Colm Doyle A Developer Relations professional in Dublin, Ireland.

Amazon pushing RTO

Gergely Orosz, writing for the Pragmatic Engineer newsletter:

Thanks to verbal assurances, several employees I talked with said that they thought their work location in the contract is not relevant. Well, with this change, people will need to report at their official workplace 3 times per week, starting May, which is not what many of them signed up for.

If there’s one thing to be taken away from this Amazon RTO situation from a individual perspective, it’s that when you’re signing a new employment contract, you need to assume the company will enforce every single clause in it. If the company didn’t want to enforce something, they wouldn’t have put it in the contract in the first place. If you doubt that, just ask them to insert some clause that you think is ridiculous but that you swear you’ll never enforce, and see what they say.

I recall a situation when Salesforce acquired Slack, and we were all being told to sign new contracts to make us Salesforce employees. There was a clause which stipulated that if the company decided to close operations for the Christmas / Holiday period, you wouldn’t be required to work, but said shutdown would be deducted from your time off allowance. I was of the position that it was up to me when to choose my time off, so I asked for it to be struck from the contract. Salesforce HR insisted that there was no way the clause would ever be enforced, but not a single one of them could give me a reason why it was in the contract in the first place. I dug my heels in, and eventually they agreed to remove it.

It was a minor thing, and I didn’t actually imagine them ever enforcing it, but as the Amazon situation shows, you can’t assume things like that.

Yearn for balance

There’s a leadership quote that usually goes something like this -

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men and women to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

In the early stages of my career, I had what would kindly be described as a poor work-life balance. My employer at the time, Facebook, had me constantly yearning for the vast and endless sea.

It was an all-consuming place. We had shy of 400 million users when I joined and well over a billion when I left. It was easily one of the most popular software products on the planet, and as someone in tech, it was incredible to be part of that. We were working on things at a scale that few people ever would and it was honestly quite the high, so it was exciting to work on things no matter the hour or the day. Great for Facebook the company, but was it great for the individuals who made up that company?

Blurring lines between work and pleasure

My Facebook feed itself was a mix of social updates and work updates. Whereas most people used their Facebook accounts to connect with friends or play games, Facebook staff also used it to run the company. In the product, there was no distinction between Colm the person and Colm the employee. My account was my single sign-on for everything work related.

We had access to a special privacy setting that allowed us to publish content that was only visible to other employees, creating a kind of “alt-Facebook” where the engagement tools we worked on were driving us to focus on work1. And since it was a global company with employees around the world, no matter what time of the day I opened the app, my feed had work-related updates in it. “Eoghan has merged code” and “Ciara has created a task” intermingled with updates about FarmVille and photos of nights out.

A screenshot of a Facebook post about activity in Phabricator, Facebook's home grown code review tool

Work information was ever present and it made it hard to disconnect. So much so that at one Hackathon, someone built a toggle that you could only access from the company network called “beach mode”, which would temporarily revoke your access to internal information. Think about the implication of that - we were so addicted to our work that we had to make it difficult for ourselves to access company data whilst on holiday.

Enjoy your work, but don’t let your job define you

I remember once, when I worked on a team that helped enforce some of our platform policies, I walked into a local shop to grab milk or something. In the window of this small grocery store was a poster advertising some innocent enough competition they were running on Facebook.

I read the details, noticed a handful of ways it violated some policy, and noted in my head that when I got home I should log it.

Like, this was a mom-and-pop store running some insignificant competition that was harming no one, and FB was such a core part of my identity that I felt that I needed to drop the hammer on them, in my off hours, without any public user report. That’s not any definition of boundaries.

To be clear - it’s fine to be excited about your work. It’s fine to be good friends with your colleagues. You should be, that’s healthy. But it’s important to separate who you are from where you work. The last few months have taught us that companies will spend years making you feel important and part of “the mission”, up to the point where you’re not. And they won’t feel any remorse about reminding you what you are to them. You’re not “Ohana” or “Googlers” or “Facebookers” - when push comes to shove, you’ll just be a number on a spreadsheet.

So yearn for the sea by all means, but make sure you’re ok with the possibility of being cast adrift when you get out there.

