Joel Martinez is a Senior Developer at Microsoft, a prolific writer, and a huge advocate for remote work.
Luis Magalhaes: Hello, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the StaffITRight podcast, I’m your host Luis, and with me today is Joel Martinez. Joel, pleasure having you.
Joel Martinez: Yes, pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Luis Magalhaes: So, I’ve already introduced you Joel, but just for completion sake, let us know in your own words, who you are and what are you up to?
Joel Martinez: Sure, so, I’m a software engineer on the Microsoft Developer Experience team. I do a lot of work with the .NET API pipeline. So this is sort of the pipeline that helps, as Microsoft publishes APIs, so things like the .NET framework, ML.NET machine learning. As we publish these pipelines, or these libraries, these APIs, the work that I do sort of helps turn that into documentation that you read when you go to docs.microsoft.com, or in Visual Studio when you use the IntelliSense and you see the documentation. The work that I do is sort of the infrastructure that makes all that happen.
Luis Magalhaes: So, you’ve even written a book, I believe, right? I saw you as an author on Amazon.
Joel Martinez: Yeah, yeah. So, I was extremely lucky that my first job in the industry was with a guy, Ray West, who was a huge mentor and he was an author himself. And sort of, he was very involved with sort of the community, online communities. There were newsgroups back then, which sort of speaks how long I’ve been doing this.
Luis Magalhaes: I remember those!
Joel Martinez: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And so he had published a couple of books. And just sort of through working with him and sort of his contacts, I got really involved with .NET when it first came out. And so in some of the communities that I was apart in, I was one of the only people doing .NET and so it was really easy … People were like, “Oh, someone wants to write a .NET book? Oh hey, talk to that guy.” So, it was really great to have a mentor like that.
Luis Magalhaes: All right, well, so, as you know, this podcast is really about building and managing remote teams. Remote teams that perform well. Well, that perform more than well, that perform beautifully! And you do play a big role in a remote team, correct?
Joel Martinez: Yes, yes. Yeah, so, go ahead.
Luis Magalhaes: No, no, just you go ahead, tell me a bit more about how you’re team is structured. How does the remote … How is your virtual office look like? How does your team relate to that?
Joel Martinez: Sure, so, actually the team that I am on right now … I live in Orlando, Florida. And we have people on our engineering team that are obviously back in Redmond, in Microsoft headquarters. We have some people that we work with that are … Microsoft has sort of big development centers in a couple of different places around the world, and so we have people that we work with on our team that are in Vancouver. We have some people in China and things like that. And so, our team already is quite distributed and we work over Microsoft Teams a lot, we have video meetings a lot. And generally do a lot of just remote and asynchronous communication. And I think it works really well for us.
Joel Martinez: It’s funny, especially in sort of preparing for this chat, I sort of looked over my work history, LinkedIn and all that, just to kind of refresh my own memory. And, I realized that my remote work experience goes back pretty much over a decade ago. So starting in like 2007, I joined the start up and in the beginning, we were all remote, right. So it was a group of five, six, seven people and –
Luis Magalhaes: No money for office?
Joel Martinez: Yeah, no office at the time, at least when we started. We would all meet in coffee shops and we would set up in a pizza shop and just sort of take Wi-Fi whenever we could find it. And over the years, we went in and out of remote work. So sometimes we’d have an office, sometimes we worked from home, and it kind of … The same kind of thing happened throughout the next couple of employers. After working in the financial sector, I was in New York for a time, sort of in an office up there, and then I changed to a company doing mobile applications and so that [crosstalk 00:05:34] –
Luis Magalhaes: So what about the feeling? Sorry to interrupt, but how was the feeling, because I know that you’ve written a decent amount of productivity and how did you feel that, going from the remote side of the start up, back to an office environment, kind of influence your productivity? And you know, feel free to extend this to the productivity of other people that you see producing more or less in remote teams as it may be.
Joel Martinez: Well, sure, so I’ll say that there’s definitely different aspects of productivity that have their pros and cons. With working remotely and with working sort of on-site with a team. And when you’re working remotely, to me, it’s been my experience that working remotely is really good when you’re sort of heads down, right? When you know what you need to do and you sort of just need to execute. And working remotely is great because you can sort of be flexible about your schedule and you can make it work around your own personal life really easily. Working on-site with a team in person, is really great for collaborative work and just when you have a lot of work that you need to hash out in a short amount of time and make a lot of decisions, you know, obviously being right there face to face with a person can have its benefits.
