Matthew Liam Healy

@matthew_healy

My Week at SoundCloud

Two weeks ago I moved from Scotland to Germany to start a new job as an iOS engineer at SoundCloud. On Monday of last week I started that job. By Thursday evening I, along with 172 of my new colleagues, was officially being laid off. And then, on Friday, I received somewhere in the region of sixty emails about potential new jobs.

It’s been a wild week.

I want to talk a little bit about what that’s been like. Not because I want to complain – although part of me certainly does – but because I think it will help me process what’s happened. Also, since the Hire a Former SoundClouder Google Sheet went sort of mini-viral, maybe people are just interested.

I applied to work at SoundCloud in mid March of this year. At the time I had been living in Edinburgh for about eight years, and was ready for something new. As both a music lover and sometime music maker, working at SoundCloud was essentially my dream job. Couple that with the iOS team’s focus on code quality and test-driven development, and I was entirely sold.

After a trip to Berlin for an interview, I was offered the job on April 24th. I agreed a start date of July 1st, to give me time to work my notice and move country, and then I started to dismantle my life in Edinburgh.

Now, I don’t suspect for a minute that anyone involved with my hiring knew at any point what was going to happen. When I was hired, teams were seemingly being encouraged to bring people on board. Indeed, the $70 million in funding that SoundCloud received in March was announced as being raised to help with hiring. However, I now know that shortly after I was hired, all non-essential hiring (read: hiring that didn’t directly replace someone who had left) was frozen. Make of that what you will.

Fast forward to late June of this year. Two weeks ago. I stored a lot of my belongings at my parents’ place, gave away a huge amount of stuff I couldn’t store or ship, and arrived in Berlin with just two suitcases full of essentials. A lot of this didn’t feel entirely real. There was no way I could really be moving country, to work at my dream job. But I was.

Normally arriving in Berlin is pretty tough. You have to register with the government when you start living here, but to do that you need a place to stay, but to find a place to stay you often need to prove you’re registered. Fortunately SoundCloud had paid for a fantastic coach from a company called ExPath, who made all of this incredibly easy. Within two days I was registered, had opened a bank account, and was ready to start the hunt for an apartment.

Like any big city, apartment hunting in Berlin in crazy. I went to one viewing, in Friedrichshain, to which around 100 people turned up. I’m told that normally you can expect to wait anywhere from 1–2 months to find a place. So I started looking hard. I sent around 50 emails enquiring about places, and, in my first weekend in Berlin, went to 15 flat viewings. And then I found one. A beautiful big apartment in Prenzlauer Berg, only 25 minutes walk from my office. In an unbelievable stroke of good luck I got on well with the owners, and they offered me the place.

This was Tuesday. On Wednesday I signed the lease. The deposit and first month’s rent together were pretty steep, but I needed a place to live, and the apartment was beautiful. I used almost all of my savings to pay for it.

Some of my new colleagues were astonished. It had taken them months to find flats, and here I was, in Berlin ten days and I already had the keys to my own place.

I can’t accurately describe how happy I was on Wednesday evening: a dream job, an incredible apartment, an exciting new city to explore. I just don’t have the words.

Honestly, I feel like I’m laying it on a bit thick. If this was fiction, I’d be calling bullshit. But every word of this is true.

I had my first day at SoundCloud on the Monday before I signed that lease. It was a ridiculous start to a new job. First, there was the obligatory branded swag: a t-shirt, a water bottle, a pair of headphones, all in a branded tote bag. Then there was the office itself: an incredible space where every detail had been considered, with free snacks and drinks, and an espresso machine. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to work there.

Eleven other people started with me. Around the office, people were telling us it was the biggest intake in months.

I don’t blame anyone for what happened, but this question keeps coming back to me: why was a business that was about to cut 40% of its workforce still hiring so aggressively?

The 12 of us had a couple of on-boarding sessions together over the first few days. We looked at the history of the company, how it was run, and what the options were for a company pension. The session covering the business’ future direction was delayed from Monday morning to Wednesday, and I joked at the time that maybe the company’s direction had changed so drastically that the slides needed to be rewritten.

