Episode 13

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Published on:

2nd Aug 2022

S1 E13: I Hate To Call it a Secret (Dan / @DanCole42)

Dan Cole joins the show to talk about his origin story, how he got started in product management by accident and how his passion for helping users find their joy has lead to 20 years in product management, where he is now the VP of Product Management at a Cyber Security software company.

We discuss what it was like building a team during the early days of the pandemic in a fully remote environment and what tools and processes helped him to really connect with his team and compose a team with psychological safety.

Discussed Links

Transcript
Eddie:

Welcome to Episode 13 of the WebJoy podcast.

Eddie:

I'm your host Eddie.

Eddie:

In this podcast, we interview guests about their origin story and what

Eddie:

makes them excited and joyful to be part of the tech community.

Eddie:

I hope you enjoy today's episode, "I Hate To Even Call It Secret" with Dan Cole.

Eddie:

I'm excited today.

Eddie:

I have a special guest, Dan.

Eddie:

If you don't mind, just introduce who you are, what you do, where you

Eddie:

work a brief intro about yourself.

Dan:

Awesome.

Dan:

So hello, and thank you for having me on my name is Dan Cole, I'm the Vice

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President of Product Management at a cybersecurity company called ThreatConnect

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based out of Northern Virginia.

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Been there nearly seven years and I've been a product manager for 20 years.

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Live here with my wife and two dogs.

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Unfortunately they're at daycare today, so I can't bring them on.

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I know that breaks a rule.

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But yeah, very happy to be here.

Eddie:

Well, we're sad not to have the wife or the dogs be able to say hi.

Eddie:

So Dan is a special guest because he and I actually have worked together.

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We work together at ThreatConnect where he still is and same thing, a

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previous guest, when you're listening to this , Kathryn, we mentioned that we

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worked together in the past same place.

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Kathryn, Dan, me all have gotten to work together.

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And so it's nice to be able to bring Dan on and kind of catch up and

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talk about his story and everything.

Dan:

Oh, I'm excited.

Dan:

And I appreciate you having me on.

Eddie:

Yeah, for sure.

Eddie:

So what's a short of your story, you talked about you've been at

Eddie:

ThreatConnect for seven years, but you've been in product management for 20.

Eddie:

What kind of spurred you on to thinking product sounded like a

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fun thing to do, and how did you go through your product career?

Dan:

Well, the short answer is I didn't think product would be right for me.

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Like a lot of people at the time, I sort of stumbled into it.

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I graduated from college with a degree in psychology, had no idea what I

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wanted to do and I had bills to pay.

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So I took a job as a government courier.

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Essentially, law firms would call us up and say, Hey, can you run

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down to the department of labor and go get this 102B form or whatever.

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And so I would run down, get it and fax it over.

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I realized in doing this, that the way that customers interacted with our

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ordering website was very frustrating.

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It was very inconvenient for our actual customers to place

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an order for these documents.

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And my feeling was a product like that shouldn't get in the way of

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what they actually want to do.

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So I went to the owner of the company.

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And I said Hey, can I actually talk to our outsourced engineering team and see if I

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can make some improvements to the website.

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And so I talked to some of our users, I translated what they wanted into

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requirements for the development team.

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And we turned it around and ended up increasing our revenue and

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getting rave reviews from our users.

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That was how I accidentally stumbled into product management.

Eddie:

Wow.

Eddie:

That's definitely an accidental stumble.

Eddie:

No one even said, Hey you should do this role.

Eddie:

You literally were just like, Hey, this experience sucks.

Eddie:

Let's make it better for people.

Dan:

Yeah.

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I mean, I had no idea what I was doing.

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I didn't know what a product manager was.

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I just saw that our users were struggling and I couldn't code.

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I wanted to fix it in whatever way I could.

Eddie:

That's awesome.

Eddie:

I feel like that defines the role of a product person really well.

Eddie:

They help developers understand the needs of the users , help translate that.

Dan:

Yeah for me, it all comes down to empathy and understanding

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what does the user actually want.

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And can that be communicated in a way that is meaningful to the engineer?

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Ultimately it's about communication and empathy.

Eddie:

Nice.

Eddie:

So you obviously stumbled into product management and you stayed.

Eddie:

So what is it about product management that gets you excited that has kept you

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for 20 years when it was all accidental?

Dan:

Good question.

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And in terms of what actually drives me, I don't think a lot has actually

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changed from what drove me on day one.

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Certainly for me personally and professionally, a lot of it is now driven

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by my team, but the mission of that team and the core drive is is still around this

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notion that users struggle and there's gotta be a better way to do things.

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There's always a better way to do things that fundamentally

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for me is what it's all about.

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And you see this a lot, especially in B2B, where you're building software

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to help people do their jobs.

