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Show HN: Background.webcam – Train new hires remotely in real-time (background.webcam)
28 points by kentich 46 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 38 comments



If you just want to train your new hires:

- prepare good documentation

- be on a call with them when you have to explain stuff verbally

- be available in text chat to answer their questions

No need to be always on call like this.

I can only imagine this being used as yet another control tool for paranoic managers who want to make sure employees are always "working" at the desk.


>- prepare good documentation

That's already out of the question in most companies I worked for that weren't established in a field like automotive, robotics, medical, aerospace.

All web dev companies I know have their documentation in slack chats and in the heads of the senior devs with longer tenure who setup the greenfield, as their main incentive is to concentrate their efforts to ship-ship-ship to get features/sales/customers, not spend time writing docs that get outdated in a couple of sprints.

Needless to say, being a junior in such a place is demoralizing AF as you don't understand anything and by the time you think you're there, the goalposts have moved again.


I've been in places like that, it's like you build a brand new front-end but in the background you know - or experience - that within five years it'll be replaced with something new and shiny.

I came into the one company replacing a Flash application. We used BackboneJS first, then realized Angular was a better fit for larger applications, then a few years later when the whole company was basically using Angular, some guy came in from Google and Decided that they should be using Polymer instead. Once they nearly had everything ready for Polymer 2, Polymer 3 and lit-element came out which, of course, was completely different.

I mean we spent time there fixing a performance issue because unlike real UI frameworks, Polymer had no real concept of routing; in effect it worked like tabbed web interfaces, leaving things open but hidden as the user navigates away.

It was a multi-million embarrassment. I spent 2.5 years there in total in the Backbone and Angular project, and they decided fuck you, we'll do it different because we have a new UI style now so obviously every application has to be rebuilt from scratch.


I onboarded a new place during covid remotely. People did all those things well, but it still felt much worse than a normal in-person onboarding. Not saying OPs approach here is the right solution, but that just being "available" isn't good enough.


> prepare good documentation

It is difficult enough to overcome the curse of knowledge when writing documentation that a better path is to open up a pair-programming setup and co-write your documentation with an intern or new-joiner.


I used to argue this too...but too many will use it as an argument to shirk documentation tasks onto people who quite literally can't do the job because the person with the relevant knowledge feels too important to bother teaching anyone.


I have seen that failure mode as well. I cannot emphasise enough that it needs to be like pair-programming. Without the more senior person there, the more junior person will struggle to know how to get started and need to ask so many initially-ill-formed questions that it will be very slow going.


Thanks I hate it. I would stress so much. I cant imagine doing that.


I feel like only a psychopath or an artist could have come up with this.


Dear colleagues,

Let's say your company hired a remote developer. You want to guide him and train him on the trial period or because he's a junior developer.

How would you do that remotely?

Can this app be the answer for you?

It is a free experimental app I have developed. I am researching whether it can be helpful for senior developers, team leaders, or small IT-business owners like you.

I appreciate your thoughts!


>How would you do that remotely?

Give them a direction in a form a text(docs and code)\video resources and a few chants in Team (or whatever you are using) where they can ask question about the processes, code, repos, infrastructure etc.

Give them a direction in a form of a set of tasks from a few easier ones to moderate.

Give them 2-3 complex tasks they should be done with in 2-3 months time (3 months is a standard probation period here)

Be ready to help them own, answer their questions and sometimes check in on them if they are silent for loner than expected.

That's all that is needed if a person is older than 16.

>Can this app be the answer for you?

No, that's terrible in my opinion. I'm sitting in my apartment and someone is literally spying on me. The blurred video honestly looks like some sort of censored porn.

And what is the point? I'm a dev. Not a typist or something. Most of my work takes place in my head, not over the keyboard.

>I am researching whether it can be helpful for senior developers, team leaders

Senior devs and team leads have better things to do rather than monitoring their coworkers.


I think the premise is solid, the overhead of scheduling a chat/call can be daunting for Jnr devs, where as being in the room they would be totally fine/encouraged to reach out and ask questions.

I think the implementation is going to put a lot of people off. I've seen a few attempts at something similar, but ultimately people want their privacy in their home.


I'm currently training a junior dev, and we're 100 % remote, because of Covid.

We use JetBrains' Code With Me inside RubyMine, which allows us to work on code together and talk to each other at the same time. I don't need to see him and I especially don't want him to see my deep-thinking faces.


Why would I need a webcam?

I used Drovio and it was fine.


I'm trying hard to see the value in this, but I'm not seeing any.

At the moment we could get 80 % there by just having an all-day Zoom call for everyone to join on their schedule, but almost no one is doing this.


We considered this in my team, to have a feel of real office, but after a few weeks remote it was obvious we rather need some guaranteed no-zoom time, then more zoom.

edit: even without that idea implemented!


Not to knock on this, but a few years back Hipchat(now part of Atlassian) did a black & white GIF-like video wall. Smooth interpolation between the frames, at almost 1 or 2FPS & no audio unless someone requested a video call. That way at a glance you could look at your team & see if they are at their desks in case you wanted to reach out


>That way at a glance you could look at your team & see if they are at their desks in case you wanted to reach out

Holy crap that sounds invasive as fuck. How about they check the status dot next to my avatar in case they want to reach out?


Right? Or just message them and they'll get back to you when they can? haha


I think it can work. Since the start of covid, we're all working remote with our cameras switched on and microphones switched off the whole day. Just seeing your colleagues work, is a real motivation to focus. When I am sitting at my desk in the weekend, I "miss" seeing the team !

When you want to talk to someone, people switch on the microphone and ask the colleagues to join them in a separate meeting room.

I am not sure about the blurring effect, maybe that is a "big company" thing where people are more reluctant to switch on the camera, even in meetings. In a small team of 10, it's really great to see people unblurred.


