TIZIANO PERRUCCI is a back-end developer and Scala magician for StarterSquad, a self-organized company of developers that build software for startups in Utrecht, the Netherlands. He enjoys solving interesting and challenging problems.
His tips for working remotely:
- To understand others, start with listening.
- Try not to make assumptions.
- Don’t take things personally.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Okay great! And we’re live. Welcome everybody to this remote interview. We’re doing it via Hangout on Air today. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. And I’m back on the line with one of my favorite interviews in the past, and actually one of the most popular interviews I’ve ever done, just so people know. This is StarterSquad and today we’re talking to the entire team, which his great, because we’re getting a team perspective on how do they make it work. And I’m going to start by Iwein asking you to give an introduction to the company and just to give a little context. If people want to know more, you can go back to the interview with Iwein. I’ll put a link to the show notes and then I’ll have everybody introduce themselves. So Iwein, tell us a little bit about StarterSquad and what makes you special?
Iwein: There are quite a few things that make us special but I’ll try to keep this short. StarterSquad is a distributed community of startup development teams. We take on projects and we funnel those projects through existing stable teams and then deliver MVPs and final products for startups and help their businesses become profitable.
Lisette: And the reason why this caught my attention in the beginning was because it’s really a company of entrepreneurs, is how you described it in the beginning and that makes it pretty interesting and I think also is a very modern and viable business model.
Iwein: Yes. We have been doing quite well and we are growing steadily. The cool thing is we have no employees, no offices, and our customers don’t have to pay for those either.
Lisette: Right, also one of the benefits. So let’s meet the team and we’ll go ahead and I’m going to ask everybody to give your name of course, where you’re located and tell us a little bit about your remote working setup, your remote office. What does it look like? We’ll start Anna.
Anna: Hi, I’m Anna. I’m located in the Netherlands and I don’t have any special setup for the home office. Basically I’m just working from my home.
Anna: I started doing completely freelance sometime last year. Before that, I was mostly having a regular trip and for a while I tried to do both things together but then I decided I would rather do only freelancing projects because first it gives more freedom. Second it allows to focus better on the project and it’s just more fun.
Lisette: Right. Okay, we’re going to get back to this question of why everybody’s gone freelance. That’s clearly an interesting question, but let’s go to Dmitry. Why don’t you introduce yourself?
Dmitry: Hi! I’m Dmitry. I live in Ukraine, in Kiev. My workspace is actually my home. That’s it.
Lisette: What do you like about this working at home? Clearly it’s a choice. You could choose to work at a co-working space maybe. What is it that you like about your home?
Dmitry: I consider it to be the whole different way of doing things. It’s like you choose where you want to do something and how you want to do something. Being at home, that is really an advantage.
Lisette: Okay, love it. I have the same feelings. Tiziano, how about you?
Tiziano: Hi! I’m Tiziano. I’m a Full Stack developer. I worked with StarterSquad since a couple of years now, and that’s my office, just my living room.
Lisette: And what do you love about it?
Tiziano: It’s warm and cozy, my chair.
Lisette: It’s true. We laugh but it actually is important. It’s the small things that make things really pleasant when we work at home, like our coffee and the temperature and the music we get to play. I think these are things that are way more important than people give us credit for. I want to get into the things that are working and the good things about it. But I want to start with what’s hard for your team? What is especially hard about working remote? Working in a co-located office has its set of challenges and working remotely also has its set of challenges. I want to get into the meat of what do you guys struggle with as a team?
Iwein: Well that’s a good question. For me I think the hardest thing is because you have a home office, it also puts pressure on your environment and your family to make the surroundings silent and conducive to remote working. I find that’s actually the hardest thing of combining working at home and being productive in a team that I have to tell my kids to be silent during the interview, for example.
Lisette: Okay. So maybe not having a separate space where you can lock all those interruptions out. That can also be a real challenge.
