“Nulla Dies Sine Linea”: Not A Day Without Improvement
by Seven Peaks on Nov 3, 2023 4:51:17 PM
“Continuous Improvement is my religion and the implementation of this concept has been key to my professional figure.”
The journey that led me to becoming the Head of Platform Engineering at Seven Peaks is one that is borne of change and constantly seeking what I thought was best for my professional development, without being afraid of the unknown.
I attended a scientific high school but my subjects of interest were mainly literature, foreign languages (English and German), Latin and philosophy, However I didn’t pursue these studies at university – because back then, the main job opportunities you could get with such degrees were in academia.
Becoming a professor wasn’t what I wanted and I didn’t think I held a passion or the patience for teaching. Instead, I started studying economics at the University of Turin with the plan of becoming a financial advisor – only to eventually realize it was not my desired field either.
The main thing that pushed me to leave the economics faculty was when I got stuck on an exam – something that became a nightmare. After failing to pass this exam twice, I decided to leave economics.
Of course, it wasn’t just an unsuccessful exam that drove me to switch careers – I had also started to change my mind about who I wanted to be in the future.
Interestingly, a few months after I dropped out of the economics program the Faculty’s director had become aware of the abnormally low rate for passing that particular exam (an extremely advanced Math course appropriate for that Faculty, but not for Economics) – in fact, around 95% of attempts resulted in failure each time – and wrote about it in the equivalent of a faculty bulletin board, reasoning that if so many people (and very motivated students at that) fail an exam or other endeavor, then it is the mentor who is at fault rather than the students, and soon after that Math professor left the Faculty.
That experience remained forever impressed in my memory for its initial sense of failure and later vindication, and taught me something that became very useful in my career, especially once I reached the level of being a mentor myself: it’s ultimately your fault if your juniors make serious mistakes.
What I also learned as a consequence of this, is that seemingly unlucky events can actually be something positive; it was in fact, this unfortunate exam that pushed me to pursue computer science.
While it is usually not obvious when bad things are happening, there’s almost nothing so bad that it’s not good for something, and I also often used some of the accounting principles and concepts I learned in Economics, in my IT career.
I then started studying Computer Science in the 1993 academic year and earned my degree in March of 1998.
When I was a teenager, I had my first computers – a Commodore VIC-20 (too basic) and then a Plus 4 (then the most advanced) – and as many kids were doing back then, I was coding very simple things in its Basic language and using its spreadsheet and graphics for trigonometry and calculus, as well as learning its assembly language.
I eventually sent to a magazine a simple video game that I created in Basic, which ended up being published.
So, I decided to take on Computer Science because I remembered how I liked doing that as a teen a few years earlier, and being pragmatic, it was already clear by then that field would have very promising career prospects in the near future; which is in fact what happened in the late 1990s and the 2000s.
I paid for my first year of Computer Science washing dishes at a local pub at night, but from the second year onwards I was able to sustain my expenses by working as a tutor for the university in the laboratory, teaching the new students UNIX and C.
At the same time, I was hosting courses in a private vocational school teaching adults what was called office automation – how to use the internet, email, word, excel, etc for better job prospects.
These experiences were very useful because they gave me the chance to teach (which I discovered I actually like to do, including the preparation and following of a structured plan), and even to this day it has helped me to sharpen my skills as a mentor – something I do a lot of presently.
In the end, even though I purposefully didn’t study a liberal arts subject to avoid teaching, mentoring has become one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most throughout my career because it really differs from teaching to a full class with twenty people – out of which there might be just one person who is truly interested in the topic.
With mentoring, you can really feel the impact you have as well as the reciprocal interest regarding the subject.
After civil service (I chose the Red Cross), I started working as a system administrator during the Internet boom at the end of 1999, at a design company who was a supplier for Fiat in Turin.
After a year working there, I moved to Milan, during the first year of ‘the Big Brother’, working at a company part of Mediaset as a freelance consultant, which after many years connected the dots to my job at Seven Peaks today, as I had been wanting to go back to the consultancy field for a long time.
The Challenges Along the Way
At Seven Peaks I have a challenging job because here we are working with big clients who have high expectations, and on different projects and systems, simultaneously. When you work for large companies like I did often in the past, oftentimes you get stuck on the same project or technology for many months.
At a consultancy, or how they call it here an ‘agency’, I’m working on numerous projects and multiple technologies simultaneously.