Joel Martinez: Now, in general, I would say that I prefer working remotely and I think those sort of collaborative benefits … There’s a lot that you can do to get a lot of those same benefits when working remotely in a lot of ways, with sort of minimal interference to the remote sort of life style. But yeah.
Luis Magalhaes: Absolutely.
Joel Martinez: There’s …
Luis Magalhaes: That’s part of what I try to do, what I try to help people with, is really helping people establish that connection, that it is work to establish it in remote work, right? It’s not like remote work has no overhead, it still has an overhead. But it’s a different overhead, it’s the overhead of trying to keep people connected as they would in an office without them actually being, if this makes any sense.
Joel Martinez: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And you know what, there’s a lot that you can do on your own as the remote worker, there’s a lot you can do on your own to sort of facilitate that working relationship and then it’s sort of … If you’re working with a team that’s willing to sort of do their part in facilitating that working relationship, it’s almost like a multiplier, right? So like, there’s definitely scenarios and situations where the team that you’re working with, it’s sort of they’re not as friendly to the remote lifestyle. It can sort of make things difficult, but if that team is willing to sort of do certain things, it’s like a multiplier because you sort of get the benefits of everything. You get a lot of collaboration, and you get all of the benefits of working remotely, intense focus and things like that.
Luis Magalhaes: So I want to rewind a few seconds, because this is very interesting. You’re the first person that I’ve heard using these terms. What do you feel is a team that, I’m not sure if this is the word you used just now, but what do you feel is the team that is … The difference between the team that is willing to work with you, to make that happen, what does that look like? What specifically … What is the specific attitudes that that team may take to make the remote thing work?
Joel Martinez: Okay, okay. Great question. So for that, I’ll actually use an example.
Luis Magalhaes: Please do.
Joel Martinez: I mentioned that I was working in financial services for awhile and then I moved up to New York and I was working at an investment bank in midtown Manhattan. And, so, working in finance, the pay was really … I was pretty happy with the pay. I wasn’t quite as happy with sort of the culture and you know, that’s sort of a separate discussion. Wall Street and all that. But, I wasn’t super happy with sort of working there even though I was happy with the money. And so, I started participating in hackathons and going to meet ups up in New York. You know, the culture up in New York, for tech and start ups and everything is really dynamic and it’s awesome, just awesome people up there. And through all of that, I ended up meeting somebody who ended up, I ended up going to work with at about.com, a guy named Igor. And one of the things that really led me to leaving my job at the bank was that I got to know him and I got to know his team and even though they were apart of a larger corporation, you know about.com, his team and his product worked almost like a start up, right.
Joel Martinez: And so they were really sort of agile and fast moving, dynamic, and once a week … Their team, it was a team of, I think at the time, four people. On Wednesdays, they would actually, even though everybody was based in New York, they would actually all go and work out of a co-working space. Just to sort of get out of the hive mind of the corporation. So everybody would meet up there, once a week at the co-working space. Just to sort of get out, get network, get ideas, meet people from different companies and just sort of let the ideas flow. And it was really awesome, I really liked that. And then also, the team, even when they were on site in sort of the corporate offices, they would always collaborate over chat, right, and so the whole company as a whole, everybody used Yahoo Chat at the time which was really funny because I haven’t used Yahoo Chat in years.
Luis Magalhaes: That was the thing! I remember that being a thing.
Joel Martinez: Yeah, yeah.
Luis Magalhaes: Yahoo Chat and ICQ!
Joel Martinez: Yeah, yeah. Wait, actually, you know what. I completely totally … It wasn’t Yahoo, it was AOL Instant Messenger. I’m sorry.
Luis Magalhaes: Oh.
Joel Martinez: Yeah, yeah. AIM.
Luis Magalhaes: AIM, yeah.
Joel Martinez: But anyways, so even when they were in the office, they would all sort of collaborate over chat. And so this was a team that was sort of very distributed, even if they were on site.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah.
Joel Martinez: Whenever they would have meetings, they would be very friendly. Like sometimes somebody would be working from home, so they would just have sort of a conference call. And so, the way that they talked, the way that they interacted, the way that they collaborated, was very … Was already as a distributed team, which sort of really attracted me to a culture of the team. So, they were very willing, sort of, you know, over time … After about a year, I asked my boss, “Hey, you know what, can I just work from home twice a week?” And he was like, “Yeah sure, who cares?”
