For experts, I went to folks inside and outside Red Hat. At Red Hat, I talked to Fabrice Flore-Thebault and Yana Hontyk. Last year, they presented on using Vale with their documentation sets: Eclipse Che and CodeReady Workspaces. I talked to them about their workflow, the issues they had fixed, and results.
Outside Red Hat, I pulled together an unconference session at Write the Docs Portland conference with Mike Jang from GitLab and Jodie Putrino at NGINX. They spoke about their differing approaches to rolling it out at their organizations. Lynette Miles at TAG1 Consulting also contributed.
I talked with my manager, who was supportive.
I arranged a meeting for Yana and Fabrice to present their work to a small group of writers, content strategists, and managers who had expressed an interest in rolling out Vale. The group expressed a lot of interest, and we agreed there should be some follow-up actions, like additional pilot programs.
As an aside, Fabrice and Yana’s presentation included the following impressive graph. It shows how they iterated on both the documentation and Vale style rules to achieve nearly zero errors, both real errors and false positives, over the course of almost two years:
My email inbox was a bottomless pile of messages seen and considered but not resolved. Having so many small choices increased my stress and reduced my ability to get things done.
Then, about a month or so ago, I heard “inbox zero” mentioned. I intuitively grasped the concept and set about finding a better way to process my email that reduces my effort, stress, and mess. It’s most obvious feature is that you have zero emails in you inbox.
Now (Feb 20th) I’ve been doing this for over a month and have gotten faster and better at it. Here’s my updated system, which I call zero inbox.
Recently, I wrote about zero inbox, my hack for getting rid of email stress and mess. I also mentioned that it depends on having a to-do list that can link back to your email messages.
A few years ago, I started using the free version of Todoist, an elegant and dependable app developed by a Germany-based software company. I was so pleased that I upgraded a year or so ago to their Premium version for $3/mo, billed annually.
Getting the most out of my to-do list requires a little skill and effort. Here’s how I add tasks to todoist:
Using the todoist extension in Chrome, I create an item for (almost) every task I encounter. The extension makes it easy to link to an email message or browser tab that’s open.
I avoid creating duplicate to-do items for tech docs deliverables I’m already tracking in an enterprise tool, like Jira or Bugzilla. Duplicates double or triple the amount of maintenance work I have to do.
For tasks I’m already tracking in enterprise tools, I create an umbrella task like “Work on the top priority item in Jira.”
Because this work is my highest priority, I type “p1” as a keyword in the item’s description: Todoist highlights the task with a red checkbox and moves it to the top of my to-do list.
I also mention the “every weekday” keyword, so Todoist makes this item a recurring task.
Finally, I click “Add website as task” so Todoist includes a link to Jira in the to-do item. This helps me reduce the number of open tabs in my browser, so I’m more productive.
Remote work and the current health crisis has made Silicon Valley obsolete. Companies and workers are moving away in droves. Will they find a new place like Silicon Valley?
Yes and No. The end of the health crisis will enable a resumption of office work. However, having invested in and adopted remote work, organizations that embrace a hybrid remote+office business model will be more successful. New “Silicon Valleys” are forming at the optimal balance points of virtual and geographic communities.
Note: This personal essay/post is definitely a work in progress (WIP). I am sharing this early version to get feedback and will continue making updates over time. Please feel free to comment and contribute your thoughts.
The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.
Great article. But I can’t get over the irony that so many of the interviewees are trying to recreate a Silicon Valley in Austin, Miami, Tallinn, or Topeka. Don’t you get it, with remote work, you will never find another place like Silicon Valley.
Wherever you point, there you are
In the Times’ article, John Gardner, founder and CEO of Kickoff, complains about the Bay Area:
But right now it’s just like: What else can God and the world and government come up with to make the [Bay Area] less livable?
This was probably just one phrase out of a longer conversation with the journalist, Nellie Bowles, butit’s ironic that he points a blaming finger outward.
Entrepreneurs and tech workers like John and I absolutely flocked to the Bay Area to cash in on amind-boggling inflow of venture capital, ballooning salaries, skyrocketing real-estate prices, and the occasional unicorn startup. We were the primary drivers of the nosebleed rents, million dollar bungalows, and soul-crushing commutes.
