Last week, I was honored to give the closing talk at RelEng Conf 2015, here in Florence, Italy.
I’ve used this same title in previous presentations; the mindset it portrays still feels important to me. Every time I give this presentation, I am invigorated by the enthusiastic response, and work to improve further, so I re-write it again. This most recent presentation at RelEngConf2015 was almost a complete re-write; only a couple of slides remain from the original. Click on the thumbnail to get the slides
The main focus of this talk was:
1) Release Engineers build pipelines, while developers build products. When done correctly, this pipeline makes the entire company more effective. By contrast, done incorrectly, broken pipelines will hamper a company – sometimes fatally. This different perspective and career focus is important to keep in mind when hiring to solve company infrastructure problems.
2) Release Engineers routinely talk and listen with developers and testers, typically about the current project-in-progress. Thats good – we obviously need to keep doing that. However, I believe that Release Engineers also need to spend time talking to and listening with people who have a very different perspective – people who care about the fate of the *company*, as opposed to a specific project, and have a very different longer-term perspective. Typically, these people have titles like Founder/CxO/VP but every company has different cultural leaders and uses slightly different titles, so some detective work is in order. The important point here is to talk with people who care about the fate of the company, as opposed to the fate of a specific project – and keep that perspective in mind when building a pipeline that helps *all* your customers.
3) To illustrate these points, I then went into detail on some technical, and culture change, projects which highlighted the strategic importance of those points.
As usual, it was a lively presentation with lots of active Q+A during the talk, as well as the following break-out session. Afterwards, 25 of us managed to find a great dinner (without a reservation!) in a nearby restaurant where the geek talk continued at full force for several more hours.
All in all, a wonderful day.
It was also great to meet up with catlee in person again. We both had lots to catch up on, in work and in life.
Bram Adams, Christian, Foutse, Kim and Stephany Bellomo all deserve ongoing credit for continuing to make this unusual and very educational conference come to life, as well as for curating the openness that is the hallmark of this event. As usual, I love the mix of academic researchers and industry practitioners, with talks alternating between industry and academic speakers all day long. The different perspectives, and the eagerness of everyone to have fully honest “what worked, what didnt work” conversations with others from very different backgrounds is truly refreshing… and was very informative for everyone. I’m already looking forward to the next RelEngConf!!
When I talk about “remoties”, I frequently get asked my thoughts on Yahoo’s now (in)famous “no more work-from-home” policy.
Richard Branson (Virgin, link to first video) and the separate comments from Jackie Reses (Yahoo, 2.27 into the link to second video) confirm what I’d heard from multiple unofficial mutterings – that Yahoo’s now (in)famous “no more work from home” decree was actually intended as a way to jolt the company culture into action.
I also liked Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) comments about how a successful remote workplace depends on having clear measures of successful results. Rather then valuing someone by how many hours they are seen working in the office, instead it is better to have a company culture where you measure people by results. This echoes comments I’ve seen from Jason Fried in his “Remote” book, comments I’ve made in my “we are all remoties” presentations and which I’ve heard again and again from various long-term remote workers.
These two interviews discuss these points really well. The entire article is well worth a read, and both videos are only a few minutes long, so worth the quick watch.
Last week, I had the great privilege of talking with people at Wikimedia Foundation about “we are all remoties”!
This was also the first presentation by a non-Wikimedia person in their brand new space, and was further complicated with local *and* remote attendees! Chip, Greg and Rachel did a great job of making sure everything went smoothly, quickly setting up a complex multi-display remote-and-local video configuation, debugging some initial audio issues, moderating questions from remote attendees, etc. We even had extra time to cover topics like “Disaster Recovery”, “interviewing tips for remoties” and “business remotie trends”. Overall, it was a long, very engaged, session but felt helpful, informative, great fun and seemed to be well received by everyone.
As usual, you can get the latest version of these slides, in handout PDF format, by clicking on the thumbnail image. I’ve changed the PDF format slightly as requested, so let me know if you think this format is better/worse.
