Wednesday, March 18, 2020

How to be successful when coding from home?

These are extraordinary circumstances for many organizations. The corona virus has forced a lot of people to stay home. This means that many people have found themselves in a situation they have never been before and might not feel very comfortable just being alone. In this post I'll try to share my tips for working remotely that I have gathered for over 7 years and being quite successful in it. Quite frankly I would never go back to the way things were before...

The bottom line

If you're like me and you don't feel like reading long posts here are the highlights:

  • Control is good - trust is better and pays off in spades! It is especially difficult for managers when they have no oversight over their workers but it is absolutely necessary to hold your horses and let the situation settle. This is where many managers will fail and only the best ones will prevail. That being said it is equally hard on employees to trust themselves.
  • If you're an employer you must believe in your people. They will do a good job even if it will take them time to adjust and get comfortable in the new situation. Judge the effects of work - not the workers - and remember that chemistry doesn't happen over night. Manage your expectations!
  • If you're an employee know that working from home doesn't mean you're off work. It just means that you have a really small office. It needs to be properly equipped and comfortable. Keep up the good work and you will prevail
  • Communication is key! Learn to use the tools at your disposal. Things like Skype, Hangouts, Zoom, Slack, Teams and Discord are there for you to take full advantage of what they provide. Make sure you have more than one tool at your disposal.
  • Limit the necessary communication. It is the key to not getting distracted. There is no such thing as an urgent email. And it also means you need to have a discussion about it with your wife and kids. Be fair to your family!
  • If you like working in pair use it to keep connected with your peers. Tools like VS Code combined with a voice call help you do that!
  • Make sure you have more than one option to connect to the Internet. LANs do break and having a backup LTE connection will let you concentrate on work and it will put yours and your manager's mind at ease :)

And one last thing...

The thing I found most difficult is to accept yourself. There's nothing in the whole wide world that's worse than judging yourself over and over again to the point where you are so down you can't take anymore. There are times when we're overly productive and times when we suck, big time. No matter how you want to slice it the sine wave is the most perfect shape in the world. It's the rule all living things live by, no matter if they like it or not. Accepting it will help you understand where you are, where you are coming from and where you're headed.

Have fun!!!

If you made it here and want to learn more about my experience with working from home - read on :)

The circumstances

My adventure with working from home begun some 14 years ago when I joined Sabre inc. It was the first company that employed proper VPN technology and gave us all laptops to work on. Since many teams were dispersed throughout different continents it was obvious that from time to time you would work in crazy hours. For example we have had regular team meetings every Thursday at 8pm CET. Staying at work for so long, although possible, was in fact not very practical (not to mention my wife was not very happy about it).

On top of that there were times when I needed to work directly with a guy that lived on Hawaii. That's 12h difference from CET! To put it in perspective if some of you end your day at 5pm it was 5am (yes! the middle of the night!) for Walker. Walker was a very important person (a VIP you might say) because he was the original author of the software we were working on. So he has had all the intimate knowledge of the system and was the best person to learn from. Frankly I wouldn't like to be in his shoes getting up 4am just to have a call with some guys across the globe :) And did I mention I am not really a morning person?...

The solution

And so I came to the conclusion that it would make sense for me to start working in a timezone that's a bit of both: 2pm to 10pm. This would mean I would have plenty of overlap with Walker and the rest of the team based in the US yet enough time to take care of my daily business. The downside, though, was that there was nobody in the office after like 6pm and staying alone in a huge office wasn't my idea of fun. So I worked remotely for half a year. There were no papers to be signed, no permissions to be given - just my personal decision to have more time with the guys overseas.

The first few days it felt really strange. I was organizing my home office for a few hours, reorganizing my desk every now and then to fit the new situation, then doing a bit of project work, having lots of time with the rest of the team in the States and in the evening watching a movie with my wife after work. The adjustment period went on for about a week and after that it felt like I was doing it forever.

Now that I think about it in fact I was doing it forever - just didn't realize it! I am a self learner. I didn't finish my study at the university, I wasn't particularly good in high school and even in ground school things were not looking very up for me. All because I preferred spending time coding. Yes, I started coding at the age of 12 and I knew I wanted to be a programmer when I was 6 years old :)... Quite frankly I don't know how I managed to meet that wonderful girl that I spent over 23 years with :) I think I just got lucky!


I am an introvert. My wife would say that's not really true but I know how I feel inside. It isn't a bad thing - it just means I can concentrate better when there's less people around me. Sure there are times when I am fed up with just my 4 walls and I am looking for some company. But that grows old very soon for me. Even though I can literally see the office from home with a naked eye I go there maybe once a month, often times even less. I found that it is way more productive if I can shut out everybody and just do coding. That led me to employing rules like checking emails only in the morning, keeping to the necessary minimum my interactions on Skype - you know what I mean.

How does that help you?

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