Aug 17, 2020

Building a learning culture at Showmax Engineering

Jan Špitálník
Jan Špitálník
Daria Nepriakhina
Building a learning culture at Showmax Engineering

This August, we at Showmax are celebrating 5 years of delivering streaming video on demand on the African continent from our engineering centers in Prague and Beroun, Czech Republic.

At first glance, it may seem like an over-complication; a tech hub in the middle of Europe building a streaming service based in Africa. Distance management certainly presents unique challenges, but we are able to pull it off thanks to our people.

My colleagues are enthusiastic, passionate, and genuinely want to deliver the best service possible. They are eager to test new technologies and approaches, experiment and push the limits, and - most importantly for me - make mistakes and learn from them.

Real-world scenarios are great, but we also encourage our teams to read, take courses, go to events, give talks and lectures, and generally take some time for a more academic approach. Being a learning company has proven to be a winning formula. Over the past five years, we’ve innovated and expanded, and we continue to do both at pace.

In the spirit of education, here’s a short(ish) reading list to get you started - or to add to your library as the case may be. The first few are from me; followed by some suggestions from a few colleagues.

  • Designing Data-Intensive Applications by Martin Kleppmann. Fantastic book on building a platform like Showmax - talks about all the good buzzwords - scalability, consistency, reliability…
  • Video Encoding by the Numbers by Jan Ozer. If you ever had questions about video codecs, quality and how to stream the best quality with the least amount of data, please read it. Peter Lisak, our Head of Media-Engineering, has this book on his nightstand.
  • Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. I loved this book. It was an exciting way to get to know some of the historical background of our primary market. My colleague David Viktora (CMS Team Leader) also recommends this one.

Books worth reading when you want to focus on programming:

  • Fluent Python by Luciano Ramalho. This book is for people who are advanced in Python; it helps to fill knowledge gaps and improve practical skills.
  • Advanced Programming in the UNIX Environment by W. Richard Stevens. This is the UNIX bible you need to read if you want to understand how things actually work. Throw in The C Programming Language by Kernighan and Richie for the ultimate mix. (Recommended by Michal Fousek, our iOS Team Leader)
  • The Data Warehouse Toolkit by Ralph Kimball. If you ever need to store and process massive amounts of data, this is the book you want to read. (Recommended by Mojzis Stupka, our Analytics Team Leader)
  • The Site Reliability Workbook by Betsy Beyer. As a customer-oriented service, having highly reliable systems is a must. SRE might help you as well. (Recommended by Stefan Safar, our Senior CDN Engineer)
  • Programming with Types by Vlad Riscutia. I’ve found this book extremely educational for both novice and experienced programmers alike. TypeScript is used as the “vehicle” to explain the underlying concepts, but that should not deter more backend-oriented devs from reading it. TL;DR: Type theory for humans. (Recommended by Ondrej Oprala, our Platform Engineering Team Leader)

And a few more non-IT…

  • Turn The Ship Around by David Marquet. How do you command a US nuclear submarine? You don’t shout out commands like Russell Crowe. You let your people know your intentions and have them figure out the solution. Great read. (Recommended by Pavel Bures, our Head of Backend)
  • Start with Why by Simon Sinek. Sinek presents his idea of The Golden Circle, a framework that will help you inspire people, lead movements, and build organizations. If you want people around you to follow your ideas and be more passionate and motivated about what they do, this book is definitely worth reading. Alternatively, here’s a TED Talk version. (Recommended by Jiri Brunclik, our Head of R&D)
  • Care to Dare by George Kohlrieser. What is your game like? Do you play to dominate, to win, or simply not to lose? Find out how to better balance your approach and how to become a secure base for the people around you. (Recommended by Martin Surab, our Android Team Leader)
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