Approaching the decade of software programming career in start-ups, mid-size and big companies, I sometimes wonder what would happen if I were to run my own entreprise, so I thought I'd write about it.
The guiding principles are derived from the open-source communities which are still to this day the longest-lived software projects, benefiting from decades of world-wide attention. The fact these projects not only exist upon the sole will of their contributors, they also manage to steadily deliver despite the absence of stand-ups, delivery managers and commercial deadlines.
If you think about it, isn't it a shame that the global talent pool of programmers is still reproducing the same old patterns over and over, in a constant suffering of Not Invented Here syndrome?
Think about the hundreds of new website and apps being spawned every day having to implement some slightly divergent product features when it inevitably turns out that most of the project's time budget will be spent on implementing the same old constraints of usability, performance, storage, search engine performance, etc, etc.
Part of the routine of software development is process, and this is how I would minimise it:
It's called Slack for a reason. It's not meant for work discussions. Debating how to implement X or how to deliver Y is important information. It doesn't belong to a never-ending, infinite-scroll channel.
Also no one should feel pressured to be online. Whether you're in the office or working remote, you don't need to be instantly engaged with things. Chances are (hopefully) that you're busy and focused on something. Or maybe you're dealing with some personal admin or replying to a friend, whatever. I do it regularly.
Macro-managing is key: if you deliver the things you're expected to deliver in a respectable time then that's all there is to it. How you do things is your choice, people work differently and that's crucial in being able to work together. Screw the one-fits-all mould where one employee profile is the aspiration of a whole crowd of individuals.
Bring back email
What was wrong with email?
Oh wait! Email makes you accountable for what you say. Compared to a Slack channel where most information peacefully drowns and everyone can emoji their way out of a shady comment, it's a lot more serious. That's why a lot of email clients have a button labelled "Compose", not "Write whatever".
You ever encountered Slack-threads-justice-warriors? The ones that tell you off for not starting a thread about something? Guess what: email had this sorted from day one. One email is called an email. One email plus any number of replies is called… drum roll… an email thread.
You can quote people and ask them to refine a precise part of their message if you have to, what else do you need? HTML emails give you rich content, but if you want to have a conversation then have a plain text correspondence. Keep it simple.
Now, email is based upon a set of open protocols. Do you like Outlook? Apple Mail? Thunderbird? GMail with a complex system of filters and labels that works well for you? Go with it. Just go with it. Whatever is your tool of choice, use it. Sort, tag, index, classify the way you want it. Colours, folders, anything. You'll find it ten years after if you have to, I guarantee.
Last but not least: IT'S ASYNCHRONOUS. Take your time to reply. Think about what I said, think about what you have to say, and let me know. I'll do the same. Use the space to articulate your thoughts.
Do things in the open
If the business can't do full-open, do internal open-source and stick with it. That means that even within the realm of the organisation, comments, issues, reviews are performed in the open. Decision-making can be safely retrieved and consulted at any point.
It's painful to witness the amount of information (and by the way, IT stands for Information Technology, remind yourself once in a while) that get lost in private channels and behind-the-wall communications.
Do things in the open. Be accountable, for better or worse. Be accountable, for heaven's sake. Mistakes are fine. I was once told by a CEO of mine that mistakes were only mistakes if we didn't learn from them.
So don't be afraid of speaking up, and doing so honestly. At the end of the day, being honest is the only way to accurately improve. Which doesn't mean you have to be rude, or disrespectful, that is never okay. But don't bullshit anyone around, whether you're a graduate or a senior or anything. Say what you know, and stick with that.
Meetings are cover-ups
Guess why start-ups don't do too many meetings? They can't afford them. Meetings are so obviously expensive that start-ups avoid them like the pest. Face-to-face is great. It's very important. Is it the only way to sort a problem out, or set out a vision? Absolutely not.
The one thing I would micro-manage is meetings. Reading your text-filled slides? It's off. Have something interesting to say, but no one else is contributing? It's off. Your meeting is actually a conversation in front of other people? It's off.
Need to start a broad conversation with your team or brainstorm something? Go for it.
But do think twice before you require other people's time and attention. Everyone's time and attention is precious, and somehow we need to remind ourselves of that.
The main difference I experienced from working in France and working in the UK is how we think of lunch breaks: in France they are sacred. You have at least an hour (if not two), and no one expect you to cut it off. All restaurants have lunch deals. You can go with your team or you can have the equally common "déjeuner d'affaires" (business lunch).
Did you know that a lot of French workers are paid in Ticket Restaurant? That's right, pre-paid vouchers for food. That's how much it matters to us, because lunch breaks are essential to a sustained productivity.
And, they're a great occasion to bond with people you wouldn't really bond with otherwise. Culture fit isn't always obvious, however having a meal is completely obvious. It's the most natural thing in the world. The word "companion" literally means "someone I share my bread with".
At my first ever job in Paris, the company would pay for a big takeaway every Friday. We'd get pizza, or Indian, or anything we voted our fancy that week. The gesture was nice, but what mattered more is that I got to talk with other engineers and share a bit of time with them. Talk about work and learn something, talk about life and have a laugh. Anything: we connected.
So instead of throwing some awkward, unheard-of activities in my employee's faces, or leaving them no choice but to get smashed at the pub, I'd make sure they lunch-break and on Fridays, free lunch. Et voilà !
Irrevocable days off
Life happens. You don't have to be sick or be on proper holiday to not come into work. I believe there is a growing psychological weight on all of us, and that the complexity of our current day can really take a toll on people's minds. There should be no-questions-asked days off. It's okay to disconnect once in a while. It's okay to say "I can't do it today". There's no need to lie. It's fine.
Touch-typing is required
I think I would enforce a small, daily practice of touch-typing for anyone that didn't pass a certain standard. Once you can safely navigate your keys whilst focusing on the screen then you're off the hook.
I don't understand how spending 7 hours a day on a keyboard doesn't prompt people to master it. It's a tool that we're forced to accept in our digital era, and it helps with any part of your life where you have to input things. Family emails, instant messaging, software programming, editing, anything.
It doesn't have to be painful. Just practice regularly for five to fifteen minutes a day, and in a couple month time I have a company that operates on a writing bandwidth of 80 WPM (if not more). Can you imagine?
And, it's much better for your health so I would definitely enforce it.
This ended up being a brain dump more than anything else, but if I was to start something, this is the sort of policies I'd be willing to implement. I cannot wait to revisit this post when it actually happens.