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CN: As you know I am exploring trust in online collaboration and the way people witness each other and are capable of taking responsibility for each other. But first, to understand you better, how did you start your company and found the people to do it with?

RW: We had met in person, the business partners, and established relations of trust. It took a few months also with other partners. With serious partners you have to share expectations, acknowledge difference etc. The programmers we found through a lot of research, several groups, and telephone calls, referrals. We spent lots of time on the phone. It was a matter of luck really to have been able to find them. We all had the same risk profile.

CN: How do you discuss it?

RW: Through email and fixed meetings during week. We chat, because we need to have it documented and then we email it to each other. And that becomes the plan for the week. They hear my questions and I answer their questions and then we talk as long as we have, email it to each other and then will write a summary of that discussion. That gives us the opportunity to understand each other well. We did not do that in the beginning, and therefore we had communication problem the first couple of years. And the scheduled sessions solved this. We have no more communication problems now. The communication problems we had was that the work was different than we meant. I do not want to micro-manage; any capable person should do the work in the way they want. What I do is that I give them a module, a diagram, architecture, it needs to do this in the future and that and has to interact with that and I trust their technical ability to do that.

CN: The rhythm of the two meetings and how you behave had a clear format. What is the difference?

RW: I could not answer to my other business partners. Why certain dates were not met, I could not answer these questions. Partners and programmers all have specific communication needs. I need to bridge them. My role is that I translate these and I did not before. I translate what the one group wants to the other group. I never have them talk to each other; partner’s needs can be very demanding. I take on the demands and responsibilities. I witness and take responsibility for two groups and bridge.

CN: How do you know what happens with the partners?

RW: I know them very well; we know each other as human beings. I speak with one partner almost every day on the phone about almost anything. I can even hear it whether he had pizza for lunch.

CN: You read his voice, and you cannot do that by email?

RW: No way. We do chat. We have established. We are very good friends, like brother and sister, can get angry with each other. He will say I want this and I will say that is not possible, too much work, what is the point, it will take a year, etc and then he will say, ‘no you really have to listen to me’ and then maybe I say, ‘ok I can do it’ and then we establish what we want. We do this by phone and by chat, never by email. Email is for when we have agreed what to do; we use it to confirm what we decided. Chat is like talking. When we realize we need a discussion, we will make a call. We know that point with each other, when there is conflict or we technically do not understand each other. Bridge the language and the emotional conflict.

CN: Never videoconference?

RW: Yes we do, especially since we integrate it into our product, mostly use it to show. To show the screen and sometimes we hang out and make fun and jokes. Technology facilitates very different ways of communication; we establish our friendship when we play.

CN: What can you not do with your partners?

RW: I feel I need to go every two years to Chicago to cement I am a human being and not just a worker. I take the effort a much as I can. When I am there we tend to make the big decisions, what product we want to work on, human resources issues, when we hire people, I do that. Sales persons they can do, technical people I do. I made one mistake, I did not have enough time with him, and I did not spend enough time thinking about the consequences of having him work with him.

CN: Have you met everyone you’ve worked with?

RW: No, but I’ve met the key participants. The few times we have major issues, we meet with all of us, and then I would be on the phone conference. This is critical. Without these meetings things could have spiraled out of control.

CN: How do you know how the programmers are?

RW: By the quality of their work. When people are not well, you get more bugs. Many facets are important though: To have hard specification: Partners want 3 months, programmers think 9 months and I get it done in 6 months.
I need to use much diplomacy, also using programming language. It is important how quickly you get back to people. When they send me a beta version, I have to look at it that day when it is still fresh in their mind and send back and forth in the next days. I cannot leave it for 1 or 2 weeks.
And timing is critical: you confirm you receive it, immediately download it, now and say I start testing. All the time I stay in touch, test the whole day, at the end of the day file the bug reports, they will respond the next day whether they can fix it, what they do not understand and we keep doing that cycle till we have fixed the bugs. We are pretty friendly and will say small things: like Hello Jack, Hello Rebekah and not immediately go straight into technical stuff. Always say thank you at the end and have a nice evening.
I know there have been times when I have upset him; I was late to meetings, not so sociable, my work was far away, and I was wasting his time. Once or twice is Ok, more is not. It was affecting our relationship. When I realized, I even discussed this with his manager, saying I have been missing meetings with Jack, I want you to know that I will not be wasting his time anymore and of course I also said this to Jack but his manager would also know now.

CN: Are the programmers human beings or only workers to you? You do not need to meet them?

RW: Oh no, they are completely human beings. I would like to see them, but it is not as necessary as with the partners. If we would be doing hardware it would be more critical, but since we are doing software, I already speak the language and it is already digital.

