Karolina Szczur joined the show to talk about community building, building remote-first teams, the hiring process in tech, product development, and the inclusivity factor of web performance.
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- Houston Flood Relief Fund - JJ Watt’s fundraiser for Victims of Hurricane Harvey
- Bayou City Relief - Helping Houston Get Home
- About Karolina Szczur
- Building remote-first teams
- How to write a successful conference proposal
- CSSConf and JSConf Australia Diversity Report
- A guide to empathetic hiring processes
- Your tech job posting is broken. Here’s how to fix it.
- Lighthouse from Google
- ElectronConf Seattle 2017
- Calibre - Web performance monitoring
Before we start the show I wanna give you an update on the last few weeks of the impact of hurricane Harvey and the flooding here in Houston, Texas, where I live. First off, my family and I are safe, our property is safe; we were not flooded.
On Friday, 25th August, this category IV hurricane called Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Corpus Christi, which is four hours South-East of Houston where I live. They predicted it would stall out, head back into the Gulf of Mexico, strengthen and then head North-East towards Houston, and that’s exactly what it did.
There’s what’s known as the dirty side of a hurricane; it’s the upper right-hand side of a hurricane that carries the most moisture, the strongest winds, and that dirty side of the hurricane stalled over Houston, Texas for two and a half days, dropping nearly 50 inches of rainfall on the greater Houston area.
Now, to truly understand the gravity of this, you have to understand that we normally get around 50 inches of rain in an entire year. With Harvey, we got that in two days. This was in every way a record-breaking storm - it’s verified, it’s a record-breaking storm. There was massive catastrophic flooding all around Houston; many of our friends have lost everything and several friends of ours their houses are still underwater right now as I speak.
Many listeners have reached out to me directly via e-mail, Twitter, Slack, and I really appreciate it. Thank you very much for caring. Many have asked how they can help. Here are two websites where you can go and give money, donate clean-up supplies or even organize a crew and come here to Houston and help someone clean up. The first is youcaring.com/jjwatt, and the second is bayoucityrelief.com. Both links will be in the show notes. Thank you.
So let’s start off the conversation with community building. I think that many of us may go to conferences, many of us go out into the community, whether it’s local, or going to regional conferences, and we call this thing “community”. It’s this word, there’s people who blog about it, everyone’s trying to build it, everyone’s trying to do it. What exactly is building community? What is community to you?
[00:04:02.28] Wow, that’s quite a loaded question to be the first one, I must say. I’ve actually given a talk about community building and trying to define community at the [unintelligible 00:04:12.14] four years ago, and it took me months to research how people define community, and I’m still unsure if I understand it correctly.
I think especially in the tech industry one thing that’s important to point out is that community is something that’s more than events and conferences. As you’ve said, it’s nice to go to those gatherings and have fun, go to parties and meetups, see some talks, but community spans beyond that, and I’m really willing to focus on going beyond that in the sense that we create community every single day; it’s not necessarily just running an event that’s one day, two days or an evening. I want something that will actually last longer than that. I really wanna focus on not only gathering people with the same interests and the same goals and the same values together, but also creating rules for being safe in those communities. That’s something that I’m really interested in.
So trying to define a community, I would probably say it’s obviously a group of people that have the same interests, same values, same goals, and they pursue them together and individually as well, but it’s also a platform that’s safe for everyone who’s part of that community. By that I mean [unintelligible 00:05:39.26] represent their groups.
It’s interesting that you describe it on the second part as a platform to be safe… So you’re assuming that when people gather together that the – I’m also assuming this too, so I’m not saying this is only you, but based on what you said there, it should be a place where people are welcomed, people are safe; you shouldn’t feel like you are a part of the community in which you’re threatened, right? That would be anti-community.
Why do you think it happens so often now, that we’re still kind of working through this gap of like “safe” to “not safe.” Do you think people are evolving how they describe and participate in community? Where do you think we’re at with this?
I think it’s a very complex problem and I wouldn’t be nowhere near actually pinpointing where the root cause is, but I think one of the things that I’m seeing is that the communities were never really totally safe or inclusive, but now we have that platform which is the internet, where it’s so easy to just go in and troll someone or be mean to someone, or be kind of harmful towards someone with a degree of being anonymous, because those people who tend to do those things often times are hiding behind avatars and fake names etc.
I think it’s just easier to be unsafe in a sense, that people just use this platform to be ha-ha-ha, like it’s a joke, or being abusive or being a troll. So yeah, this is just more pronounced now that we have this great platform, because people feel like they can hide behind that and no one will ever know that they’re a 15-year-old who’s really angry behind their computer and locked into a room, for example.
[00:07:42.10] So I guess it has just become easier to be abusive or be harmful, and some of the platforms that we use frequently, like Twitter, don’t really have the necessary tools to fight the abuse.
It’s tough, I guess, to be Twitter these days, because they are not – I’m assuming from our perspective, and maybe even most of the listeners who listen to this have been potentially using Twitter for quite a long time… We would probably consider ourselves early adopters; we didn’t join it when the voices started singing “Hey, go to Twitter and vote for your favorite candidate”, or whatever… Or get into politics, or whatever. We were there originally, whenever most of the Twitter scene was tech; it was the technology scene, the software development scene. And they’re in this position where they’ve grown over years, and their business has not exactly stayed in alignment, and they’ve got this big Goliath next to them called Facebook that’s doing so much better and growing at such bigger numbers… And they’ve got to be basically the police, to some degree, for stopping abuse.
I haven’t delved far enough into where abuse happens and how it’s being fought on Twitter. What do you know about that subject and how can you enlighten myself and the audience listening?
As far as I went with Twitter and abuse – when I’ve started being a little bit more proactive on Twitter and saying (massive air quotes) “controversial things”, as in actually talking about equality and feminism (so not really that controversial)…
It shouldn’t be…
It shouldn’t be… But I’ve started getting a fair bit of abuse. Recently, a tweet of mine got a fair bit of exposure. It was about GitHub’s Electron Conf, that I’ve pointed out because they had an all-male line-up, which is absolutely unacceptable in this day, in 2017, especially taking into account the history of GitHub, that was fairly public. And I only pointed it out in a snarky comment, but it absolutely exploded… Firstly, I got a lot of support from the community, saying this is absolutely unacceptable, but then it got deep to 4chan and Reddit and Hacker News, and [unintelligible 00:10:04.19] got to me, and Trump supporters, for some reason… I don’t know, weird, weird people just trying to abuse me, and I’ve quickly learned that Twitter’s handle of abuse is just useless.
They have a way of reporting tweets and reporting users, but in my experience, they never act on them. I don’t know if they shadowban them at this point; I know they have a tool for that, but I haven’t seen it in action, to be honest. So all you can do really is just block and mute them, but then someone else will join the conversation and bring up some other tweets.
Some clients aren’t very good at supporting blocking, so you end up blocking someone on Twitter.com, but then it doesn’t block on TweetBot, so you end up seeing the abuse twice… It’s not very good, to be honest; it’s not where they’re a priority.
