November 2016 I started working for 350.org. After many years of occasionally working with them on various projects, Step It Up 2006 and 2007, People’s Climate March 2014, probably some other projects I’m forgetting… anyway, they finally decided that it was time to hire a full-time web developer. It was a huge step, as the only other person who was doing web development in-house was my former colleague Matthew Hinders-Anderson, who is an incredible graphic and web designer and had been keeping the website ships afloat for many years.

Here’s a photo of me at the 350.org Brooklyn office, during a trip out there to train and co-work with Matthew.

There’s a lot I could say about my time at 350.org. It is incredible what folks at that organization are able to accomplish given their relatively small size (between 150-250 people during my time there). Folks there are so smart, strategic, and kind.

My work over the past 3 years has looked like a lot of different things. When I first came on board, there were some pretty unreasonable expectations about what I was supposed to be holding. The title ‘web developer’ seemed to mean that if something was related to the internet, I was in charge of it. I was asked for help with everything from managing a CRM that was recently implemented to uploading folks’ content to our websites to building FB messenger bots to troubleshooting Slack. It was wild.

After swimming in the confusion for a while, I started to carve out some boundaries for what, I thought, were the best uses of my time, expertise, and skills. I made a proposal to hire a Data Manager to help with the CRM. I did my best to train our other staff on using WordPress so that they were less reliant on me. Baby steps.

The team changed a lot over the years, and I’m glad we were able to grow and specialize. Hopefully I was able to impart some wisdom before becoming a jaded, burned-out mess.

What follows are my parting thoughts to my team:

Recommendations/Insights

  1. If I leave any legacy with this team, I want it to be the vigilant mindset that technology is not, and has never been, politically neutral. We use a lot of tools that contribute to Surveillance Capitalism. It’s an unfortunate reality. But as this team’s capacity grows, I hope the desire to be more thoughtful and intentional when it comes to choosing the tools you work with also grows.
  2. Don’t be afraid to scrap things and start over. I think one of my biggest regrets is that I considered our aging infrastructure a bit too precious, and didn’t want to step on Matthew’s toes. So we just kept hacking and hacking at systems (Baseline, AK templatesets, etc) that kept falling into more technical debt. In hindsight, I wish we would have been a bit more fearless when it came to sunsetting old stuff and building something new. Would have probably helped with morale too :)
  3. There will always be more to do than you have time/capacity to do it. This isn’t meant to be discouraging, it’s meant to be realistic and point to the crucial value of prioritizing. There’s never a perfect way to do this, but I think an important part of the growth of this team has been the process of collectively deciding on priorities for a span of time (quarter, 2-week sprint, whatever) and fiercely defending it. That has been huge. Before that I felt like I was aimlessly floating in a soup of random requests and didn’t feel like I was really working towards anything. Defending your time is everything.
  4. Customer service is crucial, but you don’t have to do everything that is asked of you. Building on my previous point, it’s important to find a balance between making people happy with little things, and working on the bigger projects. I’ve been on both sides of this, sometimes all I wanted to focus on was support requests. Or sometimes I was neck-deep into a complex project, and didn’t respond to slack or email messages for weeks. The best approach, as you can probably imagine, is a hybrid. Maybe it’s a certain day of the week that you spend responding to requests. Or a week out of the month. Up to you. But keep in mind that this team has the insight and expertise to know if a request is a priority or not. 
  5. Trust and invest in each other’s leadership. Far too often at this org I have seen managers pass up on opportunities to give people a chance to grow into a more advanced challenging role. This has resulted in a lot of people feeling like they weren’t worth being given an opportunity, and they burnout/start phoning it in. Give each other the space to collaborate on your professional goals, take risks, and evaluate how it goes. It won’t always be the right fit but it’s better than falling into stagnation and pigeon-holing each other.
  6. Working remotely is lonely – collaborate as much as possible! Take as many opportunities as you can to pair on projects, have coffee/happy hour chats, check in on each other. Remote work can make you feel like your only worth is based on what you deliver, but remember that you are valued for the amazing, intelligent, sometimes messy and flawed human that you are, full stop.
  7. Celebrate your and others’ successes, big and small. I don’t know if I ever told anyone this, but I have a folder on my computer called ‘Praise’ where I literally just screencap anytime someone public thanks me or gives me a shout-out for something. On days when everything feels like too much I look at the screencaps in that folder and it really helps remind me why I do this work. Don’t forget to take the time to praise others’ work as well, it makes all the difference in terms of building solid relationships, and helping others feel valued. And when you kick ass together, celebrate together as well. Retros are about “the work” but they’re also about the team and making space to celebrate your accomplishments, together.

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