The pandemic that started in the US in early 2020 has necessitated the shift to remote work for those of us who can make this shift; I started my first tech job during this time period and after a few weeks in the office, I found myself working from home.
In the past, I had considered working from home to be an impossibility, or, at best, something fundamentally inefficient and undesirable for both employer and employee. In truth, when it comes to the software development industry, remote work is an enabling factor, rather than being a hindrance.
That all said, I have a few takeaways learned while starting a new job at Trek10 during this global pandemic.
Coding requires at least a few hours of deep concentration daily and a remote work environment has enabled me to more easily meet this requirement. The essence of programming is the construction of very specific, logically coherent statements that must take into account the behavior and expectations of the system they reside within. This is exactly the sort of task that demands an individual’s full attention and focus.
For me, working at home means that I can guarantee that, when necessary, I can silence all notifications on both my computer and phone and attend to my job with complete concentration. Once I have completed the most complex parts of whatever it is that I am working on, or whenever I need clarifications, I can open Slack and communicate with the appropriate people.
In my previous workplaces, communicating with team members required a walk from one building to another or a series of phone calls; because of Slack and my current remote work environment, communication is far more efficient and sensible. Slack features channels intended for the distribution of information which concerns large groups of people. In my opinion, this feature trumps its real-world counterparts, which are intercom systems, cork boards with sheets of paper posted on them, or even worse, word-of-mouth propagation of business-critical knowledge. Additionally, ad hoc group discussions no longer require that several people physically relocate themselves just to have a three-minute conversation.
These new digital mediums reduce the need to delay conversations out of concern for the potential of interrupting the other party. If an engineer is presently occupied and wishes not to be interrupted, Slack offers a variety of features that allow her to signal to her teammates that she is busy and not currently available.
Personally, it is rare for me to use these features which indicate unavailability for discussions, because, relative to the people I am working with, I lack experience and it is especially important that I communicate with them to accelerate my learning.
I think the biggest challenges that a remote work environment could present to a new hire relate primarily to personality traits or work habits. In my case, I happen to be intrinsically motivated to do my job and attempt to learn from people more experienced than me, so working from home has not presented any issues. The reality of my situation is that I am a new hire and have much to learn, so it is important to be humble and ask questions when necessary. Because it is so easy to communicate through Slack, working remotely has also enabled me in this regard.
Tribal knowledge still exists, learning where things are and how things work is still a necessary soft skill
Despite all this, remote work environments are obviously not infallible; individuals do bear some responsibility in becoming comfortable with the workflow. From what I have experienced, it is important to understand where all the needed resources are located within your organization.
In a purely physical work environment, an employee can visually see where everything is located. The only barriers are locked doors or campuses too large to easily navigate. In a completely digital work environment, the tools necessary to complete the job often take the form of various URLs, nested folders within a Google drive UI, etc.
I have learned the importance of soft skills such as paying attention to the locations of these digital resources so that anything I need is within quick reach.
I'm excited to continue learning and growing in my roles in tech, and even post-pandemic I am sure these learnings will serve me well.