How to Avoid the Dangers of Entry Level Remote Tech Jobs
Landing a remote job as a programmer, designer, project manager or program manager right out of bootcamp or university is risky. Learn how to protect yourself and your career.
So you’ve come out of dev bootcamp or university tired but inspired. You have astronomically high hopes, a brain overflowing with new knowledge and a not so nice chunk of debt you want to make go away quickly. But it’s all going to be okay. Offers are right around the corner.
But how do you know if the companies you have applied to are good choices for your situation? Are these companies out to use you up and throw you away or are they really interested in you as a long term investment? Ask around and you will hear stories about how some positions are career springboards while others are career deathtraps sometimes within the same company. But how do you tell them apart?
Deathtrap positions often lure you in with better pay, vague words about future profit sharing and promises of training and rapid promotion. They deceive you into feeling like a lottery winner because you know that few people get such a sweet deal fresh out of bootcamp and your ego is screaming that you deserve this. Obviously they see something special in you.
If you park your ego for a moment and insert their promises under a microscope you may uncover blatant signs that they have no intention on delivering on those promises.
The worst offenders spot an opportunity to get some usable code or designs out of you as cheaply as possibly before you stagnate and quit or you are nothing more than a body used to free up senior employees with no consideration for your career growth.
If you somehow manage to bootstrap your own progress they might keep you on a little longer, but every day you stay you are falling behind your peers. Stay long enough and you will begin to doubt your own abilities. Stay even longer and you may hit a career-ending point of no return.
Don’t let that be you.
Of course, not all deathtrap positions are offered with such cold intentions. Some companies genuinely intend to take you on and mold you into their way of doing things while sharpening your skills. They sincerely plan on providing training and mentorship but people get busy. Business needs shift and resources follow. They’ll tell you that they’ll get you back on track after this crisis or once they hire in another senior dev. Be patient. Hang in there.
Chances are, that situation doesn’t just happen once in a company. It’s a recurring pattern that isn’t remedied because that would require admitting a failure to deliver on important promises. Managers tell themselves that it’s better to make more promises and try harder to keep those than fix the original issues.
Fortunately, you can protect yourself from both of these situations.
Before we dive into spotting deathtrap positions, let’s talk about what is best for you.
Although there are plenty junior level positions that can be as effectively mentored remotely as in an office given a decent plan and resources, if you are brand new to programming especially, I will state unequivocally that most of the time you are better off in a supportive office environment where you can sit elbow to elbow with different devs who can facilitate and steer your progress more directly. This also applies to many other areas of professional specialization that require training and real world experience to succeed.
Of course, just because you end up in an office with access to senior team members there is still no automatic guarantee of proper mentorship. So regardless of whether you ultimately decide to accept a work from home position right out of the gate or you decide to spend a training period in an office environment first, you should still ask a raft of questions and push for an acceptable guarantee of mentorship.
An organized mentorship process for turning junior devs into senior software engineers has certain hallmarks you can look for. These include:
- Extensive documentation for architecture, platform, code base, unit-testing docs, procedures, formal design docs, descriptive in-code documentation, etc.
- Example code showing best practices approved and followed by the team.
- A written commitment for a guaranteed minimum number of one on one sessions each week with a senior dev. For remote teams, this can be accomplished through common screen sharing programs or purpose built pair programming solutions.
- You should also expect code reviews with consistent feedback and recommendations. And…
- Access to active support avenues such as team-specific slack channels.
Dig into each commitment the interviewer lists. If it seems like he or she is making up commitments and training strategies on the spot, be incredibly wary of accepting any job offers.
This process should have “graduated” previous juniors into positions of greater responsibility in the past. Ask to speak to a current employee who has been through the junior mentorship program. If they claim that indeed, some have gone through but none of them are still with the company, then it may mean that the program isn’t effective or promotion at the company is frustratingly slow.
If you are called for a second interview, ask to see samples of the different training documentation with your own eyes. This is also a good follow up request in a post-interview thank you email.
Trust but Verify
And don’t forget about checking in on the remote qualifications of the company and staff. They may be full of amazing commitments but if only a portion of their staff is remote or your manager doesn’t have much work from home experience they may not have a clue about how to meet those commitments.
Start out by asking how long the interviewer has been working with the company then ask how long they themselves have been working remotely. If the answers don’t instill confidence don’t let it slide. Ask about the rest of the team and anyone else you will report to. Are they all working remotely? How long have they been with the company? Was everyone just hired or sent to work from home within the last two years? How many of the current team members where they responsible for hiring?
The high water mark for responses to these questions include answers such as:
- The company has been around for 10 years and has always been virtual
- I’ve been working from home for the company for 5 years and worked remotely with another company for 3 years before that.
- I have been a manager over this remote team for the last 4 years and was responsible for hiring half of the 8 person team.
Alarm bells should go crazy if you hear answers such as:
- We just took the company remote this year and we still have a few team members in an office in Denver where the upper management works out of. (There are so many things wrong with this statement that you should place an X next to the company right away. The highlights — or lowlights — include the company being brand new to remote management, mixed in-office and remote teams. And, upper management working from an office where their expectations, prejudices and management style are going to cause friction at all layers in the company.)
- (Similarly, the response) I’m not remote but the rest of my team is. In fact, I’m in the corporate office in Atlanta where I can stay in touch with the boss. (should ring similar alarm bells. Would you really want to be supervised by someone who isn’t also working remotely?)
- (And) I just started working remotely when they hired me to take over this team, but I have been manager for 3 years so you’re in good hands. (um, no I don’t think I am. Never downplay the importance of your manager’s experience working remotely themselves. The difference in their management style and effectiveness will be stark.)
Regardless of when you bring up these serious topics, don’t be afraid to ask too many questions. Remember, they are hiring you for two reasons: 1) you are cheap, and 2) you are an investment. And also don’t forget that you need the best mentorship program you can find. No one ever becomes a successful senior software engineer on their own at home.
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