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I've had the privilege of working remote for almost 5 years here at LivingSocial. Remote work still gets big time plugs, but it seems many places, including young, hip startups don't buy it, that co-location is an important attribute for a team.

And I get it. Co-location was a big deal in the Agile movement to help foster communication. But having worked remotely for 5, managing 3 teams of almost 100% remote employees, why don't I care?

I think the co-location agile pushes has much more to do with communication than proximity. Proximity can greatly drive down communication costs, but these days with Slack and Google Hangouts (to name but a couple), communication can be had without proximity.

Want to build a great team? Google studied this for a long time, and on a recent Freakonomics podcast (How to Be More Productive), Stephen Dubner interviewed Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google about their Project Aristotle.

After analyzing data from 200 teams across Google of all varieties, they derived five “norms” the best teams at Google had. Things that weren't on the list?

... in the academic research it says consensus-driven decision-making is often better than top-down direction. And academic research says workload matters a lot. Having teams in the same location. We actually found none of those things were in the top five of what mattered in terms of effectiveness for teams. (around the 24 minute mark)

What did top the list?
the most important attribute of a high-performing team is not who leads it or who’s on it or how many people or where it is. It's psychological safety.

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit elaborates:
Which means that everyone at the table feels like they have the opportunity to speak up, and they all feel like each other is actually listening to them, as demonstrated by the fact that their teammates are sensitive to nonverbal cues.

Bock continues:
We ask if the team members feel that they can fail openly or do they feel that they are going to be shunned by failing? We ask, do they feel as if other team members are supporting or undermining them?

Or, as I would say it, they're on a team that doesn't shame them. See BeyondImpostorSyndrome for more.

The four other norms Bock identifies are Dependability, Structure and Clarity, Meaning, and Impact. He also tacks on the importance of actually doing 1:1s, and making sure everyone feels included, don't let the dominators dominate.

Which I love.

But I love umpteen times more the first point.

Low shame teams beat out other factors. So does low shame anything.

If you're outsourcing your soft skills to the fringe of your organization (or congregation, or marriage, or friendship ...), you're prolly not doing it right. You're probably also bored and/or frustrated out of your mind.
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From my little corner of the internet, Impostor Syndrome seems to be getting more attention these days, which is cool. But there’s a bigger world underlying it. Camp out in the mines of Impostor Syndrome and you may miss out on what lies beneath and the resources we have to combat it.

“It” … is shame.

Shame is about my identity. We typically talk of shame in false views of self (“I should be better than I am/I’m unlovable”), though an accurate view of self I’d label as “healthy shame” or humility (“We all make mistakes/I need help”).

Impostor Syndrome is rooted in shame. It speaks to specific instances of identity struggle, usually involving a sense of deception or fraud about our work and accomplishments.

But the shame underneath in each of us can play out in many other ways.

The refusal to pour out my heart’s frustration over making a grocery list with my significant other because it’s just an f’ing grocery list and I don’t want to feel like I’m being disrespected over something so insignificant.

The apology I interrupt myself with to make sure no one has an adverse reaction to my opinions.

The verbal shove to make my friend think twice about asking me that question again.

The give-up on taking care of myself because there’s nothing worth saving here anymore.

The king-of-the-hill race to drop knowledge so that no possible conflict can occur because I allowed someone else to muddy the playing field with something confusing or imprecise.

The faux-patient submission to an unyielding relationship I tuck deep down in my purse of resentments.

The refusal to speak up to an act I’ve been guilty of myself because who am I to out myself as a hypocrite.

The spoken snub to try and silence the proof that I’m not really comfortable with how others express themselves.

The interruption of my spouse’s story to make sure they get it right so others won’t think poorly of me because of my ignorant other.

The justification where I draw the line so help me god you can have everything else, but not this.

The turned over phone, the ignored text, the deleted email.

Years ago I knew of a man in his fifties or sixties, a successful business man, who had a secret: he couldn’t read. He’d worked around it his whole career, had figured out how to have others read for him so he would never have to.

As part of his recovery he decided to remedy this. The tutor started with some simple reading samples to get their bearings and by the time they were done, it was determined he could actually read at about a 7th grade level.

His shame around reading had skewed his beliefs so much over the years, that he really didn’t think he could read at all.

The topic of depression is pertinent as well here. While I believe everyone copes with shame, those who receive their helping of shame swimming in a gravy of depression have it rougher.

The physiological effects of depression are akin to circus mirror glasses on top of the blinders of shame. I’m a bit (more) out of my depth to talk about depression, other than to say my spouse and I have struggled through hers our entire marriage. Successfully, I might add, on the whole. But it’s no small beast.

How, then, do we cope?

For many, anger is the defender of our secret shame. Look behind it, what’s it so desperate to guard?

For others, withdrawal and fear are aiming to protect. Peel it back, what’s beneath it?

Look for hurt. For loneliness. And look for false beliefs. Toxic shame arises from lies. Tie yourself to something right.

Stay connected. Shame removes options, isolates. Do not hesitate in getting help from someone trained in dealing with it. And when you hesitate and the shame wins for a day, get some help again.

Shame runs deep. But we can learn to recognize it, in all its myriad ways. If Impostor Syndrome has been your introduction, keep digging.


Brené Brown has some wonderful resources on shame, see her site here: These TED talks of hers are good introductions: Listening to Shame and The Power of Vulnerability.

Greg Bauges has a great blog on the topic of Depression with a focus on the Software Developer community, and runs a support site at

A couple of recent tweet conversations prompted me to get this out of my head and into words. Thx to Glenn Vanderburg, @gregvaughn, kerri miller and others for, at the very least, allowing me to invade on their tweet-turf. Thanks also to folks who additionally reviewed this article for me: Tara, Adam Keys, Morgan Whaley, @erniemiller, and Tony Pitale.

