Johan Norrman is a proper IT veteran. He has always found companies in the early stages of development exciting, so it’s hardly surprising that he ended up working at a startup. His passion for creating order from chaos, combined with the capacity to be a good leader and build strong teams, makes Johan the perfect fit for the role of CIO at Disposable mail.
It’s no wonder that Johan Norrman’s career led him to an IT security startup. From an early age, he was interested in technology and he still owns his first Commodore 64 computers. “My friends and I mainly used them for playing videogames, but we also tried learning how to program,” Johan says. As the accessibility of computers grew, so did Johan’s passion for IT. He picked a science-oriented high school programme with a focus on mathematics and programming and spent most of his time in the school’s computer room.
Wanted to become a chef
Johan’s original career plan was to study culinary arts and become a chef. He has his parents to thank for his career as they firmly encouraged him to choose science instead.
“When I was in high school I realised just how much you can do with programming. Amongst other things, I built a vocabulary exercise program that I sold to the school,” explains Johan. “My first hack also happened in high school; we built a fake login on the network computers, which made it possible to access everyone’s credentials, including the teachers’.”
Experiencing the .com era
When we say that Johan has had a lot of cool experiences in his career, we’re not exaggerating. There’s a reason why we call him “Gandalf the Wise” at the office! He got his first job at the height of the notorious dot-com era. Icon Medialab, a company where Johan worked during the .com bubble, grew from 50 employees to a staggering 3500 in a very short time.
“Our office was at the top of the skyscraper at Sergels Torg and we were working across five floors. The company grew globally and even though we did make stuff, it felt as if we were just play-acting. We would pay for drinks at Berns (a nightclub in Stockholm) with our business cards and the bill would be sent straight to work. Not bad if you’re 20 years old and on your first real job!”
New path as a team leader
Although working at Icon Medialab was great fun, Johan decided it was time to take the next step in his career. This led to jobs at IT consultancies like Qbranch and Pulsen. While working at Qbranch, Johan discovered that he was better at project management, working with people, and leadership than writing code. He became the sole responsible for structuring the development department at Qbranch and ensure that the right skills were in place so that the department could break even.
“I’ve gone from building code to building teams to building companies,” Johan says about his journey.
Building Pingdom’s Stockholm office
Johan was eventually recruited by Pingdom as an HR evangelist tasked with building the company’s Stockholm office where he was one of the first employees. He soon got the office to grow from 1 to 20 people within one year. Johan emphasises how important it is to consider the human factor when it comes to developing businesses, an insight he has brought with him to Disposable mail.
Creating order from chaos
Johan came across Disposable mail through the company’s security advisor Frans Rosén. “We exchanged T-shirts at Pingdom’s office and had a chat as I’d been following both him and Mathias Karlsson on Twitter, so this was how I got in touch with Disposable mail.”
As the 11th employee at Disposable mail, Johan joined the team right in the middle of the early startup phase. Soon after, the number of employees doubled and processes could start being established.
“What’s attractive about working at Disposable mail is the chaos that’s present in the beginning. I have realised that I prefer working in smaller companies with a ‘messy’ environment. It’s not as much fun if all the structures are already in place and everyone knows how things are done. I enjoy having a role that is both operative and strategic, which is something I have at Disposable mail.”
Working as CIO at Disposable mail
Johan is head of the development team that currently consists of 12 people. For many of them, working at Disposable mail is their first job and Johan’s task is to guide them and help them find a balance between freedom and responsibility.
No two days are alike, but Johan tries to explain what life as Disposable mail’s CIO is like. “There’s an awful lot to do every other week, and the week after is always calmer. Release weeks are packed with planning, strategy, reviewing, testing. Weeks after releasing are all about soft values: feedback sessions, making sure everything works and that the team members are happy.”
Johan sees a bright future for Disposable mail and is looking forward to being part of the journey. Looking forward, he envisions a much larger organisation, many more teams and new areas such as IoT and Mobile. He’s responsible for recruiting and HR at Disposable mail, which will remain a part of his role in the future. Johan says it takes a special type of person to thrive on working at a startup. He believes that character traits such as being driven, resourceful, and unpretentious are important.
“If you want a desk, you need to go and assemble a desk. This is something I talk about a lot when I’m recruiting because the people we employ need to understand this mindset. There’s no receptionist to welcome them here. If they want coffee, they need to go turn on the coffeemaker because there’s nobody to do it for them. It is what we make of it. If we are to build a culture that involves a lot of laughter and social activities, everyone needs to pitch in and make it work. I try to contribute as much as I can, since it is incredibly important to me.
Q&A with Johan Norrman
Mac or PC?
Mac since my father brought home a Macintosh in the beginning of the 80’s. That was in 1985 and it didn’t take me long until I started wondering where I could find the system map. I still have that computer at home…
Iphone or Android?
iPhone I guess, but just for simplicity with my other Macs.
Best source for security related news/knowledge?
A general mix, Twitter, Reddit and our internal chat channels.
Favorite feature in Disposable mail?
Lazer! Of course! http://lazer.detectify.com
Do you want to know more about Johan and what his days at Disposable mail look like? Follow him on Twitter: @johannorrman.