IWEIN FULD is cofounder and lean business hacker of StarterSquad, a self-organized company of developers that build software for startups in Utrecht, the Netherlands. His golden rule: “If you can’t verify that it works, you have no business building it.”
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His tips for working remotely:
- Take the time to build your team with the right people.
- Put regular feedback loops in place.
- Experiment with processes and tools.
- Stop using a tool when it doesn’t work.
- When you’re feeling stuck, pair up with someone else.
- Use trial periods when hiring new team members.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Welcome, everybody! We are now live. My name is Lisette Sutherland and today, I’m interviewing Iwein Fuld, an entrepreneur, developer, and the founder of StarterSquad which is a successful international team of freelance developers that turn ideas into business. And today, we’re going to be discussing how we can collaborate remotely as a team which I think is very interesting. And if you have questions now or in the future, you can ask them through the Hangouts Q&A or you can tweet to #remoteinterview and we’ll get the questions answered for you. So welcome, Iwein! Thanks for talking to me today.
Iwein: Thank you, Lisette. Very happy to be here.
Lisette: And why don’t we start with an introduction? I’d love to just describe who you are and what StarterSquad is and a little bit about the history of StarterSquad and why you started it and what it does because I know the story already and I think it’s very interesting.
Iwein: Yeah, yeah. I’ll try to keep it a little bit short because there is a lot to tell. But I’ve been in a quite a long programming career, not as long as some but over ten years. And I did a lot of consulting. I worked in different organizations, larger and smaller organizations. And at the end of my career as an employee, I found it very interesting to work with teams and I noticed that keeping those teams together and working for longer periods together as a team increased the productivity a lot and it was also much more fun basically to work with people that you have really befriended. And I try to do that within my previous employer and I found that working for startup was the most fun and was the best way to validate this idea because then you can do a lot of different projects in succession. Well, with this employer, we had a mismatch between the startup as a client and the high end consulting as a supplier so that didn’t work out but we got some very interesting experiences there and I wanted to continue this and basically wasn’t possible within that company. So eventually, I quit my job. I became the CEO of this startup and when that startup wasn’t taking off as quickly as I would have hoped that it would, I proceeded to do freelancing. And there’s one thing I really, really hate about being a working man and that’s being in the car on the way to your job. That’s the worst thing that there is especially in Holland.
Lisette: The commute.
Iwein: So I decided to not go by car anymore ever. And I just went on to Elance. I went on to oDesk. I went on to PeoplePerHour. And I’m not cheap so I tried to compete with those guys in Eastern Europe and India, and in China, and it was tricky if you find a job because most people just look at the rates and they say, “Hey, this guy is 10 times more expensive so maybe we’ll try the other one first, right?” But eventually, I found a job as a sort of team lead and the assignment was that I would take all these different freelancers and turn them into a productive team. So that was exactly what I was looking for.
Lisette: That was the actual assignment, was to take a group of freelancers?
Iwein: Yes, that was my first assignment as a freelancer through Elance. That was lots of fun. And I had some trouble of course but I’ve eventually succeeded in a couple of weeks to do that and we were working for startup as a team and we were remote team collaborating with different freelancers from all over the world. So that was exactly what I wanted to do all the time. And then at some point, the client ran out of money or went skiing or whatever and basically, the cash flow stopped. And we were there as a team, we were doing our retrospective and I said, “Yeah, this is the end because no money, no Iwein.” I’m a capitalist. Well, in the end, everybody has to pay his bills, right? So yeah, we were very sad about that and we investigated the problem like we do through all the problems we see in the retrospective and the conclusion that I took from that was the only problem we have is that we lack a paying customer as a team: interesting way to pose a problem but this was the actual underlying problem that was causing all this [inaudible 4:33]. So then I decided to find a customer and I became a salesman. And of course, when you’re a salesman and you sell your first project, and you keep the team together by selling the project, suddenly, you have a company.
Lisette: Interesting! So it kind of built itself in a way.
Iwein: Yeah, it evolved.
Lisette: Yeah, right, it evolved into its own company and actually, that’s kind of an ideal way to start a company. So it was by chance that this team [inaudible 5:05] really well together, right? I mean these were all people that you had not met before in the beginning and then you started to work together.
