Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Quantum chroma dynamics
Large Hadron Collider & quark-gluon plasma
IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everybody! You’re listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I am your host Ivan Stegic. In this episode of the Podcast, we’re talking to Ron Zasadzinski, physicist turned founder and CEO of CodeGeek, a full-service web design and development firm in Fort Collins, Colorado. He’s co-owner of a co-working space called the Fort Collins Hive, and he’s also a pilot and flight instructor, who teaches nationally. Ron has over 30 years and 8,000 hours of flying experience. Wow. Ron, welcome to the Podcast.
RON ZASADZINSKI: Thank you Ivan. Great talking with you.
IVAN: It’s great talking with you too. Now, did I butcher your name?
RON: You’re close. In American English we would say Zasadzinski, in Polish, it’s Zasajinsky. The dz is a j sound.
IVAN: Oh, I was actually going to ask you about the genealogy of your last name. So, let’s start there.
RON: Sure. It’s Polish heritage with the last name, and my wife and I actually just got back from a vacation in Chicago. And one of the things that was attractive there is Chicago turns out, as I understand it, to be the second largest Polish speaking population in the world, only after Warsaw, Poland. Now, I do not speak any Polish, but we travel to the Polish section, and I went to The Polish Museum, which was pretty cool, and had dinner at Staropolska, which was a wonderful Polish restaurant.
IVAN: Wow. I was going to ask if you were able to speak Polish.
RON: Afraid not. (laughing)
IVAN: So, are you first generation, or second generation American from Poland?
RON: My grandparents are from there, so a few generations down.
IVAN: And did you grow up in Colorado?
RON: No. I grew up on the East Coast, in New Jersey. And, there’s another large Polish population in New Jersey, so that’s where my grandparents wound up when they immigrated to the U.S.
IVAN: Now, we go back to 2010. We met at an event in Minneapolis. And, I think we were just sitting next to each other and we started chatting, and I think we figured out that we were both physicists.
RON: Exactly. Such a wonderful discovery. Both ran web design and development companies.
IVAN: I know. What are the chances of that?
RON: Pretty cool. I love that connection.
IVAN: Yea, that was pretty cool. What I didn’t realize, or at least maybe I’d forgotten, is that you actually studied Physics and Humanities, and so as a double major in Physics and Psychology myself, I totally understand the dichotomy of studying two separate fields like that. Can you talk about how and why you ended up with two different focuses?
RON: Sure. And, I had forgotten that Psychology was another area of study for you. So, that is really fun to have that in common as well. So, I went to Harvey Mudd College and one of the requirements at Harvey Mudd, which is a Science and Engineering school, but it’s technically a liberal arts school, and they require one-third of student's courses to be in the humanities. And to have a, it used to be a minor when I was there, I think they changed that now, the terminology. So, I minored in music, tuba performance specifically, but I also love Philosophy, and there’s only a couple of credits short of having another minor in Philosophy as well.
IVAN: Wow. And, you also play the tuba.
RON: Yes, I do. I played after college for quite some time and in Fort Collins played in a Brass Quintet, until just about five years ago. And life continues to get busier I find. So I let it go for the time being, about five years ago, but I may pick it up again, we’ll see.
IVAN: I suppose you can never forget to read music, once you know how to do it, it’s kind of like riding a bicycle.
RON: I hope so. You know, I actually haven’t picked it up for the five years, and it was just crossing my mind a few weeks ago, that I wonder if I can still read music (laughing), so, maybe later today I’ll go pick it up and try it out.
IVAN: (laughing) Send me an email and let me know how that goes, I’m really curious to know. So, you grew up on the East Coast, and you went to school on the West Coast, but you ended up in Colorado. And, I know you kind of did some work at Lawrence Livermore as well. How did you make your way to Colorado?
