About Cooking Pasta, Writing JavaScript and Working Remotely

1. Hey, can you please introduce yourself?

Hi! I’m Francesco Agnoletto, a 27-year old from Italy, currently living in Spain. I work remotely as a JavaScript Developer for Streamroot, a company recently acquired by CenturyLink.

A little bit about me and how I became a web developer: Some years ago while I was still in University (Cultural Mediation in Padua), I started feeling that the course wasn’t taking me anywhere. Also, I was seeing my collegemates graduate and not get the jobs that we all wanted.

So, I decided to teach myself web development and forge my own path. After a year-long journey, I got myself in a good enough place to earn a living with code. I’ve been doing that ever since! 😃

In my spare time, I like to write down what I learned over the years and post it on the web (usually on my blog). It’s a way to give back to new developers, something that I would have liked when I was going through the same journey. I mostly post about my experiences working remotely and front-end technologies like React and TypeScript.

As a good Italian, I love cooking. That’s one of the reasons why I moved to Spain! I can have fresh ingredients for all my recipes. I am a master of pasta and everything Mediterranean! I also run a lot, read even more and binge on Netflix. 😋

pasta made with homemade pesto

2. What motivated you to choose remote working?

I decided to pursue a remote career when I was still at University. I had a few months break from studies and decided to visit a part of my family living in Sicily. The experience was life-changing!

In Sicily, I had fresh ingredients every day to fuel my cooking hobby. I could get everything I needed from local farmers, fishermen, and winemakers. As a cherry on top, the weather was perfect – sunny & hot but not sweaty. I had the opportunity to see a gorgeous natural landscape as well as the ancient ruins of old civilizations.

While this might all seem perfect, there was a major drawback. I had no internet. At all! 😕

I remember while I was at the airport to go back home after this idyllic adventure, I checked the news for the first time in two months. Only then did I discover about the 2014 People’s Climate March, the iCloud hacks and the Ebola outbreaks. I felt like Philip Fry on Futurama, when he wakes up a thousand years in the future. 😮

At that point I decided I wanted to live in a place like Sicily, but to have access to the internet as well. After a few years, when I was ready to get a serious job as a web developer, I moved to Valencia, Spain.

valencia, spain

3. What were your initial months like? Did it live up to your expectations?

The initial months while working remotely were really hard for me. In an office you have an environment that stimulates working – everyone around you is, so you do as well. However, if you are working from home, you are surrounded by a completely different environment. It is not amenable to work at all!

Thinking I could brute force the problem by just working more, I started working from the morning when I would wake up until before going to sleep. This was totally unhealthy and essentially made my home an office. I could never switch off from work, so I worked all the time. I decided that I needed to have two separate spaces: one for living and another for working.

So I joined a coworking space. It wasn’t a very big one – most days I was the only guy in there. This change didn’t help a lot though as I continued to waste time and overwork. Once I even got locked in the coworking office because the owner thought everyone had left. Luckily he came back to get me out a couple of hours later.

It took some time for me to realize that the best way to work remotely has nothing to do with where or whom you are working with, but has everything to do with your attitude. In my case, the coworking space only changed the location. It didn’t help me in holding myself accountable for my work.

Make a plan for your day. Write everything you are going to work on. Set a time when you will stop working; when your colleagues leave the office they stop working too. With a clear plan, I realized I could get even more work done than my colleagues in the office. Being by myself, I could avoid all those little “time-wasters” like the tap on the shoulder or a coffee break – things that an office environment promotes.

my workspace

4. How did you find remote working roles?

I like to use AngelList to find interesting startups to work for. My current job at Streamroot started with a conversation there.

I prefer startups over conventional companies for many reasons and remote friendliness is one of them. I quickly realized that big companies don’t deal very well with remote work. Usually, the sheer size and already established methodology make working remote very hard or even impossible. Startups, on the other hand, manage and in some cases even promote remote work.

Many become uninterested the moment they hear the word “startup”, largely claiming a lack of job security and reliability. I disagree. In an industry where more than 50% of devs change jobs every two years or less, the fear of startups failing is neither justified nor fair. Startups offer a way to get to know many things really fast while being more open to discuss and improve themselves.

While it’s not really a startup anymore, I still feel like I’m working for one at Streamroot, and that’s what I like.

5. What have been the best, good and worst aspects of remote working for you?

When you see colleagues daily in an office, you can like them, dislike them, or be indifferent. But when you can only see them rarely, meeting the team you have been working for months is a special feeling. It’s like meeting friends you have not seen in a long time.

The second best thing about working remotely is that you can choose your own environment. Pair that with the lack of interruptions, and you can really get some quality work done. 😎

Good things about working remote are the small optimizations that you can implement to make work more efficient. Pick up a pen and a piece of paper, write down daily todos, send a few messages on Slack and prioritise replies based on their urgency. 

