My experience with being an Agile Coach in Europe, part one

My name is Denis, I am 27 years old and I work Agile Coach in the company N26 (Berlin, Germany) - the fastest growing mobile bank in Europe.


Before moving to Berlin in April 2018, I spent 9 months looking for a suitable job in Europe. During this time I managed:
- to complete about 20 interviews;
- reach the final stage with 8 companies *;
- get 3 offers.

For this, I had to make about 18 flights and visit 3 countries (Germany, Netherlands, Austria).

I was told about my experience by several factors:
1) High interest in similar materials in the IT community with the almost complete absence of “tractor” stories from Agile specialists in the vast network;
2) The desire to share with the community received insights about what looks like the "same" Agile in Europe;
3) The desire to fix everything experienced for himself personally, until the colors are not faded and the memories are still alive.

* In this article you will not find a direct indication of the company with which I managed to communicate, but I will try to give a general description of the context.


The desire to get beyond the beloved Motherland tormented me for quite a long time. I began an active search for vacancies and interviews in the summer of 2016, when a combination of personal, economic and other factors, as well as the desire to actively develop in the chosen direction, pushed me to take the first step.

At that time, my experience with Agile was about two years and I managed to make several attempts to put it into practice with varying degrees of success. This resulted in the experience of working with 2 Scrum teams as a Scrum Master, launching an Agile transformation in the organization, as well as several attempts to build Kanban on a couple of other projects. To my great happiness, the essence of the projects that were under development in the company where I worked at that time allowed and even forced us to actually form cross-functional teams, in which the experts fully participated as Back-End, Front-End and Mobile dev. and QA engineers and designers.

Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany and the Baltic states were chosen as the first direction of job search. In the end, I ended up in Cyprus, where I successfully and with great pleasure worked in my direction for 18 months. Working conditions and the team suited me completely, but life itself in Cyprus was not. I will not go into details, since all this is a matter of subjective perception, but I was drawn to live in a more developed country. An additional factor was the desire to work in a fully English-speaking team (a kind of challenge) and to have the opportunity to develop, taking part in the life of the local Agile community, signs of which I did not find in Cyprus.


May 2017 *

The turning point was a long trip to the XP Cologne 2017 conference - after a week spent in Cologne in mid-May, the desire to continue living in Cyprus was beaten clean. In addition, the conference itself led to the idea that the level of my owning a question and understanding of many things quite satisfies the European labor market. The problems of the language barrier also did not stand for me, since my fateful acquaintance with the English language began at the age of five.

* To make my history easier to navigate, I will indicate time points throughout history.

The first act: "The beginning of the search and the first success of the first lesson"

June 2017.

The first step in returning to the island was the update and substantial rework of the resume. I’ll say right away that the first attempt to adapt it to the “German format” actively promoted in many Telegram channels and blogs ( Lebenslauf + Bewerbungsanschreiben + Empfehlungen ) didn’t bring any result at all and the proportion of interviews assigned to the total number of responses left was extremely low. The reason was trivial - the IT market in Germany consists of at least 60% of expats and most of the HR people, being foreigners, simply had no desire to deal with my writing in German. In the end, I optimized my LinkedIn profile and began using its PDF version as a CV.

However, during June I was able to talk with a couple of companies, one of which even invited me to the final interview in her Berlin office in early July.

July 2017 The

classic recruitment process in almost all the companies I had the pleasure to communicate with consisted of 3 steps:

  • 30-minute interview with a recruiter or another representative of the HR department;
  • 60-minute or 90-minute interview with future colleagues in an expanded composition (current Agile Coach; Product Owner or other business manager; developer or Team Lead)
  • On-site interview, lasting from 3 to 6 hours and includes meetings with various employees of the company and the implementation of various tasks, in particular the holding of a retrospective of one of the existing teams . (this was the case in 3 cases out of 8) The process ended with a short conversation with a recruiter, where I was asked about the day I was given and informed about the time frame for providing the solution.

As is the case with most of the developers whose articles you probably already read, all the costs of organizing a visit to the office were borne by the company (flights, hotel, breakfast at the hotel). A separate charm of such interviews was that direct flights to Berlin from Cyprus are a rarity and I often found myself in a situation where the time spent on the road could go up to 10-12 hours with regard to transfers. All this for the sake of 1-1.5 days at the destination, of which 3-6 hours you spend at the interview.

So it was at that time - taking off from Cyprus at around 12 noon, I landed at the Berlin Tegel Airport only at around 9 o'clock in the evening and had neither the strength nor the desire to conduct sightseeing.