Iwein: Yeah and also for the other side of course, it’s a challenge. For example Dmitry he bought a new apartment and in his surroundings there is sometimes construction work. It’s very hard to control this. If you have to tell a client that you cannot show up for a meeting because there is somebody drilling in your wall, you don’t have that in offices very often.
Lisette: That’s true. Offices are sort of built for stale, quiet environment. Anybody else?
Anna: There is a couple of challenges regarding to having a distributed team of freelancers. One important challenge is there might be slightly less commitment for the amount of work people wants to do or for the hours because everybody’s free and really there’s a possibility that someone might say at the last moment that they are not available because [6:28]. We have to address this thing somehow. For example we’ve had to introduce something like the minimum amount of work everybody in the company do and to be a bit more strict about it. That’s one thing. Another challenge is I have seen sometimes that some clients have a bit of issues when they’re working with completely remote team maybe because they don’t feel a lot of connection between them and the team.
Lisette: Yeah. I think you bring up so really great points that I’ve heard a couple of times before, it’s the level of commitment because everybody, as a freelancer, we usually have more than 1 client under our belt, so we’re not fully committed to any one particular project and that can be an issue on the team. And also feeling connected, clearly I hear you on that. Anything else?
Dmitry: Also I can tell about it, being a freelancer that works from home, actually you can be easily in a situation that work is counting on you. You can work until the late night and then you can wake up early in the morning and you continue to work again. It’s really hard to find the balance between working a lot and spending time with your family. That’s on the one hand. On the other hand, the family is counting on you as well. You cannot say to your 3-year old son that you are working at the moment and his new car is less important than the project you are doing at the moment. He doesn’t understand that. He doesn’t want to understand that. I think it’s absolutely fine.
Lisette: It’s just hard to find the balance.
Lisette: Yeah. It’s not impossible, just a challenge.
Anna: Yes, but it becomes easier when the children grow.
Dmitry: Of course.
Lisette: Only 16 more years.
Tiziano: Because you kick them out.
Anna: No, not really.
Lisette: Tiziano, is it all roses with you?
Tiziano: No. I sign off with what Iwein was saying, distraction. You can easily find distraction in your home place. I sign off with Dmitry as well. The thing is what we generally do every day, working for startups, is already unstable by itself. You could end up having issues at 3:00 in the night and you have to fix it. It often happen to me that I’m just in the middle of the night, pairing with one of my clients, and if I couldn’t have my own place with my own living room and my own connection, I could never do that. That’s how we help people. On the other hand, as Dmitry said, you could wake up in the morning at 7:00 and the first thing you see is your screen with your password to type in and that’s actually something that you cannot really stand away easily.
Lisette: It’s surprising. Remote working sometimes gets wrapped because feel like “well how do we know people are really working?” But actually the issue seems to be people are actually working all the time and the trouble is when do we turn off. It’s never working too little. It’s always working too much in the remote working field it seems.
Anna: Yes. But actually you often heard this situation in the normal work environment as well, only in that situation you’re still working around the clock but your work is I would say less recognized.
Anna: I think that many people who end up being freelancers are really people who are workaholics and they can work round the clock if needed and sometimes maybe take a break if needed. For example it would be easier to work in [10:30] that whereas they’re in the floors and to submit to the standard working hours, working environment.
Lisette: Okay, interesting. So we’re all workaholics, which might actually has a ring of truth to it, I must admit. But clearly, giving all these challenges, we all still are choosing to do it this way over working in a standard office. Everybody in this company has made a choice, even though it’s very challenging, we’re doing it this way. So why? What’s working?
Iwein: Well I think that it already came up a few times. For example if your kid is showing his very important car to you during an important meeting with the client and the client also has kids and he’s also working from home and since we’re working with startups a lot, that happens a lot as well, then it can actually be an ice breaker and it can be a way to relate to each other. If you’re working one party at home and the other party in an office, there can be some jealousy or something like that. And the reason for that jealousy is also very obvious because I can work 2 hours in the morning, go for a run, have a shower in my own shower, work for 2 more hours, do this interview, and continue with the client somewhere else. And I don’t have to count for all the travel time and that sort of annoyance. I like it.
