Command Line Heroes - Where Coders Code

Home office. Corporate park. Co-working space. Funland campus. Coders expect options when it comes to their workplace. The relocation of the average workspace from the office to the home has revealed the benefits of working from home—but also highlighted its tradeoffs.  Saron Yitbarek and Clive Thompson continue their discussion of coding careers by considering workspaces.

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00:00:00
Hello, welcome to command line Heroes original podcast from iPad. This is episode 2 of our special mini-season all about the work light up colors from developers this advance to architect Engineers to programmers.

00:00:19
I'm your host. Serani farukh and running mate for the rest of the season is Clive Thompson journalist technology writer and author of the book holders high five things running has five in this episode. Let's talk about something a large number of us. Not as temp workers are very familiar with by now because most of us have had to do it since March of 2020 remote work. Now, you might think that remote work in our industry is a relatively recent phenomenon as technology has improved the easier is gone to work from home. Thanks again. Let's listen to this developer story. Well, my name is Mary Allen will I was a computer programmer for approximately twelve or thirteen years between 1959 and 1972?

00:01:14
Maryellen is 82 years old when she was a teenager she fell in love with law and wanted to be a lawyer but back in the 50s that wasn't a wise career choice for a woman mentors discouraged her and told her it would be too much of an uphill Climb by chance, whatever teachers pictures another route for her.

00:01:36
I have been told when I was in the eighth grade by a geography teacher in class one day. Apparently I was giving him some kind of argument about something and he just stopped and he looked at me and he said Mary Allen when you grow up you want to be a computer programmer? Well, I had no idea what he was talking about years later. I wondered how he knew what he was talking about geography in French. Nobody talk computer programming, but I never forgot what he said and I think one of the reasons that stuck with me for so many years was that it was something positive that an adult told me I could do when I grew up when Mary Allen finish college and start applying for jobs. The only place that had a job for computer programmer was at MIT. Nobody had any training in computer programming was to logic

00:02:36
Where is she taking in college, but that was more than her MIT colleagues at I started in Lexington, Massachusetts funded by the Department of Defense and they were using these big in a behemoth computers of the ones that occupied a whole room. And that's when I first learned to program. They were IBM computers you wrote your programs out line by line in Assembly Language, and then you handed these sheets of paper to a punch card operator who punched each line of code and you took that to the computer room and you gave it to a computer operator.

00:03:24
Mary Ellen got to work on the link computer a laboratory instrument mini-computer. It was one of the first truly interactive computer's not too dissimilar to a desktop computer today. The link had display screen. We call it the scope cuz it was really just a laboratory oscilloscope. It had four boxes that you can set on the table top or a desktop and one box Hill Mississippi. Lascaux one box Hill to little Magnetic Tape units that were pocket size. That was basically your permanent storage your hard drive. If you will that was where you store your programs and you read in your programs. And another box was called like a console box. You could use the switches to load some code some bootstrapping code for example into

00:04:24
Memory of the length and also had a keyboard so you had the basic interactive setup that you have today with a keyboard and a screen and some means of permanent storage and then and then of course there were all the electronics which were housed in a big box about the size of a refrigerator.

00:04:43
In 1964 the link group made a tough decision to relocate for MIT to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri to go. I didn't want to move to St. Louis right away. I wasn't sure I wanted to move there at all. When I wanted to do was write a proper operating system for the length because up to that time all we had was pretty basic assembled little assembly programs that I had written.

00:05:20
Wesley Clark the lead of the leaf group thought it was a great idea. I sent you and I want to write the operating system. I was probably the only person who could write the operating system at that point. So, you know Wesley just said, well, no problem will send you the link you can have it at home. And that's how it came about a couple of guys from our laboratory arrived one day in the small moving van and reeled the various the four boxes the four modules and the the refrigerator size thing that held the electronics and the memories and so forth. They will nose into my parents living room and in Baltimore, they might have had to create 20 amp circuits for it. But otherwise you just plugged it into the wall socket.

00:06:10
And what did her parents think of his large new intrusion in their home? My father was I bet you don't have a computer in your living room. It was quite a novelty Allen's parents were gone all day. So she was able to concentrate she wrote the operating system right on the link no need for Punch Cards so she could debug much faster. She communicated with her team by phone or good old-fashioned snail mail, I would take the odd trip to st. Louis and necessary in just under a year. She completed the OS and wrote the programming manual. I never felt isolated and I never felt frustrated and I shall challenge program basically a job for introverts people who work well in isolation people who work well independently don't need a lot of support.