Yeah, that’s tough – I can’t even attempt to break down how tough that is for Twitter the platform to do that, because they’ve had for years third-party clients like TweetBot, for example… I’m a TweetBot user and I never thought that if you blocked on Twitter that TweetBot wouldn’t recognize they’re blocked there as well… It seems kind of weird that it’s like that. It seems like a big engineering issue where they should just fix that.
Honestly, it’s just inconsistency, so to say. Sometimes it actually works properly, but sometimes some of the people still surface. It’s very inconsistent. It’s either third-party clients or just API problems; I can’t really speak, because I’ve never worked with Twitter API, so I don’t know how good it is.
[00:11:51.10] We spoke to the sides of community where it’s a platform to be safe… Let’s talk about the side where you’re trying to build. You mentioned that you don’t have to be at a conference; community doesn’t just happen exactly just face-to-face, it happens (I think you said) “everyday.” What did you mean by “everyday”? Give me an example of what community building is everyday, or showing up to be a part of community?
Sure. I’m really into the whole diversity and inclusion part of community work, so on a day-to-day basis for me it’s mostly leveraging the [unintelligible 00:12:26.20] that I have and leveraging my exposure to publish articles and educate people how to build better communities or run better events, that are more inclusive, or being a little bit more proactive in the form of reaching out to people that I think could do a better job, for example conferences that have all-male lineups or don’t have code of conduct and they could do better. Because sometimes they just don’t know any better… Which isn’t good enough, but you can educate them and coach them into being better, so to say. But some of them are just pure malice, I think. LambdaConf is one of the greatest, as in the worst example of that.
I recall seeing some dust about that one, and I wasn’t close enough to know exactly what was going down… And we tend to be – when I say “we”, I mean the Changelog Organization tends to be not so much not cognizant of the negative side of things happening out there, but we try to focus and shine a spotlight on the positive things happening. That doesn’t mean to shove the things that are negative under the rug and forget about them, that just means that if it’s negative or… Like the LambdaConf, for example, as you’ve just mentioned - I went far enough to read into what happened there to some degree, but I couldn’t give a first-hand account of like “This is what happened, this is who did wrong, this is how the retroactiveness of this… This is who is hurt, this is who is the victim…” - I don’t know all the details; I didn’t know exactly what happened there. Can you give maybe – maybe it’s not worth going into… What do you think? Is it worth going into?
I don’t know…
Probably not, right?
Yeah, probably not. I mean, if someone wants to see how bad it can get, I recommend looking into it.
That’s an example of the worst, you’re saying?
That’s definitely some of the worst cases of mismanagement in conferences and just bad intention that I’ve seen lately.
Right. And you mentioned the tweet that you put out recently that got a lot of retweets or a lot of communication back and forth about that, that the Electron conference coming up had an all-male panel - is that right?
Is that still the case? I’m not caught up on this conference or the line-up. I’m actually gonna google it right now while we’re talking here.
Actually, what happened right after the tweet got some traction – so the way it happened is it was a blissful Saturday here in Melbourne, a wonderful city… I was at breakfast, and it came to my attention that it’s an all-male conference from GitHub, which to me is just so disappointing; they should know better. They have diversity people, and with their history especially, they should just not do that.
So I just kind of angrily tweeted that they should do better… “Congratulations on this not very good line-up”, and then I just went on with my weekend plans. Then after a day or two I’ve realized that it has completely exploded and GitHub has already taken down the line-up from their website, saying that they’re gonna get back on track with the conference once they find a suitable line-up, which upset a lot of people.
[00:15:53.05] There was no public post-mortem or anything like that, there was just the change on the website, and they didn’t announce anything whatsoever on their Twitter, or blog posts, or anything. I’ve reached out to them, to the head of diversity at GitHub and they’ve decided they’re not gonna publicize what mistakes they’ve made… So they really didn’t want to have public record of it happening, and they didn’t wanna say openly “Oh, we’ve made a mistake, and this is why it happened, and we’re fixing it right now.” To me, it was poorly handled, but I guess they’re revisiting those choices, so that’s beneficial to the community.
How far back was this tweet? How current is this? Days, weeks?
A few weeks.
I was on vacation last week, so that’s why I’m sort of out of loop big time, because when I go on vacation I do my best to disconnect. So I’m assuming it was at least a couple weeks back, because this is something I would have definitely heard about, and as you’d mentioned - and listeners, you can probably go there now, ElectronConf.com, it says “We published a list of speakers that does not reflect the standards to which we hold ourselves. We will be postponing this event until we can deliver a more diverse slate of speakers.” So you’re saying that’s the only artifact, essentially, the only feedback that we’ve gotten from GitHub about your tweet, that essentially helped everyone else discover that “This is an all-male panel. It’s GitHub, they should know better.”
Yeah, and that to me is just so disappointing. If you have standards that you hold yourself against, then that wouldn’t happen in the first place, so where are your standards?
Can we pause there for a second? I hear that, and the first thing I think about is “Can people make mistakes? Can companies make mistakes?”
I would say definitely. I make mistakes all the time, with all sorts of things, but I think especially the irony that it’s GitHub, who had really public outings with diversity and horrible culture… So taking that into account and doing this, it’s just – and I do hear accounts of people working there, or people who have worked there… So that just adds up.
I don’t have anything against GitHub personally; as a product, I think it’s a great product. I don’t wanna be mean to them publically, I don’t wanna go in a fight with GitHub because that’s my hobby. The reason is if you say that you have standards, then you have to live by those standards.
Right, you have to have checks and balances. You have to have somebody saying “Okay, we’re doing something; it’s public, the community’s involved… Is the community represented?”
Yeah, and especially in GitHub’s case; every single developer and a lot of designers are using GitHub. This is a product that’s basically representing our industry in a massive sense, so they have a responsibility to cultivate culture. This is their responsibility, so something like that just shouldn’t happen. And they have people and full-time roles working on diversity. I don’t wanna blame those people, because I know it’s a big company, decisions get made and delegated down or up, and it might have been someone else’s fault; I’m not here to blame anyone, I’m just saying that they should have known better.
Well, let’s break this down and see this as an example of how should have they handled this? Given what you had just said there, where they represent the community in a lot of sense, right? Because they are who they are, they have a lot of responsibility… What do you think they could have done differently, given the circumstances?
[00:19:59.16] When I run events, I mostly explicitly use a call for speakers process which obviously invites everyone to apply. We worked very hard at JSConf and [unintelligible 00:20:12.19] Australia last year to make that process even better and to foster an anonymous process that will bring more women and more under-represented groups into our conference… Which is really tricky, because again, the process is anonymous. So definitely not only having a call for speakers - which I think they had, in some sense… That’s a first step.
Then secondly, obviously, you have to have a code of conduct. You have to have information about who is the organizer, despite the organization. I actually wanna see the faces of people who are organizing this event, so I can see if the group of people that’s organizing is diverse, so I can look up their work, I can kind of be comforted with the fact that I know those people.
Right. So in this case with the faces, you’re saying “Don’t just say GitHub is behind this, say who from GitHub is behind this?”
