Finding Work: The difference between living and surviving

cord helps Engineers direct message other people looking to hire them. But finding work isn’t just about access to hiring managers…

Finding your best work is a life’s journey uncovered through an ongoing conversation with ourselves and the world around us.

The Best Work Stories podcast hosts conversations between Ben (Co-founder and CEO of cord) and Founders, CTO’s, Software Engineers and people in tech who are on their own journey to find their best work.

Transcript

Mostafa Omar (00:00):

I wanted to get out of Egypt. So I looked for a company outside Egypt and that’s it. Because people there are mainly so consumed by day-to-day life. They are not really so much seeing that if they can invest their mental power into things that matters, instead of just living. Actually, they’re kind of surviving.

Mostafa Omar (00:23):

Well, how about a little intro first?

Ben Henley-Smith (00:28):

That would be great.

Mostafa Omar (00:28):

So I’m Mostafa, I’m mainly a backend engineer. I’ve recently started to look forward to move on the leadership level. I was looking for architect jobs and being a team lead job. Right now I’m a senior in working in eBay. I worked in three different countries. This will be the fourth. The UK will be the fourth and also I would be visiting the company soon. Maybe I will relocate there as well. So that would be … Yeah, from time to time, I work remotely. But mainly I used to work onsite.

Mostafa Omar (01:13):

Basically, I worked in Egypt, full stack in Romania, front end and back end. In my previous company again, full stack and then in the current company backend and then in the new company backend. So I’ve already decided that I like the backend. I like the architecture. I’d like to be on that side of things. Facing the users, not so much my speciality.

Mostafa Omar (01:42):

I think on the other hand, I am definitely a user focused and data driven person. I care about the user. It just, I care about how he’s having a good service more than how he is interacting with the application. The interaction with application believe needs more of a person who knows that’s a good design. That’s a good interaction.

Ben Henley-Smith (02:10):

What does finding your best work mean to you?

Mostafa Omar (02:13):

It’s actually something a bit different. It’s mainly feeling useful. I like to help. I like to build stuff. Basically work to me is one of the means I can achieve building new things. This is why whenever I’m working in any company, it doesn’t matter much the technologies, as long as they are not taking me backwards, but taking me forward. So that’s the motive.

Mostafa Omar (02:45):

But what actually means to me to be working in the best environment is the three things I’ve mentioned earlier. Good team, like culture. Good team, of course. Good technologists, things I am interested to build. So good environment, this is where I would be working. Good work, this is what I would be doing every day. And then the last thing was purpose. I have a direction where I’m going.

Ben Henley-Smith (03:14):

When did you realize that the core motivation behind your work was to be useful?

Mostafa Omar (03:22):

It’s mainly when I was working for companies in general. I have faced a few who were not contributing anything and I wasn’t contributing anything. And then I found that I’m going to change that. By the way I’ve been in, this is the eighth company and this is happening in seven years that I’m changing jobs. It’s not usually because I want to change all the time. It’s usually because, “Oh, I feel I’d be more useful there.” That’s when I realized, I don’t think that it’s mainly related to work at all. Also-

Ben Henley-Smith (04:14):

How do you define what’s useful?

Mostafa Omar (04:17):

As long as I’m making an impact, as long as I’m helping people become better, I feel useful. It’s a feeling. Feelings cannot be described usually by words, isn’t it?

Ben Henley-Smith (04:29):

How do you use that feeling of being useful and how do you use it as kind of benchmark when you are finding work itself?

Mostafa Omar (04:44):

When you are interviewing in a company, you usually ask them, okay, what technologies are you working with? What are the things you are working on? What are you advancing? What is the purpose of the company? What are you trying to do? And then if you find the answer is you’ll be here to just maintain this product or do this thing. You usually sense, okay, this is not really a thing that I want. But my measure is, okay, we need you to do this migration, for example, or we need you to build this platform.

Mostafa Omar (05:31):

Speaking of which, in my current company, when I firstly joined, they were building a new application. It wasn’t there and I was maintaining it. They were literally building it from scratch. I got the chance from a very few people. I was lucky to be putting literally the first line of code in that application. Now I’m leaving it because it’s very stable. I felt like I don’t feel useful anymore. I think I would be more useful in a place where I can work a little bit on the higher level, because also I was working too much in details, doing too many technical things. I feel like I need to go a little bit higher so that I can help more people.

Mostafa Omar (06:15):

Getting back to your question. I think usefulness is more related to how much impact I’m doing.

Ben Henley-Smith (06:23):

Strikes me that usefulness in some ways is also a proxy for doing something that matters. It’s not just that you want to be useful in the short term senses, that you also want to be useful to society in some way.

