June 4, 2015

Creating Value

Until they were acquired by Facebook last year, I was a big fan of the Canadian digital agency Teehan-Lax. Of course their design work drew me, as did their famous (and famously free) iOS and Android PSD files, but what really kept me coming back to their site was how Jon Lax, one of Teehan-Lax’s founders, wrote about their business.

One of the most memorable bits of Jon’s writings, which I’ve assembled from screenshots and pasted below, was a list called “Ten Things We’ve Learned”. As I recall this list was composed after Teehan-Lax had been in business for a decade or so. Having been in consulting and services businesses for most of my career, I see a lot of hard-won wisdom here.

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And I’m happy to say that on a recent visit to our Kharkiv development center I witnessed something which reminded me of one of my favorite items: #6: Create more value than you capture.

I had arrived in Kharkiv on a Saturday night, and the next day I headed into the office to get a jump on the week’s work, expecting to find it more or less empty. And it was, except for a gathering taking place in one of the rooms.

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There, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, were six women, each working at a computer as she listened to a seventh giving a talk, occasionally standing up to write some notes on a whiteboard. The woman talking was Alena Bachurina, one of Waverley’s Lead iOS engineers. I asked for permission to join them, and during a break it was explained to me that they were gathered there that day the way they were most Sundays, to learn about object-oriented programming techniques and iOS development.

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Alena, who has a well-earned reputation within Waverley for being an exacting software architect and highly effective iOS engineer, had decided some months earlier to offer these lessons, free-of-charge, to any woman who might be interested. Her Sunday class had come to be known informally as “iOS for Girls”.

Although the stuff on the board looked fairly hard core, not all of Alena’s “students” were techies. Our office manager was among them, as was one of our PMs. I was especially surprised when I learned one of the women taking part was employed at one of our competitors. I stuck around for half an hour or so, shooting a few pictures, not able to follow the Russian but basking in the group’s camaraderie and shared purpose. In a male-dominated field, here was a top female engineer sharing her considerable skills with a circle of “sisters”.

And here was Waverley, offering its office space and one of its shining talents to help improve the skills of, among others, a competing firm’s employee. I thought of Jon’s Ten Things and felt the satisfaction of recognition. Teehan+Lax was a great agency, and I was sorry to see them go. But here was a little bit of what they stood for, showing up in another business, another language, another culture.

Alena earned further esteem from me that day. It seems fitting that, courtesy of Waverley, she’ll be amongst 5000 people in attendance at WWDC 2015 in San Francisco.