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Will I hurt my career as software developer/entrepreneur if a move to a remote location? Do I have better career prospects if I am based in a developed country or if I live in a remote end of the world with just an internet connection and laptop?

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closed as off-topic by gnat, GlenH7, Doc Brown, Avner Shahar-Kashtan, ChrisF Dec 17 '13 at 23:20

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How remote is "remote"? Truly remote places (Arctic, Siberia, Antactic, Gobi desert, etc...) probably won't have the cheapest cost of living since everything you need will have to be shipped in at great expense. Maybe just look for the place that has a very low cost of living and minimum resource (electricity and internet access) for a tech company. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Aug 24 '11 at 14:37
    
There seems to be a conflict of interest. Are you going to start a startup or are you concerned with career prospects? –  Aaron McIver Aug 24 '11 at 14:40
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If I was starting a startup, I would want to be close to both clients and talent. It is not absolutely required, but it makes things a lot easier. –  Morgan Herlocker Aug 24 '11 at 14:50
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See this comics from the Oatmeal which sums up pros & cons : theoatmeal.com/comics/working_home –  Xavier T. Aug 24 '11 at 15:12
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@Thomas: Well, I like hard copies, too. It's just that most computer-related books are obsolete within a few months, so I stopped buying them. But that's a matter of preference. More importantly: why would you lose access to technology or books if you move to the back-country? This might have been true 20 years ago, but certainly not today. –  Mike Baranczak Aug 24 '11 at 18:10

6 Answers 6

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Living in the cheapest place on Earth sounds like a great way to keep costs down and build a business on very little capital, but don't under-think this. Any where that you choose to start a business needs to have some specific qualities:

  • access to basic technology support (fast, reliable internet access; reliable mobile phones; replacement computer parts)
  • modern banking
  • a stable, low-corruption government
  • reliable mail service
  • abundant and clean food and water
  • safe, clean housing
  • safe, reliable, affordable transportation

There are a myriad of other things that you probably depend upon without ever thinking about it, but if you went without them and were just trying to get by -- never mind building a technology business -- you'd miss them bitterly in no time at all.

All that being said, I think that it is possible to build a successful business from nearly anywhere if you choose the right kind of business and the right kind of business strategies.

For example, you can't have a successful consulting practice without living somewhat near large, urban centers. That's where the businesses that can afford to write big checks to you are located. Instead, you'd want to focus on end user-facing Internet applications. Look at the suite of applications from 37Signals; they are pure Internet plays. They can be built and deployed from anywhere and don't require a sales team, like enterprise software does.

So let's look forward and hypothesize that you are living some place where your expenses are next to nothing and you have managed to bootstrap an internet applications business that has one or two revenue-generating applications. With all the users, you are going to face both providing support to your users and getting help to maintain and enhance your applications. This puts you up against another possible deficiency of the cheapest-place-on-Earth: you may very well not have access to an educated workforce that is capable of providing the help that you need to keep your business thriving.

You're talking about a big gamble. Yes, keeping your expenses way down means a lot, but we always come back around to the simple truth that you get what you pay for.

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For your one but last paragraph: I'd recommend reading "The 4 hour work week" by Tim Ferriss. And that is not just fiction, he's done it and with a company that sells physical products not just internet applications. Link for the book: amazon.com/gp/product/0307465357/…; –  Marjan Venema Aug 24 '11 at 16:25
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Ferriss's book is interesting and worth reading, but it is not a universally-applicable panacea. The "I did it, and you can do it too" mentality has lead to more disappointments than huge successes. Personally, I'd frirst recommend Getting Real and Rework from the 37 Signals gang: amazon.com/Getting-Real-smarter-successful-Application/dp/… and amazon.com/Rework-Jason-Fried/dp/0307463745/ref=pd_sim_b_1 –  Adam Crossland Aug 24 '11 at 16:47
    
@Adam these are all good points. Couldn't I have a remotely working educated workforce? –  siamii Aug 24 '11 at 18:51
    
@bizso09: Potentially, you could address your staffing needs through remote workers, but because you live in the least-expensive place on Earth, all of your remote workers necessarily have greater living expenses than you do. Suddenly, the principle advantage of living where you do has vanished in staffing costs. So your cost advantage is gone, you can't get a good cup of coffee, the restaurants where you live are all filthy and have sketchy food and all of your friends live on the other side of the globe. Remind me: why are you doing this again? –  Adam Crossland Aug 24 '11 at 18:56
    