However, that stampede had a silver lining: We created the problems and started solving the problems we had created: We created the technology and culture that enabled remote work. By 2020, these innovations had become a metaphorical salt dome beneath theparadigm of work based on physical proximity.
As the corporations go…
Communications technologies transformed how and where businesses could operate.
New technologies appear decades before they and replace old ones and change paradigms.
In the 1860‘s, transatlantic and transcontinental telegraph enabled organizations in urban centers, like large banks, to open branches in other major cities.
By the 1970‘s, multinational organizations were using telephone, teletype, and jet courier services to communicate with and operate far-flung branches in cities, towns, and hamlets around the world.
Finally, the late 1980‘s saw an exodus of large corporations moving their headquarters out of high-priced central business districts. For example, following similar moves by Texaco, Mobil and J.C. Penney, Exxon closed its headquarters in The Rockefeller Center on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, and relocated it to Dallas Texas.
the Dallas area offered the best combination of factors from the standpoint of our employees’ personal and professional lives and from an overall business standpoint.
Why North Texas? Because this move brought Exxon back to the heartland of America’s oil/energy industry: Oklahoma, Texas, and the Gulf Coast. Many of its employees were from these regions. Some of them found living in New York expensive and hard on their families. By returning, Exxon saved a bundle on real-estate and relocation expenses, and gained better access to a labor pool that had industry experience.
…so go the individuals
Similarly, the communications and computing revolutions had a transformative effect on individuals.
In the mid-to-late 1990’s, the first dot-com boom made Bay Area real estate prices explode. Many tech and office workers had moved to more affordable areas an hour or more from the offices where they worked. And they spent hours commuting daily back into those urban centers, where they worked at a computer. Many of us had a flashbulb moment: While installing 56k dial-up modems in our home computers or stuck in traffic during an expensive 2 hour bus ride to San Francisco we asked, “can I just work from my computer at home? And the answer was…“No. Not yet.”
Between 2000 to 2020, many elements came together to enable remote work:
Tech companies, faced with a skilled work shortage and competitive labor market, started offering remote work to attract, recruit, and retain tech workers.
Tech-savvy managers replaced traditional ones.
Software evolved to support remote work and was widely adopted.
High-speed always-on internet became the norm for many households.
Outsourcing to India other locales normalized distributed teams.
The cost of office space made scaling expensive.
But that wasn’t enough.
The salt dome collapses…
The current pandemic is the forcing function that has normalized remote work. Now many organizations have implemented remote work across the board. Employees have embraced it.
It would be an exaggeration to say “There’s no going back. The toothpaste is out of the tube. The worms are out of the can. (Who has ever opened a real can of worms?!) Most organizations still own the physical office space they had before the crisis. When we find a way to do it safely, if the vaccines are successful, we will be able to resume working in our offices.
I’m not an economist, but I’d guess that:
During economic growth cycles, it will be faster and cheaper hire remote workers and maybe close some offices.
During recessionary cycles, it will be faster and cheaper to close some office spaces and hire or retain remote workers.
So, what next?
There’s no need to live and work in Silicon Valley.
People and businesses are moving to more affordable locations.
And then what?
A fundamental change hiring patterns.
Downward pressure on salaries and wages, as companies gain access to a much larger talent pool.
A new “Lagrange point” where the costs and benefits of living in any particular locale balance out against the new semi-local and remote labor market.
These costs and benefits will include housing, quality of life, taxes, access to health care, the quality and speed of internet connections, business and personal taxes, and possible regional specializations based on legacy industries.
It is more important than ever to participate in virtual professional communities, hone your skills, and become indispensable and for your unique blend of skills.
As a technical writer, I’m accustomed to telling users what to do using imperative phrases such as “do this or do that.” More recently, in my tech docs, I’ve adopted the practice of directly addressing the user by saying “you.” Many organizations have embraced this practice because it improves comprehension and establishes a warmer relationship with the user you, the reader.
In this personal blog, telling you what to do feels arrogant and high-handed. Instead, I want to move things further along that continuum of trust and familiarity. You know what’s best for you. If you find something meaningful in what I share, you’ll find a way to use it. If I still use imperative phrases, I do it out of habit and because that is how I tell myself to do things.
When I’m talking to you, I’ll say “you.” Nothing I say here is written in stone. I adapt and improve the ideas I discuss here to fit different needs and circumstances. It would be best if you did the same.