It’s not even GitHub-specific. A lot of conferences say “It’s sponsored by this company” or “It’s run by this company and some people.” I wanna know which people. So I definitely would urge conferences to actually publish About pages that actually talk about who specifically is behind the conference, so that information is easily accessible. Because that makes it easier for under-represented groups to feel safe and feel comfortable with applying. And then, of course, there are already anonymous conference speakers processes, offering coaching or even pointing to materials that are already online about how to write a proposal, how to prepare your talk…
Conferences that have other initiatives for diversity/inclusivity are also great, such as having scholarships, that for me as a person representing an under-represented group - that’s basically a guarantee that I know that people organizing this event actually care about diversity. It’s not copy-pasting a code of conduct, because everyone caught up with that, so they know it has to be that, but to me that doesn’t mean anything at this point. Anyone can copy-paste it, and they do nothing else. That’s pointless.
Yeah, so if I hear you correctly, you’re saying behind the code of conduct that it shouldn’t be “Oh, let’s go out there and see what the standard is and let’s copy it and paste it, put it on our site and boom! Check that box.” You’re saying that it should be more intentional.
Yeah. I mean, again, the code of conduct has become a standard at this point, basically. There are very few conferences that don’t have a code of conduct… But my question as an organizer and as a participant at conferences as a speaker or as an attendee is “How do you enforce it if something bad happens? Do you have a plan? Have you coached your staff on how to handle that? Do you have scholarships for under-represented groups where you give out tickets for free? Do you have gender-neutral [unintelligible 00:23:09.15]? Do you have food that caters to all of the diets that people have who are attending your event? Do you have parties and side-events that are not entirely focused on alcohol?” - all of those things.
There is a list of things that I’m actually working on releasing as an open source project, kind of like an inclusive conference checklist to help organizers go through it. But I would say that the code of conduct is literally just the tip of an iceberg, and a lot of women who have been working in progressing events and progressing inclusion and diversity at events know and have noticed that as well, that the code of conduct is only the beginning, and at this point just having that is just not enough.
[00:23:59.18] I like that you mention that it’s obviously not enough just to have it, but to educate the volunteers and/or paid staff that are part of the conference, having a plan if something does go wrong and knowing how to actually act upon it. You mentioned you’re coming up with either resources or an eBook or something like that - I can’t recall exactly what you said there, but is there anything out there like that now? Is that why you’re making it, because it’s not out there currently? Any sort of inclusivity or safe space checklist?
I would say there are a few resources. I always defer to Ash Dryden’s work. She has done amazing work in the diversity inclusion space; she’s hosting a traveling conference called AlterConf that caters to under-represented groups, which is a great event. She has published extensive materials on diversity and inclusion in general, and [unintelligible 00:24:54.02] There is the Geek Feminism Wiki that has a lot of materials in that space, and just blog posts scattered around if you look for them. And then obviously, you can look up some events that just have a lot of visibility and really high standards, such as JSConf EU that I’m part of, JSConf Australia and CSS Confs as well usually hold themselves against the same standards. We try to do basically everything that should be an industry standard and more, which is really hard work.
But yeah, I guess a long way around this question to answer is there is no centralized resource that would be an eBook or a really long article that is saying “These are the things that you should be doing. Go and do them”, which is why I’m trying to start with a checklist that conference organizers can just look through and think which areas they should be focusing on. Then maybe in the future I will publish a book; I have an outline of an inclusive events book, but I just honestly don’t have the time and funds to focus on writing a book right now.
You do a lot of writing on Medium, and it seems to me if I didn’t know you and I didn’t have this conversation with you and I didn’t have a chance to ask you what your process is for determining what next steps you might take on something like this - it seems to me that your MO for this would be to publish something that strikes a chord with the community, gets shared around and it’s sort of a gauge to see “Is this something I should focus some time on?” and considering that, is that something you plan to do first? Do you think you’d blog about it first? I know you’ve covered some of these things to some degree in recent blog posts, but maybe not to the depth you’re probably planning on.
Yes, I was thinking about a short series of posts. I know there’s interest, I just honestly – to write a book, it would take months to produce, and we all have jobs and we all try to have a life outside of those jobs…
Do we have jobs? What?! Things to do?
[laughs] Responsible adults…
I know, right? Can’t always have fun; must work, not all fun.
Yeah, so it’s just hard to really juggle actual full-time work, then working on a product, and then some community building and activism, and actually have some rest in the meantime. I am considering maybe trying other avenues, such as Patreon, and try to actually get some monetary support so I can take time off to do that… Because I think it’s worthy. But again, it requires monetary support and focus on that to deliver something that’s high quality.
Do you have flexibility in your full-time work to be able to – even if it was for a stint of like two months or something like that, do you have the ability to step away? Is that flexibility available to you?
So it’s not even a money problem, it’s more just a time problem, and maybe even an energy problem… Like, to have enough energy to do it.
Yeah, there are many things at play here. I’m in a really weird space right now, and I can predict a lot of changes in my life, personal and professional, this year. So I guess I will just see how I go. But I think it’s really important and I would really love to focus on that.
So obviously, the next step could be a blog post, the next step could be the things you’ve just talked about, but you’ve got some hurdles happening there. We’re right here right now, what kind of actionable feedback or advice could you give to listeners that may be organizing a conference, that could be do’s and don’ts or must do’s?
I would definitely say that it’s definitely difficult to get those materials that I’ve already mentioned, to find something that will just straight up give you actionable advice, but I think there are quite a few events that are doing an amazing job, and JSConf Europe is one of them, CSS Conf Europe as well… I recall amazing things being done by XOXO back in Portland as well.
So I guess a homework for a future conference organizer or a current conference organizer - and a meetup organizer, as well - would be just to look up those events, see what they’ve done, and try to implement that in their event; read what Ashe is writing about diversity and inclusion at events, because her writing is amazing and very actionable.
These are resources that aren’t too hard to find, but honestly, we all just have to kind of sit down and be willing to do that job and not expect others to do that job for us, because that’s fairly common… I get a lot of e-mails asking for free advice or free work in helping other events, which is fine, but I’m just saying - this knowledge is out there, we just have to sit down and actually parse it, find it and try to implement it.
My advice would be look up some amazing events, from the JSConf family of events (JSConf.com), XOXO definitely, work of Ashe Dryden, and try to slowly implement it into your event. It’s hard work, but it’s definitely doable.
After the break, Karolina and I talk about building teams, specifically teams that are remote-first. We break down what that means, why it’s important, and we also talk about the dark side of being a remote worker, the impact of real-time communications like Slack, maintaining work/life balance, being able to work-ate, play-ate and sleep-ate, something I try to do every single day. All this and more, after the break.
So my background in terms of what you may know now is as a podcaster - running the Changelog, doing what we do here - but prior to this, before I was a professional podcaster, so to speak, somebody who did this full-time, I was primarily a designer, product manager, UX designer. That would be the [unintelligible 00:32:22.24] and I worked for this non-profit called PureCharity - still an awesome place to go (PureCharity.com). We started out there as a remote developer team. Part of the team was centralized in [unintelligible 00:32:40.17] Arkansas, and everyone else was distributed throughout – it just happened to be at the time Texas and Missouri. I don’t know why those two states in the United States, but those two states.