Iwein: Yeah, on one hand of course, there was some luck involved. You cannot be lucky without having some luck, right? But the problem that the client had and was a very obvious problem: you find some relatively low-cost freelancers all over the world, you think you can build a product with not a team but just a bunch of freelancers, and then our customers always find that they get stuck with getting those guys that are basically the competition of each other to work together in a healthy way. And this guy was smart enough, I’d have to hand him that, that he actually hired someone to solve that problem for him.
Iwein: And that guy was me. And when I solved the problem, he ran out of money which was very lucky for me because I had solved the problem, I had the team and I had the perfect proposition for other people that might have this problem in the world. And it turns out, there are a lot.
Lisette: Oh yes. I mean I hear about this all the time. People are looking for good developers all over the world.
Iwein: Yeah, not only that. If they find good developers, they cannot have them collaborating as a team and they don’t have the time to build a team because building a team takes six weeks to six months and that’s a very expensive thing to do. And if you’re a startup, you don’t have a lot of money. You need to show off your MVP within a few weeks. Maybe you can stretch it to a few months but that’s usually it. And if you don’t have something to show by then, your investors, if you have them, are not going to be happy. And if don’t have any investors, you surely won’t get them either. So if you can have the proposition like StarterSquad, that we already have the team working well together and we can get you basically skipping that first six weeks or six months because we already did them with another client, that’s perfect. And to the freelancers, it’s also a perfect opportunity because you can join a team, there is already cash flow, there is already clients, and you jump in, you join the team, you get adopted by the team, and take it from there so you basically skip the hard part.
Lisette: That’s a brilliant backwards, seemingly the right way to do things how. It somehow just makes perfect sense when I hear this.
Iwein: Yeah, for me as well. And that’s basically how I got here and what StarterSquad is. It is a solution to a problem that we happen to fall into with our faces, and now that it’s solved, it’s quite smooth right.
Lisette: So let me ask in the beginning when you first got this team, how did you begin the organization of them? How did you start to get them to work together and to collaborate together? I mean there must have been communication problems. There must have been the issue of what tools you use. How did you go about solving those?
Iwein: So the luck we have as developers of course is that everybody in the team is very tech savvy and we are very comfortable using technology to communicate. So the one thing that I’ve always found that is essential to building a successful team is having feedback loops. And the best way to do a feedback loop comes from agile retrospective. I haven’t found anything better than that because it forces everybody on a fixed time and schedule to give feedback about what the team is doing and what we need to improve. And because we have these retrospectives in the teams, and I’ve done this for years and years, and years, always when you have a strict schedule of retrospectives, you see a positive feedback loop happening on the process by giving the proper negative feedback and adding solutions to the problems that you see as a team. And once you have solved one problem as a team that none of the members could have solved on his own, I goes all downhill from there.
Lisette: How often do you do your retrospectives and what questions do you ask? What are the main questions that you use?
Iwein: Yeah, the retrospectives that we do, we do every week. I’ve seen many places where people saw retrospectives as overhead and they’ve reduced them like once every two sprints or once every three sprints, you do a retrospective. And I’ve said the maximum length of the sprint is one week and the maximum interval between two retrospectives is one week therefore. And what we do in the retrospective is we have a meeting where everybody should be present, capped to exactly one hour. We ask at least these questions: What went well and what should be improved? That’s it.
Iwein: And we do a little roundabout style interview so we say, “What went well?” and then we go had to had the table. Everybody gives one point that went well and when momentum drops a little bit, we go to the next point, “What should be improved?” So we just iterated over everything that’s going really great for us. Everybody’s in a positive mood, and we start looking for things that we can improve. And then we go roundabout what should be improved again. We list those points which is usually around between 8 and 20 points depending on what kind of hectic week we had. And once that dries up and we have all those points available, we do a vote and everybody just puts a few stars in our little notepad and we see which point gets the most votes and that’s the thing that is most important to fix. And then we have a quick discussion around how we fix it if you have explained the problem, you know everybody else is having the same thing, you want to fix this problem, well then, it’s easy to talk about solutions. And then we talk like 5 minutes about solutions for the problem and from that we take actions so we list the actions, we assign the actions, and that’s it.
Lisette: And how do you document what gets talked about?
Iwein: Well we have this little tool that evolved from EtherPad that was an Open Source too called Etherpad that was bought by Google actually at some point. They open sourced it, tried to put it in—what was it?—Google Wave back then.
Lisette: Oh yeah.
