Compose Travelogue - East Bay

The Compose Travelogue continues and down at San Francisco's Ferry Building, I meet up with Jon and Mat. Jon is Compose's marketing whizz and Mat is a Compose developer, but there's one thing they share - the Compose remote lifestyle.

Jon is based in Berkeley and remote works from home with an office he shares with his wife. One or two days a week he changes the feel of his day and "sees there's other human beings out there" by commuting across the Bay to the workspace at Galvanize in San Francisco. Galvanize has a lot of energy with "all these startupy types" says Jon so working out of there is fun. His work can be described dryly as "looking at the funnel" and less dryly as "convincing people to try Compose and love it."

Jon's working day is shaped by the needs of his child who has to be dropped off and picked up from school. "You have to structure your morning, afternoon and evening so it provides natural breaks in the day" says Jon, who adds he does try to work out two or three days a week too.

One of the newer intake at Compose, Mat has been producing many new features in the Compose platform - some of which are yet to be announced - including authentication and containers. Mat lives in Emeryville which he says is "the place where everyone goes to get their Ikea furniture." His "hell of a morning commute" is "directly between my bed and my desk which are located in the same room." The lack of a spare room means Mat adopts a more compact mode of remote living. "It's working well for me" he says "sometimes I get so comfortable with my set up I don't feel like leaving the house."

He'd follow Jon's lead and drop into Galvanize but doesn't like the commute. Mat has struggled with disconnecting from Compose, partly down to the richness of the Compose collaborative space, but over time he found projects to focus on and with that the discipline to make time for himself and his wife, building his day around when she leaves for and returns from work. He calls it a habit now, "When I know she's heading back, I have an hour to wrap up and when she's back we can cook together or something like that", Mat is now settled into his rhythm of connecting and disconnecting.

Jon likes the way Compose's remote workforce interacts: "The combination of open and closed channels on Slack, defaulting to open makes sense and Slack is the primary tool of communication." That said, Compose also uses mail, and Threadable, for more long form discussions. "For example, it’s a way for the whole company to discuss the merits of Elixir (the programming language) and you can choose whether to dip in and out of the conversation whenever you want in any time zone."

Mat is another fan of Compose's internal messaging. "I've seen lots of companies talk about the cliche of open communication and I don't think I've ever seen that actually happening before Compose." Defaulting to open means relearning things – "It's easy to think something is private or classified when it's not and you get to drop things out in the open and it's pretty awesome." Compose's use of channels around purposes while remaining open to all means anyone can drop in or be invited to join in. He does caveat that with the idea that Slack is for instant communication and there's pressure to "respond now" which is why Threadable discussions can be useful for being able to digest things.

It's at this point I bring up the fact that so far, no one has mentioned the video conferencing options we have at Compose. "I feel the BlueJeans, Appear.in and the other services we use are better for the broader communications we do, when we all want to get together and have some kind of cultural moment together or share something we all need to hear" says Jon. Within Compose we have regular video conferences such as the formal "Pitch'n'tell" and the informal "Shenanigans" filling that space.

He adds that "most of the time we do well communicating in written form so I haven't felt the need." Mat's issues with video conferencing are more technical, the consumption of CPU and the limited number of people visible at one time when you have a conference of say 30 people. On the other hand, he does like seeing other people – "As I don't get out, it's really nice to see someone's face" – and in engineering, small one on one or three-way conversations are useful.

Why the East Bay for Jon and Mat? Jon grew up in the Bay Area and in the process of living a life, ended up living in the East Bay for over fifteen years. For him Berkeley is "a great little town, I actually think it's got awesome food to rival San Francisco while being smaller and more intimate, it's a better place to raise kids and it's close to everything."

Mat is new to the Bay Area having only been there for the last two years. He moved from Scotland with his previous job, where he learned the pain of the 8 hour time difference with California, to the Bay Area and started to share a house with a co-worker; liking the area they later moved into their own space in Emeryville. The town is having a rejuvenation and "it's really great for living" says Mat.

Jon's favorite things in the area turn out to be Indian Rock for views of the bay and the climbing and the Adventure Playground for kids where they can roam in a half acre of excitement – "In these days of helicopter parenting it's a lot of fun."

Mat picks out a location near Emeryville where you can see "the whole bay." Both of them like their specific bit of the Bay. It's interesting, from my point of view, despite being perceived as one large zone, how people in the different parts of the area are loyal fans of their town of residence.

The East Bay, and the wider Bay Area, is a composite of many differently appealing micro-cultures within reach of so many other cultural spaces, which probably explains why so may Compose people remote work from there.

And speaking of things within reach, my next stop is the Ferry itself to get over to another Compose person.

Previously in the Compose Travelogue: London, Chicago and San Francisco.