Distributed Team

Earlier today, I shared a post on what I believe to be key strategies in working with a distributed team. As with anything, there’s always a flip side of the coin and, this case, there are definitely challenges of a distributed team.

The points that I’m about to make aren’t coming out of the void, either. In the Envato article, I received a comment that felt deserved a longer response than what normally goes into a comment.

I’ll post the entire comment here and then discuss the key points after:

I’d like to add one more thing as well. You have to find willing participants! No disrespect to anyone but you, pippin, and norcross are very well known WP developers. For an average joe, it’s not really that easy to say, “hey, I have a great idea for a plugin, let me ask some developers to build it with me.”

I think the first thing someone needs to do is network and build some relationships with plugin developers. And good relationships for that matter. Then those developers have to see if it’s worth it to them (do they have time, do they even want to do it, do they want to work with you).

Otherwise, it’ll be hard to work in the way you mentioned without hiring a developer out of pocket.

BUT, if you do build those relationships, or already have them, then the article is spot on =)

There are some valid and compelling points in this comment.

The Full Story of Building a Distributed Team

Whenever I draft an article, I try to provide a balanced perspective over the information that I’m sharing – be it sharing something I’ve already read or simply an opinion that I have.

Sometimes I do a better job of it than others. But the commenter – SureFireWeb – is correct in that I didn’t touch on the difficulty of actually finding good people to work with.

Essentially, he goes on to say that a person needs to “network and build some relationships,” and this is absolutely true; however, I’d like to add what I’ve done just give an example that it’s clearly possible.

0. A Disclaimer About Distributed Teams

The first point that I want to make (or the zeroeth, really – we’re all programmers, right? :)), is that this is not a prescriptive process.

I don’t really subscribe to the idea that “Hey, this worked for me so it’ll definitely work for you.” We’re all built differently so the strategies that we employ and, generally, the way that we behave and get work done is going to vary.

1. On Becoming “Well-Known”

Becoming Well-Known

If this is what you’re after, go for it! (I know some of you are ;))

For what it’s worth, I don’t consider myself “well-known,” and I’ll freely admit that this particular term is something that’s never really sat well with me.

However, when I stumbled across a definition that I think does the term justice I felt that it did the term justice and I was more comfortable with that label:

If more people know you than you actually know, then you [may be considered] well-known.

If you wish to become well-known, then it may actually be easier than you think – in fact, I’d argue that it’s easier than ever before:

  1. Blog. It sounds easier than it is, but setup a blog and routinely share what you’re learning, what you’re working on, and your opinions on related topics. 
  2. Guest Blog. One of the best moves you can make in order to get your name out there is to publish articles on sites that have a larger following. The nice thing is that the majority of these sites are looking for guest authors and they pay you to write.
  3. Share Code. This isn’t a rallying cry to change your position on open source (in fact, read this if you’re interested in my perspective on that topic)
  4. Tweet. I’m not necessarily saying that the best way to garner a following is to share random links. Instead, follow people who you admire and then hop into conversations when relevant. Over time, you’ll find yourself engaged with them, their following, and it has a bit of a snowball effect from there.

But there is a contingency to all of the above: Don’t do it for the sake of doing it. Instead, simply share your thoughts in your articles, join into the conversation, and willingly share your source code.

If your end game is to be “well-known”, then people will recognize it right away and you’ll be known, but not likely in the way that you wanted.

2. “Ask Developers To Build It With Me”

Build It With Me

No one wants to build this, but apparently someone did.

Personally, I believe that this has to happen after you’ve met some quality developers. I’m not saying that Point 1 is a pre-requisite for Point 2.


Instead, I’m saying that you’re going to be hard pressed to find good developers when you haven’t actually interacted or interfaced with them.

The thing is, this is actually something that’s relatively easy to do even offline:

  1. Attend your local WordPress developer meetups
  2. Go to a WordCamp and hang out on the developer track and meet other developers
  3. Guest blog on other sites!

Yep – Number 3 is a total overlap from Point 1. The truth is, you can’t underestimate the value that blogging can bring to your career.

Truth be told, I used to guest blog on a site that John Saddington was managing. When he got ready to release the first version of Standard, he was looking to contract to continue development of the theme.

So we went to lunch, he pitched me his vision over a plate full of Thai food, and that is what continued to get the 8BIT ball rolling.

3. Don’t Stop

One of the things that I’ve found to be true of all people who are well-known in their field and/or who are good at what they do is that they don’t stop.

They share what they’re working on, they ask questions, they help others, they adhere to constructive criticism, and they take negative criticism on the chin (because no body’s got time for a fight in blog comments).

If you were to go back and look at the early articles on this blog, look at my early writings on Envato or Smashing, or go back and look at the source code for some of my earliest plugins or even the first version of Standard, you’ll easily see that I had a long way to go.

And the truth is, I still have a long way to go. Development is not a means to an end – it’s a means by which you only get better.

But the only way to get better is not to stop what you’re doing, and to keep pushing through whatever challenges you’re facing. We all do it.

And That’s It

Honestly, I don’t know how helpful that is, but if someone were to pull me aside in a coffee shop, those are the three things that I’d share with them on how groom yourself to work better in the challenges of a distributed team.

There’s a lot to it and that’s not to be underestimated. In fact, I’d venture to say that some people simply aren’t cut out for it; however, if you have a desire to start a team or be a part of team like that, then odds are you’re capable.

But you can’t wait for the opportunity to come along – why not make it happen?


Join the conversation! 11 Comments

  1. Great FollowUp! Your points are dead on. I can’t stress enough the importance of networking and getting to know people in the industry. I’ve pretty much done everything you mentioned except go to a WordCamp!!! I’m waiting for something to happen in NY. Once it does… oh boy!! =)


  2. Great post Tom. I also enjoyed your talk at Wordcamp. Great things to think about.

  3. I didn’t know Guest blogging can be so effective in networking. Ok. I’ll not stop :)

    Thank you

  4. Since when do we call any point zero’th? It’s the first point, we just index it with 0 ;-).

  5. Great article Tom. I just referenced it in today’s post:

Leave a Reply