How to Show Your Value As a Remote Worker with Ryan Chartrand of X-Team

Hiring RemoteWorking RemotelyEvents

Last updated: June 30, 2020
(Scroll down to see the transcript from the session)

Join us for our next AMA with Ryan Chartrand, CEO of X-Team and get insight on how to display your value remotely. Whether you're currently looking for a job or working the remote job of your dreams, standing apart from the crowd or being more visible online can be challenging.

X-Team provides high-performing, on-demand teams of developers for leading brands. As CEO of X-Team, Ryan leads the vision, strategic roadmap, and culture that attracts thousands of developers who want to join X-Team each day and be part of the most energizing community of developers. Ryan has built and managed remote teams from around the world for more than a decade across a variety of industries. He also previously lived and worked location-independent across 20 different countries for many years.

Here's your chance to ask questions like:
  • How can I stand out from the crowd when I apply for technical roles?
  • How can I best prepare for a remote interview?
  • How can I improve my communication as a developer?
  • What does X-Team look for when hiring?
  • How can I keep motivated as a remote developer?

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.

Connect with Ryan:

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Transcript from the AMA

Justine Shu
Welcome to today’s AMA with Ryan Chartrand, CEO at X-Team! 🎉

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

Ryan, I know you’re busy, so thank you for being here and taking the time to connect with the WWR community.

Let’s get started!

Question 1
Hey Ryan! Thanks for doing this. Question for you -- do you use interview assessment software when making engineering hires? Like a qualified or interviewing.io.

Ryan Chartrand
Thanks for the great question 🙂

There are many different approaches you can take when it comes to hiring developers today. We've been around since long before a lot of these awesome new tools/sites/platforms popped up on the scene, so we've been developing our own tools/etc. over the last 13 years.

That said, we have become less and less interested over that decade on tools like the one you shared, as what we've found is that algorithm tests and abstract coding challenges have very few times helped us validate the skill strength of a candidate. We instead focus heavily on diving into their knowledge and their thought processes and then working with them side by side on a paid project, as most of the time the issue isn't that we didn't assess their coding skills, but that their remote working comms and reliability are their primary weakness -- and also the one thing you can't ever test for without actually working with them 🙂

That said, I think those tools are super useful for small hiring teams that need to push a lot of applicants through to more easily assess them, especially if they haven't fully developed their own processes yet. But the end goal should always be to eventually find your own process that delivers the best results for the teams you're building, not trying to adhere to what a 3rd party thinks is best 😉

That is good to hear about not using code challenges any longer.  I’ve always felt it didn’t really show anything about the developer other than they are good at code challenges.  How does the paid project work if the applicant is still working at a fulltime job? Or do you just leave that up to the applicant?

Ryan Chartrand
Glad you agree! And being good at code challenges is worth...well, nothing on a real project 🙂

So another thing we learned about a good vetting process is that it should be tailored to the candidate and above all be respectful. If someone comes to us with 20 years of experience, a code challenge is an insult 🙂

As is a paid project, assuming they've built enough confidence with us to where we trust in them and will happily bring them onboard for 3 months to start and go from there with a mutual understanding that we want it to work so long as they validate their comms and reliability.

So we'll treat each candidate differently based on the confidence they're able to build which is generally a mix of experience and how well they can showcase their depth of knowledge as a dev and remote team member.

Question 2
Is Java dying? Why there are less and less Java positions opened?

Ryan Chartrand
Java has certainly seen a decline, which I can say from my CS days in college of endless headaches with it, I'm happy to see 😜

In all seriousness, some of the legends of our industry are seeing the effects of JS start to make their impact -- PHP, Java, etc. are all getting hit hard. But you also have resurgences like Python thanks to the rise in DevOps needs. So I wouldn't count any technology out of the game, but I would certainly be spending my extra quarantine time these days learning as much as JavaScript as I can, as the industry for the last 5+ years has been full-steam ahead in that direction and only getting more consistent.

What technology do you recommend learning to have the best options for working remotely in software development.  I am a native iOS developer with 10 years of experience, but finding it hard to find remote positions with that skill.