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And whether you're trying to place an order with a document retrieval firm, like

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I used to or now when you're using this enterprise cybersecurity platform, that

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software is there to help you do your job.

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It's not like business to consumer where it's a purely for fun or

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purely for entertainment product.

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And when I think about B2B specifically, and what drives me as a product manager

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is can I help free up our users to focus on what they're passionate about?

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So that can be something like can I help them do their job better?

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If they're doing a whole bunch of mundane tasks, can I give them a

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product to help them automate it.

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So that they can focus on things that they are more passionate about.

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And when I say more passionate about I'm not just talk I'm

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talking about in their work.

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If they are a engineer that is very passionate about coding, but they're

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stuck writing test cases and they hate that can I build a product that will

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help them automate writing those test cases so they can be freed up to do

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more coding or it doesn't have to be passion for something in their job.

It can be:

am I helping them leave at five o'clock every day so they can go home

It can be:

and cook or do photography or spend time outdoors whatever their true passion is.

It can be:

Am I building products to actually free them up to do that?

Eddie:

I really love that, because the tools that you help create through

Eddie:

understanding the needs of people; these things, help people do their job

Eddie:

better, which gets them promotions, which gets them money and freedom to do

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what they want to leave at five o'clock

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Or four o'clock.

Eddie:

Yeah.

Eddie:

Three o'clock why not

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Go for it.

Eddie:

To really find joy in their jobs, which I love that.

Eddie:

That's a really awesome thing to have as a mission.

Dan:

Yeah, exactly.

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And it's tough because I don't think a lot of people are gonna be passionate about a

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new procurement system or a new piece of software for filling out expense reports.

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But if I can make that process easier for them and free them up to do

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things that are not procurement or filling out expense reports, then I

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would consider that a job well done.

Eddie:

One interesting thing is sometimes you might hear someone on

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a podcast and everyone's listening to you right now and you think.

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How much of this is actually just this person saying fluffy stuff.

Eddie:

And I do wanna actually say the cool thing about what Dan's saying is I've

Eddie:

actually seen this in real life, right?

Eddie:

Not to give away any secrets.

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But the questions he's asked and the stats that he's shown as a product person when

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I was working with him really did focus on like, Hey, what do people enjoy doing?

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And what do they not do?

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And then now like, let's figure out how this software actually

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can help shift that time spent.

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And so that's the really cool thing is, as you're saying all of this,

Eddie:

it actually aligns with literally what I've heard you say in the day

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to day job, which is really awesome.

Dan:

Oh, I'm just glad that that survey made such an

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impression that you remember it.

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But yeah, that question of where are you spending time and

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where do you want to spend time?

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Is very core to what I try to do.

Eddie:

Awesome.

Eddie:

Well one of the big things about this podcast is what brings you joy?

Eddie:

And obviously working as a product person brings you a lot of joy, but what else

Eddie:

would you like to talk about today?

Dan:

Sure.

Dan:

Well right now I am a manager of people, I'm not just a product manager.

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I'm a manager of product managers.

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A big part of what drives my joy in the day today is actually my team.

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I am inspired and invigorated by the work that they do, by how they execute on the

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objectives and the purpose that I lay down and I'm inspired and invigorated,

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despite the fact that I haven't even met some of them in person, thanks to COVID.

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We are currently a completely distributed team.

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So even though I've never met some of them, working with them,

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has brought me a lot of joy.

Eddie:

Well, that seems challenging.

Eddie:

In fact, I mean, obviously again, I'm kind of cheating compared to most

Eddie:

podcasts because I was around when you actually went from being the main

Eddie:

product person to actually having a team.

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And like you said, you had to do that all remotely.

Eddie:

So how did you approach that when you suddenly had this mission

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of I need to develop a team around me to do what I've done.

Eddie:

And yet coronavirus, literally this is in 2020, like things are shutting

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down and you have to build a team.

Eddie:

Congratulations, Dan, like, how did you think through that and approach that.

Dan:

It was very challenging.

Dan:

In fact we were creating new products.

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We were expanding more markets and I needed more PMs.

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I had a few of the hires and we had actually scheduled our first team on site.

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We'd booked the conference room.

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We'd booked the equipment.

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People had scheduled their flights for late March of 2020

Eddie:

no,

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like the first series of weeks where COVID was really

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happening and I had two challenges.

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One was doing this remotely, but the other challenge was I had never really

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brought a team like this together starting from scratch, and trying to

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build them out around a common purpose.

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And one of my secret weapons, and I hate to even call it secret, cuz

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I want people to know about it.

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Was a tool called re:Work.

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So like re like you put in an email subject line re:Work, and re:Work is

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a project that came out of Google.

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They're very data driven.

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They had done a project called project Aristotle.

