AMA with Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab

Hiring RemoteRemote Job HuntingWorking RemotelyEvents

Last updated: April 2, 2020
(Scroll down to see the transcript from the session)

During this wild and difficult time, we are especially thinking of everyone who has lost their job because of COVID-19 or were in the midst of job hunting when the pandemic hit. We're also thinking of the employers - especially freelancers and the startups and small businesses - who have been directly impacted and are evaluating their next steps.

We'd like to offer up a space for you to gain insight from an expert on what you can do during this time, and we couldn't think of a better person than Darren Murphy to answer some of your questions.

We're excited to announce that Darren Murph will be hosting an AMA in our Slack community on Thursday, April 2nd.

As the Head of Remote at GitLab, Darren works at the intersection of culture, hiring, onboarding, communication, and more. A true advocate for remote work, he has spent his career leading remote teams and charting remote transformations. He's the perfect person to ask your questions about:
  • Job hunting during this time and what companies like GitLab are looking for
  • What to do if you're looking for a remote job and don't have remote experience
  • Building a fully remote team across multiple countries and timezones
  • Remotely managing employees who are on-site

If you're not a member of our Slack community yet, you can join here.

Be sure to save the date and come prepared with your questions. If you can't make the AMA, we'll be transcribing the session into a blog post.

Follow Darren:
Twitter: @darrenmurph
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/darrenmurph

• • • 

Transcript from the AMA

Justine Shu
Welcome to WWR’s first AMA with Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab.  🙌

If you haven’t yet, please review the guidelines for the AMA that’s pinned to this channel.

Darren, welcome to our community — I know you’re super busy, so thank you for taking the time to be here.
Passing it over to you folks 🙂

Darren Murph
Hi all! Thanks for the opportunity to chat!  👋

I’m Darren, Head of Remote at GitLab. I’ve worked over 14 years remotely, and authored the Remote Playbook and associated guides here: http://allremote.info/
Like GitLab itself, I’m very transparent and love challenging questions — I followed the lead of other GitLabbers and stood up a README here. Anything and everything is fair game. Let me know what you’re curious about, what you’re dealing with, etc.  🌏 🌍 🌎

Question 1
Hello, Darren! I am wondering if you have any resources for our hiring managers to use in transitioning their in-person trainings (especially for new team members) to an online/remote format.

Darren Murph
This is a tough one for companies which were used to doing new hire orientation in-person. The best advice I have here in the interim is to give all new hires an Onboarding Buddy — someone they can Slack/Zoom every day with any question. It gives them a single point of contact so they aren’t bothering the entire company, and it helps them build a rapport with a friend who acts as the dot connector to your company. Here’s how GitLab utilizes onboarding buddies: https://about.gitlab.com/handbook/general-onboarding/onboarding-buddies/

Question 2
Thank you for your time, Darren! What is your advice on keeping people engaged remotely long term. We have been going strong these past 3 weeks, but as a “back to the office” date gets pushed further out, I’m concerned engagement will taper out.

Darren Murph 
Of course, thanks for the great question!

If you hire people who opt-in to a remote environment, this solves itself. GitLab has >85% voluntary retention because our applicants opt-in to remote, and they place an extraordinarily high value on that flexibility.

For those who tend to prefer in-office, your people team (or people/culture leaders and champions) will need to be very intentional about this. Colocated teams get away with letting spontaneity and fate create relationships. Remote forces you to be intentional about things, which will actually help you even if you do transition back into the office.

1) Be intentional about setting up places to connect. A 24/7 Zoom “Hotel Lobby” where people can gather for coffee, breaks, day-end chats, just like a real office/hotel lobby.
2) Consider weekly/monthly Talent Shows, Trivia, Show & Tell, joint gaming/music/karaoke sessions. We had a 135+ marketing talent show across six continents last week, replete with judges and prizes. It was amazing.
3) Create Slack channels for non-work stuff. A good news channel, hilarious dog videos, a channel for parents, a channel for fitness, one to talk about mental health, etc. Be intentional about creating avenues for this discourse to happen.

GitLab’s guide to informal communication: https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/informal-communication/

Question 3
Thanks again for your time Darren! I’m wondering if you have any tips, resources, or advice when it comes to looking for remote work and landing a remote job.
Darren Murph
Great question.

Check out these pages: https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/jobs/

Two overall takeaways.
Some roles are remote, advertised as such. Those will be incredibly competitive.
Some roles are advertised with a location, but if you have a longer work history you may be able to lobby for remote during the interview. These are much trickier, and you need to be aware of the pitfalls of a hybrid-remote scenario: https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/hybrid-remote/
Oh! And join this great LinkedIn group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13657237/

Question 4
Thanks for your time. Is it possible that they may be more remote work towards the end of 2020 due to the Coronavirus?
Darren Murph
Great question!

It’s guaranteed. The world will never put this genie back in the bottle. The global embrace of remote has been accelerated by at least 10 years due to COVID-19. This is forcing every digital company in the world to lay a remote infrastructure as a matter of business continuity, breaking down the old myths of “this job can’t be done remotely,” and also setting these organizations up to more easily hire, equip, and onboard remote hires in the future.

