Leaving a steady corporate job to pursue a freelancing career was a risk, initially
Relja is a Software Mechanic at Codernia currently, been a developer for 9 years
1. Hey, can you please introduce yourself?
Hey! My name is Relja Damnjanovic, I come from Belgrade, Serbia and I've been working as a freelance developer for more than 9 years now, and loving every bit of it! Why? Because it's awesome! :) To tell you the truth, I'm very passionate about many things in life, I love basketball and sports in general, I'm very active in all kinds of sport events, I adore travelling and music festivals, and freelancing is something that is helping me pursue both (or all) my passions.
For the past 8 or 9 years I've been dealing with eCommerce platforms. I started as a regular developer, but grew to be a full-stack developer and even learned a thing or two about running online business, some tips and tricks only masters of the trade tend to use. Magento is my platform of choice, in a way I like its complexity because it allows you to build some amazing things in it, though I do have experience with some other platforms as well.
2. What motivated you to choose remote working?
I'm a Computer Science graduate from a University in Belgrade, and I do have both corporate and freelance experience. Naturally, both have its benefits, I'd be lying if I said freelancing is some sort of perfect work setup. It's not, it has its own ups and downs and at times it can be a bit too chaotic and uncertain. Corporate working is definitely a more stable and steady type of work, and to some people that is very important, which is completely understandable.
What really attracted me towards freelancing and remote work is a certain type of freedom you gain with it. You get to choose when you work, on which projects, from where, you're free to organise your own life in accordance with your work obligations. In a way you are your own boss. That alone means a lot, and it allowed me to fully explore things in a greater manner. I got to travel around the world and become a digital nomad, attend concerts, run marathons all the while my professional career was going forward in its own way.
3. What were your initial months like? Did it live up to your expectations?
Beginnings are tough, that's for sure. I come from a very modest family, and things in my surroundings were not ideal, so leaving a steady corporate job to go and pursue a freelancing career was a risk and a challenge. From this perspective right now I can say it is one of the best decisions I made in my life, but back then it was difficult.
When you are at the beginning of the freelance career you don't have the luxury to choose projects you like and you are very limited in negotiating budgets and your fees. It's simple - you need money to survive and you're not certain whether another opportunity will come next week or in two months. Also, chances are your portfolio is not that glamorous when you are at the start of the road.
But you overcome it, day by day, month after month, you learn, you grow, you become more efficient, and in the end you get an opportunity to title yourself as a "full-time freelancer" and with it reap all the benefits it brings with itself.
4. How did you find remote working roles?
In my experience there are 3 ways you can get work and explore new opportunities.
The first one, and most stable one, is by recommendation, whether it be by your friends, old colleagues or old clients. If someone can vouch for you then the level of mutual understanding and trust between you and your new client is on the decent level from the very beginning. Of course, the crucial condition for this is that you do your work in a highly professional way and deliver good results.
The second one is your personal presence on the web, your own website, social profiles on various work networks etc. These are not ideal and it's not always that you will find a common ground with a potential client (as it is in general in the business world), but look at it this way - if someone somewhere is looking for an expert in your area, for a certain project they have in mind, you'd want them to find you and tell you about it.
The third one are the freelance networks and job sites. These should definitely be your main point of interest. There are various types of networks, and each has a unique set of benefits they offer to the freelancer, so it'll take some time to try out and see which one suits you the most.
I find that networks like Toptal suit me the most because they give two-way guarantees to both developers and clients, thus assuring both sides in project cooperation show a significant level of professionalism and seriousness, which is highly valued when it comes to business.
5. What have been the best, good and worst aspects of remote working for you?
Working remotely allowed me to become a digital nomad, at least for some time. And it doesn't matter whether you are a hardcore nomad or occasional, it's a wonderful experience, to be given a chance to travel, explore different countries, different cultures, cuisines, etc. It gives you a whole new perspective and understanding of the world we live in, makes you value what you have more and also gives you opportunities to try new things and improve your own way of living.
The "ugly side" of the remote work can sometimes be quite stressful and exhausting. You know that case when you plan a new release deployment and on the very day, in the midst of it, your power grid goes out, or the internet connection goes down. Usually, you tend to keep some sort of a backup approach for these, but they're often not that effective.
Also, working remotely means you will quite often work with people in different time-zones, which is in general fine, however, sometimes when it's something urgent or critical and you're the one they rely on, then it can lead to a sleepless night(s) and disturbance in your everyday routine. It's very rare but it can happen, and when it does you need to understand it comes with a job and it's something you need to fight through.
6. What tools do you swear by while working remotely?
There are a couple of things I tend to use on all my projects. Given that I work remotely quite often I'd need to do some sort of communication with clients or colleagues. For these I find Slack and Zoom to be precisely what I need and what fulfils my necessities.
For more technical stuff I always use a GIT repository, most often on BitBucket or GitHub. A task management tool is, in my opinion, a must have, and for these I usually circle between Basecamp, Jira or Kanbanery. A good IDE is also a vital part of your project performance and here I reside much on PHPStorm and (sometimes) Sublime.
Finally, having a virtual project setup and environment proved to be very efficient and speeds up some of the necessary work processes, so for those I like to use Docker or Vagrant.
7. Your most exciting/ hilarious experience since you started working remotely.
Meeting someone you've been working with for quite a while in person is truly a wonderful experience. You can actually work with someone, talk and chat even for a year or so without actually meeting them in person. Then when you do for the first time you get a strange feeling of a very familiar thing you have never seen before. Kind of like deja vu.
Working remotely gives you a chance to meet and get to know people from all around the world, and to understand their culture and the way of living better. You'd be amazed how things can be different if you just travel a couple of hours by plane, in any direction.
8. What is your golden advice to a new remote worker?
Simply put - in the words of Jeremy Irons from "Lion King" - Be Prepared. Plan your life and plan your activities accordingly. You'll hit an obstacle from time to time, it's going to be tough, but if you are prepared you'll push through it and will continue to grow.
Always be polite and professional when talking to your clients, even if you think that they do not deserve it. Maintaining a good and friendly relationship will make stuff easier when something critical pops up (and it always does).
Be responsible and be professional towards your work. Make sure to deliver the work in agreed terms and timelines, and make sure the results of your work are of high quality. This will make your life much easier in the years to come, as a satisfied client is always a good source for new potential clients.
Finally, enjoy the ride! Explore new options, new adventures, new opportunities, pursue what you want and like, and not what somebody else might like. Your life will flourish.
9. How do you see your career shaping up and your goals?
There are so many things I still want to learn and achieve professionally. I'm a senior full-stack developer, and yet I feel like I'm still at the beginning of the road, there are so many things to try out and so many options to explore. The very nature of my profession requires me to constantly learn new things and increase my knowledge, as the technology and system architecture evolves from day to day. But being a freelancer gives me more power in determining which way I want to go and how I want to develop, and just that is what I'm really satisfied with.
10. How do you expect remote working to evolve in the future?
Most digital professions are location independent. I think in the time to come, more and more companies will follow the path of quite a few very successful remote companies and will try to organise their departments in such a way. This will not be definitive, for sure, because some types of work require a constant collaboration and heavy brainstorming sessions, which are definitely more efficient when you are in person with a group of people. Also, remote work is not a blessing to everyone, someone likes the office or needs it because they are not in a position to organise adequate work space on their own, so for them companies should definitely continue providing workspace. But overall, I think remote work will become a “thing", and we will see an increase in the number of people pursuing it.