“We are ALL Remoties” (Apr2015 edition)

No Comments

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.

Thanks
John.
=====
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. :-)

“why work doesnt happen at work” by Jason Fried on TEDx

2 Comments

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.

“We are ALL Remoties” (Feb2015 edition)

4 Comments

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.

Thanks
John.

“We are ALL Remoties” (Nov2014 edition)

6 Comments

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.

Thanks
John.

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.

Calling all Release Engineers, Hortonworks is hiring

No Comments

The Hortonworks Release Engineering team is growing, so we’re hiring!

We’re passionate about open source, and ensure that all 100% of code in a Hortonworks HDP release is open sourced in the Apache Software Foundation Hadoop project. We work with other large organizations to help them upstream their contributions to the Apache project, which helps accelerate the general Hadoop community. Its so important to us, it is part of the Hortonworks Manifesto.

We’re proud of our HDP releases. Our clients rely on HDP in production environments where phrases like “petabytes per day” and “zettabytes” are common. We sim-ship on centos5, centos6, ubuntu, debian, suse and windows – all from the same changeset. Building and testing at this scale has its own special forms of challenges, and is exciting. In the rare case where customers hit production issues, we are able to deliver supported fixes super-quickly.

The Hortonworks Release Engineering team works hard behind the scenes to design, build and maintain the infrastructure-at-scale needed to make this possible. For more details, and to apply, click here.

Note: The current team is spread across 3 cities, so remoties are welcome, even encouraged! Hardly a surprise if you read the other remoties posts on my blog, but worth stating explicitly!

“We are all remoties” @ Twilio

5 Comments

[UPDATE: The newest version of this presentation is here. joduinn 09nov2014]

(My life been hectic on several other fronts, so I only just now noticed that I never actually published this blog post. Sorry!!)

On 07-nov-2013, I was invited to present “We are all remoties” in Twilio’s headquarters here in San Francisco as part of their in-house tech talk series.
For context, its worth noting that Twilio is doing great as a company, which means they are hiring. And outgrowing their current space, so one option they were investigating was to keep the current space, and open up a second office elsewhere in the bay area. As they’d always been used to working in the one location, this “split into two offices” was top of everyone’s mind… hence the invitation from Thomas to give this company-wide talk about remoties.

Twilio’s entire office is a large, SOMA-style-warehouse-converted-into-open-plan-offices layout, packed with lots of people. The area I was to present in was their big “common area”, where they typically host company all-hand meetings, Friday socials and other big company-wide events. Quite, quite large. I’ve no idea how many people were there but it felt huge, and was wall-to-wall packed. The size gave an echo-y audio effect off the super-high high concrete ceilings and far-distant bare concrete walls, with a weird couple of structural pillars right in the middle of the room. Despite my best intentions, during the session, I found myself trying to “peer around” the pillars, aware of the people blocked from view.

Its great to see the response from folks when slides in a presentation *exactly* hit onto what is on top-of-their-minds. One section, about companies moving to multiple locations, clearly hit home with everyone… not too surprising, given the context. Another section, about a trusted employee moving out from office to start being a 100% remote employee, hit a very personal note – there was someone in the 2nd row who was a long-trusted employee actually about to embark on this exact change. He got quite the attention from everyone around him, and we stopped everything for a few minutes to talk about his exact situation. As far as I can tell, he found the entire session very helpful, but only time will tell how things work out for him.

The very great interactions, the lively Q+A, and the crowd of questions afterwards were all lots of fun and quite informative.

Big thanks to Thomas Wilsher @ Twilio for putting it all together. I found it a great experience, and the lively discussions before+during+after lead me to believe others did too.

John.
PS: For a PDF copy of the presentation, click on the smiley faces! For the sake of my poor blogsite, the much, much, larger keynote file is available on request.

(Update: fixed broken links. joduinn 26jun2014)

“We are all remoties” in Haas, UCBerkeley

1 Comment

[UPDATE: The newest version of this presentation is here. joduinn 12feb2014, 09nov2014]

main gate

Last week, I had the distinct privilege of being invited back to present “We are all remoties” in UCBerkeley’s “New Manager Bootcamp” series at Haas.