Iwein: Which didn’t work out. And this Etherpad was actually quite popular among a lot of different groups and all of them created their own fork of it so we have a StaterSquad fork of Etherpad now. We run it at pad.startersquad.com. You can use it for free if you want. And you can just put your pad there and have your little retrospective. And the cool thing about this is it’s sort of like Google docs where you can collaboratively add it a piece of text but you don’t need an account for it so it’s very low-level entry barrier and everybody can just click on the link and go there. It’s really convenient, simple, notepad basically that you share. And I miss there’s actually in onsite meetings to do collaborative editing of the meeting minutes.
Lisette: Right, right. I wonder how many people actually do that. It would be very useful.
Iwein: Yeah, exactly.
Lisette: Did you have trouble with getting the team aligned about how to use the tools? I mean because you’re developers, you’re very tech savvy but people still use tools in various different ways. There is people who think a little more linearly. There is people who think more circularly and they use tools differently. Did you have trouble with that or was everybody pretty much just aligned on “Okay, we’re going to use Etherpad and we’ll use [inaudible 12:51] or whatever.”
Iwein: The way the tools get adopted is not by deciding that you want to use the tool. It’s by actually using it. And we use many, many tools and we never say no to a tool but we stop using it when it doesn’t work. And that’s not a decision made by the team officially. It’s just the decision made by actions. And tools that work stay around and tools that don’t work, they evaporate. And that’s the way I like it.
Lisette: So individuals on the team can decide which tools they’re going to use for the task that they’re working on.
Iwein: Yeah, that’s actually highly encouraged. So basically, if there’s a problem and you know how to solve it, then the tools are not primary objective. They are sort of a consequence of the people that you work with on the problem. So somebody already knows the tool starts using it and another person in the team finds that is actually useful to collaborate using that tool and then it happens and we end up using the tool. There are no rules or guidelines but of course if there’s a team that is already well established using certain tools successfully, if you join the team, you will learn the tools because you will almost be forced to use them in order to be successful in the team.
Lisette: Right. Interesting. So in a lot of the interviews that I do, things that I found, I guess my opinion and also my personal opinion are the tools are important but it’s almost the easy part of remote collaboration because there are so many tools that exist. You just have to find the one that works best for you. The problem seems to come in with communication, how do people communicate with each other, how do you get information across. And you’ve let me peek into your internal system. You use a system called HipChat.
Lisette: That let users to talk amongst each other and I’d like to talk about that for a little bit. Why HipChat and how does it work for you? How did it evolve?
Iwein: Well we started off using Skype and Skype is not so good at searching in chat history and if you join into a discussion. For example, if you do a group chat with Skype and you invite another person, you have to copy paste the earlier messages because you cannot go back. And what I wanted is a way to communicate with asynchronously that is quick, way quicker than email but not synchronous because then it would be interruptions and interruptions are very dangerous for creative work. So we needed asynchronous communication faster than email sort of like Skype but we needed the ability for people that jumped into a conversation to scroll back and find all the messages. So those were the requirements that we started searching with. And we thought about many different chat systems. Of course we thought about building our own chat system and my personal preference for this kind of communication is actually IRC but IRCs for some reason, the younger guys on the team, they thought it was for old guys with beards. I don’t really have a beard but yeah, they associate this with old UNIX programmers and means and like very, very small niche in the internet and they would not install IRC duly. So we started off using IRC and then people fell back to Skype all the time. So we discussed it again, we came up with other tools. So at some point, we found HipChat. Back then, it wasn’t really popular but it had exactly all the features that I needed. Well, I still prefer IRC but the team doesn’t so it doesn’t get used. And at that point, HipChat was actually not free. It was quite expensive but we ended up using it and it worked really well for us. So yeah, and it’s very hard to change. As you can see, when you join this HipChat room that there’s a sort of a culture there. There’s a lot of history there and people are very, very used to using it. So if you say on one day, “Let’s move to Spark,” then all the communication is killed.
Iwein: And the communication is way more important than the tool as you said already.
Lisette: And the history of the conversation, the knowledge that’s already inherent there, somebody new comes on the team, they can look back in the history of the chat and see why decisions got made the way they did. I assume that that’s a big benefit.
