A flexible team- five things to get right

On the first of November 2012 I joined CouchCommerce to lead the frontend development. Here are five things that I highly enjoy here and that I think make my life easier and more fun.

1. Use a notebook + monitor  approach rather than a PC + monitor approach

At my previous job I used a regular PC at the office with three monitors attached. Not that they forced me to use that, I could have had any system when I started my job. But since nobody worked on a notebook, it was the obvious choice to use a PC as well. It was the fasted machine one could think of. 16 GB Ram. Core i7. Fast SSD drives. The machine was super swift and never let me down.

At my new gig here at CouchCommerce everyone used MacBooks with only one monitor attached. Since every web developer seems to work on a MacBook these days it again was the obvious choice to align with that ūüôā It’s the fastest retina MacBook you can ¬†buy. I don’t like to make compromises when it comes to speed. I take my work seriously and same goes with my tooling.

It was a bit of a hassle at first to get used to work with only two physical screens but since you can use multiple virtual screens on OSX ¬†I quickly got used to it. I don’t want to go into too much detail about how the switch to OSX went. There are plenty of other good posts on that topic.

The point is: using a notebook/MacBook + monitor is so much more convenient than using a stationary computer + monitor. Previously I used to work on three different machines:

– my office PC
– my PC at my home office
– my notebook

Multiple systems lead to multiple problems:

– I had to maintain three different machines with tooling, updates etc
– I often forgot to push code so when I worked from home I had to ask a team mate at the office to boot my computer. Or even worse I forgot to push code after a day of doing home office so I was lacking the code when I returned to the office

I really enjoy having only one system. I’m sometimes in the middle of a coding session when I decide to close the lid and go home. At home I can directly continue with my work. I also have the latest stuff with me. May it be on the train, at a conference or at the office. I also only reboot once every couple of months or so. That makes my life so much easier.

2. Be flexible.

That goes hand in hand with the previous issue. In my six month at CouchCommerce I already had four different work places. The team went from 4 people to 10 people within that time. We rearrange desks, switch offices just as it fits our needs. That also relates to everyone working on a MacBook. The setup is just super lightweight. We also regularly try out new software that has the potential to make our life easier.

3. Use dropbox and google docs for file Management.

I remember file management often was an issue at my previous job. We used to put documents on a central file server. Files went quickly out of date and manually versioning with multiple dated file names didn’t make it any easier.

I highly enjoy working with team mates together on one google doc. Everything stays in sync. Automatic version control makes sure nobody has to lose their sanity.

4. Use a company social network like yammer.

Well yammer, has it’s own dark corners. It’s not all milk and honey. However, we also tested several other company social networks and didn’t come across any better one so far. In general it really helps to get everyone up to date dramatically. It’s an important cornerstone of our communication. We always know about who is where. We share code improvements, interesting articles, fun stuff, being off, doing home office.

5. Speak english. Prepare to go international.

One thing that always bothered me at my previous employer was that we used too much German. Code comments where made in German. Some variable or methods where named in German. Technical documents where written entirely in German. That makes it much harder to scale the team.

Here at CouchCommerce three of my team mates don’t speak German as their mother language. We use ca. 95 % English when communicating through yammer and ¬†at least 60% English when talking directly to each other at the office. Our product was designed English-first, German-second. All our technical documents, the entire code base everything is entirely written in English. We can easily scale our team and employ people from all around the world.
Those things might or might not work for your. Works for us.