Tommy Ku's Method Stub

Reading and thinking

Working in Taipei for a month

Posted on 2016.09.24

Backed by AppWorks Accelerator, 2 enginners and the CEO stayed in Taiwan for around a month to develop a new product in August. I was one of the engineers going there with my Thinkpad X230, recently upgraded to 8GB of RAM.

Hong Kong software engineers in Taiwan

For many in the software engineering field, remote working have became a no-brainer. But don’t let the word ‘remote’ fool you. The ultra-connectedness enabled by broadband Internet connection and enriched multimedia communication makes everybody who’re remote working feel like they all work in the same place.

Just that you can’t walk up to somebody to start another time-wasting random chit-chat doesn’t mean you can communicate and work properly with everybody else in the office.

The routine

The first half of the trip were mostly networking and product planning, where we meet up with people in AppWorks and show them our product. Like any initial product they suck, but showed potentials.

Every Monday we had team update meeting with the whole team in Hong Kong via Google Hangout. Daily stand-ups happen either at where we lived, or at one of the meeting rooms in AppWorks.

Commuting to AppWorks co-working space is a 10-min walk. In some streets of Taipei, pedestrian have to share the road with the traffic. I still found it hard to understand why I lived through that — most probably because of the bikers’ excellent skill.

In the later half of the trip, we 2 engineers stayed indoor coding up prototypes and building features. Rarely did we spend time outside with people and users, except for a few occasions when we went to networking events.

Imagine coding 12+ hours a day

The prototypes

As were in Hong Kong we had scrum sprints, two weeks, daily stand-ups. For a while the work were smooth, until we began prototyping and validating with everybody else in AppWorks.

Our UX/PM teammate is in Hong Kong and we had no clue as to how complicated UX are. 4 out of 5 times we build something we thought would solve the problems while ending up causing more UX issues or not meeting our interviewees’ expectations.

We once belived that with all the majority of AppWorks being our target audience, we’d have a perfect environment to put together prototypes and validate our solutions, lightning fast.

Instead time were wasted and not much were validated. UX is one Google Hangout call away and it’s already too expensive to discuss over that channel.

Communication

We use Google Hangout and Telegram to communicate with the Hong Kong team yet that was never enough for 3 reasons.

  1. Internet is slow and unreliable, the 700km distance probably does matter
  2. The time spent on arranging a call makes it prohibitive
  3. One does not check Telegram for new message all the time

As such, we were on our own with the CEO. When you’re stuck in a room with someone who has a million ideas in his head, impromptu discussion could start and end at any time. By anytime I mean like, starting at 12am and ending at 4am on any regular work day. That is not as productive as you may think.

The discussion began totally unprepared. There were no agenda, no data, no design, not even objective beforehand. We talked about things on and on without anybody taking a minute. So much of which were bullshitting, and half of them prospects without action items.

Not the best way to start a discussion

Distractions

Unlike ordinary office we could set up with external monitor, comfortable seat and desktop decoration, we were pretty much sitting on random unoccupied seat staring at the laptop the whole day and that is totally unhealthy to our neck and back.

WiFi broke from time to time and need to be reconnected or router rebooted. During which, we got cat, people, go-kart, hoverboard and basketball machine distracting us. So no, AppWorks is not the optimal place to work at, but rather a good place to meet people and discuss.

Scoring 300+ points wins you a cup of free coffee

Precisely due to the flexibility of working remotely, work could always be deferred to the night. That gives excuse for us to fall to those distractions and we couldn’t work as efficient as we were in Hong Kong. Of course we finished our work, only did it take extra time and lacked coordination.

Remote work in conclusion

With all that I am not against the whole remote working thing despite the hurdles mostly related to communication and productivity.

In fact, I strongly support remote working because life is much more than sitting 10 hours in office closely working with no more than 15 people everyday. One should meet new people and see the world in this golden age of connectivity before he gets too old and too tired to do so.

Bonus for working at someone’s place, cat!