As you must have understood, I failed the first interview. It lasted about 5 hours, following which I felt exhausted, and only 4 hours remained until the return flight. At the same time, the overall impression of the interview was extremely positive and I was already anticipating the impending move to the capital of Germany. An additional factor was the company itself - one of the leaders in the international market of navigation and geolocation, actively applying such interesting technologies for me as Machine Learning, and, besides, having a number of internal startups in the field of autonomous driving, wearables and IoT. “Future colleagues” were extremely friendly and open, in general, expressed optimism and inspired confidence in a bright future.

At the beginning of my article, I also promised to share insights about the state of Agile in Europe. Most of the teams in the company's Berlin office were not cross-functional, since The office was solely responsible for the navigation component of the product. The average team size is 6-8 people. From the words of those with whom I managed to communicate, most of the teams followed “pure Scrum” using technical practices from XP, but some that were considered more mature also used Kanban elements. Each team had a Product Owner assigned to it. Scrum Master “fumbled” between 2-3 teams. Preference was given to maintaining the Backlog Product and Sprint on a physical board. This was reflected, among other things, in the tasks during the interview: I was asked to demonstrate how I see the “ideal” physical board (columns, WIP limits, etc.) and create a formula for calculating the Velocity command in Google Spreadsheet. Visualization of other team artifacts such as Definition of Done, Working Agreements and others could not be found.

The failure that came 2 days later came as a surprise to me. But the most unpleasant was its form - the email I received was a standard template that was usually sent to candidates who were rejected at the CV screening level. Considering the amount of time spent on interviews, as well as a rather stressful trip for an in-person interview, I clearly counted on something more - at least on some detailed feedback that could point me to “points of growth” and help me in further searches.

My letter asking me to give at least some feedback was ignored, and from that moment I added the company to my personal “black list”.

Act Two: “German Ordnung or the Tale of Lost Time.”


Nevertheless, the lesson from what happened was taken by me and the search continued. The account of responses for vacancies went on tens and to remember all the companies where I responded, it became almost unreal. The next “clue” came at the most unexpected moment - on my birthday, which my wife and I enjoyed spending at Disneyland Paris. The girl from the recruiting agency called and said that my CV interested one of their clients and they were ready to schedule the first interview.

It is worth making a small digression and point out that, in addition to striving for new knowledge and improving living conditions, in search of work, first of all, I was motivated by a desire to participate in work on a product that has real social significance and benefits. The company interested in me was engaged in the development and support of its own mobile application, which aggregates offers from dozens of car sharing services, as well as electric moped and bicycle rentals in major European cities and the USA. Having lived 25 years of my life in Krasnodar, which occupies 24th place in the top 100 cities in the world with the largest traffic jams in 2017, I was well aware of the contribution Sharing Economy can make to the improvement of urban infrastructure.

In addition to an interesting product, I was attracted by the fact that the company's office was also located in Berlin and I did not find the slightest reason to refuse such a tempting offer. In parallel with this “shot” one of the responses left by me personally - also from Berlin, but in a less interesting field for me. It was a small startup developing solutions at the junction of hard- and software to speed up the work of databases. Looking back, I don’t really remember why I decided to respond to the vacancy of this company - apparently it was at one of those moments of apathy when I was ready to go to work anywhere, if only in my specialty in Germany.

In my further story, I will simply call them Company No. 1 and Company No. 2.for your comfort. Communication with these companies was another experience for me: it taught me to look at the notorious “German ordnung” in a new way. Although, perhaps, such an interpretation is not entirely correct here, since a rare Berlin startup has at least 60% of native Germans in its staff, and it’s not worth carrying stereotypes about work culture in Germany at all.

The first stage of communication with both companies occurred in the 20th of July. Company number 2 immediately admitted to me that the search for Agile Coach in the state was new to them and the second stage of the process was not yet thought out for them, so this may take some time. It suited me, as my wife was with me in Cyprus before the beginning of the school year at the university and I didn’t really want to organize the move before September.