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And essentially their goal was to data-ize, human resource management

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and project Aristotle specifically was set up to answer the question,

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what sets a high performing team apart from a less high performing team.

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They did all this research and they discovered that what sets high performing

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teams apart it wasn't who had the best degrees or who went to the best

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schools or, you know, it wasn't about culture or where you worked before.

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It was about which teams had the highest level of psychological safety.

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And so they took the data from project Aristotle and they created re:Work,

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which is a series of resources to help build high performing teams around

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that concept of psychological safety.

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The first thing we did with re:Work was we used a program.

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They had set up to create a set of team values and team mission, and purpose.

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The most important thing for me, for creating this purpose for my team amidst

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COVID setting everything else aside was, is this purpose coming down from me sort

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of from on high or is this a purpose being created by the team together?

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And part of the reason I chose re:Work was it did have resources for helping

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the team create that common purpose.

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It was a very collaborative exercise.

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So we went through re:Work's entire workbook in terms of creating our team

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shared values and our team shared mission, and they had tons of fantastic activities.

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One of them was we had to go through and on a whiteboard put up, who

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are the people you admire most?

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Why do you admire them?

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What values or qualities do they embody?

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Then we did other activities where we talked about who are our users?

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What drives them?

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What are their frustrations?

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Then very key to our team's mission was what do you want our team to be known for?

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So for that exercise, the goal is we take five minutes of quiet

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time and everyone on PostIts.

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Writes down what do you want the team to be known for?

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It's quality.

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It's solving user problems.

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It's making the company money.

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It's helping our users.

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It's having an impact.

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Then after the five minutes you do all kinds of exercises, like affinity

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mapping, where you look for common themes amongst all the post-its, you do

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dot storming, where everyone gets a set number of stickers to actually vote.

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And through this, very rigorous and democratized brainstorming process.

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What you arrive at is that set of shared team values and a shared team mission.

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It was a very fun, rewarding three day exercise where the team really

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came together and collaboratively arrived at that common purpose.

Eddie:

That's really seems like something that can bring a team together

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and really give people ownership.

Eddie:

it's interesting though.

Eddie:

Cause it almost feels like a parallel universe because that

Eddie:

sounds like something you need to do inside of a hotel room, right?

Eddie:

Like, you were talking about set up a conference, have a whiteboard.

Eddie:

In fact, as you read through re:Work stuff, it seems like, Hey, this is

Eddie:

a great, like three day offsite.

Eddie:

Well COVID hit.

Eddie:

How did you handle that?

Eddie:

That's a big curve ball.

Dan:

Exactly and they give you literal physical workbooks to work in.

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And I had booked the conference room with the whiteboards and in fact, still have a

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drawer full of multi-colored post-it that I had purchased exactly for this offsite.

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And those post-its have never been used.

Eddie:

They're all empty.

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they're all empty.

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But of course we still did the exercise.

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And it was a hundred percent remote.

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And the reason we were able to do it was thanks to a

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collaboration software called Miro.

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Miro is a collaborative, white boarding and post-it noting SaaS based tool

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that is specifically designed for distributed or remote collaboration.

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So even though we were completely remote, we could still in this Miro

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whiteboard we could very easily put up post-its, we could put up stickers.

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We could connect the dots between different concepts, just as easily,

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as we would with a whiteboard in fact, more easily, if you've

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ever seen my handwriting, cuz all these were actually typed up.

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They do just such a fantastic job of it's not just a post,

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it goes up and it's there.

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You can actually see different participants moving their cursors around.

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You can see them adding things in real time.

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Just like in person scenario, you can see that your teammates are

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going up they're adding things.

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You can see that in Miro.

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On top of all the things you get in from a real whiteboard, Miro provides things like

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built in timers and music for the timers.

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They provide drawing tools, post-it tools, sharing tools, cuz you

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wanna bring other people into this.

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But one of the great things that they do is they have this

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phenomenal library of templates.

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So as people are struggling to translate this in person experience

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to this remote experience.

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They give you all these templates for collaboration, brainstorming,

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or team alignment exercises.

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They give you these templates that are designed to be Miro and remote first.

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So if you wanted to have a design session with an engineering, And you're

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struggling to think about how to do that.

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Remotely Miro gives you templates for that.

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So it is really just a tremendous and, in my opinion, team saving

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tool for doing that sort of remote highly collaborative work.

Eddie:

Nice.

Eddie:

And I have to say that really the combination of the re:Work

Eddie:

and Miro is really powerful, cuz you all did it that spring.

Eddie:

And I saw the output of that and I thought that's awesome.

Eddie:

I wanna do something similar.

Eddie:

So I actually took my team through it that fall.

Eddie:

So it was really fun to then steal a bunch of ideas and thoughts from you.

