Its purpose is to teach developers how to do something new or better. Topics include testing, using Redux or learning about Solidity. They are usually based on stuff the company as a whole would like to get better at or is essential to becoming better as a developer.

“Ting Ting”. Lunch is served from 1 PM to 2 PM.

Thereafter, there’s a demo provided by one of the developers in the team. Where they will do a talk about a particular topic relating to development. It can be about anything. While I’ve been here we’ve spoken about git rebase and garbage collection to name a few of the topics presented. This usually lasts until 3 PM.

After that, you’re free to continue learning whatever you damn well please. Oh yeah and this is included in your pay — no grudges attached.

Live footage of developers in the wild on learning day

“FREE” FOOD

Yeah, you read it right. FREE FOOD DAMNIT!

(The ‘Free’ is in inverted commas because there’s no such thing as a free lunch but this is as close to free as you’ll get)

Having just moved to a new city. The fact that I don’t live in walking distance from work. Being on an interns salary. This all meant finances were gonna be strained from the get-go.

Luckily lunch at NONA is free and prepared for you with love, every weekday. The bell goes “ting ting” at around 1 PM and you know it’s time to eat. The only “downside”, if you can even call it that (I just want to provide a picture that doesn’t seem too one-sided), is that you need to wash your own dishes — yeah I’m being a nit-picky prick.

This really helped with finances but that’s not all folks. You can even make your own damn breakfast. There’s a kitchen with a stove and eggs (bacon sometimes) and other stuff (I only eat the eggs which is why they get special mention) that you can use to make your first meal of the day.

Essentially, I get two meals a day, every weekday free of charge. INSANE!

Sprint

NONA applies the agile methodology through the Scrum method. In a nutshell, this means that a team will work in sprints (2-week cycles in NONA’s case) toward an over-arching goal of, say, finishing a website and/or application.

The team will come together at the beginning of the sprint and run through the tasks that need to be completed in order to achieve the goal. An example of a task could be to add validation to a form. The task is then assigned a difficulty point score (by the team) and added to the sprint. After a number of tasks that are deemed reasonable by both the team and the client or product owner has been agreed, the sprint commences in which all the tasks should be completed.

I have really enjoyed working this way. You’re actually part of a team. Where your goals are aligned. If the tasks in the sprint aren’t completed it’s the team’s fault since everyone on the team agreed to the tasks. Also, the client can’t be unhappy since they’ve also agreed to the tasks in the sprint. There’s skin in the game from everyone involved.

An in the Office Tuesday where we’re having our company-wide standup with our COO (who was in Spain at the time) #Remote

Everyone is also allowed to give their input and thus be heard. This is a great way of getting very different points of view. Hearing suggestions to do things you never would have thought of. A great way for a noob dev like myself to leech off of more experienced devs.

It also promotes a high level of teamwork as everyone is aligned to finishing the sprint. Therefore people are willing to assist you in doing your tasks or help you with blockers.

The feedback loop is great as well. Every 2 weeks, you can see how much you are contributing. This was a major change from what I was used to. Usually, you’d only have a review once a quarter, maybe once a year. Not very effective for knowing where you stand or if you’re adding value. Whereas here you can see very easily the value you are adding or if you’re dragging behind the rest of the team.

I’ve really enjoyed sprints and how they work. It completely suits my personality of setting tasks and completing them by a deadline.

Hackedy — Hack

Every company needs a main sport. NONA’s is Hacky Sack. Yeah, that small sack you may have seen being kicked around at varsity. I was sceptical too. Probably my ego getting in the way of me potentially having fun — I mean kicking a hacky sack looks crazy hard.

Fortunately, I was goaded into playing with everyone and caught on to the game pretty quickly. I can now launch from a stopped position, control the sack with my knee and use my right leg to do stuff (I used to be completely left footed). I have also been kneed in the head and myself kicked someone in the face. It’s a physical game sometimes (˼●̙̂ ̟ ̟̎ ̟ ̘●̂˻).

Of course, there’s also push-up punishment. This punishment results when the rules are broken or someone is shibobo-d (nutmegged). The physical health of NONA employees is of top priority. I mean look at the COO…

Mer-leprechaun emerges in peak physical condition

Day-to-day

NONA’s core values are the following:

  • Continuous Improvement as a way of life(#GitGud)
  • Take ownership (#OwnIT)
  • Be in it for each other (#All41)
  • Be generous with your knowledge (#HelpANoob)
  • Communicate openly and honestly — NO MATTER WHAT (#HonestAF)

Now if you’re like me you look at these with a pinch of salt. Most companies have these “values” on the front door but as soon as that door is closed the “values” are morphed into something closer to a Freddy or Jason list of interests. Not a fun time.

I can honestly say that with regard to NONA— although maybe not always and completely — people really do try to live up to the values.

With learning days and everyone constantly trying to get better, it makes you become better. It makes you realize that as developers we are all in it together. None of us knows everything. None of us can do it alone. There’s just too much out there to know everything.

When shit hits the fan and a client has managed to seduce the PO (Project Owner) into a seemingly impossible task, people do not shy away but work together to make the impossible possible.

If a tough conversation needs to be had, it gets done. If you want the truth you’ll get it whether you like it or not.

So a day at NONA goes something like this:

You have tasks, that you committed to completing. You know you need to get them done in the two weeks allocated. You’re confident you can achieve the goals because your teammates are incentivized to help you and have your back. You are free to speak (i.e. you can say “politically incorrect” — what is political correctness even? — things and not be chastised because someone has decided to be offended. OBVIOUSLY within reason).

If you choose to come to the office, you get lunch. You might be able to play some hacky sack if there are enough people in the office.

A game of Hacky Sack under way (and I wonder why I kicked someone in the face xD)

You finish the day having accomplished something, hopefully, while maintaining your dignity. Oh yeah did I mention there’s no traffic?

Who is NONA not for?

If you’ve read up until now and what I say resonates with then you can apply here, however, I recommend you read the following just to be safe. NONA’s not for everybody and here’s why:

  1. You are treated like an adult. As such you need to be able to work without someone micromanaging you. Telling you what to do all the time. Be responsible for your own time and getting your tasks done.
  2. Office politics are pretty nonexistent so if you want to rise through the ranks you will mostly have to actually be a great developer. You can’t jimmy the system by knowing someone or by simply being great at networking.
  3. A lot of people can’t handle being told something they do sucks or even that it could have been better. At NONA, you will be confronted with honest feedback often. Some people can take this, some people not.
  4. People swear sometimes if that fucking annoys you — DO NOT JOIN.
  5. Topics are debated which are usually not corporate “safe”. If you don’t want your opinions on things to be challenged or you don’t want to be exposed to different ways of thinking then steer clear.
  6. There is a culture of wanting to improve all the time. Although consistent improvement sounds great, it is a great responsibility that may become burdensome if you would prefer to relax more often.
  7. Some people are winners. They always want to win. They want to be the best and do the best — not in an asshole kind of way but in an if I’m not winning I need to better kind of way. NONA is full of these kinds of people.
  8. As I said before NONA truly believes in the values. If they do not resonate deeply within you, this is not the right place for you.

Final Scene

I write this as I am about to be offered a full-time contract with NONA. Therefore my opinion will definitely contain some bias. I have tried to be as objective as possible, though.

However, I do hope you are skeptical. Skeptical enough to do some research, talk to previous employees and maybe even come check the place out. We’re always keen to meet new people who are of the same ilk.

Joining NONA has been one of the best decisions of my life. I wake up with a spring in my step. Excited for the tasks ahead, amped to work with the people I do and mostly wondering who will actually be in the office today…

I’m really a part of the team 🙂

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