Working online and off site in an Agile environment

Femi and I recently finished a three week gig for Menlo Innovations. We left Ann Arbor about three months ago so it has been great fun and an interesting experience working with them again. We were working with the same team we did back then. But instead of sitting right next to them we were now 4,000 miles away and the only thing connecting us was Skype.

Menlo developer team
The Menlo development team at the pair programming pods

Since we knew the processes it was not difficult getting into the rhythm again but there was still a couple of things that made the experience very different from being there in flesh.

First of all our kitchen is not close to being as interesting as Menlos and we do not have a coffee shop next door providing java for the Java.

Snackbar
This is Menlos kitchen – Im not showing ours

Another thing that we could not really participate in was the daily stand up meeting. We tried doing it over Skype conference phones but it just isnt the same experience. Every day at 10 AM the dart board on the wall makes a noise, everybody stands up in a circle, and pass a viking helmet or another toy around telling about the activities you have planed for the day and any problems you might have. It sounds weird – I know – but once you get used to it and the many other seemingly crazy things Menlo do they make a lot of sense. They got this plenitude of practices that supports cross-company communication, collaboration, standards, project management and development.

Standup meeting at Menlo
Richard the CEO has the token at the daily stand up meeting

But apart from not being immersed into this crazy, loud and yet very productive environment it was a lot of fun being back on the team – pair programming from our small flat in Copenhagen. The amount of team communication was not nearly as high as when we sat next to our peers and Skype isnt perfect but it still worked out pretty good.

Femi and Michael ready to start on the a Menlo project
Femi and me working in Copenhagen on the first job as company owners

This will not be the last time we have worked for Menlo but since we ended this current gig we asked for a quote for our website and Richard the CEO wrote us a nice piece.

As you probably have figured by now I am a big believer of the way that Menlo do things. And for right now I cannot quite stop talking about the experience of working there. I ran into Alexander of Positive Sharing at a Copenhagen Bloggerdinner and talked to him about what a cool place to work is, I of course started speaking of Menlo. Yesterday he made a post about Menlos Extreme Interviewing which I had the fortune to be a part of during my stay.

Alexander does a good job of describing the way the extreme interview works so Im just refering to him and the original white paper. Id just like to add my two cents as this was the first time in my life I was a job interviewer. First of all it didnt feel like an interview at all – but being an observer of the exercises really gave me a chance to see the dynamics when two people work together. Some people just click, most people are polite and attentive, some are controlling and a few are obnoxious. Watching others was a great way of becoming aware of my own behaviors.

Menlo Extreme Interview
After we had 20-something through the interview the Menlo team sat down and evaluated each interviewee

From talk to action – an idea becomes real

Most of the decisions that have defined my life up until now have had their beginning in the small hours after a good night out – and this is no exception. My one year internship in Ann Arbor, Michigan was coming to an end and it had been a most amazing year – a very interesting job, lots of cool friends and lots of greats experiences. One night on the way home from the bars I walked with a fellow intern and we were talking about the ever-more threatening return to The Real Lifeâ„¢. Both of us graduated from our academic programs just before coming to the States so on our imminent return home we would be looking for jobs and settling down and all that stuff.

As we were walking home that fateful night the discussion turned to how sad it would be to get into the everyday life after this incredible year we had just experienced. And then my friend said – “we should start our own company together, do stuff we want to do and use all the great things we’ve learned here”. The talk got intense and we had a lot of crazy ideas (as only drunk friends on the way home from the bars can have). We promised each other that we had to try to start our own company – if we failed then to hell with it – we are still young. No matter what it will be a great experience.

Five months later my friend Femi packed one bag and flew from Belfast, Northern Ireland – his home town – to Copenhagen, Denmark were I am living now. Our company Arb Design was made official September 1st. Sometimes I have to pinch myself, sometimes I wake up and think “what am I doing?!” and I’m not sure we fully understand what we set in motion here – but trust me we are having a lot of fun :)

Stay tuned for more on the story of the life as an entrepreneur.