As always, if you have any questions, suggestions or good/bad stories about working in a remote or geo-distributed teams, please let me know – I’d love to hear them.
ps: Oh, and by the way, Wikimedia are hiring – see here for current job openings. They are smart, nice people, literally changing the world – and yes, remoties ARE welcome.
While reading “Remote”, I accidentally found this TEDx talk by one of the authors, Jason Fried. Somehow I’d missed this when it first came out in 2010, so stopped to watch it. I’ve now watched this a few times in a row, found it just as relevant today as it was 4-5 years ago, so am writing this blogpost.
The main highlights for me were:
1) work, like sleep, needs solid uninterrupted time. However, most offices are designed to enable interrupts. Open plan layouts. Phones. Casual walk-by interrupts from managers asking for status. Unneeded meetings. They are not designed for uninterrupted focus time. No-one would intentionally plan to have frequently-interrupted-sleep every night and consider it “good”, so why set up our work environments like this?
2) Many people go into the office for the day, attempting to get a few hours uninterrupted work done, only to spend time reacting to interrupts all day, and then lament at the end of the day that “they didn’t get anything done”! Been there, lived through that. As a manager, he extols people to try things like “no-talking-Thursdays”, just to see if people can actually be more productive.
3) The “where do you go when you really want to get work done” part of his presentation nailed it for me. He’s been asking people this question for years, and the answers tend to fall into three categories:
place: “the kitchen”, “the spare room”, “the coffee shop”, …
moving object: plane, train, car… the commute
time: “somewhere really early or really late at night or on the weekend”
… and he noted that no-one said “the office during office hours”!! The common theme is that people use locations where they can focus, knowing they will not get interrupted. When I need to focus, I know this is true for me also.
All of which leads to his premise that organizing how people work together, with most communication done in a less interruptive way is really important for productivity. Anyone who has been at one of my remoties sessions knows I strongly believe this is true – especially for remoties! He also asked why businesses spend so much money on these counter-productive offices.
Aside: I found his “Facebook and twitter are the modern day smoke breaks” comment quite funny! Maybe thats just my sense of humor. Overall, its a short 15min talk, so instead of your next “facebook/twitter/smokebreak”, grab a coffee and watch this. You’ll be glad you did.
(At 1,044 pages, this book looks daunting. I’ve enjoyed other Neal Stephenson books, especially Cryptonomicon, so I didn’t let the size of the book deter me when I was buying it. But I find reading a long book with complex intertwined plots needs continuity – no point in picking it up and trying to resume after leaving it unopened for weeks! Even though I bought this book over a year ago, I only finally had time to read it in the last couple of weeks. Aside, in this day-and-age-of-laptops-and-kindles, I was amused by the odd sidelook I got whenever I settled into a nearby coffee shop and produced this weighty hardback ink-on-paper tomb!)
Wikipedia has a great summary here, but obviously be warned that it has lots of plot spoilers. Without giving too much plot away, I liked the book. From my perspective, I really enjoyed how Neal can interweave different stories. While there were many different interwoven stories here, the ones that are top of mind for me were:
the hacker-and-former-girlfriend-get-kidnapped story
the spy-tracking-jihadists story
the massive on-line game business story
All very different stories, yet the detailed coverage of each make me think Neal has a great understanding of hackers, encryption, different-business-market-economies-of-massive-on-line-games, Soviet-veterans-of-the-confict-in-Afganistan, internet-cafes-in-developing-worlds… the list goes on and on. I even found the way computer issues were covered to be accurately describes (typically a pet peeve for me!). In the midst of all the other drama, I was greatly amused by the image of a super-important invulnerable character (Egdod) walking in unattended mode back to home base, while various other T’Rain players were attacking him / defending him / rubber-necking the impossible sight of Egdod moving through their world. And somehow, someday, I need to find a way to use the throwaway joke about “Your org chart?”, “No, orc chart”.