Over time, as the company grew, we started to hire more people in what we call “in-house”, the localized office. Everyone else was distributed. And it started to turn into this “us versus them” scenario. And I don’t know how it got there, but we attempted build a remote – I thought we were trying to build a remote distributed company, and it didn’t seem that way, and at some point it became an “us versus them” battle. It wasn’t always at war, but it just always seemed that there was some sort of anxiety between an “us versus them” scenario.
It was like developers trying to make the product, and business trying to dictate where it should go… All this crazy stuff. But we’re written this deep blog posts on building remote teams first - that’s my story, so to speak, into remote teams. And I could probably go deeper than that with you, but let’s open that up. Let’s talk about building remote teams - what are people doing right, what are people doing wrong, and what do you think about the story I’ve just shared with you?
That’s a big topic. So just to give a little bit of background, I’ve been working remotely for at least six years, I think, before I moved to Melbourne; I was living in Krakow, where I was born - that’s central Europe, back in Poland - and I used to work with mostly US, East and West Coast, which usually meant no overlap whatsoever… So late nights for meetings, some pajama meetings - all the fun times. And I kind of got into remote work by accident. I was just frustrated by the state of the industry in Poland, I was frustrated by low pay and nothing interesting coming up, so I kind of ventured into looking for something else, other countries in Europe and US. And US was an obvious choice, because the technology industry there is just much bigger… So I had to learn quite quickly what remote actually meant, and I had to make it work for myself and the teams I was working with.
In terms of advice, at that point there was almost nothing, no resources. I think the only thing that was available to read about remoteness was actually the book published by Basecamp’s co-founder, the Remote book, which I would definitely recommend.
I love that book.
I’ve read portions of it, but I’ve mostly listened to it. I’m an audible type of person. I will buy four or five books from audible and listen to them that week, before I’d read a book. I don’t know why I’m like that, but I’ve listened to it and it’s a phenomenal book.
I think it’s also a good book about running a company in general; it doesn’t have to be remote-specific. It talks about meetings and pointless meetings and pointlessly digging people’s time without reason, and I think that you can apply that advice to any organization, not necessarily remote. I think that was the only resource available at that time.
[00:36:03.01] Afterwards, a lot of companies popped up that were remote-first, such as Buffer or Help Scout, that I think still kind of lead that space right now. They publish a lot of articles quite frequently about remote culture and working together in general, which I think is a great starting point if you are looking into starting a company. I think it’s harder when you transition.
So as you said, it’s a fairly common thing to happen, that you have headquarters somewhere in the world, and then you decide to hire remote workers, and then it’s this “you versus them” situation because they are so disconnected from everything that is happening on site that it’s very difficult to make that work.
Right. There would be inside conversations that we would miss, there would be meetings that we weren’t invited to because we were treated as optional, I guess, because we were remote, and I’m like “Hey, we need to be in those meetings too, because if we can’t give our feedback into where you’re trying to go, the business decisions you’re trying to make, and we’re actively developing a non-existent product yet, then you need us at that table”, and we were consistently not being invited, or invited and then because we were remote - or I don’t know if that’s exactly the reason why, but for whatever reason, our opinions and our professional opinions were sort of respected in the moment, and then behind closed door thrown away. They would say one thing and then do another.
I guess I probably shouldn’t say some of this stuff out on the air, because this is a podcast and I’m kind of forgetting that, but… That’s what happens though, right? It’s in the scenario where you build teams today, in today’s world, the technology world, where you’re building a product team like building the web platform; anybody building things in the web, anything that touches the web, you’ve gotta have a team that can be remote, and it seems like your position and things you’re advocating for is building remote-first, which is sort of this twist on it - not just remote, but remote-first… As if even if you have a headquarters, you should still act remote. Is that right?
Yeah, I definitely love the remote-first approach, mostly because it gives you tremendous flexibility. Right now I’m a person who is not married, I don’t have any children, so I actually have a lot of time on my hands; I can make decisions fairly quickly and decide what I wanna do with my day or with my weekend, so that’s fairly convenient. But I think remoteness is actually very helpful for people with families, who can spend more time together; you can be very attentive towards your partner and towards your children. I think it’s great.
Of course, there are downsides, as I’ve mentioned; there are dark sides of remote work that you have to be aware of, and you have to manage the distinction between life and work quite a bit… But I think it’s very empowering, and what really frustrates me is companies that advertise themselves as remote, but actually being something that I call “remote-friendly” rather than remote-first. So they would say “Oh, you can work from anywhere”, but actually it’s only “Within THIS country anywhere”, which is a fairly popular thing to see, not only in the US but also Australia.
If you’re an immigrant in Australia, it prevents you from traveling extensively to see your family, which isn’t really a happy place to be in…
Yeah, family is kind of important, right?
Yeah. So the reason why I say remote-first is because a lot of people like to say “Oh, we’re cool, we’re remote”, but they actually don’t live up to the expectations that you would have of them. They have a bunch of rules that would be hidden somewhere in the HR documents that actually prevent you from having that flexibility.
[00:40:05.11] Do you think some of these things are stemming from policies, or tools available that makes it hard? It seems like your point there was “Work anywhere, but anywhere in the US, or anywhere in Australia”, not to be able to live – I think you’re originally from Poland, right?
So you probably wanna go back to Poland to see family.
And you can’t, it sounds like.
I do, but I think in those scenarios – I actually don’t know how much leave you get in US, but in Australia by law it’s four weeks per year, which is a fair bit, but when you think that you’re actually flying across the planet, the length of the planet, so to say, four weeks becomes nothing, because it makes no sense to travel for less than two weeks, and then you can make maybe one trip per year, or two trips, and it’s never enough to see everyone, to visit everyone… So it becomes a really stressful position to be in.
Because you can only go back once a year, basically.
You’re sort of forced into it because of the distance traveled.
Yeah, and there’s the costs…
Yeah. I think to fly from here to come see you in Australia would be at least 18 or 19 hours.
That’s like an entire day on a plane. Not any fun, for one, and two, just the time… Who wants to spend 20 hours on a plane?
No one. You get used to it, but yeah…
And if you’ve got like 10 days or 14 days of leave – you said four weeks mandatory, but just spending two of the days traveling, just on the plane… And then you’ve probably got some time going to and from the plane, and all the decompression that you’ve gotta do, preparatory to go onto a plane… Because you don’t just get off the plane and start partying, right? You get off the plane and potentially maybe crash for another 12 hours or something like that, and recharge, and then become a human again.
Yeah, I had some trips that were entirely ruined by jet lag; like, just entirely… Yeah, but answering to the question, I think the lack of full support for being a remote-first company is firstly policy. I think in the tech industry we have so many tools, we have amazing engineers and designers and managers… We are perfectly capable of executing on this, some people just choose not to, and they just really like to micromanage people and control what they do as if they rent adults, which is something that just blows my mind and it just annoys me every day when I think about it.