RON: (laughing) That’s a great question, and a fun one. So that the short answer is like many adventures in life, I followed a woman there, (laughing) and that’s how I wound up in Colorado. But, you’re correct, my degree is in Physics, and I worked for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, or more correctly, I worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for the Department of Energy, and I worked both in atomic physics, and nuclear physics, for the three and a half so years that I worked there. And it was a wonderful time, in the sense that I really enjoyed the work, and it was a unique opportunity. I was very strong-headed my senior year at Harvey Mudd, and wanted to get a job in physics, and really, you normally need a PhD to actually get work as a physicist. So when campus interviewers, companies came to do on campus interviews, I researched everybody that was coming to interview, found the ones that had physics departments. Now, they were only interviewing for engineering positions, which they would consider me with a physics degree for the engineering position, but every interview, as soon as I walked in I said, “just so you know, I’m here interviewing for a Physics position, and I know that’s not what you’re here for, but that’s what I’m here for.” (laughing) And, I actually got one call-back from Lawrence Livermore National Lab, and got an offer, and got the job. So, it was a pretty cool opportunity.
IVAN: Now, my experience with Lawrence Livermore has been only in the distance. I read papers from physicists who worked there and published work there, and I only ever got to know their website very well, while I was in Africa doing my graduate studies. And, I always wondered what it would be like to work in a lab, but for the government. I spent time working at Honeywell, on government projects, but I think that’s different than actually working for the government. So, my question is, what’s your biggest takeaway from doing research for the government?
RON: I would say, so while the Department of Energy is run by the government, the national labs are actually operated typically by a university partner. So at the time, it was University of California, Berkeley that operated Lawrence Livermore National Lab. So, in some ways it was more like being a combination of academic and government research, as opposed to being purely government. At least that’s how I would describe it. And, what was that like? It was great. I really enjoyed it. So, I worked with an incredible group of people in the two divisions that I worked in and doing very interesting research. I was an experimental physicist and on the atomic side. We had a machine that we built, I didn’t build it personally, but the scientists there designed and built that, could study, we could trap any element in the periodic table, and control the charge state of that element. So we would have a gas of this element, and could strip off any number of electrons we wanted from one to as many as there were, and then study the electronic transitions. And we did x-ray spectroscopy to understand what was going on with those atoms. So, really fascinating stuff. And then later I was in nuclear physics, and we did experiments on an accelerator at Brookhaven National Lab. So we did experiments there. So, it was very interesting work. One of the biggest challenges, and the reason I left, was that I learned from being there for the length of time I was, that the chief physicists in our group spent half their time writing grants for research just to keep funding coming in. And often times it wasn’t for research that they wanted to do. It was really for research that they could get funded, and that was a really disappointing discovery. The future ahead would have been going back to school for another five years to work in a field where I spent half my time writing grants for research I didn’t actually want to do. And I thought, “no, I think I’m out.”
IVAN: Boy, that sounds remarkably similar to the reason that I decided not to pursue post doctorate study and academia. Very similarly, it felt like you had to fund work that you weren’t necessarily interested in. And, that’s curious. It’s unfortunate that that’s the way the system works sometimes.
RON: Yea, that is unfortunate. I’m curious just to hear a little more about your experience as a physicist. I don’t know if you talked about that on a previous podcast episode, or not, but I’d love to hear more.