Iwein: Exactly. You can search for example, if you’re looking at something like one of our clients is using event sourcing if you type events sourcing in the search bar, you can see if it’s already discussed in the HipChat. That’s even why I pushed the clients not to use email but to use HipChat with us so that we can know the requirements even if they’re not really formalized yet, we get them passing through the chat so that if you start searching, you will find what the client has said about it.
Iwein: And once you have this history there, it becomes hard to avoid.
Lisette: Right, right. Absolutely, it becomes really a treasure trove of knowledge.
Lisette: And in terms of adoption of the tools, how difficult is it to get your clients to use the tool? I can imagine it probably varies by client.
Iwein: Well, basically, we give our clients a tool as well, the service they can use as a tool. And in order to use it to their best interest, they have to join in with whatever communication means we are using. So the better the clients communicate with us, the more benefit they get from our services and once they have this positive feedback on joining us in HipChat getting their issues fixed faster, it goes quite quickly.
Lisette: Okay, so the adoption improves as they see the benefits of doing it, sure.
Iwein: Yeah. Yeah, so for example, if you buy a car are there are no roads, you will not use your car. But if you have a car and there are roads, then it’s easy to get to places. And then if you find out that you can get to places that you cannot without your car, the adoption is quite quick and easy.
Lisette: Right. Yes, I can imagine. And in terms of employees getting everybody to use the tools, you said you had trouble with the IRC in the beginning so HipChat it is and everybody’s using HipChat it seems like.
Iwein: Yes, yes, it’s like once there is a place to go like in a normal office you would have to go to the coffee machine, right? And if you know that people are talking at the coffee machine, you will go there even if you don’t like coffee.
Lisette: Right, because now it’s…
Iwein: And that’s what HipChat is for us. And if you don’t go to the HipChat room and chat, then you will not find work to do and you will eventually not get paid. So to join in the team, you have to be there.
Lisette: Other communication issues that you’ve run into besides the tool? Are there other things that you find on the virtual team, on your remote team?
Iwein: Well, one of the things that we’re struggling with a lot is to find the proper moments to synchronize and share knowledge because it’s very easy to share knowledge with someone if you’re next to them in the office 9 to 5. But we don’t even work remotely, we also work in different time zones even if we’re in the same time zone officially. Some people start at 11 in the morning and end at 8 in the evening. Some people start at 12 and end at 2 in the night. Some people do multiple batches of work in the day and for example, I like to work between 6 in the morning and then 9 because then my clients sleep and I can actually get some work done. And nobody from my team is there at that moment so the big issue that we face continuously is to find the proper way to make sure that everybody knows what’s going on. And that’s a challenge we have some solutions for it but what we found worked really, really well is to set up pairing sessions. So you must have seen in HipChat as well, we do a lot of requests for pairing and then somebody comes online, he tries to find his bearings, he knows the projects that need work but he doesn’t know exactly the situation. And instead of just diving in picking up an issue doing a task, he says, “Is there anybody working on this project? Can we pair up?” And then if you pair up, maybe the other guy is stuck on something. You help each other out, you learn from each other, and you can continue the task as well. So I would say that the two most valuable practices that we found is retrospective and pair programming.
Lisette: Oh, interesting.
Iwein: And that really solves the problem for us.
Lisette: And the pair programming is really beneficial because the communication is so quick and so constant between people and there is actually a real bonding happening between and are helping each other out.
Iwein: Yeah, yeah. I don’t know if you have experienced in collaborating on creative work but if you do close collaboration on a piece of creative work and you do it with two people, it speeds you up tremendously. Somehow, working together with two people and I’m not talking about meetings but I’m talking about really working together on the same thing, it increases your intelligence. So together, you know more than three if they are separated.
Lisette: I agree. I have nightly work sessions with a woman in California and I find that and also we need the time. We need a couple of hours to talk things through and to play with things a little bit. But you’re right. I have also seen the speed increase with both of us together.
Iwein: Exactly, yeah. And it’s a very essential difference between having a meeting about the work that you want to do or just picking up a piece of text or a piece of software or whatever and start typing and really working on it. And if you’re working on it with two people, you’re way more productive. If you meet about it, you waste your time.
Lisette: Right. So then you encourage pair programming amongst all of the developers that you work with I assume and people must like it too because they’re not doing something on their own and it’s probably more fun.