The auditorium was packed with ~90 people, from a range of different companies and different industries. After my experiences at Mozilla Summit, I started by asking two specific questions:

1) How many of you are remote? (only ~5% of hands went up).
2) How many of you routinely work with people who are not in the same geographical location as yourself (100% of the hands went up!).

I found it interesting that few thought of themselves as “remotie”, yet all were working in geo-distributed teams.

photo of crowded auditorium
This was similar to what came up during the “We are all remoties” sessions at MozillaSummit just a few days before, as well as at other previous “We are all remoties” sessions I’ve done elsewhere. Somehow, physically working in an office tricks some people into believing they don’t need to think of themselves as “remote”, and hence don’t think “We are all remoties” is relevant to them!?

People were fully engaged, asking tons of great questions right from the start, and were clearly excited by practical tips to working more effectively in distributed groups. The organizers planned ahead, and specifically put this session immediately before lunch, so that the Q+A could continue overtime… and a separate crowded room of 15-20 people continued the great back/forth over food.

After lunch, I was part of a 4-person panel, where the class got to set direction and ask all the questions – no holds barred. As the class, and the panelists, all came from different backgrounds, different cultures, different careers, it was no surprise that the Q+A uncovered different perspectives and attitudes. The class were agreeing/disagreeing with each other and with the panelists. We even had panelists asking each other questions?!?! As individual panelists, we didn’t always agree on the mechanics of what we did, but we all agreed on the motivations of *why* we did what we did: doing a good job, while also taking care of the lives and careers of the individuals, the group, and the overall organization.

The trust and honesty in the room was great, and it was quickly evident that everyone was down-to-earth, asking brutally honest questions simply because they wanted to do right with their new roles and responsibilities. Even while being on the spot with some awkward questions, I admired their sincere desire to do well in their new role, and to treat people well. It gave me hope, and I thank them all for that.

Big thanks to Homa and Kim for putting it all together. I found it a great experience, and the lively discussions during+after lead me to believe others did too.

John.
PS: For a PDF copy of the presentation, click on the smiley faces! For the sake of my poor blogsite, the much, much, larger keynote file is available on request.

“We are ALL remoties” at Mozilla Summit

3 Comments

[UPDATE: The newest version of this presentation is here. joduinn 12feb2014, 09nov2014]

Last weekend, during Mozilla Summit, “We are all Remoties” was held *4* times: Brussels (catlee), Toronto (Armen and Kadir) and Santa Clara (myself, twice!). Big props to Kadir for joining in with his data – its always great to meet others who are also thinking about to best work together in a growing and geographically-distributed Mozilla.

I was happy to see that these different speakers, in different locations, all covered the session well, in their own personal style, and all had great responses and interactions. From all accounts, people really found this topic helpful, which is very nice to hear.

The one feedback that did surprise me, from all these sessions, was that most of the people attending were already working remotely, yet very few people based in offices attended, even if their entire group was geo-distributed. The topics covered addressed people in offices too, and several times people who were remoties said to me that they wished their office-based-co-workers had attended.

Its possible that the title makes people think the session only applies to non-office-based people. One earlier title I had was “working effectively in geo-distributed teams”, but that sounded very PHB. Another title (“If you are a remotie, or if you are in an office, working with a remotie…”) was too long, but it brought me to the current title. If everyone who is on a geo-distributed team considered themselves all to be on the same level playing field, then “we are ALL remoties!”.

Spreading the word, including to more people in physical offices, is important to make everyone’s work life more effective. If you’ve any ideas/suggestions, please let me know. And thanks again for the great support in all four summit sessions!

John.

[For a PDF copy of the entire presentation, click here or on the smiley faces! For the sake of my poor blogsite, the much, much, larger keynote files are available on request.]

UCBerkeley “New Manager Bootcamp”

1 Comment

Earlier this week, I had the distinct privilege of being invited to be on a panel at UCBerkeley’s “New Manager Bootcamp“.

This was my first time participating on an “expert panel” like this, so I really wast sure what I was getting myself into.

