Oh, the joy of not being remote…

Following my CGO talk, I went to visit my colleagues in Nashua, New-Hampshire.

Nashua ZKO site shutting down

The so-called ZKO building is a historical landmark in the history of DEC. For the old-timers in computer science, @zko.dec.com was a pretty healthy thing to have in your e-mail address… Its walls are layered with pictures of early VMS luminaries. The Integrity VM project was fortunate to inherit some of this historical expertise that DEC (don’t say “Compaq” to these folks…) had built in operating systems. We have in the team people who not only know what TOPS-10 and TOPS-20 were, but actually wrote or maintained parts of it.

But after so many years, Hewlett-Packard will be closing ZKO soon, and transferring people to another HP building in Marlborough. As a result, many of my colleagues will have to move to new offices, and others decided to work from home. So I thought this was a good time to visit and meet the team in one place, while this was still possible.

Working remotely is hard

I have strong reservations about working from home or remotely, however. This is much harder than corporations seem to think. I’ve been doing it occasionally for almost 5 years now. Of course, part of the problem is that the HP VPN is sized for people doing PowerPoint and Outlook e-mail. It’s easily overloaded when too many people at once try to do something interactive, like a Remote Desktop or VNC session. So whenever I try to work from home, two days out of three, I end up returning to the office to be able to work in decent conditions. I hope that our team will not be impacted the same way.

There is also a whole dimension of face-to-face interaction that no amount of phone conversation or chat or e-mail can compensate for. Face to face, you become friends. Over e-mail, you are at best acquaintances. This is something that the proponents of teleworking fail to realize: just how many friends did you make over e-mail? how many over a beer, or a coffee, or just chatting face to face?

Another factor in my case is time zone differences. When the Nashua team starts working, it’s 3PM in France. When the Cupertino team starts working, it’s 6PM. I have regular meetings after 6PM two or three days a week, and a weekly meeting on Thursdays that finishes at 9PM and is killing me. No amount of technology really helps with that.

In any case, I was so happy to spend some quality time with the team. I met for the first time several people I had been working with for years! This was a treat.

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