How do I require specific text in a git commit message?

You have your own git server (either on-premise gitlab or something else), and you want to require your developers to have certain text in their git commit messages, like the work item number it falls under, or the ticket number.

To solve this, you need to create a git hook, which is just a file that goes into your gitlab server. The file goes into your /data/opt/gitlab/git-data/repositories/my_project.git/custom_hooks directory. You may need to use sudo -i to cd to this directory.

The hook you’ll create is called a pre-receive hook, and it is specifically meant to check all commits before adding them to the remote repository.

pre-receive hook that requires certain text to be in the commit message is below:

#!/bin/python
import sys
import re
import subprocess


#Format: "oldref newref branch"
line = sys.stdin.read()
(base, commit, ref) = line.strip().split()
new_branch_push = re.match(r'[^1-9]+', base)
branch_deleted = re.match(r'[^1-9]+', commit)
contains_commit_msg = False
if not new_branch_push:
    revs = base + "..." + commit
    proc = subprocess.Popen(['git', 'rev-list','--oneline','--first-parent', revs], stdout=subprocess.PIPE)
    lines = proc.stdout.readlines()
    if lines:
        for line in lines:
            rev = str(line)
            match = re.search(r'TICKET-[0-9]{2,5}|#NEX-[0-9]{2,5}|HOTFIX|FORCE', rev)
            if match is not None:
                contains_commit_msg = True
if contains_commit_msg or new_branch_push or branch_deleted:
    exit(0)
else:
    print "Commit does not contain the story associated with the commit in the format: TICKET-123 or #TICKET-123"
    exit(1)

The code is in python.

The pre-receivehook will receive a list of commit hashes in the form of:

ab3c291835832c309 b2fed56890cab348 new-branch

where the first hash is the old commit, the second is the new commit, and the branch name is the third.  This also means you can use this hook to ensure branch names meet a certain criteria.

Deleted branches will have zeros for the second commit, and new branches will have all zeros for the first commit. and those would cause errors (since new branches really don’t have a commit message; and deleted branches don’t have one either); and this code handles that.

If you want specific text to be in the ticket, this line handles that:

match = re.search(r'TICKET-[0-9]{2,5}|#TICKET-[0-9]{2,5}|HOTFIX|FORCE', rev)

Just change the text in r''to your own python regular expression. You can test your python regular expression at pythex.org.

This regular expression says that the ticket must have the word “Ticket”, followed by a dash, followed by a 2-5 digit number, or it must have a pound sign in front of “Ticket” followed by a dash, followed by a 2-5 digit number, or it must have the word HOTFIXin all caps, or it must have the word FORCE in all caps.

Once you have your pre-receive hook in the right directory, you must do three things:

  1. Change the owner to the gituser (the user account that will run this command):

chown git:git pre-receive

  1. Make the command executable.

chmod +x pre-receive

  1. Change the owner of the custom_hooksdirectory to git.

chown git:git pre-receive /data/opt/gitlab/gitdata/repositories/my_project.git/custom_hooks

I keep an up-to-date version of this pre-receive hook on my github page.

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Nulls Are Not The Problem

I recently saw this promoted tweet:

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-10-31-28-am

Of course, this isn’t the first time Null has been brought up as a source of woe for programmers. There’s a wiki on why Null is Considered Harmful, and the most recognizable argument against null is from its inventor:

I call it my billion-dollar mistake. It was the invention of the null reference in 1965. At that time, I was designing the first comprehensive type system for references in an object oriented language (ALGOL W). My goal was to ensure that all use of references should be absolutely safe, with checking performed automatically by the compiler. But I couldn’t resist the temptation to put in a null reference, simply because it was so easy to implement. This has led to innumerable errors, vulnerabilities, and system crashes, which have probably caused a billion dollars of pain and damage in the last forty years. — Tony Hoare, 2009

Since ‘null’ is clearly the source of our problems (it’s right there in the name “NullReferenceException”), then we should get rid of Nulls. Problem Solved!

