“Distributed Teams” book: Now available for pre-order on Amazon.com!

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My book “Distributed Teams” is now available for pre-order on Amazon! Click on the thumbnail to jump straight to the pre-order page!

That was a surreal sentence to write. And daunting to re-read while looking at the remaining ToDo list.

There is a bewildering 1,001 loose details that need to get figured out before the book officially “ships”. Buying ISBN numbers. Debate hardback vs paperback vs ebook. Page margins. Font size. Font. Resolution of images in the book. Book cover design. Create Author page on Amazon. Setup copyright – globally. Decide book pricing. Decide which countries to sell the book in. Fix bugs in the artwork. I’ve been jumping from one topic to another, learning each area as I went along. In this dizzy never-ending ToDo list, “Get book listed on Amazon” was just one more ToDo item. Several attempts failed with different error messages, sending me off debugging yet another problem, until one attempt seemed to complete without any errors?!? Huh – that’s strange. Now what? How do I know if it worked? Was there a dashboard to check status? Oh, wait. Duh. I started up a new browser, went to Amazon.com and searched for “Distributed Teams”, just like a regular user. There it was. Great. That worked. Search by my name. Yep, also there, great. Search by variations of the book title, all good. And then it hit me. Wait. There it was! My book. On Amazon!

There. Is. My. Book. On. Amazon.

Pause. Deep breath. Slowly exhale.

So here we are. At a major milestone.

It feels like I’ve reached the tipping point just like in every software release – while there are always more things being noticed that need to be fixed, the new incoming ToDos with each build are less severe and people start having more discussions about “is this serious enough to hold the release”. Quietly, morale starts improving as people change from wondering “IF it will ship” to wondering “WHEN it will ship”. After all this time headsdown and focused on research, on interviews, on writing and on editing, the nature of working on the book has changed. Instead of spending all my time on the words in the book, I’ve started spending more time on the book. Excitement about finally shipping starts mixing with anxiety about whether others will like it.

Exciting stuff.

John.
ps: For those keeping count, this latest draft is now ER#24. One great friend sent me a gift to help with the book. Nothing says “Hurry up and ship your book already!” like a delivery of ~5lbs of hand roasted, very tasty coffee beans !

Laptop with Coffee

Distributed Teams – Why Now?

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Anyone who follows me here will already know I blog, speak, and mentor on the mechanics needed so humans can work well together even when they are physically apart. As I wrap up writing my book, I’ve been focusing on chapters that cover important context around distributed teams, so this post is slightly different to my usual.

Why are so many more people now talking about distributed teams? Over the last year or so, I’ve been giving a series of presentations on the business, social and environmental benefits of distributed teams. One question I hear over and over is “Why now?”. Here are the three biggest reasons I’ve seen so far:

1) Money: Software startups used to raise money for a data-center and a physical office building and staff payrolls. Only then could people start working on The Next Big Thing. Regardless of what your product will be, creating your data-center takes time to setup and has risks – a data-center that is incorrectly sized for future anticipated traffic or with operational problems could kill your company. You could also kill your company by choosing to setup a physical office in the wrong location (limiting hiring) or choosing an office that is too small (disrupting hiring until you relocated or setup a second office location) or too big (needlessly increasing your burn rate even when your cash flow is tight). Since Amazon Web Services became mainstream, it eliminated the lead time for building a data-center. You still pay money for AWS, but it instantly scales up/down as your customer demand grows/shrinks – and some clever engineering can significantly reduce your AWS bills.

Now that the cost & lead time for a data-center is off the list for most companies, the cost & lead time for a physical office is a expensive outlier that people are starting to question as they look for funding.

2) Social/Economic change: The idea of “a job for life” is no more. People expect to change jobs throughout their career. When people working at high-profile organizations like Google, Facebook, Uber, etc leave after an average of 1.2-1.8 years, that means a person entering the workforce can expect to change companies ~20 times in their ~40 year career. Moving house for your first few jobs might be fun, but after a while most people want to set down roots with a partner, buy a home, grow a community of friends, start raising a family and taking care of parents. Over time, moving becomes harder.

