May 3, 2022
Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol
Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. We’ll be sharing more on what we know about the Supreme Court’s draft opinion and what it means in the workplace context in Thursday’s newsletter, but, for now, this is relevant: Amazon is the latest tech company to tell employees that it will pay for abortion travel, according to Reuters. It will pay up to $4,000 in travel expenses annually for non-life-threatening medical treatments, including abortions. That’s if medical treatment is not available within 100 miles of a U.S.-based employee’s home, and if remote care isn’t available. The country’s second-largest private employer joins Bumble, Yelp and Apple, among other companies, in providing this type of benefit, all in reaction to restrictive state abortion laws, like the one in Texas.
Also, it feels right to bring up this story that my colleague Issie Lapowsky wrote in September. TL;DR: If you live in a state where abortion is outlawed, the technology you use every day could be used against you.
Today: I sit down with GitLab’s CEO to walk through a day in his life, my colleague Veronica Irwin documents the rise of a new job category (the tech ethicist) and a new survey from McKinsey unpacks who’s really a fan of hybrid work.
This is the fourth installment of Protocol’s Calendar Series, where we take you inside a day in the life of some of the world’s biggest tech execs: the meetings on their agenda, how they manage their time, their best productivity hacks and what they prioritize in a busy day. Read the rest of the series.
Sytse “Sid” Sijbrandij is the CEO and co-founder of GitLab, a company famous across the industry for its uber transparency. The DevOps software platform documents workplace practices in a 2,000-page public handbook, which Sijbrandij linked to multiple times in our Zoom chat. Most of his day is spent with CEO shadows who watch his every move. A lot of his meetings are recorded or streamed live for his employees to watch and critique openly.
This kind of transparency is unusual for CEOs and plebeians alike, a mode of working that most shy away from. Meanwhile, Sijbrandij thrives on it. He believes in the strength of this kind of culture when it comes to recruitment and retention of tech talent. And it’s paid off: GitLab has a pretty high (85%) retention rate and has also enjoyed considerable growth. When the company went public last year, Sijbrandij became a billionaire.
Sijbrandij and I caught up last month to talk about a typical day in his life: March 30. His CEO shadows were also on the call with us, part of a new program he implemented that allows two GitLab employees to join him on 80% of his meetings for two weeks each “to get a better idea of all the functions at GitLab and how decisions are made.”
I asked him if he ever feels uncomfortable sharing so much. He said he’s gotten used to it, but that for new people at GitLab, it can be a lot. “In general, if more people see your work, you’re going to hold yourself to a higher standard, but it also allows more people to give you feedback and contribute back,” he told me.
His schedule has been edited for brevity and clarity.
7:30-7:55 a.m. | Parents and Sytse via Whatsapp (no shadow)
I call my parents two times a week on Mondays and Wednesdays. Today, I had this call.
8-8:50 a.m. | CEO peer and Sid intro
This is a person in the industry who asked for a meeting. So it’s to talk about the industry, talk about DevOps, both of our companies and lessons we learned.
We talked about high-growth strategy, go-to-market strategy, channel strategy, acquisition strategy and lessons from going public.
In my friend group, a bunch of people are CEOs, so I meet with them. But this kind of industry connection happens about once every two weeks or something like that. You learn what’s happening, you can maybe reflect if there’s something you’re wondering about yourself, you get to help people.
9-9:25 a.m. | (Async) Pre-read data program review content
Sometimes when I need to do something, I want to make sure that there’s time for that. Otherwise, the schedule just fills up with meetings.
That was reading the data program content so that I was prepared for the meeting later on.
10-10:25 a.m. | Sister and Sid (no shadow)
That’s a call with my sister. I live in San Francisco, and a lot of my family is over in Europe, so it has to happen during the morning. So I make sure those are on the calendar so that we don’t plan work over it.
10:30-10:55 a.m. | [REC] Support key review (private stream)
With a lot of functions at GitLab, we do a periodic review twice a quarter. We look at things that are top of mind for them. They give the status of their OKRs, their objectives, KPIs and key results for the quarter: the kinds of indicators that represent the health of their business. They have a presentation that they readied upfront, sometimes even a video where they talk you through the presentation in a 25-minute call with typically me, the chief of staff, [financial planning and analysis] leadership and any other execs who want to join. And then later on, they have a group conversation that’s open to the entire company. And we share the agenda and the recording of the key review.
The key review tends to be a bit more about, like, “Hey, this indicator is off. Why is that off? What are you going to do about it?” The group conversation is more for people to get context like, “Hey, what does this mean? I don’t understand what’s here. Can you elaborate?” And the key review allows for us to all be aware of the progress and what’s going on. The group conversation gives people a chance to look outside their function.