Or, as H.L. Mencken once said:

Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.

Absolutist positions in programming immediately make me question the source. The absolute ‘badness’ of NULL is a sacred cow that needs to be slaughtered for the good of our industry.

Null, in its simplest form, is the absence of a value.  In the same way Evil is the absence of Good, or a donut hole is the absence of a donut, null is the absence of a value.

That absence, however, has meaning.  And this is where we as programmers falter.  We give that meaning several distinct meanings that depend on context. We make decisions based on that meaning without clearly communicating our intent, and we forget to check whether there is an absence of a value.  How many times have you heard a programmer say “There’s no possible way that method could fail!” only to have it fail in production? I’ve personally lost count.

If we banished null to the “never use” bin of object oriented programming because we use it incorrectly, then there are a whole lot of things we need to get rid of with that reasoning.

The second issue with banning null is that the absence of a value has meaning contextually.  In a purely closed system it’s not an issue, but any system that interfaces with the outside world (meaning any program other than yours) is going to have times where it doesn’t work, or times where (for whatever reason), it doesn’t return the data you need.

If we tell programmers to write code to handle failure, why wouldn’t we tell programmers to check for data failure as well? That’s what the basis of Object Oriented Protocol is, after all (check the name, “Object Oriented Programming”): it’s data and behavior mixed together in one cohesive unit.

So, if you write code that will never interface with anything else, feel free to ignore anything I’ve said. After all, you can program against that uncertainty.  But for the rest of us, Null is an important part of our toolkit.

In three different systems I’ve built, I had good reason to use Null:

  • Sometimes I don’t get data back from the source.  Not getting this data back means I shouldn’t reason about it negatively; but its absence is a decision point for other paths in my program
  • Parsing text is a common failure;  should I always and forever represent that as something other than what it is? Is the failure to create an object from a parse an actual object itself?  It’s the absence of an object. After all, I failed to create it!
  • They haven’t set a date for an action.  Should I treat that as a value?  Or the absence of a value?

In each case; I used null (wrapped in a method to adequately describe what null means). According to the Null detractors, I should have returned a constant, or thrown an exception, or something.

Sadly, none of the ways to get around null fix the problem, they only paper over the issue. Let’s take his first example, returning a constant instead of a null, using the null object pattern:

public Employee getByName(String name) {
  int id = database.find(name);
  if (id == 0) {
    return Employee.NOBODY;
  }
  return Employee(id);
}

If we don’t find an employee, it’s purely semantical to return a constant Employee.NOBODY, and even worse is that it’s potentially harmful downstream. If our payment processing software (as a purely contrived example) gets an employee object back, but doesn’t check that that ‘nobody’ isn’t an actual employee, then they’ll go ahead and use the default values for the properties in their calculations.  A salary of $0 really skews reports.

“But, they’ll check against Employee.Nobody”, you say.  That’s the same as checking against Null.  The only difference is one will throw a runtime exception and the other one won’t — they both still have logical errors if you insist on filling it with default values (and not null).

The second argument against null is to use exceptions as flow control:

public Employee getByName(String name) {
  int id = database.find(name);
  if (id == 0) {
    throw new EmployeeNotFoundException(name);
  }
  return Employee(id);
}

Except, of course, Exceptions should be used for handling Exceptional things (it’s in the name), and not for common problems.Not finding an employee (for instance, in the context of searching) should not be considered exceptional.  If anything, it’s normal. People mistype names all the time. Humans make mistakes.

It’s even another ‘best practice’ to not use Exceptions as Flow Control. While I happen to agree with that practice, I put best practice in scare quotes believe all best practices are conditional on context. I haven’t yet encountered an occasion where exceptions as flow control is good; but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one, and I won’t tell someone “don’t do that” unless I’m looking at the code with them when I’m saying it, and I’m saying it for that particular circumstance.

Matt Sherman, a development manager at Stack Overflow (and someone I greatly respect) has said this about Nulls:

I submit that we can avoid a large majority of null-related errors if we follow these two principles:

  • Passing a null is a programming error
  • Branching on null is a programming error

I think most of our problems trace back to imbuing null with meaning, i.e., we use it as a signal.