Ryan Chartrand
I'm a bit surprised to hear you're having trouble finding iOS work remotely, but it is COVID days so everything is unpredictable at the moment. I would hang on to native iOS, I see a strong future for it still and demand as well. It isn't in-demand as something like JavaScript, but iOS is higher paying, more fun (personally), and certainly in-demand and has passed the test of time against things like React Native, Electron, Ionic, etc. that have tried to kill off native dev. You're in a good lane if you're enjoying it!

Question 3
Thank you for being here! I've been working as a developer for two years and since I started this journey I’ve been wanting to work on X-team. For an aspiring developer what skills do you consider most that someone part of your team needs to have. I’m a JavaScript developer and have learned node, react, vue, express, Koa, graphql as tech skills, I’m always eager to keep learning but my concern is what would a correct path would be to join the team.

Ryan Chartrand
It's so awesome to hear you've wanted to join X-Team for so long, I hope that happens one day 🙂

Before we even talk tech skills, the most important skill to us is the one that's hardest to test for -- communication and reliability as a remote dev. They're also the ones that decide if a project will succeed or fail; they decide if a dev stays on a project for 1 month or 10 years. True story!

So above all, I'd be focused on learning how to work within a remote team -- how to communicate actively, how to set and reset expectations constantly, how to proactively ask async questions, how to be the best communicator on a Zoom call -- the list goes on, this is where you can be a standout.

As for tech skills, Node + React are still the bread and butter of the industry so that's great to hear you've been learning them! GraphQL is also great to have. The next area I'd focus on is DevOps -- things like AWS (Lambda, Dynamo, etc.) are HUGE bonuses these days and even requirements now.

The key though with tech skills is to show you can learn and adapt. Here's a helpful post we wrote 🙂

Follow up
Thanks Ryan I appreciate the time to answer. Ive been working remote already, but I don’t even know if I’m developing this skill. Is there any theory I could rely on? Book blog or something. I know this is somehow a soft skill. Also I noticed your first screening relies in technical skills, therefore my question on the path to take as a developer to become part of the team.

Ryan Chartrand
The first screening is a mix of technical skills and English, which are the two easiest to screen for and also generally the 2 most important to the teams we're building. But the soft skill is what actually gets you the job once you already have those two. As for a book on it, I'd recommend our guide to remote dev teams: https://x-team.com/blog/remote-team-guide/ especially the Communication chapter 🙂

Question 4
Thanks for the AMA, when interviewing are there specific hard skills you look for? Are there specific soft skills you look for?

Ryan Chartrand
For hard skills, whether it's us or any other company, always take the requirements listed on the job posting seriously. No one is looking for less than what's been posted. Oftentimes there are another 10 requirements you only find out about as you get deeper into the hiring process. So anytime you don't fit the hard skills listed, don't waste your time applying 😉

For the soft skills, these are the most hidden of them all as they're hard for companies to express. Most companies will list that they want someone who is a "fast learner" or is "passionate". While these are generic things, try to dig deeper into them. Try to find out what their culture is from their website. Explore the Twitter feeds of their employees. Once you have an idea of who they are, it's no different than if you were writing to someone on a dating app -- you want to appeal to who they are and show how you relate to them.

The other key with soft skills is simply how you present yourself from the first touchpoint they have with you (your LinkedIn, your CV, your e-mails to them, etc.), through to the final interviews (Zoom calls, the backgrounds you choose to have the call from, the audio quality you show up, your WiFi speed, whether you make them laugh). It's again all too similar to dating 🙂

It's on you to make an epic impression, don't expect that they'll know everything that's great about you -- only you know until you make it a point to express it in touchpoint you have with them.

Hope this wasn't too vague, happy to do any followup questions for ya!

Question 5
How important for you are software designing skills? Do you use techniques like Event Storming?

Ryan Chartrand
Awesome question! Software design skills are awesome to have as any developer and regardless of the role. For us, we're all about the thought process, it's what we care most about when vetting developers -- not whether you can solve Knight's Tour in 10 minutes 😛

And software design skills show that you have a well-developed thought process when going into any project.