3) Environmental awareness: Requiring everyone to live within commute distance of an office means a lot of commuters. No surprise there. What is less obvious is the ripple effect. As more high-paid people pay more for housing to reduce their commute, it forces displacement of everyone else, so the people who are needed to make a city function are forced to live further and further away. In practical terms that means cops, medics, firefighters, teachers, artists and others all commute longer hours each way to their lower-paid jobs. The term “mega-commuter” is now used to describe anyone who commutes >2.5 hours. Each way. Each day. No wonder traffic in the San Francisco bay area has spiked up 70% since 2010, even though the population “only” increased by 10% in that same time frame. All this traffic has a measurable toll on quality of life, for sure. However, it is also explicitly worth noting that of all the CO2 emissions from the US, the 2nd largest portion of emissions (27%) is from cars, buses and other transportation. Reducing the need for people to commute is an important way for us all to reduce our carbon footprint. Put another way: instead of reducing pollution by promising to buy the latest electric car when it becomes affordable, you could instead start reducing pollution today commuting less often and start working from home. Today.

Each of these are important reasons in their own right. And that’s not even taking into account all the other good business reasons for distributed teams (hiring, retention, diversity, etc). No wonder starting fully distributed companies is becoming mainstream. Hopefully, this book will help them start with the practical mechanics needed to succeed. As more distributed companies succeed, they each help improve the narrative for others who follow.

(This is an extract from my upcoming book “Leading Distributed Teams”. For more on this, see oduinn.com/book.)

John.

“Distributed” ER#15 now available!

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I’m excited and a little stunned to say that this update includes the last incomplete chapter! I’ve now written the complete book??!?

To get a free copy of this latest version of the book, just signup on my zero-spam, low-volume mailing list here: oduinn.com/book.

This marks the start of the next phase for this book-writing project – working with editors to cleanup any typos and errors in the text, finding illustrators to replace the screenshots, and going through a long list of “remember to fix…” todo items. The three big items on the list are 1) to start blogging and outreach work to get the word out about this book. 2) update a few remaining chapters to the same consistent structure/format and 3) figure out how to generate PDF and epub versions. Yes this update is still only available in kindle/mobi format, so for now, to read this latest update on your laptop or iphone, you’ll need the Kindle app.

I’ve honestly no idea how much work or time this will take, although I am all-too-aware of the 20/80 rule about “the last 20% takes 80% of the time”. The optimist in me believes that all the great feedback I’ve received so far on all the previous updates will help. A lot. I guess we’ll find out soon enough!

As always, if you have any comments, ideas, concerns, etc., please don’t be shy to contact me. I love the contact and feedback so far, and would like to hear what you think. I again note how great the ongoing moral support and encouragement and excitement from each of you has been through all this. It literally keeps me going. Thank you. Each and every one of you.

John.

“Distributed” ER#14 now available!

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I’m excited to write that update#14 is now available – still in time for those of you looking for some quiet reading over the holidays!

This latest update includes yet another chapter – “Culture, Conflict and Trust” – one of the last two chapters that were left to write. Now, there is only one more chapter to go! I’ve also finished converting my manuscript to the new publishing format, so now all remaining weird SGML syntax errors should be fixed and all links to footnotes, links between chapters, etc, now working.

As I mentioned before, I’ve formally switched publishers and revised the release date to Jan2018. This change means that if you bought any of the previous versions of my book, you will not get automatically updated to this new update#14. To get a free copy of this latest version of the book, signup to my zero-spam, low-volume mailing list on oduinn.com/book.

As always, if you have any comments, ideas, concerns, etc., please don’t be shy to contact me. I love the contact and feedback so far, and would like to hear what you think. Meanwhile, its time for me to take a walk outside in the fresh air, brew more coffee and get back to writing!

I again note how great the ongoing moral support and encouragement and excitement from each of you has been through all this. It literally keeps me going. Thank you. Each and every one of you.

John.

“Distributed” ER#13 now available!

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There’s been a lot of significant changes since my last post – in life, in work and in book – without me having any time to blog/post about them. More on all those in other posts. For now, in this post, I want to focus on just one thing.

My book.

Since my last post, I’ve quietly kept working on my book-in-progress and now have another update ready. This latest update (update#13) is exciting to me, because it includes the freshly written SingleSourceOfTruth chapter. This topic is crucial to the practical logistics for distributed teams, so it feels like a real milestone to finally include this. It is also one of the last three chapters left to write, which is encouraging. This update also includes continued restructuring of other existing chapters so they all have a consistent structure. At this point, Chapters 1-8 feel “consistent”. Oh, and of course, there’s a bunch of typo-fixes, cleanups and general refining.

