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Assembla is hiring -- Create cool tools while working remotely!

Posted by Jon Friedman on Tue, May 29, 2012
Tags: ,

Assembla is hiring! We're looking for developers, web system admins and QA testers.

Assembla is a growing, profitable company. We create tools for distributed development teams, and we build and manage cloud applications.  Most Assembla employees work from the location of their choice.

See current openings at:

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5 Skills for Tech Leads

Posted by Sergio Romano on Fri, Jan 13, 2012

I recently left my Product Manager role at Assembla to become the Chief Experience Officer.  I transfered responsibility for a lot of different decisions about the product, release schedules, teams interactions and development. To make the transition easier, I decided to write a small piece of skills that the next Product Manager should have to continue running our product successfully. I knew that if he was the right person, he would not read a long piece of text about "managing" nor he will take my advice too seriously.

So I started with the great blog post from Andy about Assembla's Tech Lead Checklist as my base and together, we figured out which 5 Skills we were looking to have the best Tech Lead in the world to run our product:

1) Development

You should be a developer, and a good one. Try to always make you some time to be involved with the code. If you help developers with their code issues, they will be willing to help you with the release. If there is an urgent problem that you can fix faster, do it. Don't forget that you started in these business because you wanted to program computers.

2) Release Management

Your main job is to resolve needs and roadblocks (not to make sure that people are following any methodology). You should care to keep everyone moving and working on important and small tasks. Balance load so that everyone is only working on one task at a time. You should be good splitting work into small pieces so that the tasks are easier to estimate, control, finish or postpone when needed.

3) Product Management

Prioritize, that's all. Then, you just have to work on the most important tasks from your list (which will also be small ones if you did your homework). Find "minimum releasable features" and products. You should think features as products and always be releasing features you can sell, otherwise you are wasting everyone's time. After you release a new feature, market it and continue improving it with user's feedback. Learn to let data drive your development by always defining metrics for your problems and to prove your solutions. 

Aside:  If you follow these rules, you will avoid code refactoring.  You will only be doing refactoring when you need it for something new.  This is one of the ways that you will start to think differently from an pure engineer that is not thinking about product management.

4) Recruiting

Learn how to test people inside your team. Don't waste time with paper work, leave that for someone else. Document the "getting started" and learn to do "on boarding" to help new members get started. You are seeking for people that get things done, the rest is just accessories.

5) Managing People

Be honest and helpful. Always remember you might be dealing with people from different cultures and countries so understand the communication problems instead of getting angry about them. Your goal is to remove the stress away from your team but still make them part of the decisions and success so that they are happy and challenged. The hardest challenge is not to build a great product, but to have a growing team of talented and motivated guys working on the same thing.
At the end, we took these ideas into a training program for our team members. We made some extra materials that best describe these skills and put them into practice. We will continue sharing it through our blog.

Give your techleads all the stuff they need in one place, for free with Assembla Renzoku

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Tech Leads will Rule the World

Posted by Andy Singleton on Thu, Nov 10, 2011

At a Google office the other day, I heard someone say “Tech Leads make all the decisions at Google.” They also make the decisions here at Assembla. If you do distributed software development, they should be making the decisions at your company

A Technical Lead or Tech Lead is a software engineer who also leads a team. The Tech Lead picks the important tasks, answers questions, solves problems, assembles a release, helps new team members – and does development.

We think that distributed teams require Tech Leads. These teams communicate with code and other deliverables. They need to work with a developer who can read the code.

Why don’t we use Project Managers or Scrum Masters? Non-technical project managers aren’t effective in a distributed team, because these teams communicate by exchanging code and other deliverables.  We can’t afford Scrum Masters who “coach” and “remove impediments” but don’t code and don’t lead. We need guys who write code, know what they are talking about, take responsibility, and take the lead.

