Two SUSEans explain which tools the globally distributed teams use for virtual communication – and why face-to-face meetings also have their advantages.
The trend goes to a distributed team in IT: SUSE has long been working with globally distributed and international development teams – according to the company, more than 2000 people in over 30 countries work in the company. The communication between the teams is therefore largely virtual. In an interview, long-time employees Andreas Jaeger and Dirk Müller explain what constitutes communication at SUSE and which tools are used.
This interview is an excerpt from the detailed conversation “Tool Time with SUSE” the current iX 6/2022, which is now available in well-stocked newsagents and in the Heise shop.
Let’s start with the communication: What tools do the developers at SUSE use to coordinate internally?
Dirk Müller (DM): In developer communication we at SUSE use different communication tools, many of which are open to the communities: email and mailing lists, internal and external IRCs and different Slack instances. Since the end of last year, we have also been using SUSE internally for cross-departmental communication. Most of the voting communication takes place in issue trackers, for different areas, overarching and in most cases open to the communities. In doing so, we follow the needs and demands of the communities, external partners and open source projects connected to us and, where possible, work with the tools preferred by the respective partner.
Andreas Jaeger (AJ): In general, we use Microsoft Teams for our meetings. Ad hoc, I often meet up with Dirk via my own huddle in Slack. As a development team, we are very flexible and use the openSUSE Jitsi infrastructure for discussions with external communities, for example.
SUSE developers are distributed around the world. Do you notice any differences in the preference of the tools used between the individual geographic locations?
DM: That’s an interesting question. I do believe that there are geographically assignable preferences for certain tools. Preferences regarding personal data protection, for example, vary in intensity. In my opinion, the actual choice of tool depends less on the region and more on the role and requirements of the team and employees.
Developers have different tooling preferences than salespeople or employees :inners who do not work in the technical field. That’s one of the reasons why we use a combination of different tools. The second reason is the openness and adaptability, because we work with many community projects and different partners and customers. Of course, this also means that we often use their tools.
Personal meetings have advantages, especially between people. Are there dates when everyone has to meet again?
AJ: Due to the pandemic, I only had one or two meetings last year, where at least the team members from Germany were physically in the office. Colleagues from other countries had to participate via video conference. Depending on the product or team, we organize workshops with developers, product management, sometimes marketing and sales, discuss and work through a fixed program. There’s plenty of room to get to know each other.
DM: There is a kick-off workshop lasting three to five days at least once a year for each project group or line maximize collaboration for the next project release. This often includes a retrospective: What worked well, what not so well, where was there feedback, what is the view of customers and partners, what requirements and trends does the market dictate to us? The pandemic has shifted a lot to virtual meetings. Even if the results of the virtual meetings are good, personally I find virtual meetings more exhausting than in-person meetings.On the other hand, there are now many tools for whiteboarding or real-time collaboration that make working together very productive. Anyone can write and read at the point that is relevant. This freedom is also a productivity gain.
Thank you very much for your answers, Mr. Jaeger and Mr. Müller.
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