IVAN: No, I haven’t. I think this is actually the first time it’s come up. So, I ended up leaving South Africa in the middle of working on my PhD, and I started out in Experimental Physics and ended up in Theoretical Physics, at least for my graduate studies. And, the work I was doing at Honeywell Technology Center, here in Plymouth, Minnesota, was of the experimental type, and it was working on projects that were either commercial, I was in the sensors division. So we worked on sensors for companies that made paper, so, for paper mills. And we would work on things that measured thickness of paper without destroying or without doing anything destructive to the paper as it sped past at very high velocity. And, then, I also worked on projects that were for the government, but didn’t have a ton of exposure because those are typically reserved for U.S. nationals. So, it was more along the lines of, peripheral involvement. And, typically the projects that Honeywell did were, they were large multi-million-dollar research projects that went over the course of 5 or 10 years, with very little chance in some cases of becoming commercially viable products. And so that was a really cool thing, a really cool idea, and it was wonderful to be a part of. Unfortunately, when I went back to school, the work that I was doing was so abstract, it was in the field of Differential Geometry, like with DARPA and with an experimental physics project you at least have the idea that something might come out of it eventually as a product, and maybe the NSA or the FBI will use some portions of what you’re working on. When you're in academia, at least in the group I was in, it was for abstract thinking that sometimes involved superstring theory and theoretical physics that was kind of a 'nice to have'. It was kind of the cherry on the top. And so watching your professors try to figure out how to fund this, and try to figure out how to write for grants that were maybe tangentially related to the work that they were actually doing and wanted to be doing, was frustrating. They were not really doing what they wanted to do. So, I feel like that was in parallel to the experience that you had.
RON: Yea, it sounds very much like that was. Yea, it’s unfortunate, because science is so important, and physics is so fascinating, I wish that the collective group could find better ways to make it work, so people would stay.
IVAN: I agree. Did you ever end up with a commercial product, or did you see any of the work you did at Lawrence Livermore turn into something that other people were using, or was it mostly for papers?
RON: Well, mostly for papers. So, the goal of our research in both fields, in both atomic and nuclear physics, was not to create a product. But on the atomic physics side we were really cataloging the behavior in the light emission spectrum from every element at every single charge state. And, the benefits of that are then when you’re looking at a high temperature plasma, say a star, you can then looking at that spectrum not only understand what elements are present in that star and in what proportions, but what charge states, what the various ions of the various element are, so you can get that distribution as well and understand that high temperature plasma even better. And then on the nuclear physics side, we were actually trying to find the quark-gluon plasma, which was an experimental test of quantum chromadynamics from your theoretical side of the physics world, and we were not able to achieve that when I was there. But, twenty years later, just a few years ago, at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), they actually did achieve and create the quark-gluon plasma so we’re able to confirm the experiment that we had been working on 20 years before. That was quite rewarding to see that at the LHC that they did achieve it.
IVAN: What was the major difference that allowed them to be successful and that perhaps didn’t give you the success that you’d hoped for?
RON: Truly just beam energy. Needed more energy to get there.
IVAN: So time, right? And technology and the availability of the Large Hadron Collider.
RON: Exactly. And money. Lots and lots and lots more money. (laughing)
IVAN: (laughing) Yea, that sometimes makes a difference doesn’t it? Yea, so, you were at Lawrence Livermore and then is it accurate to say that after Lawrence Livermore you founded CodeGeek in 2002? Or was there something between?
RON: Yes. The start to my aviation career is what was in between. So, when I moved to Colorado, following a woman as I mentioned, which also by the way ended like two weeks after I moved here, still was the best decision I ever made, to move to Colorado. But, when I was at Lawrence Livermore National, well at Harvey Mudd I learned to fly there. So they at that time had a very small flight school that accepted roughly 10 students per year from Harvey Mudd into the flying school. So, I learned to fly there. I got my private and instrument ratings, and then when I moved to Colorado looking for work, I wasn’t able to find any science jobs at the time, so I just kept going forward and got my flight instructor rating and then taught flying in Colorado for about seven years, and was Chief Flight Instructor out of flight school in Fort Collins.
IVAN: Where did you get the passion for flight?
RON: My passion for flying came from my dad. He worked for Eastern Airlines for 25 years, so my entire childhood, and most of my adult life, he worked for Eastern, as a gate agent, not as a pilot, but as a gate agent at Newark Airport. But we would fly on vacations, because at that time you could fly on a pass as a family. And, so, we took a good number of vacations throughout my life, and I think it really comes from him. And, partly in my blood perhaps, because I remember building my first Styrofoam model airplane out of a Cheerios box when I was around two or three.
