Work

Raising anchor

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I bought the last of my tickets for the 3rd leg and 3rd continent of my round the world with Sam the other day. We're heading to Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, and then Southern Africa. And I'm super excited about all of it. My primary disappointment right now is that I don't think I'll be able to spend as much time as I'd like in any of the locations.

I commonly get asked two questions (normally one after the other):

  • What are you up to lately?
  • How do you afford this?

Next steps

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Today marks my last day with NowPublic. I've been with the company almost exactly 1.5 years now... I started November 26, 2007. The decision to leave NowPublic didn't come easily but I just felt quite strongly that it was time for me to work on my own projects. The team at NowPublic is made up of extremely smart people and I'm definitely going to miss working with them.

Starting on Monday I'll be focusing on a new product idea I'm planning with Sam, random development ideas, and traveling. The product idea isn't really at a state ready to be discussed in a public forum just yet but we're hoping to have something out the door towards the end of summer (as a hint, I recently registered disposablewebsites.com which I'll possibly be using as part of this).

This will be the first time that I can remember that I just have all of my time to work on my own things so I'm pretty excited for the next several months until I run out of cash ;-).

Quick DrupalCon DC Wrapup AND a mystery!

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Last week was DrupalCon DC. This was my 4th DrupalCon in a row... Barcelona, Boston, Szeged, and now Washington, DC. The NowPublic development team is distributed throughout North America and Europe, so the bi-annual DrupalCon is the only time we all (or most of us at least) are able to get together. Though the whole team couldn't make it this time around it was still good to see the guys that were able to.

We ended up staying in 4 bedroom house with 8 "beds" and 11 people. All in all a great time, and I managed to avoid the conference flu that tends to spread through conferences at this time of year (which is the first time I've done so in 3 years :) ).

The conference was very well organized, my only complaint would have been the internet... you should make sure it's working /before/ bragging to everyone about it.

I actually went to more sessions this time around than normal, but still have very little to write about. Did a bit of sight seeing while I was there, but the US DrupalCon's seem to just be a bit less of a party and more of a conference than their European counterparts... go figure.

Now for the mystery! Can you guess what this is?

DrupalCon Boston 2008 - Some Sessions

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Just for fun... I thought I'd put up a list of a few of the DrupalCon sessions I'm excited about. I'm going to try to blog daily and maybe post photos daily too. I was also thinking... since it seems to be getting popular to take pictures of people taking pictures, I'm gonna try and take as many pictures of people taking pictures of people taking pictures as possible.

Monday 9:30 - Drupal Multimedia (Presenters: Aaron Winborn, James Walker, Darrel O'Pry, Nathan Haug) - "This session will guide you through the steps necessary to build image, video, and audio into your sites."

Monday 1:30 - Mapping business requirements to Drupal modules: a gap-fit process (Presenter: Boris Mann) - "Join me to talk through a process of building repeatable processes in selecting modules and implementing a gap-fit analysis of which modules your new Drupal project is going to need."

Monday 3:30 - OpenID and Identity in Drupal: the future of user.module (Presenter: James Walker) - "This session will not be why OpenID, but rather what’s next with OpenID."

Monday afternoon NowPublic will be at the job fair, so drop by and say hi! :)

Tuesday 9:30 - The Future of Fields (Presenters: Barry Jaspan (bjaspan), Nedjo Rogers (nedjo), Karen Stevenson (karenS), Larry Garfield)

Wednesday 9:00 - SimpleTest: Because clicking on forms is for suckers (Presenters: Angela Byron (webchick), Rok Zlender, Karoly Negyesi (chx), Jimmy Berry (boombatower))

There's plenty more... but I think this is a good start.

And now I'm off to the airport.

EDIT:

Missed one!

Wednesday 9:45 - Practical jQuery - how to act like you're JavaScript-smart (Presenter: Dimitri Gaskin) - Dimitri is Drupal's 12 year old developer. I'm really looking forward to watching this presentation.

Managing Teams Remotely

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In late November I started working for NowPublic as their Director of Development. My job more or less consists of working with the product managers and developers to schedule development resources and build out project timelines, make sure things are running smoothly, and manage many of our technical projects. So far it's been great, there's now 11 people on the dev team and I've definitely learned a lot more about managing teams since I've been here.

One of the most interesting aspects of my job is the fact that of the 11 people on the dev team 9 are remote (including my boss). A bunch in Europe and the states... 4 different timezones in total. Almost all our communication is done via an IRC chat channel, skype, trac, and email.

This has presented a couple interesting issues. To actually connect with someone using only text takes a lot more work and time than in person. I'm not sure what it is exactly, but there are a lot of subtle cues that you use for in person communication that are simply not possible with your average emoticon (if you can believe that!). It's tough to tell whether a person is unusually "quiet" in text because they're upset, just working on something at the same time, or something else altogether. You don't get the same kind of "water cooler" talk that you do in person. When people are chatting it's work related. I'm trying to make a conscious effort to talk about more casual things and joke around a bit. But the environment takes some getting use to.

Another issue with so many people being remote is surprisingly not miscommunication... but missed-communication. The whiteboard discussions and decisions that happen on the fly at someone's desk. It takes a bit of extra effort to make sure that the developers that are sleeping while this is happening are made aware of them.

IRC is used for 95% of our developer communication. Everything is logged. You can choose to either be involved in any conversation you want to be a part of. This is in contrast to conversations that happen at peoples' desks or offices that you may never know about, regardless of if it affects you. IRC lets you "highlight" key words that your interested in, so you can drop in only when those things are mentioned, or just follow along passively when you need a break from whatever it is you're doing. Anything you miss, well, it's all in the logs.

IMHO, in person is a lot better. Significantly more bandwidth. Primarily text based communication works, especially in a development environment where for the majority of the time the developers have their head in their code and don't need their flow broken by common office distractions. But conversations happen slower, things get missed, and more effort needs to go in to ensuring everyone has the information they need (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). With the right tools I think the remote thing can be very close to /as/ good as in person. We're going to start doing more video and voice chats and I'm constantly looking for tools (and looking for suggestions for things :) ) that will help enhance the environment. Virtual whiteboards, online video conferencing, better web based project management tools, etc.

It's pretty tough to grab a beer with someone who's working 5000 miles away from you. With that said... the team is going to be together in in Boston for DrupalCon this next week. It should be sweet... I'm pumped to hang out with every one in RL ;).