But secondly, there’s something else that I think goes unmentioned, but I think is important from the company’s standpoint, which is tax. So there are two problems - from the company’s standpoint and from the employee’s standpoint. If you’re working remotely and you’re in Europe, and let’s say you’re working with someone from New York; you’re never an employee, you’re just a consultant who happens to be working full-time. You get no perks, you get no insurance or anything, you just get paid on a given day.
That creates a problem for the company, taking into account recent legislation in US and in other countries as well. You can’t really hire consultants on a full-time basis; you will get in tax trouble. And if you are an employee, for let’s say an Australian company, you can’t travel outside of Australia for more than three months a year, because then you get into the tax grey area, as in should you be paying tax in Australia, or where you travel to? It all gets complicated, and I think people who write about being a digital nomad - this is my favorite (NOT) word…
You’re not a fan, it sounds like.
[00:43:59.10] I’m not a fan of the whole fake glamour of digital nomad, and just saying digital nomad…
…although I definitely enjoy the lifestyle and I think it’s great that we have that possibility, but I think when people talk about “It’s so great, you can have no responsibilities and travel all the time and see all these beautiful places” - I think actually there’s a lot of logistics to executing on it. Tax is one of them. Then security, like insurance, or in Australia superannuation, which is basically your retirement fund - all those things you have to take care of if you are working remotely, as effectively a full-time consultant, because companies who hire remotely often times don’t have an entity in every single country where they have people from. So that’s that less glamorous side of remote that might prevent some companies from hiring people remotely.
Yeah. It sounds like some of these things may be out of the company’s ability to control, though… Like you mentioned, legislation for the United States, or the law which you mentioned in Australia, where you can leave more than three weeks… Is there something that companies can change to be more remote-first? Or at least more respectful of the need to be able to not only travel the world for pleasure, but also just to see family, just for the reasons why anybody should be able to, if given the right kind of job where you can, not be in the presence of everybody else involved, be remote, which is that whole point - if you have that kind of job, then to allow that to happen, to take place.
I think especially bigger companies have capabilities to have legal advice; they have in-house legal advisors who can figure out how long is it actually possible to be away from the country where you’re actually employed at and not get into trouble company-wise and employee-wise. And then just help those people go there and work from there. It honestly bases on trust, despite of obviously overcoming those legal issues and tax issues, and so on… I think it’s about trust. Let’s not treat each other like children; we are adults, so trust people that they will do their work, no matter where they are. Of course, some people will fail at that, but then you fire those people, or you have performance reviews with them and you point it out that it’s not working out.
So there are ways of overcoming that, and there are ways of successfully having remote-first companies or remote-friendly companies, and letting people just have their freedom and be happy in their lives, because that will create happier employees and that’s what we want, I think… But it seems that a lot of companies are confused about that.
So the digital nomad, this whole idea - it sounded like you said you weren’t a fan of advocating the glamorous side of it. What do you mean by that?
I think I’m mostly not fond of the expression. I think something about it just sounds cheesy and horrible, and I can’t really pinpoint what that is… Digital nomad - every single time I say, it just yikes me; I don’t know, I can’t really pinpoint it.
World traveler. I agree, I don’t think that the term – if I were that person, if I were doing that, I wouldn’t call myself… I think it’s become common because that’s the terminology people most associate to it, but I would – I guess the nomading is… I don’t know, I’m not really sure, because I feel similar to how you feel, but I don’t feel exactly the same, because I kind of get what nomad means; maybe I wouldn’t attach the digital part. I’d just be like “Hey, I’m nomading right now. I’m traveling the world.”
[00:47:57.19] Yeah, definitely. I don’t have a particular problem with the notion; I’ve traveled a bunch, I’ve spoken at many conferences… For two years, basically, I had no home. I was in my country for maybe like six months, and then six months traveling… Which was great, but I think long-term it’s not really sustainable. You not only spend a lot of money traveling, but secondly, it gets really lonely. I think it’s cool to look at people’s Instagrams, and like “Oh my god, they’re on all of those beaches in Thailand”, as everyone is, posting fancy photos…
Especially you, you’re a photographer… I have to pause you, because I was on your – would you call it your exposure site? Is that what you would call it?
I think you’re a great example of like phenomenal – I was thinking “She must have traveled all over and she’s done all sorts of cool stuff AND she takes phenomenal photos.” I was totally gushing over your work, it was really good.
Thank you, that’s really nice.
I’m a photographer myself, and I put the – I think on your site… What did you say about yourself…? You crossed out the line hobbyist; I think at one point you may have been a hobbyist photographer, and now you’re just a photographer. I’m probably in the middle of hobbyist and photographer, where I don’t do it for a profession, but I really enjoy it, and I do take some pretty good photos.
I think I’m in the same spot. I don’t make money out of it, but I do love it, and I do have too expensive gear…
If your camera is more than $1,000 and your lens is $1,000, you’re definitely not a hobbyist anymore, you’re an extreme enthusiast.
Yeah, that’s definitely accurate. I think my problem with it, if I have a problem with digital nomads or people traveling all the time is that we tend to see only the positive side of that. It’s so nice to be in all of those locations, and you can take great photos that will make everyone that you know really envious, but I think it’s actually maintain a work/life balance when you’re traveling like that. You actually end up doing so much stuff that’s (let’s say) touristy or just trying to explore that you end up working nights or you end up working too early, too much.
Right, and you burn yourself out even.
Yeah. So I think from that perspective it’s actually not very healthy. I personally love the idea of just taking a few months off and traveling, and I hope I will be able to do that in the near future, because I think trying to balance work and pleasure when travelling extensively is extremely hard, and I know I can manage it (I’m capable of that), but I think it is challenging, and I’d honestly rather enjoy one and put the other one on hold, so to say.
This is something that you touched on in a blog post that we’re going to link up in the show notes… It’s the heading where it says about work/life balance - I’m sure you’re probably not looking at it, but I am… Work/life balance as a remote worker, and you’re kind of describing some of the dark sides, and this is one of those dark sides. But others you mentioned I guess to counter the dark side would be to have a routine, create no work zones so that no matter where you’re at it’s not always like “in work time”, so to speak.
I know that for me, like you - you’d mentioned you’ve been a remote worker or someone who’s worked remotely for six years now… I think for me it’s been since 2006; it’s been 11 years, I guess. I’m in my 11th year of working either for myself or remotely, and that’s crazy. 11 years I’ve not gone into an office – only in one year of those 11 years, and this was for like maybe five months that I have a “real job”, where I went into somebody’s office and worked in their office. So that’s like a few months out of 11 years… I’ve pretty much worked from home; “my home was my office” state of mind - it’s sort of tough to have that routine and having a work zone where work happens there, where you don’t get trapped in always feeling like you have to be productive.
[00:52:20.08] Definitely. It’s really hard to disconnect, especially if you don’t have a big apartment or a big house, then it becomes even more tricky. I’m lucky enough to actually have a room that’s a separate office.