I submit that null is the absence of meaning. It is not a de facto Boolean describing existence. Rather, it should be treated non-deterministically.

This implies that most functions should not “handle” null. Because null is the absence of meaning, we can not use it to make a decision.

These are great ideas, but they only work for a closed system, which is a system where you control all inputs and outputs, and aren’t dependent upon any external systems or processes that might fail for unknowable reasons.

Passing a null in a system is contextual (and maybe it shouldn’t be): If an external system passed me null; I may have to make a decision about that; I can’t simply say, “It doesn’t exist”, because it may exist (I argue that if you want a certainty for truthiness, then you need true or false; but if there is a degree of uncertainty, null is useful for conveying that).

For instance, if I get passed null for an Employee (to go back to our previous reason, because another system couldn’t find an employee), then I have to make a decision based on that, so I have to branch on null.

My point is that we can’t wish away null or just chide programmers for using it. It’s here, and it has meaning.  What I believe we should do is to reduce the amount of meanings it has; and that doesn’t mean not using it or programming it away completely; but it does mean reducing uses of null to mean “I don’t know, and don’t make any assumptions on why I don’t know“.

You should read all of Matt’s post. He brings up some great common sense approaches for reducing null and where it could be a code smell:

A common idiom in C# is to use optional parameters, with null as the default value:

void Foo(int id, Bar bar = null, Baz baz = null)

When I see a method signature like this, I have $5 that says the method’s implementation branches on those parameters. Which means that parameters are no longer just values, but are control flow. Bad semantics.

Instead, consider creating several methods with good names, and which accept and require only the parameters they use – no more optionals. “Branching” is done via method resolution, about which we can more easily reason.

Also, you should follow Matt on Twitter; he’s pretty awesome.

But, back to slaying sacred cows. Another sacred cow for Yegor are that static methods are bad:

A dry summary of [the above listed arguments] is that utility classes are not proper objects; therefore, they don’t fit into object-oriented world. They were inherited from procedural programming, mostly because we were used to a functional decomposition paradigm back then.

And much like the arguments against null, none of this is prefaced with context. So if you say  statics are bad in OOP, you should then say why they’re good:

[Stack Overflow] goes to great lengths to reduce garbage collection costs, skipping practices like TDD, avoiding layers of abstraction, and using static methods. While extreme, the result is highly performing code. When you’re doing hundreds of millions of objects in a short window, you can actually measure pauses in the app domain while GC runs. These have a pretty decent impact on request performance.

Null, much like static; has its place.  We should not minimize its importance, rather we should write our software to handle it. For developers this means:

  • Don’t shy away from using null/returning null if it fits your business case.
  • Do ensure you’re documenting (preferably through great naming) what null means in the context.
  • Don’t abstract null away to a ‘default’ reference type if your system has consumers; they may treat a default value differently from not knowing the value; and that’s a source of bugs.
  • In your own closed systems, reduce the amount of knowledge someone needs to interact with your code. You can architect out chaos in a truly closed system and it’s worth the extra time to do that.  This may mean throwing exceptions or having a default type. This works because you control the inputs and outputs. It works because you’re in a closed system.
  • In a system where you communicate with the outside world (read: anyone other than your own program), you will encounter failure. You will encounter the absence of data. Prepare for it.
  • If you have downstream clients, then don’t pass them null for multiple reasons (if you choose to use null); and if you can possible pass something that conveys more information, do so.  If null means “I don’t know” in your system, then it should mean that everywhere.

Programming is a means of representing and automating life interactions with computers, and life is not nearly as well ordered as programmers want it to be.  To make better software, we should prepare ourselves and our code for external forces, not chastise them for existing.

 

JavaScript, We’ve Got to Talk.

I’ve been working at Jewelbots for the past year and a half, and my work has revolved around three main areas, our mobile companion app for the Jewelbot, the firmware for the Jewelbot, and the backend systems that span the two.

