Four Weeks at Harvest

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been at Harvest for a month, but time flies when life is good. Looking back on my first four weeks has provided me with some insights about why my experience has been so enjoyable. I want to share a few of them as a pat on the back to my teammates and also as inspiration for other companies. Happy employees are productive employees!

Communication

Your first day at a new job can be intimidating, and working on a remote team adds an extra twist. As you plod across your apartment toward the “office”, a flurry of questions invades your mind.

“How do I talk to the team if it’s 1,000 miles away?”
“How do I figure out what to do?”
“Is my hygiene going downhill?”
“Oh god, why did I think working remotely was a good idea!?”

Good communication can make most of these fears obsolete, and it can even encourage you to bathe daily! Harvest cares about communication, and that helped ease into my first day.

  1. We use Co-op for keeping in touch. Co-op enables meaningful communication with teammates, but it also provides the team with a place for informal discussion. On any given day, our Co-op stream is chock full of amusing links and animated GIFs. It’s where we go to unwind.
  2. In addition to being Twitter for business, Co-op also prevents me from interrupting my coworkers. Whenever you track time in Harvest, Co-op broadcasts the activity to let everyone know what you’re doing without anyone having to ask.
  3. We use HipChat for chatting. Co-op serves its purpose wonderfully, but we also need a place for focused discussion. HipChat is great for 1-on-1 chats, and it also lets us create rooms for each project to avoid interrupting the rest of the team. If others wants to join a conversation late, HipChat saves the chat history for each room.
  4. We use Skype for video conferencing and pair programming. Since much of the Harvest team works remotely, we need a way to discuss concepts without a lot of typing. Skype lets us quickly discuss ongoing projects, and it also helps supplement the loss of face time. The Screen Sharing feature also lets us collaborate on troublesome code without wasting a lot of time.

Getting Things Done

That’s why we’re here, right? While individuals are responsible for their own productivity, Harvest has taken some steps to help.

  1. We mentor our newcomers. Rather than being cast into a sea of code without a map, I had a great mentor to help me learn the ropes and great documentation to help me get to work. Not only did this reduce my “new job” anxiety, it also reduced the time it took for me to become productive.
  2. We work together. I work with some very talented people, but we don’t think in terms of rockstars and ninjas. There’s too much work for one person to manage alone, and that means it’s beneficial to make each person as productive as possible. Everyone is very helpful, and that made life as the new guy much easier.
  3. We use GitHub like GitHub uses GitHub. Have you ever sat through a code review meeting while some guy defends his code like a politician on trial? It’s extremely unproductive, and the work usually doesn’t receive a fair review.
  4. Each time a Harvest developer wants to make a change, he or she creates a new branch with Git and submits a pull request on GitHub when it’s ready to go. This allows the change to receive thoughtful review in a manner that doesn’t waste anyone’s time.
  5. It’s probably not intentional, but we also have some other similiarities with how GitHub works.
  6. We aren’t agile. At least not in the traditional sense. We don’t have SCRUM planning. We don’t vote on story points. We don’t track velocity. Instead, we plan our work one week at a time and use iDoneThis to review our progress every Friday. To keep track of work that needs to be done, we built a simple project management system. Oh yeah, and we also use this time-tracking product called Harvest.

Expression

Companies are made of people, and Harvest goes to great lengths to give itself a pulse.

  1. We have an amazing support team. Seriously, these guys are awesome. They really know our products, and they work to ensure that every customer has a great experience when an issue arises.
  2. We have many blogs. Each blog shows a different side of Harvest. The Harvest Blog is where we share information about products, productivity tips, and other things useful to our customers. Tech Time is a new blog for our developer following, and we also use it to share nerdier things internally. The Harvest Watercooler is an informal blog where you’ll find stuff about the team itself. We like to share our ideas.

Life

Again, companies are made of people. People have thoughts and feelings. They also have lives outside of work that can directly influence their lives at work, so there’s value in encouraging improvement in both worlds.

  1. We have goals. Not only do we have a vision for our products; we have a vision for our people. Every few months, we come up with a set of goals for each individual to accomplish. While many are related to improving our products, many are self-improvement goals. For example, three of my goals are to run more, write more, and read more things that don’t involve technology. In a few months, I’ll review my progress and figure out where I can improve.
  2. We have fun. Along with our fun discussions and animated GIFs, the NYC team has group lunches, Friday basketball games, and is currently undefeated in a dodgeball league of other tech companies. We’re looking at you, 10gen and Etsy. I was fortunate enough to spend a few days in New York and experience all of these things.

The first month was a good one, and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead. Every first experience should be as enjoyable as mine has been, and I hope others will find inspiration in the philosophy Harvest has taken on enabling its people to do great work.


Originally published at ryanbright.me on April 22, 2012.