It’s a tough job, and some say that engineers can’t do it. I’ve heard many times that “a good engineer is a bad manager.” I don’t believe it. There was a time when people said that engineers made bad entrepreneurs. Today, software engineers run the most successful technology companies, and the hottest startups.

There are many people doing Tech Lead jobs today. They are doing it as technical founders, directors of development, lead programmers, project leads, etc.

However, few people are trained for the Tech Lead role. We find that a lack of Tech Leads is the primary reason for not using distributed teams, not expanding teams, or not succeeding with distributed teams. 

We think that good developers can become good Tech Leads by practicing a small set of new skills.  We have been putting together a Tech Lead Checklist, a minimal list of tasks that will equip an engineer to lead a team. This will be joined with other materials, including a list of skills and exercises drawn from the experience of our own Tech Leads and other contributors.

Tech Leads have always been important for Assembla. We organized some Tech Lead training two months ago, and expanded our capacity with “feature teams” headed up by Tech Leads that can independently design and release complete features. Our Tech Lead candidates have been taking turns as “release captain,” and improving the release process, and helping with recruiting and hiring. I find that our Tech Lead candidates are a lot more fun to work with since we started this program.

The Tech Lead role is important for developers who are interested in career development. As Tech Leads, developers can do more, succeed in their careers, and proceed to world domination.  And other developers, who aren’t interested in management or the petty hassles of world domination, like the idea that they will have better, more technical management.

Tech Leads are also important for business managers. Last month, I went out to Silicon Valley, and I saw people actually leaning across the table in excitement when I told them about our Tech Lead training program. They are desperately short of programming and product management capacity. They got excited thinking about how Tech Lead training can help them break out with expandable, distributed teams.

Some engineers are already great at the Tech Lead job. However, we can have a lot more if we study the role and share good practices.

When that happens, we will have more distributed teams, since the lack of technical leads is the most common reason for not using distributed teams.  Those teams will go on to make the apps and software that control phones, cars, media empires, payment systems, voting machines, and power grids. So in a few years Tech Leads will not only make all the decisions, they will rule the world.

Give your tech leads all the stuff they need in one place for free with Assembla Renzoku.

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6 Power Streams That Accelerate Software Development

Posted by Andy Singleton on Mon, Oct 10, 2011

We're building software a lot faster now, compared with 10 or 15 years ago.  How are we doing it?  I put together this list to kick off a "Development Summit" event for our local trade organization, the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council.

1) Staffing.  We are innovating with distributed teams, ecosystems, open source, incubators, outsourcing, crowdsourcing, etc.  This gets first place, because the team you put together has a bigger effect on outcomes than anything else.

2) Methodologies and management.  This includes the agile methodologies, continuous integration, lean startups, and people management techniques for both distributed and co-located groups.

3) Tools.  This includes installed and hosted hardware and software for developers

4) Platforms and Code.  The base development platforms and available code, much of it open source, are always improving.

5) Cloud and on-demand resources.  This encompasses a lot of the above (staffing, code, tools, platform as a service) but is worth its own category, because you can now go out on the global Internet and get a lot of things that will accelerate development "on demand".

6) Rapid deployment and feedback.  This includes SaaS, appstores, flash memory, phone home, feedback sites, and user reviews.

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Acceleration Links #2

Posted by adam feber on Wed, Sep 21, 2011
Our latest list of articles relating to management, methodology, staffing, tools, platforms, and cloud resources that can help accelerate your development projects.

5 Reasons Why Being Agile Is More Important Than Being Perfect by Andy Beal via the OPEN Forum

Quote: "...your company, product, service or movie will never be finished. It will never be what you would consider to be "perfect." Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs don't get this concept. They lock themselves away in dark rooms and keep tweaking and tinkering, thinking that if they can just get everything perfect, their business will be a success."


Pet Projects and Hiring Decisions from Ayende Rahien's Blog

Quote: "One of the core values that I look for when getting new people is their passion for the profession. Put simply, I think about what I do as a hobby that I actually get paid for, and I am looking for people who have the same mentality as I do. There are many ways to actually check for that."


