“We are ALL Remoties” (Nov2014 edition)

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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

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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

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[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

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[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

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[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”

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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

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[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.]

“we are all remoties” at MozCamp Singapore

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

In November, I was asked to present “we are all remoties” at MozCamp Singapore. In the end, I ended up presenting twice! The second time was on the main stage, in the largest room, where the keynote was held.

Giving a presentation in a room that big is always daunting, but during the presentation, it was encouraging to see the people that had been hovering at the back near the coffee machines + snacks gradually move to the remaining empty seats near the front and start taking notes. After the talk, I spent the rest of the day answering lots of questions and getting encouraging feedback.

Interesting that most of the people who came looking to attend “the remoties talk” had either heard an early version of it at Mozilla Summit in 2010, or heard about it from someone who was there. The people who heard it before thought it a good refresher; the people who were hearing it for the first time found it immediately useful to their day-to-day working lives! All self-confessed that this was a talk they never thought they’d find interesting so they almost skipped… but now thought it was essential, and wanted to know if I would I give the same presentation with their group?!?

Humbling. And encouraging. All at the same time.

Every time I get to talk about “remoties”, whether in a formal setting like MozCamp, or in discussions with people in other companies, I have two strong feelings:

  1. Passionate: I feel more and more convinced this topic is super important to the Mozilla community. In the changing face of the software industry, I feel this is becoming important to an increasing proportion of workplaces outside of Mozilla. Given Mozilla’s origins, we have a long standing reputation for successfully working with people in different physical locations. As we grow, we need to learn how to scale this part of our DNA. I feel if any organization can do this right, and show the way for other organizations to do it right, Mozilla can. The impact on the industry cannot be overstated.
  2. Embarrassed: In preparation for each talk, I pour over the slides, fix typos, rehearse and generally try to make it better. Every time, I fix lots of errors. And literally every time on stage, I find even more errors. Feedback and questions afterwards make me tweak the presentation every time. After my recent presentation at Netflix, I completely rewrote most of the presentation. Each time I do this, I feel better about the revised version, and embarrassed by the earlier versions.

Therefore, I’ve posted a PDF of the slides here.

Please do ask questions and/or give feedback/corrections/suggestions – either in comments below, or by emailing me. I’ll do my best to work them all into a revised presentation before the next talk which is already scheduled for outside Mozilla (more news soon!).

Thanks
John.

“we are all remoties” at Netflix

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

Netflix asked me to present about how Mozilla handles distributed work groups – “we are all remoties” – in October. This invitation came about because Netflix RelEng team were impressed by the scale and efficiency of Mozilla’s RelEng group – and then totally impressed when they found out that Mozilla’s RelEng group was physically all remoties. Unheard of in Netflix.

Exciting, and a little daunting, all at the same time. Oh, and by the way, could it be recorded as part of their Netflix University training series?

To set context, its worth noting that Netflix has an explicit zero-remoties hiring policy, so this presentation generated quite some debate beforehand and during the Q+A sessions and afterwards.

Big thanks to everyone from Netflix who attended – the genuine curiosity and very direct, honest questions, with me and with each other, were great. After 5.75 years (and counting) in Mozilla’s very-distributed RelEng, I still forget that what feels “normal” for me is atypical for a lot of other companies. All the discussions helped me identify a bunch of assumptions that need to be called out in the presentation. Every time I have a chance to talk about remoties like this, I end up restructuring the presentation yet again to highlight missed assumptions. Thanks to all the Q+A here, the “remoties” presentation at MozCamp Singapore a month later was quite different and I hope much better (separate blog post coming).

Its still surprising to me how much I care about group organization. Done badly, its a big impediment to people getting their work done. Done well, it helps people be more effective. And, as noted by several people at Netflix, many aspects of our we-are-all-remoties group organization practices help even zero-remotie groups be more effective.

Many thanks to Curt Patrick, Gareth Bowles, Carl Quinn and Adrian Cockroft for helping make this happen, as well as for all the lively discussions before and since.

Calling all remoties

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tl;dr: If you are a remotie…or if you work with someone who is a remotie… I’d love to hear from you.


Whenever “remoties” come up in discussion, I continue to be surprised by the level of interest people have about this.

Its not just a polite “oh, that’s interesting”. Its a suddenly intense outpouring of personal war stories – “oh really? Let me tell you about the time when…”. Some of those stories were told as validation (“yes, we did what you do, and we’re happy it worked for us also” or “we didn’t do what you do, and it ended badly“). Some of these stories were told in denial (“we tried that once, it didn’t work out, which proves it is not ever possible“). Some of these stories were told in despair (“…so now my company wont hire any remoties“). But all of these stories were told with intense personal fervor, sometimes years after the fact!

This shouldn’t have surprised me. As Homa Bahrami pointed out when I met her in Mozilla Summit 2011, and again in meetings this summer, working with remoties is a hard people-organizational problem, not a software-organization problem. Homa also pointed out the intense, long term impact this can have on someone’s personal life and entire career, which explained some of the passionate responses I’ve received so far.

Stepping back, I realized that while most of the people I’ve talked with so far are in the computer business, I’ve also heard similar stories from university lecturers, book publishers, public relations people, medical doctors and traveling sales reps.

This got me thinking about how to contact even more people who work remotely… hence this blog post.

If you are a remotie…or if you work with someone who is a remotie… I’d be really interested to hear from you.

  • Do you have examples of things that did (or did not!) work for you?
  • Do you have ideas of things you haven’t tried, but which you think might help?

As usual, you can post comments below. I do also understand this is a personal thing, especially if you are still working in the situation. Therefore, if you want to email me privately instead, please email me, and put “remoties” somewhere in the subject. I will, of course, honor any requests to keep feedback anonymous, all I ask that you give me any working email address in case something is unclear, and I want to contact you with any followup questions.

Thanks!
John.
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Meanwhile, here’s a collection of useful links I’ve found about working remotely. If you know of others, please let me know.

(UPDATED: added another link, joduinn 16mar2014, 09nov2014)

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