Awkward.

Outside of the on-boarding, I was getting to know my team. Every single one of them was as friendly and helpful as you could possibly hope for. After three days with them I was already convinced this could be amongst the best teams I’ve ever worked on.

My formal induction into the team consisted of a few hours pair programming each day, and it was in the middle of one of these pairing sessions, on Thursday, that we got an email from Alexander Ljung, SoundCloud’s CEO. There would be a company “all hands” meeting at 4pm.

There had been a lot of jokes in my first week about potential acquisitions. Everyone’s heard the Spotify rumour, the Google rumour, and, more recently, the Deezer rumour. I also heard jokes about Disney, about IBM, and about Apple. So when the meeting was called, we all assumed we knew what was going on. SoundCloud was being acquired.

I had actually been through an acquisition before, when an agency I had just started working for was bought by its biggest client. It had gone pretty well for me then, and I was excited to see what might happen now.

So we made a few jokes, and kept on coding. I did a few TDD loops in an attempt to tackle a crash bug that had just been found in an alpha release. Basically things continued as normal until the meeting.

The minute Alex said the business was pivoting to focus more on creators, I knew I was gone. I was hired to the iOS Listening team, to work on features for listeners. Plus, German law concerning layoffs has something of a last-in-first-0ut flavour to it. He said those affected would receive meeting invites, and then not two minutes later the meeting invite popped up on my Apple Watch.

I love my Watch, but it’s not a great way to find out you’re losing your job.

The rest of the day is a blur. I now realise that I was in shock. At the time I really only had one thought: I just wanted to go home.

Fortunately, SoundCloud offered to help me relocate back to the UK. Unfortunately, nobody had considered the possibility that I might have signed a lease on an apartment the previous day, spending all of my savings in the process. An apartment with a 12 month minimum contract.

So, on my eleventh day in Berlin, I went to bed knowing that I had about a month to find a job, or convince my landlord to end the apartment lease.

I wasn’t panicked, so much as I was embarrassed. Embarrassed that I had told everyone that I was leaving Edinburgh for my dream job, that I had been so excited about starting a new life, that I had been kicked so spectacularly in the teeth.

As I texted to a few friends at the time: never follow your dreams 🌈.

Friday started with a Facebook message from an old colleague. He’d heard about what happened, and wanted to say he was sorry. But he also wanted to help. First he shared with me the email address of someone he knew who was hiring. And then he asked: had I seen this?

“This” turned out to be the Google Spreadsheet above. Currently over 350 companies who are interested in speaking to former SoundClouders, and 100 of the affected SoundClouders who are looking to get hired. I added my details to the sheet.

I also rejoined Twitter and tweeted about what happened.

And then I just sort of waited. I had no idea what to do with myself.

The first message came less than an hour later. A company back in Scotland had heard what happened and wanted to know if I had any plans. And then another company, this time in Berlin, with similar questions. And then another, and another. Over the course of yesterday I received about 60 emails from potential employers, and about 20 replies to my tweet. Suddenly companies were talking to me seriously about visa sponsorship to the US, something I had looked for before and never been able to get. This was, and still is completely unreal.

The cynical part of me thinks this is simply testament to how in-demand iOS development is as a skill, but another, more sentimental, part of me really wants to believe it’s all out of kindness.

So this has been my life for the last little while. What happens next is completely uncertain. I’m employed with SoundCloud until August 3rd (which makes my notice period 80% of my employment), but after that? I couldn’t even say what country I’ll be living in, never mind what job I’ll be doing.

But to reiterate: I don’t blame anyone personally for this. These things happen. Companies go through difficult periods, and people lose their jobs. Do I think that starting 12 new people in a week you plan to lay many of them off is a good idea? Absolutely not. That could have been handled better. But that’s not any one individual’s fault. Just something that all companies can learn from.

Oh, and if you’ve read this, and would like to talk to me about work, well, my details are on this list. As are the details of many other incredible people. But don’t hang about, because, y’know, we probably won’t be free for very long.

Topics of interest

More Related Stories