For the mobile app, I chose Ionic.  There were multiple reasons behind this, not the least of which is that it’s far cheaper and easier to develop one app in JavaScript than it is two develop two native applications, and I have never developed either a native iOS application or an Android application.

So Ionic it was.  I built out the underpinnings of the app, turned it over to our resident amazing designer (seriously, Vico is top notch), and began to work on the firmware.

And that was it, until I decided to come back to the app after 8 months of not touching it.  I tried to run the app:

grunt serve

and immediately saw:

Error: cannot find module 'osenv'

great. So after a quick Googling revealed my nodeJS environment was screwed up (remember: I haven’t touched anything since January, except to install minor updates to Mac OSX (Yosemite), I decided to uninstall node and reinstall it using Homebrew using:

brew install node4-lts

I didn’t use node 5 because at the time we were avoiding it due to breaking changes with Node5 and Ionic.

So I decided to do what any software developer would do. Ininstall and reinstall. During the uninstall/reinstall a different way cycle, I also fell prey to this npm bug, that added a few hours onto my work.

So after Node was deleted and installed again (this time from their website, not homebrew), I cd’d into my mobile app folder and ran:

npm install

Since we’re using npm-shrinkwrap, I fully expected everything to work. After all, it’s a fresh installation of node, a fresh installation of npm, and everything is shrinkwrapped and tied to specific versions. Right?

Wrong.

If you were around for the great left-pad debacle, you’re probably aware that before March of 2016, npm had no process of dealing with modules that were unpublished. They were just gone, and you were in trouble if you depended on them.  This was one of those cases, specifically with a module named “i”:

NOTE: 0.3.2 was accidentally unpublished from the server and npm doesn’t allow me to publish it back. Please upgrade to 0.3.3 (source)

Now even after dumping the dependency tree using npm ls (both global and local), I couldn’t find where i was being used, so I started a bisect approach, where I’d remove half the npm modules from the package.json and see if that caused it to work or fail.

After a little searching, I found out it is a dependency of a few things I used, but the one that turned out to be relevant was Ionic 1.3.
But I wasn’t using Ionic 1.3, I had Ionic 1.7.16 installed.  I verified that with

ionic -v

So what was going on?

It turns out, the answer was in my tooling.  I had installed the ionic-generator for yo, and the generator’s Gruntfile.js expected both ionic and cordova (and a few other packages) to be available in the local package folder. I could see this by opening up the Gruntfile and trying to see where it was looking for packages:

var cmd = path.resolve('./node_modules/cordova/bin', exec);

and

var script = path.resolve('./node_modules/ionic/bin/', 'ionic');

Of course, I had installed ionic locally to rid myself of this error (I didn’t understand the generator’s tooling at the time, and just wanted to get running), and later on as they diverged, it caused this issue for me.

So how do you fix it?

Well, I first thought that I should just tell grunt to look at the global locations for cordova and ionic, since their documentation states they should be installed globally.  Turns out that’s not easy to do in a platform-independent way.  I assume (coming from Python) that there are virtualenvs that make this whole process easier; but I can’t get a straight answer which one should be used or why.

After a little while of Googling, I found two ways to fix the issue. The first:

npm link <package>

causes npm to reference the global package as if it’s installed locally. It’s a symlink from the local install location to the global install location.

The second is to use resolve-up. It provides a way to use globs to search global install paths for a package.

This was all my fault. I did the following things wrong:

  • I didn’t understand the generator tooling enough to realize installing the same package globally and locally would cause an issue later on.
  • I didn’t realize that for node, a user running a command and a script running a command are executed in different contexts (even though I should have, right?) I may have the global ionic-cli when I type ionic, but my Gruntfile doesn’t; it doesn’t get the benefit of my PATH (why doesn’t it?)
  • I also didn’t realize that if you want to be absolutely certain the ground doesn’t shift beneath you, you should not only not have the same package installed globally and locally, but you should make sure you’re either using npm-shrinkwrap, or have your package.json pinned to specific versions, and hope they’re never un-published.

