My Home is My Office

Since roughly 5 years I work remotely, from my home office. I did so self-employed as well as employed, being a programmer, consultant, pre-sales, marketing guy and in management positions. I was engaged, now being married, rich and poor, rented a flat and now own a house. Work was pleasant, nerve-wracking, boring, amazing.

Monty and Zak formulated a set of principles and rules for running a Free Software/Open Source business. One rule they proclaim is:

The Employee works in distributed company and may work from anywhere.

In fact, while employed, I was often the only one working remotely from home – quite opposite to Monty’s MySQL, where most people work remotely. Hence, I could clearly see what’s different between me working from home and my colleagues sitting together in an office building.

I realized that it is necessary to visit office(s) regularly, to avoid being cut off from group dynamics and being left without influence. While the company is on track, being there once per month sufficed. The more strategic decisions needed to be made, the more often I showed up on the spot, because nothing beats face-to-face meetings in times of change.

The more people work remotely, the more a company needs to be disciplined and discuss important issues at a given time, either via conf calls or in meetings on the spot, because you cannot easily gather colleagues in one room. It needs discipline to avoid the pitfall of “out of site, out of mind”. A corporate culture not being used to colleagues working remotely quickly “forgets” about colleagues working at home.

The big advantage of working remotely is that you can avoid the traps of group dynamics. To put it bluntly: Put a bunch of people in one room and they will make each other believe what they want to believe. This can end in fatal business decisions. It is good for software companies to have some insiders working from outside, because they can much clearer see what’s going wrong.

Then again, if something goes wrong badly, you cannot change a company’s course from your home office, you’ll need to gather people in face-to-face meetings to build trust, fight for the cause, commit to new goals.

Once, when starting in a new company which was not used to remote work, I had my boss call me several days in a row at 9:00 to see whether I really started work just like the others did. Managers not used to virtual teams, only believe what they see and unfortunately relapse to patriarch surveillance measures of early industrial times instead of trust-based relationships between knowledge workers.

In fact, working at home requires you to be a lot more disciplined and result-oriented and also to be more conscious about your work rhythm and that of your colleagues. At home, you cannot trick your boss into believing that you work simply by staring into a computer monitor.

Goodbye Mindquarry! What Will Be Next?

Although I feel sad that Mindquarry did not work out the way it was meant to be, I am also excited about some great opportunities which came up lately.

First of all, I’d like to thank all my former colleagues at Mindquarry who proved once more that they are real sports especially during the rough times that lay behind us. You can tell their commitment and proudness from the fact that they kept working on the now available Mindquarry 1.2beta release until the last day of the company’s existence.

I very much welcome that the three Mindquarry founders now help Day Software to add collaborative tools to their Enterprise Content Management System. This is an extremely smart move by Day, because each one of the founders are superb developers with an entrepreneurial attitude. Plus, the founders already gained a lot of experience and insights in the collaboration market space – something of high value for Day’s business, because it accelerates time-to-market.

So, what will I be doing? In fact, I am yet undecided whether I will enter employment again or start my own business with a very good friend of mine. Either way, I plan to continue working in the domain of Open Source marketing, be it as part of a firm’s management or as a consultant.

Up-to-now, I have four job opportunities, most of them would also be interested in working with me as an external consultant. What do you think would be the best choice?

Open Sourcing Your Life

I often skip Dave Pollard’s blog entries, because they are rather long pieces of text. Yet, Dave’s latest posting struck me:

Our traditional education system teaches learned helplessness, and does not teach us how to make a living for ourselves. It perfectly feeds the industrial business-political-economic system, which wants an excess of cheap, frightened, obedient, dependent labour.

That’s basically how I felt at school and (a bit less though) at university. I dropped out of university, because at that point I had learned what I wanted to learn and it did not make any sense to me to invest two more years just to hold a piece of paper in my hands.

In the same blog entry, Dave writes:

Get a bunch of us together, bunches of bunches of us together, to start imagining how this virtuous cycle could work, perhaps using Open Source, telling stories of this Natural Economy as if it already existed.

Right, Open Source is also a way of living, a way of supporting what Dave calls “Natural Economy”. That’s why I only work for Open Source companies. I would die like a flower not getting enough sun and water in a proprietary company – which reminds me of IBM Distinguished Engineer Gunter Dueck, who believes that human beings should be treated like flowers with some of us loving the sunny deserts with little rain and others enjoying the shadows of a rain forest.

Trust is All You Have

About 6 years ago I quit my studies and started to regularly earn money. I did quite a few different things: from running my own business to being employed, from software development to marketing.

Experiences I’ve made were good and bad, but mostly good, hence I almost always enjoyed what I did. Whenever terrible things happened, I realized that in the end, all you can do is to keep trusting others.

Of course, I became more aware of what can go wrong and I became more picky on whom to trust and also to which extend. But what it all comes down to is that you cannot be happy in your work life if you refuse to trust and instead become skeptical and bitter.

Those who do not trust, they are quite easy to spot: They take all the fame for themselves and blame others. They are extremely nice to their boss and behave ugly to their subordinates. They are always under pressure and make others feel nervous.

