Engineering Insight:  Telecommuting, or Virtual Engineering

VIRTUAL Management

Managing Whoever from Anywhere


In 1981 I joined Digital Equipment Corporation.  On that first day of work in 1981,  Digital Equipment  gave me a terminal to carry home, to connect to my phone lines to give me full access to the mainframes back at work.  I learned the value of being able to work from home.  I learned to take it for granted that I could always do a little more work at any time of the day or night.  When I got an inspiration, I could follow through on it.  


It wasn't until 1990 that my company gave me a lap top.  Now I could even work on an airplane [if the flight was less than 6 hours].  I could work anywhere. In Reading England.  In Valbonne, France.   And I did.


During that time I project led my project, and then went on to be a supervisor and an engineering manager.  I was a better manager because I could BE a virtual manager myself….checking on work,  focusing engineers on the core problems to be addressed,  checking on progress and doing all of these things from wherever I was.  Usually it was not in my office.  I had engineers working for me in England, in France, later in Germany, and in the U.S.  Maybe THEY were always in the office working at that time, but I was doing virtual management to keep everything going and I needed that capability of my working from anywhere to be a good leader.


In addition, it was a no-brainer to realize that even in 1981, I would pay for phone bills if my engineers would take their terminals home and set up at home….I got 9 or 10 or 12 hours of work from them each day instead of 8, because they couldn't all stay at work day and night and eat bagels and coffee like we often wanted to to get things done.  Engineers that have access to their work tools 24 hours a day have a greater chance of finishing what you want them to do.


But a manager can't give engineers a lap top and send them off.  A manager needs to increase the specificity of his/her instructions and directions if engineers are going to be working elsewhere.  A manager needs to learn how to keep tabs on exactly what every engineer is doing, what their obstacles are, and what their chances of success are on each assignment.  A manager needs to know what tools the engineers need and what might really make them more productive in a virtual environment.  A manager has to know how to bring together all of these pieces of work into a flowing whole, and what extra tools and processes are needed to make it all work.  A manager has to make themselves available to each engineer when needed, but not be looking over their shoulders in ways that hinders their work.  Physically, that manager isn't going to see any of those engineers for days at a time, or maybe for weeks at a time.  


When I had a junior engineer right down the hall from me in the 1990s, he wash so darn smart that giving him assignments was like getting ready for blast-off.  The minute I gave him the task, he was off like a rocket!  IF that rocket blasted off, as it would, and I could see that the trajectory wasn't what it wanted it to be, it took OH, SO LONG to get it back and refocused in exactly the right direction for another blastoff.  And this engineer worked right down the hall!  If you have good engineers they have to be directed to do exactly what is needed, and boy you will appreciate the results you get!!   


Check this website often and we'll post tips that make it easier for you to manage engineers and engineering projects "virtually".  It's the way of the world.

VIRTUAL Engineering

Working from Wherever


In 1981, when I joined Digital Equipment Corporation as a software engineer, on the first day they gave me a terminal to carry home.  From that day on, once I connected the terminal to the phone lines which went back to the mainframe at work,  I was a virtual programmer for at least part of every day.


I went to work and put at least 8 hours in, but had 3 small children and needed to be home in time to make dinner and help with  homework and get everyone ready for the next day, and THEN I'd have an hour or two in the evening to do one more compilation….and see the result and maybe do one more….and have some section of code working well before I was back at work the next morning at 7:30am.  I could rationalize that it saved myself half a day in my work because of those extra runs the night before.  


Or maybe I could do some testing or debugging at home.  And at that time, people didn't work from home.  We worked at work.  BUT we had nights and weekends where we were just as productive at home.  Snowstorm?  If we couldn't get out we just worked from home.  So from 1981 to 2013, I've certainly "learned how to do it".  


In 2013 many engineers work from home several days a week.  Even if they have an office and a full setup at their company, they still just work from home.  They're hot on whatever they're trying to get done and it isn't worth all of that commute time to show their faces in their office.  


Back in the early '90s, Jim Grey, an engineer from my building,  had an offer to go work for Microsoft.  By that time Microsoft was thriving and could do that…they could pay more money to get the very best engineers in their field.  Jim  was  among the best in the data base field.  He pioneered database technology.  He was among the first to develop the technology needed in computerized transactions.  Today, Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope software is dedicated to Jim.    But how did Microsoft recruit him away from Digital Equipment to come work on large databases and transaction processing for them?  It was't money.  Jim's stipulation was that if he came to work for them, he wanted to work off of his own boat in the San Franscisco Bay, and that he'd commute once in a while up to Microsoft in Seattle, but mostly he'd work from his boat.  Jim described to me what he was going to do,  and there was no doubt that it could work!  Microsoft back in 1995 was going to give Jim the chance to work in the place he most wanted to be….on the water on his boat!  And Jim could invent anywhere.    Over time he grew the Bay Area Research center for Microsoft, simply bringing other smart database people closer to Jim.  


Today engineers don't need to negotiate hard to be able to work wherever they choose.  Many don't HAVE an office to go to, saving companies floor space.  They like "tele-commuting".  


So what does Virtual Engineering do for you?  It gives you freedom.  Freedom to work where you want and when you want and how you want.   And today many companies don't even HAVE an office for their engineers -- they expect them to work from home, and to stay tied into their main base entirely "virtually".  And it can work -- for the engineer as well as for the company.


Stay tuned to this website, where more postings will include how to make "virtual engineering" work for you, the engineer.