Category Archives: Business

Is remote work dystopian?


Microsoft has a new advert out, and David Heinemeier Hansson thinks it’s deplorable. He argues that Microsoft are pushing a dystopian idea of work that never stops, and busywork expands to fill the time wherever we are.

I’m not sure I agree, though I’ll definitely admit that Microsoft’s advertising people have done a poor job with the wording. One of the reasons I’m inclined to take their side is that I’ve suffered from the other extreme, when I’ve had to miss out on activities because I have to wait around in the office doing busywork just in case I’m needed while an important demo takes place or deal is signed.

The question is whether you work in a job that requires a high volume of routine work or one that intermittently requires skilled judgement for brief periods. Automation and outsourcing are killing off the former (aside from customer service, which can’t be done from a bar during happy hour anyway). Maybe I’m giving Microsoft too much credit, but it seems to me that they were aiming their pitch at the latter sort of work, in which case working (i.e. providing brief high-value responses) from your children’s sports match is liberating.

Ultimately it’s not Microsoft’s job to set boundaries in our work, we have to do it for ourselves. Technology isn’t the solution to managers who demand too much of us, but it isn’t the cause either.

Working a room

This week there was a good post about how to “work the room” at networking events, aimed at people who find this kind of thing unpleasant. You should read the whole thing, but here’s a spoiler of the main point:

Then one of my colleagues told me the trick he uses: When he walks into a room alone, he looks for pairs of people who are talking, and introduces himself to each person in the pair.

So if you see a pair of people, the chances are that they arrived together and know they should be mingling. Or else they’ve just met and are, in the back of their minds, worried that they’re going to end up talking to this one person all night.

I appreciated this post because introducing myself at networking events is something that I still don’t like doing, even though I’ve improved substantially over the years. I particularly like two things about the article: firstly, that it acknowledges that networking is a learnable skill that anyone can improve on, and secondly the point that other people hate introducing themselves too and you can use this to your advantage.

The only thing I’d add to this is to make a conscious effort to read body language. Pairs of people who are interested in meeting new people don’t face each other head-on but stand at an angle. This means they form a V shape, typically facing into the room. They’ll be giving each other less eye contact and looking at other people in the room. If you join such a group there’s a natural space for you to do it and you’re likely to be well received. If you see a pair of people squarely facing each other and not looking elsewhere in the room, the chances are greater that they aren’t ready to meet anyone new just yet.

I’ve made a new web site

For once, one of my side projects has been released to the public in a usable state. It’s a simple service that provides anonymous cloud bookmarks that you can access from any device, using only a passphrase.

I mainly came up with this as a way to try out using some Amazon web services, most notably DynamoDB. I’m pretty happy with the scalability story for DynamoDB, at least in simple cases like this where the model is a good fit for what I’m doing. The site seems pretty quick (I haven’t done any load testing yet), and the non-scalable Django portion of it is quite small. For moderate loads, it should just be a matter of cranking up the provisioned capacity in AWS. For larger loads, I could easily split across a couple of nodes and do some trivial load-balancing, because the only application state is in the DB.

I still don’t think I would be able to figure out how to do any more advanced modelling of data using DynamoDB. I’m used to thinking of data in terms of relationships between facts, and DynamoDB doesn’t make that easy at all.

As it stands, I’m suspending work on this project to do something else. I actually end up using it for myself, as something like a substitute for Delicious or Mozilla’s cloud bookmark service. There’s a lot more features I could put in to it, but I’m only going to put more work into it if people seem interested in using it. Contact me with any thoughts.