Iwein: Yeah, yeah. So from my career earlier, I became quite adept of extreme programming and test driven development and pair programming are key components there. And I started pushing for it and at some point, it got some traction and now I don’t have to do anything. The team is pushing forward this thing that happens to work. So whenever there’s a problem that revolves around communication issues, the solution is pair programming and whenever they find something goes really well, pair programming gets mentioned so this is sort of self-enforcing good practice.
Lisette: Because the team sees it working and they’re seeing the benefits straightaway so of course, they’re going to continue to use it.
Iwein: Exactly. And people that don’t pair, they feel left out so they start pooling more and more, “What are you guys doing together? Can I pair too?” And you see that happening in HipChat all the time.
Lisette: Yes, I’ve actually noticed it. It’s quite a nice culture of people that you have there and actually which brings me to the next question is so you got this team together in the beginning, was sort of luck that it was destined but you must have hired people in the meantime. How do you find people and how do you know who to hire? How do you know if they’re going to be a good remote collaborator or not?
Iwein: Well, you could say you don’t because you never know upfront what somebody is going to do and what his motivations are for joining you, right? In a company, it’s that way and even freelancers, it’s the same thing. But what we do is of course people need to be motivated to join us because otherwise, they won’t and we don’t do like this hardcore recruiting stuff of anything. We do some marketing around the team and the developer marketing around StarterSquad is naturally quite good because all the developers in the team, they share stuff from StarterSquad and it gets around on Twitter or on Angel.com for example. We get a lot of people from there. And then people are interested and they ask us if they can join. Then you need to do either an interview or you need to do an assessment or something like that and I decided that I don’t have time to do that so I do a short interview with someone and if the feeling is right, I mean if someone can communicate to you over the wire in English, that’s already a very good filter. And once you have that, you just do a trial period. So we agree an hourly rate or weekly rate or something like that. We work with the new guy for 4 weeks and then the team has to decide whether or not they want this guy in the team or not. We do this within anonymous voting system and the goal of that is that everybody in the team should be absolutely sure that all the others in the team want him there and everybody in the team should know that all the other guys in the team they picked themselves so there’s no saying, “Yeah, I didn’t want to work with that guy,” right? You voted for him.
Lisette: You actively voted for him, yeah, yeah, yeah. You actively voted for him with this system. [Inaudible 26:50]. And is it a majority system? Does the majority or does everybody have to want to work with him?
Iwein: That’s unanimous.
Lisette: So one person says, “No, this is not my guy.”
Iwein: Then it’s not our guy.
Lisette: Wow! How many people are on your team?
Iwein: We now have 20 people in.
Iwein: And we cannot really work with 20 people in one team so we are in the process of experimenting with different ways of organizing teams from the pool of 20 but we had at some point three different teams. Then we moved to a system where we had one big team but sort of ad hoc sub teams working on different projects. That’s where we are now. And we’re building some tooling to allow better team management because somebody needs to manage it. If somebody is a team manager, then he gets too much power so to speak so we need to have a tool that we collaboratively make and agree on and then to make those decisions for us. And once we have that, then we could get into a point where team forming is fully automatic and it’s only the teams deciding about the teams. That’s the vision for the future. So we’re building that right now and somewhere end of the year that should be finished.
Lisette: So it sounds like your hierarchy I would say and this is actually quite flat. It sounds like there isn’t really a hierarchy.
Iwein: No, what I’ve tried to do with StarterSquad is to avoid hierarchy altogether. And of course, some people have the account details for the bank account and some people sign the contracts, and it’s very hard to take power away from people like that. I’m one of them so yeah, you should be very careful with that because before you know it, you have somebody with his hand on the bank account controlling the full cash flow and that gives a lot of power. And I don’t like that kind of thing. But the main goal is that in terms of delivering work to clients, there is the client and the developer and that’s it.
Lisette: Oh, so the developer works directly with the client. There’s no manager that just talks to the client. There’s no in between person.
Iwein: No, no, there shouldn’t be. And at some point for one project, we needed an in between person because the developers were quite good but the client didn’t even begin to understand the process that we have. They didn’t understand anything about internet. They didn’t understand anything about software development and they were just not available to us. And it was a little bit larger organization, a foundation, non-profit, and very hard to get control of those people and you need some form of management. And then the developers decided they needed an in between person and we hired him.
Lisette: Interesting. So I was going to say because there must be certain situations. Developers are not always known for their people skills, right? I mean some are better at coding than they are in terms of interacting with the client so I imagine that there must be some situations and this sounds like one of those situations. But I love that the developers themselves decided that they needed an in between person.