RON: Yea, so it’s one of my earliest childhood memories ever.
IVAN: That’s amazing. I remember building model airplanes, Spitfires specifically, but I wasn’t two, I was, I think, ten. I remember hanging those from my ceiling. But I never actually imagined myself flying them. So, what kind of advice would you have for someone like me, who’s reasonably comfortable with the engineering and physics of flight, I have no issues going on a jet airplane. But I’m not terribly convinced about prop airplanes, where there’s one other person and maybe a backup of who knows how to actually control the plane. Like, I’m not comfortable getting into one of those small planes. What’s your advice?
RON: My advice is, I have several thoughts on this. So flying is as safe as the pilot wants to make it. Something like 85% of all incidents or accidents involve pilot error. So, most of the situations that occur that cause a problem are well-known, and better pilot training and good pilot judgment, are really the key to avoiding those. So, flying with a pilot who you have confidence in is important. As far as reliability, knock on wood, I’ve flown for over 30 years and over 8,000 hours of flight time as you mentioned, and you know, knock on wood I have never had a mechanical problem at all, that affected our flight. So, flying in a small airplane statistically is about as safe as driving in a car. Now, airline flying is far safer. In fact, it’s probably the safest thing you could do. It’s probably safer than sitting at your computer, at your desk in your office, in being on an airliner. But, generally, aviation in smaller planes is as safe as driving a car. And, just like in a car, when you have a good driver who has good judgment, things are safer than somebody who’s reckless and tailgating and driving too fast.
IVAN: Ok. The statistics that you gave are making me a little more comfortable with the idea. What happens if you’re prop stops spinning. What do you do for backup?
RON: Well, all airplanes are excellent gliders, and so, if our engine quits, first of all the propeller actually will not stop spinning unless the engine seizes which is incredibly rare. More likely, something like if the airplane ran out of fuel or something like that, some other malfunction, and the propeller will keep wind milling. But the more important part is the airplanes are great gliders. So, I specialize in flying Beechcraft Bonanzas which are single-engine airplanes and Beechcraft Barons, which are twin-engine airplanes, and they hold between four and six seats total, including the pilot, depending on the model and the year. And, they have a glide ratio somewhere between 9:1 and 10:1. So what that means is, if you’re a few thousand feet in the air, or we’re typically flying, we can glide for several miles before landing in a single-engine airplane. Now, of course, in a twin-engine airplane you have an extra engine there to allow you to continue flying and find a better place to land, or ideally at an airport.
IVAN: Have you ever had to do an emergency landing?
RON: Not because of an engine failure. I’ve only had to do one emergency landing and it was a medical emergency with the pilot that was flying. That’s the only time I’ve had to return to an airport under duress, if you will.
IVAN: And I’m sure you handled that immaculately.
RON: It went well. That was an interesting story because there was an extra twist. It was a pilot I’d never flown with before, which is common. Most of the flying instructing that I do now is conducting flight reviews, so every pilot has to fly with an instructor at least once every two years to stay current, including me, even though I do that for many pilots every year. And so, I was doing that with a Bonanza pilot, who I’d never flown with before, nor had I flown his airplane, and he was having, clearly, under physical stress, something was wrong and he couldn’t even speak clearly. He hadn’t lost consciousness, but it was clear that I needed to get the airplane back to the airport. Well, this is a retractable landing gear aircraft, and, you know, on final to the airport, I put down the landing gear, and only two out of the three green lights lit up on the landing gear. So, it’s much more likely that a light was burnt out than one of the three gear didn’t come down, but I didn’t know. I didn’t know if this was something that was an issue with that airplane, or what. But given the medical nature of the emergency, I felt the best thing was to land, and just knowing the systems very well, and having flown those specific airplanes for a couple decades and knowing how the systems work that if the left gear’s down, the chance of the right gear not being down is almost zero. I took the chance, and landed, and it was just fine. And, we got him to the hospital, and it turned out he had a cardiac situation occurring, and they wound up doing a triple or quadruple bypass surgery that day. I did bump into him a year later, or so, and he and his wife both were very appreciative that we got back to the airport quickly, and he was able to get the help he needed.
