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Events

Startup Weekend Okanagan, Remote Working Panel

Working Remotely In Vernon

Photo by Heath Fletcher
Written by Kyle Newton

On Tuesday I was part of a panel on remote working moderated by Kazia Mullin and sponsored by Sproing Creative. I’m not big on public speaking and wasn’t sure I would have much to contribute to the discussion, especially since for the last month I’ve been a regular old employee who drives into work every day, working with other developers in an office. I was given a list of questions to prepare for but only glanced over them and may not have delivered quality answers during the panel. Having 2 kids and a full time job, and a 45 minute commute to work both ways, I don’t have much free time. The questions were as follows:

  1. Why did you decide to work remotely?
  2. How did you find or create your remote position?
  3. Tell me about the culture of the company you work for? How do they facilitate having remote workers?
  4. What tools do you use to make working remotely possible?
  5. What are your biggest challenges working remotely?
  6. What networks would you like to see in place to better support remote workers?
  7. What advice do you have for someone looking for remote work?

Why did you decide to work remotely? I was previously employed to a local software development studio. A small team with only two developers (myself included) which relied largely on a government contract. That contract dried up and I found myself unemployed. I wasn’t looking for remote work, I was just looking for a job. A friend was looking to subcontract another developer and I fell into the position. Once again working with a small team with only two developers (myself included) but this time I’d get to work from home.

How did you find or create your remote position? As above, I wasn’t looking for remote work. I needed work and a friend offered me a job. But once I worked remotely I told myself I never wanted to work in an office again. Four years later, when that contract dried up, I found myself once again looking for work. Any work. And I’m once again working in an office.

Tell me about the culture of the company you work for? How do they facilitate having remote workers? The company I worked for, in the beginning, was mostly local. Everyone lived within 30-45 minutes of each other, scattered across 4 local cities, with the exception of one support personnel who lived in the Philippines. We were each responsible for our own hardware. Us two developers chose Linux while the owners/marketers, accounting/QA, and support used various versions of Windows. The only commonality was the use of Skype which we’d use for semi-frequent but usually sporadic meetings. Though we all lived relatively in the same location, we’d rarely see each other. Maybe once a month or so, a few of us might meet for wings. Later, when the company sold, a more structured management system was put in place. One with regular weekly meetings, still done over Skype. The main body of the company was shifted to Vancouver where an office was set up and employees were hired to work in the office. The remote workers started dropping, starting with the lead developer and then lead support. Eventually I was let go, due to budgetary issues, and soon after that they gave up the office. Of the people left, they began working from home again.

What tools do you use to make working remotely possible? Skype for instant messaging and one-on-one or group voice chat. Company email addresses. Free and open source software to keep costs low. And since I worked from home, a room in the house dedicated to my work space. A lock on the door is optional, but a spouse who understands that work time is work time was a definite requirement. At least for me.

What are your biggest challenges working remotely? Taxes. I was a contractor so I was responsible for keeping track of business-related taxes and making sure I was paying them on a regular basis. Another challenge was getting paid enough. I don’t think I was very good at negotiating wages on my own. One contract I was getting $50/hour but the main 4-year long contract I was averaging in the mid-$20/hour range. Another contracting-related challenge was finding work. I looked for a remote employed position after the big contract dried up for a full 8 months. Mid-May through to the end of January. When you’re looking for work locally you compete against a local workforce. When you’re looking for work remotely, on sites such as http://weworkremotely.com and http://careers.stackoverflow.com, you’re competing with a global workforce. That’s a lot of competition.

What networks would you like to see in place to better support remote workers? I’d like to see a local co-working space. Working from home has its advantages, but in a house with small children it’s often hard to get the quiet that’s often needed to get “in the zone”.  The job I’m working right now, it’s a 45 minute drive away. I’d happily trade 45 minutes for a 15 minute drive to a local co-working office. As an aside, I found that working from home, by myself, that my skills were stagnating. I find it beneficial to be able to just walk over to someone to ask them a question, or to start a conversation with someone face to face to discuss the latest trends. Especially over lunch, which wouldn’t happen in isolation.

What advice do you have for someone looking for remote work? Know someone. Not everyone has that luxury, but networking has always played an important part in my professional life. Go to http://www.meetup.com and look for a group in your area that suits your interests. You might find a WordPress meetup, or even a Telecommuter group. Where I live, there is http://startupvernon.com which has been a huge boon to my social life. And that’s saying something, since as a geek I typically only left the house once a month to have #GeekBeers with the rest of the Startup Vernon community. And if you can’t find the time to know someone (people really do want to help place you in a job), check the remote-oriented job sites on a daily, or even hourly, basis. They’re linked two paragraphs above. Also, don’t talk yourself out of a position. Let the potential employer decide whether or not you’d make a good fit. Don’t let yourself be the biggest barrier to entry. Apply to everything you think you might be capable of.

Additional thoughts follow.

