Path to Analog

“Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

— Confucius

I feel lucky to love what I do. It’s a feeling I see reflected in many web professionals. But, there have been days — we’ve all had them — where the stars misalign, and for whatever reason, the love is lost, leaving only the work. It is these days that have taken me to Analog.

At Analog, it all comes together; good people, good work. My journey has taken me ’round the houses to Analog. Previously, my work has pitched me on both sides of the fence, as the customer experience guy within mammoth companies, and as a UX guy at agencies or as a freelancer. Although these experiences were hugely valuable, they often failed to prevent what I do becoming more like work.

The ingredients to loving our job varies from person to person, but I knew I was on to something when I crossed paths with Jon Tan and Jon Gibbins at the Grow Collective, a Bristol-based co-operative. Skip forward three years, and we arrive at Analog.

Making Analog happen has taken love — and some work, too. Being a worldwide co-operative with two members from the US — Andrei Zmievski and Chris Shiflett — and three members from the UK — Jon Gibbins, Jon Tan, and myself — all making web sites, feels like a first. We know from our experience doing good work on the Web, being first is never easy. Having this knowledge as a touchstone has been invaluable in setting up Analog, in the murky waters of international tax and corporate law, where we were often out of our depth. Here are some of the hurdles we overcame in setting up Analog, which may help others who choose a path less travelled.

Deciding to be a limited company would have been easy. Being a common company structure, it is well understood by legal and tax people, so there is plenty of help and support. We quickly discovered that taking a less travelled path is decidedly more difficult, as people were less able to see past traditional approaches to companies. As Analog, we wanted to be a co-op for many reasons, but mainly because co-ops exist for the good of their members, not the company, and to old hands like us, that makes sense. We learned that co-ops are just not on the radar of most tax or legal experts. We found ourselves breaking new ground, and without considerable help from the folks at the Co-operative Development Agency (CDA), this could have been even more difficult.

Such were the complexities encountered in setting up Analog across international boundaries, at times we felt as if the US and UK had never done business before. We learned fast that US and UK law has not caught up with how we work on the Web — not surprising, given how quickly the Web changes. For example, all companies must have a main address or head office. With people in multiple locations, where decisions are made is used to identify where the head office should be registered. For Analog, because we work and make decisions across international boundaries using services like Skype, defining where the head office would be was not as clear as for a more traditional company. Our headquarters, if it existed, would most likely be mid-Atlantic. This was one of the simpler issues we encountered, but one which began to highlight how we no longer fit into a more established framework for a company. It also demonstrated that many professions still hang onto old ways of working. Being decidedly slower, not embracing technology in the way that we do, and looking more to the past then the future. Although we felt constricted and shackled at the time, we relished the freedom to make less established decisions. This freedom made us glad to be web professionals.

The lawyers and tax experts we encountered seemed comfortable working in murky waters, where there was no right or wrong answer, just compromises to consider. We found this strange, because designing web sites, we try to work in absolutes, even with visual design. We gather information, solve problems, and offer clear solutions, avoiding grey areas.

Initially, and even now, we grapple with time zones from Bristol to New York and onto San Francisco. We are learning to use it to our advantage, through better use of technology and services like Google Wave, Basecamp, Dropbox, and by working smarter. It now gives us the ability, as a group, to have a longer day. So while the Analog day starts with the Bristol folks at 9 in the morning, Andrei in San Francisco is still working past midnight in the UK. That’s a long day, everyday. It feels good to know that while Jon Gibbins, Jon Tan, and I are asleep, Andrei and Chris are solving problems and making solutions ready for when we wake up.

But there is still the physical gap, which Skype has been key to bridging. Services like Dropbox, Basecamp, Google Wave have also been invaluable to our collaboration. We rarely use email now, and a Twitter DM tends to be how we get in touch with each other quickly. There is still a profound opportunity to improve remote collaboration, as the process for how we work can be awkward. Many of the solutions we have tried are designed for person-to-person but do not scale, like Skype video, for example. Collectively, these services are good, but individually, there is more that can be done. We are still looking for the one solution to do it all and would be interested to hear from others in similar situations. There are some good people, like Dustin Moskovitz (founder of Facebook) applying their ideas and experience to help improve how we work.

If we don’t find a solution that works perfectly for us soon, we may have to make it ourselves, which would be a great challenge. The freedom enabled by technical innovation, changes in behaviour, and attitude toward remote working, opens up a world of possibilities for who we work with and for whom, which is what has enabled Analog to happen now.

Of course, many pieces have fallen into place to make Analog possible, not least of which are the people and it being the right time in our lives. Jon Tan, a founding member of Analog, speaks beautifully to these in Introducing Analog. Also hear what another founding member, Chris Shiflett Hello, Analog had to say on the subject. And finally, Andrei Zmievski’s perspective in Say hello to Analog. Significantly on the Web, and somewhat unique to it, there is the openness and willingness to share knowledge, as exemplified by the open source ethos. Having worked across other platforms like TV, this openness is rare. On the Web, no longer does the future of technology lay solely in the hands of large software companies. The code has been liberated, resulting in a little co-op like Analog being able to make whatever we can imagine. And, when we are done, we probably tell you how, because that’s how we learn. This makes me very proud to work on the Web.

After a long journey, it feels like I’m at the beginning of a new year and a new job, which I love. I’m proud to work on the Web and be a member of Analog, a really neat co-op of good people doing good work. As web professionals, we embrace technology and recognise changes in peoples behaviours, which has helped us remove international boundaries and make the possibilities enless for who we work with. Thankfully, clients get it, too, which is absolutely key. Collaborating remotely may not perfect yet, but it is definitely getting there. We hope you enjoy the one pager that introduced Analog to the world as much as we enjoyed making it. Thanks to all for the support so far; I’m still overjoyed with all the kind words and would like to wish you an excellent 2010.

If you would like us to let you know how we are doing, follow @analogcoop. If you would like to work wit us, our doors wide open, so why not get in touch.

Posted Tuesday, January 5th, 2010 under Analog, User Experience Design.

6 comments

  1. An insightful article and, I dare say, the most interesting introduction of all the Analog members. Love the quote at the start too.

  2. Thank you Philip for taking the time to read about my journey and delighted you found it insightful.

  3. Very inspiring article. Thank you. Since you are a geographically dispersed team, I’m especially interested in your collaboration tools. I understand this topic probably deserves a specific post, but I’m very curious about Dropbox. In fact there are many professional revision control tools (SVN, Mercurial, Git, etc.) with elegant GUIs and excellent web services (GitHub, Bitbucket, etc.). They are generally free and multi-platform. So what’s the point of using Dropbox which is, basically, a revision control software for the masses?

  4. Thanks for your feedback Manuel. I agree, it’s a topic that justifies a specific post, which we may do once we know more.

    We don’t view Dropbox as a version control system. It’s mainly a file sharing tool, that happens to have some very basic version control built into it, when files synchronise. It’s benefits are that it is quite fast and really easy-to-use. SVN and Git are great version control systems, but they’re not the easiest for non-technical people to understand and use.

    Can I ask what tools you use to collaborate?

  5. Thanks for your reply. As collaboration tools, I use essentially Mercurial and Skype/GoogleWave (Mercurial is a distributed revision control similar to Git, but easier to learn and manage). I’m also evaluating Dropbox for sync office docs and other files between my two computers but, before committing to Dropbox, I would like to try the new cloud features annonced by Google Docs team this week…

  6. Did Confucius really say that? It’s a great sentiment, but to me it sounds more like some wisecracking New York ad man from the 1940s than a philosophical mandarin from the Warring States period.

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