Working for the same company for over 20 years, developing constantly, and not losing a single bit of innovative spirit? This exciting interview with Romano Roth, Chief of DevOps and Partner at Zühlke Group, shows how this is possible. In the Career Design Interview, Romano explains what role having a growth-mindset, curiosity, self-reflection, and the feedback culture in the company play in order to achieve this.
Dear Romano, you celebrated your 20th anniversary at Zühlke this year. How did the company manage to retain a highly qualified and dedicated employee like you for such a long time?
To put it simply, the company invested in me. From day one, I was supported, coached and I was always shown career development prospects.
For example, I had the opportunity to do an EMBA to figure out if I wanted to pursue a management career or a technical career. This has helped me tremendously in shaping my career and allowed me to constantly develop. For me, there is no reason to switch to another company.
What was your first role at Zühlke and what was your journey like to get to where you are today?
I started as a junior software developer right after university. At that time, I was quite overwhelmed by the size and complexity of my first project. The great thing was that I was extremely well supported by my colleagues from day one. They took the time to explain things to me and gave tasks that were appropriate for my skill level. This gave a sense of connection from the very beginning.
So I progressed, became an Advanced Software Engineer, then an Expert Software Engineer. At first, I was heavily involved in technology and got better and better there. Then I took the step towards becoming an architect. I worked on architectures, team collaboration and leadership.
At some point, the time was right for me to take the step towards becoming a consultant. In the process, the following questions, which are also a matter close to my heart, have always preoccupied me: How can we automate something? How can we ensure quality? How can we continuously deliver value? That’s why I quickly came to the topic of CI/CD (Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment).
And when the DevOps Movement took off, I jumped on there. Today, I accompany companies in their DevOps or Agile transformation and I am one of the organizers of the DevOps Meetups in Zurich and the DevOpsDays Zurich. The DevOps topic is really close to my heart. That’s why I make so many videos about it.
Your videos are a good cue. They embody an enormously important career design principle: Don’t make decisions based on assumptions, but on small, low-risk experiments. Can you briefly explain how the videos came about?
When my move toward Distinguished Consultant was pending, I received dedicated coaching on presentation skills. The coach videotaped me to reflect on my presentations. She recommended that I record myself regularly for training purposes and experiment with voice, gestures, etc.
I did that and thought, “Hey, these actually didn’t turn out that bad of videos…” I uploaded a video to YouTube once to see what happens. The response was tremendously positive. This has encouraged me to keep improving the quality of the videos and to keep using this channel to talk about my topics. https://www.youtube.com/c/RomanoRoth
What did you yourself contribute to make the development you describe possible over the 20 years?
There are several factors. First, you have to have genuine interest and curiosity. You have to have a hunger for knowledge. Second, you have to bring a change mindset. You can’t be too fixed on one path and you have to have the willingness to always reflect on your attitude and adjust it if necessary.
In addition to genuine interest and curiosity, you have to have a change mindset. You can’t be too fixed on one path and you have to have the willingness to always reflect on your attitude and adjust it if necessary.
This brings up another important career design principle: Don’t stubbornly pursue a narrowly defined goal, but think in terms of alternatives and continuously design your path to the future.
That’s exactly the thing. It’s important to find out what’s right for you by talking to others or doing further education. For a while, UX was the topic for me. Along the way, I realized that I find DevOps even more exciting. In 5 years, I might find something else more interesting. It’s hugely important to maintain that flexibility and agility to be able to change things as well.
What I often do is a self-retrospective. About every 14 days, I reflect on what went well and what I could improve. I then implement the opportunities for improvement. For a successful career, I think it’s very important to continuously work on yourself, to reflect on yourself and to improve.
What I often do is a self-retrospective. About every 14 days, I reflect on what went well and what I could improve. I then implement the opportunities for improvement. For a successful career, I consider it very important to continuously work on yourself, to reflect on yourself and to improve.
Listening to you, it seems to me that you have internalized the growth-mindset (i.e., understanding challenges not as a danger for possible failure, but as an opportunity for growth and development). Is this attitude also promoted in your company?
Yes, definitely. There have always been situations where I failed or something didn’t go the way it was supposed to. But then I didn’t hear, “You’re bad. You’re making mistakes,” but rather “You’re just not at the skill level yet. You can do this or that to get there.” Thanks to this mindset in our company, good and open conversations arise in such situations.
The feedback culture is something very important at Zühlke. Employees have a career coach. This is either the supervisor or, as in my case – I am in a self-organized team – a mentor. This way, you have very good conversations and can reflect on self-image vs. external image.
What parallels do you see between successful innovation projects and successful careers?
What makes innovation projects and careers successful is to keep up. The process is typically similar: You are at a certain starting point and you have a path. You know roughly where the goal is, but you don’t know what the path to the goal is. Accordingly, you take the first steps and go in one direction for a while.
The most important thing – in innovation projects as well as in your career – is to start and take the first steps. With that, you can also go in the wrong direction sometimes. Then you have to be able to accept that and make a change. That is part of agility. It is important to reflect in short cycles. I would recommend 2-week or monthly cycles. That way you can bring in continuous reflection and continuous improvement.
What do you want to move and achieve in your next stage at Zühlke?
That’s a good question. Currently, I find the topic of self-organization very exciting. I’ve been in a self-organized team since last year and it’s absolutely great. You grow together much more as a unit.
The greatest moment is when you go and say, “We have to discuss salaries together now.” Then it gets a little emotional. Everyone reveals their salary. At that point, you realize how everything changes, you grow together into a real team, and trust is raised to a whole new level. I think companies should go much more in the direction of self-organization, empowerment and transparency.
When I listen to you talk enthusiastically about self-organization, I immediately recognize something: your genuine interest and curiosity for the topics you deal with professionally. That’s what everyone has to bring along to make a career like yours. In this spirit, I wish you many more exciting years at Zühlke and thank you very much for the inspiring interview.