Ben Henley-Smith (06:41):

Where does that kind of larger ambition of being useful come from for you? Because I think it sounds larger perhaps than it would be for others.

Mostafa Omar (06:52):

I think it’s mainly related to … Well, I came from Egypt. So Egypt is … I promise you it’s a very nice country, but because people there are mainly so consumed by day-to-day life. They are not really so much seeing that if they can invest their mental power into things that matters instead of just living, actually they’re kind of surviving. They’re not really living. When I came to Germany and Europe in general, I found they’re living here a good life. I feel like really the only difference is everyone here is useful at some point. So they’re all contributing to make this community good.

Mostafa Omar (07:51):

I felt it the most because when I was there, I felt that, “Okay, now I am useful.” But when I look around, everyone is just concerned about surviving. But if only that mindset changed, if only that happened, I felt the difference. Because when I look around here, I find people are no longer concerned about surviving. They are more concerned about being productive. That’s the difference. They’re not anymore trying to find basic needs. They’re not anymore the pyramid of needs.

Mostafa Omar (08:27):

People in Egypt are consumed by the basic needs. Whilst people here are not. The only difference is the mindset and this is why I chose, okay, so that’s the difference maybe I should be concerned about that. Maybe that’s how I become part of a good community. Maybe that’s also the reason if I went to, even in Egypt back again, I can find a group who have a similar mindset and we make something big.

Mostafa Omar (08:58):

So if I have the right mentality, we can do the right thing. This is the main reason and what’s driving me to think that way.

Ben Henley-Smith (09:08):

Why is work itself, the channel that you use to live and not just survive?

Mostafa Omar (09:19):

It’s not how I live. It’s one of the aspects that helps me to be useful. But if you look in my friend zone, in my emotional life with my partner, in my life with family, I’m always the useful person. I’m always the one who tries to be productive with them. I’m always trying to drive them to be their best version of themselves. It’s not only about work. It’s a lifestyle basically. Work is one aspect that how I up law, my motivation in general, but my life has different aspects.

Mostafa Omar (10:02):

But indeed I do choose to be useful in work as well, beside all of these other aspects. Because again, it’s a lifestyle I would like to be as much as productive as I can in all aspects of life and as useful as I can to the community where I live.

Mostafa Omar (10:22):

Yeah. I think it’s not only about work here.

Ben Henley-Smith (10:26):

You use the words useful and productive sometimes interchangeably. Is there a difference between the two for you?

Mostafa Omar (10:36):

Actually, yes. Being useful is mainly helping yourself and helping the others. But being productive is getting the tasks done. So you can be useful, but you can’t … It’s not necessarily being productive, meaning you are useful. But if you are useful, it can also sometimes not implying a hundred percent you’re productive. But it is somehow makes you a bit productive. You know what I mean?

Ben Henley-Smith (11:06):

Yeah.

Mostafa Omar (11:08):

Yeah. So you can use them interchangeably when they have an intersection, but you cannot use them interchangeably all of time.

Ben Henley-Smith (11:19):

If you’ve moved eight times in seven years, is there something that you’re getting wrong when you are trying to identify what’s useful or in that company or how you could be useful in that circumstance?

Mostafa Omar (11:38):

Some sometimes, yes. Sometimes my job is done. Is just done. So I feel like, okay, I’ve done. This is enough. I can move to the next level. This happened only twice when my job is done. I felt like I need to move to the next level. For the other six times or the other … Actually I would say, whatever the rest of the times, it was mainly, I am assessing that I’m going to be helpful here or useful here. But for example, the company I was telling you about doing unit tests and integration tests. They told me in the interview, they’re going to do a migration to the microservice architecture. But then it took them five years already before I joined. And then I joined for nine months. During the whole nine months, they didn’t move a single service.

Mostafa Omar (12:34):

So my assessment was supposed to be okay, but I didn’t know the background that they are really, really, really slow. So this means that I’m not useful for them. They need someone who is willing to wait forever. I don’t have a kind of time. I wanted to have a little bit of pace.

Ben Henley-Smith (13:04):

How long do you wait?

Mostafa Omar (13:05):

Usually, when I have an idea, I try to implement it or at least pitch it. And then I wait for things to change either from at least hear my idea, convince me it’s wrong and that’s totally fine. Then I can find another one. And then we move forward.

Mostafa Omar (13:28):

But in that particular example, what was happening is I pitched the idea three times. On the fourth time, I just decided I’m not even going to fight. And they were happy with that. They were like, “Oh, he’s doing his tasks. Everything is going well.” But what was actually happening is I was searching for another job. It’s not timed. It’s more of a, have I give up? If I give up, I just move on. It can be the first time. It can be from three times like this company. It can be from five, six times, if I really like the company. But again, it’s a feeling. It’s a human thing. It’s not a measurable thing, I would say.