This one was for the people who receive support requests from our customers. We do this twice a quarter with each group. Private stream means a livestream to our internal YouTube channel. If you work at GitLab, you can see that stream.
11-11:25 a.m. | G&A e-group call
G&A stands for general and administrative. In a software company like us, you have go-to-market, you have sales and marketing, you have R&D, product and engineering. You also have general and administrative, and that’s finance people and legal.
It’s really important that those functions collaborate really tightly together. So we have a call just with the four of us, the heads of that group, to make sure that we’re on the same page.
We went over something related to the RSUs we granted people, so the stock options. We also talked about the 10b5-1 plans. Some people at the company, like the higher-ups like me, have to file a trading plan way in advance.
Our chief financial officer also brought up culture. We have a lot of new team members joining, and we want to make sure that we keep educating people on how we work and why we work the way we work so that we strengthen our culture as more people join, instead of diluting it.
11:30 a.m.-12:50 p.m. | GitLab audit committee meeting (compliance)
As a public company, you typically have three committees. One is the audit committee, making sure that financials are in order, and [it] looks at cybersecurity risks. Another is typically called a comp committee: dealing with people, with hiring, with compensation. And the third is the nominations and government committee: recruiting new board members, for example.
There was a deck beforehand. We have to file our financials continuously as a public company. There’s a thing called the U.K. Modern Slavery Act, where you have to certify as a company that you are compliant with [it]. That was a presentation from our auditors. And we went through the minutes from previous meetings.
We do what Google calls “speedy meetings.” Typically I’d get like 25 or 50 minutes to leave a bit of time to handle messages, go to the bathroom, do something else. I find that if meetings are back-to-back, it’s stressful, and meetings tend to not start on time. We want to make sure the meetings start on time, but that’s only possible if we end on time.
1-1:25 p.m. | Development key review (public stream)
That’s another key review, this time about our engineering function.
1:30-1:55 p.m. | Data team discussion
That’s about our data team that gathers all the internal data. We talked about their strategy, like what platforms do you want to use, et cetera.
2-2:25 p.m. | 1:1 Robin and Sid
This is a 1:1 with a report of mine. Robin [Schulman] is our chief legal officer. I have a weekly call with my direct reports. I think that makes sense. And managers at GitLab are expected to have a call at least every two weeks. I think I, as a CEO, am kind of the central nexus between a lot of functions, so I do it weekly. I have eight reports, and each of them has a weekly meeting.
2:30-2:55 p.m. | 1:1 Sid and David
David [DeSanto] is also a report, a leader in product. I’m actually quite opinionated on how the agenda [for 1:1s] should look. The link I just posted in the chat has a lot of information about it.
3-3:25 p.m. | [REC] Biweekly CEO and incubation engineering
These are engineers working on a very specific set of functionality, and they have to do everything all the way from building it to marketing. And I think that there’s a lot of innovation happening there. So I’m quite close to the team, and we have biweekly reviews of all the initiatives.
It’s kind of like a 1:1 agenda, except we only discuss the different initiatives that we aligned on. For example, I was suggesting that the videos could be shorter, so they shortened the videos. Since then, every one of those engineers posts a biweekly thing on YouTube and a public channel, costing me more time to review them. So now they shortened the videos, which is awesome.
3:30-3:55 p.m. | 1:1 Ashley and Sid
Ashley [Kramer] is our new chief marketing and strategy officer.
6:30-9:20 p.m. | Dinner with friends
These were some colleagues from the industry, and they came to my place and we hung out for a little bit. I have separate work and personal calendars, but my assistant at GitLab is on my private calendar and vice versa to make sure that there’s only one me, so it can’t be two things at the same time.
I think I’m a bit more liberal with sharing my calendar. All the team members at GitLab can see most of my GitLab appointments.
Trust and safety officer. Policy lead. These are job titles that didn’t exist a decade ago, but in 2022, “responsible tech” is a career path: My colleague Veronica Irwin documented the rise of the tech ethicist in her latest story. “There's a lot of appetite for this, especially as the public has become very aware of highly publicized problems with technology,” one of her sources said. Several organizations and academic institutions are working right now on defining the job, what it means and how to prepare students to work in the field.
The speed at which security has been built up over the last 12 months has been a derivative benefit of what we’ve seen during the pandemic. Privacy, compliance and security are three legs of the same stool. What we’re seeing increasingly is that intersection continuing to happen. RingCentral has invested in all those elements.
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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great day, see you Thursday.