Joel Martinez: Because really, on a day to day basis, it didn’t really change anything about the way we were working collaborating. We would have [inaudible 00:14:17] meetings, and when we did have meetings, they were sort of very productive. So, you know, it was just a team that was very willing to work with, be flexible, with peoples schedules. You know, if you had to leave early to do something, you could do so. He’d just send you an e-mail, he’s like, “Yeah, answer this whenever you can.”
Luis Magalhaes: What step that the team needs to take? That’s what I’m curious about. Not just the employer, but the team. How does the team need to act in order to be a good remote team, let’s say.
Joel Martinez: Sure, sure. So, for me, there’s two huge factors. There’s two huge factors. One was actually, I was actually kind of amazed over time, like I said, I’ve kinda been at this for over a decade. And one of the things that I, it’s kind of amazing to me that I’ve seen over and over in the teams that I’ve been apart in, is that we do something and different teams kind of do this in slightly different ways, but generally speaking, once a week, we would almost always do this thing where we sort of send a status e-mail. The status e-mail basically says, “All right, here’s what I did in the last week. And here’s what I plan on doing this following week.” Right? And, you know, I think once a week is kind of perfect for that kind of thing. Because if you try to do that once a day, I find that it’s sort of really disruptive to try to sit there and look over your e-mails. “All right, what did I do yesterday? Or what did I do a couple of days ago or whatever.” It’s something that, it’s not difficult, but it takes time, right?
Joel Martinez: You have to spend time to go through and be like, “All right, what did I do, let me put it in written form”, and everything. But the fact that you sort of get a moment to reflect on what you did and be like, “Okay, so I did this, and strategically this week I plan on doing this”, really sort of helps you, keep you in a mindset of always delivering something. So, from the perspective of the team, that’s something that you can do to keep everybody on task, and keep everybody informed, because for me, one of the things that I never wanted anybody else on the team or my boss to ever have to wonder, “Oh, I wonder what they did”, or, “I wonder what they’re working on”. Because if they do that, that’s when sort of the doubts creep in and they’re like, “Ah, is this guy producing?”
Joel Martinez: I just always want to be proactive about that. And make sure that there’s never any reason to question. So that’s –
Luis Magalhaes: That’s exactly the word. Proactive.
Joel Martinez: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Proactive. And then the other aspect of a really successful distributed team is, especially around teams where some people are on site and together, it’s really easy for that team to sort of have, I call them hallway conversations. You know, you look over, you peek around the partition, be like, “Hey, whatever”, you ask them a question or you make the decision right then and there. And then the remote people have no idea what happened, right? And so, it takes a little bit of effort to sort of get into this culture but if the remote team can commit to sort of doing everything over, you know, things like video chat or even chat, if there’s something that … Question that needs to be asked, or a thing, do it in a way that everybody can participate and everybody can be apart of it. I think that makes for a really, really successful collaborative experience.
Luis Magalhaes: Oh yeah.
Joel Martinez: Because then –
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, I was wondering, what’s like the technicalities of doing that. Let’s say do we have a Skype call where everyone is constantly ongoing Skype call where everyone has their things turned on while they’re working. How does that work, you know? In practice, logistically?
Joel Martinez: Yeah, that’s a great question and definitely something that I’ve seen some teams do. I don’t like it as much, you know, the idea behind that, that a lot of people talk about is, “Oh, then, it’s like everybody’s in the same room and you can just turn to the screen or whatever.”
Luis Magalhaes: It would distract the hell out of me. It would kill my productivity.
Joel Martinez: You know, I’ll be 100% honest, I just don’t like being watched.
Luis Magalhaes: There you go.
Joel Martinez: Even when I have worked in an office, you know, I just … If there’s somebody that can see … Like, it’s not that I’m doing, it’s not that I’m not working or anything like that. I just don’t like somebody sort of looking over my shoulder. It unnerves me. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t know. It’s really weird.
Luis Magalhaes: You feel judged. I feel judged.
Joel Martinez: So, personally speaking, I don’t think that works as well, sort of that ongoing presence you know thing. There are people that like it, but for me personally it doesn’t work. I also don’t like necessarily the idea of impromptu Skype meetings, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah.
