The Longest Commute How I overcame distance, built trust and landed a job with social media

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Warsaw to Vancouve map

First, you should know this:  although I love the Internet, I would never ever move over 9,000 kilometers to be with some guy I’d just met online. We can agree that’s obviously a crazy thing to do. Right?

So when I tell you that I just moved here from Poland to work for Social Signal, and that I did it on the basis of an interview process conducted entirely over the Internet – yes, I shut up my Warsaw apartment, yes, I uprooted my husband, yes, actually, I did move here with all my stuff in a few backpacks before I even shook hands with Alex – I can appreciate why you look a little bug-eyed.Oh, but you have to understand, I knew these people.  By that point, we’d worked together on the Internet for nearly a month! (Which is, like, a month in Internet world.)

When I sent in my application to Social Signal, it was January and I was spending a lot of time on the yellow and red trams that rattle around the city. It was snowy, and with sundown at around 3:30 pm every day, I was constantly moving around a night city full of embassies, pharmacies and great dark trees while I worked online.

I don’t know what you picture when you think of telecommuting, but after two years of setting up virtual offices, and figuring out the mechanics for really successful Skype meetings and collaborating on this or that project management platform – it was certainly not all the working in your pajamas I had been led to believe.  It was much more fun.

I also had a reasonably successful blog going with my brother about social change and the Internet and I was doing all sorts of projects with people from around the world. It was fabulous and the only problem was that I wanted more of it, and there simply wasn’t a job in existence that included all the things I wanted to do: geeking out over online tools, setting up strategy and starting conversations that mattered. My brother actually got a blog post out of this problem that more or less said “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if this job existed?” (It was 2008.) The reader will note that all the comments on that post are people asking where they can get this job. To which my response was: if I knew, I’d be camped out in line for it. 

So this is where I was at in Warsaw when I got an email from my brother that said only “Hey. So apparently someone went and made a job for you...seriously...who knew?”

Here is my first tip for you: jobs like this do exist. You have to work hard to get them.  If you want to get a social media based job, if you’re trying to get a handle the principles behind social media, or if you want to make friends online (by which of course I mean “get to know someone well enough to move halfway around the world for them”) here are some practices I highly recommend based on our experience.

1) First, get to know your friends.

I spent a lot of time reading about Social Signal’s projects and when I say this, I mean I printed stuff out, I made notes in the margins and I scooted around their case studies (Here’s a project that got me really excited, since I'd worked at a non-profit that helped isolated seniors). If I knew who was interviewing me, I spent some time with their writing and projects to try to get to know their voice, where they were coming from and how they explained things.  I thought about what they valued. Fundamentally, social media is about going to where conversation is already happening – so get to know what the conversation’s about, and think hard about why people are in it.

2) Be authentic. Know who you are.

I think the reason so many people feel weird about the Internet is that there’s so much stuff online that makes it difficult to tell what is true, or what people’s intentions are. Luckily, Social Signal and I have patented our very own online bullshit detector and it works like this: if you know who you are, and you are authentic about what you are doing, then you will build trust.  Trust is Internet gold. Well, no, Google is Internet gold. But trust is a close second, especially when it comes to social media.

3) Know what you don’t know, and don’t be afraid of it.

This will keep expectations straight, and clarify where you need to bust a move.

To demonstrate:
I hereby admit that I can’t code Drupal modules.

4) Know what you want from people. Don’t waste their attention.

Vancouver and Warsaw’s time zones overlap for about three shared hours a day (Vancouver’s am is Warsaw’s pm) so the Social Signal team and me had to be exact when we thought through challenges together – we couldn’t afford to lose time by not pinpointing exactly what we were doing together. I absolutely recommend working like this even if you aren’t separated by nine time zones because the clarity involved does wonders for your efficiency and promotes real contribution.  Think about what you want from people and ask only for that – the attention they pay will be undivided and strategic, and that’s what keeps great ideas moving forward.

5) Think hard. Eat chocolate.

It’s embarrassing how much chocolate I consumed when I was prepping for each stage of the SoSi hiring process. In my defense, I would like to add that there were six interviews, two assignments and five reference checks. Social Signal does not play softball.

I did have an aha moment about this chocolate habit one night while I was finishing the last of our nth box of Merci pralines. My realization was this: If something stresses you out, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It means you should have some chocolate while you think about how to do it extremely well.

I’ve been surprised by a lot of things about adjusting to Vancouver, but I sure recognized Alex and Rob the first day I walked in the door.  Hadn’t we been working together for ages? Social media is like that: you can get to know people in a really productive way, if you can commit to how big a challenge it is to really try to know people. After you’ve managed that, 9500 kilometers is a relatively short distance to cross.


Linda Solomon says

July 22, 2009 - 4:12pm

This well-written and rather mind-blowing blog has opened a door in my brain and made me want a piece of chocolate.  Welcome to Vancouver and thanks for sharing your story here. Very informative.

Mimi Daniel says

August 14, 2009 - 6:55am

Channing, This is your cousin from Virginia.  I am not certain you will get this but Danny has kept me up-to-date on all your activities.  Congratulations on this new adventure and what an amazing story.  I am sorry that I have not been in touch.  I hope you are enjoying being back in Canada and so much closer to your folks and brother.  Maybe one day I will be able to get up there and visit you all.  Please give my love to the gang.  Take care.  Your cousin, Mimi

Sven Haertig says

August 19, 2009 - 2:05am

impressive, as usual. I had no idea, even though I was around back then ...

I am so NOT looking forward to the dark days in Warsaw!


All the best for you and SoSi!

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