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Why working remotely is a double-edged sword

vimmer9 profile image Damir Franusic Originally published at blog.soshace.com Updated on ・8 min read

Originally published at blog.soshace.com on Aug 09, 2019 ・8 min read

The beginning of everything

My name is Damir, Croatian born and raised, currently living in Zagreb. I have always kept my distance from politics, never felt any form of attachment to national symbols, political parties or anything along the lines of patriotism. My loyalties have always been with computers and technology in general. The very beginning and my first confrontation with what was then considered the pinnacle of engineering was this:

zx

I was obsessed with this device, but was too young to do anything other than just play games and watch in awe as those cassettes were being magically transformed to moving images on my small TV set. For the younger generations, you can find more info about ZX Spectrum on Wikipedia.

As time went by, my curiosity grew more and more and I slowly started learning about programming languages so I could finally solve the ever growing mystery of imaginary animated characters residing in my analog cassettes, somehow being conjured to life by the unbearable screeching noise made by those same cassettes when played in my Walkman. From that moment on, technology and software totally consumed my mind and have been obsessing it ever since.

My second greatest device ever was Atari ST and there are no words to describe the feeling I had when I switched it on and had to change those 3.5" floppy disks all the time. Oh Yeah, no more cassettes and I skipped the 5.25" era and went straight to 3.5" magic. It was all still mostly about games, but unlike most of my generation who were playing Shoot-em-all type of games, I was always somehow glued to the screen playing adventures games, the likes of The Secret of Monkey Island which was probably (and still is) one of my favorite games ever.

Atari ST

The progression of curiosity

After the Atari ST era, everything started speeding up, and there I was, worked my way from 286 to Pentium and Windows 95. At that time, I was already heavily engaged in programing, and my language of choice was Pascal. I spent quite some time doing all sorts of useful and useless coding to build up experience and when I landed my 3rd job, half of the people in my department were running Linux, mostly Fedora. Since the job was all about PHP which was running on Linux servers, it seemed logical to try and use it as a Client OS. That was the best decision I have ever made, and was also a bit lucky to have had a wonderful knowledgeable tutor who was never short of advice and guided me in the right direction every step of the way. Needles to say, I stayed with Linux to this day, I only switched to Gentoo as my distro of choice. During all those years I have tried many different languages, scripts and frameworks and from what I can remember, here's the list:

  • Pascal
  • Delphi
  • PHP
  • ASP
  • Scala
  • Java
  • C++
  • C
  • Nvidia CUDA
  • LUA
  • eBPF (C with restrictions)
  • JavaScript
  • ActionScript
  • HTML/CSS (no scripting)
  • React.js
  • Node.js
  • Bootstrap
  • SCSS
  • XML/XSLT

The dystopian present

From all these various technologies I somehow observed that regular C is my favorite. It is well defined, simple and fast, and since I use it for system and socket programming, it's a perfect fit. I have also discovered my niche; it seems that creating parsers (Bison/Flex) and implementing protocol dissectors (Wireshark) is my hidden talent. It's a strange kind of pull and satisfaction I feel when immersed in these sorts of projects.

The trend these days is to keep adding more and more higher layers to make programming languages simpler and make learning curve less steep. I prefer the lower level languages and am not trying to devalue this new trend, not by a long shot. I would only be slapping myself, given that a great deal of my engagement was also in doing projects with React.js, Node.js and Android (Java).

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In contrast to the golden age of playing with Atari ST, my current setup look more like this (stepped over to the dark side):

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The not so social network

One of my ever lasting problems is maintaining private relationships and having issues with self-esteem. During the last 8 years or so, I decided to try and build up a company of my own, a startup if you will, and see what becomes of if. I was expecting it would be a lot of work, long hours and ever lasting battle with other competitors on the market (Telecom related business). To cut the long story short, due to some wrong decisions and volatile relationships between people I trusted, everything ended in, well, a disaster.

The point I'm trying to make here is that the zeal that sparks the initial idea and usually sustains it for quite some time, can only be stretched so far. Once your enthusiasm starts to plummet, it feels like you're having withdrawal symptoms from coming of some imaginary high tech drug that kept you going for all those years. Only then, your vision becomes unclouded and masks come off. Unfortunately, this moment is also a herald of imminent out of control spiral that was probably over due, and just lurking and waiting to make its presence known.