IVAN: What a great story. So, was it indeed the fact that the light was burnt out, that all three landing gear were actually down?
RON: Exactly. It was just a minor malfunction with that single light.
IVAN: So, if one of them was up and the two that were down were unlikely to be not down together, would you infer that the third single landing gear was the one that didn’t come down?
RON: Let’s see. On the Bonanza, on the Baron, the left and right landing gear are interlinked. The nose gears a separate system. So, it would depend which light was out. If the nose gear light was out, it’s possible that the nose gear is stuck up and you have the two mains down. But in our case, it was the right landing gear light that was not illuminating, but knowing that the left was down and locked, the chances of right being down and locked was better than 99.9%.
IVAN: Wow. You make me feel like this is something I might want to try at some point in the future. Not this year, but maybe soon.
RON: Well, I hope you do. And, here’s my very brief soapbox on why you should if you have the interest, is that, humans have been around for what, a million years, perhaps as humans, and maybe 70,000 years civilization, however you want to measure that. And we live in a very tiny, roughly 200-year window of human history, where we get to hand fly airplanes. Power flight only came into being at the beginning of the twentieth century with the Wright Brothers, so it’s been just over 100 years now, and the automation in the airplanes I fly today is so high, that anything built since about 2006 that I’m flying, from the moment we break ground, we can turn on the autopilot and push buttons and fly through weather and everything, and don’t have to turn the autopilot off until 200 feet before we land. To fully automate that is not that far down the road, including automated traffic control and everything. And there’s all kinds of advances going on now with drones that may someday carry humans, which would all be automated. So, the chance of this being a hobby for people more than 50 years from now, is pretty small. So, anyway, if you have the interest to do it, you’d be one of the few in this tiny window of human history to do it, and I encourage everyone to go out and take an introductory flight ride and check it out.
IVAN: I might just do that. You’ve encouraged me to do that. I was a little scared going into the podcast, but I think this is something I’ll consider. Now, do you think that there’s a future that includes electric planes? I have no idea about whether that’s a viable technology right now. And, I’m not talking about drones, because those are already electric for the most part. I’m talking about passenger airplanes, ones that you see up in the sky all the time.
RON: They are doing a research on that, so there are some experiments being done to make that work. The challenge is the horsepower required and the length of time for which it’s required is very high. Even in the airplanes I fly, they’re typically around a 300-horsepower aircraft, which is quite a lot of power. So, to operate at that power level for long enough to fly somewhere, is difficult. So, I think most likely the battery technology will have to advance quite substantially. But, it’s in progress, people are seriously trying that out.
IVAN: So, eventually we’ll have quiet jet planes that ferry us automatically from port to port. I love the future.
RON: (laughing) Absolutely.
IVAN: (laughing) So, you spent time doing plane stuff, pilot stuff after Lawrence Livermore. Started CodeGeek in 2002, you guys are a web and design firm. Everything I know about you is you're kind of are technology agnostic, right?
IVAN: Any particular CMS technology that you like?
RON: Yea. So, for web applications, when we build those, Ruby on Rails, or using PHP with the Laravel framework is our direction. And, then, on the content management side, if it’s more of a traditional website with a content management system we work with about half a dozen different content management systems. WordPress, of course, is by far the most popular CMS in human history, so far. So, a lot of our work is in that area simply because that’s what people are using. But, you know, we stay flexible, and we have changed course over time as needed. And we always have our eye out for what are the newer technologies coming down the road, where are things heading, so that we can stay on that leading edge.
IVAN: What are you looking at as a potential leading edge right now? What are you evaluating these days?
