How I Started Working Remotely Before It Was Cool
A short tale about how I transitioned from a university dropout into a location-independent professional.
But before we begin, let’s address the obvious elephant in the room. Why would I share a story about me going remote almost a decade ago when so many people have been made to work remotely in the past two years anyway?
Well. While the remote work advocates are working hard to make remote-first the new standard, the corporate lobby is still going strong. It’s going to take a couple of years, if not more, to make remote-first the new default for everyone. It may differ per country or region, but that’s what it is right now.
Therefore, I believe these lines might still be helpful to someone. Even if it’s just one person benefiting from my story, it was worth writing down.
Eight years ago, in 2013, I started as a junior developer in a local digital agency. It was located just a brisk 10-minute walk away from my Uni.
It took some careful scheduling, but I managed to attend most of the lectures and work part-time simultaneously. I even got to enjoy the student’s life after dark. At least most of the days I did. Sadly, energy drinks were on my daily grocery lists at that time. 🤢
Now, let’s fast forward not-so-far into the future. I became increasingly bored with the pace of learning new things in Uni. Subjects I did care about were covered marginally. Subjects I had no interest in were covered, well, much more. None of the standards we were taught felt like they came from the real world. It was difficult to justify learning new material because it felt disconnected from reality.
It was quite the opposite at my job. Each day, there was a new, real-world skill I could learn. Actionable stuff I could bill to clients. No vague academia crap. Also, free coffee and gym. 💪
This is how it really felt at the time. I’m not trying to ride any academia-hating wave here.
Anyway — the point is — I felt stuck in Uni. And I have been learning new things extremely fast at my part-time junior developer position.
So I dropped out. Switched to full-time work.
I still lived in the dormitory at this point. You know, for the vibes.
No, that’s a lie. It was because I couldn’t afford my own place yet. This was why I started the part-time gig in the first place — Moneyz. Shocker, I know.
Note: And yes, academic education together with a degree can be beneficial in a lot of different ways. What’s even more valuable are the connections you make during that time.
Many of my former peers had already finished their masters, and I had enough time to compare, justify, or regret my decision. I will probably dive into that in the near future. Follow me on Twitter if you want to get notified.
Cool story, bro. But, could you, like, get to the point?
There isn’t much to tell. Web developers can naturally work remotely, after all. Right?
Well, yes. But actually, no. Surely not as a junior-level employee in 2014, somewhere in Central Europe.
You see, juniors can’t be trusted. Apparently. And the office is better for communication. Apparently. It’s also much better for distractions and endless interruptions. It is a place of numerous useless discussions and zero deep work. And the meetings! You gotta love those. ❤️
Long story short, remote work was a no-no when I started. However, things got better over time. And it didn’t even take that long.
A few months in, one home-office day per week wasn’t an issue.
Leaving for the afternoon to work from a lecture I wanted to attend wasn’t a problem either.
What did I do to “earn” this?
I delivered. On-time. Always. I became trustworthy within the company. This started opening some doors. Getting paid for attending dev conferences, flexible hours, and on-demand home office. It all came along with the reputation I’ve gained in a relatively short time (months).
Note: I dropped out, but kept access to the schedule of all lectures. So I just showed up when I felt like it could be useful or interesting. When it wasn’t, I defaulted to work and made a few bucks.
This went on for some time. Eventually, I transitioned to a senior and later into a managing position. But even with these perks, it wasn’t quite remote. Not by a long shot. That change came in later.
Being my own boss was always one of the life goals I set back in high school. So, in the summer of 2015, it felt like a good opportunity to go on with it.
There were other contributing factors for my decision:
- People I became friends with started leaving for better careers,
- there was nowhere to grow for me in the company anymore,
- the dev manager position was an awful fit for me,
- and finally — good old burnout.
In 2015, I became a location-independent freelance full-stack developer.
The plan? Blank. Nothing. I had about three years’ worth of savings in my bank account, so the “plan” was to experiment and see what would stick.
My “vacation” didn’t take long. I received job offers from my former colleagues literally the same week. Most of them had their own teams, departments, or even companies at this time. It was their choice whom to hire — without an interview. I even got an offer from the company I’ve just left — to help them develop a new line of products. Remotely.
I accepted 2 of those offers. Both part-time, both fully remote with flexible hours, both with double my previous hourly rate. 🤑
That’s how I started working remotely before it was cool.
All this 👆 took place in late 2015. So much more has happened since then. Me selling all my stuff and (finally) becoming a digital nomad. Traveling around the world. Launching several online startups. Meeting fascinating people. Making new friends with both locals and other travelers.
But that’s a story for another time.
Follow me on Twitter if you are interested in remote work, digital nomading, or building Indie SaaS.
Be good at your craft. Be reliable with good communication. Make friends and network. Remote opportunities will arise automatically.