Lisette: The freedom and the lack of travel time, the lack of commute, especially in the Netherlands. That seems to be an issue especially with Dutch people. What works for everybody else? What do you love about working for StarterSquad and what do you love about how StarterSquad works together.
Anna: Nice colleagues.
Lisette: Nice colleagues. So it was sort of by accident that you guys all got together, wasn’t it? You were working for a previous client and then when that work ended, you decided you wanted to continue. The only issue was you didn’t have a client, so you just needed to get more clients. Is everybody involved getting new clients or is there one person dedicated for that? How does it all work for you guys?
Anna: Actually it works sometimes in quite interesting ways. For example, we go to one of our current clients because the [inaudible – echo 12:58].
Dmitry: Actually mostly Iwein brings us the clients because Iwein is StarterSquad’s [13:20], you can tell it like that. He speaks really good and he’s really experienced…sorry, I hear a feedback. Can I somehow prevent it?
Lisette: Yeah, maybe if everybody can mute themselves when they’re not talking, that would be helpful I think.
Dmitry: Okay, excellent. I’m sorry, I lost the line. Iwein usually is the one who brings the clients. He really likes doing that. That’s how it works. And also we viewed to the fact that we are all developers in StarterSquad. There are little managers on. It also happens that the client communicates to the developer directly, and through that way we get new clients as well.
Lisette: Oh super interesting. So really at your company it sounds like everybody is a bit of a manager. Iwein, you’re about to say something.
Iwein: Yeah. Dmitry is saying that I bring in most of the deals and that used to be the case especially in the first year. But what we’re seeing now is that the teams are also starting to sell themselves. From the people present here, Dmitry was there at the very beginning more than 2 years ago and Tiziano was actually the CTO of our first customer and Anna joined a bit later, but I think that Dmitry and Tiziano can remember that the early deals all came in through me doing the hard work and holding sales. Lately it’s been more referrals and also deals have been closing entirely without my intervention. And as Dmitry says, I think that is related to the fact that teams work very closely with the clients and the clients start to identify with the teams, as well as with the StarterSquad brand. And that way, clients bring in other clients and teams are bringing their own work basically. They are also encouraged to brand themselves and to work with the clients directly. That has even lead to our next product, the Capacitor, that we will then allow to do StarterSquad as an online self service platform. Sales is getting easier. We’re doing more of it with less time.
Lisette: Sounds like word of mouth too. Once people learn about your team, then they want…and this is pretty interesting. When people come out and look for projects, they’re not looking for one particular person. They’re looking for a team of developers to work on their project. Is that true?
Iwein: That’s actually true. That’s one of our unique selling points. Because if you have to build a team yourself as a startup and you work on that for a few weeks, then before the team actually gets productive and you have hired the full team together, your budget might already have run out.
Lisette: And how does the work get divided? You spoke of Capacitor, is that a tool that helps you divide the work out on the team members? How does it work?
Anna: I think that [16:37 – echo] maybe.
Anna: I’m not sure [16:43], sorry for that. We are using Trello as our Kanban on board. What we usually do is we have weekly meetings with the client and during these meetings we establish the tasks which can be done for the coming week. Then we have some work with several columns for different stages of the task, so the task can be defined, the task can be made ready so that [17:10] developer complete the top, then it can be implemented, ready for merge. They view it on merge then test it. And then actually release. So every task has a clear stage. Every task has a clear record of who is working on it and it really work, especially in the distributed environment to understand who’s doing what.
Lisette: So it’s mainly Trello that you’re using.
Anna: Yes. We are using Trello as our main account here. And we also use some tools for remote collaboration. Mostly it can be Skype, it can be TeamViewer, it can be Note or some part which we do together. For example we have Google Documents or there are some other similar services. Apart from that, I think we do pairing, not always but quite often. Basically it means that one of the person is driving and one of the person is navigating, so giving advice and every single thing associated with pairing, which can be quite hard if you’re new into some technology. And we have the rules that we don’t just submit the code into the working portion. Every code, which is done by somebody, has to be reviewed by someone else. This is one of the ways we ensure that we do things which are reasonably the same.