RON: So, technology wise I’m not seeing any significant course corrections required. So, I think it’s more, for us, it’s in the type of service that we’re providing, and explaining the value of what we’re providing. So, for example, custom design is one of our specialties. Our designers are incredibly skilled and experienced. And so, we’re able to really talk with the company, understand what their needs are, understand their character, and our designers can create a custom design that really reflects their character and sets them apart from their competition. And, I think that would be increasingly important to the right set of clients as time goes on. And I say that because, like third-party platforms to set up simple websites like Squarespace for a regular website, Shopify for ecommerce site, even Wix, are becoming quite powerful now. I would say, they do have, of course, significant limitations when it comes to custom functionality. But for basic functionality they’re pretty good. So for us, it’s a value proposition of the clients that want to stand out and not look like all the other websites built on one of those platforms, and we are able to do that for them. The other category, of course, is functionality. And where they need functionality that’s customized or complex, or information that, doing data display of some sort, visual data display, anything like that, then we have the ability to extend WordPress, or build a web application that can accomplish that. And, we’ve built some fairly large-scale web applications, and that’s the work that’s really fun for us.
IVAN: I agree. That’s really fun for us as well. And, I think I agree with you with the direction it’s taking. It seems like a larger portion of the market has access to things that are easy and more template oriented, like the ones you mentioned Squarespace and Shopify, and so on. And, I think our focus has been more on the user experience and the content strategy for larger organizations that don’t just need a custom look, because they have a marketing need that needs them to be different than a template site and different than their competitors. But they also have a functionality requirement, and so, when we do get into something that’s really a web application, we specialized in Drupal, and that’s our bread and butter. Those projects are certainly large and interesting and complex and fun, but they’re different in nature to the other ones. And I think we’re trying to do something similar to what you’re doing, except that we’re not agnostic. We focus on Drupal. Some of the conversations that we’ve had in the past have been around our business, and operations, and how we’re doing certain things. I’ve picked your brain, you’ve picked my brain. I want to ask how that’s going. How big is CodeGeek these days? Are you still based on Fort Collins? How has that changed?
RON: Yes, and I have so enjoyed our conversations over the last eight years, as business owner to business owner, and plus other shared background and physics and humanities. I really have loved our connection and our advice. It feels like our companies have gone through, at times, sort of parallel paths at similar times. You’ve been a great reflection bouncing board.
IVAN: You too.
RON: Yea. Thank you. Yea, so, we’ve grown now to 12 employees, which is much bigger than I ever expected us to get, and things are still going very well, and we’re still in Fort Collins, Colorado. Nine of our employees work out of our office, part-time in the office, part-time at home. Everybody likes to work from home some of the time, and then we have three employees who are full remote. And, we worked out procedures and culture to make that work pretty effectively. A question for you, and you may have talked about this on other podcasts, but I understand you know have gone to a full remote team, and I’m curious how that’s working out for you.
IVAN: Yes, we have. We went fully remote at the beginning of 2017, and I was originally very much in favor of being together physically in the same space, in an open plan office, because I believe that there’s value to that, in being able to share knowledge and to see each other and so on. And I still believe that there’s value to that, especially for organizations that are perhaps young, and maybe don’t have their own common values and mission figured out yet. Maybe they’re still figuring out their values. It was super useful for us to have that kind of physical proximity to figure those things out. I think for a more mature organization, remote becomes very appealing, and so when we became remote, we didn’t have to think about our values and what kept us together. We kind of had that figured out already. And, so, it was really the logistical and tactical tasks that we had to figure out in our interactions in the first few months. So, things like “oh, I should actually have a desk at home where I’m going to be working, so that I can always go to the same place, and have a good ergonomically, comfortable chair to work on.” Or, “you know, I really like a standing desk.” And, “we have to punch in and check out so that people know that we’re available, and these are kind of the hours that we’re available, and we’re expected to be available in those hours,” but we still kind of have our own schedules and do what we need to. So, the transition was experimental. It worked out well. I absolutely love being a remote company. I think I can say the same for all the other people that work with me every day. We’re in the process of hiring our first remote employee. So hiring the first remote employee, what I mean is, all the hiring we’ve done thus far, has been for people who live in the Twin Cities, and so this is the first time we ventured outside of Minnesota. It was refreshing to see so many applications, that we actually had to do our due diligence going through the candidates, as opposed to having very few candidates to choose from. So that was pleasantly surprising.
