Feb 25, 2020 - Vlad Stoianovici    

Contribute through the eyes of a new GitLabber

I joined GitLab just in time to make it to Contribute New Orleans. Here's a few things you might want to know before going to Contribute Prague...

This blog post is Unfiltered

The moment when I decided I wanted to work for GitLab was when I saw this interview with Sid:

I remember I had researched "all remote" companies and Sid’s interview popped into the queue. He said that since they’re all-remote they pick an interesting place and every 9 months everyone gets together to hang out. And because it’s really "all remote" any given location will be far from most but close to some (GitLab employs people in at least 66 countries) so it can literally be anywhere in the world that has a large conference room and internet.

Huh? That sounds really cool,

…but how does that really work?

Who's doing support? :)

Do they all just stop working for a week?

So I spent the next few minutes watching Sid put into a very appealing context concepts like: boring solutions, everyone can contribute, unified continuous integration, a single source of truth that is written down for the whole world to see, transparency, async communication …etc. Now, at this point I had been working remotely in more-or-less traditional companies for the best part of 5 years and was painfully aware this can lead to quite a few drawbacks, but here was this company that had working remotely embedded in its DNA, where everyone was equally remote, where every workflow was built to accommodate remote collaboration (transparent, distributed, scalable, asynchronous) …and they also have this huge party / get together every 9 months?!

Fast forward 2 months, 4 interviews and quite a bit of email chatter and I was boarding this first of 3 planes that would take me to N’awlins for Contribute 2019 (this was my 3rd day with the company).

Fun fact #1: I told my wife all about GitLab’s culture, values and mission which created a huge community and how it was a "force for good".

Her response was: That’s all very nice, but I really like the orange foxy logo, it’s really cute, I’ve got a good feeling about them (she’s more of a visual person).

GitLab Tanuki

Tanuki is Japanese for raccoon dog, which is a smart animal that works in a group to achieve a common goal.

Fun fact #2: It seems that for each Contribute GitLab doubles its size. There were about 600 GitLabbers when I joined (Contribute New Orleans) and for the Prague 2020 Contribute there’s going to be at least 1200 of us. That’s hyper-growth for y’a! Just take a moment to imagine and appreciate the massive effort done by some of our GitLabbers to make this possible. Big ups to all of those involved!

What to expect

We tend to think that we need to have trust with someone before allowing ourselves to be vulnerable (to show emotion and to generally act like a human) . And this may ring even more true in the workplace. But it looks like we got that completely backwards (studies show): in order to create trust you need to show and perceive your peers as actual human beings (what psychologists call "vulnerability"). That makes people feel more relatable and approachable and physical proximity is very important in establishing this report. That is why, even though it is a gargantuan undertaking both logistically and financially, Contribute is still happening and it’s such a huge part of our culture. This is where we get together to bind those relationships that make remote working at such a scale possible.

Contribute is where you will be meeting your teammates, where you’ll be socialising with like-minded peers, where you will be making so many connections and where you will be hearing so many interesting stories. Last year I talked to (to mention but a few) snowboarders, skiers, sailors, painters, hacktivists, minimalists, adventure travellers, people who, while working at GitLab, continuously travel the world hopping from one continent to another. People who’ve had the opportunity, while at GitLab, to change their family’s lives for the better by moving to countries where they can be safe, can benefit from healthcare and children can get better education. Generally, people who don’t settle, who have a full life and stride to achieve their full potential from the most diverse backgrounds possible. And they all consider you their peer and share your goals and values. If you’re an introvert and this sounds like your worst nightmare, don’t worry we’ve got you covered: check out this workshop: Introverts unite! How to survive & thrive at events while introverting.

I remember that last year, at NOLA Airport, a bunch of us had grouped together for the shuttle to the hotel. We were kind of a mixed bunch: people from the US and Canada (who had shorter flights and thus had a much higher energy level), a few Europeans (most of which had been traveling for around 16 to 20 hours) as well as a few GitLabbers from Singapore and Taiwan who had left home over 30 hours ago. Nevertheless, excitement and cheerfulness were the norm and the bus was buzzing with conversations. Most of the people on the bus didn’t know each other and some had known each other but had never met in person. Regardless, it felt like going on a road-trip to summer camp :).

I distinctly remember that, just before Sid’s Keynote speech (which marked the beginning of Contribute), people were gathering in the foyer of the hotel and as I was walking down the stairs, and into the crowd, I felt like I was immersing myself in an effervescence pool of exuberance and anticipation.

And speaking of Sid, you’ll also get plenty of chances to chat with him but even if you don't you’ll still witness his special brand of humor during his keynote speech. Here’s the one from New Orleans:

I’d also like to mention Matt Mullenweg’s (creator of Wordpress and founder / CEO of Automattic) speech where he shared his vision on how companies like GitLab and Automattic are disrupting the paradigm of start-ups and, more broadly, tech companies by being "all remote" by design and how that offers a huge competitive advance. He was then joined by Sid in an open discussion where both of them made it clear that the big tech companies are trying to tap into this "all remote" vision and they are looking to adapt to remote working in ways that would fit their monolithic organisations.

We also had workshops, structured and unstructured discussions about an abundance of topics (from Kubernetes, Continuous Integration / Continuous Development, GitLab Performance, AutoDevOps to Work/life balance, Traveling Hacks, Yoga, etc).

The last few days were mostly for team time and outdoorsy activities like Swamp Pontoon Boat trips, or excursions through the various scenic areas of New Orleans.

For those of you itching for that GitLab T-shirt or that GitLab coffee mug, you need not worry, there will be a Pop-up Swag store, but do hurry, the good stuff sells really fast!

At the end there will be a huge party with drinks and food to end what will be a crazy few days! In New Orleans we got to wear masks which you could have built yourself at one of the workshops.

As you can imagine it can get pretty hectic since there’s a lot to experience. Add to that a pinch of jet-lag, mix it with the queue of emails you have to keep up with, top it off every night with an open bar and it’s no wonder how this whole thing might seem like a giant laundromat that will leave you spinning. Just remember to breathe!

Pro tip 1: learn how to use the event’s app and check-out the #Contribute2020 slack channel to be up to date on where things are happening, what’s up next and where you need to go. Checkout the Contribute FAQ for a lot of useful information, but also keep an eye out for emails about Contribute as they contain important updates and links to resources.

Pro tip 2: flight duration / country / position within the company are very easy-to-use icebreakers. Maybe put something/original on your name badge.

Conclusions

What I’d recommend (and my extensive experience of attending a total of one other Contribute speaks for itself) is this: go out there with an open mind and immerse yourself into it. It’s one hell of a ride. Meet as many people as possible, make connections, create lasting bonds, eat something that you’ve not tried before, try to seat next to different people through breakfast/lunch/dinner or on tour busses, go to sessions with topics that you have no clue about and generally go with the flow and soak it all in. You will go home feeling energised and filled with a sense of belonging and gratitude for being part of this culture.

Cover Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

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