00:07:10
interaction with others

00:07:14
over the years Mary Allen has worked in other jobs that required her to work in an office or Browns though is working from home and quit my last day job in 2001. So I'm a I'm a work-at-home person and that's when I left that day job. I said to myself I'm going to keep working, but I do not want to go to an office and I do not want to sit at a desk. But by that time of course we had laptop, so I was able to sit in an easy chair.

00:07:51
The client Barry Allen has such a great story and you got to interview her for coders. She was not just a computer programming Pioneer but a remote work pioneer as well wasn't she be I mean as far as I can tell she is the first person to have a personal computer at home that she's doing her work on this is amazing photo online of her and she's sitting there at the foot of her parents stairs before he was downstairs in the top floor is where they have all these components to be sitting there a little table and working and it's just it's a glimpse of the future right? I mean what she was doing then would take 30 40 years to be realized on mass that she was completely out of her time.

00:08:36
Programming is ideal kind of work to do remotely even my own experience with self isolation as made me realize that I've been doing exactly that for a number of years. So when you talk to coders how many of them prefer this work method how popular has it become? Well, it's very popular and that's because coders love working from home the vast majority of coders if they were given the choice they would say yes, I would work from home all the time. And the reason why is because it just gives them a quiet and a focus and a lack of interruptions from people sodavine tapping them on the shoulder in the cubicle if you were to say to him. Hey guys everyone. Where would you prefer to work? They would all prefer to work from home?

00:09:26
What's a company that is a big advocate for remote work is base camp. They've been around for 20 years and they've been remote from the start even before it became popular their staff work from home around the world. Let's listen to David heinemeier Hansson. He co-founded Basecamp with Jason freed. He's also the creator of Ruby on Rails the first six months after I started working with Jason. We just emailed and I am we didn't even talk on the phone. So it took six months, I think before we had our first phone call and it took over a year until we met each other in person. So for very long time, this was not conventional wisdom. So we got access to this cute Talent full of people who've realized if they don't want to live in San Francisco. They don't want to live in New York. They don't want to live in Seattle didn't want to live in any of these big Tech hubs yet. They're really proficient qualified people. So the fact that they scam allowed them to do this position.

00:10:26
Which factor in both are hiring strategy and a retention strategy in 2012. I had a series of conversations with other entrepreneurs where I would ask him about the work practice and we talked about remote and they would just give me these trite defenses for why remote can work collaboration. The magic happens around the Whiteboard. I don't like what people still think like this. How's that possible? The Whiteboard is basic economic system that they skim. The number one tool we have is writing is asynchronous by yourself writing and you post it and you let some time pass by good collaboration happens when

00:11:11
Creative people get time and space to do deep thinking and they compile that keeps thinking In Too Deep writing in the Deep writing consists. Not of one chat line at the time but a fully compose sentences the form paragraphs to form complete arguments and then you consider those arguments with the advantage and calm of time 90% is the considered writing at 5% chat and then maybe 5% or tubal or some other Video Connection share my screen kind of collaboration.

00:11:49
Supplies David is making some super interesting point here. So I never would have thought of are there other ways of working that colors were using that make remote workers success.

00:11:59
Yeah, absolutely. They arrange times when they know that they're going to be in contact and maybe in face-to-face contact soaked there was definitely companies. I spoke to that said okay, we know our developers do their best work when they're not here, but we want them to be here some of the time, you know, we want to have some face-to-face meetings. They still believe in that and so they would have these schedules that were like, you know, okay from Tuesday and Thursday 1 to 5 p.m. We need everyone to be in the office just so we can have some time to talk the rest of the time go wherever you want. You can work in the office. If you want to you can work wherever you want. It could be, you know a Starbucks you could be at home. So this sort of interesting latticing of new Arrangements is is one thing that works really. Well. Another thing that I think works really well as figuring out what's a sort of chatter communication that Everyone likes the most in David's case, he likes and his team like sort of longform, you know email conversations and

00:12:59
Definitely talk to me like that. But other ones they actually really like slack or they really like, you know, good old-fashioned IRC right like in a green text on a black background, but they worked out what their Co presents because there's a there's a scene of phenomena that sort of a psychologist who talked about online communication described as ambient awareness, which is the ability to know what other people are sort of thinking about and doing when you're not physically there with them, you know, and there's a lot of technologies that allow us to do that and the best remote teams think carefully about what their ambient awareness method is and they lock in on it and they use it experience is Tuco work via hangout session or resume session. Just letting the you know about the Stream Run and just having that connection open and it's been a really great way of feeling less isolated and I'm having company with the expectation that you know each other.