RON: That’s great to hear. Can I ask where you advertised, or how you posted the job to get that many qualified candidates?
IVAN: Of course. We wrote a job description that we published on our own website, and we tried to make it as unique to ourselves as we could. And then we linked to that on a website called weworkremotely.com. And, we only had the ad up for three weeks, and we got about 25 applications that were all candidates that looked like they were the part. Of course we had to filter it down, but weworkremotely was the only place we actually advertised. And, of course, we tweeted about it. We didn’t use Monster or LinkedIn or do any of those things, and that was kind of an experiment in and of itself. We were going to see what the returns were, and if it wasn’t working after a month, we were going to post it on other boards, but we didn’t need to.
RON: That great. That’s really wonderful to hear how well that worked out for you. Although I’m sure it was a challenge to make a final selection.
IVAN: We narrowed it down to about half a dozen, did video interviews with those six people, and then narrowed it down to three. Of those three, we originally thought we were going to choose one and do one project with that person, but we ended up doing a paid project for each one of those three people, and then retrospective at the end of the project, and then we have one candidate that we’re in the process of negotiating an offer with. It was the first time we hired where it wasn’t just me hiring. We had two other team members on the committee, and we discovered we needed a tool to use to manage that application.
RON: Yea, what tool did you wind up using?
IVAN: We ended up using a tool called Workable. So, it’s workable.com, and it’s a software as a service as you’d expect in the 21st century now. And technically it’s an applicant tracking system, and it does great integration with other systems. But, it’s not one of these behemoths, that kind of does payroll and benefits and all these other things as well. And it has a really reasonable subscription model. So, you pay $50.00 per month per candidate, and when you publish the job is when that $50.00 per month starts, and once you’ve hired, that’s when it ends.
RON: Okay. Cool. That’s really good to know.
IVAN: Yea, I would highly recommend it.
RON: And how many employees do you have at TEN7 now?
IVAN: We are up to eight employees, and we have four to five contractors that we work with as we need different skillsets and as bandwidth requires as well. Now you said you had an office. Do you office out of the co-working space, The Hive, that you co-founded?
RON: Yes, and that has evolved as well. So, when I co-founded The Hive with Lori Macomber, my business partner in that space, I think CodeGeek had three desks in the office, out of nine, and then we rented the others to, as co-working does, to solopreneurs, other small businesses, and I love that. The interaction was fantastic. And then as CodeGeek has grown, as people naturally left the co-working space, CodeGeek just kept taking over the desks, and actually just as of two months ago, CodeGeek now has all the desks. (laughing) It’s no longer truly a co-working space and really is just CodeGeek.
IVAN: Tell me a little more about the space itself. Is it an open plan office? Is it cubes? What does it look like?
RON: It’s an open plan office with a couple separate spaces. So our main area has five desks, and then we have another area with four, and then an inner office that either I use as my office when I’m there, or as an alternate conference room. And then we have a primary conference room, with a table and you could fit about 10 people in that main room. So it’s kind of several pods of people, but it’s open space, and we found some pretty effective ways to make that work for ourselves. We found, before we kind of worked that all out, we found people interrupting other people became a problem. So, we worked out a system where we’re all on Slack, and if someone has a question for someone else, rather than blurting it out loud and interrupting everybody and that person, we do QQ for quick question on Slack. And then when that person has a moment, they respond, and then it kind of proceeds from there.
IVAN: That was one of the things that we struggled with a lot in our open plan office was, interruptions and balancing those with valid conversations that could be really fruitful and productive. It kind of ended up where people spent an awful lot of time working heads down with headphones on, and that meant “don’t talk to me because I’m busy.”
