How to Become a Remote Developer from Scratch in 2020? (A Story)

By Rohan, 10 August, 2020

The year 2020 made it both easier and harder to become a remote software developer. For context, I will have you know that I have been a remote software developer for about 8 years at the time of writing this article.  I was doing fulltime remote into the US from the Caribbean since before remote was considered cool. My specialty was doing Drupal web development. My primary role was as subcontractor for web development agencies who needed the extra help to service their clients.

I started in 2012 when Drupal was at its peak and opportunities were ripe for the picking. My first real agency assignment that had me working with companies like MSNBC and Institute for Integrative Nutrition chose me based on how I responded to StackOverflow questions.  This snowballed as I jumped from agency to agency, carrying the weight of the logos of all my previous clients as badges like a startup homepage. Working with these companies was fun, I worked on a top secret product used by Lowe's and industry leading procurement tools for one of the US's largest importers of honey. The disadvantage of many of these tools is that they were mostly internal tools, never to be seen by the public. I saw no problem with this approach because work was plentiful and I was amassing logos but things were headed for a massive turn...

As Drupal became more and more popular, the project founder, Dries Buyataert started his own private company, Acquia, and recieved capital to push Drupal development. This was an amazing opportunity, many of the major open-source contributors were hired to work full-time on the project. The hidden consequence I later discovered is that a project funded by capitalists will follow the money. Many infrastuctural changes happened in Drupal over the years that made it a powerhouse tool for enterprise projects, big companies with big budgets, which ended up making it less attractive to everyone else. In fact Drupal became one of the most hated frameworks of 2020. Now reminding me of my days coding J2EE 🤢🤮

2020 Started with me out of work, but I was so confident in my CV that I took a few months sabbatical to learn content marketing so I could diversify my skills for the future. I started glancing at job board in late February as I prepared to re-enter the job market after working at an agency for 2 years. To my surprise, the Drupal jobs were notably sparse, I thought nothing of it at first, but in early march I went all out to apply and got only 1 interview. I usually get three to four interviews easily but things had changed and I was shell-shocked. With this decline came a decline in job postings, and far less people became impressed with my logos and started asking for a show of example code. I wrote some high quality code and solved amazing and complex problems but my code was hidden behind a password on a client's web server. Then enter COVID-19, with little to no Drupal jobs in sight, I started applying for PHP jobs, the language Drupal is written in. These landed me about four interviews. After these interviews I realized that these companies either saw my 14 years of Drupal experience as basic and were offering a pittance of a salary or though that my experience meant nothing in their technology stack and moved on with another candidate.

For the first time in 8 years I felt like I was a beginner again. How would I prove to the world that I am a great developer? It then dawned on me that I knew exactly what I needed to do. It is what got me started in remote work in the first place. I needed to do more work in public. At the time StackOverflow was a place where people would look for person's who could communicate their expertise through answers. There are STILL so many more, I just need to use them. There are many other promoting the concept of how working and learning and learning in public makes you are more sought after developer, my favourite is this free chapter from the book "The Coding Career Handbook".

So my plan for the rest of 2020 is to be actively building apps, writing articles, learning new technologies and making general contributions in the public space. This will create adequate reference material for when I re-enter the job search, or get found through my work. There is also a third possible outcome of my project becoming profitable which could lead me to starting an Software business. Follow me of Twitter to see the progress of my journey and if it landed me a job or maybe even pushed me into entrepreneurship.