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Sam Lightstone
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Jeff, Really great points on a super important topic. All your ideas are spot-on. I'll add five more observations that I think are strategic problems for everyone dealing with distributed software teams: 1. Fundamentally a lot of the hard problems in software still come down to getting a group of intelligent folks to huddle around a white board and brainstorm. Powerpoint and Skype just does not provide an effective medium for that dynamic. 2. When I interviewed James Gosling, inventor of Java, in Making it Big in Software ( he raised a key issue around mentoring. It's really hard for the next generation of up and coming software engineers to learn and grow from the gurus in their organization when they are remote. This poses a strategic problem for any organization, because your future depends on building that next wave of talent. 3. Team building is important too. There's a limit to how much trust and esprit de corps team members can build across Skype, instant messaging, and telecons. 4. The time gap can be disruptive, especially when it's more than two or three hours. Try doing a daily scrum when you have some people in Palo Alto and other in Beijing! 5. From the individual programmer's perspective, remember that if you're out of sight (off site) you're probably out of mind. It requires a much larger effort than normal to stay connected, and stay front of mind with the people who decide your next promotion or salary increase. To protect your career when working remotely you need to spend a lot more time communicating to others what you are accomplishing, and trying to maintain some social connection with people at the core of your professional network. I think a reasonable way to think of this is that for the 2 hours you've saved commuting, you'll need to invest an extra hour every day in communication. It can still be a net win. From the team's perspective, if the finances allow it, there is still a lot of value in bringin people together face to face, even if it's just once ayear, and even if it can't be the entire team. Technology is improving the effectiveness of distributed teams, but we are far from having an elegant solution. We'll find the elegant solution eventually. I hope it's soon. Sam Lightstone Author, "Making it Big in Software: Get the job. Work the org. Become great."
Toggle Commented Jun 9, 2010 on On Working Remotely at Coding Horror
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Jun 9, 2010