Hiring – Easy as Pie from Steve Blank's Blog

Quote: "Since I’ve always been a visual guy, job specs with their long lists of job requirements always left me cold. My eyes would glaze over at these recruiter/board wish lists. I wished there was a way to see them at a glance. (Just to be clear this isn’t the entire hiring process, just a way to visually begin the discussion.) So here’s my suggestion:"


Just some other awesome CSS3 buttons from Red Team Design

Quote: "Whether you’re designing a website or a web application, you’ll need buttons for it. Now, with CSS3′s help, it was never easier to create nice looking buttons. In this article you’ll learn how to create some cool CSS3 buttons in just a few steps."


12 Top Cross Browser Testing Tools by Sunalini Rana via SloDive

Quote: "Every site looks different in each browser and also in different browsers. Checking your site across different browsers is difficult and time consuming and mostly impossible. Thus you can use these Cross Browser Testing tools to make sure your webpage look great in any Browser and PC/OS."

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Acceleration Links #1

Posted by Adam Feber on Tue, Sep 06, 2011

Welcome to the first edition of Assembla’s “Acceleration Links.” Our goal is to provide a weekly list of suggested articles relating to management, methodology, staffing, tools, platforms, frameworks, and cloud resources that can help accelerate your development projects.

Reflections on the 10 years since the Agile Manifesto from Mike Cohn’s Blog – Succeeding with Agile

Quote: “Where does agile go from here? Hopefully two things are in store for us next. First, I’d like all the brands to go away. No Scrum. No XP. No Kanban or lean. No DSDM. No Crystal. Just agile. We saw this happen two decades ago in objects. We had various modeling approaches and methods from Rumbaugh, Booch, Meyer, Jacobson, and others. Those differences were eventually put aside and we now have merely objects and UML.”

What's New in Subversion 1.7 by Michael Pilato at Dr. Dobb’s

Comment: Subversion 1.7 will be released in the next few weeks.  It includes changes to the working copy and protocol to make it faster, and other internal improvements.  Assembla will be adopting Subversion 1.7 in it's Web application, and building new client capabilities such as improved merge.

Five reasons you need to trust your staff (read don't micromanage) by Scott Lowe at TechRepublic

Quote: “Micromanagement. The word is generally construed as a negative management trait to be avoided at all costs. For hands-on, technical people who have come up through the ranks, it can be a tough trait to shed. But, there are five really good reasons you should embrace your inner CIO and let your staff do their jobs.”

25+ Must-have Chrome extensions for web designers and developers from the Webdesigner Depot Blog

Comment: We can see from our Web logs that Chrome is rapidly catching up to Firefox as the most popular browser for developers.  See what it can do with these shiny extensions.

Standing Desks Are on the Rise by Jim Carlton at the Wall Street Journal

Quote: "A growing number of workers at Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and other employers are trading in their sit-down desks for standing ones, saying they feel more comfortable and energized. They also are motivated by medical reports saying that sitting for too long leads to increased health risks."

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The right to Life, Liberty, and Freedom from Non-Compete Agreements

Posted by Andy Singleton on Mon, Jul 04, 2011
Tags: ,

In honor of our declaration of independence and its assertion that all men are endowed "with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," I have updated our jobs page with the following note:

"Assembla does not use non-compete agreements. We want you to succeed in your career during and after your time with Assembla."

Non-compete agreements are a hot topic in Massachusetts, where many think that they are not only unfair to employees, but that they also stifle innovation and hold back job creation and company creation in the state.  Scott Kirsner restated his criticism in a newspaper article today, and there is even an "Alliance for Open Competition" that lists VC and industry supporters of a ban on non-competes.

However, many who say they support a ban STILL USE NONCOMPETE CLAUSES in their employement and work contracts.  I challenge them to go to their Web sites this week and add a statement that says "<my organization> does not use non-compete agreements."