Those who don’t trust others, don’t trust themselves and lack confidence in their own and other people’s abilities. This prevents those without trust from achieving successful results.

Our New House

My wife and me moved to our new house at March 2nd 2007. Find below some pictures and more in my House Building Flickr photo set.

We found the real estate about 1 year before we moved in, around Feb/Mar 2006. It’s at the border of Munderkingen, one of the smallest towns in Germany with roughly 5000 inhabitants. We immediately decided to buy it because of the very calm location and great view.
Real estate (S/E)

Next was to find someone who builds our house. We finally decided to go with Manuel Kirstein Baubetreuung, which was a very wise decision now that I can look back on our successful house building endeavor. Here’s the historic picture showing him, my wife and me after signing the contract (no, no, it’s not us being small, but him being tall).

Signing the contract

In July, the building actually began:

IMG 2678

Of course, just like every German house builder, we had to place a sign that trespassing is prohibited – it felt like claiming my land 🙂

IMG 2807

Our (fabulous!!!) construction manager Erwin Gerber, my father-in-law (who helped us a lot and whom we jokingly used to call “assistant of the construction manager”) and me inspecting the basement:

IMG 3349

The house with the basement and ground floor done:

IMG 3476

A few weeks later, the roof is in place:

IMG 3753

… that’s when we celebrated the topping-out cereomony with craftsmen and neighbours:

IMG 3649

Afterwards, the windows got integrated and a lot of work happened inside. I already wrote about myself setting up a LAN infrastructure in our house. The other thing I did myself was to wall in the bathtub. According to the tiler who later had to fix my mistakes, the result was almost perfect 🙂

IMG 4138

It was quite spectacular when the company (BauGrund Süd) came who drilled 2x 100m holes for our geothermal heating system:

IMG 4338

With the heating in place, it took only some more weeks to get almost everything done inside to be able to move in. This is a rather new picture of our house from where the terrace will hopefully soon be in place (I am sitting behind the top left window while writing this post – can you spot my monitor’s back?):

IMG 4738

This is the view outside from the top middle room:

IMG 4751

The whole building project worked out very well. We had a good team we could trust (Manuel Kirstein and Erwin Gerber and all the craftsmen). Of course, there were problems, but everyone took care that they get fixed in a good way.

We enjoy living in our new house very much. Every day we realize that the architecture was well thought out. If I remember correctly, we spent more than 4 weeks on figuring out the best architecture before the building started.

It was a huge work and I am happy that it’s done. I spent long nights and weekends on all sorts of tasks and never want to build a house again. Nevertheless, I’d never want to miss the experience, it also taught me a lot about management skills.

Next is the garden, but we’ll take that one easy 😉

Self-made LAN in My New House

Roughly one week ago, me and my wife moved to our newly built house. I made sure that almost all rooms have two ethernet plugs. Actually, I set up the whole LAN infrastructure myself – which I am really proud of.

There are duplex Cat7 cables from almost every room going down to the basement where I reserved a little room (about 2.5 square meeters) for the servers rack (Triton). We have an external Wireless Access Point (Linksys) which I will turn on once the weather is good enough to sit on the terrace.

Here’s a picture of me connecting the cables with the patch panel (Telegärtner, some of the best ones on the market), using an LSA plus tool:

Connecting cables with patch panel using LSA tool

This picture shows the bottom of the server rack, where I mounted the patch panels and the Linksys switch:

Patch panels and switch

Here’s the whole baby, including one Linux file server, one server with Windows for communication and media (phone, fax, least cost router, UPnP), plus one NAS as backup storage device and a 4-port KVM switch (Trendnet TK-400K, works well for a good price) to rule them all via one monitor, keyboard and mouse:

Server rack

You bet that the server room got finished first 🙂

New Job at Mindquarry

March 1st, I will start my new job at Mindquarry as VP Marketing.

Mindquarry’s Open Source product is enterprise social software, simply called “Mindquarry”. It supports spontaneous collaboration by including a Wiki, task tracker, file management, etc. The software is MPL licensed, version 1.0 will soon be available to the public. There’s an early access program available upon request.
The company was founded in 2006, it is located in Potsdam, Germany close to Berlin. The main investor is HP Ventures of SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner.

I’ll be in charge of strategic and operational marketing and community relations.

What I like most about this new job is:

  • I move from an Enterprise 1.0 Open Source company (eZ Systems and its eZ Publish ECM) to an Enterprise 2.0 Open Source company (Mindquarry).
  • Having 5 years of PHP programming experience, I am now looking forward towards working for a Java company. Although programming is not part of my job, I am very interested in digging deep into the code to really understand the application’s inner workings.

I actually have known one of Mindquarry’s co-founders for a few years via internet: Lars Trieloff. We only recently met in person. His expertise always impressed me.

I created a dedicated Mindquarry RSS feed for my future postings about Mindquarry, also served by the newly created Planet Mindquarry.

At this cross road of my professional life, I would like to especially thank the following persons who always supported me:

  • Zak Greant
  • Georg Richter
  • Aleksander Farstad

Thanks guys! And of course, thanks to my wife, my biggest supporter 🙂