Eddie:

Take my team through it.

Eddie:

So for anyone listening to this, that's like, yeah, but how successful is it?

Eddie:

We were able to do it across two different teams first with Dan's,

Eddie:

then with mine, it was very different, but very successful in both teams.

Dan:

It's super effective, but the other challenge that you get that's I think

Dan:

unique to remote, is not being able to do those full day or multi-day onsite.

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The human attention span, like you can sit in a hotel conference room for a full day

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and you know, you get coffee and lunch.

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You're interacting with people, in three dimensions.

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But it's a lot to ask people to sit at their desk for a full day, focusing

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exclusively on one thing when you've got dogs and kids and everything else

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going along and just staring at a screen.

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So for these onsites, we generally won't do more than a half day cuz

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frankly, anything more than that.

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And everyone just starts to get sort of remote work brain

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and it's less productive.

Eddie:

Nice.

Eddie:

This has been really interesting.

Eddie:

as we wrap up, we always like to talk about as a community,

Eddie:

we like to support each other.

Eddie:

And so I just wanna ask, do you have anything you're involved in or anything

Eddie:

you're passionate about that you'd like to share with the community?

Dan:

I have lots of things I'm passionate about.

Dan:

But one that I'll sort of give a shout out to is I'm very big into

Dan:

wildlife rescue and wildlife care.

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I'll sort of talk about a national organization, called save a Fox.

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I'm actually.

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wearing one of their shirts today.

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Foxes are wild animals, but we do in the United States have a thriving fur industry

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where these animals , will be captured and placed in very small wire cages.

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And that's where they will live out their life.

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Not really being able to move.

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They'll develop these genetic defects cuz they're bred for their fur.

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It's not a happy life.

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So Save a Fox based out of Minnesota, is an organization that will actually

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rescue these animals from fur farms.

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They rescue minks and other animals, but Fox is sort of the main deal.

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So I try to spread awareness.

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Try to ask for donations, because the work that they do is frankly absolutely

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heartbreaking when you see these foxes in their original situations, but

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tremendously heartwarming when you see, the outcome once they've brought these

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foxes to these big open enrichment spaces and they're cared for, and

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they have these very happy lives.

Eddie:

Wow.

Eddie:

Yeah.

Eddie:

That's some important work, taking and helping animals that

Eddie:

are being essentially mistreated.

Eddie:

Foxes do they hold a special place in your heart for some reason?

Dan:

They do.

Dan:

I mean, they've always been, my favorite animal, my whole life.

Dan:

I'm very blessed to live right next to a fairly large park.

Dan:

So we've planted all native plants in our backyard.

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Lots of pollinators, lots of other plants that actually attract, wild foxes.

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So they'll come right up to the backyard, sniff around catch squirrels.

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So I've just been very blessed to not only be able to help in these

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captured foxes, but actually be able to see them in their wild element

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living out their Foxy lives in my backyards that's been a great thrill.

Eddie:

It's amazing.

Eddie:

Some of the photos that Dan's been able to take of these Fox that are

Eddie:

just hanging out in his backyard.

Eddie:

So in the show notes, I'll throw a couple links to some tweets.

Eddie:

With some photos.

Eddie:

And yeah, that's pretty much it.

Eddie:

Dan, thank you so much for joining me today.

Dan:

No, thank you so much for having me, it was great to talk to you again.

Dan:

And I hope we get to chat again real soon.

Eddie:

Thanks for joining us for Episode 13, "I Hate To Even

Eddie:

Call It Secret" with Dan Cole.

Eddie:

You can find out more about Dan on his twitter @DanCole42.

Eddie:

You can find links to everything we talked about in this episode, as well as

Eddie:

a link to Dan's Twitter in the show notes.

Eddie:

If you enjoyed this episode, help others discover it as well by rating

Eddie:

and reviewing it in your favorite podcast directory and don't forget,

Eddie:

follow us on Twitter @WebJoyFM.

Eddie:

Thank you for listening and have a great day.

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About the Podcast

WebJoy
Find your happy place
The WebJoy podcast is an inclusive community centered on celebrating the diverse origins, skills, and experiences that make up the tech industry.

Talking with guests about their origin stories, what they love about working in their roles, and what they find joy in keeps this an upbeat and rather lighthearted podcast.

We approach the world with optimism and hope, while recognizing the flaws and challenges within our own industry and the world at large. We believe that if we work together, we can all find our happy place.

About your host

Profile picture for Eddie Hinkle

Eddie Hinkle

Eddie's mission is to bring joy and empathy to the tech industry. He does this through engineering leadership, mentoring and podcasting. Eddie currently works as an Engineering Manager at Glassdoor, Mentors on ADPList and hosts the WebJoy podcast.