These specific skills aren't required to join X-Team or most software teams out there, but I would absolutely make a point to highlight them AND explain why those skills add value to the teams you've joined (even better if you can link us to a blog post showing how you've used them on a project!). One of the main points I wanted to make today was about 'how to be a standout' and you've listed one of them perfectly 😉

Question 6
What do you think it's the most important part of the mindset required for succeeding in remote work?

Ryan Chartrand
A thoughtful question that deserves a thoughtful response 🙂

Our tagline is "Keep Moving Forward" but it's less of a tagline and more of a way of life we embrace. It's a way of life that was born out of working on remote teams for more than a decade. It represents the mindset you're referring to that is so key to success -- if you can't bring a forward moving energy to a remote team, you will struggle. This is why most successful remote workers up until this point have been very independent people, as independent workers tend to already have this energy baked into them; they're the kinds of people who finished the group project on their own 😛

This forward-moving energy can be found in many ways on a remote team, I'll give you an example: proactive async questions. Rather than ask someone a question on Slack like "What should I do about this customer's question?", remember that you won't get to have a conversation about it until that person comes online and you will likely be offline by then, so anticipate the conversation 🙂

 "What should I do about this customer's question? Here are 3 responses I've considered, which of the 3 do you think is best?" Keep things moving forward, always. Remote teams have no time for long pauses that take days to resolve. Be proactive, drive things forward, seek progress every day, not 🐌 .

We often refer to forward-moving people as people who don't need someone to hold their hand -- no babysitting required 😉

They are never found waiting to be told what to do. When you work across 50+ countries and timezones as we do, you can't wait until people come online to be told what to do. You have to do what matters most with the time you are online -- add value.

And that's the beauty of remote teams -- all that matters at the end of the day is the value you add. Not the office politics or drama, not who is standing at the water cooler, not who has been away from their seat too long. Just: how much value is this person adding each day? The people who stick around on remote teams are always the ones who are clearly showing the value they add and whose forward energy is obvious. It's a beautiful way of looking at life in general -- to ask ourselves every day if we're adding value not only to our work but our marriages, our children, our communities. Once you embrace this forward-moving mindset, your whole life changes and you find yourself constantly growing and feeling fulfilled 🙂

I could talk all day on this one! 😄

Question 7
What backgrounds do you look for in account managers?

Ryan Chartrand
Definitely people with a lot of ambition and forward-moving energy, people who love process and can handle a lot of communication. Certainly, experience in industries that need software development helps, and having previous clients they can tap into is a big key for any organization hiring salespeople. Our account managers tend to work every stage of the funnel as our model is a bit unique in that it's very easy for our account managers to sell to our clients thanks to the incredible developer recruitment engine we've built to help them sell with ease, meaning they get to spend more time building relationships and so proven experience around relationship-building in creative ways (we try to innovate in this area a lot) is also a big plus 🙂

Question  8
why do most of the remote companies don't even bother to send you an email whether you fit into the role or not? And what can be done to get a response on your application? Is location a hurdle in remote opportunity?

Ryan Chartrand
Thanks for this question, worth addressing!

I'll never forget when I applied to CNET.com coming out of college. I was so hyped. I wrote the best cover letter I thought the world had ever seen. I poured my passion and my soul into it all. And then...no response. Not even a confirmation e-mail.

It set me on a path of frustration toward the recruitment industry. To me, it was broken and needed to be fixed. It still does.

The reality, however, is that recruitment teams are often small and they get bombarded with thousands of applicants, especially a remote company where they accept applications from countries all around the world. The problem just gets amplified. There's simply not enough time in the day to give CV feedback to every person who applies. There are ways to make the experience more personal (we make videos that every applicant receives explaining how our process works so it's more personal), but don't assume companies are actively trying to ghost you -- they are overwhelmed and someone is breathing down their neck saying "Where's my top candidate? I want them now!" The standouts always get the most attention and the key for you is making yourself a standout.