Iwein: Yeah, we came up in the retrospective that this was a problem and we thought of a solution for it and then we just hired a guy that was good at that.
Lisette: Awesome! So it sounds like the more I hear, the more I’m hearing that you experiment a lot with all kinds of things. You experiment with tools, you experiment with structure. It sounds like you’re constantly experimenting with what’s working and what’s not working.
Iwein: Yeah, well that’s what you see happening around you all the time, right? Everything is an experiment. And if you don’t know that it’s an experiment, then you’re probably the experiment subject. So I’d like to be on the other side of this equation.
Lisette: But there are a lot of companies that are very focused on their processes on how work gets done like work must get done in this way, these are the tools that we’re going to use as a company.
Iwein: I love those companies as experimental subjects.
Lisette: Yes, yes, also and a lot of the employees, I mean as we’ve seen in polls all over the world are extremely unhappy. And I’m guessing that your employees, the people that you work with anyway are not extremely unhappy, at least from what I’ve seen in HipChat where everybody seems to very much enjoy working with each other.
Iwein: Yeah, I mean in my opinion, you would be completely crazy not to be extremely happy working with us because what do I get? I get to work from wherever I want, I get paid wherever I need, and I work only on stuff that I think is insanely funny to do.
Iwein: And I never drive a car if I don’t want to.
Lisette: Right. You have no commute if you don’t want to commute.
Iwein: Exactly, yeah. So yeah, to me, it’s pretty much perfect and I started doing this because I thought it was a good idea and this is how I’m going to live my working life. And I just found other people that think the same way and we make it as good as we possibly can. It’s a very positive experience to me.
Lisette: So what advice would you give to other teams who are wanting to move more work in the direction of what you’ve done? So I can imagine there are teams of people who are very unhappy in their jobs. Let’s say a majority of people are very unhappy in their jobs. And it sounds like you have the same situation in the very beginning: you are unhappy with how things were going and so you moved out and you quit and just start something new. That must have also been very scary. There’s a fear component there.
Iwein: Well, I have to correct you a little bit on that because I don’t think I was ever really unhappy in my job. I’ve done some pretty crappy jobs but I’ve never done them for a very long time and most of the employers that I worked for were very respectable people and good companies and especially the last company I worked for, Xebia, was very good to their employees but what I think is that people that really don’t like their job, there is something inherently wrong with their perception of life because it’s not okay to do something you don’t like doing.
Lisette: For long periods of time, yeah.
Iwein: No. And people that think that that’s okay, those are the people that make it happen. And it might be your boss but if you’re unhappy in your job and you stay there, then it’s you as well, right? So my most important advice to people that are unhappy in their job is to quit today or make it work. Most jobs, they need doing and most work can actually be done by somebody that likes doing it or by a robot that I would like building, right? So it’s very simple. Just do what you like to do and not in an uncommitted way like “Let’s do whatever I like” but figure out what you like freely and do that.
Lisette: Right. Go for it. It’s scary but do it anyway.
Iwein: Yeah, well, how can you be scared of the prospective of doing what you like? I mean it doesn’t make any sense to me.
Lisette: Indeed. That’s a whole another set of advice. Still, I want to keep on the topic and remember we’re nearing the time of the length of the interviews. So I want to keep on the topic of remote collaboration and how can we collaborate remotely as a team. And I want to just give a little bit more time to discuss what have been some of the main challenges or some of the main benefits, things that spring immediately to mind that you’ve had working on a distributed team?
Iwein: Well, the benefits I think are quite obvious: that you can go on holidays and work one a half day a week during your holidays and make enough money to pay for the holidays and why would you ever stop? That’s the basic idea that’s like extreme benefit of working remotely and just earn while you are in the place that you want to be. And the challenges are I think that people that have never worked remotely, they might underestimate how lonely it can be if you’re looking for a job from your little office in the attic and you’re just clicking on job offerings and you don’t need a single person ever. And also I think especially if you work in a distributed team, there’s a huge challenge of figuring out what the social structure of the team is because you cannot see people talking together if they communicate privately. Sometimes, you will look at your project for a day and see absolutely nothing happening which try to push people to not make that happen so I always tell people, “Okay, there should be a new URL for this project every hour or something like that. We need a rhythm. We need to have some visible progress and stuff like that.” But that’s a big challenge to people that if you focus on one thing, work hard and it’s very hard to also remember that there are people that cannot see what you’re doing and you need to communicate with them even if you don’t want to be interrupted.