I believe a great deal of positive will come from a tragic scenario. It will spread opportunity to underserved areas, begin the process of reversing rural depopulation, and encourage people to invest more in their local community rather than tying their entire identity to their vocation.

Question 5
Hello Darren, thanks for taking the time. My question is pretty straight forward: Does GitLab happen to hire Jr Dev occasionally? i.e. Do you have the structure to welcome Jr Devs? Thanks again!

Darren Murph
Of course, thanks!

We just started an engineering internship pilot program this year: https://about.gitlab.com/handbook/engineering/internships/
You can read more on remote internships in general here: https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/internship/
Question 6
Hi Darren, I’m curious if you have insights into why some companies are against remote working, such as having a flexible schedule for employees to bounce from WFH to coming into the office.

Darren Murph
Great question!

Remote isn’t for everyone, and we’re transparent that there are drawbacks: https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/drawbacks/

However, the traditional resistance typically comes from one of three places.
1) Part of the business requires hardware/manufacturing, therefore executives say “our business can’t operate remotely,” ignoring the reality that marketing, comms, finance, HR, development, etc. could all function perfectly well remotely. It’s the all-or-nothing fallacy.
2) Norms. People who have made their career on being a persona in the office know no other way. It’s easier to fight against remote than it is to become an effective remote manager which defaults to servant-leadership.
3) Bad experiences. If someone had a sour experience with remote 10 years ago, they assume all remote is bad. In the meantime, Slack and Zoom were invented, we have near-ubiquitous LTE, and the current working generation cannot remember a time without the internet. We’ve come a long way, but bad experiences blind people to that reality. I worked remotely 14 years ago using EDGE connections and 14-pound laptops that only lasted 20 minutes on a charge. It is 1000x times easier today.

Question 7
Hi Darren. Firstly, thank you so much for your valuable time. Do you have any suggestions for developers to find remote jobs? I am having trouble landing a remote job despite having three years of industry experience and GitHub filled with passion projects. Does the remote job usually need +5 years of experience?
Darren Murph
Hi  See the answer and links here, particularly that LinkedIn remote workers group. (Edit: see question 3)

It’s fair to say that 5+ is the norm right now because it’s easier to know if someone is a proper manager of one if they have 5+ years of work experience. My first remote role was a few years in, and it was a freelance gig. Oftentimes, remote starts with whatever you can get, then you prove your way to better opportunities.

Question 8
Hi Darren, Thank you for your time. I’ve more than 7 years of Sys Admin experience. Now I’ve been learning DevOps tools. But no luck with job. Is that considered career change and my experience won’t be counted? I definitely need a remote job.
Darren Murph
My career is all over the map. I have a business degree, worked in supply chain, was a journalist/editor, worked in a PR agency, went in-house for communications at an audiovisual firm, worked in strategy for a travel publication, and now work at GitLab.

It’s all about conveying your story and your value in an interview. You are more than a piece of paper. You just need someone on the other end to give you the floor to show that.

See the answer and links here, particularly that LinkedIn remote workers group. (Edit: see question 3)

My advice is to have endurance. I went 6 months between jobs once, and it felt like 100 years. And that’s with a large portfolio of remote work. You may have to network and talk to hundreds of people to get 1-2 actual conversations that could lead somewhere. It’s important to have a community around you to keep your spirits high in the search.

Question 9
Hi Darren, first of all, thank you for taking the time to join us here! My question is: How to get US companies to work with European, how to propose a value to US remote companies as somebody not from the US or at least not from US timezones?
Thanks in advance!
Darren Murph
You’re welcome!

Companies that aren’t willing to hire from diverse time zones probably aren’t worth your time. Consider it a blessing that they show that resistance so you can focus your efforts elsewhere. You don’t want to force your way into a company where the culture clearly isn’t aligned with your values/time zone.

Many all-remote companies are fully async, like GitLab and Remote.com. See the answer and links here, particularly that LinkedIn remote workers group. (Edit: see question 3)

Question 10
I believe I read that GitLab deletes Slack messages after a certain period of time. Could you please explain how that is advantageous? We depend on Slack history a lot.
Darren Murph
We do! It’s a forcing function to use Slack for its best purpose, informal communication. You can read more here: https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/how-to-work-remote-first/

For more on this, I speak at length on this podcast: https://customercentric.unbabel.com/podcast/darren-murph-gitlab

This is advantageous because it forces all work to begin where it needs to end up. For us, that’s GitLab (the product). For you, it may be some other dashboard or async tool.

Otherwise, Slack/Teams/chat is a one-way street to burnout. Humans were never designed to have hundreds or thousands of people demanding things from them with red bubbles. There is a reason your phone can only allow one conversation at a time.

If you don’t have an async platform in place, Slack is passable until you establish one, but be intentional about focusing on mental health in whatever you establish.