Lisette: And for pair programming, are you using Skype for that?
Anna: It depends on what is working for whom. For some people Skype works. For some people it’s in Google Docs. Maybe some people are using other kind of tools because I think right now there is no unique tool which is fit for everyone.
Dmitry: Also JoinMe is not really a pair programming tool but it really helps to share your screen to the client, for instance, because he doesn’t need to install anything, just flash on the website. And also during the pair programming, it’s not the rule that one should lead the program and another one should only watch and learn. It also can be the rule that two senior developers. They would just meet on one task and they would like to communicate doing that one because working at home on your own is also a challenge and you need to communicate with these people a lot to overcome that.
Anna: Yes. It seems that is one of the other challenges actually, is that you don’t to always get to communicate to the other person and you might start feeling to yourself I don’t meet the requirement unless you say something about it.
Lisette: And I hear you guys also use HipChat, is that right? To actually talk to each other, is that the main form?
All: Not anymore.
Lisette: Oh interesting. So what happened with HipChat?
Anna: There are some things which we don’t like about it. One of the things is that it’s not possible to make threads there. Another was that the interface was a little bit funky for some people. At least many people were complaining about this. Right now we switched to Slack.
Dmitry: And also something was about mobile application that it didn’t work very well for everyone. And then we switched to Slack and we are using Slack already for 2 or 3 months and we’re happy so far.
Anna: The only thing I am personally a bit unhappy about is that the free version doesn’t allow to see full logs.
Iwein: Yeah. Then we need to switch to IRC.
Tiziano: Old school.
Lisette: Interesting. One of the things that I remember actually from my interview with you Iwein is that you said that a lot of tools come in and they come out and sometimes it goes out of existence and that you experiment with things all the time because you just need to use what works for whatever the situation is and that’s the way you liked it. That’s what I liked and I think I even read it in the transcript why it sticks out. It sounds like it’s still that way.
Iwein: Yes of course. We aim for scalability of the StarterSquad model and now we’re with 5 teams already. If those teams all need to follow one strict procedure, they will all be unhappy and they will start revolting against it when it doesn’t work for them. And if the teams are made up of responsible people that can find the tools that work for them in their particular situation, and it might be very different between teams, then they can share this knowledge and they can learn from each other or they can just use different toolset. For example, we have some teams that use the Pad, as we call it, which is just a collaborative notepad based on Etherpad, if you like that. And there are other teams that really like Google Docs. And if you don’t like Google Docs because you don’t like to have a Google account, for example, you shouldn’t be forced to do that unless the client really sees the value. And I really like the fact that we are working with responsible and technically really good people so they can figure out what tools work for them on their own, within the team, and I can just watch and learn.
Lisette: Are there certain people that you’ve had on your team where this style hasn’t worked for them? Like they thought they wanted to try it, they joined the team and then they thought “oh no I can’t handle this too exciting of a freelance lifestyle.” I don’t know, is there a personality type that hasn’t worked for you guys?
Iwein: I would say so. We have had a few people that haven’t been able to be very successful within the StarterSquad community and we have had people that have left teams. We have had people that have left the organization entirely, sometimes on our initiative, sometimes on their own initiative. But due to the nature of the organization, it usually goes in a very organic way and I would say that remote working in itself requires a certain set of personality traits and working in a team requires a certain set of personality traits. And working in a team requires a certain set of personality traits and if you have a fully distributed remote team, that limits the possibilities quite a bit.
Lisette: Does anybody else want to speak to that about the personality traits that it takes, what you like about it for yourself.