00:13:59
And it's still doing their own thing, but it gives that opportunity to tap someone on the shoulder cuz I can just say hey, I mean I'm stuck on this on this one feature. Do you mind just you know the next 5-10 minutes. Can you pair with me and help me get on stuff that's been a really useful way of having some type of social interaction and having those opportunities to get help when you need it.

00:14:21
That makes total sense. I mean, I think a lot of people try and figure out some way to do that, you know with an experienced person to eat in Franklin, right, you know because like you can get a lot even if someone's not senior to you, but it's just a different brain, right? You know, I think it's a different type of communication, but I'm not convinced. It's a lower quality of communication. Not at all what psychologist we called metacognition is thinking about thinking really the task at hand is what type of thinking am I try to do today. And is that thinking better Serve by being physically with someone or chatting with them online?

00:15:00
So now that we've all been forced to work from home companies are realizing that they can still get work done as attitudes changed to the point that remote work will go mainstream is a really big question that I don't think we have an answer for yet. And I think what's going to happen is that a good chunk of the workers out there including the developers who have never works for being allowed to work from home a lot. I'm going to say more than 50% are going to ask to have that be made semi permanent. They're going to discover that their way more productive and they let you do it more often and that a certain amount of those meetings were just kind of nice not necessary and interrupted their flow in their work space.

00:15:47
So if remote work is a great way to be productive. It's getting more popular overtime and especially since for coders it's such a great way to get work done. It could be a lot more convenient and our type of work is really wants to work from home. Why do these big tech companies keep building such a large canvases for the workers to work in it's partly based on their idea or their concern that creative thinking only happens when people are face-to-face and have unexpected connections to each other signs. Right? I mean there is a fair amount of research that shows that a certain type of communication and loose collaboration and loose idea generation happens when people in a in a company to encounter each other that maybe didn't really know each other's existence near the classic water cooler fact 3M the big paper company famously invented Post-it notes like you

00:16:47
Multimillion-dollar invention when one person that had invented this kind of sticky substance encountered someone else who was looking for a way to hold piece of paper in place and you know because of that chance running into each other they created one of the most iconic products of that company and Steve Jobs literally created Apple's headquarters to maximize the chance of people not just with work together, but they would have to sort of convenient places to create those creative Sparks.

00:17:19
So I don't work for number of years. I've done it just working for myself. And then once I had a team, I had a couple people there working with me. But my experience with remote work has been a maximum of four people and they were everywhere. We had someone in LA in Brooklyn in Chicago, but I'm wondering is remote work only really successful for small teams like that for smaller companies like Basecamp. Yeah, that's a that's a great question. I have seen it most successfully deployed. When did all the teams were small, you know at the start of level right where you know, they had five or six people and in fact, the reason why they were able to get the talent they wanted is that they said okay you are in Russia. I'm in Toronto, you know, our our other person is in Tennessee, and we're just going to work together. So you see it a lot in a certain type of startup that has a specific skills that they need and they need to get people that they think of the best and they're not going to demand or asses people to move.

00:18:20
And those are small teams and so I think it's a little easier to manage the communications because you can almost think of this as the communications between a set of notes, you know, and as a nodes grow the number for people that need to communicate grows dramatically. So before five people works really well with like 50, it gets really hard 250. Oh my God, and it gets a lot harder for a company to 10,000 people to figure out how they're going to do that. Let's hear another argument to working remotely days West is CEO of scrum.org fundamental to the work at this company is the first rule of the agile Manifesto individuals and interactions over processes and tools here safe. I think the reality is that if you really want to build a product at vast speed what together in a really effective way face to face is still probably the best that doesn't mean it's the only and it doesn't mean

