19 from 2019

An unordered list of things that made 2019 memorable for us.

Harry Keller
Dec 31, 2019 · 12 min read

2019 is almost over and what a whirl it’s been … I managed to cross all things off my to do list before Christmas, except one: the year-in-review post, which is a bit of a tradition (2016, 2017, 2018). So without further ado let’s take a look at 19 things that happened with diesdas.digital in our fourth year in business.

1. Our team has grown, again

This is the only team photo we took this year—with our wide angle meeting room camera, which is why everyone looks a little squished. 🙃 Some people are missing on this one, so the official team count is … (fires up HR software) … that we are currently 24 people, with one additional person joining in early 2020.

In 2019 a total of eight people joined us as full-time employees or interns:

Welcome Felix (dev), Leslie (dev), Swetlana (design), Maria (office mgmt), Kyrsten (dev), Jonathan (strategy), Erkal (dev) and Maja (dev).

We said good-bye to three people: Priyanka, thank you for everything you brought to the company over the past two years and all the best in Munich! Giulia, we can’t wait to see your photos from Sri Lanka! Dovilė, rock on at your new company (can we name it already?)!

2. Becoming a partly distributed team

When one of our developers, namely Sev, decided to move back to the UK, we stood at a crossroads: Do we simply let him leave or do we make remote work possible? Needless to say, we decided on the latter. For a few weeks we did a lot of research, talking to other distributed teams, read every article about remote work we could get our eyes on and bought new software + hardware (hello Zoom and more meeting room cameras). We felt well prepared.

Then Sev left for the UK … and things have been going surprisingly smooth since then. Of course this change came with a few hiccups, but overall the transition to a partly distributed team was pretty painless, including a few hilarious moments like this remote lunch:

Everyone watching Sev enjoying a full English.

Step by step we’re still making our processes more asynchronous (which is what this is really about), but so far it’s going very well and we firmly believe that this benefits everyone, not just Sev who now enjoys living by the sea. 🌊

3. More flexibility for everyone: unlimited home office + workations

While only Sev works full-time remotely with us right now, we also introduced more flexibility for everyone else. We now have an unlimited home office policy, so if you never want to come into the office and work from home every day, that’s now theoretically possible. 🙃

Also new: workations, meaning you can extend your holidays and work from a remote place or visit e.g. your parents and work from there. Lots of people made use of that, e.g. in this meeting, which had participants in the UK, Germany (office and at home), in Switzerland and in Turkey.

One more picture: Nicolás on workation. Goes without saying that everyone in grey-winter-Berlin was quite jealous.

4. New office … sort of

At the beginning of 2019 the office felt very cramped and noisy:

So we decided to double our space and got another floor in the same building:

Now our team was sitting on two floors and everyone could breathe again. But a few months later we also felt a bit lonely and detached, so we moved back in with each other:

So we’ve come full circle and in the end most people preferred our initial setup. Odd.

5. We hosted many meetups

Having a basically empty office is great though, because if you want to be a true Berlin tech company, you gotta host meetups! This year we provided space for multiple gatherings of The Design Kids, we hosted Elm Bridge, our own book club is still going strong (more on that later) and we even founded our own meetup about artificial intelligence:

First edition at our office, the second one happened at WeWork.

Which is a nice segway into the next point …

6. We founded an AI community

We didn’t plan this, it just sort of happened: We started a mostly German community around artificial intelligence—it is hosted on a Slack-like platform, has several hundreds of members already and is growing quickly. You can join as well:

7. We released some tools

We’ve built a few things that make our work easier and released them into the wild:

A definitely not staged photo of Jonathan and Dani filling out the Vision Implementation Canvas™.

8. Figma for design, Notion for organising information

Early this year the designers migrated from a combination of Sketch, Abstract and InVision to Figma and we haven’t looked back. This sounds like a simple tool choice at first, but it’s actually a whole different mindset and workflow, enabling much deeper collaboration among designers, as well as with developers and even clients. On some projects clients have access to our Figma documents and can see the design evolve in real time at any point in time. #transparency

We even build most presentations in Figma these days and a lot of non-designers are picking up Figma skills as well.

The other noteworthy change is that the whole company is running on Notion now: From project backlogs, to meeting agendas + notes, to organizing our internal processes like feedback talks, Notion is the one tool to rule them all. It’s not perfect, but we set up extensive templates for many workflows and it’s fantastic to have everything in one place. Now if only it had a good search to actually find things again … 🙃

9. Our book club is still going strong

For those who don’t know: We’ve been running a book club for years now. In 2019 we read the following books:

  • “Why we sleep” by Matthew Walker
  • “Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller
  • “Invisible Women” by Caroline Criado Perez
  • “Shikasta” by Doris Lessing
  • “How to do Nothing” by Jenny Odell
  • “The Testaments” by Margaret Atwood

Usually between four and ten people show up and I always look forward to these evenings.

10. Better mentoring and software engineering education

Early in the life of the company we decided to grow the tech team by hiring motivated junior developers and to then mentor them, helping them grow. This has worked out super well, but it also means we have a few people who never studied computer science and are missing some of the basics. This is why our tech lead Max, together with Erkal, revamped our regular developer meetings into a weekly software engineering lesson. We’ve tackled topics such as logical operators and boolean logic, recursion, scope and the call stack, performance, the early history of programming and lambda calculus.

One of the best portraits I shot this year. 👨‍🏫

11. Someone threw a brick through our window

We don’t know why, but it happened, the police came and searched for fingerprints and traces, CSI style. It was all quite exciting for five minutes and then mostly annoying. 🤷‍♀️

12. Our “My Country Talks” project had a great year

You might have heard about our democracy project My Country Talks, which we are building together with the German newspaper ZEIT ONLINE. It is about bringing people with contrasting opinions on political topics together, for real-life conversations. Over the last two years we instigated thousands of these discussions, healing some societal divide. 2019 brought a European edition with cross-country matching, another German event (#deutschlandspricht) and also local events in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Italy and the UK.

