Chip Pedersen has been in tech for more than 25 years, 18 in the game industry. He’s led teams at Microsoft and Activision; done R&D for Apple; managed projects for huge brands like DreamWorks, MTV, Discovery Channel, History Channel, the MLB and the NHL.
You should probably hire him.
The catch is that he lives in Minneapolis, and he’s not going anywhere. “I’m just a Minnesota kid who wants to stay here,” he says. “All my three sons were born in different states. We moved back to Minnesota where we’re from. We like it here. We don’t want to go anywhere.”
“I have had offers to return to the West coast, but I just don’t want to do that.” He says his old Silicon Valley pals keep cajoling him: “‘come back out West; we’ll hire you right now!’ and my wife’s like, ‘no!’ We just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, and she said, ‘I’ve moved for you all these years, now can you do it for me and stay home?’ and I said, ‘sure.’”
So home they’ll stay. Pedersen is currently a gun for hire (with his company Golden Gear Consulting), and he likes it that way — he just wishes more businesses were open to the idea of remote work. “You can get great talent and let them be where they are,” he says, “and not have to put up with the cost of living in San Francisco.”
Most of the recruiters and hiring managers that reach out to Fleming want him to move, though he’s confident he does a better job working from home. “I can concentrate on my work and there’s no one here to distract me from that,” he says. “There’s no one coming over and tapping me on the shoulder and asking me about something. They may send me a message on Skype or Google Hangouts or something like that, but I can ignore that easier than I can someone coming into my personal space.”
Fleming recently tweeted about being in the market for a new position if anybody has a need for an experienced developer. Predictably, the first reply came from an IT recruiter: “Eric, would you consider moving to Austin or are you looking to remain in J-ville?”
That recruiter — Mark Cunningham, owner of The Bidding Network in Austin — says zero percent of his clients (primarily startups) are open to hiring remote workers. “If we’ve got some crackerjack Java developer who just has something amazing but he lives [20 miles away] in Cedar Park and the startup’s located downtown, we might work something out,” Cunningham says. But for the most part, his clients want to take advantage of the chemistry that results from everyone working in close concert.
“They worry about the loss of synergy, and the collaboration, and then the fires that are stoked from elite software engineers and elite professionals being together face-to-face and what comes from that,” Cunningham says. “That’s where they’re hesitating.”
Fair enough — there’s no denying there are advantages to having everyone in the same room. But when you stack the advantages that come with putting local heads together against the advantages of hiring the best heads from everywhere and collaborating remotely … well, it’s fairly clear where we stand on that.
“Give people the flexibility to work where they feel more comfortable working,” Fleming says. “They’re going to give you better results. It’s better for the company overall.”
Pedersen feels that for the more established companies he’s worked with, the hesitation comes from being stuck in a “face time = work time” paradigm. If you aren’t working onsite, “they think you’re goofing off,” he says.
“I’ve definitely worked at a number of companies where it was about the time you spent there. You may not have been doing much, but you were there. Microsoft was a little bit like that … I had a futon in my office and I would sleep there.”
What will it take for that cultural shift to happen, for companies to begin to allow people to work from wherever they like as long as the work is getting done? A leap of faith, Pedersen says.
“Do a small test,” he suggests. “Try it out. If you can’t find the person you’re trying to hire — if you’ve been looking forever to hire somebody and you can’t find them because they’re not in your region — look for a remote worker. You’re probably going to find an excellent person to meet your needs and get your stuff done. Probably within your budget and faster. Take those leaps when you see the opportunity.”
It comes down to results, Pedersen says. With the teams he manages, he does his best to treat everyone like adults and focus on the work itself. “If they’re getting their stuff done … I’m staying with that person. They got it done last time; they keep getting it done. I don’t care if they live in Venezuela; they’re getting it done.”
Tom Wilsonon 21 Jan 14
These companies aren’t saying they don’t want to hire remote workers…
They’re saying they don’t want to manage.
Hiring remote workers requires planning, coordination, resource allocation, and having a clear vision of the direction of the company.
Few internet companies know where they’re going, and have enough management skills to produce a coherent, working vision that holds up more than six months.
Instead, they believe throwing hired talent in a room, like monkeys at typewriters, will somehow produce a great idea for a great product. Give the ‘talent’ enough time, ping pong, pizzas and beer, and they’ll create a billion dollar idea for you, no management required.
Skilled workers in this country are, in fact, plentiful.