IVAN: Do you have, kind of that same experience, of headphones as a visual cue?
RON: Not necessarily specifically, because we worked out this QQ system on Slack, many of our employees will be working and don’t want to be interrupted, but don’t have headphones on. One or two might, because they want to listen to their own thing. We have a couple of employees that like to play music out loud, which is fine with the rest of the group. So, it’s really an interesting combination that does work well. And I think part of the reason that it does work well, even as a company of similar aged tiers, is that people are able to work from home as well, and we’re very flexible with regard to hours and locations. And so people are able to work from home, typically a day or two a week is very common for our team, and different days of the week. So people get, I think, their privacy and their needs met that way. And so, when they’re in the office people do enjoy the comradery and the personal interactions. So, we still find value in that, but I find it fascinating that you switched to full remote, and there’s another company, one of our former employees now works for, and they’ve just switched to full remote, and they’re much larger, they’re about 50 people, and they’ve gone to full remote. So, I’m always keeping my eye on what’s working well for others and evaluating what might work well for us. But, at the moment, we really like the hybrid model.
IVAN: So, a couple of thoughts. There are a great deal of success stories that are out there for companies that are as large as 50 who are fully distributed. And I’d point you in the direction of Lullabot and Four Kitchens, especially if you’re interested in figuring out kind of what they’ve done to mitigate some of the certain issues that come up in being a fully distributed company. And then the other thought is, for our listeners and for you too, of course, Ron, there’s Yonder.io. Yonder is a website, and there’s Yondercon as well, that’s run by Jeff Robbins, and they are completely dedicated to the culture of remote work and the culture of distributed companies. So, I would encourage you to check out the Yonder Podcast. And, Jeff is actually the founder of Lullabot. He’s no longer with Lullabot, he’s kind of pursued and has a passion for remote work because that was kind of the foundation of Lullabot. They started in Iowa, but with the nationally distributed workforce and has been very successful at it. So, check that out if you get a chance to.
RON: Yea. I appreciate the recommendation. I love listening to podcasts to keep myself educated and entertained, and so, I will definitely check that out.
IVAN: Wonderful. Wow, we’ve been talking for a long time. This is awesome. I have one more question for you. You have any recommendations for a good book to read?
RON: Absolutely. So, the book that I’m going to recommend is called “The Righteous Mind”. The subtitle is “Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.” So there you go. I just mentioned the two things you’re never supposed to bring up (laughing).
IVAN: (laughing) That’s ok.
RON: Between us we can do that, right?
RON: The author is Jonathan Haidt. And I first read the book a couple of years ago, and he actually has a new book out on a different topic, but I love understanding human nature and setting human nature. I like to try to understand why I behave the way I do, why we behave collectively the way we do, and this book is really good. Right now, obviously, one of the huge issues in our country right now is the division of people, and it seems to be politics and, of course, religion divides people as well,. And he has, I think, some really wonderful mental models of how our minds work, and explains again, it’s a model, but I think he has a very good explanation for why people are divided. And he does provide some techniques or bridging those gaps and building bridges.
IVAN: We certainly need more mental models for understanding what we’re experiencing these days and for trying to bring humanity forward. So, I appreciate the recommendation. We’ll link to it in the show notes. So, for you listeners out there, just go to the ten7.com website and the link will be there. Ron, thank you so much for spending your time with me. I always appreciate talking to you, and it was wonderful getting you on the show, and maybe we’ll get you back in a year or so, see how things have changed.
RON: Well, I would love that Ivan. It’s always wonderful to talk together, and I’d be happy to join anytime.
IVAN: That’s great. Thank you. Ron is online on Twitter at Ron_z, is his handle. Check out CodeGeek on the web at codegeek.net as well as his co-working space in Fort Collins at Hivefortcollins.com. Although you may not be able to get a desk there (laughing). You’ve been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.