Question 11
Hi Darren, I've been working remotely for several years now, in the US, specifically with PHP/React. In the future, I plan on moving to New Zealand and unfortunately, my company does not support remote employees from outside the US. Does Gitlab hire people that currently live in the US but plan on moving overseas, any implications? Also, would they hire someone with no Ruby background (I read Ruby is Gitlab's backend language)?

Darren Murph
Hi 👋

We do hire in New Zealand and support people relocating there.
More on hiring: https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/hiring/
More on compensation: https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/compensation/

Your location factor would change in your comp/benefits, but it’s a discussion you’d have with your manager prior to moving.

I wouldn’t give up on your company. I worked for a company that didn’t support remote. Put together a package on why it’s beneficial for your company/manager. Make concessions to pioneer it for your company. Do innovative things. GitLab pays more for those who can’t come on as full-timers (and are thus essentially contractors) so they can fund their own benefits — perhaps this arrangement would work in your current company. Do whatever you can to make it easy for them to say yes.

I can’t speak specifically to the hiring re: Ruby experience.

Question 12
Hi Darren, thanks so much for taking the time to share your insights with us. How did Gitlab manage to grow to a 1000+ employee company, and still maintain its culture? What would be your advice for distributed start-ups that are continuously scaling, how can they adapt processes and structures to enable growth, but still avoid becoming too "corporate"?
Darren Murph
You’re welcome! Great question!

These three links will be helpful.
1) https://about.gitlab.com/company/history/#how-did-gitlab-become-an-all-remote-company
2) https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/building-culture/
3) https://about.gitlab.com/handbook/values/

TL;DR — Document the culture. Document your values. Values are infinitely scalable so long as you’re willing to evolve them. Culture is not a feeling or a vibe. Culture is a universally understood North Star, rooted in values, that guides every decision in your business large or small. Look how detailed GitLab’s values are. They aren’t 5-6 words. It’s thousands of words prescriptively detailing how each one can be lived out.

Question 13
Hello Darren, do you think companies will consider hiring from Africa as the continent is the least affected from COVID-19 or establishing offices inside Africa?

What are the main reasons that someone chooses GitLab over Github? Or maybe I’m the one that is not understanding the line between them?
Darren Murph
You’re welcome!

I don’t think COVID-19 will sway that much on its own. I think globally, companies will be more willing to hire remotely, so countries in Africa should share in that benefit.

Your second question is a bit outside of my scope, but in general, GitLab’s transparency is a huge draw. People love buying products and services from companies where they have a direct line to the maker.

Question 14
Hi Darren, two questions: what’s the most challenging part of your job as Head of Remote? How many, if any, out of your 1000 colleagues burn out from the remote work and isolation (considering you have a guide to avoid that?)?
Do you have stats of people who left Gitlab because they wanted to go back to the office?
Is the Gitlab employee turnover rate higher or lower than the average in the non-remote industry?
Darren Murph
Hi 👋 

1) Hardest part is reiterating that people should give themselves permission to truly operate differently. Those who thrive at GitLab take the opportunity to drop prior workplace baggage at the door, embrace a liberating and empowering set of values. But it’s hard. People have past experiences which color their beliefs and shape their defaults.
More on that here: https://about.gitlab.com/jobs/faq/#whats-it-like-to-work-at-gitlab

2) Very few, because we are adamant about avoiding it.
See here: https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/mental-health/

I helped create a Slackbot that reminds all of our team members to take time away from work every single month. You can implement this tomorrow — super powerful. https://about.gitlab.com/handbook/paid-time-off/#monthly-reminder-to-consider-taking-pto

3) Not specifically, but our voluntary retention is north of 85%, which is well above industry average. People who value remote tend to be very loyal and maximize the benefits of living a non-linear workday: https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/non-linear-workday/

Question 15
Hi Darren, thanks for your time!
I'm curious as to what is the biggest thing you've changed your mind about, in relation to remote working, in the last 1-2 years?
Darren Murph
Great question!
I used to think it would grow slowly and would be the default way for digital work to happen by the time my 1-year old entered the workforce. Now I think it’ll be the default for millions of jobs by 2021.

The shift is happening in real-time. The genie is out of the bottle and there is no going back. We are witnessing a societal and cultural shift that will be etched in history books as firmly as the early 1900s invention of the assembly line. Work has changed forever.

Question 16
Hi Darren, any advice for people who are changing careers and wanting to transition to both their first remote role and move to a tech-focused company? I know a couple of people who find it hard to get a ‘foot in the door’ because they don’t have X years experience and are being discounted in the first round even for junior roles even though they have transferable skills and are doing the courses to acquire the tech knowledge. Any guidance greatly appreciated.
Darren Murph
Hi 👋

See the answer and links here, particularly that LinkedIn remote workers group. (Edit: see question 3)

There’s no doubt it’s hard. There is no silver bullet. My first remote role was a low-paying freelance gig that I took and made something out of. A lot of people don’t want to start there, but it’s an option.

The other way is to take a colocated role, do great work, and begin assembling your case for going remote. It’s much easier for management to allow a proven worker to go remote once you’re already in.

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