Dmitry: Also one of the goals of StarterSquad is to have as little management as possible inside the team. We are encouraging thread through Trello. We don’t assign cards to people. We encourage people just to know and take cards on their own. Actually, lately we have a rule that it should start from the start but if the [24:27] on the top don’t match your skills, you’re free to select the thing that matches. This kind of freedom, it also doesn’t fit everyone and it can be also a part of the issue people leaving, but actually there are not too much difference and [24:45].
Lisette: I was part of a hiking group. They call themselves Hike the Geek. It’s just a group of rocket scientist in Los Angeles and people who thought they were smart geeks, basically, smart guys and we even hike around Los Angeles and it just wasn’t for everybody. People would join, come on Hike the Geek and they just said “this is not my people” and they were a sort of self-filtering process out of that. It sounds like it’s the same for a remote team. It can be a bit of self-filtering process, if you’re in the style. People want to try it but sometimes it just doesn’t match.
Anna: Yes, that seems to be right.
Lisette: Alright, so let’s see. We’ve talked about some of the benefits. We’ve talked about some of the challenges and the tools and the personality traits. I want to know a little bit about the team building and the culture that you have amongst your team. Are there any specific team building things that you guys do to keep connection?
Anna: We have seen each other, at least once already when several people from Ukraine came here to the Netherlands so we could hang out together for a couple of days. Apart from that, some people visit StarterSquad are travelling on their own. They are sometimes travelling to cities where other developers live and there they can meet them, maybe code together and have fun.
Dmitry: Occasionally the StarterSquad community grow and now it’s really easy to meet everyone when you’re planning your trip. For instance, Nick is living Vienna, Austria. But at the moment Nick is travelling around the world. He has been in Argentina and he was meeting one of our StarterSquad guys as well. Being inside StarterSquad, when you plan a trip, the first place that you are thinking about is the ones where other teammates are living and it’s quite easy.
Lisette: That’s brilliant. It sounds like you’re taking the WordPress model, the automatic model where the team members can get together wherever they feel like getting together.
Dmitry: Yeah. For instance, Nick, this is an excellent example. He was living for around a month near with Iwein I think. Right, Iwein? Another month he was living with Sebastian in Argentina. It’s a really nice thing. That is possible due to remote work.
Lisette: I like to call this kind of thing a work holiday, because you’re not really on holiday but you can work and explore a new place from wherever you are.
Anna: That seems very possible between work and not work, in any case, if you’re a freelancer. You’re never really at work and you never really have holiday, more or less that.
Iwein: I’ve tried to have a real holiday, once or twice. It is possible but it requires a lot of discipline. But if you travel to places where you have a bad network connection, then it becomes a real holiday momentarily. I really like the fact that people are able to combine the travel and the work and people can relocate, like Tiziano is going to do soon and just continue working in the same team.
Lisette: Tiziano, where are you going?
Tiziano: Back to Italy, for a while.
Lisette: Okay, just to go back.
Tiziano: Yeah. I’ve been living in the Netherlands for 6 years now, actually a bit more. I feel like that all the things that you can learn while you live in a place, and living means like a full experience of living – so pay your taxes, building up a group, building up a community, building up core relations that you have, and learning from all this people that you meet around. I felt a while ago that it’s actually been a great experience where I actually learned a lot of stuff and now I can actually apply it somewhere else. I’m flying back to Italy for a while and try to see if I can help people over there with my knowledge.
Lisette: And you’re doing all of this and there’s no real interruption in the work. You’re continuing to work on StarterSquad projects while you move.
Tiziano: The only interruption is packing, if you know what it means. It’s a huge mess over here but that’s the only interruption.
Iwein: The worst is actually the airport, because there you don’t have proper network connection and you can’t work. And the uninterrupted time in the plane you can do something that requires to be offline. In any location that you have proper network you can connect with the team and continue working. The packing and the airport, that’s the worst.
Anna: But they do have Wi-Fi at the airport.
Tiziano: Some of them they do, but some of them are actually freaking expensive, like the T-mobile network. I don’t know if you ever tried it in Schipol but it’s pretty expensive.