Joel Martinez: If you’re there working and all of a sudden somebody chimes in and they’re like, “Hey, let’s jump on a call real quick.” I mean that works, obviously. But it’s kind of, you know … I mean, I guess that’s really no different than if you were in an office and you constantly, somebody opens your door and they’re like, “Hey, I have a question for you. I don’t care what you’re doing, but answer me right now.”
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah.
Joel Martinez: It’s kind of the same thing there. So, for me, having regularly scheduled productive meetings are the key. Because it kind of forces you … Like for me, it’s kind of a forcing function where you’re like, “Okay, I want to have all my ducks in a row for the meeting, and I want to make sure that during the meeting, because it’s …”, in our case, it’s once a week, we have this hour that we’re going to talk, and I want to make sure that every question I have gets answered. And so on and so forth. And so it really sorts of forces you to focus in on what’s the important thing to do that.
Luis Magalhaes: Oh, absolutely. And I think that gives that place toward one of the advantages of remote work over the office which is that, it’s much easier to get focus time, quality time, to do deep work, and sometimes people just shove that out of the window because they develop a, what they call … When I used to use Slack, I used to call it the poke culture, because everyone was poking everyone else all the time. And you know, there goes the concentration out of the window. So I can definitely feel you.
Joel Martinez: Yeah, it’s definitely a balance, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah.
Joel Martinez: It’s definitely a balance. And that’s why I think, I have found that, again, for me, everyone’s going to be different, but for me the most successful has been one team meeting a week, and then just a lot of focus time. Obviously you meet with people when you need to. But you know, try to make it … Try to avoid ad hoc meetings.
Luis Magalhaes: Exactly. [inaudible 00:22:20] schedule it.
Joel Martinez: Yeah, exactly. If there’s something that needs to happen, schedule it for either later in the day or tomorrow, right? “Hey, we have this thing we need to work on. Let’s talk tomorrow morning.”
Luis Magalhaes: Exactly.
Joel Martinez: And so on and so forth. So that kind of gives everybody time to prepare. It gives everybody time to finish what they’re doing right now and so on and so forth.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. So, when you … I was reading something that you wrote about how work is changing, and you know, part of the argument that you made is that so, important bits about the way the work is changing is the ability to work with hardware and software that each individual chooses and being able to work while physically separated from the rest of the group. And I wanted to ask you, how does this … I can see the value in it, but how do you balance with the need to keep work standardized and as an example, near the beginning of our conversation, you talked about how everyone uses Microsoft Teams in the team, which makes sense, because you know, there’s a common decision about a common platform where people work which obviously is very useful. So how do you balance the need for each persons individuality with the need for common tools?
Joel Martinez: Well, so, my perspective there, you know, you have to come at it from a slightly different angle, right? So, obviously there’s going to be certain things, right, that you want to standardize on. You want to make sure that everybody can talk, you know, and everybody can work on the same project and so on and so forth. That’s obvious there. But, you know, instead of coming at it from a perspective of sort of making allowances for people, come at it from the perspective of, if you just try to be as flexible as possible as a rule of thumb, it will make everybody’s working relationship a lot simpler. So, one example of this, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah.
Joel Martinez: So, in the .NET world, .NET has been open source for a long time. .NET has been cross platform for a long time, right, whether it’s through the Mono Project and then more recently through .NET Core and things like that. And so, the .NET ecosystem has been moving more and more to a cross platform one, right, and what means is that for somebody to contribute to either .NET itself, or if whatever product or project you’re working on, if it’s a .NET project, it means that a contributor can come in and you want to use Windows with Visual Studio, that’s cool you can do that. You want to use Windows Visual Studio Code? Cool, you can do that too. You want to use Mac? You can do that too, we have Visual Studio for Mac, we have VS Code that works on the Mac. If you want to use Linux and you work in Vim or Emacs, you can do that as well, right, everything’s … Every platform has a Git client. Every platform can compile .NET code. You can make ASP.NET projects.