In my bespoke opinion, it is the people that are the sole pillars of startups, not the fancy tech, products, programming languages, web sites, etc. I know that now, and I have also came to understand some terms like not-invented-here syndrome, unicorn developer, team-work and some new ones like 10xEngineer. In retrospect, I seemed to have done everything opposite of what I should have done, working basically against myself, my well-being and have completely disregarded the consequences.

The damage is done and my life has been in turmoil ever since. Maybe I'm just a person with weak personality and hyper sensitive reactions, it's difficult to say. I am slowly accepting that categorizing my state as burn-out could be quite accurate.

The double-edged sword, aka WFH

WFH is an acronym for Working From Home (totally invented by yours truly)

Software developers and people in IT industry seem to be obsessed with
WFH, the modern phenomenon made possible by advances in communication technologies. I have read an article the other day, stating that a person experiencing remote work for even a small amount of time, tends to look back at regular office work with disdain.

I disagree with this statement, not by saying that it's statistically inaccurate, but trying to point out that it's unhealthy. Humans are social animals and don't work in a binary 0 || 1 way; we should all abide by the inherent balance our lives so desperately desire, that grey area between 0 and 1.

When someone uses the term "working from home", it usually creates a mental image of something along the lines of this:

img

Maybe there are fortunate ones whose jobs really are a picture perfect postcard, but for the rest of us who experienced the dreadful WFH, it usually boils down to this:

img

The physical part

I am no spring chicken, in a manner so speaking, and time really is relative as it seems to be speeding up 🤔. I am almost 38 and will probably never disembark the coding train.

There is an observable tendency in the coding community to strive for management positions; some see it as a wage increase opportunity, while others just realize that coding is not for them, and can't see themselves engaged in that sort of work in years to come.

Age is not an issue at all but there are some inevitable changes that everyone will have to come to terms with.

  • You will need to get more rest
  • Exercise should be much higher on your TODO list
  • Don't take it too seriously when younger developers don't agree with you just because they are obsessed with some latest framework, let them play with their toys

Exercise is vital, whether it's jogging, walking, running, hitting the gym or anything that will get you out of the chair. Personally, I opted for Yoga (the physical sweaty part). That's me and my little helper, trying to stay fit:

img

Everyone tries to keep up with latest developments in IT sector as much as humanly possible, but due to exponential increase in the frequency of these changes, you need the capacity of a super human to be able to follow.

These days everything is about Web and Javascript and this is how programming is perceived, for the most part. Younger developers are taught web related technologies as their starting point in the world of programming, which is vastly different than the path of most older developers which usually comprised Pascal, C, COBOL, even ASM.

I would like to conclude this section by recommending the older developers to stick to what they know and even try to perfect it. I am doing the same, and even though the preconceived notion of companies hiring only web proficient developers is somewhat true, there is plenty of work for developers working with low level languages like C and VHDL, just to name a few.

Maybe I'm lucky, but every time I disclose my love for C and low level programming, I somehow get offered a job. Oh, one more thing. When I said earlier to stick to what you know, I didn't mean to do it exclusively. It is a good idea to devote some time to learning new web technologies just to stay in the loop, not to become an expert or anything. Although, maybe there are cases of 40 year old developers becoming experts in bleeding edge technologies; maybe they needed a challenge, a change, who knows, it is not unheard of.

Experience will always be valued, and every company needs both younger less experienced developers who get less fatigued by working long hours, and older more experienced ones who, like it or not, have some age induced limits.

The conclusion

I have worked from home for the last 8 years, and at first I thought it was awesome, but I have eventually developed social anxiety and myriad of other issues. Having a place of work, being surrounded by actual people and not exclusively using Slack or some other chat tool is essential, in my humble opinion. I am currently unemployed, still working from home without my pants and confirming the stereotype.

After careful consideration and being advised by professionals, my conclusion is this: the best setup for a software developer or anyone spending most of their time in front of the screen is to balance the office and WFH, and strive for the 50/50 ratio. This might not work for everybody, but it's something to contemplate about.