@Adam The reason I'm doing this is to keep the costs down initially. This business would obviously have to be purely internet based. I could still have access to all resources through the internet. I'm on my laptop 95% of the time anyway, so I might as well outsource myself. Also, if I choose to work remotely for big software company as a developer, I could get the same paycheck as if I worked in my home country, but my living expenses would be way lower. –  siamii Aug 24 '11 at 19:08

I've never worked remotely for an extended period, but have worked with several remote team members. From the point of view of someone stuck in an office, these are some of the problems that I've personally experienced with remote workers:

  • If they don't commit to source control often and aren't inclined to answer emails/phonecalls quickly, it is impossible to tell what they are doing or where they are. Are they working or are they in the pub? Who knows?
  • Remote working team leaders are awful. They have no clue what their team is doing and aren't available to support their team.
  • Web-based communications such as VOIP aren't a substitute for face-to-face meetings. Dropouts and lag make meetings frustrating.
  • They happily produce half-baked crap instead of polished software because they don't have to deal with the constant stream of people appearing at their desk complaining about bugs/crashes/data loss.

I'm sure it's possible to be a good member of a team and work remotely. However, it will require:

  • Much greater attention to communicating with your team than if you were sat next to them.
  • Ensuring that you keep your team abreast of what you are doing and when.
  • Commit to source control frequently so that the team can see what you are up to.
  • Make sure you keep an eye on your previous projects. Don't release every piece of software as a fait accompli out of nowhere and then abandon it for the rest of your team to support.
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I've done this, and I've been able to make it work. If you consult, you will need to find your own clients. It's very rare that the agencies want to hire anyone that wants to work remotely. I was always able to find clients though.

Consulting on your own, not through an agency, can be risky in that there is no particular guarantee that the client will pay you. I had constant problems with clients either paying late or refusing to pay at all. That's not the case when you work as an employee of an agency.

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how do you find cleints? –  Ian Aug 24 '11 at 15:21
    
craiglist has checkboxes in its job search pages for telecommute and contract jobs. So does does. The other job boards don't unfortunately. If you're careful about it, Google Adwords can work really well. You just have to be careful abou what queries you bid on. –  Michael Crawford Aug 25 '11 at 7:17

Assuming you have consistent, fast internet access I don't see why you should have any trouble getting work done. I would be wary though - a lot of these "under-developed" countries do not have reliable broadband access. It would depend on where you move.

While an employer that offers telecommute as an option typically does not care where you live, there is their own "comfort level" with distance. I start working remotely in a few weeks, and they are comfortable with it for a couple of reasons:

  1. I'm only about a hundred miles away. If push comes to shove, me running over to the home office isn't something out of the Iliad.
  2. I'm still in the United States. Some employers are cool with it, but smaller companies with only local operations aren't big on having to worry about HR laws in other countries.
  3. I'll have internet that they know is as available as water.

As for your career, the same rules still apply. Keep yourself involved in the community, write a blog, post on your Twitter, and keep your name floating around. If you do those things, you'll be as successful as if you were three blocks down.

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Some of those "under-developed" countries might surprise you with their internet speed :-) netindex.com –  TrojanName Aug 24 '11 at 16:53
    
Speed and reliability are two different things. :) –  Jarrod Nettles Aug 24 '11 at 17:43

Are you leaving all of your customers behind? Well that has a financial impact.
Are you moving to somewhere with a marketplace to plug onto?

If it's a small marketplace and you're one of the few to offer certain services, this may be a bliss. You may experience strong competition though. You should try making friends with them.

If it's too small a marketplace and you're the only one to offer certain service, this may be a disaster or a miracle. If there's demand and you find it, you're set. Otherwise...

If it's a huge marketplace you may be too small to fit in on your own terms, coming from outside you'll be tempted to work trough recruiters and that is frequently a very bad experience.

With much much patience and care you may keep many of your former customers, but you almost certainly — unless you return there every other week — won't be able to find new ones on that previous location.

There's a catch with keeping old customers: sooner or later you'll need someone to go to them to check if they pulled a wire or something. Do you have a really good friend that could help, will stay, will do that checking for you for a reasonable fee, and won't steal your client?

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it would be a global marketplace, as this would be an internet based company. –  siamii Aug 24 '11 at 19:10

Given a choose between two people

  • With the same skills
  • With the same “output”
  • At the same cost
  • With the same history
  • With the same understanding of the client/employer’s software

When one of them lives close to the office and is happy to work in the office and the other one lives somewhere remote, it is clear who would get the job.

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Ah yes, the old "all else being equal" argument. Luckily I have yet to come across an "all else being equal" to me person... –  Marjan Venema Aug 24 '11 at 16:15

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