Between my last post (update#8) and now (update#13), I’ve formally switched publishers and revised the release date to Jan2018. This means that if you bought any of the previous versions of my book, you will not get automatically updated to this new update#13. So, if you *did* buy an earlier version of my book, please contact me, and let me know. I’ll immediately send you a free copy of this latest update#13 and all future updates including the finished book when its done. My way of saying “thank you” for your support from the outset!

Speaking of support – when I started writing, I heard from many people that “writing a book was hard”. The exact definition of exactly *how* hard was not clear, but I’m starting to get a better grasp now. Even as I suspect there are yet more surprises lurking ahead. I say all this to show how important it has been to me to have the ongoing moral support and encouragement and excitement from each of you through all this. It literally keeps me going.

Thank you. Each and every one of you.

John.

“We are ALL Remoties” (Nov2017 edition)

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Since my last post on “remoties”, I’ve done several more presentations and workshops – but havent had a minute to blog about any of them! I’ll fix that soon. But first, some readers discovered links to previous presentations were broken (thank you for catching that!). Without further ado, here is the latest version of this presentation – including yet another major restructuring.

Without further ado – you can get the latest version of these slides, in handout PDF format, by clicking on the thumbnail image.

As always, if you have any questions, suggestions or good/bad stories about working remotely or as part of a geo-distributed teams, please let me know (either by email or in the comments below) – I’d love to hear them.

Thanks
John.

Now Home

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It’s been almost a year since I last had time to blog here.

The work I did at U.S. Digital Service was intense, high stress, all-consuming, incredibly meaningful work – and worth every minute of the bizarre bi-coastal commuter-life I lived. It also meant my ability to blog here was practically zero. More on all of this in upcoming posts.

I returned to SanFrancisco late night on 18jan2017 but it took a few days before I realized I could actually put away my well-worn carry-on bag. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time recharging (some say hibernating?!), decompressing, reconnecting with friends as well as generally figuring out next steps in work and in life. For now, I’ll just say – it is both surreal and great to be back home, with no immediate plans to get on another plane anytime soon. This long weekend included a hill walk in the fresh air, catching up with some friends and watching Karl-the-Fog.

How great is that?

John.

“Distributed” ER#8 now available!

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“Distributed” Early Release #8 is now publicly available, about Book Cover for Distributed6 weeks after the last EarlyRelease came out.

This ER#8 includes a significant reworking and trimming of both Chapter 1 (“The Real Cost of an Office”) and also Chapter 5 (“Organizational Pitfalls to Avoid”). I know that might not sound glamorous but it was a lot of slow, careful, detailed work which I believe makes these chapters better and also helps with the structure of the overall book.

You can buy ER#8 by clicking here, or clicking on the thumbnail of the book cover. Anyone who already bought any of the previous ERs should have already been prompted with a free update to ER#8 – if you didn’t get updated, please let me know so I can investigate! And yes, you’ll get updated when ER#9 comes out.

Thanks again to everyone for their ongoing encouragement and feedback so far. Each piece of great feedback makes me wonder how I missed such obvious errors before and also makes me happy, as each fix helps make this book better. Keep letting me know what you think! It’s important this book be interesting, readable and practical – so if you have any comments, concerns, etc., please email me. Yes, I will read and reply to each email personally! To make sure that any feedback doesn’t get lost or caught in spam filters, please email comments to feedback at oduinn dot com. I track all feedback and review/edit/merge as fast as I can.

Thank you to everyone who has already sent me feedback/opinions/corrections – all really helpful.

John.
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ps: For the curious, here is the current list of chapters and their status:

Chapter 1 The Real Cost of an Office – AVAILABLE
Chapter 2 Distributed Teams Are Not New – AVAILABLE
Chapter 3 Disaster Planning – AVAILABLE
Chapter 4 Diversity
Chapter 5 Organizational Pitfalls to Avoid – AVAILABLE
Chapter 6 Physical Setup – AVAILABLE
Chapter 7 Video Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 8 Own Your Calendar – AVAILABLE
Chapter 9 Meetings – AVAILABLE
Chapter 10 Meeting Moderator – AVAILABLE
Chapter 11 Single Source of Truth
Chapter 12 Email Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 13 Group Chat Etiquette – AVAILABLE
Chapter 14 Culture, Conflict and Trust
Chapter 15 One-on-Ones and Reviews – AVAILABLE
Chapter 16 Hiring, Onboarding, Firing, Reorgs,
Layoffs and other Departures – AVAILABLE
Chapter 17 Bring Humans Together – AVAILABLE
Chapter 18 Career Path – AVAILABLE
Chapter 19 Feed Your Soul – AVAILABLE
Chapter 20 Final Chapter
Appendix A The Bathroom Mirror Test – AVAILABLE
Appendix B How NOT to Work – AVAILABLE
Appendix C Further Reading – AVAILABLE
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Joining the U.S. Digital Service

