Considering the few posts made recently, regarding Telecommuting, I thought I’d put in my $0.02, adjusted for inflation.
See Cal’s Post and this awesome job opportunity.
I want to discuss the various tools and options available to the telecommuter in 2008.
Disclaimer: I don’t want to make this another post on the benefits of Telecommuting, as I strongly believe there is no silver bullet for the problems an individual or a company faces. There are many drawbacks to telecommuting, and the positives don’t always neutralize the drawbacks.
Background: I’ve been telecommuting since 2003, that’s when I decided to quit working for the ‘man’. I chose a laptop to give myself mobility. This mobility also came in the form of being single, unattached, and my willingness to drive. I drove from New Jersey to San Antonio, to Corpus Christi, TX, back to San Antonio, to San Francicso, to Los Angeles, to Boca Raton, FL, to Alexandria, VA, Birmingham, AL, to Herndon, VA to San Antonio TX.
All of this traveling was done between January 2003 and October 2005. So, for almost two years I lived in hotels, and everything I owned, fit in my Nissan Sentra. This was telecommuting 1.0, I call it telecommuting because quite often, I could work from my hotel room, they just wanted me close by, in case of meetings.
As much as I loved driving and finding new places, hotel life does get a bit tiring. So, in 2005 I decided to settle down in San Antonio. I’m sure a lot of you will wonder why I chose Texas of all places, to which I can only say ‘try it’.
Here are some tools I use to help keep my sanity, and my contract.
- Laptop: I use a macbook pro as my one and only machine, the laptop is my primary means of income. My laptop is almost 1.5 yrs old, and it’s still more than what I need. My only gripes are:
1. Glossy Screens: I chose the glossy screen from Apple, it’s a great looking screen, but it’s not the best in all situations (outdoors).
2. Resolution: 1680×1050 is nice, but I think I’d prefer 1920×1200, so I want to buy the new MacBook Pro’s, but I don’t know what to do with this laptop first. I can’t logically, or fiscally justify two laptops.
Since OS X has unix at the core, I have a local development environment for all my projects. I’ve tried out things like MAMP, MAMP Pro, but I keep going back to my old Linux roots. I have the default Apache, and a customized PHP installation, along with MySQL.
I use subversion for my source control, though I am thinking of switching to GIT. But, whether you use GIT or SVN, it doesn’t matter as long as you use something it’s good. Basically, the use of SVN, Apache, PHP and MySQL allows me to have a full local dev environment. I can write new code, make bug fixes, document, whatever, all from the comfort of my laptop. And I never have to say
“oh, I can’t get to that file it’s at home, or at the office”.
The laptop alone gives me the freedom to work from home, or any other place with internet. As much as I love my laptop, I stronly urge you to learn to live without it as well. I’m a strong believer in the no laptop per meeting initiative (there should be one if there isn’t already).
You don’t have to use a mac, or install Linux. I know people who are very happy with Windows as their primary OS/Development environment, this is development so performance is not your primary concern here.
- Mobile Data Cards (EVDO/HSDPA): These things are awesome, and worth it if you telecommute. Now, I’m sure you’re going to ask.. but if I work from home, isn’t my cable/dsl faster and more reliable than Sprint/Verizon/ATT? Why yes it is, but telecommuting doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be in the comfort of your home all the time, nor does it mean that you’ll want to be. I spend more time at Starbucks, Coffee houses, and other places where the weather is nice, and the view is even nicer. None of these places have reliable Wifi, or wifi at all. But, my Sprint EVDO card works. Plus, for what I do, it’s awesome. I don’t upload massive files, I don’t download massive files, I upload incremental changes, ssh into remote machines, and I read the news with my RSS reader. I really don’t need a 10mbps internet connection. I need a stable connection, that lets me work anywhere. These card work all the time, and work every where I have been.
- Good headphones: I use the V-Moda head phones, they are good enough for my ears. They sound great, and fit perfectly. They’re so comfortable that sometimes I get up with the phones still in my ears, only to be yanked down by the laptop. I’m interested in bluetooth headphones, if someone has any opinions, please share them. Anyway, the reason for headphones is because they help you concentrate. They drown out the ambient noise of the environment you’re in, OR you can turn up your music as loud as you like then. I can’t work in silence, nor can I work when other people are talking. I love listening to music when I work, it helps me concentrate.
- An extra power cord: I have two power cords for my laptop. One is stationary and never leaves the house. The other is always in my laptop bag. This is just a peace of mind/convenience thing. I used to land in a different city, or get to the airport and find out I left my powercord at home, or at the client’s site, but no more. Part of it is due to better discipline, part of it is the intangible comfort I have when I travel, that there is always a cord at home.
- A good laptop bag: Like a man or a woman, is hard to find. Everyone has their own preferences, I prefer to use bags that can carry things besides my laptop. I like to take pictures, and since I normally find myself in places I find interesting, the ability to have my camera with me is a huge plus. But, sometimes I want to travel light, I want the ability to take the camera out, as well as the compartments for the laptop and lenses. The bag should transform from a large laptop bearing bag, to a smaller version of it self.
I prefer the use of back packs, but I like the style of messenger/brief case bags. So, I’m still trying to find the perfect fit, but for now I use a Targus back pack. I’ve tried Brenthaven, Tumi, Timbuk2, and InCase bags, the Targus has been with me the longest, due to it’s simplicty, and my ability to pack my camera bag in it, when I need to.
- A portable hard drive: I have a Maxtor 160GB USB only drive, I bought it on sale for $80. I now have a constant backup of everything on my laptop. If I’m traveling, I just start the rsync before I go to bed. In case the events of the day cause me to lose my hard drive, drop my laptop, or I become a victim of the burning battery, my work is backed up. I am looking at Truecrypt, to see how I can make my backups a little bit more secure. If I lose/forget my drive, then my work becomes the property of Joe H4x0r, which is bad. I’d love to hear your opinions on this. I’m trying to find a balance between encrypting everything, and only encrypting the things I need encrypted.
I believe these 6 items, will help you, because they have helped me. I don’t want to talk too much in detail about how you should
live your day, or how you prioritize your tasks. There are plenty of sites out there to help you with GTD, Focusing, Time Tracking/management. Those same rules still apply, whether you work from home, or the office, you will still need to prioritize. You will still need to keep track of your hours, and you’ll still need to make time for the wife, kids, dogs, and most importantly, yourself.