Huge advocate of that.
Yeah. So I actually go there to work.
It’s like, work happens in there. When I’m not in there, I’m not doing the work.
Yeah. You might be on the couch, but you’re actually just browsing Twitter and doing Twitter; you’re not working.
That’s the problem with laptops though, they kind of go with you anywhere, right? But you have to have the rule; you have to be disciplined enough to say “If I’m gonna be working, it’s gonna be in that room. It may still be a laptop, I’m not chained to that desk, but I do work in there”, and try to make it a rule where that happens probably 90% of the time. That’s what I’d say to myself.
There’s one or two things that I do that aren’t in this room which I’m in now that’s work-related. I’ll do some work stuff outside of that room, but it’s only a few tasks and I’ve sort of set a rule for myself. I know my boundaries, basically. I think having a boundary can protect you from the dark side of always feeling like you have to be working or have to be productive.
Yeah, I think it’s really important to make sure these are in place, especially if you’re a solo founder, or you’re running a podcast of your own, or you’re self-employed… You kind of have this urge, like “There are so many things to do, I have to keep working all the time”, and you’re working from home, then you basically can’t disconnect ever, which really negatively impacts your life, your mental state, the level of burnout you have…
Yeah, I think it’s really important, and it’s also important to find things that really make you happy and really make you disconnect. For me, that’s going to yoga, for me that’s going to a coffee shop with a book, no devices, and enjoying a cup of coffee with a book, which is really nice.
That sounds fun. Going to a coffee shop with a book and no devices. That means you’re leaving your phone at home too, right? Or is that a no-no?
I usually have it with me, but I don’t use it.
So you act like it’s not there. Good job.
Yeah, I just don’t care. I love reading paperback books; I think they’re superior to digital, and I’ll keep my opinion forever. I just think, especially in a remote scenario, it’s so easy to find yourself like “Oh, when was the last time I left home?”, especially in winter. Not for me, but I know people who actually ask themselves that question, and I say “Well, that’s not very good. You should at least go for a walk, or go to a store, go to a coffee shop and meet up with someone”, because you have to compensate for your lack of human interaction, or interacting only with one or two people.
I think you need the vitamin D too from the sun, you’ve gotta have that. If not, bad things will happen to your skin, right?
You turn into Batman? I don’t know…
Something, yeah… You change colors - who knows? Or lack of color…? But like the close to community, that conversation we had there, I’m gonna ask you this question - you’ve got a couple companies mentioned here on your blog post, but you’d mentioned a couple during this conversation - Help Scout was one of them, and I believe Buffer was another. What other companies could people look to to emulate, both 1) as somebody who’s an employer or running their own company, or 2) looking at employees within a company and saying “Can I model similar things? Can I follow their blogs?” Who is out there to model?
[00:56:03.19] I would say hands down Basecamp, on not only remote, but just company culture in general. These are my go-to’s. I would say definitely read whatever they’re writing; they have amazing amounts and quality of advice, but not every single time you’re able to adapt that to your own company; not all advice is actually universal.
I think it’s just important to stay in touch with your employees. I think actually remoteness is one of the biggest tests that you can have on your organization in terms of your culture and how empathetic you are, and how good of an employer and employee you are, because that really tests your communication skills as well.
So yeah, I think just keep talking to your employees, keep making sure that the right processes are in place, but not too much process, because that will actually hinder productivity. Just make sure that you’re listening to your employers and take their feedback, what’s working, what’s not working, record your [unintelligible 00:57:08.13] meetings and publish them, or publish transcripts in an e-mail or in Slack, Basecamp or whatever tool that you’re using; just make sure that everyone is getting the same pieces of information. That’s how you are actually inclusive and that’s how you make sure that everyone is on the same page; it’s just what you want when you are running a company. I guess that’s universal advice that you could apply to an organization. But there are a lot of materials out there and I’m sure anyone who’s interested in that topic - there’s a lot of posts on Medium as well about remote teams that you can find and take inspiration form and just test some approaches and see if they work or not.
You mentioned tools in that last bit there - are there any particular tools that promise to make teams productive but in the end simply hinder them? Is there anything that – I know Slack is kind of getting a bad name; in a recent issue of Changelog Weekly we linked out to a post that was basically “How We Quit Slack” or “Why We Quit Slack”, and this whole real-time communication, being remote, without people being around you, you feel like you have to be attached to some sort of digital tool that communicates or allows you to communicate… And I feel like Slack sometimes can get a bad name for that because it sort of is real-time; if you’re not there, then you’re missing the conversation, you’re missing out, and the fear of missing out is a big issue for a lot of people, right? So not to name that one in particular, but are there any tools that are being used that hinder teams, rather than actually make them more productive?
I actually would totally name Slack - that’s the first one that comes to mind for me. I love that product, I think it’s a great product, and it’s really helpful when you need a piece of information and to ping someone, talk to them, but you don’t really wanna go in a Hangout or whatever other software that you use for video calls.
I think in those scenarios it’s great, but at big organizations where they have 600 channels because people just make jokes and make silly channels that are useless…
Yeah, like you have to go to a certain channel to tell the joke, or something like that…
Yeah, or people just make useless channels, that are (I guess) kind of a part of emulating the watercooler conversation culture, but on Slack. At some point, in some organizations, the amount of Slack channels is just ridiculous. And even if you have 10 or 15 channels in a 400 people company, there’s a lot of conversation happening, and if you are a person like me that doesn’t like notifications or unread indicators, you get freaked out when you see that red dot in Slack…
Yes, the completionists… “Cannot have an unchecked item; must complete list.” That’s who you are then?
Yes. It’s horrible, I hate it.
[01:00:03.28] Jerod’s the same way. If he were on the show today talking right now, he would be cackling and laughing, because that is totally him. He cannot have badges, they must be done; the list must be completed.
Yeah, it’s not a good space to be at. So it’s partially great, but on the other hand, it’s really distracting because there’s just so much conversation happening that if you wanna stay on top of it and you have the fear of missing out, that you have to [unintelligible 01:00:30.14] it becomes really destructive for your work.
If you’re such an advocate thought for being remote, how do you counter this Slack movement and the way remote teams are communicating? What are some patterns that are productive or healthy to be remote-first, but not force everyone into this real-time “must be following along to not miss out” form of communication like Slack? What alternatives or what other ways do you suggest people to do?
I think in the remote teams with not a lot of timezone overlap, that problem is less pronounced, because you only have two hours and then everyone goes quiet… At least that was my reality for years. I actually got the entire day of interrupted work, which is great…
Yeah, it’s true.
…but also horrible if you actually had some trouble and you needed some help, or needed information that was missing. So I guess that problem is somewhat mitigated, but I think maybe to try to avoid – I definitely do like e-mail as a medium. I don’t actually use Basecamp personally, but I think posting daily check-ins, like “What have I done today? This is what worried me, this is what I’ve succeeded at” on Basecamp in the form of a daily check-in is actually really valuable, because you can stay in touch with your entire team and know how they’re feeling personally and professionally, and you don’t have to do it on Slack, where it gets lost anyway and gives you massive FOMO.