Lisette: Well, you have to make your work visible to your team members as much as possible so that everybody knows what’s going on. Overcommunicate, it sounds like.
Iwein: Yeah, I wouldn’t say overcommunicate because even if you try to overcommunicate, you’re still undercommunicating compared to a colocated situation. And I really like what Ryan Tomayko, the CKO of GitHub said about this. He had a blog where he explained exactly how they collaborated GitHub. They make everything asynchronous and make everything visible on the URL. And we try to follow that as much as possible and combined it with paired programming and that’s how I think we sort of overcame this challenge. But still, of course, it’s a huge barrier compared to sitting next to someone.
Lisette: Right. It’s one of the main barriers I would say of remote collaboration is getting people to communicate often with each other and to know what each other is doing.
Iwein: Exactly, yeah.
Lisette: So it sounds like it’s a constant problem that’s never really solved but it evolves over time. It’s something that just always needs to have focus.
Iwein: Yeah, well, it’s less annoying to solve than the problem of sitting in a traffic jam that’s for sure.
Lisette: Right. There’s always going to be something. It’s a matter of what it’s going to be.
Iwein: Yeah, of course, collaboration is hard and it’s very rewarding if you do it.
Lisette: Right, right. Well, if people then want to get in touch with you and they want to find out more, they want to work for StarterSquad because it sounds like one of the best companies you can work for as a developer, how will they find you?
Iwein: Well, we have a website of course, StarterSquad.com. You could find me on Twitter. You can find StarterSquad on Twitter. Actually, because we’re a distributed team community of developers, the [inaudible 38:43] I think that we should be one of the most easy companies in the world to contact because everybody that’s in StarterSquad is online.
Iwein: So just type Iwein or StarterSquad in the search bar in Google and you will find us. And of course, you can press the contact form on the website or just mention me or StarterSquad on Twitter and you’ll be there in no time.
Lisette: Great, great. I’m going to put all these links in the description of the video of course. And is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you want to make sure gets brought up that’s important to StarterSquad or your way of working?
Iwein: Well, I think in terms of remote collaboration as a team, we’ve covered pretty much all the important topics and I would like to put some emphasis as well on working for startups because I think it’s getting more and more popular and most startups are using remote much easier than enterprises so I would encourage everybody to also look at startups as target customers if you want to work remote because it’s going to make your life a lot easier.
Lisette: Right. It’s a lot riskier too because it’s very fast moving. Anything can happen. Things are falling apart and coming together all the time.
Iwein: That’s true, that’s true. But if you want to experiment, change is good.
Lisette: Indeed, indeed. And actually, what I’m finding is that the bigger companies don’t exactly offer job security anymore either. It’s kind of in a way, working for a bigger enterprise company isn’t always the secure way. That is changing in the world.
Iwein: Yeah, well, probably, the money is better if you have a large deal with an enterprise company and I don’t have anything against people doing that but if you want to try something new, it’s easier to try with startup than to try with an enterprise.
Lisette: Indeed. I imagine that would be the case and a lot more fun and fast moving.
Iwein: Yeah, that’s for sure. Well, fast moving can be scary too so don’t tell me “I told you so” when you [inaudible 41:00].
Iwein: Yeah, I think you should be resilient and happy to get up when things go wrong but that’s I think a good idea always.
Lisette: Indeed, especially in this line of work with more the freelance style, everybody is an entrepreneur. It’s a bit of an entrepreneur in this line of work it seems.
Iwein: Yeah, I think so too. Let’s all become entrepreneurs.
Lisette: Yeah! Well, I say yeah of course but maybe because it’s in me but I know that there’s lots of personality types that that is a very uncomfortable place to be so lucky for everyone, the world is big enough for everybody and there’s lots of different ways of working and it’s just a matter of choosing what works best for you.
Iwein: Good one, yes.
Lisette: And with that, I will go ahead and end the interview. We’ll be writing it up and posting it on the Collaboration Superpowers blog and will also be part of the Remote Field Guide which will be published in 2015. You can find more information at collaborationsuperpowers.com. And until then, everybody, be powerful.