Since my last blog post on “remoties”, I’ve worked with ProCore, and Haas, UCBerkeley (again!) as well as smaller private discussions with some other companies. Every single time, I continue to find people eager for passionate conversations, and clear “ah-ha!” moments, which I find very encouraging. There’s also plenty of volunteering stories/ideas of what did/didnt work for them in their past. All this helps me continue to hone and refine these slides, which I hope makes them even more helpful to others.
You can get the latest version of these slides, in handout PDF format, by clicking on the thumbnail image.
Remoties are clearly something that people care deeply about. Geo-distributed teams are becoming more common in the workplace, and yet the challenges continue to be very real and potentially disruptive. Given how this topic impacts people’s jobs, and their lives, I’m not surprised by the passionate responses, and each time, the lively discussions encourage me to keep working on this even more.
As always, if you have any questions, suggestions or good/bad stories about working in a remote or geo-distributed teams, please let me know – I’d love to hear them.
2) Both RelEngCon 2014 and RelEngCon 2013 were great. The mixture of attendees and speakers, from academia and battle-hardened industry, made for some riveting topics and side discussions. Its too early to tell who exactly will be speaking in 2015, but its not too early to start planning your travel to Florence, Italy!! Also of note: RelEngCon 2015 will be just a few weeks after the publication of IEEE 1st Special Issue on Release Engineering. Looks like RelEngConf 2015 is going to be special also.
For further details about the conference, or submitting proposals, see http://releng.polymtl.ca/RELENG2015/html/index.html. If you build software delivery pipelines for your company, or if you work in a software company that has software delivery needs, I recommend you follow @relengcon, block off May 19th, 2015 on your calendar and book now. It will be well worth your time.
A few years ago, I first put my toes into the book publishing world by co-writing a portion of AOSAv2 about Mozilla’s RelEng infrastructure. Having never written part of a published book before, I had no idea what I was really getting into. It was a lot of work, in the midst of an already-busy-day-time-job and yet, I found it was strangely quite rewarding. Not financially rewarding – all proceeds from the book went to Amnesty – but rewarding in terms of getting us all to organize our thoughts to write down in a clear, easy to read way, explaining the million-and-one details that “we just knew instinctively”, and hopefully helping spread the word to other software companies on what we did when changing Mozilla’s release cadence.
While working on AOSAv2, clearly explaining the technology was hard work, as expected, but I was surprised by how much work went into “simple” mechanics – merging back reviewer feedback, tracking revisions, dealing with formatting of tables and diagrams, publishing in different formats… and remember, this was a situation where book publisher contracts, revenue and other “messy stuff” was already taken care of by others. I “just” had to write. I was super happy to have the great guidance and support of Greg Wilson and Amy Brown who had been-there-done-that, helped work through all those details, and kept us all on track.
Ever since then, I’ve been considering more writing, but daunted by all the various details above and beyond “just writing”. These blog posts help scratch that itch, in between my own real-life-work-deadlines, but the idea of writing a full book, by myself, still lingered. A while ago, I grabbed “APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book” by Guy Kawasaki. It looked like a good HowTo manual, I’ve enjoyed some of his other books, and he’s always a great presenter, so I was looking forward to some quiet time to read this book cover-to-cover.
This was well worth the time, and I re-read it a few times!
For me, some of the highlights were:
“why are you writing a book?” I really like how Guy turned this question around to “why would someone else want to read your book”. Excellent mind-flip. I’ve met a few people who want to write a book, and even a few published authors, and I’ve talked with them about my own ideas about writing. But no-one, not one, ever reversed the question like this. It was instantly self-evident to me – it takes time to read a book, and we’re all busy. So, even if someone gave me a book for free, why would I want to skip work and/or social plans to read a book by someone I don’t know. Making it clear, immediately, why someone would find it worthwhile reading your book is a crucial step that I think many people skip past. As the author, keeping this in mind at all times while writing, will help keep you focused on the straight-and-narrow path to writing a book that people would actually want to read.