As a developer, I know intrinsically that this is all my fault. As a user, I have to ask why we don’t hold our tools to the same standard we hold other software?

Why doesn’t node or npm know you have the same package installed globally and locally, and warn you about it? Why doesn’t it it say, “Hey, instead of installing this locally, why don’t I link you to it?”  Or, why doesn’t node install with a virtualenvwrapper? Why isn’t that the default method for working with node modules?  If there is guidance from npm that all packages should be installed locally, but guidance from makers of CLIs that they should be installed globally; why hasn’t a third-way been worked out? Or is npm that third way?  Why don’t those CLIs (when creating a new project) automatically npm link themselves?

Most of all, why do beginners have to be experts on dependency management in order to get a project up and running?

I love the idea of npm, and I love the passion around the community. But there are certain things that should work out of the box, and dependencies are one of them.

 

 

Unboxing the PocketCHIP

One year ago, I backed The CHIP, the world’s first $9 computer. It arrived one month past its original ship date, which is impressive for a Kickstarter campaign.

Since this was the first consumer hardware project I’ve received a reward for, I was unsure as to what it’d look like when it arrived.

It arrived in an simple envelope:

unnamed11

with good box art inside:

unnamed10

From a production perspective, I wonder if the two-color box is cheaper to manufacture? It gives the box a retro-80s feel, which is a nice touch.  Here are the other sides of the box:

Special attention to the directions on the back:

unnamed8

Simple directions and it negates the need for an instruction booklet inside.

Opening up the box, a simple foldable cardboard wrapper held the PocketCHIP:

unnamed5

Opening the sticker-adhered flap produced my first look at the Pocket CHIP itself:

unnamed4

static adhesive covering for the LCD; but otherwise no frills. No USB, no note, nothing.

From a production perspective, the fewer parts, the more it reduces assembly costs and time for packaging, making it cheaper. An economical idea for a company running a Kickstarter.

From a consumer perspective, this is exactly what I’d expect from a Kickstarter delivered product.  It’s easy to be spoiled by glossy boxes or specially wrapped and adhered USB cables, but at the end of the day I’d rather have a launched Kickstarter than a high-finish package.

The CHIP team did a good job of balancing first impressions with physical cost constraints.

Holding the CHIP in my hand was… different than I expected it would be:

It is a Pocket item in name only; but has a nice translucent (plastic? poly something or other?) backing that makes it durable.  The angled back also makes it easier to hold in one hand — if you have large hands (Sorry, Donald).

The Pocket CHIP includes the CHIP itself (second image, above), a battery, an LCD, a keyboard, and a unibody case that holds everything together.  It hosts Debian 8; a custom OS UI, and a touchscreen.

Looking at the device, there are a few reasons why this case is extra special.  They put breakout pins for all the exposed pins; and they’ve even included the communication buses (I2C, SPI, UART) in case you want to include a peripheral.  I have a SPI LED Driver evaluation board sitting next to mine, so I may have to give that a try.

Turning on the PocketCHIP boots up the custom OS; a Debian Linux distro with a custom UI:

unnamed1

(after the tour, that is)

Image-2

Pico-8 is a retro gaming platform that lets you write games in Lua.  You can also do normal Linux-y things, like drop down into the terminal:

Image-1

or even browse files:

Image

Out of the box, it was worth more than the $50 I paid for it; and I’m a bit surprised it’s selling for that low.  I would have expected the PocketCHIP to cost around $75 or so. Either way, it’s a great way to get a computer in your hand.

Next up for me is to program a demo that uses the full screen, and not just the 128×128 pixels given by the Pico-8 platform.

Quiz: Do you have a Remote Work Culture?

Just like 2016 will be the year of the Linux desktop, it’ll also be the year of the remote worker.

Only one of those sentences is true. Sorry, Linux.

