Day Four: Made it!

My first week of telecommuting is coming to a close, and you know, all in all, it wasn't too bad. Communication delay was probably the number one difficulty for me, with people being in transition, not being within arm's reach to grab someone I need to talk to, and a few flaky internet connections. But even then, we actually covered quite a lot. I'm not sure that I would expect to do much more in the first week at any other company. And the bigger they are, the more uncomfortable thumb twiddling moments you can expect. I now have a bird's eye view of the product, have been introduced to troubleshooting issues with the live site, even poking around in the logs and S3 a bit in the process (I'm really stoked that I'll be learning more about Amazon EC2 and S3. I'd looked into these when they first came out, but they were still more than what I needed for my various small side projects, and I ended up going for a Rackspace account instead. I get the feeling that while Rackspace was much easier and cost effective to set up a shared host, it might not be as easy to scale and as dynamic as EC2). The more I poke around in the test code, the more I get a feel for the heartbeat of the site, and I'm even starting to be able to do a bit without any hand holding.

So here's my big idea for the day. Working across a distance doesn't really change the nature of what you do during a day, at least as a programmer. What it does do is amplify everything. In the zone? Being "at home" contributes to this by giving you the absolute most comfortable place you could work, reducing the distractions of co-workers who might be far from in the zone on that particular day (at the office, when one person is not feeling very productive but is feeling sociable, the lack of productivity can spread like wildfire). Now, if you're feeling isolated or having trouble communicating or feeling unproductive, those things can get amplified too. And depending on the measures you put in place early on, working from home can be a blessing or a curse. But I think just being aware of how everything is amplified helps.

Talking to some people, I was worried I'd go a bit stir crazy, but that didn't happen either. I think some of that has to do with the fact that when I wasn't working my day job from home, I was still doing a fair amount of work on projects, etc. in my spare time. So I was used to sitting down for long hours in front of the computer at home to get things done. If not for that, I can see how it would have been a huge shock to the system. If home is already a place that you associate with everything work isn't, then it's a hard place to suddenly make into a work environment.

Now, I say that with the luxury of not having any kids running around trying to get my attention. We have only our fish, Dion*, and he is very nice and quiet when I am working.

What I have noticed is that I appreciate my off time, meeting up with friends for lunch, or even just a short walk to clear my head a little more than I used to. That's probably not so much a factor of working from home as it is a factor of being thrust into a period where a lot of things change really fast. The newness will fade, and with it some of that newfound appreciation. I guess the trick is to just keep finding ways to rediscover it.

Some of the things I'm looking forward to once I get a little more into the groove and I'm a little more confident that I can handle the freedom of being mobile without falling prey to its pitfalls:

  1. Working at coffee shops from time to time! I know it's kind of weird, but one of my favourite things to do is work from a coffee shop where I don't know a soul. The coming and going of people adds a bit of energy you can feed off of, not knowing anyone keeps you from being too distracted, and new surroundings, no matter how generic, makes the odd dull task sort of novel again.

  2. Doing the odd change in city. I don't visit my folks enough. But all I really need is a high speed connection and a laptop and I can work from anywhere. So in the future, I might try spending the odd week back in my hometown, working during the day and catching up in the evening. Plus there'll be even more reason to focus given the tendency for small towns to seem kind of slow once you've gotten used to city life (though I still remember feeling like an absolute hick when I moved to Edmonton to go to school, so I imagine it works the other way too).

That's it for this instalment. And that's it for this week! I will see y'all next week. Same bat time, same bat channel.

** Dion is named after the former leader of the Liberal party, Stephane Dion. He used to have a friend that we called Harper, after Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was about twice the size of poor Dion. We think this is because Harper kept all of the food for himself, always chasing poor Dion away at dinner time. But alas, Harper the fish got a little too used to all that food and eventually ate himself into that fish bowl in the sky, and this is how Dion came to be the only fish in the condo. Draw the parallels to their namesakes if you will, but I insist that the fish situation was never meant to become such an awesome commentary on Canadian politics.*