I’ve been a full-time remote worker since 2010. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought big changes to things involving face-to-face contact – like going to an office for work. Since this sea change has gotten more engineers (and employers) to think about remote work, I thought I’d share some tips on how to find and keep remote gigs. This was written with junior-level engineers in mind, and is more about full-time employment than freelancing.
(Hint: it’s about your team.) A couple weeks ago I accidentally replaced our live, production database with a 17-hour old snapshot. This is an always-on application with users around the globe, so the mistake was likely to have blown away some new user-entered data. I didn’t realize what I had done for an hour or so (I thought I had targeted a test database server, not production). When it hit me, I had already left work.
Non-engineers want to know: what happens when a big bug is found in your software, and the bug is causing real users real problems, and you’re the one who wrote the code? Engineers do sometimes write bad code, and sometimes it makes it into production, it’s true. But shipping production software involves a lot more than writing code. It goes beyond that one engineer. That engineer is not the only person who saw or ran that code.
When we were growing our team of Python devs at CMG, I was involved in a lot of interviews. I really enjoyed it, meeting and hiring interesting and talented engineers. I’m not a big fan of quizzing people on technical minutiae in interviews. I do think that asking some questions about technical likes and dislikes can be very illuminating though. For example, “What’s your favorite standard library module?” (Best answer in my book here is itertools or functools, but anything that shows they have hands-on appreciation for the depth of the standard library is good.
I’ve been working as a remote software developer for over five years now. I gather that some outfits do this better than others. In case they’re useful/inspirational for anyone else, I want to highlight the key things that have made this workable for so long. The key idea: Treat your remote workers as first-class, full-fledged members of the team. Have a chat server which everyone is connected to whenever they are working.
I move between a couple different computers regularly: my old 12" PowerBook and the 15" MacBook Pro my job provides me with. Like all multi-computer users I periodically bump up against the challenges of what files (and versions) are where, especially when there’s work in progress. To further complicate things, I also have an extra laptop running Ubuntu. And sometimes I just SSH to my web server from somebody else’s machine.
Among the many anti-spam measures on my mail server – which help me reject 5000 spam attempts per day – is SPF. SPF allows domain name owners to specify which mail servers are allowed to send its mail. That makes it an excellent way to detect address forgeries, a favorite spammer tool. One of the early questions raised about SPF was: won’t spammers just buy their own domains and set up their own SPF records that say it’s all OK?