Welcome to my “personal manual”

This is a guide to help others, especially co-workers, better understand my personality, character traits and preferred ways of interaction with the aim of letting us work together better. It is a living document and subject to change, so I recommend checking back every few months for updates.

Me in Paris visiting dotGo in 2019. You can just make out the Eiffel Tower in the background.

(Last updated: Sunday, August 15, 2021)

Contents

Who am I?

Hello! 👋 I’m Nick Groenen. Currently in my early 30s, I live in Amsterdam in between Lelylaan station and the World Fashion Center. My professional career covers 10 years of experience in infrastructure and IT operations, currently as Site Reliability Engineer at Castor. I’m also active in my local community as a volunteer for the Dutch Red Cross.

What do I do at Castor?

I’m the team lead for our Platform Team, which means I’m involved with and responsible for just about every aspect of the IT infrastructure which hosts our products.

My team’s mission: To provide infrastructure for Castor that is in line with our (compliance) requirements, and to help developers build and operate reliable and secure services on top of that infrastructure.

In practice, this role involves:

  • Managing a team of 4 people.
  • Setting the strategy and vision for our (product) IT infrastructure together with other stakeholders.
  • Championing for Site Reliability Engineering and helping development teams adopt these principles.
  • Supporting my own team members as well as developers from other teams as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) on various infrastructure systems and other technical subjects.
  • Participating in our 24/7 on-call rotation, coordinating incident response and facilitating Post-incident reviews.
  • Being heavily involved with our security and compliance processes around ISO 9001 & 27001, NEN 7510, HIPAA and GxP.

From October 2019 to August 2021 I was also Castor’s Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), but having two roles was getting too demanding so I decided to step down from this position and make room for a dedicated CISO.

Interacting with me

Working hours

  1. 😴 I’m not a morning person and don’t start my working days before 10:00 Amsterdam time. This is reflected in my calendar’s working hours.
  2. 🚶 I’ll often step out for an hour in the middle of the day to go for a walk and give my mind a rest. The only way to reach me during this time is to call, which you should only do in case of emergencies.
  3. 🗓 I work 36 hours a week, taking the Friday off every other week (this is also marked in my calendar).

Meetings

  1. 📅 I’d prefer to have the morning and early afternoon available for deep work. When possible, please schedule any meetings after 15:00 Amsterdam time.
  2. 📄 Speaking of meetings, I’m a big fan of asynchronous-first. Before holding a meeting, I expect us to collaborate over a Google or Confluence document, Jira ticket, Miro board or similar medium first to clarify the topic and our positions on it.
  3. 💬 As an exception to this rule, it’s okay to ask directly for a (virtual) meeting about personal matters or emotionally charged topics. In such cases, it’s better to have access to non-verbal cues like people’s facial expressions and tone of voice.
  4. 🕛 I value meetings that start and end on time.

Assigning tasks to me

  1. ❗ It is important that you set clear expectations and give me an indication of the importance/urgency a task has to you. Without this information it’s hard for me to prioritize against my many other tasks, which is likely to put it at the bottom of my to-do list.
  2. ⬆ I appreciate getting the Bottom Line Up Front. It is however helpful to have references to supporting documents for additional context and information.
  3. 📧 I can’t guarantee follow-up to messages sent over Slack. If it’s important and I haven’t responded, you should send me an email about it instead.
  4. ⌛ It’s okay to send reminders or request status updates on tasks when you’re not getting enough visibility on my progress. I would encourage you to do this.

Asking for my help or input

  1. 👨‍🏫 Work places a lot of demands on my time and energy which means I can’t always make time for you, but this should never prevent you from at least asking. I love giving advice and sharing what I’ve learned.
  2. 🙋 When you reach out to me for help, I do expect you to have done your part. If you’re unsure, read Effectively asking for help first.
  3. 💬 Use public channels whenever possible. I don’t like receiving direct messages (DMs) unless the conversation is really specific to us and/or needs to remain private. Other people might be able to help you as well, and if they can’t, they will learn from seeing my response there.

Communication style & socialization

  1. 🔕 I aggressively try to minimize notifications and interruptions and suggest you do the same.
  2. 📄 Having notifications turned off means that in a lot of cases, I won’t immediately respond to your message. Expect to communicate asynchronously with me and prepare accordingly.
  3. 🤝 I generally prefer getting right to the point. No need for social pleasantries first, just tell me what you need straight away.
  4. 💬 It’s okay to strike up conversation with me if you just want to chat though. I’m an introvert, which means social interactions physically drain me (in big groups especially), but that doesn’t mean I don’t need any social contact at all.
  5. 💢 I’m not afraid to speak my mind and can have strong opinions, but I really try to hold them loosely. Please challenge me, I’ll always do my best to keep Ego out of it.

Some personal background

Early history

I got interested in computers at a young age and started building websites (still on Windows back then) around the age of 14 or 15. Visual design has never been my strong suit, but technical correctness has always mattered to me; even my earliest websites were XHTML-1.0-Strict standards-compliant.

Soon after I started experimenting with Linux as well. My earliest exposure was SUSE 8.1 but I soon switched ran Gentoo for a long time. I credit a lot of my later career success to those early days of obsessing over USE flags and fixing stuff after botched package upgrades.

I’m still close with my family and grew up in a somewhat academic environment. My dad is Professor of Animal Breeding and Genomics at the Wageningen University and one of my two younger sisters also pursued this academic track, while the other went on to become a nurse.

(As a fun anecdote, she and I both signed up as volunteers to the Dutch Red Cross in the same month, without knowing or having discussed this with each other)

Interests outside of work

  • Although I no longer play as much as I used to when I was a kid, I still love video games (mainly on PS4 now). My all time favorite is probably The Last of Us (parts Ⅰ & Ⅱ) though I really enjoyed Until Dawn as well.
  • Board games. I’m a big fan of the Catan games and Legends of Andor.
  • I volunteer for the Dutch Red Cross, where I provide first aid at festivals and sports events and carry a P2000 pager1 as member of a Noodhulp Team.
  • Various intellectual pursuits - I love to read, and in order to share my knowledge more easily with others, I’ve started experimenting with my site as a Digital Garden.
  • I also love to code and tinker with new technologies. All of my favorite programming languages2 I picked up in my spare time for hobby projects.

What am I up to now?

Extracted from my /now page.

  • I’m spending a lot of time figuring out how to position myself as a good manager and tech lead for my team. We did another Team Canvas session with a recent new-joiner, and the team consensus is that they keep on improving with each one we do. This time I allowed people to prepare up-front, as described in Team Canvas preparation hints.
  • I’m currently going through training to join the Red Cross bike team in District Kennemerland. One of the things we practiced was riding our bicycles down stairs and let me tell you, trying that out for the first time sure gives one a rush of adrenaline.
  • Lately, I’ve also rediscovered my love for the Python programming language. I have focused more on Rust and Elixir over the past years, but Python is what I grew up with originally and it hasn’t stood still during that time. It’s been fun seeing what’s improved while I was away.

(Last updated: Sunday, September 12, 2021)


  1. P2000 is the paging-part of C2000, the closed communications network used by all emergency services in The Netherlands. I’m with the team of district Kennemerland and keep mine with me 24/7 whenever I’m in the Amsterdam area. Of the 4 predetermined assembly points in Kennemerland, I can only reach 2 within the 30-minute time-to-arrival requirement when I’m at home. ↩︎

  2. Python held the number one spot for a long time, but these days I’m most appreciative of Rust and Elixir. I also think Go’s principles and tooling are amazing, but I dislike writing code in it. ↩︎