May 12, 2009

Bulk view

Smiling over a distance

I spent another hour this morning coaching Milind, a developer in India who’s starting on the Drupal project I worked on a year ago. I helped him set up Eclipse, the PHP Development Toolkit, and Subclipse, and import the project into his workspace. <laugh> What do you know – a month and a half after I started my experiments with delegating to virtual assistants, I’m learning how to delegate to and coach someone at work!

I learned two interesting things from our session today:

I’m really lucky to be working with other people who are good at asking for what they need. Milind not only asked me to provide more details in my bug reports, he also explained how that helps him build confidence while learning the new system. I understood his request right away and I was happy to add step-by-step guides. (Hey, all that practice in documenting processes for my virtual assistants is paying off!). He probably has way more experience working in a globally-distributed team than I do, and I’m glad I can learn from him!

I enjoy making sure that a smile carries through in my voice. Technological challenges and timezone differences make remote collaboration tough enough, so I’m always looking for ways to make it a little bit better. For example, today’s call was scheduled a little after Milind’s typical office hours and a little before mine. We might not be at peak energy time–he might be tired, I might be sleepy–but I think it’s important to make sure that the conversation has a lot of positive energy.

Imagine if it didn’t! Imagine if we went through all of that with sleepy or impatient or frustrated or tired voices. I think that would’ve wasted a lot of time and energy, and we would’ve gotten very little done. Now imagine what an awesome remote coaching session might be like: full of time-saving tips, acknowledgement, and feedback.

There are plenty of reasons to be happy–he’s making the effort to meet after his own office hours, he’s picking up the concepts quickly, and he’s indirectly teaching me how to be a better communicator. If I can make the call a little more pleasant, a little more effective, then that’s terrific! I think the ideal kind of call that would leave him happy with his day and looking forward to the next one, and leave me happy about his work and looking forward to my own day ahead.

Then there are all the other bits of work I can do to support project progress, happiness, and growth. If I spend some time adding more details to bug reports, not only would Milind be able to work more effectively on them to solve the problems in less time, but he’ll also improve his skills, grow a little more in knowledge and confidence, and feel happier about his accomplishments. That’ll make both of us feel good, and it’ll all make the project better.

I don’t know if other people think about this, but it’s interesting to think about how these tiny human interactions affect the way we work, and I look forward to learning even more. =)

A love affair with books


W- and I got to know each other over lots of carpool conversations. One time, he gave me a lift downtown. I asked him to drop me off at the Lillian Smith library, which was just a few blocks from my dorm. I had just discovered that I could order books online and have them delivered to a branch close to me, and I was looking forward to a quiet evening with a pile of books.

I hadn’t expected forty-two books to arrive all at once.

I called W- on his cellphone and explained the situation. He drove back, loaded the books into his car, and helped me take the books to my place.

I wonder what he must thought when he saw me with those two large piles of books and big puppy-dog eyes.



After we cleared the dinner settings, W- sat down with Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age. He was nearly done with it, and had been amused by Stephenson’s occasional geek references (pirates and ninjas! Lisp!). I started reading You’ve Got to Be Believed to Be Heard. When I finished before he did, he said, “Sometimes, you scare me.” I made slurping sounds, and he laughed. We joke about this–I practically inhale books. Most nonfiction books are easy to skim. On the other hand, fiction and really well-written non-fiction are meant to be savoured.



“I have some more books for you,” W- said as he walked in the door. He had dropped by the library at his workplace and picked up a few books: one book on women and success, and another book on design.

He often brings home books he knows I’ll like. Two weeks ago, he brought home books about leadership, management, and workplace engagement. Before that, he brought home books on productivity, life, and comics.

He reads them as well. He likes how I bring a constant stream of books into his life, and often enjoys reading my finds.



We went to the library today. W- and I were browsing through the section for graphic novels. Flight Vol. 4 (Kazu Kibuishi) caught my eye. I picked it up and browsed through it, then tucked it into my to-read pile. When I looked up, I noticed that W- already had the next volume in his. That made me smile.



“There seem to be about fifty new books in my account,” W- said over lunch.

I’d borrowed a great idea from a friend and had someone go through my long list of things to read, requesting them from the library if available. My assistant must have put the requests on W-‘s library card instead of mine.

He laughed and corrected himself. “Okay, seventeen outstanding holds.” He read a few titles and smiled. He knows who I am, what I read, and why I read what I read.


I often tell people that my two main reasons for putting up with Toronto’s winters are W- and the Toronto Public Library. In some countries like my homeland, books are hard to get. I want to change that. Someday.