So I think maybe getting back to (so to say) our roots of less instant methods of messaging, like Basecamp or other tools, or just e-mail…
So you’re advocating for the oldest form of communication we have on the internet to be the primary?
I wouldn’t say it would be the primary, but I think if something is really important and no one should miss it, then it should not be in Slack.
Right. So don’t put statuses like that, that are important for other people to use, as artifacts to check in with team members, to put them in some sort of place where they can get lost in the shuffle.
Put them into a Basecamp, or an e-mail, or something that is not so fast-paced.
Yeah, that’s tough, especially with the timezones… That’s one thing I didn’t really consider. If you don’t have much of an overlap, that means that your co-workers could be – their time off, or their time to not be working, basically, so you don’t get “bugged” by anybody, or have distraction; you can be totally focused. But if you’re in the same timezone, then you’re sort of caught in this situation where they’re working, I’m working, maybe we’re working together, maybe we’re working independently - either way, we should be meeting, we should be talking about what we’re doing, right? So next thing you know you’re on Skype, you’re on a Hangout, or even a Slack call, and you’re wasting time, potentially, with the meeting.
Yeah, because it’s so easy to just grab someone; you kind of assume that it’s necessary, but often times it’s not, and we just fail to respect other people’s time and their headspace as well. We just kind of “Hey, can you come and have a call with me?” In the office scenario it’s the same thing - someone just comes to your desk and starts talking to you, and two hours later, you’ve lost that time and you have to get back into your zone, which we know takes some time as well.
[01:04:10.05] Smaller teams though don’t have very fast-paced Slacks. I would say 10-15 people plus may be a fast Slack in terms of real-time communication, but maybe smaller teams may have only a few members, so it’s a little less fast-paced.
Something I had said at this inclusion we had in the recent Changelog Weekly for the blog post that was titled “This Is The Story Of Why We Quit Slack”, I said at the end as sort of like this devil advocate approach “Can we just exercise better self-control?” Because for me, I personally don’t have an issue with Slack. The Changelog is a remote company, we’re a remote team; no one is in this office besides me, so we’re a remote-first company and we operate around all the things we’ve just talked about… But I don’t feel chained to Slack every day to stay in communication with Jerod or other team members. Maybe it’s because we’re smaller and maybe we have less communication to actually do, but I kind of feel like maybe it’s just a self-control problem, like the FOMO part of it. What do you think?
Oh, definitely. I think self-control is a big issue here, and we are quite bad at handling it, so to say, especially now with all the notifications happening, and there are a lot of articles about how the notifications and the web is affecting our attention span and our control ability as well… So I would agree. And also, it’s definitely easier with smaller teams to manage real-time conversations or manage a backlog of conversations; that’s easier. But at scale, at bigger companies, it just becomes ridiculous.
It does become ridiculous. Maybe the bigger teams might be where it really becomes that way, or even in communities, as we talked about in the first part of the show… I don’t know about you - how many community Slacks are you involved in? Several?
Right now only one, a local Australian one.
But it’s so massive that I still don’t read most of it. I was in a few Women And Tech Slacks, but there was so much backlog I just couldn’t possibly keep up with it, so I just left, because it was just only giving me anxiety. It’s just overwhelming, to be honest.
Coming up after the break, Karolina and I talk about website performance and the impact it has on inclusivity. We discuss a problem that most Americans don’t get - myself included - lack of bandwidth, and the limited or slow internet connections out there. We have to be more aware of the weight and size of every page we deliver. Karolina shares an insight about time you won’t wanna miss. Stay tuned.
[unintelligible 01:08:13.10] we could talk about something that I think pretty much anybody on the internet cares about, which is website performance. You work for a pretty interesting company, Calibre, doing a – Calibre, sorry. You told me earlier, and I still read it as Calibre, and I’m sure that anybody else might, but it’s Calibre… Doing website performance, making the web fast for everyone. And the last part there, “for everyone” seems to be something that you’re pretty - and most people should be - interested in, as being inclusive. So that means that the web should perform well for anyone, right? Given the last part of this show, what can we cover around website performance, around Calibre, what you’re doing there, making the web fast and including everybody in today’s web?
I’m gonna start with making a slight correction, if you don’t mind me…
Calibre is actually kind of like an after-hours project of mine; it’s actually a company founded by my partner, and I just end up helping out a fair bit, because I’m really passionate about it. So I don’t actually work full-time on it, but it’s something that I’m really passionate about; I love performance, and I love advocating for [unintelligible 01:09:27.10] so it really aligns with my values, so to say.
It’s very hard to convince people to make a case for it, to make a business case to even sign up for a product that’s a performance monitoring tool, which Calibre is, which we find quite astounding, so to say, because again, you should feel for your users, you should really care about them, and that’s a massive part of it.
For example in Australia the internet is fairly slow. The latency is absolutely horrifying, and you would be surprised, because Australia is a highly-developed country, one of the most livable cities in the world are [unintelligible 01:11:31.04] and Melbourne, but still we have bad internet. So you kind of take those things for granted and you don’t care about performance, but you really should be doing that.
So I guess long way around what you just said, I wish more people would care about performance, but they really don’t, and we really have to do a lot of advocating and writing articles explaining why this is important and why we should care about it. That’s not really business-oriented, but just kind of a part of trying to include everyone into the community of internet users.
[01:12:06.21] Yeah. I don’t know how I gapped that I thought you worked there full-time; I guess my looking into you in preparation for this conversation was like “That’s where she works.”
I just tweet about it a lot because I think it’s a great product, and it’s like my little pet product, so to say… After hours product. I’m really passionate about it, so I guess that’s how you can gather…
Yeah, I was like “Full-time gig, this is what you’re doing.” I was like, “Alright, it looks cool.” It’s certainly a nice site; I imagine that you’re the designer behind it, is that correct?
I did do a fair bit of design lately, but it’s really difficult to basically run a company that’s like early stages but quite high growth and trying to do so many things, because you basically end up being like the marketer, the salesperson, the front-end developer, the designer…
Oh yeah, so you’ve gotta hire the people to do things because you’re so busy doing ALL the things…
Yeah, it’s a really interesting space to be at… But yeah, long story short, I’m really passionate about web performance, I always was. I think it ties back nicely to my overall notion to be more inclusive, because I certainly believe that performance is a pillar of user experience, and user experience is one of the most important things that we should care about in our jobs. And it’s not to go to like “Oh, we need animations. That’s what user experience is” - no, it’s how fast I can use your app, it’s how much data you are using on my plan and how much I will pay for it.