My story is not unique. I'm sure there's plenty of similar ones, and one of the reasons that sparked this article is my desire to share the experience, and convey my thoughts to people in similar positions. Being an introvert myself, writing comes more naturally to me than verbal communication. The quest I'm currently embarking on is the one of self reflection and self-criticism; I am trying to get out of my comfort zone and accept a job position which would force me to socialize with real humans, and spend some time in an actual office. I was also given an option to work from home or organize my place of work to my liking. Difficult as it already is, I am not going down the path of 100% WFH, so I will try starting with 3 days in the office and 2 days at home, but honestly, I don't know what to expect.

Thank You for reading this article. Writing also serves a purpose of being a stress mitigation activity; I've just discovered this now in my 30s and am immensely grateful for the realization that there is one more activity which efficiently stimulates my brain to reward me with dopamine rush, resulting in a sense of fulfillment.

Discussion (17)

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romainverbeke profile image
Romain Verbeke

I am also one of those "lucky" few who can work from home, even work from anywhere as long you have internet and make a living out of it and i can TOTALLY relate to what you say:
The best setup for a software developer or anyone spending most of their time in front of the screen is to balance the office and WFH, and strive for the 50/50 ratio

I literallly came out of a long discussion with an old friend and telling him the ideal way to handle WFH is to work in an office and be able to talk with people physically half of the time.

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vimmer9 profile image
Damir Franusic Author

Hehe great, you obviously understand me then. Point your old friend to my article, he will realise that your experience is a shared one 😉.

Thanks for reading

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zakwillis profile image
zakwillis

Hello Damir. A lot of information in here. Thanks for being honest and putting your perspective across. There is too much to cover but will mention a few observations.

I have been working on getting a new version of a platform out for property since November. It is an insane amount of work and it is lonely. It takes huge amounts of commitment and being in a job/contract is way easier. I have deliberately taken gaps to work on this in the past too.

The one thing I did last November was to completely evaluate all the code/prototypes I wrote for the platform before. Much of this was written in evenings and on weekends. Being honest about what was written before completely refocused the attention on what was needed. I am sure you know what you are doing, but this can help a lot.

I think wfh comes down to be completely comfortable with yourself. I am not an introvert, so being able to keep yourself going and liking your own company is important. Too many people's social life comes from their work, and most work has a degree of falsity to it. So, it is more enjoyable to meet friends and family to enjoy more wholesome interactions than the people at work who can maybe only share 10% of the real them with you.

The challenge you and I have is that developing software by yourself is REALLY slow. I am way faster working from home, but the platform takes time to evolve. This means, that the few people you do talk to can't understand why it is taking so long. So you get zero positive feedback. This takes a lot of strength. I explain that the clients I work for, may have a team of 4-10 developers, and have a budget for 2 years on a project. This means, even if you can be four times more efficient, you are talking three years of solitary coding. This is enough to drive most people mad. (I do not plan to spend three years at home writing code :)).

Goal setting is vital. It is highly unlikely a software project/platform can work with just one developer and so part of the SDLC is that it will evolve to being office/team based.

For certain, I empathise a lot with what you said.

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vimmer9 profile image
Damir Franusic Author

First, I would like to thank You for soldiering through to the end of the article. Secondly, I completely understand your point, and the advice conveyed by the article is that everybody should take some time to think before ignorantly accepting the terms of employment.

Sometimes you just have to accept anything to stay afloat, financially speaking. I worked on a single project for 2 years completely alone, followed by another one that took another 2 to complete. Needless to say, it completely destroyed my psyche. People have different personalities and react differently in various scenarios. Some are even unaware of their own character traits and are forcing themselves slowly but surely into a full-on burnout.

After having been through a lot during the last 3 years, I had to completely reinvent myself, and this is one of the reasons I started being a part of this community. My viewpoint on life had to change and strive towards proactivity, rather then submission.

Hopefully this article will reach its intended audience and encourage people to take a step back before making critical decisions. I am also starting a new job tomorrow, and have stated in advance that I'm leaving at the first sign of potential burnout.