ZEIT ONLINE’s editor in chief, Jochen Wegner, even gave a TED talk about it:

More to come next year! 👀

13. “Alexa, say hello to Google Assistant”

A large project this year was focused on smart assistants and voice UI, which was new ground for us and a fascinating challenge. We established a dedicated room for the project, dubbed the “audio lab”, which was littered with these devices:

We’ll have a proper blog post on our findings and about what we launched soon. 🤞

Speaking of new tech: I am often working in VR now, using an Oculus Quest with the Immersed app. It works surprisingly well for intensely focused sessions. The f̵u̵t̵u̵r̵e̵ present is weird. 👀

14. A quite different Christmas party

For our Christmas celebrations we decided to step out of our bubble and do something good for people who could use our help. We formed teams for different activities:

We painted a classroom in a school …
… played board games with the elderly …
… collected trash in the neigbourhood …
… sorted donated clothes and cooked soup for homeless people.

This ended up being a very emotional and also quite challenging afternoon. All of us agreed that we’ll have to do this again.

15. Striking for the climate!

Something that was on our minds a lot this year is the climate crisis, so we happily quit work for a day and joined the big protest on the 20th of September:

“Are you some kind of bar serving fancy cocktails?”

We’re also limiting our own greenhouse gas emissions where possible, e.g. almost always taking the train over flying.

16. Teaching in Lemgo

Earlier this year Lars and I went to his old university in Lemgo, Germany, to teach students about workshopping, entrepreneurship and how to approach digital projects. I find teaching incredibly rewarding, because usually both sides learn new things. We had a fantastic week with these folks! ✌️

17. Old friends continuing to work with us …

Over the years we’ve established long-running relationships with many clients and we’re happy that they keep coming back to us: ZEIT ONLINE is one of them (working with us on audio news, My Country Talks and their Z2X conference), as well as our beloved type foundries TypeMates and HvD Fonts. Then there’s a certain beverage company we unfortunately can’t mention by name and we also continued to work with the fintech product Der Zukunftsfonds. Our Swiss friends from CH Media were around as well and the same rings true for axxum and PSW.

Launching something under an NDA.

18. … and also new clients coming aboard

While we were happy to get business from our existing contacts, we also feel very fortunate to win over new clients: Lufthansa worked with us in the second half of the year, we built a digital knowledge platform with the Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), we spent time in Austria with Grüne Erde and in terms of startups Clue as well as Infarm brought us projects. Siemens is now a client of ours as well and we’re happy to work with 3D Akademie.

19. Finally: Why you haven’t heard much from us this year

We’ve again been quiet this year … no case studies, not many updates on the wiki, few tweets, instas and blog posts: Mainly because I was very involved in project work, which took all my focus and energy. It’s a shame because in the first years of diesdas we started with a lot of presence on social media, but I couldn’t keep the show going while also fulfilling my duties on projects. Furthermore across 2019 we worked on our vision and values for the company, as well as revamping our brand and website. This is long overdue and direly needed, but it also consumed many hours and brought a sense of uncertainty to who we are as an organisation. We will clarify all this in Q1 and move forward with more presence.

There would be so much more to talk about, like our office parties:

Or Lars enacting Death Stranding without even knowing the game:

Our attempts to start a podcast or how we did a workshop about agile methods with the whole team:

Or this mad prototype:

Or whatever is happening in this photo:

Or when we picked the best N64 game:

Spoiler: It’s Paper Mario.

Or the many evenings spent at the Elephant:

… and how I was never there, not even a single time. 😅

Or how FaceApp became incredibly popular for a total of two days:

Or Felix doing his best impression of Konrad Zuse outside our office:

Or our internal meetup when we learned about everyone’s backgrounds before they came into design and tech:

Or this one odd lunch when McDonalds launched their vegan burger and everyone wanted to try it:

We haven’t been back since.

Or how Pino was in the office much more often and how that brightened the mood every time:

Or that day we awkwardly tested fancy lighting strips in the bathroom:

BUT this post is already way too long and you’re probably exhausted and want to go back to whatever you were doing before—so I’ll end this trip down memory lane right here.

2019 is a wrap!

Thank you for sticking around thus far! 2019 was intense, full of challenging and rewarding projects, lots of change, fortunate encounters and hard decisions. Let’s get some rest, enjoy a few days off and then we start our fifth year in business. Here’s to 2020! Bring it on! 🥂 ✨

diesdas.digital is a studio for strategy, design and code in Berlin, featuring a multidisciplinary team of designers, developers and strategists. We create tailor-made digital solutions with an agile mindset and a smile on our faces. Let’s work together!

Curious to learn more? We’re also on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and we highly recommend our Tumblr. You could also subscribe to this publication to get notified when new posts are published! That’s all. Over & out! 🛰

diesdas.direct

Thoughts, observations and learnings from Berlin-based…

Harry Keller

Written by

Grand millennial with a teenage mind: always curious, mostly optimistic, annoyingly idealistic. Developer and partner at @diesdasdigital.

diesdas.direct

Thoughts, observations and learnings from Berlin-based digital studio diesdas.digital.

Harry Keller

Written by

Grand millennial with a teenage mind: always curious, mostly optimistic, annoyingly idealistic. Developer and partner at @diesdasdigital.

diesdas.direct

Thoughts, observations and learnings from Berlin-based digital studio diesdas.digital.

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