We actually tried giving feedback to every applicant, we built an application that would allow us to quickly send an applicant an e-mail with 1 click based on whichever of the most common reasons we don't move forward with an applicant (English level, empty CV, salary expectations out of range, etc.) that they fell into. It turns out though this approach is received with MORE negative response than if we say nothing other than "If you don't hear from us, we won't be moving forward." So even trying to solve the problem in a scalable way still needs to be re-thought as ultimately we all want to speak to a human and know that 1) they care; 2) it's not my shortcomings as a person, simply that I still have some experience I need to gain to be ready. I hope I speak for most remote companies in saying we truly want to be able to provide that level of human interaction but so far haven't found the most scalable solution that provides it in a meaningful and personal way. Coming soon 😉

I think this will be figured out eventually, and I hope we can grow X-Team to a point where we can offer a full-time CV review service where we help people who aren't yet a fit for X-Team still walk away from us with some value -- whether that's us helping them rewrite their CV or be taught about how to succeed in our industry. There's a big hole for coaching people on how to get a remote job today, and it's a personal goal of mine to fill that need one day.

In the meantime, getting a meaningful response from a remote company that is likely a 1-person hiring team and has 1k+ CVs in their inbox is about being a standout. A standout is 100% of the time someone who not only checks all the boxes in terms of the experience they are looking for (and by this I mean you 100% fit the requirements of the role and has exactly what the job posting has requested), but has also taken the time to show a strong interest in the company and reached out in a way that shows your passion and how you can fit into the fabric of their team better than anyone else.

I don't people would care too much if company's said at the start that they would send out an automated rejection email instead of "If you don't hear from us, we won't be moving forward." At least that way, they know.

Ryan Chartrand
The automated rejection email is the current route we take, although I have to admit I don't enjoy it. We are always working on helpful content to attach to that e-mail though that can help people grow and get better at applying, whether to us or any company. The goal for every company should be -- how can I let this person -- who took the time to care about my company -- leave this experience with a piece of value? We should always be giving value to someone who gives us their time. So at the least, we work on content that can help them, or we do AMAs like this, or podcasts, etc. Anything to add value, the key to the success of any remote team.

Question  9
How can a candidate stand out from the crowd in a technical role like software development?

Ryan Chartrand
Excellent question 🙂

I think this breaks into 2 primary points:

First -- your profile.
Whether you have to share your LinkedIn or input your experience into some forms, this is the most critical stage of the process. Everything after this is a breeze IMO 🙂

But if you can't catch their attention as a standout at this stage, you may never stand a chance getting noticed.

The key here is putting yourself in the hiring manager's shoes -- they are swamped. They have a ton of work that needs to be done and that's why they've put up a job posting for more help. They have no patience or time in the day for reading profiles, they just want to find exactly the person they need and get back to that giant stack of Jira tickets that are awaiting.

So then, what do they do? They spend 2-3 seconds on each person's profile reviewing. What are they are looking for in those 2-3 seconds? Amount of experience and whether they see the keywords of the skills they need to do those Jira tickets ASAP. So then, when your profile looks like this, guess what they do? 🙂

They close that tab faster than a break; in a loop (terrible joke, I tried 😛). Or if all they see is this -- yep, closed the tab again, I still have no idea anything about you from this, just the company's info. Here's a good example of what it should look like instead.

So what do they need to see on that first glance? Put simply -- they need to build confidence that "If I hired this person right now, I'd feel damn good about putting them on those Jira tickets tomorrow." You have 2-3 seconds to make them think that. Let's do it.

First, make sure all of the primary skills they've listed on their job posting can be found within your last 2 roles. If they have to read anything past that, you probably already lost them. Now don't just list the skills like "Worked on Node, React, Vue." 🙂

That grabs their attention but it doesn't build confidence. Remember that word -- confidence.

Instead, build confidence by showing them how you used those skills. Remember, they're thinking about their Jira tickets, they want to know you're a fit to tackle them. So, "Worked in a React/Node stack for a 1M+ user platform that handled realtime transactions. I built pixel perfect front-end pages, while also maintaining  backend integration and 3rd party plugins like X, Y, Z." Now if I've got a Jira ticket that specifically needs someone to build a page that matches a design and connect it to the backend (aka 99% of Jira tickets), I've got a winner I can hire tomorrow here.

