Jonathan Sumner Evans
Sumner Evans
Software Engineer at Automattic working on Beeper

Amsterdam, Netherlands - Work Retreat

Posted on in Travel, Trip to Amsterdam, Work Retreats • 1517 words • 8 minute read
Tags: Travel, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Beeper, Work

This week, my company (Beeper) had our first retreat of the new year in Amsterdam, Netherlands. We aim for about three retreats a year, though due to holidays and a recent push towards our beta exit milestone, it has been a little while since we have all gotten together. The last retreat was in Mexico City in October and before that we had three other retreats. The goal of each retreat is to provide an opportunity to connect as a team on a personal level, discuss future plans, and reflect on the progress we have made.

Since the last retreat, we have gained a new team member, Joonas, who is yet another Finn bringing our Finish contingency up to four people. Joonas previously worked at Oura (the smart ring company) as an iOS developer and he was hired onto our iOS team earlier this year, however he has been helping out on the backend team wrangling our iMessage bridge and helping bring it to even more of our users.

This retreat was also the largest we’ve had so far with 22 people in attendance. We stayed at The Social Hub Amsterdam City which was a really nice venue for the retreat. I think that the hotel doubles as student housing, and because of that, there were lots of nice spaces to sit and work. There was also a co-working room which we rented and used for our team meetings.

Everyone in the coworking space listening to Eric discuss our plans
Everyone in the coworking space listening to Eric discuss our plans

A group picture with everyone who made it to the retreat
A group picture with everyone who made it to the retreat

Retro

One of the highlights of every retreat for me is our Monday morning retro. This retreat’s retro was no different. If I were to sum up the vibe of the retro in one phrase it would be: progress and optimism.

We have made a lot of progress as a team in the past five months. Most of the work we have done lately has been building towards our beta exit milestone. We launched hungryserv to all users, shipped our iOS app to the App Store, shipped Start New Chat functionality in our iOS app, improved our login and waitlist experience, launched new Slack and Discord bridges, and many other bug fixes and architectural improvements across the entire platform.

There is also a lot of optimism about what we will accomplish next. We are focusing on polishing our apps and scaling our backend so that we can onboarding even more people from our waitlist!

The next few months are going to be very exciting for Beeper. Since we’ve stabilized our app architectures, we are going to be able to focus on building new functionality.

Tiago (standing right) discussing his retro sticky notes
Tiago (standing right) discussing his retro sticky notes

Working

We worked every day except for Thursday from the conference/co-working space. I had a list of things that I wanted to accomplish this week that I felt would be good tasks to do while face-to-face with people on my team. We also had many ad-hoc discussions about various topics.

Planning for Scale

On Monday, the backend team had a conversation where we discussed ideas for making our architecture easier to scale horizontally. The main conclusion was that we need to move towards having small, hyper-replicable units that can be deployed at the edge of our infrastructure. We continued our discussion on Wednesday and decided to double down on hungryserv to accomplish our scaling goals.

This next evolution of our architecture will allow us to iterate faster on new features and deliver lower latency experiences to our users.

Chatwoot (again)

One of the things that I wanted to do on this trip was upgrade the Chatwoot bot. It hasn’t gotten much love and has fallen behind in mautrix versions significantly. Upgrading would allow me to utilize the new crypto helper which handles keys better. Having Tulir around to explain how to use the new helper functions he had added to the library was very nice.

I was also able to collaborate with the support team on a few new features for Chatwoot. I added functionality to create Chatwoot conversations for all users who don’t currently have active conversations on startup, and I created a dashboard within Chatwoot to provide links to some important resources for our support team.

Deploying to Production

I have been trying to learn how our production stack works beyond bridges, and one of the ways that Brad (my boss) has been helping me do that is by having me work on and deploy non-bridge backend work. The Chatwoot changes required deployment, and having other people on the backend team there to double-check that what I was deploying things correctly was really handy.

On Friday, we had a BRAD day. It’s a day that every employee in the company can work on anything we want, so long as it’s company-related, and as long as we present it at the following week’s demo meeting. I was planning on writing a ChatGPT bot, but Eric used ChatGPT to write the bot. Luckily, the AI doesn’t know how write code to deploy containers to our production environment yet, so that is what I did. It was good experience to learn more about how our kubernetes setup works.

Other Progress

There were many other things that we worked on. The client teams developed ideas for how to add polish to our apps, Scott and Max worked on the new Signal bridge, and our iMessage team worked to improve our iMessage integration.

We made a lot of progress on all fronts, and we have lots of exiting work ahead!

Exploring Amsterdam

As with all our retreats, we spent time together exploring the city. On Sunday, Brad, Scott, Bradley, and myself went to a fish restaurant and we had a fantastic platter of fish.

We couldn’t really read the menu, so we just ordered the thing that looked like it said platter for four. We were not disappointed.

A fantastic platter of all kinds of fish

We couldn’t really read the menu, so we just ordered the thing that looked like it said platter for four. We were not disappointed.

Boat Tour

On Monday, we took a boat tour through the canals of Amsterdam. Amsterdam is called the Venice of the North because of all of the canals.

The team on our boat tour
The team on our boat tour

After the boat tour, a few of us went to get fries, which Amsterdam is famous for. The large size fries that I ordered were way too much. The fries were pretty good, and the fritesauce (which is just mayo) was fine, but I really have no idea why I ordered so much. I don’t like potatoes that much, and I don’t like mayo, either. Oh well, when in Rome Amsterdam…

Boules

On Wednesday, we went to Mooie Boules “French bowling”. The goal was to throw large meta balls towards a small wooden red ball. Whichever team gets closest to the red ball got points. Points are determined by the number of your team’s balls that are closer to the red ball than all the other team’s balls (similar to curling scoring).

I played with Max against Ivan and Jess. Ivan and Jess made a great comeback and won by one point!

Matt is about to throw as Toni, Tulir, and G look on.

Playing Boules

Matt is about to throw as Toni, Tulir, and G look on.

Tulips

Thursday was “Adventure Day”. The team split up to go on various adventures around Amsterdam. I went with G, Annie, Michelle, Bradley, Josh, Laser, and Jess to Keukenhof to see the tulips. Most of the tulips were not quite in bloom yet, but there was a greenhouse that had many tulips in bloom.

I Can Play the Nine Ball!

One of the fun things about being in-person is getting to play games with coworkers. I think it’s a great way to get to know each other a little better by doing something that isn’t work-related.

One of the best aspects of our hotel was the pool table. We would often take breaks by going to play a game of 8-ball. Toni introduced us to a game called 9-ball which is played with only 9 of the balls and the goal is to pocket the 9-ball, but the catch is that you must hit the lowest number ball first. So, at the beginning of the game, you must hit the 1-ball. After hitting it, anything is legal, so you could try and play the 9-ball through the 1-ball. It encourages you to try some crazy shots and sometimes you get lucky!

At one point, we played doubles 9-ball. Nick and Toni teamed up against Tulir and myself. Many crazy shots were attempted, and some of them succeeded!

I also brought poker chips on the trip, so on Thursday in the afternoon, a group of us (Nick, Toni, Josh, Annie, and myself) played a casual game of poker.


I had a great time in Amsterdam. It’s a very nice city, and it was great getting to spend time with my coworkers in-person. I’m excited and optimistic about what we will accomplish in the next few months as we bring Beeper to many more people!