A well-written Slack message can avoid a meeting and sometimes a 5-minutes call is better than a message. The answer required and the context of the conversation decides the mode of communication that should be chosen. While working remotely, you learn this difference much faster as you are far away from the people who need you and the people your work depends on.

The worst thing about working remotely has to be when you are in a team that does not want to adapt to a remote working schedule. How many times is a decision taken while on a lunch break or grabbing a coffee before work? Remote employees do not participate in these discussions and are therefore in the dark about everything that is not explicitly written down. 

Having requirements changed and getting to know about it days or weeks after the decision was taken is bad. It hurts the team and the whole company. Even one single remote employee means that communication methods have to change and adapt.

6. What tools do you swear by while working remotely?

For remote developers, a good knowledge of Git is essential. Learn how to use it effectively in a group setting and share it with your team. Having to deal with git hell is bad, but even worse when you are not in the same office.

Slack works perfectly for day-to-day communication, but anything more permanent needs to live somewhere else. Create a wiki, documentation or whatever else you might need outside of Slack. The search input will only help you so much in finding a conversation from 6 months ago.

Not everyone likes music, but a nice playlist on Spotify can really enhance your working hours. If you get easily distracted, Lofi and other similar genres usually have no singing or talking. I find it really nice when I want to focus more than usual.

The last one I can’t seem to replace is pen and paper. Being able to write down everything that happens or needs to happen in a day is vital for me and I consume pretty much a page of my notebook every day. It is better than Slack, needed in every meeting, and makes you look more professional.

7. Your most exciting/ hilarious experience since you started working remotely.

I have many! Usually, when we meet colleagues for the first time or after long periods of remote work, a lot of funny episodes tend to happen.😄

This September I finally met the team I’ve been working with for almost a year. We had a running joke/ bet around how tall each of us was. I remember doing very complex calculations based on positions at the desk, random pictures and such.

But reality can often be funnier than random conjectures. The colleague I believed to be shorter than me was actually towering over me, so much so that I had to look up to see his face!

For an exciting one, I think the whole merger with CenturyLink this year takes the cake. It coincided with me visiting the Paris office. Between getting to know my new colleagues and eating a ton of French cheeses, I really had a good time.

from my time at paris

8. What is your golden advice to a new remote worker?

Communication and organization.

Learn how to communicate effectively and write everything down where it belongs. Don’t over-rely on Slack or calls. If your company has a plan for zoom or similar software, record calls and upload them to a shared archive so they are always available to the team.

Be mindful of where to work remotely. Being the first remote person in a company working in a co-located setting is a huge risk. Teach your colleagues that passive office communication will not reach you unless actively written down.

Also, communicate what you are working on each day, and make sure you know what your team is doing too. Don’t leave anything to chance.

Be organized. It’s easy to get lost when nobody is keeping you accountable. Keep yourself accountable and don’t waste time. Have a plan every day and make sure to follow it. When you are working, you are working. Be precise, don’t get distracted and you will accomplish more than you would in an office.

9. How do you see your career shaping up and your goals?

Career-wise, I’m where I want to be – growing with an interesting company and doing interesting work. My only wish is for my work to be good. As both Plato and Buddha believed, doing good will attract more good to you 😌.

I’ve seen career being discussed many times as something that delays and hinders your goals. Raising a family while working until evening every day, being able to practice sports or any other hobby while tired after a long commute.

A remote career helps make these objectives easier by valuing the time you have more. It removes all the awful commuting and distractions of an office environment. It is not an instant solve-all button – it requires some personal development to be both productive and efficient with your time.

Once I was able to get the best out of working remotely, I found myself with more quality time for what I want to achieve in life outside work.

10. How do you expect remote working to evolve in the future?

I see remote work becoming more popular every day. There is only so much a company can offer when hiring. Some people don’t want to grow a family in San Francisco and some prefer to go to the beach on weekends or live in their home country.

Few companies can offer salaries that can make someone move to a different city or country. Even fewer can do so for an expert in the field. Everyone reaches a point where the quality of life is more important than money, no matter how high the salary.

By disallowing remote work, companies are spending more and more money to tip the scale in their favor when hiring talent. Remote jobs can help provide high-quality employees that would either not be available or be too expensive to relocate.

The problem with remote work from a company’s perspective arises from the way its processes are structured. For pure development-related tasks, it’s rather easy to work remotely as most tools can be used regardless of the location of your colleagues. 

The challenge though is for managerial work. Changing an office-bureaucracy with a remote-based alternative can be difficult, and that’s the blocker for most companies. Solve for remote management and you will be able to build your company for remote.

11. Where can we follow you on?

My personal blog

Github

Linkedin profile

Sometimes I post on twitter too!


Are you a remote worker too?
Would you like to share you story?
Just reach us at hrishikesh@remote.tools!

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