Short treatise on why to become a remote developer

By Daniele, on 2017年3月

Forget everything you’ve been told about working the standard 9 to 5 and do yourself a favor, read this.

The Industrial Revolution commenced in Europe in the mid 18th and lasted until the early 19th century. This phase in human history saw millions of people migrate from the countryside to the cities in search of work.

Vast swaths of Europe's population moved from villages into cities because a revolution in technology offered unthinkable job prospects, higher wages and the promise of a better lifestyle.

Prior to the industrial revolution, people usually took on their parents’ profession. Your father is a tailor? You will become a tailor. Your father is a farmer? You will become a farmer. No ifs and buts. Reality was simpler back then. One’s forefathers paved the way for successive generations, and the easiest path to survival was to follow in their footsteps.

The Industrial Revolution literally metamorphosed this modum operandi. A village tailor’s son could work in a steel factory in London. A farmer’s son now had a slew of new, previously unthinkable job prospects presented to him. He could work in a cement factory or operate the recently patented paper machine in Paris. This is an astounding development in human history and, interestingly, one that is reoccurring right under our eyes.

Now, the computer age is upon us. The first major wave of opportunities came with the invention of the computer itself. The second, with the development of the internet. The third, and potentially the most alarming, is the recent leap forward in advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence. All these have not only created millions of jobs, they have also created the potential for many to lose theirs. One is no longer obliged to go to a bank and speak to a human to withdraw money, as was the case just a generation ago. ATMs are ubiquitous. Computers are everywhere and thus the minds behind the software that operate them should be of utmost integrity, and of the finest quality.

Not only should we be seeking fine minds to write the software that runs the machines which surround us, we should also stop thinking of the office as the optimal place for human concentration.

In 1637, French lawyer and mathematician Pierre de Fermat conjectured that no three positive integers a, b, and c satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than 2. It took 379 years for humanity to finally prove the validity of this ostensibly simple conjecture. In 2016, after Sir Andrew Wiles spent his youth pondering this extraordinarily difficult conundrum, he secluded himself at home for six years. Six years of utter dedication to solve one of the hardest mathematical riddles in human history. His efforts were well rewarded, as he finally received the prestigious Abel Prize and pushed the misty limits of mathematics just a step further.

These two historical events – the Industrial Revolution and the resolution of Fermat’s Theorem via seclusion from secular distractions – should be indicative of the following truths:

  1. Major shifts in technology allow previously unthinkable work opportunities. Being physically bound to one location just because that’s how it was done in the past does not guarantee a better lifestyle or better opportunities for growth, nor does it offer the maximum benefit for society.
  2. While human beings are social animals and working in an office is often comforting, it is only through tremendous work in solitude that the human brain can push itself to its fullest potential. Shakespeare did not require an office to write Macbeth. Einstein was reportedly at his best when daydreaming in his studio or taking walks in solitude around 112 Mercer Street.

Working remotely allows one to satisfy the aforementioned conditions. The computer and internet revolution has provided a seismic shift from work customs of yore. It has made it so that working in an office no longer makes logical sense. A pull request for a software project coming from Mumbai is equally valid as one coming from Miami. My duty as a programmer is first and foremost to solve difficult problems – not to physically be present somewhere in a suit and tie. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, my mind is sharpest when spending lavish amounts of time thinking and wrangling with a problem in solitude.

Remote development offers the combined benefit of allowing one to work with the finest minds while eliminating the friction of having to commute, being 10 minutes late to the office due to traffic, and a number of other issues that are fundamentally irrelevant to one's actual work. It offers the possibility to dedicate oneself to long-term projects and exert one's brainpower on things that matter.

One's best work is often performed in moments of pressure and solitude. At the end of the day, few will remember whether I wrote this short treatise from an office, my home or even a café. What they will remember, rather, is the quality and content of my writing. The proof? I'm sure you can remember my opening sentence.

You too, dear reader, should consider the prospect of offering the better side of yourself by re-examining the stale construct of a 9 to 5 job at the office.