00:19:20
You caught me as effective in other forms of communication in other forms of distribution as it were however, the best in the easiest is face-to-face communication to this day still believes that the most enjoyable software projects that I've ever worked on and development projects at teams. I've ever worked with an have been located in the same physical Geographic the same office, you know, and that's for so many reasons, you know, it's because of getting out and got Indian a cube is on a Friday night the the ability to really got that extra level of understanding about a human being when something's going wrong that may be challenging that work like that dogs Dido or something, you know like that you get that sort of extra stuff, right? That's a lot harder to get from a distributed team. And I don't think o the best software Engineers live in Silicon Valley, right? So I'm conflicted. I think the value of a car located team is

00:20:20
Huge but I also think the benefits to take play around diversity of people in different locations is also huge. So this is about that. You have to make a it's in it's incredibly hard. What I what I do know is that if you are going to distribute your team, then you must pay particular attention to facilitating and enabling the environment to actually replicate as near as possible that are located in which means bringing them together, you know frequently and so you do a lot of screen sharing and you spend time together and maybe you should have on in a Google Hangout and just leave it running and just do things become very very important.

00:21:10
Soak I've open source projects are built on collaboration and teamwork. So does remote work hinder that how come do Civ is remote work to real collaboration?

00:21:21
Well, the first part of that question. Open source is easy to answer which is that actually think most of the big success as an open-source have been extremely remote right because by definition the magic of an open source project is a developer sang. Hey, I've got this code base. I'm I'm working on does anyone have any ideas and instead of just asking the 50 people in your company, you ask the you know, millions and millions and millions of people online and you know, because only 1% of 1% of 1% of 1% are going to actually have a good idea for you. No one in your 50-person organization my care about the weird little Library building whereas scaled across the planet you're going to find nine people that are just unbelievably passionate and interested in helping with that thing. So in one sense open source is by definition heavily catalyzed by remote work by remote collaboration. It challenge by a to though because I mean that you know of

00:22:21
Sort of stuff the day was just talking about is true, which is that like with no face face contact. It's really easy for all the sort of social glue that helps an organization work to fall apart. And when you see that in open source projects, right? Like they can really turn into you know nightmare is of antisocial Behavior online because people are bad at reading each other's tone. They'll think they're just being direct and other people reading the thing unbelievably Kurt and insulting right and things that you could be cleared up in like 30 seconds with face-to-face social interaction. Can you note are open source communities and have torn open source communities up Art Online

00:23:06
Motman's the Simpson is a front end developer who works from home while being a mom to two young kids. She explains one of her early challenges with remote work after she had her second child. I've been only been a developer for a year when I had my second toe. There's so much you miss when everybody else is in the office and you're not one of the things were like the little side conversations that people have about work and like in general my senior developer would you know when I'm coding and he would pass by behind me and then he would see things that I'm doing and he's like, yeah, I like how you how you did that or what you doing? What are you doing? You know, he was in the act of him just passing by my workspace gave him the opportunity to kind of talk to me about coding and end like how to do things properly and night. I might be just might be like your personal confidence to work remotely because you just missed some of the like teaching and like the tutoring when you're not working.

00:24:06
inside the office

00:24:09
cuz I'm wondering if the experience of working remotely is different for an experienced coder vs. An early career color because I can imagine for an experienced Kotor who's used to working in an office environment and then has to switch to remote work. The change probably isn't too bad. It's probably not too challenging over an early career Kotor. I can see them really benefiting from being around mentors people's more experience being able to tap people on the shoulder and ask him a question. So our early career coders losing something by not being physically around other coders.

00:24:42
I think they are. Yeah, I think that's a very legitimate concern and I've definitely heard it from Unison older developers who came up through face face collaboration a new that wow, they could learn an enormous amount of and get unblocked with like a 30-second conversation, you know, if a space for the senior developer, so Jeff Dean is a senior senior engineering manager at Google and I heard a lot of people who work alongside him that he is just a sort of incredibly useful Senior Resource because people would come to him with a problem and he could literally just, you know, see the vector straight through it and in like 20 seconds go. Oh, you know, you wouldn't give him the answer but he would tell them here is where I think the issue really lies and they would get unblocked me, but go back and I would be unbelievably productive and so the junior people would benefit greatly from interactions like that and it's I wouldn't say you never go.