Joel Martinez: So, instead of approaching it for, okay, you know, here’s this new guy that joined, I have to make an allowance for him. Here’s this other person who joined, I have to make an allowance for him. If everything you do is sort of open and cross platform by default, it takes you out of the discussion. It makes it so that you can attract different talent, a more diverse talent pool. People that work the way that they want to. Maybe the person, the developer that you’re trying to work with, maybe they’re poor and all they could afford is a Google Chromebook, right? But you know what, with a Google Chromebook, you can work, you can do .NET. You can do front end. There’s all these things that you can do and if you’re flexible sort of as a rule of thumb, it increases your talent pool. It increases the amount of people that you can work with, which to me, will make you more profitable, more successful as a team, you know?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. Well I can understand that, but at the same time, there are just some things where it’s hard to wrap my head about you know, people using your individual … For example, in a company that I worked previously, there was a schism, pardon my English –
Joel Martinez: No, no, yeah.
Luis Magalhaes: A schism in the company that was, there was basically Team Basecamp and Team Slack, you know? Team Slack was like, “This is wonderful, we can be very social. We know when everyone’s online, this is great.” And Team Basecamp was like, “No, Slack is just very distracting, we can’t do any deep work.” And you know there was a big in fight between those two groups. So what is going to be the company standard? And obviously, as I mean, I mean I’m sure you can realize that it would be just a mess to have the Slack people using Slack [inaudible 00:27:46] using Slack [inaudible 00:27:46]. And you know the Basecamp people using Basecamp and just jumping on the other one whenever they need it [inaudible 00:27:56].
Joel Martinez: Yeah, so you know what, this is a perfect example of a team that is the antithesis of remote friendly. Of sort of distributed friendly, right? This is a team that does not want to work together. And there’s really … That’s ultimately what it comes down to. If you can’t come to an agreement on how to work together, then you can’t come to an agreement on how to work together. It’s a culture thing. It’s a personality thing. And it sucks. You know? I would imagine that made things difficult for that team.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, I mean the way things worked is that, eventually we made a decision. We talked a lot over, we made a decision. We settled on. But the person, the people that were the most vocal, that didn’t get what they specifically what they wanted. There was definitely a blow to productivity there. I could feel it [crosstalk 00:29:06]. They weren’t really as committed, eventually the company [inaudible 00:29:12] on, but there was definitely, it was definitely a blow to the team. And every now and then I wondered how it could have gone better. But I guess that sometimes you have to settle, you know, for the best of two bad things.
Joel Martinez: Yeah, well and you know what, and I think that’s one of those things that, unfortunately there’s a lot of things that are, they can only be solved by time, right? And so what I mean by that is that, all right, perfect example: self-driving cars, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah.
Joel Martinez: The people on the road today, let alone the people that were on the road in the 70s and the 80s. A large majority of those people would never trust a car to drive by itself. You’re always going to hear things like, “Oh, I like driving too much.” Or, “You can’t trust that. It’s going to kill you.” There’s certain attitudes that are ingrained, and they’re never going to change. And you know, unfortunately you have to wait until time moves on. I hate to say it, I hate to say it. But –
Luis Magalhaes: And that is a great example because the data is not … The data is very clear that we are very bad drivers and even a very stupid self-driving car would make less mistakes than we do.
Joel Martinez: Exactly, exactly. And like, you know, I think as technology gets better, right, as Internet bandwidth improves, as all the tools become very video friendly. There’s chat clients all over the place, things are more cross platform. I think that it’s going to make it easier and easier and easier for that culture to change and I personally feel that over time, distributed teams are going to be more successful than teams that are no distributed, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Okay, so why do you think that? Why would you think that?
Joel Martinez: So, yeah, sure, a couple of reasons. So one, in a lot of cases, it’s a lower cost. So if you’re trying to start a business, having an actual, physical, commercial real estate contract is expensive. That is a huge part of your money burn. Whereas, if you do not have that and everybody works from home or whatever, that’s obviously going to save you money, right. So that’s going to let you take that money and invest it in either better talent or whatever it is your business does. Two, it’s going to, I believe that a more diverse talent pool is going to result from better products. Look at it from two perspectives. If you’re a company in a huge place like Silicon Valley, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah.
