Working Remotely As A Junior Developer
Author: Brandon Hare, Software Engineer
The impression of remote work often conjures up images of lounging on the couch or on the beach with a laptop. While working remotely does often provide a ton of flexibility and freedom, at the end of the day, you still need to get the job done. Throughout my career, I’ve worked in an office, a company that went remote for the pandemic, and a remote-first company. I can honestly say at this point I doubt I would ever want to go back to an office after working from home, especially when working for a company where everyone’s remote. But it’s not for everyone, and I would argue it’s particularly challenging for juniors.
It’s tough being a junior developer. Not only are you trying to learn the code and the craft of software development, but there’s all of the other stuff on top of it. What’s agile? How do I work with product and UX and QA? Do I actually need to learn these roles as well if I’m at a smaller company? It can be overwhelming. The challenges that come from working remotely can often exacerbate the rest of those challenges. I would argue it is far more difficult to work remotely as a junior engineer precisely because you already have so much on your plate.
When I think back to my own junior days, I remember being wracked with impostor syndrome. I was a non-traditional engineer without a 4 year degree, so I already felt behind my peers. It was an exciting time, but also a scary one. I had no idea what I was doing most of the time. Luckily, I worked with some extremely talented (and patient!) folks that took the time to coach me, answer my questions, and give me feedback on my code. The number one thing that really kick-started my confidence and performance in the early days was mentorship, and that is something that is much trickier to wrangle working remotely.
Being immersed with the people you work with, both directly on your team and even on other teams, makes it easier to engage with them, to ask them questions, and to learn from what they’re doing by observation. Immersion is not impossible when everyone is remote, but it is much more difficult. Working remotely can be very isolating, and as a junior, it adds a whole other layer of complexity to learning your craft. However, if you are set on working remotely or are only able to find a remote job, there are a few things you can do to make sure you are successful.
It is easy to be forgotten and overlooked when working remotely. This can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection from your team. You have to work that much harder to be seen and heard. Proactivity is a must for remote work. Be that proverbial squeaky wheel. If you’re struggling, or have a question, make sure to speak up. Set up one on one meetings with your team to get to know them and start to learn their expertise. Ask to pair with your teammates on stories and code reviews to get that valuable experience. You should always advocate for yourself, but you must make it a priority when working remotely in order to truly be successful.
Invest in your setup
If you’re going to be full time remote, you’ve got to invest in your workspace and your tools. Your employer may or may not provide some of this for you, but you have to create a space that is conducive to good work and concentration. A desk, chair, monitors, keyboard, mouse, and so on are tools that make your work much more efficient and pleasant. Don’t cheap out on your set up. Similarly, if working from your house is not ideal for you, check out coworking spaces near you. It can give you some much needed social interaction and possibly even mentorship opportunities.
Learn effective communication
One huge hurdle for remote work is communication. Without the benefits of face to face interaction, you must make sure you can communicate effectively with your teammates, your manager, and the business. Most remote teams use several tools for this (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc). Make sure you truly learn the tools your team uses, including the etiquette. You don’t want to be spamming @here in channels on Slack or DMing someone with their Do Not Disturb notifications up.
When you’re on calls with your teammates, you should have your camera on whenever possible. Putting faces to voices helps you connect more with your teammates, and will help them get to know you better as well. Giving your calls a little extra time for small talk will also help with team engagement. And finally, make sure all of your written communication is professional, even in private messages. There is no such thing as private with a work Slack, and I’ve seen far too many folks screen share their Slack during a presentation, so it’s better to be safe than sorry in this case.
Take care of yourself
I think the most important thing to remember to be successful when working remotely is to take care of yourself. It is far too easy to lose the separation between your work life and your personal life when you work from home. Make sure you’re setting proper boundaries with work hours by putting them on your calendar, setting yourself as away on Slack, and auto-refusing meetings that occur outside of that time. Actually take a lunch break rather than sitting at your desk with a sandwich. Resist the urge to check email or Slack when you’re not working. Always being plugged in and available is a fast way to burn yourself out.
Make sure you get up and move! Taking short breaks every hour will help keep you healthy and stave off that brain fog that sets in after lunch. Taking time for yourself and working at a sustainable pace makes sure you can always bring your best to your work and be a productive employee for the long term.
While I would definitely advise you to consider an on-premises opportunity for your first job, I don’t think it’s impossible to be an effective junior and work remotely. It is certainly much more challenging, but if you’re willing to put in the extra effort, you can still have many opportunities to learn and grow in your career and enjoy the flexibility and benefits that remote work can provide.