Remote Work, Unpredictable Ways

Personal Article
February 8, 2021

Haven’t written anything since 2015, a lot has happened since then: I’ve found my love and got married, lived a digital nomad life-style, tried various projects and startups, switched jobs, relocated and settled down in a new country - to name a few. In this post I’ll cover some of these points - but I’ll mainly focus on what it meant to work remotely and how the 2020 pandemic changed this (for the good, and for the bad).

Transition

In 2015 - I was mainly living off freelance projects. I was living in Moldova, usually I’d have local clients, which I’d meet in-person and I’d develop either websites, or feature requests for them. Later, same year, together with Afinika - we’ve started to travel, and while we were in Israel, I was still freelancing for some of my clients, handling some issues and feature requests. Israel turned out to be much more expensive than I originally thought, so I had to make some 💰 to survive and keep exploring. I believe this was my first ‘remote’ experience - and I liked it.

It was a good stepping stone, because there was no long-term commitment nor long-term plan to do this - I was just experimenting and seeing what was possible, and it worked well. We used Moldovan banks as our clients were based in Moldova, and at that time I used Asana for issue-tracking.

Once we returned home - I’ve started to look for permanent remote positions, my initial targets were US or UK (as the compensation’s higher there). The same week, I got a private message on Facebook, from a friend, that someone was looking for a Drupal Developer, for a remote position, for an NGO from the US - do I know anyone to recommend? 
I definitely did 🚀

Digital Nomad Life-Style

That NGO was DevelopmentGateway - I’ve spent ~3.5 years working with them and it was an amazing experience. We’ve continued to travel and work for this NGO remotely - we’ve stayed in Thailand, Italy, US, Peru, Mexico, etc - all while having meetings, working on new and old projects, writing proposals, outlining new architectures, etc.

It was easy to work with the team - because their team was already distributed across many continents and timezones, they had all the proper processes in-place to make sure that everyone is productive and efficient, here are some examples:

  • Most of the calls should have video on - so you’re more connected with the ones you’re talking to.
  • Usually they’d have a person assigned to each employee - another employee, that would make weekly / monthly check-ups and see what’s going good / bad with the company processes.
  • They’d have yearly (or so) fly-ins in-person, to sync NGO’s progress, talk about priorities, etc.
  • Anyone could visit and work from HQ office in Washington DC - i.e. we stayed for 2 weeks and met IRL all the employees.
  • We used tools that are now considered standard: JIRA for tracking, Slack for communication (and calls as well), Zoom for video-calls / meetings, Google Docs for collaboration, etc.

Having a Digital Nomad life-style is an interesting experience, but it can’t go on indefinitely - you still need to have a place to call ‘home’, a place where you’d declare and pay your taxes (because, otherwise every country claims your taxes) and contribute to its progress. Also, we embarked on building a startup, while we traveled - and it was quite hard to keep a full-time job and a startup - all while traveling, looking for new places to stay in, spending hours on Airbnb and Google Maps.

Some tips for those embarking on digital nomad’s journey:

  • Find a place to pay your taxes (i.e. Estonia) - otherwise other countries will claim these taxes and you’ll have a nightmare. Ideally don’t mention that you’re working while you’re traveling. Now, in the pandemic - this just became way more serious and difficult - as there are way more remote workers now. Also take into account the fact that you’ll eventually want to move to that country and retire there.
  • Do your research - find proper affordable long-term rentals via Airbnb, some hosts have special prices if the term is 28+ days, i.e. we stayed in Thailand for ~450$ / month in a sea-front house.
  • We used kiwi.com - as it aggregates all low-cost flights and even has options to fly-in into airport A and fly-out through airport B (within the same city) - this can save a lot of money. Or, you can fly-in airport A in city A, spend 2-3 days and fly-out from airport B in city B. This way you can visit both cities, use a bus / train between them and have a super-cheap flight afterwards.
  • Be aware of language barriers - I mean that’s an obvious one. I.e. If you're an English-speaking person, Spanish might be simple, while Thai or Hebrew will be a tough one.
  • Internet - oh boy did we have screw-ups here, make sure the city has some-what good internet (or affordable mobile internet). I.e. in Peru - you can buy a mobile SIM card (for the internet) only with a signature, finger-print, etc - oh and only if you’re a citizen (maybe it changed now, but that’s how it was).
  • Communities - I’m a Drupal developer and I was lucky to meet some Drupal developers in Peru and Israel and the US. They showed us around, various local hidden gems and we had someone to have fun with.

