I built a startup on the side and open-sourced 7 Python libraries thanks to working remotely

1. Hey, can you please introduce yourself?

Hey! My name is Siddhant, and I’m a software developer and entrepreneur located in Munich, Germany. I was born and raised in New Delhi, and after finishing my undergraduation, I moved to Munich for further studies and have been working here since.

Work-wise, I focus mainly on backend and infrastructure work, with frontend mixed in every now and then. My programming language of choice is Python. I’ve been working with Python for slightly more than a decade now and really enjoy building things using it. When not working, I like spending time building side projects, working on a couple of open source packages I maintain, reading, and hiking with my wife and our dog.

The current side-project that takes up most of my time is Developer to Manager, which I launched in October 2018. It’s a platform to help software developers who are considering a career in engineering management. We interview tech leaders at different stages of their careers at different companies, and try to get a sense of what it’s like to be in their shoes. So far we have engineering managers from companies including Twitter, Slack, LinkedIn, etc., and we’re adding more interviews every month.

2. What motivated you to choose remote working?

In my case, remote working chose me.

In 2016, I was working at a small-ish company in Munich, when a professor of mine back from university emailed me about a project that he and a few others were working on. We talked more, and eventually we decided that it would be best if we found a company around the idea and work on it full-time. So I quit my job and co-founded this startup in the German real-estate software sector with 3 other co-founders. This is also currently my main day job.

At the time of founding, all the co-founders were based in different cities (but within Germany), and none of us wanted to move to a whole new city, so the decision was already made for us. Looking back, I don’t think that we thought too much about it. It was more of a “alright, looks like we’re all living in different cities, so let’s figure out how we can make things work”.

I don’t think there was a specific motivation for me to choose remote working. I did always love the idea, but at that time it didn’t have as much momentum as it has now.

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

The initial months of me working remote full-time also happened to be the initial months of me working on my own startup as the only technical co-founder. Anyone who has founded a company before, knows how much work it can be. This meant that the experience of working remotely was overshadowed by working too much. 🤷‍♂️

I’ll still try to focus on the “remote working” aspect of the initial months.

The beginning was great! Before starting, I had no expectations of how it was going to be like, which was nice because I had no “baseline” to compare it to.

One of the things that I loved immediately was that I was no longer wasting time commuting from home to work and back. Even though my commute before wasn’t that bad (about 30-40 minutes one way), it was still time spent doing basically nothing. So it was really nice to be able to finish breakfast, prepare a fresh cup of coffee, and immediately get to work!

Something else I realized was that suddenly I had so much more time at hand. Not having to commute meant I had roughly 2 hours of spare time every single day (1 hour commute and another hour winding up/down). This definitely made me feel a lot more productive.

One of the things I learned fairly early on was that while working from home, I would need to make a distinction between “work”-time and “not work”-time. 

When working out of an office, you see people coming in and leaving at more or less well-defined times. This in turn trains your mind as to what your own working hours should roughly be like. When working from home, there are no such external triggers, and the transition from “I’m working right now” to “I’m done for the day” is very fuzzy. I realized that it helps to set strict working hours for yourself, and only touch the laptop outside of working hours if you really have to.

4. How did you find remote working roles?

As I mentioned earlier, in my case the role found me. But today there are plenty of job boards online with job listings that are 100% remote. Crypto companies in particular tend to be more open to remote work. In case you’re looking for a new role, I would advise looking on these places.

Another option is to ask your current company to convert your role into a partially/fully remote one. Depending on the company policy and your role, it may or may not work. But if you feel that you’ll be more productive working remotely, it might be worth a shot.

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

The best has definitely been flexibility. I live really close to the Alps, so the ability to make use of good weather during a weekday to go hiking, and work instead on a Saturday is super convenient. It also gives me the assurance that my employer trusts me to get work done.

The view from one of the hikes we went on 🏔️

The good is the amount of extra time you feel you have. Like I mentioned earlier, working from home gave me almost 2 hours of extra time every single day, which I chose to invest in working on a couple of open-source projects. 

In the last 3 years, I’ve been able to work on and open-source 7 Python libraries. I don’t think this would’ve been possible had I not had the option of working from home.

“Worst” is a very negative word. So far, I haven’t experienced anything that bad. Overall, I’ve loved every single bit of working remotely. The only thing I don’t necessarily like about remote work is how much it spoils you. There have been days when while working, it suddenly hit me “how the heck did I ever manage to commute to work every single day and back”. I know that this is a very “first-world” problem, but I think that if you’re the kind of person who would enjoy remote work, keep in mind that getting used to the “normal” way of work would be extremely difficult. Once you go remote, there’s no going back.

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

My phone. Not the “smartphone loaded with 100 apps” phone, but just the ability to make regular phone calls.