Lisette: Yeah. It’s not reliable. Forcing yourself to take a holiday by going somewhere that has bad or very expensive internet just for people to get offline work. Are there any issues with time zones with you guys? The Ukraine, I think you’re only 2 or 3 hours ahead of Netherlands.
Anna: Yes. Right now we have a client which is located in Australia, so there was time issues sometimes because very often for example when we have mornings, they have evenings and so is everyone. But nevertheless, it proved to be workable, although it does require sometimes some additional discipline or you have to stay a little bit longer so that you could actually have a talk with these guys.
Tiziano: Yeah. So Anna is not sleeping since a couple of months now anymore.
Anna: It’s an overstatement, right?
Lisette: But Australia is very far. When we talk a few hours, even 6 hours it’s always doable but Australia is like the other side of the world.
Anna: Yes. Basically one of my funniest experiences is the interviews that they had when I was representing basically what we call [31:27] because the clients we are working for are from university and there are also some people in the panel which were located in New York. The only time when we could have the interview was 10:00 in the evening Dutch time because it was morning at one side then end of the business day on the other side. With Australia, I would say an exotic experience from that point of view.
Lisette: Right. But cool that we can connect on the other side of the world.
Anna: I think so, yes.
Lisette: And why this project? Why is the client coming to you from Australia?
Anna: It was an interesting project because it is a project with a scientific background. Basically we’re helping people to translate [31:13] application, which they created to do some calculations to calculate models related to health state programs. So now they wanted to make a website so we are helping to make it for them. From that point of view it was interesting because it was not like [32:34] which remote teams are usually getting. It was something relatively for us as well.
Iwein: It is very interesting to see that. The University of Australia tries to find developers that can do this kind of thing. They need to have a mathematical background. They need to be very well versed in frontend and backend technologies. It’s a large application with a complex domain that we need to understand. If you try to recruit for that, of course you end up with StarterSquad. What else can I say?
Lisette: You’re looking for the pros. You’re going to end up at StarterSquad sooner. That’s what’s going to happen.
Iwein: Yeah true.
Dmitry: Yeah also what’s interesting in this client is they started all frontend client but later on they scaled to handle full development within StarterSquad, backend and frontend. It was also BLAST software model.
Lisette: And now team building within yourselves is one thing. But how are you making…I mean you’re clearly making some very strong connections with these clients from far away. This client from Australia is now hiring for more and more things. How are you building your relationship with your clients remotely?
Anna: Well we are doing it in Agile way. First of all we communicate with somebody from the client’s side on a daily basis, because we actively involve them, for example in qualifying tasks or discussing if you think something could have been done better or differently or maybe the client doesn’t task processing as a real need. So that means we’re communicating with them all the time. We strive to also have weekly demos, but it doesn’t work all clients, basically. It definitely didn’t work for this client because that is not the way scientific people work. For them it was easier to be involved on a daily basis all the time instead of just having some predefined weekly timeslots where they should be present.
Iwein: I think the essential answer to your question, Lisette, is that we are on the one hand very strict with our clients. We require them to deliver the specifications in a proper way. We require them to pay upfront. We require them to be present at demos and synchronizations and everything. And then on the other hand, if they’re in real business problem, we are extremely flexible with them and we just make it work, whatever it takes. And then if you deliver that a few iterations to a client, of course they’re going to hire you for more business.
Lisette: Right, because there’s trust and accountability on both sides there. Speaking of trust and accountability, what is the feedback like on the team? Clearly as a team of entrepreneurs, there must a way of giving each other a feedback. You said you worked in an Agile way, so I’m assuming that during retrospectives amongst the team yourselves. Is that the main form of feedback that you’re giving each other?
Tiziano: Clients demo and team retrospective. Those are the ones.
Dmitry: We’re also trying to develop this model inside our platform Capacitor. We have the feedbacks inside but actually at the moment we are not really sure what should we do with these feedbacks.