If you either plan to do a digital nomad transition or if you’re just planning to do remote work on a long-term basis, having a company that knows what it means to have remote workers - is important. Some people jump into the digital nomad life-style with freelance projects and passive income streams - that’s good too, but it’s a bit too unstable and you being abroad, just adds to the complexity / anxiety, when things go wrong.

Settling in Spain

We had a short-list of countries that we’d like to settle in and eventually decided to settle in Spain (why Spain? that’s a whole different article I guess :P). I still worked remotely for DevelopmentGateway / US, but as Drupal work dried up, I moved to other remote opportunities.

I worked with 2toucans (a small UK agency) on some projects and I also helped an emerging startup from the UK to scrape data from the internet [I was writing spiders in Scrapy (python) and pushing data to DynamoDB (AWS)].

Life is more demanding in Spain (in terms for expenses) than within a village in Thailand or a village in Mexico - so more work was required - or a proper stable one.

Shortly after, I found a ‘good stable one’ - I started to work with WebProphets - a small company based in Australia. We worked together for ~2 years and handled a lot of projects. They were new to remote work but we handled it nicely and got used to it. BTW, time-difference between Europe and Australia - doesn’t make things easy: we had 2 short time overlaps, early in the morning or late at night.

Now, due to the pandemic, I’ve switched my job again - and currently, I’m working as a remote Drupal Developer for MyToys Group - an e-commerce giant from Germany, which has an office in Madrid (although I’m not in Madrid). There were several options to pick from - and I’m glad I’ve picked this company. 

If your job was affected by the pandemic - pick an industry that was booming in 2020 and look for a job within that industry - i.e. e-commerce (or anything related to that), games / game-dev, food delivery or just delivery startups, video-conferencing / telemedicine, chats, teaching, etc. Just make a Google search and find these industries, then narrow down your job searches accordingly.

Remote work: then vs now

Before the pandemic, it was quite hard to find some good remote positions (in IT). There were only few companies that were open to this approach - companies that had invested in proper processes and knew how to keep their employees motivated and efficient, without intruding on their lives.

Now, as more companies are forced to engage with remote work - they have adopted some of these practices (or created new ones) - thus opening doors to new employees. However, many companies hiring remote workers today, might not know how to handle these employees properly - and this can lead to unpleasant remote-worker experiences, or employers that have no trust in their employees and request some sort of tracking software to be installed or whatnot.

So, even though there are way more remote positions available (and proper “remote” filters on job websites) - it still won’t guarantee that you’ll have an amazing ‘remote’ experience once you onboard your new job. More research is needed - and make sure you ask the employer / HR about THEIR remote working experience, what processes they have set-up in the company, etc.

There are new laws passed in the EU, by various countries, to protect remote workers - which is good. But at the same time, governments became aware of remote workers and they do their best to track us and find out “Where was the work done?”, so that they can claim the taxes generated during that period, on their territory - which is bad.

Unpredictable ways

There’s a ton of opportunities out there, you just have to keep your eyes open and seize them.

Here are my examples of random unpredictable opportunities that happened to me:

  • My first internship was offered to me by a friend at his small company (he is also responsible for pushing me to learn Drupal); eventually this guy helped us out to explore the South of Spain, as he lives here and hosted us for 2 weeks while we were looking for an apartment.
  • My first long-term job was offered by a guy who visited our Drupal 7 Launch event - the first IT meetup in Moldova (Propeople / FFW).
  • Next job was offered by a random recommendation via Facebook PM - turned out to be a fruitful collaboration for 3+ years.
  • While organizing Drupal Camps in Moldova - I’ve met Chandeep, he came to Moldova to give a presentation on Drupal - eventually we ended-up working together on some projects that he had.
  • A random startup group on Facebook had some random conversation about scraping and I wrote some random comment, slowly I got to know these guys and we started to work together on scraping data for their startup.
  • Again, thanks to Drupal Moldova Association - we had another speaker, from Australia. Turns out he knew an agency in Australia which was looking for a Drupal Developer…
  • While being here in Spain, we’ve applied to a local pre-accelerator (in spanish & equity-free), that we found on the internet and got accepted - had a place to work, had interesting sessions and met a lot of local startuppers.

You never know what’s around the corner, any interaction - might lead to an awesome opportunity, either in real life or on the internet.
So my only tip regarding this one - is to be proactive, engage with the local dev and startup community (even if in current context this means digitally), be open - basically maximize the number of interactions. And then, watch-out for opportunities, filter out the bad ones and seize the good ones.

 

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