It was a nice surprise a few years ago when I found out about a new aspect of my professional identity - how much I enjoyed working in a team compared to working as an individual.
I’m generally a very ambitious and individualistic and slightly introverted person, so it really surprised me to learn of this aspect. I actually much prefer to obtain a result as part of a team than by myself.
Like the majority of Italians going to live abroad, I generally didn’t like the working environment and culture in many Italian companies.
I have a very strong work ethic and I’m extremely focused on what I’m doing, and I believe in part for this as well, adapting to a wider range of nationalities and cultures, in London or here, has never been difficult for me.
Here at Seven Peaks, with the greatest variety of nationalities, I’ve never found myself in the situation of being the only foreigner in a team or meeting – which was occasionally a minor issue in other companies here in Thailand.
Here, I didn’t face many of the issues that I was struggling with at some of my previous jobs, as it’s a very dynamic environment.
The implementation of a variety of tools and metrics for monitoring and analysis is optimized to give an objective evaluation of the performance of each individual employee.
We can measure the quality of code and processes based on automated and objective metrics to measure the quality of the code and our performance while getting to the goal.
In this company, they push a lot on this; to an extent I haven’t seen before, and I appreciate it deeply. What also stands out is the level of autonomy we have over our objectives by implementing all the tools and feedback we deem necessary to make things work in a smooth way.
It aligns profoundly with my personal work ethic as I like to work “as a robot”, like a machine, meaning being pragmatic, no-nonsense, and sharply focused on delivery.
I strongly dislike endless discussions, beating around the bush, and whataboutery, all of which is contrary to Continuous Improvement, Agile methodologies, and ultimately, productivity.
You get a task, you have a deadline; take ownership and assume responsibility; focus on it and get on with it and be ready to answer clear yes/no questions, don’t go endlessly meandering back and forth wasting everyone’s time.
I like to think of work “as a game”, where there are rules and roles, and if everybody just followed the rules and respected the roles, then everything would just work out as expected.
I’m a very straightforward person, and these characteristics in a working context can be either appreciated or not, based on the predominating culture in the company. I’ve come into contact with some realities where feedback at work is taken too personally.
I’ve seen people who don’t really appreciate seeing others do better than them on a certain project, because they may feel more threatened on a personal level than help with their next project; the approach we should have instead is to always be ready to learn, including from juniors, which often compensate less experience with more boldness.
I like to say that as engineering professionals, we must be able to make objective forensic statements of facts without anybody being offended.
One of my strengths regarding this, is that I can really differentiate my personal self from my professional figure, and in this way I don’t take anything personally and all feedback, whether negative or positive, is going to be considered in order to make my future work better.
My Role Here
The creation of the platform engineering team came from the awareness of the need for a team dedicated to DevOps and CI/CD. The second keyword is the core focus of my career: basically, this is 90% of my job.
It means continuous integration / continuous deployment, which can be summed up in Automation and Pipelines.
This is the process by which we build the software to then put it in Development, Quality Assurance process, User Acceptance Testing, and then finally out to Production.
Once the management realized that they needed a dedicated team for having full control of these processes, instead of relying on the other teams to push and hold it together, they set up this team and I decided to apply to the head position.
I actually hunted them because they were very busy and I was extremely interested in the job.
I was given the chance to build a team from scratch, and eventually the aim is to turn platform engineering into a product. We want to deliver a sellable product, a solution, in which Platform Engineering comprises the development of standardized and modular infrastructure and pipelines, as well as the automation of quality assurance, monitoring, and security processes.
My Butterfly Effect
It might sound weird, but after living 12 years in London England having been born in Italy, I really started to miss the continent, literally having my feet on the huge mass of land that is Eurasia again, where you can take excellent trains between capital cities.
I felt restricted, I got tired of that small island that became even smaller when Brexit happened: this was the straw that broke the camel's back, because as a proud European, that intrinsically anti-Europe reform which also eroded our rights and status, was unacceptable to me.
I had two options in mind back then: the first was Germany (Munich or Berlin which I had visited a few times); and the second was somewhere in South-East Asia, mainly for the amazing climate.
I had previously visited the Philippines many times and I had also visited Thailand for seven years in a row, twice a year - usually in April for my birthday, and again in October.
In December 2019, during one of my many visits to Thailand, the day before going back to the UK I met a very kind Belgian guy at an Italian restaurant here in Bangkok.