Money: Most publishers are super-secret about their contracts/terms/conditions, which can make a new time author feel like they’re going to be taken (The only exception I know of is Apress, who publish all their terms on their website, with a “no haggling” clause). To help educate potential authors, I respect how much full detail Guy & Shawn gave in small, easy to follow, words.
“Tell the world you’re writing a book – not that you’re thinking of writing a book.” Again, an excellent mind-flip to help keep you motivated and writing, every single day, whether you want to or not. Also, they provided many links to writer’s clubs (writer support groups!?) who would help you keep motivated.
print-on-demand vs print-big-batch: This reminded me of how software release cycles are changing the software industry from old monolith release cadence to rapid-release cadence. “Old way”: a big-bang-release every unpredictable 18months, with a costly big print run, and lots of ways to handle financial risk of under/over selling; any corrections are postponed until the next big-bang-release if it looks like there is enough interest. “New way”: build infrastructure to enable print-on-demand. Do smaller, more frequent, releases, each with small print runs, (almost) no risk of under/over selling, corrections handled frequently and easily. Yes, at first glance, each printed book might seem more expensive this way, but when you factor in the lack-of-under/over selling, removed financial risk, and benefits of frequent updates to the almost-free electronic readers, it actually feels cheaper, more efficient and more appealing to me.
In addition to printed books, there’s a good description of pros/cons of the different popular electronic formats (PDF, MOBI, EPUB, DAISY, APK…) as well as related DRM.
The differences between ebook publishers (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google, Kobo, …), Author Publisher Services (Lulu, Blurb, Author Solutions, …) and Print-on-Demand (Walkerville Publishing, Lightning Source, …) was detailed and very helpful. Complex chapter, with lots of data, and ending with the reassuring “Don’t obsess about making the wrong choice, however, because most distribution decisions are changeable.”!
translations, audiobooks: normally, these are handled as edge cases. Guy & Shawn walk through some of the options (Audible/Amazon, Books-on-Tape/RandomHouse), as well as financial & legal realities.
Some fun examples of rejection responses by agents/publishers. My personal favorite was a rejection sent to George Orwell about Animal Farm “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA”.
All in all, I found the writing style personal, helpful, direct and super honest. Even the way they ended the book… “Thank you. Now go write a book! —Guy and Shawn”
Its been a while since I last blogged about “remoties”, but it continues to be a very popular topic! In addition to Twilio in February, I’ve given presentations at Automattic (best known for WordPress), RiotGames (twice) and Haas, UCBerkeley (twice), as well as smaller private discussions with several other companies.
You can get the slides in PDF format by clicking on the thumbnail of the first slide. (I’m happy to share the original very large keynote file, just let me know and we’ll figure out a way to share without hammering my poor website.)
Remoties are clearly something that people care deeply about. Geo-distributed teams are becoming more commonplace, and yet the challenges continue to be very real. The interest before each presentation is cautiously high, while the Q+A discussions during/afterwards are very engaged and lively. Every time, I find myself tweaking, honing and refining the presentation again and again… yet, the core principles remain the same:
remoties / geo-distributed teams can be very effective, and can be sustained over time.
remoties != compromise. In fact, a geo-distributed team means you can hire best-available, not “just” best-willing-to-relocate.
easy to use, cheap, technologies work just fine if used correctly (maybe even better then expensive systems?)
crisp, careful organization of human processes is essential
in a geo-distributed team, *everyone* is a remotie, even people who happen to sit in an office. If you are remote from someone else, that makes you *both* remoties. Hence the working title “we are ALL remoties”.
Given how this topic impacts people’s jobs, and their lives, I’m not surprised by the passionate responses, and each time, the lively discussions encourage me to keep talking about this. As always, if you have any questions, suggestions or good/bad stories about working in a remote or geo-distributed teams, please let me know – I’d love to hear them.
ps: I noticed in my website logs that a lot of people were still downloading my original remoties slides, first posted in apr2012, even though I’d posted multiple revisions of the slides since. So, I’ve gone back and updated my earlier “remoties” blog posts to all point to these latest-and-greatest slides.