A day in the life of an Abletech developer.
This article was originally published on Medium.
Working remotely as a developer is a situation many people would love to find themselves in. For the last 6 months, I’ve been lucky enough to do so with Abletech.
My base location of choice has been Calgary, Canada. While Wellington has been enjoying a unique, spectacularly warm and windless summer, I’ve been enjoying freezing rain, ice, snow and temperatures plummeting to -32ºC. Sounds shocking — but it’s not so bad.
A day of winter
The day usually starts in one of two ways.
- My alarm goes off and I wake up like any normal person
- An extremely loud whirring noise anytime between 4am and 6.30am, caused by two people clearing the paths around our apartment building with snow blowers (imagine leaf blower, but louder).
While the former is a much nicer way to wake up, the latter means only one thing; snow. I get out of bed and peak out the blinds from our living room. It’s easy to tell just how much snow there is by looking at the balcony railing. Some days it looks like someone sprinkled ground ice delicately on top — and some days it looks like an extra white partition!
My next stop is a bowl of cereal in front of the weather forecast for the day. The weather here is very changeable, and if you don’t dress right for the day, you can find yourself in a serious spot. Temperatures can rise from -20ºC to positive degrees within a few hours if the wind blows the right way — or vice versa if we get some cool arctic air blow through. You can read more about how I dress for winter here
Once I’m ready to go, I take a short walk to a bus stop downtown and wait in a semi-enclosed shelter, usually arriving around 8am. Depending on the time of year, it’s either starting to get light… or totally pitch black. There’s something a little odd about walking to work at 8am when it’s pitch black — but those days don’t stay around too long thankfully.
The bus takes 20 minutes or so to get into Kensington, a nice little suburb just outside of downtown. I jump out of the bus — sometimes onto a clear footpath, sometimes into snow deeper than my boots. The paths outside of downtown are often not cleared early in the morning after a good dump of snow, and if they are, there’s a high chance you’re walking on ice, not on pavement. I head inside to Assembly CS where I rent a space, and take my boots off. I grab a coffee (to start the day and to defrost!), chat with a couple of developers around me, sit down, and start catching up on what happened the night before.
When I agreed with Abletech to work remotely, I was a little nervous about how it might go — there are endless numbers of articles online about the challenges teams face, and the solutions they come up with to tackle them. I was expecting it to be hard. However, what I found in reality wasn’t as difficult as others had made it out to be. I put this down to 3 ideas which have so far helped me stay productive and sane:
1. Communicate often, and communicate early.
When you’re not able to talk to someone face to face, it’s important to just be in touch. I like to communicate any problems I anticipate happening as soon as possible so they can be resolved before they happen, or even while I’m asleep 💤
2. Try and keep the pipeline full
Truly running out of things to do should be a rarity. Working in another timezone, in another part of the world can make getting extra tasks or detail a challenge. The best way to combat this is to take from #1 and try to stock up on work before running out. Working in a team that operates scrum or kanban boards with stories which anyone can pick up is a huge help.
In true agile fashion, I believe the most important point is to evaluate what is and is not working, and then improve. Weekly catch ups provide an opportunity to address anything necessary and make changes quickly.
My lunch préféré used to be a bottle of Soylent. Soylent is a meal of pretty much everything you need — however — Canada has decided it disagrees about what a meal constitutes, and therefore I can no longer sit inside the warm, cosy office at lunch time… I must venture out into the wildlands. Boots on, jacket on, gloves, beanie (toque?!), sunglasses — check! Often how far I go for lunch is proportional to the temperature. The lower the temperature, the less I’m willing to walk 😎. Do you want to be out grabbing lunch in -25ºC? No. For the warmer days, Kensington is relatively good on choice. There are fast foods, restaurants, cafes, a supermarket. Anything is within reach depending on the weather.
End of the working day
The sun is setting around 4.30pm. By the time I leave — around there, or 5pm, it’s dark. Start dark, end dark. Thankfully the in-between is almost always sunny: Calgary is the sunniest city in Canada!
Getting home is another bus and train (train is faster on the way home). Peak hour C-Train in downtown core is like walking into a container of sardines most days. I walk a short distance, and I’m home again.
Coming from cities in New Zealand which don’t see snow, I absolutely love the amount of winter activities around Calgary. Skiing is a 20 minute drive away, ice skating a 5 minute walk to the plaza, a toboggan-worthy hill only 10 minutes away. There’s plenty to do in the snow — even taking a walk alongside the river is totally different to the summer. While the river is running, it’s hidden by a thick layer of snow capped ice. The snow around the parks shows the prints of the wildlife; snowshoe hares, squirrels. They’re even cuter in real life than you’d think.
Calgary has been a great city in our time so far. It’s clean, easy to get around and has some incredible natural beauty around it. In saying that, it just does not and will not beat Wellington on food and coffee. I look forward to the day I get back to catch up with the team over a coffee from Flight Hangar, Nasi Goreng from Little Penang, or Char Kuey Teow from Cinta.