Alt-tech for productive relationships

In a previous article I wrote about the types of tech creators. In this article I'll focus on the relationships between them, specially on horizontal relationships as an alternative to vertical relationships. On the long run, this can help boost individual's productivity on organizations.

Vertical relationships

These are your typical boss - employee relationships. The employee responds to the boss requirements and guidelines. A hierarchy is created where upper ranks have more freedom but also more responsibilities. This is by far the most common type of relationship on professional projects. I won't expand on this subject, instead let's talk to the alternative to this model:

Horizontal relationships

Horizontal organizations groups individuals on projects they find value. There is no hierarchy so everyone is free to act independently contributing to the common objective.

It depends on the project and it's a matter of taste, but usually I prefer horizontal relationships. Every participant of the project has a very high degree of freedom but also high responsibilities so it's a double edged sword. Let's break down some types of horizontal contributors:

Type 1: The hit and run

This happens a lot on open source projects in the form of bug fixes, new features, documentation, improvements etc... Well documented projects with active communities are very likely to receive lots of small contributions from outsiders. I've contributed to projects like OpenRA and The Mana World and it was an awesome experience. Also, while developing Flatshot, lots of people helped me making substantial improvements in the music, graphics, gameplay and sfx.

Nothing beats receiveing a Pull Request from a stranger. Pic by Daria

I love this kind of contributions because they are very low maintenance. I think this relationships shine were the project is autosufficient and the external contributor is highly specialized.

What I mean is projects that welcomes but doesn't depend on contributions are more likely to receive them. This will make communication easier and frictionless. External contributors, on the other end, can focus on what they know best and don't have to understand every aspect of the project.

Type 2: The mentor and the new guy

Hit and run is fine, but sometimes you want to take it to the next level. When you are very involved on a project, small contributions just won't cut it. However when you are getting started, there will usually be a gap. It might be technical knowledge or just lack of experience. So this is where the more experienced can help the new ones to close that gap.

"Duuude! Stop it you're doing it wrong!". Pic by Pexels

This "Closing the gap" phase is not your typical vertical relationship (you will find on academia, for example). The New guy's job is to find and follow his own path and the Mentor's job is to help him by making the process easier.

This should be just a transitional phase that leads to the higher reward relationship:

Type 3: The true peer to peer

This might sound radical but I strongly believe that true peer to peer works better if all peers are able to complete the project all by themselves.

For example, if the project is about making a web app, everyone should be fullstack. If the project is making a game everyone should be able to code, do graphic design, music, sfx, storytell, marketing and gameplay.

If all members are autosufficient and dispensable the development process will be fast and smooth for everyone.

Dispensable might sound like a bad connotation word but if you think it over it's not. Being dispensable doesn't mean you are replaceable or unwanted it's quite the opposite if you are in a healthy, independent and horizontal relationship.

Being dispensable is the key aspect of healthier and productive relationships. Pic by Rawpixel

It's good to have one area where you are more skilled so you can do bigger contributions. But it's also essential to be autosufficient and have at least basic skills and experience in all the other areas. Valve, a well known horizontal company, refers to this as the T-Model on their new employee handbook.


Being a jack of all trades has huge advantages on horizontal projects and being highly specialized benefits vertical projects. There is no black and white but this general rule is the core difference between this two types of relationships.

cover pic by Ba

Ahmed Castro

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