Other people aren’t there to tell you what to do


In a great response to a question on Hacker News about how to be a productive remote intern, Chris Neal (aka @onion2k) says:

I’m having trouble getting clear tasks with well-defined requirements.

Having worked remotely for a number of years, and having run a startup, I think this is the root cause of your issue. You’re not going to get well defined requirements because the definition of “well defined” varies from person to person, and because startups generally don’t plan features in great detail (tbh, as a rule established businesses don’t either).

If you want to make a bigger impact, start being more proactive in asking what features need to do in order to be accepted. If you don’t know something, think about it, then write a clear document that sets out what you think you need to do and points to specific things that you need clarification about. That’s what I’d expect any developer to do, regardless of whether they’re an intern or an experienced lead developer. The key thing no one in a business is simply there to execute instructions. You have to think for yourself.

tl;dr If you don’t know what you’re supposed to be building there’s no way you can build a thing that works, so think through the problem and ask good questions.

The only thing I’d add here is that, as Peter Drucker has been posthumously teaching me through his book Managing Oneself, it depends on the style of the person you’re reporting to (or your client) as to whether a ‘document’ is the best option. Sometimes it’s a clarificatory conversation with agreed action items.

Image via Nomad Pictures