Joel Martinez: There’s tons of talent everywhere and it’s all amazing, and they’re coming from these amazing schools. But, not only are you paying exorbitant costs, cost of living and for an office and things like that, but you have to pay your people accordingly. So salaries are going to be pretty high for people based in Silicon Valley. And then from the other perspective, if you’re in a small market, in a small town or even in a place like Orlando, right? We’re not exactly a small town, but we’re not a big city either. New York is bigger than us. Atlanta is bigger than us. Chicago, so on and so forth. So, as a company here, if you sort of broaden your horizons and open up to the idea that, “Hey, you can hire somebody in North Carolina. You can hire …” If there’s a specialist based in New York or Silicon Valley, you can hire that person. So, your team is going to become more successful because you have a bigger access to talent pool. Let alone this idea of there’s a quote, and I’m probably going to get this totally wrong but, the quote goes something along the lines of like, “I shed a tear for the number of Einsteins who toiled away in slave fields”, or something like that right?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah.
Joel Martinez: The idea that genius isn’t something that’s like …
Luis Magalhaes: It’s not unevenly distributed geographically. Right?
Joel Martinez: Right.
Luis Magalhaes: There aren’t more geniuses in New York or in Silicon Valley than in the rest of –
Joel Martinez: Exactly. Exactly. They’re everywhere and it’s all about the opportunity to sort of develop that talent.
Luis Magalhaes: Exactly. Wow, but you know I mean, I need to pause for a bit and just make a general full disclosure statement that you’ve just read back to me one of [inaudible 00:34:34] jobs main tenants about … So I need to ensure the listeners that no money has changed hands. We did not script this.
Joel Martinez: No, not at all.
Luis Magalhaes: That is the conversation about you know, finding the talent. That the talent isn’t centralized. And you can really find great talent if you just deviate a bit from the place where the major tech ups are situated. I find that, find everyday. So it’s really nice to hear someone from outside actually saying that. [inaudible 00:35:07]. Thank you very much. Now I do want to take a bit of a turn in the conversation, because you made a really interesting point in something that I read in your blog. Using side projects as an expanding skillset, you know. You were talking about how it’s not enough … You’re not really a good craftsman if you’re just working with the work that you’re given. You need to take an interest and invest in your own side projects. And I felt very identified, because I was working a regular job and the remote work for me began as a side project, [inaudible 00:35:46] it’s my life. So I wanted to [inaudible 00:35:49] about, do you think there’s a relationship between the capacity for managing side projects and the capacity for being good at remote work?
Joel Martinez: You know what, that’s an interesting observation. When I wrote that, I know the post you’re talking about. When I wrote that, I was … I wasn’t exactly in the same mindset, so when I wrote that, I was sort of in the mindset of generally speaking, when you get a job somewhere, you’re going to be working on one thing, right? And, the work may pay well, the work may be fulfilling in a number of ways, but it’s almost always going to be sort of, in a sort of more vertical slice of things. And so, for me, it was really a way of expanding my own personal tool set. And I think you’re right. It’s a great point to sort of draw that parallel that to be successful in remote work, you have to be ready and willing to be sort of flexible in a number of ways, right?
Joel Martinez: So, a lot of times, especially if you’re working either on a start up or working with a couple of different teams. You have to be flexible. You have to sort of be, have a wide base of knowledge. So I think you’re right. You have to be the kind of person that’s disciplined enough to sort of sit there and do what you need to do, in the face of whatever distractions at home and things like that.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. So, tell me, just switching up topic for a bit, when you’re dealing with remote teams and remote work, was there ever a time where you suggested something or you had an idea about remote work that made people give you the crazy eye? What’s your idea about remote work? And how to do remote work that people think is crazy?
Joel Martinez: Let’s see … Let’s see, let’s see … Well I mean, I’ll say that in general, I’ve been very lucky in that a lot of the teams that I’ve worked with have been pretty distributed friendly. And that’s … Well, okay, all right, all right, all right. So, that touches –
Luis Magalhaes: But even in teams that are distributed friendly, people sometimes argue a lot about the way to properly do it, right?
Joel Martinez: So, yeah. So, that touches on an interesting point. The times when it’s been most difficult for me, just over the last 10 years, is … And thankfully, it’s been fairly limited for me, but anytime the sort of thing develops where it’s sort of an us versus them mentality, that’s been sort of the most source of friction, right? One instance that I can of is, I kind of mentioned, alluded to before that if you have one team that’s sort of on site and then either you’re the only remote person or there’s other remote people, that can sort of, psychologically put up a barrier. Even though there’s a physical barrier, because you’re not there with them, it can sort of set up, “Oh, what we’re doing versus what they’re doing”, type of culture.
Luis Magalhaes: Totally.
