Jake Savin Posts

I’ve been saying for some weeks now that it’s going to be really fascinating to see how work culture will change over the coming months.

I think it’s clear that there will be some companies that embrace the changes we’ve all made and decide to keep them – or at least some of them. And there will be others that are either unable to shift their approach permanently for a multitude of reasons, or that will be unwilling to change their culture and mindset and will continue to see working from home as a liability, as a drag on productivity, or as stifling management’s (perceived) need for oversight.

Twitter BirdToday I saw on BuzzFeed via LinkedIn that Twitter will allow [some] employees to work at home forever. I think that’s pretty great, though not very surprising given the DNA of the company and the nature of tech work. I hope more companies consider doing this, especially non-tech companies for whom all this remote stuff is super new.

Working from home isn’t new for me.

I started working from home occasionally while I was a QA engineer at Sonic Solutions in Marin County, back in the previous century. The company was gracious enough to let us take some equipment home for our own use – recording and editing music digitally in my case. The thinking was that by allowing employees use the system for their own projects outside of work, they would find more issues and help get them fixed. It worked to some extent, but I think it was mostly of marginal value, at least from what I could see in my role as a tester. I sure did love being able to use the high-end gear for my side projects though. 🙂

My real in-depth experience with remote work came a few years later as a developer at UserLand Software starting in 2000. The company was basically entirely virtual with three of us spread across the greater San Francisco Bay Area, one in Seattle, one in Vancouver BC, and one in Bonn, Germany.

Because all but one of us were in the same time-zone, communication over whatever channel was relatively easy. When we needed real-time discussion we talked on the phone, but mostly we interacted online.

We mostly worked independently and we coordinated our work and reported our progress via a “threaded” discussion board that was visible to everyone internally. The discussion board was a part of the software we made together, and was also a primary way we communicated with our users. For the time, it was pretty great. (Later on we used an outline sharing tool that was also our own thing.)

The company actually had an office when I was hired, and I had my own space with a desk and a door, a desktop computer, etc. There were only two of us in the office though, and it quickly became clear to me that the value of driving 35-40 minutes each way from my apartment to the office and back just wasn’t worth it. So a few weeks in, I drove there one Saturday, packed up the computer and took it home, and never went back. From that point my productivity and focus increased. By a lot.

So much has changed since those heady days of the early web. And for many the huge shift in the form of remote work forced by COVID-19 are totally new.

If you’re one of the people fortunate enough to still have a job, and you now suddenly find yourself trying to adjust to working at home, I encourage you to embrace this time. Experiment. Find what works best for you, in your home, with your family or roommates or partners.

You might find that working at different times of the day than you used to works better for you. Or you could discover that working with the TV on in the background (not on 24-hour news, please) helps you stay focused. Perhaps working outdoors on your porch or in your yard on a lawn chair inspires new creativity.

Remember to communicate. Stay connected with your team, your manager, and your colleagues. Try to be open about what’s working for you and what’s not, and help your colleagues to discover what works best for them.

Don’t forget to stop working at the end of the day. (This was a hard one for me.)

And if you’re in a leadership position, especially at a non-tech company, try to imagine a world in which anyone who can work remotely should be allowed to do so even after this pandemic is under control. Consider all of the benefits that being flexible will bring to your workforce.

Critically examine your legacy policies and consider whether they may be worth changing, or dumping entirely. Think also about the benefits to the environment, the operational expense you can reduce, and the positive effect that flexibility will have on your company’s image.

It’s not just lip-service – remote work actually works.

For me, this is a bit of a return.

The “it’s like riding a bike – you never forget” metaphor works, at least kind of. What’s different now is that there are much better tools available now, and so many more people are in the same situation. We’re all trying to figure this out at the same time.

In 2001 when I would tell someone I’d just met that I work from home 100% of the time, most were surprised, some doubted it could work well, and a few were even incredulous. Today nobody is.


It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here. Too long.

I’m going to try to start back up slowly, but given everything that’s happening these days I’m not sure whether that’s even possible. Maybe it is, or maybe it’s not – and if not then I might write a lot, or nothing, or sporadically.

Whatever happens here, I’m no longer going to try too hard to say meaningful things, to conform to any expectations (others’ or my own) about what to write, how often to write, how well to write, or anything else.

I think it’s time to try again.


Back in early February, I had been reading the headlines about the Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. I knew there were many people who were sick and dying, and that the Chinese government was taking radical steps to get on top of the situation. I knew there were people in the United States who were worried. I was concerned, but it was all very far away and abstract. I’d never been to China, and I don’t know many people who have close attachments there.

Would it affect the global economy? Probably.

Would it affect anything I care about in my personal or professional life? Maybe. It’s hard to get new iPhones. People I know who work for Apple might be affected.

Would anyone I know be directly affected? Not sure. I’ve got a friend who’s at a small company that depends on Chinese manufacturing. Probably others that I’m not aware of.

February 7th

Then I had a visit with my mom, a physician and medical researcher for many years. We met for lunch in downtown Seattle on February 7th. One of the first things she said to me after greetings and a hug was, “Are you washing your hands?”

I think she had literally never asked me this before, and I immediately knew why. Everyone seemed to be getting more worried and many including myself, were starting to take steps to limit our own chances of getting sick.

We talked some more.

I learned that the medical community was very worried that this disease was highly likely to become widespread, or even a pandemic.

I learned that it was at least transmitted by coughs or droplets left on surfaces or possibly other ways, and that nobody was really sure yet if it could be transmitted through the air, or how long it stuck around on contaminated surfaces.

I learned that there was a general consensus that the first cases would be on the West Coast, probably in Seattle, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, because of the large Asian population here, and because the West Coast is a travel hub between China and the rest of the United States.