Managers are rare.
Not hiring remote workers is a sign of an immature company with little trust and faith in their own ideas, and is a place to be avoided.
Donnie Clappon 21 Jan 14
Awesome insight from @Tom Wilson.
That is all.
Windsoron 21 Jan 14
I agree with Tom’s comments. Many managers aren’t sure how to proceed with managing remote workers. Due to that uncertainty, they don’t want to take the risk.
Xprtly! can mitigate the risk of managing remote workers. Take a look – vimeo.com/83433417
Fredon 21 Jan 14
What Tom said.
Ton 21 Jan 14
If you slept in the office on a futon, you’ll sleep at home on the couch or in your bed at the same time. Knowing that, I wouldn’t hire you. If you’re on a schedule, stick to it whether you’re at home or at the office.
David Andersenon 21 Jan 14
Ditto Tom Wilson. There are very few actual managers who actually manage. And I can’t think of a single company I’ve consulted with that actively develops managers. Generally in this country we put the same effort into developing managers as we do into teaching our children about how to have a successful marriage.
Kyleon 21 Jan 14
The funny thing is, these exact same companies are probably perfectly happy to hire someone to contract the same work (remotely) until they can find the right full-time hire (in the same town). Somehow, the fact that the contractor sends them an itemized bill makes them think “there is no way they can goof off and charge me for it, because I got an itemized bill. If I was paying someone a salary, that’s different. They might not work 8-10 hours per day, yet I still have to pay them.” I’ve seen that logic many times.
GregTon 21 Jan 14
This is an inspiring post, not because of the remote work aspect, but because this guy must be at least 25+17=42 years old, and somebody still cares that he’s alive and programming. Apparently.
Dave Peeleon 22 Jan 14
A great write-up about an industry veteran promoting remote work after having been on both sides of the fence. I also agree with Tom Wilson’s comments as well. Nice piece!
Andrewon 22 Jan 14
@T I hope you’re joking(!)
Steve Collinson 22 Jan 14
With others, I’m backing Tom’s comment.
As someone (I do UX, design thinking, service design) whose work could easily be remote a lot of the time, the “I need to see you head-down-tail-up in a cube” mentality irks me. To be honest, I do my best work on my feet at a whiteboard, talking to people in cafes, or in a library, and at a time that suits me.
Yet, I’m cursed to live in a town (and a country) where the “cube” mindset dominates. It’s why I look ever-further afield for interesting people I want to work with.
Interestingly, 37signals is on a very short list of companies I’d gladly work for, giving up my freelancer independence.
Chipon 23 Jan 14
I agree with Tom as well.
In response to the futon. I had remote teams in 5 different time zones around the world. During important deadlines I would make sure I was available for them to help them stay on schedule.
@GregT Yep, I’m old.
Pete Clarkon 23 Jan 14
Chip: There are interesting gigs in town, man; Code42, U of Mn, software for good… Come hang out at MinneBar!
Nashiron 23 Jan 14
Yeh, I accept what Fleming says. Many software companies in Bangladesh want to try creating comfortable working environment for IT workers. In my opinion, if engage with them as a programmer, feels very happy. Distance makes no matter.
Zach Iniguezon 23 Jan 14
Don’t forget The Nerdery in Bloomington, Minnesota. The company isn’t afraid to hire work-from-home Nerds (we’ve got plenty). We’re always hiring great devs.
wellwellon 23 Jan 14
“That recruiter — Mark Cunningham, owner….of Austin” says blah blah blah. There is a business that needs to be overhauled, “recruiting”, sorry but its true. Of course he is in Austin and his customers are too. Saavy businesses looking for real talent do so on their own and they can use the internet to reach the most people, like 37signals. Rule #1 – don’t fall prey to a “recruiter” whether you are an employer or employee. How about these recruiters get a real job.
Keithon 23 Jan 14
The title should be changed to “The Person You Could Have Hired”, we at Concrete Software are lucky enough to have Chip join us… welcome aboard Chip!!
insulinon 23 Jan 14
Firstly, am a fan of this cimopany and this blog. I read it regularly and acknowledge that there are many insights I have culled from the writers and contributors.