CN: You do not need the trust as with the partners?

RW: It is different. The trust is already inherent in the medium. Because it is digital the medium, the computer, because we write computer software, it is ok to communicate on the computer. If we were making something else I would feel the need to be there more hands on.

CN: You also will find easily new programmers and not easy new partners?

RW: If the programmers would not be ok, I would talk to the managers. If that does not help, indeed I would hire new programmers. The need for witnessing of the partners is different with people who just have to perform a task. They only have to do their task well? Their lives are not as important for the completion of that task. I do believe, am not sure about it, I had some comments, they like to work with me because I am very personable and understanding and I have enough of understanding of what they are doing and I do distract them. I do not know whether this is having the female quality, means I treat them very humanly, always open to when they cannot meet the target if they have a valid reason. It is ok with me.

CN: How is the response time organized?

RW: It is different between clients, partners and programmers. Clients I have to respond to within the same day. We have an email system to confirm receiving of emails, and remind us to answer. There is a support system is over three continents. We have a good system in place to know what is happening and alarm us if necessary. For clients we, the people, are part of the system. With partners, they more or less know what I am about to do. We know each other for a long time, not many things are time critical. We understand each other; pick up the slack as soon as I can. Programmers, as discussed before, sometimes I do not feel like it, but force myself to do it, important to do it today and not tomorrow.

CN: How is the culture of the company?

RW: It goes of and on, up and down. Sometimes there is lot of communication, sometimes not. Sometimes we get in touch with all of us. I go to Chicago to enforce that, to ask about their family and so on.

CN: What problems have you faced when things went wrong?

RW: Some clients have been problematic. I had to deal with it. Partners are always very understanding. Ultimately, if things go wrong it is because I have not been communicative. That’s been my big lesson in all of this.

CN: So it is all about the same risk profile, the courtesy lines, response time, partners know each other and do the trust thing, and programmers with you the performance thing in making the software?

RW: Another important thing is for example when we won a client, to share the moments of success. I will always let the programmers know that this and that client successfully used our work.

CN: So this is a larger ethic and culture of how you collaborate. They also trust you more because you share. It is apparently not about ownership?

RW: It is ownership of work, but not of ethic; to me, we own the code, but not the intellectual concepts.

CN: Is this different in other companies?

RW: Probably, they would take complete ownership. But I do not believe that is a very healthy relationship, that is not long-time sustainable, workers will get bored and start quitting.

CN: You have images of each other and you recognize hacker ethics in each other?

RW: Yes, of course

CN: I look for new kinds of responsibilities that are developing? How this becomes part of identities of people?

RW: Both my relations with my clients, I have created a certain way of interacting they feel they can trust me. Without that, they have any claim on me professionally and that we are not exchanging personal information. Maybe we talk on the phone once or twice a week; with some people I have become friends, over a period of years.

CN: How does it affect your identity that you always work with people with whom you are not in the same place? And how does it change your being in that place?

RW: I use the fact that we are not in the same place to manifest my identity as someone who is not real. For example, I never allow video camera. When working remotely participants may project qualities on the other. I have had one man say, and this is where it goes to far, “you have a beautiful voice, you must be very beautiful”. I take effort not to engage in these conversations but to maintain a professional stance.

CN: In what sense?

RW: Of using maybe stereotypical female things, I keep my professional voice etc. The not being witnessed visually is a strategy, to keep it more clinical.

CN: And the voice is very clear and personal. What does it do to you?

RW: A few thousand people out there, who have an idea about me, most of them say, that our support is really fantastic. It means I have another life outside of the one I have. And I do not like to talk about my work in social situations for example, because it is part of another reality. I do not know where to start, really not know where to start, because there is no ground point, it is such a distributed thing. I could explain it to another engineer but than I could just talk technically, but I cannot talk about it in other terms.

CN: Your work is your imagination and than you also have another imagination?

RW: Work does pay the bills. The consequence of it taking place is that it is very hard to share, except with the people who are also in that imaginary world like other engineers. Then it becomes real.

CN: What does it do to where you physically are?

RW: It does not really matter where I am.

CN: When I see you work in my house, you really disappear.

RW: When friends ask me something, indeed I am not there. I have not created this; this is who I am. I have been like that as a child when I was playing the piano, my mother can tell you. It is not something I have become; I have made my work of something I like to have; to be able to disappear from where I am.

CN: Is there conflict in that?

RW: Of course, when I have to be available, that can be hard. And the imaginary world can become too real. Than I take a walk, call a friend, watch a movie, and usually leave the house.

Rebekah Wilson , CN