Rewind, Reflect, Reboot

It’s been only a few days since we took our first big step back from work to unwind and reflect. From the verge of the deepest gorge in the world, we recounted some of the most memorable milestones since SomewhereWarm became a team and painted a picture of the future we’d like to help shape with our work. A snapshot worth sharing.

As many of you already know, keeping good records of a distributed team’s affairs is the air it needs to breathe to stay on course. I’ve always found it difficult to document change as it happened; sometimes because I struggled to keep up, and sometimes by choice, fearing I might miss the fleeting moment. This has to change as today, SomewhereWarm is officially a distributed company.

Change is a miracle to contemplate, but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.

About a year ago, Jason took up an offer to become an Intern at SomewhereWarm. Today, he’s keeping the Support and Testing cogs running, ensuring that our team does its best to help our users stay focused on what matters the most: growing their business; not fixing their website.

Since his arrival, we did a lot of work together. A big chunk of it was dedicated to bringing our software engineering process online: We wanted to make sure that we’d be able to accommodate a third, possibly remote team member taking up development duties. This meant we had to do away with hand-written backlogs, post-its, and whiteboards. We had to work out the details of a welcoming, efficient process to manage the lifecycle of every software engineering task, from design, to implementation, validation and deployment. A process that will scale as our team grows, and allow everyone to contribute and see the big picture as clearly as possible. One that’s well-suited to people naturally inclined to doing the best work they can, without deadlines. Kanban.

After bringing our project boards online, we started refining the most critical step of our software engineering pipeline: Quality assurance. Automating the process of acceptance testing has been one of the biggest investments I’ve put into our products. Still an an ongoing task, it has already transformed the way we collaborate: Less stress, more focus on quality, and a higher, shared sense of responsibility among team members with different skills, backgrounds and duties. From picking the right tools, to building the necessary infrastructure, and then introducing automated tests into our engineering flow — the overhead (and cost) of doing it right just can’t be ignored. It takes more than a desire to build quality software; it requires access to resources that few software engineering teams enjoy. I feel indebted to WooCommerce for making all this possible.

One chair for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.

Chris joined us earlier this summer as our development flow had just started to settle in. His arrival challenged our structure: Suddenly, our distributed team of three required an order of magnitude of extra communication to operate smoothly. Building the processes that our team needed to grow and overcome greater boundaries in the future has been a challenging task, especially for an introvert like myself, but one that I’ve come to enjoy.

I only wish the word process could better summarize what it takes to keep such a small team’s universe of stars aligned and steered towards the same direction. Picking tools and coming up with meaningful, efficient operating procedures at this scale is the easy part. What’s the hard part? Identifying common values that bring the best out of everyone; cultivating trust, encouraging creative conflict; building a culture that makes all the tools and rules work.

What’s next for us? Keep an eye out for a stream of new WooCommerce extension releases, due this October — just in time for WooCommerce 3.5. Wondering what else we’re up to? Look forward to more exciting things coming in 2019. Still trying to figure out where the deepest gorge in the world lies? Hint — it’s in Greece.

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