Ben Henley-Smith (14:16):

I think there’s usefulness. Usefulness is definitely a feeling.

Mostafa Omar (14:26):

Exactly.

Ben Henley-Smith (14:27):

But there’s, I guess, a problem with a feeling, which is that it happens in the present moment. Sometimes it’s hard for us to compute usefulness over a longer period of time. It kind of takes our brain to think, “Okay, there is going to be usefulness in this project in the longer term.” How do you calculate that?

Mostafa Omar (14:52):

Well, again, as I said, it’s a human thing. It’s not measurable. What you calculate is … Oh, not what you calculate. What you do is, you see haven’t you ever heard about your subconscious can actually make you have a gut feeling about, let’s say stocks or whatever field you are really expert in. And you say, “My gut feeling is telling me this thing is going to be great.” And then it becomes great. It’s because you are expert in this. But if your gut feeling can’t really decide, and you have no expertise in that field, you usually say, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it is good. Maybe it is bad.” But when you have an experience, you would say, “Oh, this is going to be great.” It is going to be great.

Mostafa Omar (15:47):

Let’s say 80%, you would be right. Not less than 80%. And this is how I measure it. It’s more or less a gut feeling. I have experience in this already. I know for eight years now, or seven years, actually can’t remember how many years. I have experience in the field. I would say, when this is going to happen, my gut feeling is telling me it is. Usually it is right. The more, the more the time passes, the more I’m finding this actually happening. So this is how I measure it. It’s a gut feeling. I don’t have a pen or paper.

Ben Henley-Smith (16:35):

Yeah. It’s a gut feeling more than emotional feeling in some ways.

Mostafa Omar (16:40):

Yes, definitely.

Ben Henley-Smith (16:42):

How do you get better at making those gut feelings?

Mostafa Omar (16:48):

Practice a lot, so I’ve been in many interviews. I’ve been in many companies. I ask a lot of questions. By the way, the more, the time passes, the more I found that I ask more questions in the interviews. Firstly, at my first interviews, I remember I was actually looking for questions to ask on the internet so that I can ask questions, because I don’t have any. I’m serious. But nowadays, I mean, honestly in my last interview, I asked questions. They were like, “Actually you have to go to the HR to know that. We don’t have any idea to whatever you’re talking about.” And then I did ask my questions in emails.

Mostafa Omar (17:34):

When I received the contract, I asked questions about the contract and I had the communication going back and forth. So it’s, how do I get better? Is mainly practice. It’s just that. I practice my questions. I become curious. I ask what I’m curious about. I get the feedback and that feedback means that this is my knowledge. This is the experience gained. It means that in the next time, if I failed in this company, at least I have this knowledge they can take with me in the next company and so on

Ben Henley-Smith (18:09):

In the years to come, what do you think you’ll do differently to the years past?

Mostafa Omar (18:17):

I think I’d have more focus. In the past years, I always worked for companies based on what do I in general. But I wasn’t looking for … What do you mean by what I wanted in general? I meant I wanted to get out of Egypt. So I looked for a company outside Egypt and that’s it. When I was looking for gaining more money, I was just looking for a company that gives more money. But the more I am stable and the more I have experience, I’m looking for the purpose. I’m looking for the company that is, okay, what this company is contributing to the community. Is it good? Is it evil? Is it helping me? Are they working in the technologies that I want? Are they offering me a good offer? Will they make me happy? Is the team nice?

Mostafa Omar (19:22):

So this kind of experiences has been accumulated over the years. But definitely wasn’t the first thing that I had. What I would like to have more in the more years to come is more focus on that. So working on technologies that are on the cloud, that are working in a company that is helping people focusing on building my career towards leadership, so I can help more people. Helping the … Having more the focus in the direction of people. As I was telling you, I have a lot to learn in this area. I know I can help people. I know that the more I learn, the more people I can help. Finding roadmaps for people guide them. Maybe, if I find that I can make my own … If I can take this knowledge somehow and make a startup company out of it, I actually will be happy to do so as well.

Ben Henley-Smith (20:25):

Mostafa, I love both the way your mind works and your intentions.

Mostafa Omar (20:33):

No, thank you.

Ben Henley-Smith (20:35):

I know. I wish you the best of luck with the year to come.

Mostafa Omar (20:38):

Thank you very much. It was really nice talking to you too. Yeah. Of course, you can also reach out anytime you’d like.

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