Category worklife

Joining a Distributed Team

With software development talent harder to come by in hotspots like Silicon Valley, companies are looking for talent wherever they can find it. Distributed development teams are becoming more common. As a developer, joining an established distributed team can be a challenge. Aside from the technical challenges, such as learning an existing code base and processes, you also have to socialize with your new team.

When I joined Nodeable‚Äôs distributed development team a few months ago, the team was already in place and processes were defined. I had to quickly adapt to developers that had worked together for over a year and start providing value immediately. These are some of the things I did to acclimate to my new team. You may find these helpful if you’re in a similar position.

Start Early

A few weeks before starting, I learned about the development and deployment processes. This allowed me to ramp up on any tools I may not have been familiar with. There were very few in this case, but the opportunity was there to close any gaps.

Additionally, I started reviewing the bug database. This provided two advantages. First, I could figure out how the team used Jira. Is it just used for bugs and immediate work items, or for broader road map items as well? The second advantage was less obvious. From looking at the bug database, the history of the team as apparent. What areas of the application underwent significant change or were abandoned? Which ideas looked promising but were later dropped due to changing priorities or pivot? This doesn’t seem important but it can give you insight into how your new team works. And when you’re not seeing them in person everyday, every piece of data is helpful.

Avoid Cost Center Work

This point isn’t isolated to distributed teams, but I’ve found the impact of working on cost center stuff to be greater when working remotely. When you join a new team, distributed or not, you want to avoid working on tasks not directly related to the product road map and/or a profit center. Cost center tasks are things like chasing obscure bugs, anything related to devops, or writing unit tests. (Sorry, but unit testing is a massive cost center.) While you can’t avoid cost center work all the time, and you shouldn’t, it’s better to avoid it when starting in a new position. It’s demotivating and helps to erode that crucial honeymoon phase at a new company.


Office 2011 for Mac Updated for Retina Displays

After an absurd delay, Microsoft has finally updated its Office apps to support the Apple’s Retina displays. Working in Excel and Word has been pretty rough over the last few weeks and this update is significant. However, after installing the update (available here), I didn’t see any update in the font quality in my apps. A quick Google later and I ran across this fix from Jim Tanous. A few simple Terminal commands later and my fonts looked great.

Moving to a Standing Desk

I’ve wanted to try a standing desk for some time. Since my new job allows me to work from home, or just about anywhere else, I figured it was a great time to see if a standing desk would work for me. The first problem was choosing a desk.

The Desk

Since I didn’t know if the standing desk experiment would work, I didn’t want to spend $1000 or more on a high-end desk from GeekDesk, Anthro, Humanscale or Steelcase. I also didn’t have a desk at home to use something like the Kangaroo Pro. Finally, I wanted to be able to move the desk around, so casters were required. With those requirements, I decided to purchase the Safco Muv Stand-up Adjustable Height Workstation.

The desk was about $250 from Amazon. Don’t let the word adjustable in the desk’s name fool you. It’s only adjustable during assembly when you decide on the overall height of the desk. Once you’ve committed to the height, you’re basically locked in. (The above picture doesn’t show it, but it’s possible to adjust the keyboard tray if you want more room between it and the work surface. Again, you can’t dynamically adjust it.) Assembling the desk took about 30 minutes and it’s remarkably sturdy. I was concerned about it supporting the weight of a 27″ cinema display (~24 lbs) but that hasn’t been a problem.


The first day I used the standing desk, I was exhausted after five hours. And I mean exhausted. I needed a quick power nap in order to regain enough focus to work. Subsequent days have been more of a 70/30 split between standing and sitting. It’s not clear if I’m more productive because I’m standing or because I’m moving back and forth. I’ve found that simply changing work locations can yield productivity gains. It’s still too soon to say if the standing desk experiment will work out and if I can justify a more expensive, adjustable desk in the future.


Copyright © Nick Heudecker

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