Oh… Yeah, those are the rough words. You mentioned that Australia has slow internet; well, the US has slow internet when you exceed your bandwidth. That’s the caveat there. I was on vacation recently, went over the amount of data that I had accounted for me, and so they took me from 4G to 3G, and even 3G was really slow… I mean, I think that they lied; I don’t think it was 3G, I think it was like 0G, or something, because it was impossibly slow. And it helps me have empathy for what you’re talking about, because all too often are we in a bubble of fast internet - at least that’s my experience here, in the United States, Houston, Texas, where I live - but then going over that data limit and being throttled, I was like “How in the world do people use the web?” And then I’m thinking about “Okay, if I’m paying for data overage, now I’m counting…” – I wanted to know, just leaving my phone idle, is it consuming data? Because I had maybe four gigs left of the additional five I bought for way too much money to have an additional five gigs… And I was just thinking like “People really should care more about the weight and size of every pageview or every request, and everything you do. Checking e-mail, even.” It was mind-boggling, I couldn’t take it.
Yeah, I think it’s really important to step out of the bubble of fast internet, expensive devices that are high end, and high-speed internet. It’s really important to gain that perspective and user empathy. So often you see app updates for iPhone for like 300 megs for a bug fix; it’s just mind-boggling, and I think the page width in web apps and websites is one thing, and then another thing is actually the parse and compile of that code, which also takes up the device’s CPU, and on mobiles and tablets that becomes cumbersome.
[01:15:57.27] So we just fail to think about these things, but there are quite a few people in the performance world, like Addy Osmani and other Chrome developer relations people that are doing amazing work on that and trying to build tools to help you audit your apps and website and try to advocate for understanding performance better, it’s just that performance is a topic that’s still not gaining enough traction because it’s just not glamorous, and you don’t wanna hear the arguments for a business case behind it. I think that’s the reason why people are not prioritizing it enough, but I think we absolutely should.
Yeah, I don’t understand – I guess unless you step out of that bubble, only then if you’re trapped or stuck or forever in that bubble it’s hard to see the outside, and the outside being slower internet, less performant devices, and things like that. It’s really hard to even consider that it should be a concern, because you’re in a position of “Well, progress… I want the touch ID, I want the latest processor, or the newest, coolest screen that goes edge to edge”, or whatever it is that’s attracting us to that future, to that innovating thing. So we’re attracted to this constantly moving, in-the-name-of-progress scenario when there’s so many people still catching up, or using devices that cost less, so therefore they perform not quite as well as an expensive iPhone 6 or 7, or something like that, like you’d mentioned.
It’s just so hard to have that empathy, but I think it definitely takes that to change. How do we force people to get that?
I think there are two ways that you can do it. You can first start tracking performance actively and see how you’re doing, and you probably will be negatively surprised… [laughs] Which I guess is a good thing, because there are nowadays open source tools like Lighthouse or paid services like Calibre that will actually give you actionable advice that you can just sit down with your developer and implement, and it will be better… And you can see the improvements in performance metrics and probably business metrics as well. So that’s one thing that you can do.
Another angle is just educating people - keep posting business cases of performance gains that actually cause more revenue, or more conversions, or less dropout rates. And just remember about the fact that at the end, as designers and developers and project managers and so on, we are kind of in charge of people’s time, which is the most valuable asset.
[01:19:59.14] Yeah. I like what you said there, being in charge of their time; I’d never really considered that aspect of it myself. I mean, that’s the number one resource we all have, right? Someone right now is dedicating some portion of their time to listen to this conversation with us, and you’re right, you have to totally respect that and feel responsible for making sure that that time is well spent in a podcast like this. In the participation of building a service or a website or a web app or a native application, whatever it might be, you definitely have to keep that in mind… I think we’re in a world though where it’s really hard to understand “The next update for this app is 100 megs”, or “Just to download it and install it is 100 megs”, and when you’re on a limited data plan or you’re throttled, no one really – I shouldn’t say “no one”… It’s hard to make the case that “This shouldn’t be 100, it should be 50”, or “Can we make it smaller?” because it’s like what percentage of the world does this really impact? Or does it impact me? I don’t care, I move on. That, I think, is the hard sell of this kind of situation. It’s like, “If it doesn’t impact me, I don’t care.” I mean, I care personally, but that’s the mentality of whomever might be in charge of making change.
I think some of the people are just lacking the overall context of internet connectivity. They don’t look at those things because “That’s so boring”, or they have other things to do. But only 50% of people are actually connected right now. Only 50% are using the internet.
To me it’s just mind-blowing. So my question would be “What is preventing the other people from getting connected?” And then in some countries downloading a Facebook app update, which is like 200 megs or 300 megs, would be their month’s wage to buy that data on the plan in their country. These are stats that you can look up and doing some research or reading the Akamai Internet Connectivity Report, which is quite lengthy, but very fascinating. You can learn about those things, like how much data does it take to load The Verge 100 times; well, a lot, because it’s a very heavy website, and in some countries you would have to work seven hours for that, or 24 hours.
…to technically sustain that website, but you know… You get what I’m trying to say.
Yeah. I think if people maybe had more context in how connected we are currently, and how the devices work and how expensive it is to have a plan, and how much data you get per month, they maybe would be more careful about what they ship to their users.
I don’t know… When Verizon’s on TV and they say “Verizon Unlimited”, it’s like when you say something is true, kind of thing… It’s like “Well, Verizon’s unlimited” or “Sprint’s unlimited” or “AT&T’s unlimited”, or name your internet provider/internet connector ISP wherever in the world unlimited - you kind of feel like everybody else has the same access, but they don’t. And that’s the part that – I don’t wanna be the Debbie Downer, but that’s the part for me, it’s like, it’s such a hard battle to fight… But I’m glad you’re fighting it, because you seem very passionate about it, and we need people fighting for it, that’s for sure.
[01:24:04.15] Do you get that, though – because one advertiser says “Unlimited” and then that becomes the accepted norm?
Yeah, definitely… In some of the third-world countries yes, but in Australia there’s no provider with unlimited data as far as I know, and even back in Poland there isn’t one. You can get data very cheaply, but unlimited isn’t a thing.
That’s a shame, because I would say – that not being accessible isn’t the same; the shame part of that is if you live in the bubble and you don’t look outside the bubble, it’s hard to recognize that that isn’t the scenario for someone else. So if for me having Verizon unlimited is accessible, and I never look outside the bubble to see if it’s accessible to you, I can’t empathize with your position or your scenario or your circumstance. If I don’t look outside that bubble, I never get that perspective, and we need that.
Definitely. Actually, I think everything that we talked about today ties back to kind of trying to challenge yourself and question yourself, in a way… Like, “Is the thing that I’m doing actually the industry standard? Should it be the industry standard? Is this inclusive of everyone? Am I making the web a better place?” I think that should be a part of our daily job as designers and developers and builders of the web, and often times I don’t see that happening, so I wish more people were kind of challenging themselves in that way, asking those questions and advocating for not only their users who are actually maybe paying them money, but just under-represented communities.
I couldn’t have said it better myself, and that’s the perfect place to leave this conversation. Thank you so much for your time today; it was so awesome to meet you, have this conversation and dig deep into all these passions you have, and certainly open my eyes to some new scenarios. And I like the idea to challenge yourself… We’ll leave it there, so thank you very much.
Thank you for having me.
Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