How Today’s Professionals Can Succeed, Even if The Path Ahead Isn’t Clear

Posted by Ricky Cadden
June 26, 2020

This year has changed the professional world in ways we’ve not seen in decades. Overnight, nearly every company asked their employees to work remote, many for the first time ever. Additionally, millions of people found themselves without work, struggling to figure out what their next career move would be, and if they had the right skills to make that jump. 

While this seems like chaos, the good news is that it’s possible to find your way in this new world of remote working, remote learning, unemployment, and gaining new business and technical skills to keep your career moving. 

We sat down with Darren Murph, the Head of Remote at GitLab to talk about how today’s professionals can succeed, even if the path ahead isn’t clear.

GitLab is a web-based DevOps lifecycle tool that provides a Git-repository manager providing features such as wiki, issue-tracking, and continuous integration and deployment pipeline capabilities using an open-source license. As a company with a fully remote workforce of tech professionals, GitLab is uniquely positioned to offer guidance throughout these crazy times. 

Tell us about your background and in your mind, the top 3 reasons you’ve gotten to where you are today.

I’ve spent my career across the spectrum of remote — over 15 years leading remote teams and charting remote transformations in colocated spaces, hybrid-remote environments, and all-remote. I hold a Guinness World Record in publishing.

The highest honor of my life is being chosen to be a dad. I’m an adoptive father, and I am a steadfast advocate for open adoption. It has transformed every part of my life, and expanded my family in a beautiful way. 

I’m an explorer at heart, traversing all 50 U.S. states, over 50 countries, and over 50 national parks around the globe. I’m a million miler on Delta, and look forward to the adventures that await in the next million. 

1) I’m a naturally transparent and empathetic leader, and I default to trust. I prefer empowerment to micromanagement, and have constantly prioritized flexibility over status. These traits are aligned with the primary benefits of remote. 

2) I’ve found success in leading by documentation. As a former journalist, I realized that leading remote teams would be impossible without creating mentorship materials that could be catalogued in a single source of truth. Well before GitLab was founded, I built a company handbook at Engadget (a consumer electronics publication). My approach was to answer every question I was asked by new editors with a link. I would document the answer and file in the handbook, thereby only ever having to answer a question once. This enabled new hires to self-serve and learn quickly, which made them less reliant on me and more capable of generating innovation. At GitLab, I aspire to do similar. I’ve built and improved hundreds of pages within our 5,000-page handbook — materials that help new hires and new managers understand the nuances of remote. 

3) I’ve focused on relationships. Relationships are the bedrocks of life, and your network is your strongest asset. I stay curious, and I try to learn something new from each person I meet.

What attributes do you look for when hiring someone to join your team?

Put simply, at GitLab, we look for candidates who align with our values and inform us that said values resonate with them. Great self-awareness and expert storytelling skills are necessary to thrive in an all-remote setting. Note that I look for storytelling as opposed to blanket communication. The best remote workers think three steps prior and three steps ahead, and can document ideas in low-context fashion that supports asynchronous workflows. 

Having prior experience working remotely is appreciated, but by and large I look for the same attributes that a colocated manager would. Qualities such as timeliness, dependability, respect, a heart of collaboration, perseverance, empathy, kindness, and ambition are valued.

Even if someone has not worked in a remote environment before, chances are high that they have spent time on work while outside of their office. I ask specifically for how a candidate feels about autonomy and blameless problem solving.

Why do you believe it’s important for professionals to invest in training/learning?

Learning is growth. You can’t grow without learning. Now more than ever, professionals must learn what it means to manage remotely, to interact with people in their homes, and to have empathy for real-life and work being intertwined. 

Learning is being intentional about your long-term wellbeing. While learning is always easy to push aside to handle in-the-moment fires, those who choose to prioritize learning will be better equipped for whatever is around the next corner. Online learning platforms like Develop, provide classes that cover a broad range of topics in an always-available online environment are great and provide flexibility for someone who is looking to continue to learn to progress their career.

The global pandemic has completely changed the business landscape and how we “work” – what lasting effects do you think this will have?

COVID-19 has accelerated the global embrace of remote work by at least 10 years. It has forever democratized the conversation. Now, every job seeker will be able to enter a screener call and ask “What is your stance on workplace flexibility?”

Workplaces will be forced to be more inclusive and understanding, or risk losing the best talent. People will feel more empowered to fit work into their lives, as opposed to the other way around. 

People will realize how much relationships and community matters, and they’ll begin to fill more of their social quota from those areas rather than purely from work — a very necessary and healthy rebalancing. For far too long, individual identities have largely been tied to vocation. This global pause has created a powerful awakening. 

Rural depopulation will begin to slow, and eventually reverse. Innovation will sprout from towns and countries most have never heard of, while major urban centers won’t slow down. This isn’t about one side losing and another winning; this is about empowering the marginalized to tap into opportunity. 

What advice would you give to someone who is recently unemployed?

Prioritize fit. The world is in a vulnerable state, which enables you to ask candid questions in interviews. Find a company or team that truly aligns with your values, as best as possible. 

Consider embarking on a solo journey, or assembling a team and forming a new company. If you’ve been pushing off an entrepreneurial urge, now is the time to correct that. 

Reimagine everything. Where do you want to live? What do you want your workday to look like? Now is a moment where everything is up for change.

Let yourself be real. The hurt is real. The doubt is real. It doesn’t define you, but it’s tangible. Acknowledge it, wrestle with it, then give it away. Give it due attention, but not a minute more. 

What’s your advice for aspiring team leaders – how can they start with their best foot forward, or start preparing to lead a team?

The best remote leaders are the ones who get out of the way, and work to equip their teams with the training, tools, and workflows needed to do what they’re uniquely best at. Seek first to understand. Ask questions and learn. People will generally expect you to come in and trigger a wave of change without fully understanding a bigger picture — do the opposite of that, and you’ll build long-term trust.

Tell us about how your company/organization is working to help business and tech professionals succeed?

We’re reinforcing that GitLab is family and friends first, work second. We’re ensuring that our executives take time away from work in a visible manner, and we’ve implemented a series of Family & Friends Days to create 3-day weekends. We couple that with a Slack channel where team members are encouraged to share photos and stories of how they’re taking care of themselves and others with the time away.

GitLab’s mission is everyone can contribute. I’m able to share all of our learnings as the planet’s largest all-remote company in the GitLab handbook, which is open source, public to the world, and being iterated and updated continually. 

We share this knowledge because we want to influence the proliferation of remote-first and all-remote companies, and to encourage other remote companies to share knowledge back while improving the GitLab handbook. We believe that a world with more all-remote companies will be a more prosperous one, with opportunity more equally distributed.

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