Having said that, I have a bone to pick with them, for a good while now this blog has been selling “remote” and made it abundutly clear where you stand on it. Your point is well taken. But while everyone today understands it, they may not be sold on it and thats ok. There are many reasons why companies choose not to get onboard with remote with good reasons as well. Instead of dismissing them it will be good to appreciate their sensibility and move on to cover other topics. I myself travel every week to be onsite with a customer and work with my team which is often remote. There are several problems that surface everyday because of this. While I do not want to get into each one of them let me just tell you that at the highest level we all understand and know that communication is mightily important especially in businesses like consulting and within it, body language is a significant component of it. Being remote and not feeling or sensing not only makes it a struggle to get your points across especially when you are trying to explain complex business iasues, you keep distancing yourself from the customer because you are never giving relationship a chance to build and grow. The problem compounds manifold in case you happen to have a strong foreign accent that is hard to follow.
There are many other points that can be discussed but I think its important to understand that when several companies do it and continue to persist with it , there is more to it than just “ignorance” or “old school” or “stubbornness” or whatever negative you call it. Like many things in business it has its strengths. Granted video conference mitigates some oif these issues but it is not mainstream yet and not wholly adopted. As ansd when happens a new paradigm will unfold and we will be witness to it.
Bill Neshahon 24 Jan 14
This recruiter’s whole mindset is really over the top…
“As most of you know, I try to live in the world of elite software engineers and in that world, I think they need to be together as in “elbow to elbow”. Especially if you are younger than 30 years old.”
Tom Wilsonon 24 Jan 14
First, thanks to everyone’s kind words regarding my initial comments. I appreciate them greatly. I’ve been a contracted software developer for 10 years now, and I’ve worked both in cubes and remotely. I can size up a company’s future in the first 10 minutes of an initial meeting, and it always, always, comes down to management. Ethics, direction, and planning done at the top can overcome any deficiencies of staff, but no effort by the staff can overcome bad management.
I’d like to address the remarks of “insulin” above. You mention that there are “many reasons why companies choose not to get onboard with remote with good reasons.” However you mention none of those reasons except “body language” and “strong foreign accent.”
It’s like you’ve never been around a software developer in your life, or you’re completely contemptuous of them. These are some of the most mental, internally focused people around; their own body language plays no role in their communications, nor do they tend to pick up on those cues. As to “strong foreign accent,” I’m going to dismiss that as pure racism.
On re-reading your post, it’s clear that your primary job function is as a client representative, or salesperson, or that you come from that background. I understand that such a job requires close contact with customers, and the need to pick up on visual cues. Sales is not a remote job, and I don’t think anyone is talking about making it a remote job.
One of the things I ask when evaluating a potential client company for contract work is how the CEO or equivalent came to the position. If they came from a sales background, that’s an immediate red flag.
Managers with primarily sales backgrounds give priority to their employees’ “body language” and “strong foreign accents”, over technical ability and desire to accomplish well-established goals. With these kinds of priorities, it’s easy to see why some managers prefer not to have employees perform remote work.
When sales persons run the company, the company is doomed. Not immediately, but eventually. Allow me to explain.
As a contractor, I have always operated under the principle question, “Is the customer happy?” If the answer is yes, all things are possible.
However, it’s important to understand that making the customer happy does not mean feeding them candy all the time. Sometimes it means saying “no” in the short term, so that you can make them happy in the long run.
But, there must be a long run. There must be defined priorities, goals, and direction, clearly stated to and understood by the customer. This allows the customer to gracefully accept “no”, because they 1) understand you have their long term interests at heart, and 2) know that their desires will be met at a later date.
No manager who was once a salesperson can say “no” to a customer, and they feed them short-term solutions that are disruptive to whatever previous planning and goals may have already been set. The company becomes “twitchy”, epileptic in it’s reponses, running from one customer-created crisis to another. In every company that seems on fire, where there are no plans or direction, there is always a former salesperson at the top of the org chart.
Because of this, remote work is impossible, because flash-responses to a customer’s “body language” is required. I understand that world, and the reason I became a contractor is so that I can walk away from that kind of work. It’s unpleasant, but more critically, it’s totally unnecessary.
“insulin”, please review your company and ask yourself if it’s on fire.
Planning, goal setting, and direction are worthless without the fortitude to stick with it, to say “no” to a customer when necessary.
But with planning, goal setting and direction, and the ‘balls’ to stick with it, all things are possible – including remote work.
...whether you have a “strong foreign accent” or not.
Tom LaGardon 24 Jan 14
Tom W and Kyle, you guys are spot on with your comments. Kyle, the offsite contractor needs to be brought up more when discussing this topic.
This discussion is closed.