In remote environments, most of the communication ends up happening over text. As much as the software developer inside me likes text, it’s a one dimensional format. It’s difficult to convey tone or emotions over text. This often results in people misinterpreting sentences. For instance, if a colleague writes “do whatever you want”, I can either interpret it as if they’re giving me complete freedom to make a decision, but it could also just as well mean that they’re being sarcastic.

For this reason, if there’s something important I want to discuss, I usually just pick up the phone and call the other person. All the more so for topics that might be sensitive. I don’t think we humans have evolved enough to survive in a text-only environment as compared to actually listening to someone else’s voice.

Other than that, at work we use the standard set of tools – things like Slack, Trello, Hangouts, etc. Since my colleagues are all living “just” a couple of hundred kilometers away, we also try to get together every 2-3 months and have face-to-face discussions.

To be honest though, I’ve started using less and less tools. I haven’t completely eliminated them, and in a setting where you’re working with others, you cannot eliminate them. Instead, I try to not keep them open all the time. For instance, Slack is something that’s supposed to be left running in the background, but I only open it 2-3 times a day and then close it as soon as I’m done. My rationale behind this is that if there’s something super urgent, I’ll either receive an email or I’ll receive a phone call. So there’s no point letting Slack notifications distract me.

I feel this kind of setup also depends on the size of the company you’re working in. But for my current company size, it works. 🤷‍♂️

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

I don’t think I’ve had one specific moment which was particularly exciting/hilarious. But being able to work remotely has helped me establish habits which make work in general more exciting.

For instance, I start my day early, and one of the first things I do is go for a morning run along with my dog. Spending 45 minutes early in the morning would have been tricky had I had a “normal” office to go to. But since there’s no commute involved, I can choose to spend that time on running instead. 

Similarly, I find it exciting that right after finishing my breakfast, I can just walk over to my desk with a cup of freshly prepared coffee and immediately get to work.

My dog trying to get my attention while I work is also pretty exciting 🐶

Say what you want, but I derive joy from small things. 🙂

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

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Being able to work 100% remote is a privilege. I seriously hope it becomes the new normal, but as of beginning 2020 it’s a luxury. So treat it that way. Keep in mind that your employer is trusting you to get work done from the comfort of your home (or wherever you choose to work from). Don’t take that trust for granted. Set strict working hours, and work while it’s time to work instead of spending time reading Hacker News.

When in doubt, prefer to over-communicate rather than under-communicate. Communication is one of the biggest challenges in a remote setup, so always give as much information as you possibly can.

If you’re working from home, make sure that there’s a dedicated spot in your home which is meant to get work done. Don’t mix work and play, and make sure that you’re keeping the boundaries strict. Avoid working too much, because it can affect your time with your family. But at the same time, don’t watch TV while you’re working. 🙂

Keep distractions to a minimum. From time to time, we all have the need to get some deep work done. Make sure that your work environment allows you to focus. This involves taking care of both external factors (loud TV, for instance) and internal ones (the impulse to respond to all notifications right away).

And finally, take good care of yourself. Get enough physical movement everyday. To some extent, remote work can be isolatory, so make arrangements accordingly.

For example, plan enough “out-of-home” activities so you’re not stuck at home all the time. This is especially important if you’re the kind of person who needs regular contact with people.

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

I’ll talk about how I’d like for it to shape up in the near future.

One thing I’d like to understand better is online marketing. People (software developers in particular) tend to scoff at the words “marketing” and “sales”, but in reality, marketing is nothing more than making others aware (nicely) of what you’ve built, and sales is the end result of when that effort succeeds. Having gained the experience of getting a product off the ground from scratch, I’ve realized first hand how important these non-programming activities are.

Similarly, I’ve slowly come to appreciate more and more the Indie Hackers movement – the idea of a small set of people (sometimes even just one person) building products that help a particular niche do their work more efficiently. And because of the small team sizes, I feel indie software lends itself well to remote work too.

Other than that, I find that I can personally identify with the core ideas behind Humane Tech and Privacy Conscious Software. So this is something I’d like to incorporate more and more into what I’m working on.

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

I don’t know, to be honest. While I certainly expect remote work to become more “normal” in the future, it’s more of a “hope” rather than an “expectation”. I understand that remote is not something that suits everybody. Not all software products are going to be well-served by a remote development model. Similarly, not everyone is going to be happy about working remotely. So it’s difficult to make predictions here.

Although, one thing that I can say with some level of certainty is that the number of remote jobs are going to increase. The interest in remote work has constantly been increasing, and at least right now I don’t see why this trend should flip, given all the other variables remain constant. This, in turn, should help the infrastructure around remote work get better in the coming years.

But like I said, it’s difficult to make predictions here, so I’m just going to sit back and watch how things develop!

11. Where can we follow you on?

You can find my personal website at https://sgoel.org. This is also where I write articles on topics that are important to me.

I’m not super active on social media, and the only online presence I maintain these days is Github and LinkedIn.

My contact information is on my website. If you have any questions or comments about this interview, me, or anything else really, please do reach out!

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

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