00:25:42
Remote but they're harder to get and then you know, there's also in a code review. So I did good company that's well-managed. You're going to have code review where your peers and ideally senior people who you know, I've been around the block a bit are looking at your coat and sitting down and talking about it and saying asking you you know how and why you did it this way and and and that to and fro, you know, it takes a lot of them unconscious decisions that you might have made and make some conscious and that's incredibly valuable for learning right, you know to be able to understand why you did what you did to external eyes after someone else is incredibly valuable.

00:26:20
One of the problems I've heard of was working remotely is this idea of blending which is you know, when you start work and that is and you kind of should stop working but firework you're comfortable you're working extra hour to and you end up overworking when you're working remotely. Is that a thing and then kind of the officer that can you under work by working remotely possibly could under work but I never heard about that in all my interviews both with developers and their managers. In fact the opposite. I tended to hear that managers were worried that people were never turning off like never stepping away from the work and I also heard that from developers to that. It was hard time. It is always hard to stop thinking about a problem for developers when you work from home, you'll stand you know, your 8 hours of deep immersion and you'll get a lot of stuff done. But because you don't physically go somewhere else your body.

00:27:20
I can't help trick your mind into turning itself off. Like if you leave the office and you get in the car or the bus or the scooter or you walk home you visited go from one place to another and that physical signal helps your brain reset itself. There's just lots and lots of science on this. I mean literally physically going from one room to another helps your brain reset itself when you don't have the ability to do that when you work from home the natural shaft like mental space of a coding problem becomes very hard to tell your brain to to stop working on it. And so there's a lot of reasons why people to work from home just dumb keep on going away that they know isn't healthy, but they have trouble stopping.

00:28:03
David heinemeier Hansson of how people at Basecamp have dealt with this over time. We had a data analyst at one time who had two sets of slippers. He had his work slippers when he walked into the office and his home slippers slippers. They just provided the separation between work and home is pretty important. I think a lot of people who use their home and being able to segregate one room of the house for that. And then when you leave that room you're no longer at work is also a healthy practice.

00:28:40
I love the slipper idea with mr. Rogers. Here's mod again, after years of working from home with kids. She's figured out her own formula to make working from home work for her is very easy to kind of like lose track of time. You could be sitting there for a few hours and not know how long you've been looking away cuz you're at home and how I fix that was like just I had a Pomodoro Timer and I'll make sure to take your dedicated breaks every hour or so and then just being able to like separate home from work. I have a office at home and I don't let my home life get it come into the office to make sure earlier. I separate the two so when I'm outside I can be mommy or you know, whoever I am when I'm not at work, but then when I come inside the office, it's your it's go time and it's a lot easier.

00:29:40
Get into the flow of working. I would do like a quick status update everyday like in the morning. I'd let them know this what I'm working on today and then in the evening and let them know where where was there's no I just I don't think there's any such thing as over communication when you're working remotely. So yeah, just yell communicate communicate.

00:30:02
So, why are there other tips or tricks to managing a Workforce remotely or even being a remote worker sure, if a company is going to have a serious remote culture one important thing is for people at the top to also work remotely so that there isn't the sense that remote is this is the secondary status and that big decisions are being made Face to Face by important people and the remote people not part of that an example of that that I ran into while researching. My book was when I was talking to some of the engineers for post-light, which is it a terrific company here in New York City. They develop apps mostly for the media Industries and the head of engineering was remote and he was working in the woods south of Nashville. And when I talked to him, he said this is this is a really important thing because we have a lot of remote engineers and they like knowing that I'm heading up the engineering Workforce and I myself am remote. It means that everyone in the company thinks very mindfully about how to sort.

00:31:02
Make remote work because the person running the show and in that part of it was himself remote.

00:31:09
Most of us had to make a drastic shift in how we work since March of 2020 working from home whether we did that already or not. And when we work from home, it comes down to our personal style and making sure that whatever project we're working on whatever company were with whoever we're managing or being managed by our individual preferences are respected and we're allowed the flexibility to work how we work best putting people over process isn't just the first rule of the agile Manifesto It's the open-source way and it's the approach that heals the best results.

00:31:48
From more research on this episode go to redhat.com command line Heroes.

00:31:55
What time are final episode of this career minded mini season 5 will be back and we'll tackle the question. What kind of code or will you become thank you so much for joining us Clive. Thanks run. You've been listening to command line Heroes. How do I show podcast from Red Hat? I'm throwing it bark Club Thompson. Are you the keep on going for the last time?

00:32:22
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