We have heard about the great espresso machine, the foosball, the office dog, the free lunch, etc.  Is that what is important, or is it more important to support the future careers of the people that work so hard for your company?

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Geeks are mostly boys, but they are useful anyway

Posted by Andy Singleton on Wed, Mar 09, 2011

After seeing our customer map yesterday, a team member sent me this astonishing graphic from Facebook "page insights". 95% of the people following Assembla are male.

facebook demographics resized 600

According to Facebook, males belong on the bottom.  82% are 18-34 years old.

To the trained marketing mind, these lopsided demographics would indicate that we need a swimsuit issue of the blog, rather than boring statistics.  I see a lesson in managing international teams.

People often ask me if I experience cultural conflict working with team members from ten countries.  Actually, I don't.  I have one of the most homogenous workforces in the world. They tend to be geeks.  They come from the country of code. Their geek nature wins over their varied nurture.

The larger your recruiting pool, the more likely you are to get people who work in the same way. Hopefully they aren't all male, and hopefully they bring in a variety of new ideas. However, they will share a common outlook and goals.

Assembla is designed to help you manage a global team.  This is important because it allows you to recruit globally, and we have posted various kinds of advice about how to do it.  We recommend using basic tools like advertising, and paid trial jobs, and not allowing logistics to take our attention away from finding top talent.

For example:

A different perspective on the war for top talent in Silicon Valley

Blink and the art of hiring the best

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Country report: Where in the world are the software developers?

Posted by Andy Singleton on Mon, Mar 07, 2011

We can use Google Analytics to map the location of the small commercial software teams that make up Assembla's current users.  They are part of a truly global industry, 74% outside the United States, with strong growth in Eastern Europe and Latin America.

We designed Assembla as a micro-multinational from the start. We study distributed teams, and we experiment on ourselves. When we recruit, we don't express a bias about where team members will be located.  We currently have about 33 people in 10 countries, with 40% in North America (US and Canada).  I include as a North American our director of system operations, who rules a server empire from his lava-lapped lair in Hawaii.

We know from credit card records that about 50% of our subscribers are in North America.

We took a closer look at location when we started working on internationalization and localization.  What languages do we need to support?  Do we need to take steps to improve performance in overseas locations?  The GA report on "Visits" measures users, not subscribers, and our users turn out to be very widely distributed.


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North America has the most visitors, but the share is only 29%. After that comes Western Europe.  Google divides the old cold-war Western Europe into "Western", "Northern", and "Southern", but if we add them back together, we get 27%. Then comes Eastern Europe, which contributes an outsized number of visits compared to its population.  The bulk  of Assembla users (44%) are in Europe and Russia.

South America beats out Southern Asia (mostly India and Pakistan). That is a sign for the future. South America is rising on demographics.  The raw material of the software business, the light sweet crude oil of the information age, is educated people in their 20's.  South America has a lot of them.  Over the last two years our product team has grown in South America, with our tech lead in Argentina, and guys in Chile, Brazil, and Mexico.

We help many teams in India get connected to their customers.  Assembla is not currently popular in east Asia.  We'll discuss that the country analysis.


countries resized 600

United States has the biggest share.  We built the site in English for a mostly American audience, and our servers are in the US.  However, 74% of visits come from outside the US. From our credit card data, we can see that the US holds about 47% of our paying customers, with about 53% outside of the US.

Russia comes in second.  I am convinced that Russia is a power in the software business because of the strength of the old Soviet education system, even 20 years after its demise.  I have a young man of Russian origin working in my office and he tells the story about how at age 14 he moved from Moscow to Newton, Massachusetts, considered a very good school district in the US, and "it was too easy.  I didn't learn anything new in high school."

Poland shows up with an outsized 3.5%, about the same as France.  I think there are universities in Poland that use Assembla.  Na zdrowie!

