The team I work on at Twilio, the Developer Network, has been remote for over ten years.
Many of the successful traditions and habits of our team can be traced back to Rob Spectre, who founded the Developer Network as we know it today. One of our most important remote rituals are our team summits. Once a quarter we fly into the same city and spend two days congealing as as a team, reflecting on the work we've done, and planning what we'll do next. The trust we build when together at summits lubricates the work we do when we're apart.
The transition to remote work during the pandemic wasn't particularly difficult for us. We were used to working from home and on the road. The hard part was losing all of the in-person stuff. The summits. The conferences. The happy hours. The coffees. The spontaneous conversations with no agenda and no scheduled end-time. The time when we get to know the person behind the persona. Working remotely 100% of the time is way, way harder than working remotely 98% of the time.
This week we had our first team summit since the pandemic started. It was a small group of eight leaders, coming together for the first time in two years. We did it in part to prove that we safely could, so that other teams could possibly follow. It was a mix of seeing old friends for the first time in two years, and meeting new friends for the first time, saying, "have we really never met in person before?"
A key part of every summit is the "evening activity." We get in an Uber and go do something together that's not in a conference room or over a dinner table. Picking an evening activity is the hardest part of planning summit. Ideally the activity is fun and challenging without carrying risk of injury. The best activities seem to be the ones where we learn a new skill together.
This summit, we went glass shaping. "Glass shaping" is similar to "glass blowing", but carries lower risk of spreading a highly contagious airborne virus, making it a better fit for 2021 corporate team building.
Glass shaping is a gift to photographers. Vibrant colors, fire, unique lighting, reflections, and people doing dangerous stuff are great ingredients for a photograph. The rest is mostly getting into position without bumping into something that's 2200 degrees.
A technical note on these shots. I typically walk around with a 35mm or 28mm lens. For this trip, I rented a 24mm to experiment with a wider focal length. The lens was well suited to this environment: an indoor space where there's not a lot of room to back up.
With the 24mm, I could capture a ball of molten glass in the foreground and still fit into frame the entirety of person in the background. With a 35mm, the person's head would be cropped out. The wide angle also adds a touch of surrealism to the shots. Our coworker Alyssa said "your photos made it look cooler than it really was" -- a great complement which I attribute to the 24mm and exposing for the fire and molten glass instead of the room (ie - my photos are darker than real life, so you can see more glow and detail in the hot stuff.)