This is just a quick example but you get the idea -- give us enough context to know that you can fill the role tomorrow and immediately add value. We haven't been a fly on the wall your whole career 🙂, only you know what you've done, the value you've added, and the skills you learned to add that value and only YOU can convey it when it comes time to get the next job. We have to take responsibility and not expect companies to hire us because of hidden information that only we know. You're on stage, so perform 🙂

A couple of extra tips here: always make your profile in English, and never just copy/paste your job description from a company -- show the impact you made as an individual member of the team in your role, as well as any team achievements.

Alright now second -- thought process.
This is incredibly important once you've sold someone on the skills they're looking for. Now I'm looking for proof that you even know what React/Node is 🙂

Unfortunately, this means more writing though 🙂 But if you can show me the depth of your knowledge upfront, I'll shoot you to the front of the line faster than...alright, no more jokes 😛Depth of knowledge comes from understanding how you work on projects, how you would approach those Jira tickets I have ready for you. I need to know you won't go about it in the most inefficient way, I need to know you will leave progress updates every day on those tickets, I need to know you won't sit there blocked for 6 hours doing nothing, I need to know you will work with your team and you won't let pride get in the way.

You show this by writing about programming, your thoughts on how best to work as a team, your thoughts on how you went about a big project you recently did (don't use NDA as an excuse, you can always anonymize the information you're talking about and speak generally about a challenge you had). If I see you not only list your experience, but a blog post to go with each of those roles you worked in showing me more depth into challenges you took on in those roles and your thinking behind how you solved those challenges, then consider yourself first in line for a deeper conversation that leads to hopefully getting hired. LinkedIn posts are a great place to write these posts as well, but feel free to use Medium or Dev.to.

Alright so these are the top 2 to focus on, obviously, after this, it becomes about culture fit and values alignment, but all of that is usually icing on the cake if you've already sold us on your skills and made yourself a standout on those skills.

Happy to dive into this more, just wanted to get this out to you quickly!

Question 10
I have 2 years of experience working remotely and one day I'd love to join X-Team but my skillset is in .NET (C# and Azure) and I have not seen openings for those, what tech stack would you recommend for me to master in order to be able to apply for X-Team?

Ryan Chartrand
X-Team hasn't had a ton of demand for .NET, you're right. There's certainly demand out there, although not as much in the remote work space yet -- this should change now that the world is changing. It never hurts to step outside the comfort zone and apply your skills in other languages -- remember the hardest things to learn you probably already have (comms, expectation setting, working with POs, rallying a team, resolving conflicts, git nightmares, etc.) -- so perhaps make 2020 not only the year of discomfort in every other imaginable way we've already gone through, but also in learning some new skills like Node  😉

Question 11
How do you keep motivated when working remote?

Ryan Chartrand
Another great question 🙂

Motivation as a remote worker really comes down to energy, and unfortunately, there are many energy challenges you'll run into. Have kids at home? They'll drain your energy if you don't keep them siloed from your work time/space. Alone all day at home? You'll feel isolated and demotivated very quickly.

It's on us to chase that energy each and every day. That's the commitment we all have to make if we take on the freedoms and benefits of working remote.

The first step in that is self-awareness -- understanding 1) what energizes us, 2) when we need energy most, 3) how we capture that energy in each scenario that we need it.

For example, I know that when I feel really demotivated, I have a self-check as it's usually 1 of 2 reasons -- 1) I'm burned out from the prior day's 14-hour day most likely; 2) I'm bored and am missing a good challenge or inspiration.

I know how to fix #1 -- I take the day off, guilt-free, knowing how much value I added the day before. I focus entirely on doing things I love that I know energize me like video games or movies or playing music or hanging out with my wife and dogs (you also need to know whether you need alone time or family time to solve certain demotivation states). To fix #2, I know I need to go on YouTube all day being inspired by Simon Sinek or a good Joe Rogan podcast, and just consume thoughtful ideas that re-energize me.

So self-awareness is the first step and it takes years to figure out, but you have to actively keep learning about yourself and understanding all of your moods and energy levels and what works/what doesn't work at restoring them.

