Easybird's blog

Making dreams come true

Working as a remote developer

May 03, 2016

What I did

“What you don’t do determines what you can do.” - Tim Ferris

I’ve studied psychology, not informatics. I have a Master in Psychology and Business Economics.

“But you love programming. Why did you study Psychology?”

Because at that point in time, that was the one thing that interested me the most.

“But why don’t you work as a psychologist? Or as an accountant? Or as a manager somewhere? Or a business consultant?”

Just. Because I have never been interested in one of those jobs. Never.

“But again, why did you study those?”

Wel again, because I was interested in getting to know more about humans: What do they generally think and feel? What motivates them? How can they be motivated? What do they think? And Economics, well..the macro economic environment is a very subtle and complex environment, it contains politics, mathematics and psychology. It’s also a probabilistic environment in which you are never sure what the outcome will be. Both domains are - at least for me - very interesting in theory. But in practice, both are very hard to master. The theory in those domains is always applied to a complete group. You are never sure of the effect in a particular case, on a particular person, on a particular point in time. That’s where programming came in for me.

Dare, reflect and act

“The ideal job” - You know how that goes in the beginning.. Everybody’s asking the same questions: “What do you really want to do?” “Where do you see yourself in five years?” But you never really worked before..so how could you know?

After my studies, and before my search for “the ideal job”, I’ve read a book which was of great influence to me: The four hour work week, by Timothy Ferris.

A lot has been said and written about this book. So I won’t cover this in detail, but for me, what I have learned from the book, and what I have taken with me on my journey the last 7 years is the following:

  • Don’t be afraid of what is not “common”. Dare to do what you feel is the right thing and don’t mind what society thinks about it.
  • Reflect about your habits and try to ban all overhead and unnecessary stuff
  • Create freedom of location

Tim described those 3 (+ a 4th one about automation) as DEAL - Definition, Elimination, Automation and Liberation. The key lesson of his book. But he also gives you some tips along the way. A very important one that I also took on my journey is to always reflect about what you don’t want in your life. The reason is simple: what you don’t do determines what you can do.

What I don’t want anymore

Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to ban overhead, I have always tried to determine what I didn’t want anymore.

In the beginning of my career

  • Taking the same train everyday, to be at the same desk, to do the same work without seeing a lot of results
  • Attending meetings without conclusion, action points, decisions made
  • Emailing (the cc madness) can really get out of hand and become counterproductive
  • Maintaining insanely complex archaic applications - due to their very bad architecture

What I have learned

My first job earned good money, offered a lot of days off..but I saw a lot of older colleagues who were trapped in their “golden cage”. They didn’t find any challenge in their daily job but they were always very busy due to the overhead with meetings and emails, so they didn’t have the time to learn new skills or technologies.. Why did they stay? Well, they were trapped: most of them didn’t want to leave because they earned good money and had a lot of holidays. But those who wanted change, couldn’t find a company who was willing to offer the same benefits to someone who wasn’t following the market and latest technologies anymore. They worked hard, but the experience they accumulated was useless outside of their company (a financial institution by the way).

It was clear to me: this was not what I wanted, I wanted challenges, I wanted to learn new things and I became frustrated due to the things mentioned above. So I changed to a job with more challenge, but less money, more traffic and more hours..

As a consultant for a Fortune 500 company

  • Being in traffic in the morning, being in traffic in the evening
  • Being an analyst in a waterfall system: After puzzling out all the tricky parts, somebody else - without the complete picture - had all the fun and could actually implement the application and make things work! On top of that, in stead of asking you questions and reading your documents thoroughly - they start their thinking process all over - which I find normal by the way
  • Working for a company which asks a lot of money for your work and seeing freelancers doing the same work and earning that money all for themselves
  • Not being free at choosing your own clients and projects. Because the company always has to decide for your which is the best opportunity: They decide whether this time they will choose for the project with the most interesting content for their employee, or the project with the most revenue for the company. Sometimes this may conflict.


After learning a lot, after receiving a lot of great opportunities, meeting some fantastic people, the time was right to leave my position as a consultant, and to try to explore the world on my own, as a freelancer!

As a freelancer in several great companies

I really love this job, not much to say about it. I like the fact that I can work with companies who are constantly exploring new technologies and methodologies ; choose my own projects; negotiate my own rate. It gives me a certain freedom.

But still…look at the things in bold above.. Some of those still are a problem in my current day to day job: Traffic is one of them, not being free of location is another one. And recently, there is a third one entering the room: I experience some “lag” (of approximately 1 year) between the adaptation of new technologies in the Belgian tech market compared to the open source (Github) community and the top notch companies in the industry. Very clear example currently is React. As Github and the American tech industry is yelling about the awesomeness of React, in the Belgium tech companies it’s still Angular 1 all over the place! As a lot of tech companies are moving towards a node.js back-end, Belgium tech companies are still unaware of this and keep developing - in any situation - new Java/Spring back-end applications. Ok, not all that is new, is better. I completely agree. But for various reasons, and maybe subject of another blogpost, I very much support the transition to both of those technologies.

Traffic, freedom of work environment and working with top notch technologies and companies

Current and next steps: Remote work

“I am not at work, or at the supermarket, or waiting for a bus (metaphorically or otherwise). I am free.” ― Fennel Hudson, A Waterside Year - Fennel’s Journal - No. 2

For over almost one year I am dreaming about my next step: being independent of location, working on international projects from wherever I want, working with new exciting technologies for some amazing projects. Contributing and learning every single day. Therefore, after a first successful experience with AB Inbev, I feel like I am ready to be a full time remote developer!

“Won’t you miss direct colleagues?” Neh, at work I am somebody that is working, focussed on reaching certain goals, together with people I very much appreciate mostly for what they achieve for the same project with the same goals in mind. I like to talk about tech stuff, learn from each other. This will still be possible remotely. For friend and hobby related stuff, I have my friends and hobbies already, so I won’t miss the fact that I don’t have direct colleagues, I guess.

“Why a remote developer?” Just because. I’m excited about the extra time I will have. Less useless moving around, less inefficient contacts, more time to learn new stuff and more time for doing what I like next to programming (f.e.: sports and hobbies).

Luckily I’m not the first software developer with this dream, and luckily there are tech companies who are tired of the difficult and endless search for good developers and who are interested in outsourcing some projects towards the global pool of developers. Last but foremost, because of to the above interests, you have companies like Toptal, X-team and 10x Management, who fill the gap, seek the opportunity and tend to help both parties in finding each other! Those companies are a broker for clients and contractors. The big difference is that they are focused on remote projects and that they try to maintain a community of elite engineers and developers. This formula is a win-win for clients and contractors.

For clients the threshold to work with remote developers get’s lower when they can find trust in the skills of their contractors. You can imagine that it’s much harder for a client to trust somebody that he doesn’t know in real life, so it’s a big deal for clients! But even more important, due to this low hiring percentage, clients will probably have a higher probability of project success when working with on of those companies.

“And what’s in it for us?” - Well, being part of this select group would be a big win for me in terms of working together with other great developers! On top of that, working for one of those companies would supply me a steady supply of work at consistent rates. This would let me focus on what I love the most: programming and learning.

Let’s do this 👊

Jonathan Dierckens

Written by Jonathan Dierckens who lives and works in Ghent, trying to build useful things.