Joel Martinez: And in that case, this was before sort of video conferencing was very prevalent. Nowadays, it’s super easy to use Zoom or Skype or Slack, or whatever, to do a video conference, and it was a little more difficult back then. But once we started sort of having face to face, where we could see the other people – and it sounds silly, but like once we started being able to look at the person in the other face, it sort of increased a lot of the empathy and respect that went in both directions. So, that’s one thing that I think is critical. Just everybody has to have this sort of empathy for the other person. It can’t be like, us versus them. You can’t build a little kingdom that, like you have to maintain at all costs.
Luis Magalhaes: Absolutely.
Joel Martinez: That’s just an unhealthy thing.
Luis Magalhaes: Absolutely. I want to take the chance, because I’m talking to someone with the developer which doesn’t usually happen. I usually talk to founders or to managers. So, I want to take the opportunity to get the pulse about how the development community is embracing remote work. And I said this very specifically, because I noticed a pattern. I know that we’ve talked before, before you started to recording about how you have worked partly in the video game industry, and I noticed that the attitude is considerably different than, let’s say, from a start up that’s founded by people who have worked in open source project before, who have completely embrace remote work. And then when I talk to game companies, they’re like, “No, remote work would never work here”, despite those companies often relying on contractors, off site contractors, a lot.
Luis Magalhaes: But I want to know where is this all coming from? When I’m talking to the video game people, why are they so opposed to remote work? Or maybe I’m just talking to the wrong video game people, I don’t know.
Joel Martinez: They are, this goes back to what I was talking about. You know, the video game industry is … It’s been around, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah.
Joel Martinez: A lot of the bigger companies, they have been around for a lot of years and when they started, it was … Pretty much the only option was to work side by side. Like you literally had to grab your computers, put them all in a room and there was limited networking even. You had to wire up your own local LAN, and everything. So everybody sort of had to be really adept at sort of that on location style of collaborating. And I think … It’s really only been in the last 10 years, 10, 15 years, that it’s starting to become easy or even possible to do that, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah.
Joel Martinez: If you think … With games specifically, right, there’s a lot of binary assets. So you have artists churning out textures. You have them churning out models. You have audio. And these are huge files. A lot of times you have to set up like a big network storage solution in order to be able to share those assets, right? Because if you’re a developer working and then you have an audio guy over here and he’s generating audio, when you want to test it, and make sure that audio is working, you have to download that audio to your machine to compile it and so on and so forth. Especially, Git was kind of notoriously bad at dealing with binary asset revisions and the Git repository would get bloated very fast. Whereas nowadays, the Internet, it may not be getting as faster as fast as I would like, but it’s getting faster. Bandwidth –
Luis Magalhaes: [crosstalk 00:44:06].
Joel Martinez: Yeah, yeah. And Git is developing things to deal with binary large objects. You can … Before GitHub, what were your options? Like your options for collaborating code and assets were really quite limited. You had to set up your own SVN server, or whatever. So it was really kind of a pain in the butt, whereas nowadays, I mean there’s so many different ways you can share assets. Whether it’s Dropbox, or you can do whatever. Or even share them through … GitHub, you can set up a private GitHub repository and everybody has access to it. You don’t have to set up a VPN and manage all this complicated network infrastructure. It’s getting easier and again I think –
Luis Magalhaes: It’s really a technical issue and then just people got used to working like that and they don’t feel like changing.
Joel Martinez: Yeah, yeah, exactly. People have been working like that in the game industry and it’s just going to take time. As new people enter the industry and they’re like, “What do you mean I can’t just take this laptop home and compile the game? Why wouldn’t I be able to do that?” Cultures are going to change. Company infrastructures are going to change. And I think there’s going to come a time … I mean to a large degree, it’s already happening with sort of the indie games explosion where people are going to be working distributed. Smaller teams are going be put out really successful products. And you know, just over time, the culture’s going to change.
Luis Magalhaes: Makes sense, makes sense. We’re getting close to the hour, so I want to be respectful of your time.
Joel Martinez: Of course.
Luis Magalhaes: But there is the one curve ball question that I have everyone answer that I can’t let you wiggle out of.
Joel Martinez: Okay.
Luis Magalhaes: The set up, do you enjoy fortune cookies?
Joel Martinez: Sure.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay. So let’s say that you were the host at the Chinese restaurant at dinner that was being attended by all the CTOs and CEOs of Silicon Valley companies.