I gave a little lightning talk on TechnicalIntimidation at RailsConf 2013 which touches on these topics, video and lots o’ other links there. If yer a techie, give it a spin.


Tanmay Vora sketchnotes an article from Harvard Business Review called “Why Organizations Don't Learn”:

Ran across this article from Twitter's Engineering Effectiveness group thinking about how big a team needs to be before dedicating a portion of that
team to aiding the rest of the team pays for itself.

Not necessarily hard answers, but thought provoking content.

My current LivingSocial cohort Shane Warden shared an article the other day titled “The steel man of #GamerGate”, which isn't really about #GamerGate but about steelmanning, “the art of addressing the best form of the other person’s argument, even if it’s not the one they presented.”

Which was timely, because the most recent This American Life features a bit where producer Alex Blumberg got to pitch a startup idea to Chris Sacca, and Sacca expertly steelmanned Alex:

At a certain point, Chris drops the pretense that this is an actual investor meeting and just starts coaching me on my pitch, feeding me questions, and then correcting my answers.

“Give me a second and I'm gonna give you your pitch back.”

And then, right there, not far from the freeway overpass near Pico and Bundy, he steps into the role of me, starts giving the pitch I should be giving.


Alex Blumberg: That was amazing!

Chris Sacca: That's your story, right?

Alex Blumberg: That is great. Holy [BLEEP]. I thought I was a storyteller. Now I feel bad about my job.

I'm thinking, oh, if he pitched my idea that well, he must be into it, right? He's going to invest. But then he goes on.


At this point, I have no idea what to think. I'm drained, my pits are drenched, and Chris Sacca has just given me two completely convincing cases in favor of and against investing in my business. Whatever shred of conviction I had about this process at the beginning is gone.

Audio for this portion starts around the 24 minute mark, though this story is the first in the episode, so you can also just listen from the beginning.

This also overlaps with the conflict resolution skills my wife and I were taught and what we also use when working with other couples, to endeavor to repeat back to another person what was heard, to make sure a problem is mutually understood before attempting to rectify anything.

A friend of mine recently asked for advice on pitching himself to a group of developers for a project management spot at his gig. He was feeling the weightiness of asking to help manage a group of people who do work he doesn't deeply understand himself.

Rather than try to pitch them on projects he had successfully managed before, we talked about what I want, and I came up with this pitch:

What would you say?
Rails 4 has moved its rails command to the bin directory of the application, but this collides with any existing rails command put there by the --binstubs flag, and the two are not compatible.

The recommended way to use binstubs with Bundler and Rails 4 is to not use the global --binstubs flag, but to call bundle binstubs [gemname] individually on gems you want in your local bin folder. For some background on these changes, check out these commit comment threads: rails bundler.

There was an attempt to make Bundler 1.3.x not override anything in the bin directory if --binstubs was in effect, but that change was reverted for semantic versioning. My understanding is this change will be re-attempted in Bundler 2.x.
I've been using the local path option with Bundler for some time now and it works really well. I use RubyMine and it won't browse . directories, so rather than using the .bundle dir for the local install path, I've taken to using ‘zz’ so I can still get all of the good RubyMine goodness for spelunking gem code while making sure gems are grouped at the bottom of my search results. Working on a project in the midst of a Ruby upgrade, it's also nice to have groups of 1.8 and 1.9 gems installed separately in the zz/ruby/1.x/gems paths.

One thing I find myself doing on occasion when trying to sort out gem troubles is removing an entire gem's directory structure, mistakenly thinking that'll get bundler to re-install the gem on the next bundle call.

The problem is Bundler (or actually RubyGems) doesn't check the gem's installed directory for its presence, but just scans the specifications folder for .gemspec files. In order for my little trick to work, I not only need to blow away the gems directory structure in zz/ruby/1.x/gems/, but also its .gemspec file in zz/ruby/1.x/specifications.

It would be nice if a bundle reinstall command existed to do this. `bundle update` isn't what I want since that will update to the latest matching version.
If technology is getting you down, gentle developer, you're not alone. It's easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff out there in the wide wide world of webs, not to mention the frustrations that come with trying to wrangle all of these tools into some semblance of order. Pile on some peer shame and unreasonable expectations of our own performance and it might be time to hide the razor blades. Take heart, however. Cue up some Billy Joel and when you can take no more of that (my max time is 49 seconds), switch over to my lightning talk on Technical Intimidation I gave at RailsConf 2013. Maybe some cheesy jokes and a dense helping of quotes from smart people will help put that spring in your typing once again.

I reference some TED talks by Brené Brown at the end of it - here they are - go watch them now:

Listening to Shame
The Power of Vulnerability

Here's the Ashe Dryden talk mentioned at the end of the RailsConf version:

Must Have 10+ Years People Experience

Greg Bauges also has some excellent content on Devs and Depression.


Many of the quotes from the talk I culled from my BlogKi here:


Jess Eldredge sketchnoted my talk! Check out all her RailsConf sketches.

Here's a prior version I gave at BigRubyConf 2013.

Trivia: Mythbuster Adam Savage is the nerdy kid drowning in that Billy Joel video.
Ken Levine (a writer who's worked on MASH, Cheers, Frasier and many other shows) discusses the intractable problem of fixing a script that just ain't funny, retelling an encouraging story about how early on The Odd Couple was failing to get laughs in its third act, and how a critic-inspired idea fixed it. Ken wraps up with a nice ShameAntidote:
When geniuses like Neil Simon and Mike Nichols can't put their fingers on a problem, what hope is there for the rest of us?

So when you get stuck just know, there is no Dr. House for writing. At times we’re all Frank Burns.