Someone asked the panel about how an employer with remote employees can help keep the employees motivated. That made me think of a previous remote position I had where, when the company exchanged hands to new owners, they removed everyone’s yearly bonus. Don’t do that. It did the opposite of motivate.

Though he made many good points, Justin Jackson’s “single point of failure” really made me nod my head. When an entire staff works under a single roof, the company is dealing with a single point of failure. The power goes out? A router died or the internet is flaky that day? Everyone stops working. Today at my job, the power went out at 10:10am. We had 8 minutes of battery backup to save our work. We did what little work we could with the outage, and though the power was back on within 30 minutes, that’s 30 minutes across maybe 70 employees. That’s 35 man-hours. Compound that with the fact the network wasn’t back online for another hour and a half after that. Had the team been distributed across the valley, or even the world, the downtime could have been mitigated. Work would have continued as normal.

A big reason to work remotely? Higher rate of pay. You can live in a town with a small tech scene with average wages in the $50k/year range, but find a wealth of employed remote positions online paying big-city competitive wages in the $70k-$90k/year range. Tonight I met a guy who works remotely for a company based out of Australia. Their support positions start at a higher salary than I make as a developer who works locally. Think about that.

Companies that have embraced remote working really have their finger on the pulse. Managers do not have to mistrust remote employees because they know those employees are happier and less likely to leave their jobs, all the while doing quality work. And employees get the benefit of competitive perks. During my remote-job search, I found companies that supplied personal-use cell phones, gym memberships, 401k plans, medical and dental, 5 weeks of vacation (to start), and regular in-person meetups at exotic locations.

Why not work remotely?

This post was first published on Kyle Newton‘s site.

Categories
Events

Creating Amazing At Startup Weekend Okanagan 2013

Team Vernon 2013 was Marco Ariano, Jason Peters, Linda Mork, Bettina Berger, Hunter Le Blanc, Kyle Newton, Teresa Deak & Lorinda Jackson

Startup Weekend Okanagan began on Friday at 6pm with pizza, beer and some ice breaker games to get the attendee’s energy up.  When asked, about 70% of the room raised their hands to acknowledge that this was their first Startup Weekend.  Amongst those 70% were eight people from Vernon.

Last year, as far as I knew, there were no other people from Vernon at Startup Weekend Okanagan, it was just me.  With all the brilliant people and entrepreneurial spirit Vernon has, I knew that for the next one, there needed to be some North Okanagan talent present.

And so, the dream of Team Vernon was born.

It didn’t take much to get sponsors to help get a team of developers, designers and entrepreneurs down to Kelowna for the weekend.  One conversation with Kevin Poole, Manager of Economic Development & Tourism for The City Of Vernon, and two Kelowna hotel rooms for two nights were secured. A passing comment to Sherman Dahl, owner of the downtown UPS Store and Bold Media, and we had 6 Startup Weekend event tickets paid for.  The immediate support by the Vernon business community was astounding.

And with a little flexibility and wrangling, eight Vernon techies headed to Kelowna to be a part of one the most fun, crazy, and innovative events in the Okanagan.  Developers Marco Ariano, Bettina Berger, Kyle Newton, Linda Mork and Lorinda Jackson, along with Designer/Developer Jason Peters, showed off their mad skills. While entrepreneurs Teresa Deak and Hunter Le Blanc demonstrated their creative powers.

There were no Vernonites on Startup Weekend Okanagan’s winning team, the project planning app, Arkitektor. However, Lorinda, Bettina and Hunter were on the team who’s business took second place, the parking spot finder app, Coo Coo.  Jason and Kyle were on the team that developed Chef Shuffle, winner of the Biggest Social Impact award.  Marco was a part of the team that produced Shift Line, an app that got the attention of enterprise organizations, within BC and beyond.  And both Linda and Teresa were on the team that created Fresh Okanagan, an app that received over 100 likes on Facebook on launch day and will be moving forward with an enormous amount of regional support.

After 54 hours of hard work, Team Vernon members came away with more knowledge and connections, as well as an understanding of what it takes to get a tech startup going.

But don’t just take my word for it:

“The thought of starting a business can seem really daunting, even when you have an idea it can be difficult to gain any traction. The slogan of “No talk, All action” is very fitting for Startup Weekend. It’s amazing what a group of people can accomplish when you sit down and are forced to get things done under time pressure. The weekend has made me realize it’s a lot more realistic than I once thought. Most of all I met some great people and I really look forward to keeping in contact with them” – Hunter Le Blanc

“Absolutely astounding to witness so many people come together, interact, plan, strategize, and produce their products in such a short time span.” – Jason Peters

“The Startup Weekend Okanagan team really know how to host an event. Everyone was helpful and very organized which made it easy for me to focus on the task at hand. I also got to learn some new tricks from my peers with regard to my profession so win or lose, I couldn’t possibly go away empty-handed.” – Kyle Newton

My guess, Startup Weekend Okanagan’s Team Vernon’s going to be a whole lot bigger next year.