> with our cameras switched on and microphones switched off the whole day

> Just seeing your colleagues work, is a real motivation to focus

I'm assuming you're being ironic, but just in case you're not... This is a nightmare scenario for me. If it really works for you and all your work mates, all the best. I find it hard to believe that though, so I really hope you and your colleagues can find a place to work that better respects your private spaces and your ability to perform like an adult professional.


It sounds like prison! Gosh


>our cameras switched on and microphones switched off the whole day. Just seeing your colleagues work, is a real motivation to focus.

This is like living in a nightmare tbh.


I really don't the point of this service. Have you faced any use case of it in real world?


That is why it is an experimental app. It is an experiment. I assume that companies are still quite reluctant to hire remotely because it is hard to train and build trust remotely. Especially, with junior employees. Maybe this tool can help them.


I completely agree with the problem built and I built an mvp of a very similar solution (auto-blur, consent to un-blur, etc).

I tried to use it and HATED it. Even though I was the only one in the room, the constant “green webcam indicator light” was distracting and unsettling.

For making remote/hybrid communication better, I’ve switched my focus to making loom.com like experiences easier.


If there's a confirmation to "unblur" (e.g. "pick up") and your can't see people when you're "blurred" (e.g. "not on the call") then this works exactly like regular Zoom/Meet. It just has strictly less privacy because you show a blurred video instead of no video.

Why not use something like Discord, where you can hear people in the background, and toggle your mic/output with a single button?

The idea of a presence indicator is good I think, but people are going to forget to leave the call when they step out. You'll see a blurred view of their empty room and not know who's available. That is, if they don't have a physical camera cover that they slide in the whole time they're not in a call.


I disagree, I think this is an marginal improvement over zoom. With this, you can’t see others on the call without both people turning on their web cam. Zoom allows people to keep their camera off and see the rest of the group. I think this is more like a feature than a company at this point though.


That's only true if you don't have a camera cover (or anything on your desk you can use as cover). Pretty quickly someone is going to go "I'm sick I look awful, I'm keeping my camera cover on" and that's just like Zoom. Though I agree there's a stronger incentive to have camera on (is that a good thing? Does that help creating "a sense of privacy"?)


I like the idea. Making remote junior hires feel comfortable inteerupting and asking stupid questions is something I think about a lot, and that sense of connectedness is a key part of it. We're experimenting with Cosmos Video, defaulting to video on and mic off, but always being visible to others is a bit daunting. Blurred video might help.


I don't get it. How is it different from Zoom with a turned off camera?


That's great for detecting bad companies. If I see a company using this, I know I need a new client.


Thank you very much for all your replies! I appreciate that!


There are enough responses on this thread that sound like "only a psychopath or an artist could have come up with this." or "It sounds like prison! Gosh" or "This is like living in a nightmare tbh." that if anyone does find this helpful, they're going to have a hard time mustering the courage to admit it. This is especially if true of the sort of more junior people who might struggle to know when to ask for help vs when to avoid interrupting someone.

I would advise reaching out to https://www.focusmate.com/, whose users would likely also find this product useful.


no thanks, yet another privacy violating app.


Training remotely is not like a remote work meeting or peer coding. It's terrible IMO.

Half of my money, I make with dev, the other half, with training teams.

Since Covid, most training are requested to be remote, even now that I can travel again. Companies have tasted the flavor of trip expense savings, and see only the numbers.

But as a teacher, I can tell you those trainings are a far cry from the in-person one.

For once, engagement plumets, people are easily distracted, doing something else, etc. They ask you to repeat more often, and network/sound problems plus the indirection you get to communicate kill the rythme of the training.

The whole communication is harder. You can't use humour as much, because it's way risker if you can't feel the room. You can't pass behind them to check on what they are doing, so you have to pull feedback constantly, which people are poor at giving. Sharing screen expose the most shy participants, and you can't read facial expression since most don't turn the webcam on, so you can't really know how they feel.

I'd say they learn half less, in the same amount of time. It will probably also stick less. And they also clearly enjoy it less, in general.

At first you'd think it's better for introverts, but if you have a good teacher, it's way better for an introvert to have a benevolent warm person calmy and discretly comes by your side to give you a hint than to have to share your mistakes on screen in front of everybody after being called out in the mic.

Twice already I had people this year, almost giving up mid way. Took me all my compassion and kindness to cross the virtual barrier and reassure them. It never happened to me in 10 years. They felt too much pressure, they felt they slowed people down, they felt exposed, they feld they couldn't find a solution and that I couldn't really help them because of the distance between us.

I'm getting good at remote training, and the sessions are running mostly smoothly.

But I still hate it. Such a waste of human potential.

You can do more training though, so I guess we trade quality for quantity.

Today I'm training people in Africa, from Europe. The connexion is aweful, participants are being asked by colleagues to interrupt their training to solve work issues, and MS Teams has been a train wreck. Thank God they are good coders, and they exercices are quick to check, because they are 7 of them, and they each need to share their screen with their own particular bug.

So sure, it's better to be able to train them at all than not to, given that their company would probably not pay me to fly there (I would have come, I worked a lot in Africa).

But damn, it's low quality.


What do you think would make the remote training experience better? It sounds like one on one conversation as part of the training rather than needing to talk to the whole group. That can be accomplished through chat, but it could be people don’t use that when others are verbally communicating.


First, you need excellent network and hardware conditions, which you can control on your side, but not on their.

Of course, better software to worktogether, but that's a given. Bugs, misconfiguration, latency and ergonomics add up a lot.

But I think until you get a fantastic VR experience, it will still be subpart.

The human aspect of the training is hugely important, otherwise, a trainer has no added value over a youtube video. In fact, the video would be better, since you can pause.




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