Joel Martinez: Okay.
Luis Magalhaes: And the big wigs will be there. They will be doing a round table about remote work, about the future of remote work. And since you’re host, you get to pick what goes into the fortune cookies.
Joel Martinez: Okay.
Luis Magalhaes: What are you writing there?
Joel Martinez: Huh. That’s an interesting question. Let’s see … Okay. Okay. Huh. Okay, I would put in something along the lines of, “Build people, not kingdoms. Build people, not kingdoms.” Okay.
Luis Magalhaes: I like that.
Joel Martinez: So what I mean by that is that, whether it’s psychological, whether it’s human nature, whatever it is, people, especially people in power, they like to build up their sort of little kingdoms, right? They like building up their sort of centers of powers. It feels awesome having a work place where you walk in, you have a nice door into your big office, office that’s bigger than everybody else. Which, by the way, I have a funny anecdote about bigger offices that I’ll tell you afterwards.
Luis Magalhaes: Sure.
Joel Martinez: You know, and there’s this sort of psychological investment that sort of builds up the ego when you build up an office and these people that report to you, they have to walk into your office to tell you what they’re doing. And all this stuff. Whereas, if you focus on building the people, finding the right people, building them up and you know, just finding the right, best people, you’re going to be more successful. Your product or service is not more successful because you have an awesomer office with a ping pong table. It’s going to be more successful when you have the right people doing the right things. So, that’s what I would say there.
Luis Magalhaes: That was lovely, that was lovely. That sounds great. So hey. [inaudible 00:48:51]
Joel Martinez: So, the quick anecdote there about larger offices is that when I was working at EA, one of the projects that I worked on was –
Luis Magalhaes: You were at Tiburon right?
Joel Martinez: Tiburon. Yeah, so the people who work on Madden and things like that. So, one of the projects that I worked on was an interactive facility map, right, because you know the company was getting bigger and it was getting hard for people to sort of find their way around. And so what we ended up doing was sort of tapping into the HR systems and we had access to everybody’s badge photo that they would take when they get hired. And so, we built this thing that would sort of take where you’re sitting and we had this facility map for all of the different suites and floors of the company, and we would … This process would go through, and it would take your picture and sort of superimpose it over your, either your cubicle or office. And it would do this for everybody around the company. And it was just kind of … I just remember it being kind of funny that … This was just kind of an unintended consequence. All of the managers and the leads and everything, all their pictures were bigger, because their cube physically had more space. And so like the algorithm would just sort of make the pictures as big as it could in order to sort of fit into your space.
Joel Martinez: And so, all of the managers inadvertently had bigger pictures on the map and the general manager had the biggest picture of all.
Luis Magalhaes: Well, he was the most important guy!
Joel Martinez: Right.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. That sounds … So, who is the guy to point that out? I imagined no one wanted to be the guy to point that out, but someone eventually did, right.
Joel Martinez: Yeah, it was … I just quietly contemplated it.
Luis Magalhaes: There you go. Okay. Well, hey, Joel, thanks a lot for your time. This was a lovely conversation.
Joel Martinez: Yeah, thank you for having me. It was a pleasure, and I really appreciate it.
Luis Magalhaes: I want you to, well obviously if you want, but I would hope you want to tell just people about what you are up to, where they can find you, et cetera.
Joel Martinez: Yeah, sure. A lot of times, easiest way to find me is on Twitter, @joelmartinez. J-O-E-L M-A-R-T-I-N-E-Z. Or, my blog, codecube.net. And yeah, just I love talking to people so if anybody has any questions. I’m a huge advocate for sort of the remote lifestyle, and yeah.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay, I hope people will. I will put the links in the show notes. Again, it was a pleasure. Thank you very much.
Joel Martinez: Awesome man, thank you.
On this podcast, Joel, a senior developer at Microsoft, talks to us about how to spot when teams are or aren’t ready to work remotely, creating the conditions for focused work, being flexible with tools, and ultimately, building people, not kingdoms.
During our conversation, we talk about how to stimulate focus on a team, how to know if a team is ready or not to work remotely, what can remote employees do to be proactive in showcasing their work, and much more – Joel is a true practical expert in the field.
As always, if you enjoy the podcast, we humbly ask that you leave a review on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice – and if you could share it, that would be even better!
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