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The Highgroove Experiment: A one-year retrospective

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Stafford Brooke

About a year ago, I convinced our Charles Brian Quinn to take a chance on me. While I had nearly 10 years of experience in developing, deploying and maintaining web applications, I had no Ruby experience, no Rails experience and not one piece of paper certifying me of having any knowledge about computers in general. Despite all these deficiencies, I had done my homework; I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Highgroove was the place where I needed to be working.

Our hiring process is challenging, and not many people get through. It can also take a while to get a response, because our hiring mentality is “hire slow, fire fast.” Hiring slowly is a good thing: It helps us make sure that we hire the right person for the job, without relying on a “gut instinct” or rushing to fill a seat.

Needless to say, my story had a happy ending, and now it that I’ve been here for a year, I want to take a look at how being a Highgroover has changed my life.

My Colleagues

This is listed first because it’s the number one reason I wanted to work at Highgroove. Highgroovers not only contribute to some of the most important open-source projects (Rails, Brakeman, will_paginate) in the world, but they’re also extremely personable and passionate about sharing their knowledge with others.

I have certainly worked with some great developers at my past jobs, but these were much smaller teams. At best, I had five developers working with me at a company of about 25 employees. However, at Highgroove, we have 20 developers, which is the majority of the company.

I have the privilege to work with, learn from and teach 19 amazing developers. Working with this group of peers has been by far the biggest change in my life in the past year. I have gained new friends, I have grown so much, and every day I look forward to interacting with an awesome team.

My Environment

Many of our blog posts point out that we’re a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). To me, the point of working in a ROWE isn’t working from the beach, being able to take care of emergencies when you need to, or whatever other time-space thing you usually hear about when people are talking about ROWE. The best think about working in a ROWE is that it creates an environment of trust. Responsibilities and results are clearly defined. No one is “managed.”

Everyone trusts that you will accomplish your results. There is no one coming around, probing you for progress reports or asking you some sort of silly question that basically boils down to, “Are you doing your job?”

On the flip side, problems do arise, and you are also trusted to raise your hand when one comes up. If you are unhappy about a process, unable to find the right solution or having trouble communicating effectively, you are trusted to make the issue known quickly, before it gets to be a bigger concern.

My Goals

I’m happy with what I have been able to accomplish this past year at Highgroove. I’ve gone from knowing almost nothing about Ruby to building and launching the two largest and most complex web applications I have ever created. Along the way, I gave a lightning talk at Ruby Hoe-Down, presented Tech Talks and made open-source contributions to OmniAuth, Compass and Mailchimp’s Uakari gem.

But there’s always room for growth, and now I’m aiming even higher. In my coming year at Highgroove, I plan to host regular code retreats, step up the frequency of my open-source contributions and help Highgroove with its marketing efforts, while making progress on my journey to become the best software developer I can be.

How has your professional development changed in the past year? What goals have you set for yourself in order to ensure that you are constantly improving?

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Stafford Brooke

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