Tech companies are starting to realize what so many technologists have known for years: many technology jobs can be done from anywhere. Indeed, COVID-19 has upended the notion that reporting to an office every weekday is paramount to collaboration and productivity.
Even after the pandemic passes, it seems, many technologists will continue to have a reprieve from the daily commute. Firms such as Twitter have already announced that a majority of employees will work remotely on a permanent basis. Others, such as Google, have pushed back their office-reopening dates at least a year, and may institute a more flexible schedule for employees going forward.
If technology jobs are indeed becoming more remote-centric, does that change your chances of landing a particular role? If your longtime dream is to land a job at a huge Silicon Valley firm, will you need to consider moving to a city where such a company has an office, or can you stay put in your current town? These are complicated questions, so we turned to a few experts to find out more.
Traditionally, one of the most frustrating aspects of the tech industry has been a tendency for some skilled technologists to be passed over for roles because they don’t live in the right zip code. That’s likely changing, though. Sachin Gupta, co-founder and CEO of HackerEarth, notes how, in the current environment, “only skills matter.”
As proof, he points to virtual hackathons as a sign that the technology industry is embracing workers no matter where they live:
“Today, it’s easier than ever to get a remote job in tech. Just a few months ago, IBM ran a virtual hackathon with more than 500 IBM employees from China, Japan, India, Germany, France, Italy, UK, Canada, Brazil, and the United States. Collaborative online tools are allowing talented developers from around the world to flex their muscles and be recognized for their innovative solutions. Online platforms are allowing recruiters and hiring managers to assess talent remotely, placing a higher emphasis on skills. Before the pandemic, so much went into getting hired in Silicon Valley.”
That’s good news if you live somewhere without a lot of local tech jobs, but there’s a caveat: If companies start hiring from anywhere, there’s no limit to the talent they can potentially pull onboard. That could boost the competition for prized positions. You’ll have to convince the hiring managers and interviewers that you have the skills and experience for a particular role; and keeping those skills up-to-date is even more vital if you want to stay in contention throughout the interviewing process.
Large tech companies that are going remote will obviously offer lots of opportunities for long-term workers; however, some technology jobs may remain location-based, either because they’re tightly linked to a physical location (such as a datacenter) or because of security needs (such as jobs where work takes place in a locked-down facility). For those tech giants that haven’t offered long-term guidance on remote work, such as Apple, it’s a safe bet they’ll continue to focus much hiring around specific locations unless they suggest otherwise.
Focus on Soft Skills to Land the Job
At the heart of the uncertainty around remote work is the sense that communication within teams (and between managers and team members) will corrode, and productivity will suffer as a result. This concern is heightened among engineering and development teams that have traditionally relied upon in-person standups in order to keep complex projects on schedule.
But Eliza Nimmich, COO of online learning portal Learnt, believes that even teams used to in-person work can adapt successfully to remote processes: “Don’t overlook some of the day-to-day mechanics associated with remote working.”
Video chats are key, along with maintaining a fixed schedule that nobody on the team can avoid. “One of the big ones is getting used to chatting with clients and coworkers on video chats,” Nimmich said. “Remote interacting is a whole different animal than in-person, and if you are comfortable interacting online, you’ll be in a good position to find a remote job (and excel once you get there).”
Of course, constant video conferences come with their own problems—most notably the increasingly widespread issue of “Zoom fatigue.” However, managers are figuring out how to schedule their teams without burning anyone out or instituting an excessive cadence of meetings. With regard to actual progress on deliverables, lots of schedulers and other apps can keep a team on track without the need for in-person check-ins. The key is diligence, and a collective recognition that everyone needs to actively work to make remote measures succeed.
Managers and team members also need to remain aware that remote work comes with its own learning curve. Adam Korbl, CEO of iFax, believes that such curves can prove pretty steep, especially for newcomers: “This is because there is a lot of communication that needs to be sent back and forth between teams, and for those that are just starting out in the field it can be a difficult process as their knowledge about the industry is limited.”
When applying for jobs with a substantial remote component, it’s also vital to convince the hiring managers and interviewers that you’re familiar with the tools and workflows necessary to get the job done from your home office. For instance, show them that you have a grasp on the concepts that undergird building, testing, and deploying software remotely, and your chances of landing a developer job increase substantially.
At Some Point, They Have to Hire
The initial uncertainty of COVID-19 meant hiring freezes and layoffs for some companies. As the shutdown thaws (slowly, on a state-by-state basis), roles must be filled—which plays into technologists’ favor, suggested Skyler Reeves, President and CEO of Ardent Growth: “Opportunities in the tech sector have become even wider these days since many startups have become resilient in this time of pandemic. It’s a great opportunity for them to look around for the best roles that can fit their work and help them improve their skills.”
Certifications may prove more beneficial than you think in a remote-first environment, added Michael Hamelburger, CEO of The Bottom Line Group. “Tech certifications do help boost a candidate’s chances of getting hired because it shows that they have exerted more effort in upskilling to improve their craft,” he said, while cautioning it “still boils down to quality of work or portfolio that the candidate presents.”
A word of caution, though: During the interview process, double-check that any position is permanent remote, unless you’re prepared to uproot and move once social-distancing guidelines are relaxed. Though the current emphasis on remote work may help you land a job from afar, companies may also demand everyone return to the office later on. But if you’re truly pursuing your dream job, you might be only too willing to move in a few years.