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I’ve never worked in government before – or even considered it until I read Dan Portillo’s blog post when he joined the U.S. Digital Service. Mixing the technical skills and business tactics honed in Silicon Valley with the domain specific skills of career government employees is a brilliant way to solve long-standing complex problems in the internal mechanics of government infrastructure. Since their initial work on healthcare.gov, they’ve helped out at the Veterans Administration, Dept of Education and IRS to mention just a few public examples. Each of these solutions have material impact to real humans, every single day.

Building Release Engineering infrastructure at scale, in all sorts of different environments, has always been interesting to me. The more unique the situation, the more interesting. The possibility of doing this work, at scale, while also making a difference to the lives of many real people made me stop, ask a bunch of questions and then apply.

The interviews were the most thorough and detailed of my career so far, and the consequence of this is clear once I started working with other USDS folks – they are all super smart, great at their specific field, unflappable when suddenly faced with un-imaginable projects and downright nice, friendly people. These are not just “nice to have” attributes – they’re essential for the role and you can instantly see why once you start.

The range of skills needed is staggering. In the few weeks since I started, projects I’ve been involved with have involved some combinations of: Ansible, AWS, Cobol, GitHub, NewRelic, Oracle PL/SQL, nginx, node.js, PowerBuilder, Python, Ruby, REST and SAML. All while setting up fault tolerant and secure hybrid physical-colo-to-AWS production environments. All while meeting with various domain experts to understand the technical and legal constraints behind why things were done in a certain way and also to figure out some practical ideas of how to help in an immediate and sustainable way. All on short timelines – measured in days/weeks instead of years. In any one day, it is not unusual to jump from VPN configurations to legal policy to branch merging to debugging intermittent production alerts to personnel discussions.

Being able to communicate effectively up-and-down the technical stack and also the human stack is tricky, complicated and also very very important to succeed in this role. When you see just how much the new systems improve people’s lives, the rewards are self-evident, invigorating and humbling – kinda like the view walking home from the office – and I find myself jumping back in to fix something else. This is very real “make a difference” stuff and is well worth the intense long days.

Over the coming months, please be patient with me if I contact you looking for help/advice – I may very well be fixing something crucial for you, or someone you know!

If you are curious to find out more about USDS, feel free to ask me. There is a lot of work to do (before starting, I was advised to get sleep!) and yes, we are hiring (for details, see here!). I suspect you’ll find it is the hardest, most rewarding job you’ve ever had!

John.

RelEng Conf 2016: Call for papers

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(Suddenly, its June! How did that happen? Where did the year go already?!? Despite my recent public silence, there’s been a lot of work going on behind the scenes. Let me catchup on some overdue blogposts – starting with RelEngConf 2016!)

We’ve got a venue and a date for this conference sorted out, so now its time to start gathering presentations, speakers and figuring out all the other “little details” that go into making a great, memorable, conference. This means two things:

1) RelEngCon 2016 is now accepting proposals for talks/sessions. If you have a good industry-related or academic-focused topic in the area of Release Engineering, please have a look at the Release Engineering conference guidelines, and submit your proposal before the deadline of 01-jul-2016.

2) Like all previous RelEng Conferences, the mixture of attendees and speakers, from academia and battle-hardened industry, makes for some riveting topics and side discussions. Come talk with others of your tribe, swap tips-and-gotchas with others who do understand what you are talking about and enjoy brainstorming with people with very different perspectives.

For further details about the conference, or submitting proposals, see http://releng.polymtl.ca/RELENG2015/html/index.html. If you build software delivery pipelines for your company, or if you work in a software company that has software delivery needs, I recommend you follow @relengcon, block off November 18th, 2016 on your calendar and book your travel to Seattle now. It will be well worth your time.

I’ll be there – and look forward to seeing you there!
John.

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