Telecommuting: Brave New World

There's always a struggle between being comfortable and being free. For the last three years, I've chosen the latter. I moved from a very secure, big company job to one that would be dependent on continuing ad revenue and user growth in the tumultuous world of social networking. It was a grand experiment. To be on the edge and feel passionate about what you're making is very rewarding, but it also comes with a ton of stress and uncertainty. But once you've made your choice to take the ride, you've simply got to face your fears and roll with the punches. Until that ride ends and you get to make the choice all over again. Comfort or freedom? Which will it be?

It's an amazing time to be a software developer. Information technology has worked itself into pretty much every aspect of our lives. Being a code monkey is so twentieth century. Now we are the architects of the future, not simply building tools, but rather writing the binary-based rules that will effect the way we socialize, collaborate, create, and consume for years to come.

Needless to say, I had some high standards for my next job.

The problem is that my province is currently more interested in investing in the tar sands than in a Canadian version of Silicon Valley. To be fair, I know a lot of people who are trying really hard to change this, and progress is being made with various grants and initiatives from the province. But at the end of the day, it can be pretty difficult to find interesting work at a reasonable wage for experienced programmers in this province.

As a programmer, you learn a variety of techniques for solving problems. One of the simplest and most effective of these (when you can use it) is to reexamine your assumptions. After talking with a few colleagues, I began to wonder if I was paying too much attention to the location variable. Just for kicks, I decided to pretend that it didn't matter. After all, this is the age of the Internet, where information can travel around the world in seconds. Does a programmer really need to be local these days to be effective?

The minute I eliminated the location requirement, a world of interesting work opened up, and eventually I found a very cool company in San Francisco that was making web-based collaboration tools for the video production world. Even better, they're really open minded about giving this small town Canadian boy a shot at telecommuting.

At the mention of this, friends and colleagues divided quickly into two camps. There's the camp that sees the potential and the opportunity in the situation, and then there's the "what are you getting yourself into?" camp. Both camps have my best interests at heart and only time will tell which one knew best. But for me, right now, it's simply a question of freedom vs. comfort. And I still have enough energy to be uncomfortable for a while. Exchanging a little comfort for the chance to remove the authority that my location has over the kind of work I can do seems worth doing. And, after all, my last career decision was also met with a ton of "what are you getting yourself into?" stares, yet I still count it as one of the best decisions I've ever made.

I have no illusions going into this. I hate thinking about money and I'm going to have to think about it in a big way. My taxes next year are going to be a nightmare compared to their current simplicity. I'm going to have to deal with bank fees on exchanging between U.S. and Canadian dollars. At least for the short term, I'll have to accept the uncertainty of being an independent contractor and all the complications that entails. Then there's the extra discipline involved in making a telecommute situation work. I think there will be a lot of advantages in terms of reducing distractions. I often do my best work before everyone comes into or after everyone leaves the office. But communication with co-workers will be more difficult and it may be lonely at times. Will it work? Who knows? What I do know is that I've got a company that's doing great stuff and that's willing to meet me half way on this new grand experiment, and the only times I've ever really regretted over the years were when I decided that comfort was more important than pushing my limits.

I plan to give updates as frequently as possible while I'm on this little adventure. If you're an old hat at the telecommute game, I'd love to get your advice. If you're any of my new co-workers trying to get to know me from afar, hello! I'm excited to be working with you. And if you were ever interested in telecommuting but wondered where to start, well... here you are. This is the ground floor. All I'm going on right now is some good advice from friends who've done it and the conviction that I can do anything I put my mind to. This could be you!

And it all starts tomorrow ;-) .