Categories
Events News

Team Vernon To Blow It Up At Startup Weekend Okanagan

vernon sky

Photo: “Building Storms Over Vernon BC ” taken by erwlas

As far as I know, I was the only Vernonite at Startup Weekend Okanagan last year.  And that was not right.

Yes, we are the smaller, yet much better looking, sister to the north of the main hub, Kelowna.  But we are stashing some amazing techie and entrepreneurial talent up here!  There was no reason why there weren’t a few other people from Vernon working away in the scrum that was Startup Weekend Okanagan 2012.

So I made it my mission to get the Startup Weekend word out, and to make it as easy as possible to get Vernon talent to Startup Weekend Okanagan 2013.  Hence, the creation of TEAM VERNON.

Startup Weekend Okanagan

For those who aren’t familiar with the event,  Startup Weekend is a global movement of active entrepreneurs who are learning the basics of creating and launching successful startups. All Startup Weekend events follow the same basic model: anyone is welcome to pitch their startup idea and receive feedback from their peers. Teams organically form around the top ideas (as determined by popular vote) and then it’s a 54 hour frenzy of business model creation, coding, designing, and market validation. The weekend culminates with presentations in front of local entrepreneurial leaders with another opportunity for critical feedback.

Whether entrepreneurs found companies, find a cofounder, meet someone new, or learn a skill far outside their usual 9-to-5, everyone is guaranteed to leave the event better prepared to navigate the chaotic but fun world of startups. And leave very, very inspired.

Startup Weekend Okanagan – Team Vernon

Sponsored by The City Of Vernon and Bold Media/The UPS Store Vernon, we have 6 fully sponsored spots for Vernon attendees.

That’s event tickets, a place to crash and wash up (there are 2 Kelowna hotel rooms available for our team members), and all the event provided food you can handle available at no cost to the 6 members of the Startup Weekend Okanagan Vernon Team.

If you’re a North Okanagan developer/programmer/designer/marketer/
entrepreneur/someone-who-is-curious-about-startup-culture, we would love to have you join us at Startup Weekend Okanagan!

If you’re still not sure, check out the video from last year’s event. You do not want to miss this!

 

Categories
Events

Okanagan Startup Weekend 2013

sw-logo-tallEver wondered what it takes to be an entrepreneur?

The professional and personal challenges, the high and lows, the failures and the success?

Startup Weekend is a global grassroots movement of active and empowered entrepreneurs who are learning the basics of founding startups and launching successful ventures. It is the largest community of passionate entrepreneurs with over 400 past events in 100 countries around the world in 2011.

The non-profit organization is headquartered in Seattle, Washington but Startup Weekend organizers and facilitators can be found in over 200 cities around the world. From Mongolia to South Africa to London to Brazil, people around the globe are coming together for weekend long workshops to pitch ideas, form teams, and start companies.

All Startup Weekend events follow the same basic model: anyone is welcome to pitch their startup idea and receive feedback from their peers. Teams organically form around the top ideas (as determined by popular vote) and then it’s a 54 hour frenzy of business model creation, coding, designing, and market validation. The weekends culminate with presentations in front of local entrepreneurial leaders with another opportunity for critical feedback.

Whether entrepreneurs found companies, find a cofounder, meet someone new, or learn a skill far outside their usual 9-to-5, everyone is guaranteed to leave the event better prepared to navigate the chaotic but fun world of startups. If you want to put yourself in the shoes of an entrepreneur, register now for the best weekend of your life!

Categories
Opinion

Scaling the Startup Culture with Zappos Insights’ Jonathan Wolske

Last Monday afternoon I spent some time on the UBCO campus with Jon Wolske.

Jon is what is referred to as a Culture Evangelist by the good people of Zappos Insights.  Essentially his job is to help people understand how the culture at Zappos made them an enormous success, and how other businesses can benefit from better understanding the role of culture in the workplace.

It wasn’t exactly the talk I was expecting when I registered for Scaling the Startup Culture, but I was very glad I went.

I thought Jon was going to go into more detail about how startup culture related to Zappos’ assent to the internet shopping juggernaut. Instead Jon spoke about company culture, and how the culture of a business has a profound effect on the end experience of the target market.

Within the context of a startup, most of us are so busy keeping our noses to the grind stone that we don’t stop to think about the culture we’re creating in our up-and-coming business.  Culture is just something that happens rather than something that’s planned.

But what if the conversation about culture became part of the startup conversation?  What if having the answer to ‘who are we’ became as much as priority as being able to answer, ‘what we do’.  How much would that help define our product and dictate how we pivot when the time comes?

I came out of the talk with Jonathan Wolske with more questions than answers last Monday.  Which was just what I needed.

Thank you to Angelique Duff of Bright Spark Media for the picture.