Recently we have heard a lot about the economic isolation of young adults in Arab countries, and it shows up in these logs. Isreal makes a good showing at 1.1%.  However, Arab countries are almost invisible in the logs.  Egypt, with a population 10x Isreal's, has about 1/6 the number of visits. Some Arab countries get down under 100 visits - basically one person in a coffee shop.  But, the Israeli effect spreads to its neighbors. In my recruiting, I have seen a couple of good candidates from the Palestinian territories, one credible candidate from Egypt, and zero from other Arab countries.  If the Middle Easterners can ever settle their differences, open the borders, and build a ten lane highway that connects a Lebanese lifestyle with Isreali entrepreneurship and Egyptian 20-somethings, they will have a technology center that rivals California.

China stands out with a small share of 1.5%, about the same as Netherlands, and slightly more than Vietnam.  It's possible that we can fix this by doing a Chinese language localization, and moving some servers inside the Chinese firewall zone. We're going to try it.  If that doesn't work, I'll move there and figure it out.  On the other hand, I've been in the software business a long time, and I haven't known anybody who made money in China.  Do any western software vendors make money in China? There's also something odd about the Chinese push to develop IT outsourcing.  I hear a lot about it, but I don't see many teams in action.  I suspect that their internal demand is so strong that they don't export a lot of services.  If they did, we would see them on our servers.  We're also under-represented in Indonesia, which is a very large country with a lot happening, but maybe they don't have much of a software business.

On the other hand, we're doing really well in the other BRIC's (Brazil, Russia, India), and in the next tier of emerging countries such as Vietnam.


Top national languages:  English 40.65%, Russian 5.69%, Russia+Ukraine 9.53%, Spanish 6.64%, German 4.83%, Portugese 4.29%

Adding together a bunch of English speaking countries (US, UK, Canada, Australia, and India, assuming that Indians use English at work) gets us to 40%.  So, 60% of visits are not from English speaking countries.  That's where the challenge starts. We can get 25% of the rest (assuming that Ukrainians will use Russian at work) by covering four more languages - Russian, Spanish, German, and Portugese (go Brazil).  After that, each new language covers small percentages.  It's a big world out there.

The chart of language preferences set in the browser gives a list in the same order - English, Russian, Spanish, German.  It confirms that a lot of Ukrainians use Russian. French, Portugese (Brazil), and Polish are in the next group.  The major difference is that more than 60% of browser users have selected English. I think that this is because we only offer the product in English, for teams that have decided to work in English, and that the country of origin is a better indication of real preferences after localization.

language resized 600


city circles resized 600

Top cities: Moscow 2.39%, London 1.86%, New York 1.59%, San Francisco 1.19%, Kyiv 1.08%, Chennai 0.86%, Paris 0.86%, Austin 0.84%

Moscow is has an outsized presence.  It shows how concentrated the Russian economy is.  However, the humble Russian city of Yekaterinburg, site of my first offshore location in the 90's, has almost as many visits as Boston, our headquarters.  I should get out of the office more.

American cities don't show up well in this city analysis because each metropolitan area is chopped up into a lot of smaller cities.  For example, San Francisco makes the top four, but the rest of Silicon Valley is spread out in little circles on route 101.

The Indian software business, once concentrated in Bangalore, has spread out.  In India, Bangalore is narrowly beaten out by Chennai, and closely followed by Pune.

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Andy Singleton talks to Stephen Robinson about Agile and Distributed development

Posted by Alexandr Smirnov on Thu, Feb 10, 2011

Recently, Stephen Robinson of Eye & paid a visit to the Assembla office in Needham, MA, and recorded a video interview about Agile and Distributed development with our CEO Andy Singleton. Andy has been researching development team collaboration since early 90s. In this interview Andy talks about managing distributed teams, recruiting great talent, and some current issues scaling Agile software projects. Please enjoy this first part of the interview. To view the remaining 2 parts please click HERE

Project Management - Part 1: Andy Singleton from Eye & Mind on Vimeo.

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