How to make remote work work

Every time I see a “the future of work is remote” article, I think to myself: “How backwards! How retro! How quaint!” That future is now, for many of us. I’ve been a fully remote developer-turned-CTO for a full decade. So I’m always baffled by people still wrestling with whether remote work is viable for their company. That jury rendered its verdict a long time ago.

One reason companies still struggle with it is that remote work amplifies the negative effects of bad practices. If everyone’s in one place, you can dither, handwave, vacillate, micromanage, and turn your workplace into an endless wasteland of unclear uncertainty, punctuated by ad-hoc last-second crisis meetings — and your employees will probably still conspire against your counterproduction to get something done, albeit much less than what they’re capable of.

If they’re remote, though, progress via conspiracy and adhocracy is no longer an option. If they’re remote, you need decisive confidence, clear direction, iterative targets, independent responsibilities, asynchronous communications, and cheerful chatter. Let me go over each of those:

Decisive confidence. Suppose Vivek in Delhi, Diego in Rio, and Miles in Berlin are all on a project. (An example I’m drawing from my real life.) It’s late your time. You have to make a decision about the direction of their work. If you sleep on it, you’re writing off multiple developer-days of productivity.

Sometimes they have enough responsibilities to have other things to work on. (More on that below.) Sometimes you don’t have to make the decision because they have enough responsibility to do so themselves. (More on that below.) But sometimes you have to make the business-level decision based on scant information. In cases like this, remember the military maxim: “Any decision is better than no decision.”

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Microsoft makes getting started with Java and VS Code easier

After only a few years, Microsoft’s free Visual Studio Code has become one of the most popular code editors on the market. One of VS Code’s advantages is its flexibility. This flexibility does come with some complexity when it comes to getting everything set up. Today, the company launched a new project that makes it significantly easier to get started with writing Java on VS Code.

Recently, a Microsoft spokesperson told us, the VS Code team noticed that it was still difficult for some developers, including students and novices programmers, to set up their Java development environments. Typically, this is a pretty involved process that includes installing a number of binaries and VS Code extensions.

To help these developers, Microsoft today launched an installer that handles all of this for them. It first looks at whether a JDK is already installed or not. If not, it’ll install a binary from AdoptOpenJDK (which Microsoft sponsors), install VS Code if needed and the Java Extension Pack. AdoptOpenJDK, which is essentially a vendor-neutral alternative to the Oracle JDK, is now Microsoft’s recommended Java distribution for users who install the VS Code Java extension.

Currently, the installer is only available for Windows, but the team plans to expand its availability once it sees interest by the community.

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Google’s Game Builder turns building multiplayer games into a game

Google’s Area 120 team, the company’s in-house incubator for some of its more experimental projects, today launched Game Builder, a free and easy to use tool for PC and macOS users who want to build their own 3D games without having to know how to code. Game Builder is currently only available through Valve’s Steam platform, so you’ll need an account there to try it.

After a quick download, Game Builder asks you about what screen size you want to work on and then drops you right into the experience after you tell it whether you want to start a new project, work on an existing project or try out some sample projects. These sample projects include a first-person shooter, a platformer and a demo of the tool’s card system for programming more complex interactions.

The menu system and building experience take some getting used to and isn’t immediately intuitive, but after a while, you’ll get the hang of it. By default, the overall design aesthetic clearly draws some inspiration from Minecraft, but you’re pretty free in what kind of game you want to create. It does not strike me as a tool for getting smaller children into game programming since we’re talking about a relatively text-heavy and complex experience.

To build more complex interactions, you use Game Builder’s card-based visual programming system. That’s pretty straightforward, too, but also takes some getting used to. Google says building a 3D level is like playing a game. There’s some truth in that, in that you are building inside the game environment, but it’s not necessarily an easy game either.

One cool feature here is that you can also build multiplayer games and even create games in real time with your friends.

Traditionally, drag-and-drop game builders feel pretty limited. The Area 120 … Read the rest

Simpo raises $4.5M seed to help drive software adoption

Simpo is a startup with a simple idea. It wants to help product managers at large companies get software into the hands of its employee users faster. Today, the company announced a $4.5 million seed investment.

The round was led by Redpoint Ventures with participation from Janvest, UpWest, Seedcamp, Elad Gil and other unnamed investors.

The idea behind Simpo is to offer a no-code platform for distributing software and educating end users on how to use it. Any friction in this process can reduce adoption, and Simpo created a platform for product managers without a lot of technical know-how to set up software distribution workflows with the goal of driving greater adoption.

There is an element of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) here too, by letting product managers build logical workflows, and then as users interact with the software, it can learn and offer next steps to help further drive usage. This approach really attracted Satish Dharmaraj, managing partner at lead investor Redpoint Ventures.

“Simpo is really exciting [to me] because it has solved so much of the software adoption problem in a sophisticated, yet incredibly simple way. Robotic process automation is a transformative force, and now product managers are able to harness its power for the first time. As software continues to dominate the enterprise, Simpo is a critical piece in driving adoption and informing how and what products will be built,” Dharmaraj said in a statement.

The company counts Walmart, DuPont and Jet as customers.

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Apollo raises $22M for its GraphQL platform

Apollo, a San Francisco-based startup that provides a number of developer and operator tools and services around the GraphQL query language, today announced that it has raised a $22 million growth funding round co-led by Andreessen Horowitz and Matrix Partners. Existing investors Trinity Ventures and Webb Investment Network also participated in this round.

Today, Apollo is probably the biggest player in the GraphQL ecosystem. At its core, the company’s services allow businesses to use the Facebook -incubated GraphQL technology to shield their developers from the patchwork of legacy APIs and databases as they look to modernize their technology stacks. The team argues that while REST APIs that talked directly to other services and databases still made sense a few years ago, it doesn’t anymore now that the number of API endpoints keeps increasing rapidly.

Apollo replaces this with what it calls the Data Graph. “There is basically a missing piece where we think about how people build apps today, which is the piece that connects the billions of devices out there,” Apollo co-founder and CEO Geoff Schmidt told me. “You probably don’t just have one app anymore, you probably have three, for the web, iOS and Android . Or maybe six. And if you’re a two-sided marketplace you’ve got one for buyers, one for sellers and another for your ops team.”

Managing the interfaces between all of these apps quickly becomes complicated and means you have to write a lot of custom code for every new feature. The promise of the Data Graph is that developers can use GraphQL to query the data in the graph and move on, all without having to write the boilerplate code that typically slows them down. At the same time, the ops teams can use the Graph to enforce access policies and … Read the rest