While hardly my only rationale, Chris correctly identifies the central tenant in my case for distributed teams as “finding the best.” In essence, looking everywhere for talent is increasingly vital in a competitive, global market for high skill, diffuse talent, at a time when there’s increasingly less friction involved in remote collaboration. He proceeds to construct a counterargument based on the premise that he’s not looking to build a team of the best, and digs in, suggesting building a team from the best is a fool’s errand, contingent on getting “really lucky.”
Professing to not hire “the best” seemed an odd admission, until I realized he was constructing a straw man visualization of “the best”, painting a cartoonish picture of remote teams that are unable to effectively collaborate, indifferent to mentorship and growth, and filled with Gregory House types.
In reality, as I write this post, I’m remotely conversing with our Director of Engineering about adjustments to the engineering mentorship role 10up carves out for each pod in the form of a technical lead. And while I’m proud of the rockstars we’ve attracted (we’ve also declined or respectfully parted ways with more than you might think), I’m even more proud that our biggest stars didn’t begin anywhere near rockstar status. That’s not to say that we can’t strengthen growth programs: we can, and are. That’s not to say that remote collaboration – all things equal – isn’t slightly more difficult across the continent: it is. It is to say that it’s quite doable, and to the extent everything else is not equal – we’re able to pick culture and skill fit from a hugely broader pool – a global team is still the better option for us.
Let’s be clear: when I say we’re looking for the best, I mean the best fit. As with any viable business, the best fit is a subjective mix of innate promise and aptitude for our work (some of our “best” came right out of school, one hadn’t held a traditional job in a decade), preexisting skill and education, culture fit, personality match, and cost, among other criteria. I think we can find the most promising talent by entertaining a global candidate pool, not just the biggest rockstars. His characterization of “the best” as essentially abrasive rockstars mischaracterizes my position. The notion that pioneers of the remote model – Automattic, Basecamp, Mozilla, the WordPress project itself – succeed by virtue of pure luck in hiring borders on insulting (though I’m certain it was not intended as such).
Let’s be clear: when I say we’re looking for the best, I mean the best fit.
The concluding notion, that everyone with a college degree, in all corners, has the same aptitude and interest for the kind of work a premium, high performance team like 10up does, that there’s no baseline skill set subject to shortage in fixed geographies, borders on the demagogic. One need only look at just how much capital companies in places like San Francisco – where there is a concentration of such skill and schools – invest in trying to find the right hires.
As is often the case, I agree entirely with Chris’s caution about rockstar egos, his emphasis on team building and mentorship, and what matters to clients. Less so when it comes to disassociating these values from a definition of the “best”, and implying that distributed models represent their antithesis by knocking “Skype meetings”.