I’ve talked about my experiences with remote working before, but I’ve never put down the criteria that differentiates a company that has remote workers with a company that has a remote work culture.    So here’s a quiz for you; tally your scores up, and we’ll talk about the results at the bottom.

3: this applies and in practice works 80% of the time or better
2: this applies contextually; and generally between 50-80% of the time
1: this applies less than half the time, if at all.

 

  1. Your office has the capability to host remote workers through video conferencing software or chat software.
  2. All policies regarding remote work, holidays, and ‘flex’ time are written down and accessible to all employees, even if they’re remote.
  3. Important information is disseminated in such a way that people who aren’t present won’t miss out: company persistent chat (like Slack or Hipchat), or email.
  4. Decision makers make an effort to wait to disseminate information until remote workers can video-conference in.
  5. Your office has persistent video conferencing software set up in your office; or your conference rooms contain a web cam and persistent video conferencing addresses (a dedicated Google Hangout)
  6. Remote workers are promoted or given raises at the same rate as in-office workers.
  7. You have a promotion plan in place for remote workers.
  8. You don’t ask remote workers to relocate to the main office.
  9. “Work/Life Balance” applies to everyone in your company, not just people you see day-to-day.
  10. Remote workers consistently say they feel “a part of” the company culture in feedback sessions.
  11. You have regular feedback sessions with all your employees, including your remote workers (1 on 1s, virtual coffee, etc).
  12. Meetings are always scheduled in advance. Impromptu meetings are rare.
  13. Remote workers know the hours of time per day they should be immediately available, and the hours they should be available within 15 minutes of contact.
  14. When there is a special event at the office, you also send something to your remote workers so they don’t feel left out (cake for the cake gods).
  15. If your remote workers came to you with an office culture issue; you’d take their issue seriously and work with them to resolve it, even if it meant changing company practices.
  16. “In office” employees consistently say they feel connected to remote workers; and there aren’t signs of a rift between the two groups
  17. At least once per month, remote workers pair program or work alongside their office counterparts on the same project together, at the same time (probably utilizing some sort of screen sharing software).

40+: You’re doing really well. Your remote culture is solid; and while there are things to work on, you’re in a good place.

25-39: You’ve got some work to do. Your remote workers may feel disconnected, or they may feel like they’re missing vital information.  Your office workers may also feel disconnected from your remote staff. Take a step back and have honest conversations with all parties. Remote work may not be for you, or you may need to double down on it.

<25: You don’t actually have remote employees, right?  If you do, they’re probably experiencing serious issues; and need your help to make them right. You may also have higher than standard turnover with your remote employees.

 

Special thanks to Brent Ozar (twitterblog) for reviewing this post.

What are some Alternatives to Parse?

Back when I was figuring out which MBaaS to use to power Jewelbots app backend a few months ago, I chose Parse.  Luckily, I included an entire write-up on all the MBaaS (Mobile Backend as a Service) providers I could find at the time.

Since listing the dead ones would be not useful, I’ll list only the ones that are “Alive”, plus new ones I’ve found.

I’m limiting my search to companies that provide a MBaaS and host it for you.

Provider Focus Cost/Month (startup) Status
AnyPresence Unclear Not Provided. Contact wall Alive
App42 Startup MBaaS + Managed Analytics $0-$99 Alive
Appcelerator Cloud MBaaS + App Platform SDK $39-$259 Alive
Apstrata Indie MBaaS <$800/month for Startup ($.08 per user) Alive
Buddy Enterprise MBaaS (unknown, they hide the service behind a “ContactWall”) Unknown (call for demo/pricing) Alive
Cloud Mine Enterprise MBaaS ContactWall (Call for pricing/demo) Alive
Feed Henry Enterprise MBaaS Unknown (ContactWall) Alive (Acquired by Redhat in Late 2014)
Firebase Startup MBaaS $0-$49 Alive
IKnode MBaaS $9/month Alive? – Last commit to their Repo June 2015.
Kii Enterprise MBaaS? (Unclear from their site) ContactWall – Call for Pricing/Demo Alive
Kinto Startup/Open Source MBaaS Free Alive
Kinvey Enterprise MBaaS $2000/month (Free for Startups) Alive
Kumulos Startup MBaaS $10/month based on “fair usage” (not defined) Alive
Windows Azure Mobile MBaaS Totally confusing Alive

Since we were always just using Parse for development, we’ll be moving our infrastructure to AWS; and will likely at least document (if not open source it) when it’s done.