There are numerous articles on this or similar topics, some are more personal then others, but they all speak of the same inherent problems of this day and age.

Yours truly,
DF

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zakwillis profile image
zakwillis

Hi Damir. No problem, thanks for writing it. Obviously this was your approach and my approach is still a learning curve.

The one thing I learned, this time round, was to try and come out with a number of tangible products which could get taken forward as individual products to market. Before, I thought I had a great insight into the property market and if I built it how I would like it, people would come. Then I listened to people and changed my approach and got wrapped up in knots. Some of this advice was legal, some from people who were well meaning or people who weren't really friends at all. It takes time to figure this all out.

I looked back on previous versions and realised that the concepts were muddled, certain screens were poorly implemented and users probably wouldn't understand it. There was little or no automation and everything was small MVP demos.

I figured out - in my case, the most important thing is to have a platform capable of delivering different business angles. This will allow me to pivot the product to the audience IF I CHOOSE. In other words, build a core platform and then the specific reports and data. This may mean I can offer the platform as a product independent of my original idea.

This is the opposite of most advice given to startups, build an MVP and keep getting investment. I just can't subscribe to that.

Another thing I have done is to speculate/invest in cryptocurrencies, stocks and other assets. This is not enough money to not work, but I should be in a position where I don't lose any money whilst I am not working. It is important to make sure you don't feel like you are losing.

You are right to put your article out. Certainly, many people will go down this path and find they end up not achieving what they intended and impoverish themselves in the process. Take a read of my article which explains examples of bad projects.

Good luck tomorrow.

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vimmer9 profile image
Damir Franusic Author

Thanks, I have just bookmarked it and will read it later.

Yes, tomorrow, the day the Earh will once again stand still 😉

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vimmer9 profile image
Damir Franusic Author

I hope you find a better job, preferably the WFH type, since that's what you think would be your best option. I shared your persuasion years ago, but had an unfortunate experience that this article tries to convey.

Thanks for reading 😉

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quietobserving profile image
Andrei

Well, this feels a bit like a bait and switch. Working remotely is not the same as WfH. Sure, if you WfH then you most likely work remote but if you work remotely, it doesn't mean you're doing WfH.

I've worked remotely (on and off) for several years and only a small amount of time has been spent on WfH. For the most part I had a very small office rented, but also spent time in some co-working spaces (I loved those, though probably I wouldn't do that now).

My main gripe with WfH is related to work/personal time separation rather than anything else. Every now and then I would also think I would need direct contact with colleagues but that went away almost immediately (I work better when I'm allowed to focus on my own and I'm bad at setting hard boundaries - generally if I can tap someone on the should they can do it right back at me).

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vimmer9 profile image
Damir Franusic Author

I appreciate your comment and would like to thank you for reading the article. It's always useful to gather the variety of other experiences and opinions, since everyone has their own story to tell. Thank you for sharing yours.

DF

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Travis Boss

I myself can work from home any day, but can go in to an office any day. I usually do Friday's at home, most in my office do anyways. So the rest of the week I am in sitting with everyone else doing the "office thing". My client I work with though is remote to me and have never met them face to face so adding to that the ways I talk to them are the same at home or at the office. The biggest different is other people and lunch and learns :-D

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Chris Achard

Do you have access to any co-working spaces around? I wonder if that would help balance out some of the stress and social isolation that can happen with WFH... Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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vimmer9 profile image
Damir Franusic Author

Not yet. Starting with a new job next week and will see how tings will progress. I will have the freedom to organise my office/wfh ratio, so let's see how it goes 😁. Thank you very much for reading.

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JedDevs

Great article and a much needed one!

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Damir Franusic Author

Thank You very much for reading my story 😉

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ahmedabdo97 profile image
ahmedabdo97

Great article although I am a beginner and hopefully by finishing my training to find WFH would be better since already not so social person

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vimmer9 profile image
Damir Franusic Author

The only important thing in life is to find balance; an ordinary word everyone is familiar with, though us humans are usually drawn towards the state of imbalance. I wrote the article as a warning for people like myself, the imbalanced ones.

If you're just starting, I wouldn't worry about it too much. As long as you're aware of potential issues, you're also able to act upon them should they aware become problematic.