Anna: We tried to introduce some kind of rating system but it’s very controversial and we don’t know how it will evolve.
Iwein: Essential feedback that you can regularly learn from is best delivered in a synchronous conversation. Ratings are everywhere on all remote working platforms but those ratings don’t really help the teams evolve. At the moment, and this will be the case I think in the foreseeable future, the most important feedback that we get is in synchronous demonstrations with the client. And the second most important feedback is the feedback that people inside the team give each other during the retrospectives. The more you try to automate these things, the higher the risk becomes that the tool becomes more important than the practice. This is something that we are cautiously avoiding. But eventually I think that some of these things can be automated and especially seeing how retrospectives and feedback work in distributed teams is on my list to figure out this year.
Lisette: Yeah it’s not easy. There’s no silver bullet, right? There’s not one thing that works for every team. It’s really team specific in that sense. Let me know how you’re dealing with that. I’m also curious about this topic in particular. We’re not robotic. We wanted to be human also.
Iwein: Exactly. And I think there is a silver bullet for teams, especially remote teams, and I think the silver bullet is low tech synchronous retrospectives. I have a retrospective every week. I always tell anyone that wants to listen, this is the way to do it. I don’t know what the other guys think but I’m quite happy so far. What do you think Tiziano?
Tiziano: Yeah I am. I don’t know if you heard me before but I do believe that the team retrospective and clients demo are, as you say synchronous events, but those are the ones that we learn the most from, especially we only have those kind of situation where you have a lot of people, you have to put some discipline in place – not overlapping, not talking together, making sure the conversation is focused, making sure the demo is well prepared for the people that are actually going to be attending. We do have some preparation for this kind of meeting especially because they are not so many sometimes, so you want to actually get the most out of it.
Lisette: Alright, anything else on feedback? I think I have one final question. Alright I’ll ask my final question then which is, it doesn’t sound like there are but are there any issues with culture or any things that you guys have learned about culture. Tiziano you’re from Italy, and Dmitry you’re in Ukraine and Anna I now you’re in the Netherlands but you don’t sound Dutch to me.
Anna: I’m originally Russian. I finished at Moscow State University when the [39:20] was still roaming the airs still but I lived in the Netherlands for the last 15 years.
Lisette: Okay, so double cultures there. But are there any issues with culture on the team? People ask a lot. I don’t hear about culture issues all the time, so I wanted to specifically ask.
Anna: Well there are some issues but I think mostly not between us because all geeks are more or less the same. But between us and the clients, sometimes, basically because of course different countries are slightly different. There is racial difference for example Eastern Europe or from the US a little bit. And sometimes when people communicate to each other, so basically every side makes assumptions which are based on their cultural background and they get quite surprised when these assumptions don’t match 100%.
Dmitry: We’ve also learned some Italian curses from Tiziano.
Tiziano: That works pretty well when you want to fade away and just disappear.
Lisette: I forget to ask, it’s not just the challenges but in fact there are things that we learn from other cultures. It’s probably mainly what happens. We learn a lot of different things – the different holidays, the different rituals. I’m working with a few women from Spain on a team right now and I just learned that in Spain they eat 12 grapes at New Years in the same time on a television show. They all ate simultaneous grapes. I have no idea. I’m totally cool with that. Things like that, I just love things like that.
Iwein: That is cool, yeah.
Anna: Here for example, there is a very well known cultural issue for people who are coming from Eastern Europe into Western Europe because in the Eastern Europe you are mostly supposed to look serious when you’re talking business and in Western Europe you should smile. It is a bit of a challenge for the people from Eastern Europe to start smiling when you’re talking business.
Lisette: Right and that’s something because maybe if you’re from Western Europe, you’re thinking “oh my goodness, this person is not having fun or they’re not enjoying themselves here” and really they just have a more serious face on but really the same level of pleasure is happening. It’s true.
Anna: Yes. That’s something you have to be aware of if you’re working with different culture and maybe attune yourself a little bit depending on who you are talking to.
