Making in-roads in your organization when you are 2000 miles away

What’s the best way to meet your co-workers? Break their app of course!

I remember fondly how I got on the radar of much of the company I work for in one fell swoop.  One morning I decided to get ambitious and try to move a bug of older bugs for a feature I was working on to be assigned to me, so I could process them individually and close them out. Great idea I figured, and definitely a good way to show the ROI on a project by saying “hey, this change clears out X number of bugs off the backlog”. So heck, why not do it?

As we use Sugar internally to manage bugs, I saw the nifty little “Mass Update” panel as the way to victory. I simply did a search to get myself the list of bugs that I’d be assigning to me, mark them all, then in the ‘Mass Update’ panel put the ‘Assigned To’ to me and click ‘Submit’. Oddly this took a while, which seemed a bit weird at the time but I figured that since it was in the morning US Eastern Time ( which meant very very early US Pacific Time ) perhaps the server was a bit slow and hadn’t woken up let. As it turned out, that wasn’t the case.

I had assigned every bug inside Sugar to myself ( thru no fault of my own, as it turns out it was a bug in our instance).

Thanks to MySQL query logging we were able to step back in time and pretend like this never happened, but within an hour IMs started coming to me like this:

“Hey John, this is XXX. I see you are working on all our bugs now :)”

While for each time I had to explain the curious series of events that lead to this, it was also an opportunity in disguise. Most often the conversation started with “the incident” but quickly moved to me learning more about them and vise-versa. I think that part of it was pretty cool, as within a morning I met a ton of people that I interact with even today on a regular basis.

Now I’m not saying that I recommend you and break something to help get everyone’s attention ( cause you’ll most likely gain the distain of your entire IT staff in one fell swoop ), I do think making yourself known when nobody sees your face is a big part of the remote worked job. Here’s a few ideas on “safe” ways to do this:

  • Promote some great work you’ve done or let everyone know a breakthrough you’ve made on a project you’ve worked on. Everyone likes to see shiny new things, and getting your visibility next to it is a great way to become known well in a company. If you a manager or mentor to remote team members, you may want to do this yourself, as sometimes an email from an unknown may get skipped over while an email from someone known in the company is more likely to be read.
  • Volunteer for a project. This is exactly how I got involved in the PHP project many years ago. I followed the internals list and saw a discussion come up about the current state of the Windows installer, and how the current maintainer didn’t have the time/interest in furthering it along. I decided to take up this project, and thru those efforts got myself better known in the community and part of a great open source project all at the same time. Do be careful here, as sometimes the urge to volunteer just to volunteer can also get you involved in a project you may want no part of.
  • Answer a question. Most teams have some sort of place where people can ask questions about a problem they are running into ( perhaps via an email list, forums, or chat room ). If you know an answer to a question, jump in and answer it.

The key with being remote is to establish yourself as a team player, even though it’s tough to see when you are not there. So look for opportunities where you can use you talents to make an impact, and then don’t be shy; reach out and let people know.

Written on September 6, 2011
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