I was a bit upset at the time as I really did not want to go back to London! Talking with him opened a door for me. As the conversation went on, it eventually led to me applying for a job at the same company he was working at, Allianz Technology Thailand.
One week later, I quit my job in London with Pearson, almost exactly one week before the pandemic was announced, with “perfect” timing. If COVID-19 had started just a week prior, I may still have been in England right now.
With all the above, I still have fond memories of my time in London, where I met some exceptional colleagues and mentors from whom I’ve learned so much, including the “5P” principle: “Proper planning prevents poor performance”, something I try to do daily and I would really like to see more often in others.
In March 2020, I finally moved to Thailand and started my adventure here.
The experience at Allianz had taught me a lot and made me more aware of the impact that an intercultural working environment can have. I had very successful experiences and achieved great professional results there.
Nulla Dies Sine Linea
Continuous improvement is my religion and the implementation of this concept has been key to my professional figure.
Based on my humanistic education, I like to connect this continuous improvement concept to a Latin saying, “Nulla dies sine linea”.
Literally, it translates to "not a day without a line" which is variously referred to different ancient Greek sculptors or painters, meaning the drawing (or etching) of a new line every day in order to end up with a full work of art.
But this concept can be directly applied to improving anything, bit by bit, every day – such as with coding, implementing automation and infrastructure as code. I believe that this attitude towards life should be applied to every field, with no exceptions. In the long term, all those small daily lines are going to make a beautiful artifact.
No one should feel discouraged if what they have isn’t perfect, because the important thing is to get it a bit better every day. Even if you take a tiny step, at least you did not stay in the same place.
At the end of the 90s in Italy, there was a big failure in a government’s railway project; as they wanted to change everything at once, implementing what is sometimes called a “big bang solution”, or monolith, trying to get it all right at once, which with complex systems is virtually impossible to achieve.
They tried to replace the entire information system with another, and industry experts were all very surprised to see how antiquated and ineffective the Modus Operandi of such a big company was - as by trying to do this all at once instead of using an incremental migration strategy led to a disastrous outcome.
A Continuous Improvement strategy, which is nowadays usually (but not always) the default, would have prevented that.
Continuous Improvement is the closest thing I have to a religion, and here at Seven Peaks, I can make constant use of it. It refrains from trying to develop a perfect solution immediately, which is technically impossible.
We develop and crucially deliver something, already knowing that it’s not perfect, and we will continuously improve it every two weeks, incrementally.
Along with Continuous Improvement, Code Review is another concept that drastically and positively changed my way of working: learning it was one of those “a-ha” defining before/after moments, when we wonder what on earth we were thinking and doing prior to someone coming up with this brilliant idea.
There are others, but I’d say these two are the most important best practices, from which others like Automation and Infrastructure as Code naturally descend.
If I Were to Go Back in Time
I wouldn’t do many things differently - the bad experiences I had were mostly out of my control, and even though it might sound arrogant, most of the time I’ve performed in a way that I can be proud of.
If I were to go back, I’d leave both Italy and the UK before I actually did, and as I see Bangkok as my future forever home, I would have moved to Thailand earlier than when I did.
Something important that everyone should think of is realizing how much time of our life we spend working.
Most of us spend about one third of our life working in an office, so we should demand this time to be enjoyable. I surely do and ensure it is acknowledged in the first place. That’s one of the main reasons why I have changed working places relatively often in my career.
I want to be in a work environment where on weekends I actually look forward to going back to work on Monday so I can finish what I’ve left unfinished on Friday. We shouldn’t spend the weekdays waiting for the weekend, or the working year waiting for the holidays, or even worse - everyday feels like just waiting for 5 PM to get out of the office.
I demand a working space where my work attitude can be always proactive and stimulated. So a piece of advice I’d give to everyone would be to always seek this in your working environment; and do not settle for less.
At Seven Peaks, I really feel at home with all the above considerations, and I can see it as the last company I’m going to work for... and hopefully I'll conclude my career here in some years’ time, after many exciting successes and overcoming many technical challenges. It’s something I look forward to every day.
Head of Platform Engineering at Seven Peaks
With a distinguished career spanning over 24 years, Marco is a seasoned professional in the field of platform engineering, boasting a diverse skill set encompassing senior-level development, system and database administration.
He has amassed significant expertise working with companies and teams of varying sizes, both in the private and public sectors, demonstrating adaptability as a freelance consultant.