Iwein: Yeah and there’s also, we’re now growing and we have some people in Romania and some people in the Ukraine and some people in Russia as well. And you see that Eastern Europe it jells quite well together, although there are huge cultural differences as well. And Romanian culture fits nicely with Italian culture, I’ve heard from Tiziano. And at least where the food is concerned, I can confirm that. But we also have some people in South America and India and there you see that if you have a team that consists of both Eastern European people and people from India for example, the way they approach that line and client business problems is very, very different and then more communication is necessary to make sure that everybody aligns. But I mostly agree with what Anna already said, is that geeks are the same everywhere and if you have really good developers, they can always figure it out together. It’s quite amazing.
Lisette: I agree. I said that was my last question but I have one more, which is how do you find the people that you’re working? You’re finding people all over the world – Brazil, Russia, everywhere. How are you finding people all over the world?
Tiziano: Well nowadays they contact us. We don’t have much work anymore, I think. Some people it’s connected to our networks. Whatever meet-ups or whatever group we are in, from LinkedIn to Meetup.com to anywhere else. Other people are just contacting us because somehow they are reading about it and they actually are interested in what we sometimes publish in our blog. That’s as far as I know how people connect to us.
Iwein: The network is very important, like between the people you see here, we have probably brought in 20 more just from personal network and as Tiziano also says, we are quite popular online and people like the concept and love to work with us, so we’re lucky there I guess, or smart, whatever you decide.
Lisette: Both. They can be both. It doesn’t have to be exclusive. I must admit, I’ve mentioned StarterSquad in many of my speeches about remote working and teams that to remote work because the business model is of course so modern and fascinating and appealing. I get a lot of people asking questions and I can see people writing down the name when I mention it. You can almost see they write StarterSquad on the pad just to check it out because I think really a lot of people would like to work this way. When it works well, it works like magic and it sounds like you guys have found that ingredient.
Iwein: Yeah I’d like to hope so. It looks very promising indeed.
Tiziano: Yeah. I would like to add 1 thing, well actually 3 things, connected to your previous question Lisette regarding culture and how culture is working in our own teams. I can tell you from my personal experience, I’ve been doing a lot of pair programming even before joining Dmitry, Iwein and Anna. I was doing pair programming, for instance, with Indian people. They are a completely different culture than Italian people. I can swear I guess. I’ve been learning these 3 things that I’ll mention to you. The first one is to listen. If you’re not able to listen, you’re not going to achieve much, neither in communication nor in understanding other people. The second one that I learned through a lot of pain was don’t just assume. Ask. If you just assume things, you will just build up your own reality, perception in your mind and that’s not going to help. You can easily ask people, especially when people wants to be asked for more explanation or other information you can actually get out of them and they are happy to tell you. And the last one is to actually don’t take things personally. If you receive critics or someone tells you, sometimes it’s hard to communicate. Anna was telling you earlier this. It’s really hard to communicate. You could actually say 5 words and all of them can be wrong if you read them in a certain way, right? One thing that I try not to do is to take things personally. Instead of assuming that someone is telling me something, I will first ask and then if I really did it wrong, I accept the critic. I will work on it. I will ask for feedback to understand better the problem or my own issue and I will work upon that. That makes myself a bit healthier than if you would see me in another context of working environment.
Lisette: Listen, ask, and don’t take things too personally. I think that’s a fabulous advice actually.
Iwein: Nothing to add to that.
Lisette: Maybe we can end on that, brilliant, unless somebody has other brilliant tips that they want to add to the conversation. Alright if not, really thanks you guys. It’s really interesting to hear it from a team perspective. Usually I just do one on one. Sorry for talking over you guys sometimes. I’m kind of a chronic interrupter. I have to work on that myself. But I really appreciate it, hearing it from a team perspective and to see how the inner workings of StarterSquad works. This is great. I’ll continue to use you guys in all of my talks.
All: Thank you.
Lisette: Great! Alright everybody, until next time, be powerful.