And I learned that a colleague of my mom’s, a Chinese immigrant to America, was saying that if the Chinese government says there are 10,000 cases, you should add a zero – maybe two. That meant there could be as many as a million people infected in China.

I don’t think we know even now, how many people were infected at that point. And at this point, I’m not sure it even matters.

Wash your hands!

I already had been, at least sometimes, using my knuckle instead of my fingertip to push elevator buttons, opening doors with my coat sleeve or by leaning into them with my hip or shoulder, and using hand sanitizer occasionally.

That day though, I became much more serious about taking precautions to protect myself and my family from getting sick.

One of the first things I did was to find out who was on the safety committee at Rover, where I worked. I sent an email explaining what I’d heard, that doctors were very worried about this thing, that the company needed to start taking precautions to protect ourselves, that we need to take hygiene seriously, and we need to tell our employees about the virus and the risks.

I got a reply back the next day saying that a general communication was being drafted about practicing good hygiene, but it wasn’t clear that there were plans to communicate the seriousness of the situation.

I stopped shaking hands with anyone.

I bought stylus-pens from Amazon to use at public touch-screens like elevators and point-of-sale devices.

I bought neoprene gloves for myself, my wife, and son.

We talked to our son. We talked to our families. We cancelled travel plans.

About three weeks after the email exchange at work, we were all advised to work from home whenever possible.

A week or so after that, we were told working from home was required unless you had to be the office for some reason.

Another week later it was mandatory for everyone. Nobody was going to the office except to pick up equipment to take home. At 8:30 on a Thursday evening I grabbed my monitor, ergonomic keyboard, mouse, and some personal effects I’d left at my desk. Downtown Seattle was barren.

I worked from home for another couple of weeks. We all did the best we could to stay productive, and to understand and adjust to this rapidly changing world.

Then last week, the Rover announced that it was laying off 41% of its staff. Nearly 200 people.

And now?

And now. Now we’re all sequestered. We’re trying our best to keep our shit together. We’re trying not to get sick.

We’re hoping our hospitals and doctors and nurses and EMTs and firefighters and police can keep up. We’re hoping they don’t get sick.

We talk to our families, our friends, the people we love, the people we work with, only from afar.

We use video chat to feel more connected, and on business calls sometimes awkwardly, with ball caps and T-shirts on, and kids and pets in the background.

We have food and supplies delivered. Dropped at our doorstep without contact. We wave at the drivers, and tip them more than we have in the past. We’re happy we have enough toilet paper for now.

And then we wipe down anything that might have been contaminated as we’re putting it away.

We wash our hands again.

We network. We try to help our friends who’ve been laid off to find new jobs. We thank each other more than we used to. We end most conversations with, “Stay safe!” even with people we’ve never talked to before.

We try to keep our kids from going too stir crazy. We let them stay up later, and have more treats. We allow more screen time than we used to, since that’s how they stay in touch with each other.

We long to have our play-dates again.

We miss restaurants and bars. We hope they’ll come back.

We try not to watch or read too much bad news. We try to ignore the sirens in the distance.

We’ve all slowed down.


A couple of months ago, I started work on a new project – it’s big and complex, with a lot of smart and opinionated people involved, an enormous amount of “legacy” code (mostly C++), and tools and systems that are sorely in need of an update.

In situations like this it’s always really tempting to start over with a completely clean slate, using modern tools and programming techniques. In truth there’s still enormous value in all that legacy code, and throwing it out would be a terrible idea. This is almost always the case in situations like this. Instead the trick is to figure out how to preserve as much of that legacy value as possible, while also unburdening the team and the product from the worst parts of the legacy tool-chain. Evolution, not revolution.

User data needs to be preserved, as does the way it’s used by the system. Systems built on that data need to continue to function. Performance characteristics need to improve, or at least not degrade. A space needs to be carved out where we can safely build new features. But we don’t have to build any new features using those legacy tools – new stuff can exist in parallel or “on top of” the old. We might need to create new interfaces in old code so that the new system can leverage existing functionality, and we might even need to refactor some old code to make that possible. What we shouldn’t do is boil the ocean.

The transition ahead isn’t dissimilar to some of the transitions Apple has made over the last couple of decades, the most significant being the shift from the old “Classic” MacOS to the current POSIX system which came from the Unix/Linux universe, and the Cocoa UI framework which came from NeXT. It took careful management and an iterative approach over more than a decade, but Apple was able to (nearly) completely replace their base OS, UI framework/runtime, and primary programming languages on way to transitioning to the universe we now live in with billions of people using iPhones and iPads every day, running the same base system that Apple’s desktop machines use. They were able to do this while bringing the most important developers along into the new universe (though not without casualties), for the very reason that they chose to iterate in a long-term way instead of starting again from scratch.

While I was working at Microsoft, the company tried to make a similar transition from the legacy OS and programming model, to a new one that was centered the then new WinRT API and the Metro design language. They thought they had to do this in order for their ARM-based Surface devices to successfully compete against iPad. The shift to relatively inexpensive tablets and mobile devices was perceived by some as an existential threat, and the response was partly reactionary. Microsoft failed badly, at least initially, to drive the transition it intended, in no small part because they couldn’t bring their developer community along. Too much changed too fast, and a clear path to the new ecosystem wasn’t communicated clearly enough. The new APIs weren’t compatible, and yet at least on some devices, the old APIs were no longer alowed. By playing catch-up instead of playing their own version of the iteration game, Microsoft alienated many developers who quickly jumped-ship to the Web and to the iOS and Android ecosystems.

Steven Sinofsky was the head of Windows during the second half of my time at Microsoft, and is now at Andreessen Horowitz. Last week he posted a long thread on Twitter about some of the changes Apple is now considering, and naïve criticism of their approach in recent years.

That’s what got me thinking about this post, and I think it’s well-worth a read: