The Frustrations of Maldivian Developers and Creatives

After all the madness of the lockdowns and being stuck, unable to travel back home to Maldives for almost two years, I was finally able to make it back home a couple of months back.

As luck would have it, lottiefiles.com was hiring, and we thought it would be an excellent opportunity to have some interviews / chats in person for a change, and we ended up talking to around 20+ people.

While I agree its not a representative sample, the commonalities of the reasons they are looking to switch jobs made for some interesting observations that might be worth sharing: loosely grouped these are the top 3.

Stagnation of career path / growth

There exists an artificial ceiling a person generally reaches and is forced to transition out of doing what they love (code/design/etc), into management or forfeit any real growth and be content with some bi-yearly increment.

Having different paths of growth might be helpful, but I can’t say I’ve seen this taken into account in a majority of the workplaces at home (unless it is classified as some consulting role, which the employee has to give up on permanent employment, benefits, and be tied to contracts)

Some people want to be in management; some people do not. Forcing this as the only choice for career growth will push them to look for opportunities elsewhere.

Opinions Disregarded , Visible lack of trust , Does not feel valued

Many people we talked to told us how their ideas were not valued or trusted by their companies and their managers. From being excluded from the planning process to all critical decisions being taken by the ‘top’ management without a way for feedback from the teams to be considered.

Good developers and creatives in my experience, want to build amazing things. They are there because they possess skills management does not. Why would management intentionally exclude them and treat them like code-monkeys? What a waste!

What ends up usually happening is, the implementors miss arbitrary deadlines set by management, and they get their performance reviewed as, missing deadlines, buggy code, and unmotivated.

The people on the team who are doing the work are the people who know most about the how, the challenges and the complexity of building and executing work, involve them early and often. A team manager’s primary role is not to look over their shoulder and see if they are doing work. A manager should be a coach first, someone who empowers the individuals to do their best work and help get the team what they need to get the job done.

Looking for Flexibile Work Conditions

The pandemic might have made this point abundantly clear, a lot of these people were able to successfully work remotely during the pandemic and now fail to see why they need to return to office full time. Just because “management said so” is no longer an acceptable answer.

They do not interact with customers daily , and there is no real need why they have to work from an office.

Personally, working at a full-time remote job, I agree with them. The concept that developers and certain creatives have to work full time in an office is no longer valid. There are times you want face to face meetings. but shouldn’t be a requirement.

Coincidentally i wrote about remote working in Maldives here and here a long time back before it was the norm.

Closing thoughts

I did not forget the salary. This is obvious. With global companies opening up remote jobs en masse, you need to pay talented people competitive salaries or lose them. It’s that simple. The competition is no longer local companies.

These issues are probably not unique to Maldives either. But it is happening in Maldives as well.

I also know this is one-sided, but it’s intentional. This is what I felt the gist of the narrative of the employee is. It’s on the management to try to change that or don’t. Either retain the skilled people you have or risk losing them.

What needs to happen in Maldives to support a start-up ecosystem

Open Post: Action Items for Government if you are genuine about encouraging technology startups and diversifying the economy.(warning: long thread)

 – Better (read as more reliable, accessible, and stable ) internet! Fast is not enough. Stability and speed are non-negotiable for remote work.

– Reconsider antiquated practices of requiring pieces of paper for everything, case in point, to close a BML account for my startup, I have to send a document via courier to 3 countries to my co-founders because digitally signing or verification online is not an option. What happens if signatures are slightly off? in a pandemic? Digital signatures are not that hard. make that the norm. start with government services, the private sector will follow. 

-Make remote work the norm, employees get a larger talent pool to chose from, employees can stay where they want instead of being forced to migrate for jobs. It’s a win-win. The pandemic has shown it can work!  

-A modern banking financial and banking system! Open up the sector for startups to play the field in a competitive, safe, and sandboxed environment. Stop putting artificial limits on who should be allowed to compete. MMA needs to step up and advocate for this. Incumbents won’t, as shown by their actions.

– access to finance, providing loans is not the same thing as providing access to finance for startups, do not confuse the two. Seed and venture capital access is critical. Glad this seems to be in progress on some level.

– mentorship and guidance, a lot of technology companies, are a few people with limited experience in the business side of things. They need structured advice in all things business, product and legal. 

– policies and laws around startups, ease the legal, tax framework to encourage more startups to take the risk of doing business and not worry about the implications of failing as much, education on the above so it’s not a scary concept.

– Nurture and encourage the community, startups do not thrive in isolation, a supportive, conducive environment where people can share, be accepted, and supported is critical, @sparkhub @womenintech and others have been working on building this for years, but we cannot do it without government support (full disclosure I’m a co-founder at sparkhub)

from my tweet :

My Remote working experience and why I think it’s a great idea (Part 2)

Continuing on from my previous post “Thoughts on Establishing a Remote Working Culture in Maldives. ( Part 1 )” I wanted to share my experiences with remote working.

After the first startup weekend (which I also wrote about – Techstars Startupweekend Maldives ) I spent a few weeks traveling around KL and Manilla to chill out and also figure out / work on some plans I had for 2018. I chose to work out of co-working spaces instead of coffee shops mostly.

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One of the co-working spaces in Manilla where I spent a few days

One of the things about co-working spaces that I really love is the overall vibe these places seem to radiate. Everyone seems to be so motivated and involved in doing something awesome and exciting, and it’s infectious, makes you want to do stuff too. I think that’s one of the things a lot of people who have never used a co-working space don’t get.  It’s miles apart from working out of a coffee shop or even from home.

The people you meet along the way is pretty amazing too, co-working space by design seems to attract like-minded people. Designers, developers, other freelancers all seemed to gather at these locations, which is great, you get to meet new people, form friendships and maybe even find yourself a future business partner. Everyone is pretty friendly and they genuinely seem to be interested in what you are doing and learning from each other. I  got a few emails asking me how things were going even after I came back.

I managed to do more actual ‘work’ in those couple of weeks I was traveling than I would or could normally do at the office, probably the change of scenery helped inspire me maybe. I managed to plan out a few projects for Allied that will hopefully see the light of day as soon as the end of this month, and some personal projects that are targeted to be launched in the coming months.

All of the places I managed to visit had amazing internet, and that’s really all you need these days. It also helped that they had good coffee around. Pricing was around 10 USD per day pass on average, and around 150 – 200 USD for monthly passes and cheaper if you go long term (at least in the places I visited).

Considering how expensive it is to rent out land for your own startup here in Male’, I keep wondering why this hasn’t been done in Maldives yet. But I guess there’s hope as Commons Room will probably open up soon and I really think it’s got a good chance of contributing to the startup scene if done right.

Thoughts on Establishing a Remote Working Culture in Maldives. ( Part 1 )

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As 2018 starts, as with many people I have been looking back on 2017, and as far as work was concerned I’ve done a lot of ‘office’ work out of office. It has probably been the most productive I have been in a given span of time.

If it’s not clear enough, YES, I am a fan of remote working, but it’s a hard thing to do when your day job is a ‘traditional’ job where you are required to report to work on a certain time and finish at a certain time.

There’s already a ton  written about remote working, so I’m not going to write too much about what it is, but rather what I think are the opportunities and challenges that are present from a Maldivian context, maybe break it down into a few parts. It’s my individual experience, yours might vary so take my thoughts for what they are; my thoughts.

I’ll start off with some informal discussions I’ve managed to have with a few HR professionals and managerial staff of some bigger (read: public, SOE, govt) companies here, most respond in a similar manner, the most common 5 themes/concerns I’m paraphrasing here for sake of clarity are listed below.

1 –  “How do you know they will work? They will slack off, they will exploit the system, supervisors are incapable/can’t/won’t monitor them! How can I measure their work? “

This is a trust issue, the employer is not able to trust their employees they selected through their screening process, to do the work. But somehow, they still keep them at the company. And worse, it seems most of the time they don’t even seem to be able to trust the capabilities of the supervisors whose job it is to monitor the work progress of the team.

This has NOTHING to do with remote working, if you can’t trust your employees to do the work maybe it’s about time you replaced them with people you can instead, if you already feel that they won’t work when they are not being watched like a hawk, they probably already are slacking off anyway the moment you turn your back.

As for measuring the performance, most remote and onsite jobs can be broken down into tasks and deadlines which can easily be measured using widely available systems and tracking tools. This is not a hard thing to do, provided your supervisory team are doing their job, in fact there’s a massive benefit to catching issues and doing course corrections early on.

Also, this also has nothing to do with remote working. If you are tracking the work, its measurable either remotely or on-site.

2 –  “They should be present in meetings, I need to see them all!”

It’s 2018! Laptops are as cheap or cheaper than desktops considering TCO, video-conferencing is a thing. Run the quick meetings and presentations online! Sure, it’s strange the first few times, but it’s not something new or untested. everyone’s doing it. why are we not?

Most meetings here are long winded, without an agenda, and everyone seems to be out to show how much ‘work’ they have done and to give an opinion on everything. I think video conferencing might force people to be more to the point.

3 –  “If I let some people who can work remotely do that, others who can’t work remotely will complain. why have this problem? “

Treating all employees fairly does not mean they needed to be treated the same, this comes up a lot, specially in government offices / companies. Different jobs come with different responsibilities. It’s in no way practical or even sane to demand a front office counter staff in customer services should be able to work remotely because, the job by definition requires you to be at the counter to actually do your assigned work. On the other hand a developer who hardly interacts with customers on a daily basis is quite capable of getting their job done regardless of the location.

We already do it anyway, companies already practice shift-duties for certain staff. Some employees don’t get all public holidays off while others do. This is just another one of those things that needs to be put in a process.

4 –  “We’ve always done it this way, this is just going to complicate things and I don’t want to take the risk.”

We’ve always done it ‘that’ way until someone else did it some other way, but I guess the concept of changing up what you are already doing is a hard decision to make, even if it may come with massive benefits.

We’re perfectly ok with demanding someone who’s in an island move to Male’, with all it’s difficulties while they might have been perfectly capable (especially true for technical and creative jobs) of  working and delivering from where they were from. Internet access is pretty decent nationwide now, there’s no excuse.

5 – “There’s no process for it, and I’m too busy to do this / management isn’t asking for it / Probably will create additional workload for my department, so why take the additional workload!”

Fear of failure of doing something new and, and it not working out is a common theme too, its far easier in the current work environment not to do anything out of the norm and be ‘safe’ in the job.

Doing something new opens you up to criticism from the very same people who don’t do anything new or drastic, because they are programmed to look for ways things can go wrong. If things don’t go smoothly these are the people who’d be out with the “I told you so” signs first. We have a massive culture of avoiding doing something new because no one wants to be responsible for a ‘failed’ attempt which is inevitable at some point if you keep challenging norms.

Encouraging new things and establishing a culture of failing fast and learning from it is not something we are used to. Most likely if you do something new and succeed nine times and fail once, you would probably be singled out for why it failed , given a couple of cautionary notices and be summoned to the boards and whoever else for ‘javaabdhaarivaan’ while your successes will not be celebrated.

If the last point sounds aggressive and a bit out of topic it’s because it is meant to be. I’ve had to deal with a lot of flak for doing things out of the norm from people who don’t do anything and are perfectly content with the status quo.


 

Most of the top issues or concerns that seems to be on the list don’t seem to be specifically about remote working as such, it seems more so that they don’t have faith in the systems, processes or the people. This is a systemic issue with processes here, but needs to be broken.

This is not a new thing, this can be done.

Next: My Remote working experience and why I think it’s a great idea (…in part 2)

 

 

Techstars startupweekend Maldives – The first of Many (hopefully)

It’s been a while since i’ve updated the blog, life happened.. andits been a week since we held the first startupweekend here in Maldives, (27th to 29th Oct 2017) that experience has been enough for me to dust off the old blog and put some of the thoughts i’ve been having about the event and the startup culture here in Maldives on metaphorical paper here!

Being part of the organising team has been an insane experience, even though Techstars provides a ton of reference materials, checklists and other support, this has been a learning experience personally, draining but hugely rewarding, and we couldn’t have done without the amazing team we had, some of them i met for the first time, others i have known for a while. All of them committed to making this happen, giving their time and effort out of passion for starting and developing a startup culture here in Maldives. Thank you guys, it has been a wonderful ride.

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Our team minus Niushad and the amazing facilitator Anurag from Techstars 

I was involved in running a number of similar-ish events before, couple of hackathons, by kickstart , other community talks, and events. I have to admit I came into this with some assumptions / reservations / worries / concerns about the event. I’m glad to be proven wrong… i’ll list down just 3….

 

Assumption 1 – The right people might not show up!

Considering the events held previously, and the questions we got pre-event, i was wondering if people would come for the experience that is startupweekend or for the prizes, the organising team along with guidance from our facilitator anurag decided not to publish any prizes before the event.. surprisingly, we sold out all our seats regardless, people were interested, they were just unaware of how it worked.

Assumption 2 – Most participants won’t pitch the 60 second pitch!


So glad i was wrong about this, it was incredible to see the participants line up immediately. i think all of the organizers were pleasantly surprised by the response. the guys just rocked the pitch, 41 ideas in total for the first one out of 50+ participants is just an amazing ratio.

Assumption 3 – Mentors wont have the time!


The mentors were absolute stars! We brought in experts in multiple fields who are really super busy, but they set aside everything and spent a huge chunk of the time with the participants, some even flew in! the participants soaked up their expertise and it could be seen in their change of conversations and approaches to problems from day one to day three.  We couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of mentors.

So the big question is, did we make a difference? i think we did. The conversations with the participants post event most are committed to try to make their idea a reality some are already in talks with potential investors, they loved the event in general and want more of it. Some talked about how it altered their thinking towards a more all encompassing approach towards starting up something.

We’ve already met with some participants who want to help organize more startupweekends here in Maldives and thats encouraging,

The road to building a proper startup culture wont pave itself in one weekend, its a concept thats new here and will take a lot of time and effort,  but this has been one time i think i’ve genuinely believed that theres hope for such a culture.

Looking forward to being involved in a bunch more of these events!! Till next time.. this has been Fun!