August 2017

Karshering-service (Company # 1) gave a positive feedback on the first stage rather quickly and suggested organizing a second call - from the company's service station. It is worth noting that of all the Skype interviews that I went through, the first stage with this company still holds a palm in the confusion of what is happening and the lack of adequate questions - at that time I wrote it off as a quality “pre-sale training” conducted by representatives of the recruiting agency greatly praised my CV and experience. The call from the service station took place next week, and literally the next day I was offered a stage, which was supposed to be final - Skype interview with the CEO (the absence of the on-site interview did not bother me, since it was only the second company with which I went so far

The CEO, as it should be the head and one of the founders of the startup in the phase of rapid growth, turned out to be a busy man and had to endure the interview several times, which I treated with understanding. As a result, the conversation took place: I was announced that the feedback from all 3 colleagues who communicated with me earlier is extremely positive and the final result will be reported to me within one to one and a half weeks. It is worth noting that throughout the communication with this company a person from that recruiting agency was in touch with me, who had not worked with this company for the first time and tried to “maximize” me with useful knowledge before each of the stages of negotiations. In the end, it was thanks to him that I learned that the CEO also came under the influence of my professional charms, however, an unforeseen difficulty arose in the form of a looming prospects for hiring a SRO company, a contract with which must be signed from day to day and which will also have to communicate with me and finally approve my candidacy. There was nothing to do, the company really was very interesting to me and I agreed to wait.The calendar was 22 August.

The patience of the recruitment agency expired after 3 weeks - tired of getting “breakfasts” from the company, eventually threatening the agent to refuse me solely because of his perseverance, we agreed to “release the reins” and follow the further development of events.

At the same time, Company No. 2 “woke up” and invited me to the office at the second stage. It happened 1 day before my interview with CEO of Company No. 1, so my first answer was a polite request to give me a week to think. Two weeks later, Company 2 wrote to me myself and asked for an answer - I agreed, deciding what it was worth trying for at least experience. An additional factor was the opportunity to visit Berlin and have time to drop by the carsharing office to try to clear up the situation eye to eye and try to tip the balance in my favor.

September 2017

The trip took place in late September. On my offer to meet in person, the CTO car sharing service replied with a warm consent to give me “precious 40 minutes” of time. In the course of our conversation, I once again heard that all interested parties “support my candidacy” and everything rests on the very ill-fledged SRO, which still does not sign the contract (at the same time, since it first appeared in the discussions, 1 month). My initiative and desire to visit them personally was also “appreciated”.

The company's office made a positive impression - the team spaces had physical boards, visualization of artifacts and, in general, a normal productive atmosphere. The impression did not spoil even the continued repair. The only thing that embarrassed me at that time was the complete staffing of the currently available teams, including the specialists for the role of Scrum Master. However, the CTO assured me that the company was given a “very aggressive growth plan” and did not stand for hiring new employees. “Excellent,” I thought, and went to get ready for the main event of the trip.

I spent the afternoon at the office of Company No. 2. “The atmosphere of the startup”, open spaces and kicker did not even smell here - the office was somehow strictly and uncomfortable, even despite Friday. The average age of employees is around 35 years old and the board of directors, made up of serious adults, didn’t really fit in with my idea of ​​a startup.

During the previous year, third-party consultants were engaged in transferring Company No. 2 to Agile-rails. It was not possible to hire regular Scrum Master-s with their participation, so they trained several employees of the company. In the space of each team there were physical boards, in the main hall there was a visualization of the general roadmap of the company and all the teams. Future plans included the formation of cross-functional teams with the participation of specialists in both hard- and software, and I perceived it as a serious and interesting challenge.

The interview itself consisted of 4 sessions of communication with two or three “future colleagues”. I was asked various questions, the main purpose of which, obviously, was the desire to see how I understand Agile, to assess the course of my thoughts and work style. I did not pin much hope on this company. Perhaps that is why I managed to behave as relaxed and at ease as possible. In the end, this is exactly what led to the fact that after 5 days I received an offer.

Karshering was still a priority for me, so I decided to take advantage of the situation to hurry them again, in parallel, pulling time for consideration of the offer. In addition to the above reasons for doubt, I was also somewhat disappointed with the figure proposed by Company No. 2, which was significantly lower than the salary expectations that I voiced (by about 20%). Starting this search, I was ready to “lose” in money, provided the social significance of the product and the prospects for expanding my professional outlook. Unfortunately, this company in my eyes did not represent either one or the other.

October 2017

In the end, after 5 daysI received a sample letter of refusal from a car sharing service. What was the reason for this is still a mystery to me - perhaps they did not find any reason to take someone to this position right now and decided to stop this three-month epic. Perhaps the problem was the reluctance to pay a percentage of a “recruiting me” recruiting agency. I am not given to know, but the vacancy hangs open on the company's website and is regularly updated on professional resources, although almost half a year has passed.

It was the fifth month of my search. Having remained “at the broken trough” with “the work of my dream”, I decided to choose a bird in my hands and agreed to the offer of Company No. 2. But, as time has shown, it was only the beginning.

To be continued...

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