Then it's about chasing that energy each day. You don't have to feel motivated when you wake up each morning, but you do have to commit to taking care of your energy levels every day. And sometimes you'll have to take more drastic actions to fix your energy, like physically removing yourself from your home. If you can't stand your 4 walls, go work at Starbucks. If you can't stand your city, go work in another city this week. When you're remote, freedom is yours to do anything you need to do to get your energy in the right spot to be able to do the best work of your career. It's an incredible gift, but only when used to its maximum potential 😉

Another great way to chase energy is to be part of a community that energizes you. We built our company, X-Team, to be the most energizing community for developers because we are very aware of this challenge. But there's a community for everyone out there, whether it's a gaming community, a sports team community, a local community (bit trickier these days!), etc. -- communities centred around your passions give you daily reminders of what energizes you most and you can be inspired by what others are doing as reminders to use those same activities to keep yourself energized.

Question 12
What are the important steps in working remote? What were your challenges?

Ryan Chartrand
One of those challenges is certainly staying motivated, which I just answered [in Question 11] 🙂

Once you have your motivation and energy levels squared away, it's on to making sure you're working well as a team member. And the key to that is constant empathy. When you are communicating primarily through text every day, empathy falls apart quite quickly. Things like using emojis often helps, as it makes sure you know that I'm saying this message with a smile on my face because I care about giving you a great answer here 🙂

But another part of empathy beyond having our messages understood correctly is making sure we are meeting the expectations of our other team members. A good way to make this happen is by making sure to give your team a README, and even better if they send you one in return 🙂

 This is a good start. But you should also check in with your teammates often to understand if you're meeting their expectations around the value you should be adding and the way you're communicating. You never want to hear someone say this about you: "Yeah, I don't know what Jimmy does all-day 🤷‍♂️

"That means you aren't writing consistent and detailed daily updates the team can see that clearly show the value you add, it also means you might not be working on things that people consider valuable to the company which is worth finding out if there are other things you're supposed to be working on. Since we are all in our own worlds on remote teams, the key is making sure everyone feels like they're moving forward together, and it takes a lot of communication and meeting each other's expectations (and the company's expectations) to reach that state.

But honestly, 99% of the challenges outside of energy level issues that I've seen with remote teams is simply empathy issues where people are misunderstanding each other's messages/intentions or aren't aware of what each other are working on and start to form untrue opinions of each other. It's so, so important to communicate as much as you can together about progress and expectations and keeping empathy for one another at the center of it all. Never assume people are working against you, jump on a call and reset your empathy meter with them and get re-aligned on expectations around how you're communicating your progress and what you should be focused on that adds the most value 🙂

Also, remember that: your job every day is to show up and add value. There's no corner office or drama politics you have to worry about 🙂

Only whether you added value that moved the team forward. So as long as you make that your priority, and to summon the energy you need to do that, and to communicate that you added that value so the rest of your team is aware, then you're on fire, my friend! 🔥

Justine Shu
Thank you to everyone who joined our AMA today - really, really great questions! Big thank you to Ryan for being so generous with sharing your time, expertise and knowledge.

Ryan Chartrand
It was a pleasure, thanks everyone for the awesome questions! I'll keep checking the threads for any followups 🙂

And here's your remote tip of the day: always acknowledge. When you get a message on Slack, don't leave it hanging without a response for 24+ hours. Acknowledge that you received it, and re-iterate to the person that you understand their request and will be working on it.

"Hey can you update the README today with the new details?"

you're tempted to just add a 👍 emoji and leave it at that, then you remember this tip...

"Yep! I'll get on that toward the end of my day today, so you should see the new details by your morning time 🙂"

instead you respond and acknowledge the request and set expectations for when it should be addressed, and even added an emoji to show your empathy and emotion!

then you realize you won't be able to get to it today, so rather than just leave that message and disappoint that person...

"Hey Tim, turns out I got swamped on some other issues today, but I will definitely make this my priority first thing in my morning, so you should expect it by your afternoon time instead now. Hope you have a great start to your day! 🙂"

and you reset the expectation rather than disappoint them. you work so well as a team together, I'm proud of you 😄

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