The auditorium was packed with ~90 people, all seasoned professionals from a range of different companies and different industries. They’d spent a bunch of time in workshops, listening and learning in an intensive crash-course. Now the tables were turned – they got to set the pace, and ask all the questions. After intros, and one “warm up” question from the organizer, the free-flow open questions started. From all corners of the room. Non-stop. For 75mins.

panel speakers

The trust and honesty in the room was great, and it was quickly evident that everyone was down-to-earth, asking brutally honest questions simply because they wanted to do right with their new roles and responsibilities.

The first few questions were “easy” black-and-white type questions. Things quickly got interesting with tricky gray-zone questions for the rest of the session. Each panelist responded super-honestly on how we’d each handled those tricky situations. Given that we all came from different backgrounds, different cultures, different careers, it was no surprise that we had different perspectives and attitudes for these gray-zone questions. We even had panelists asking each other questions, live on stage!?! As individual panelists, we didnt always agree on the mechanics of what we did, but we all agreed on the motivations of *why* we did what we did: taking care of people’s lives, and careers, individually, as part of the group, and as part of the company.

I found this educational, and I hope it was useful for the people asking the questions! Afterwards, I spent time in a nearby coffee shop quietly thinking about the questions, and reliving the different experiences behind the answers I shared on stage.

Unexpectedly, I was also asked to come back the next day, to talk about “we are all remoties“. Turns out that geo-distributed groups was a popular topic of discussion throughout the bootcamp, but I was still surprised at the level of interest when Homa asked for a quick show of “who would be willing to skip lunch for an extra session on remoties” and almost everyone jumped up! The “remoties” presentation was rushed, because of the tight time grabbing food-to-go, making sure not to delay the other scheduled sessions, and the flood of questions. Yet, people were fully engaged, sitting on the floor with food, asking great questions, and really excited by what was possible for distributed groups when the mechanics were debugged.

Distributed work groups are obviously a big issue, not just in open source software projects, but also in a lot of other companies in the bay area.

Big thanks to Homa and Kim for putting it all together. The timing of this was fortuitous, and I found myself thinking about possible ideas for Mozilla’s ManagerHacking series that morgamic revived recently and will be coming up again in a few weeks.

“We are all remoties” at Haas MBA, U.C.Berkeley

6 Comments

[UPDATE: The newest version of this presentation is here. joduinn 09nov2014]

Last weekend, I was super-honored to be a guest speaker at the Haas Berkeley MBA program. My session was part of their “Global Teams” module, where they cover the theory and practice of effective teamwork, managing in global companies, and managing in fluid/rapidly changing environments.

My host, Homa Bahrami, invited me to show how Mozilla’s Release Engineering group has pushed the envelope, and had developed a well-tested concrete set of tips+tricks which allow a geo-distributed group to work highly effectively.

People’s attention was caught right at the start by my summary and graphic showing just how distributed Mozilla’s RelEng group actually is:

    * 16 people
    * 15 locations
    * 4 non-adjacent timezones
    * 0 in “headquarters”


 

By comparison, most people think of remoties as either:
…or…

The fact that any group could work together this effectively while being so geo-distributed was startling to them. Add to that, the fact that this group has been able to create strategic-level improvements to Mozilla’s software development abilities, hence increasing Mozilla’s options in the marketplace, generated even more interest.

Overall, the entire session was lively and interactive, with great questions, and discussions back-forth across the room. Everyone was fully engaged all the way… even after the lunch food arrived, we continued the discussions in the corridor outside the room.

I was delighted by the insightful questions, and very interested to hear the different perspectives that everyone brought from their varied backgrounds outside the MBA program.

For me, personally, I found it re-affirming to hear that the tips+tricks that we’ve built up within RelEng over the years are applicable to other groups, and other organizations.

It was a thoroughly wonderful experience. Big thanks to Homa for the invite, and to everyone for their full-on engagement.

[For a PDF copy of the entire presentation, click here or on the smiley faces! For the sake of my poor blogsite, the much, much, larger keynote files are available on request.]

Older Entries