Be thoughtful about what you yearn for

It’s been almost nine years since I left Facebook, and I like to think that I’ve gotten better at work-life balance these days. I don’t for a moment regret my experience there, and I made many lifelong friends. In some ways, those years shaped how I view building products and the tech sector in general. It was truly a once-in-a-generation place to work. But I’ve given up chasing that high.

Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy my work anymore. I do. Every job I’ve had since Facebook has been fulfilling in one way or another. In my current role at Intercom, I get to have an amazing mix of interesting and business-critical problems, fantastic co-workers, and a fun place to work.

But it’s just that, it’s work. I no longer yearn for that sea like I once did. The seas I yearn for now are things like family time, time to read, or time to play tennis. And I think that’s for the best. Life is short and that means you should find a balance of interests, both personal and professional. For my part, I’m content working hard at building ships during the day and then disconnecting to spend time on other things in the evening. I hope you can find that balance too.

  1. This idea of using the finely tuned engagement tool that was Facebook to encourage productivity at work would eventually be turned into a commercial product - Workplace by Facebook 

In conversation with Richard Rodger

A few weeks back I spoke to Richard Rodger from Voxgig about my time in DevRel, some thoughts on leadership and building a platform.

Hope you enjoy it!

Why is remote work seen as a gift?

It’s hardly insightful to suggest that the last few years have substantially changed the day to day experience of a knowledge worker. Nearly overnight even the most remote skeptical leadership teams were forced to embrace flexible work practices like working from home.

But now, despite COVID-19 being a ongoing health risk for many, a non trivial number of companies are pushing employees back into the office. Almost no tech company has gone as far as mandating five days a week in the office, but many are mandating some number of days where employees must be in the office. They suggest, with little objective evidence, that “in-person collaboration is essential”. Never mind that there is ample evidence, including our own lived experiences, to suggest that remote work is not only possible, but can be more productive and more inclusive.

Remote isn’t perfect, but it is table stakes

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that remote work, or even hybrid works for everyone. Personally, I live near Intercom HQ and actually enjoy going into the office. I love jumping into a meeting room and whiteboarding an idea with a teammate. But crucially, how much time I spend in the office is my choice.

But there seems to be this returning perspective in the tech industry that remote work isn’t a fairly standard work practice, but is instead something that is a gift to employees. A privilege to be earned. A perk to bestow upon the most deserving.

A new normal to be embraced

Unless I missed a trick, the tech industry didn’t disintegrate over the last few years with everything grinding to a halt. Software still got shipped, deals still got closed, customers still got supported.

Was it an adjustment? For sure. Did we adapt? Absolutely. Arguably, we thrived. Companies suddenly had access to a talent pool that was always there, but they were ignorant of. No longer did they have to limit themselves to people who lived near the office, or have to offer hefty relocation packages. Real estate expenses fell through the floor.

Looking at benefits like that, it boggles my mind that companies are pushing back on remote work, or otherwise gatekeeping it behind requirements like the whims of a manager, the results of your last performance review, or a predetermined number of days in the office.

Just consider how ludicrous something like requiring an employee to have had their last two performance reviews meet some criteria. On paper, you could see the logic. They’re underperforming and might need extra attention to get them up to the bar. But if you scratch the surface, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Imagine if their manager works remotely, what difference will it make to their performance if they’re going into an office that their manager isn’t even in?

Embrace the flexibility, leave the past behind

There was a time when every tech employee had a desktop computer. We could only do work when physically sat at our desks. But as laptops became more powerful and more affordable, it became a defacto standard, and people were suddenly unshackled from their desks. We could work from anywhere in the office. And people did. Office layouts adjusted to include breakout areas, little nooks and crannies where people could work. The idea of only having a desktop computer now seems quaint at best, and a bit of a warning flag at worst.

All we need to do now is for people who are stuck with a “office first” mindset to carry that logic to its natural conclusion - It doesn’t matter where you work, as long as you get the work done.

Tech's elite hate labor

Ed Z writing over on their substack

Yes, the tech industry’s loudest guys have all been demanding a “great reset,” where efficiency reigns, where the entitled are not invested in, or are fired, or, let’s be honest, are “put in their place” because the overwhelming sense from these craven ghouls is that they believe that workers got given way too much and were treated too well.

Ooof, Ed definitely doesn’t pull any punches here, but they’re definitely hitting close to the mark. Some organisations may well be cutting only as deep as they need to survive, but for the vast majority of cases, I have to agree, it’s basically just a power play.