Eight Months of Remote Work

Last time I did one of these, it was four months ago, and I mentioned this:

All conversations must be in a digital medium. Working with people who are in an office together means either all conversations have to go through Slack, or missing out on critical information.

Sounds easy, right?

It isn’t.

Missing information isn’t the only issue I’ve run into; and I was all prepared to write a blog post about it, until I found this blog post, on what affects remote workers the most.  In order from most to least:

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 9.56.17 AM.png

That blog post hit me right in the gut.  It’s exactly how I feel, with roughly the same mixture as the survey.

To help combat these issues for remote workers (right now, just me) we’ve had a “George Cam” (todo: change name when we hire more remote people) that we keep up in the office and I am able to interact with everyone over that.

It works. Ship it.

Except after a few months of this, we (ok, me, since I was the only one remote) noticed a few issues:

  1. Ambient noise is the enemy. In Open Office Floor Plans (like the current environment we’re in (not by choice)), the ambient noise combined with the built in microphone on the MacBook Pro means that unless my office-mates are facing the laptop, I have a hard time picking up what they’re saying. This causes me to miss some or all parts of a (probably important) conversation and have to ask those on the other end to repeat what they said.  If it’s annoying for me, I can only imagine how it feels for them.
  2. I need to see people. Non-verbal language accounts for 93% of all interactions. Since my camera points in the general direction of everyone (but most people’s faces and bodies are out of frame), I get a good shot of people’s hands… Which doesn’t help when I need to see their body language to discern what’s going on.
  3. Just like in real life, not all conversations should involve me. Sometimes, I awkwardly invite myself into things that aren’t actually for me.  It happened just yesterday; I heard two coworkers talking about an event one evening this week, and somehow assumed it had something to do with work; I wanted to make sure I was free that night / was there for it.  Since it wasn’t actually work related (and I wasn’t actually invited), that made that exchange a little awkward.  Again, this is something that wouldn’t happen if I were there, as body language would tell me I wasn’t invited (as would the fact that they’d probably wait until I walked away, which is hard to bet on when the person is remote).
  4. Being two-dimensional (I’m on a computer screen) means that it’s easy to forget I’m there (or not there), and sometimes I’ll miss important conversations because they happened spontaneously and I just happened to stand up and walk away right before or at that time.  If I were in the office, that wouldn’t happen, since it’s much harder to forget about a three-dimensional human being.

Since we have feedback sessions often, I’m able to bring up these issues, and here’s what we’ve done to address them:

  1. Get a good microphone, and place it in the middle of the group.  The difference is amazing. Now I can hear everyone talk to each other and talk during standup, instead of straining to listen because the Mic wasn’t in the middle of the action.
  2. Have personal hangouts when we need to have discussions; perhaps in a conference room.  The office cam is great for general chit-chat and one-off conversations, but not so good when I need to see the person who is talking to me.  The personal hangout allows me to read body language, and that’s really important.
  3. Write private messages to ask one person if the conversation that’s going on is personal or work related.  That’s a more subtle approach than blurting out, “There’s a party? When is it?”
  4. Have all important conversations go through Slack.  Of course, that doesn’t happen (would you expect 80% of your company that sat next to each other to slow down their conversation so they could type it?), but that’d be the only way to be sure I didn’t miss really important communications.   It’s not just about me. It’s about what works best for the entire team. Since the fix is harder than the work around, I do ask that they at least put a note about the conversation in chat and I can follow up when I’m back.

As I write this I’m heading to NYC to spend the next few days for some face time with the rest of Jewelbots.  So for the next few days, at least, I won’t be a remote worker.