What's the best way for a company to talk to itself - aside from Slack, newsletters, epic email-threads, stand-ups, and impromptu Monday evening drinks at the pub next door?
One of our answers to that question is Potato Talks, which we host every month in our London office (with a live hook-up to our Bristol, San Francisco, and Mountain View teams too). These are informal presentations held during our TPIF (Thank Potato It's Friday) end-of-week wind-downs, where everyone gets together over beer and pizza to talk shop and anything else that comes to mind.
The overarching idea behind it all is that everyone brings something different to a company - be it skills, work/life experience, passions, party pieces, and sense of humour.
Ostensibly, Potato Talks are a chance for staff members to talk about current projects (as well as problem solving and project management techniques), but also to share new technology, insights, interests, or hobbies.
“The Talks started as a response to the company getting bigger and recruiting more staff,” explains senior developer Will Thomson. “When we were just starting out, everybody knew what everybody else was working on, because we were such a small team. We used to have stand-ups every day where people gave updates on their projects, but that just wasn’t feasible as the staff numbers grew.
“In the very early days, people would use the Talks to discuss best tech practices for Potato (I remember a particularly heated Subversion vs Git debate - with the latter winning out), but since then the remit has broadened to include a mix of work and non-work stuff.”
Indeed, recent Talks have covered everything from a passion for the open source Grow project, to an intro to MobX, and hacking Atom.io. Beyond work topics, other staffers have presented on bullet journaling, weather data aggregation, working in the media, the future of cars, and a special St Patrick's Day-themed History of Ireland.
Technical project manager Neha Shah, who helps to coordinate Potato Talks, says that they aim to be the next step up from similar activities like away days or hackathons. “It’s more about general knowledge sharing, which can be difficult to do in an agency with offices in multiple time zones,” she explains.
“On a practical level, the Talks help our teams prepare for conferences/presentations, and improve their public speaking skills. Personally, they've helped me to increase my technical knowledge and that makes my job a lot easier.
“It’s also about building the Potato community; we're getting together once a month to share in people's joy, success, and passions, and to learn from people's challenges and tough times.
"Some colleagues have done Talks about their careers before joining Potato (for example, we have a former pilot and journalist in our mix), and that helps to highlight the diversity at our company. I love that we have a bunch of people who came to us from non-traditional backgrounds.”