Want a job working from home like Jeff Atwood described in his On Working Remotely post today?
You’re probably not gonna get it.
You Take Too Long to Prove Yourself
Think about how long it takes for you to:
- Get your company equipment
- Get your environment set up
- Understand how the company’s system works
- Work with your manager to find out what needs to be done
- Contribute your first piece of work (code, management, whatever)
- Get someone else to check your work
- Get that other person to give feedback to the manager on the quality of your work
It’s not quick, and that whole time, you’re getting paid. Say it takes a month for all this to happen – I know, you think it’s gonna be faster, but in companies, it often takes quite a while. If the company finds out your work sucks, they don’t fire you on day 31. They will likely assign you more work, and the cycle will continue while they give you a couple of chances to get it right.
When they finally fire you, they have to start the hiring process all over again, which sets them back months. In many businesses, the most precious commodity isn’t money – it’s time.
Companies Think Onsite Staff Are Different
Sure, you and I know that bad programmers masquerade as perfectly good people. They fool managers with their ThinkGeek t-shirts and their penchant for Red Bull. They don’t talk much during the interview and they act scared – but so did you, and so does almost every other job candidate. It’s really, really hard for managers to interview IT job candidates. (Don’t send me links to interview questions – I’m not telling you it’s hard for me to do this interviewing, I’m just telling you how it is with other managers, because I talk to ‘em a lot.)
Companies figure they’ll do the best they can with the hiring process, then they’ll watch the new guy like a hawk for the first couple of months. They’ll make sure he shows up to the desk on time and that his breath doesn’t smell like beer. (What, you thought your manager came around in the beginning just because they wanted to see if you liked that $49 office chair?)
Managers will ask coworkers a lot of questions. “How’s the new guy working out? Can you watch him for me?” Sure, this stuff might work remotely, but it works much better in person when you’re sitting next to each other in those 6×6 jail cells cubicles. Managers think they’re going to walk by the cube and see the new guy drooling on his keyboard if he’s incompetent, but of course you and I know it doesn’t really work that way.
You’re Competing with Everyone
Pop quiz: when you apply for a telecommuting job, whose salary range do you have to compete with?
- The company’s home office city
- Your city
The answer is 3. You might think offshore programmers aren’t applying for the job you want, and you might be right, but there’s another factor. Consulting companies with huge numbers of offshore staff often hire onshore salespeople to build relationships. These salespeople approach managers and say, “Hey, need a DBA or a C# programmer? I’ve got senior guys available for just $30 per hour, no commitment required. They report to our offices, where we make sure they’re drug tested and security checked. If you get a bad one, we’ll switch him out for another one as often as you want.”
That means the hiring rank goes like this:
- Onsite staff that the company can see
- Offshore staff that the company can’t see, but someone else manages
- You working from home in your skivvies
That’s the way it works today. Game over. Deal with it.
How to Beat the System
I’ve been telecommuting on and off for ten years, and there’s three simple things you can do to get a telecommuting job.
Get in the door first. Start as an onsite employee, and after you’ve proven yourself and established your worth, gradually introduce telecommuting. This is difficult.
Prove yourself cheap and fast. I do remote DBA consulting, but the first gig for a company is almost never remote. I show up at their offices, do a performance tuning session or a health check, and within 48 hours they have a laundry list of actions to improve their environment. I go out of my way to document the improvements in a way managers will love. At that point, I can sell them on remote work because they like my results and their staff enjoys working with me.
Prove yourself before you even start. Have public results they can find without even talking to you. Be the absolute best at something, and when someone’s looking for the best, they’ll see your results. They’ll approach you without you even asking, and at that point, you’re able to say, “I can’t fly to ___, but I can do remote work and it’ll be better for both of us.” If you’re the best there is, you can set up these kinds of demands. And yes, this really does work – especially if you’re one of the stars on an open source project that companies rely on.
Want to read more of my articles on telecommuting?