Richelieu Rock – Thailand’s scuba paradise

Remote work has it’s own set of cultural stereotypes. On one hand, there is “Work from home”.

Put your pants in the bottom drawer, because you won’t need them anymore. Now you will work from home and never again will you have contact with a human being.

Barracuda is your only friend now. Barracuda does not judge nor wears pants.

The second end of the spectrum is full-on digital nomad. Someone who has all belongings packed in a carry-on bag and travels the world perpetually living in hostels and airbnbs.

And… Of course is working from a beach in Thailand.

Thailand comes up a lot while mentioning remote work. And for a good reason.

  • It’s cheap
  • Chiang Mai or Bangkok enjoy a bustling tech scene
  • People there are very friendly
  • Food is amazing
  • The nature is spectacular
  • But the beaches out of this world!

So we decided to give it a go. The only downside is that… I hate beaches. Literally, I would rather be anywhere else that on the beach.

This is hell

Diving in Thailand

Fortunately, Thailand has more to offer than those menacing sandy beaches and annoying gentle waves.

It has some great diving. In fact, the diving is so great that we practiced in 2C ( 35.6 F ) water in Poland just to finish our scuba certifications before coming here. This is a story for another post, but I will mention this while I have a chance: DO NOT DIVE IN 2C ( 35.6 F ) WATER.

For our Thai diving, we were interested in Ko Tao. This is a whole island famous for quick & cheap diving certifications located on the bay side of peninsula. But it turns out, that the best diving spots are on the Andaman sea! Places like:

  • Similan Islands
  • Surin Islands
  • Hin Daeng and Hin Muang
  • Famous Ko Phi Phi featured in the movie “The Beach” (with that title it’s rightly a Thriller if you ask me)
  • And Richelieu Rock

Richelieu Rock

Richelieu Rock is considered a #8 best diving spot in the world. It is a vertical limestone pinnacle just barely touching the surface. It looks very unassuming, but under the water… It’s a magnificent experience.


We booked a trip from Khao Lak explorer and our dive master was Matt Waters from Nomadic Scuba. An amazing and friendly man who took the photos you see above.

He also brought our attention to the debate regarding the naming.

Richelieu Rock was discovered by Jacques Cousteau – a relentless oceanographer. Some say that the purple reefs reminded him of the colors of Cardinal Richelieu’s robes. Matt says that the name comes from General Richeliu, a Danish officer who became an admiral of Royal Thai Navy.

Regardless of etymology, Richelieu Rock is worth a visit. Khao Lak is a good home base, but Phuket has ships coming to Richelieu Rock as well.

Thailand is not only Bangkok, beaches and booze. It’s Barracudas as well.

So you want to work at Automattic.

Today, in April 2016, it’s been precisely 6 months since I joined Automattic as JavaScript wrangler. All you’ve heard about how awesome this company is in fact an understatement!

It is out of this world!

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Working from out of this world.

One of the things you have to know about me is, that I fit right in with the whole `Tim Ferriss fanclub` type of crowd. It is not religious in any way, I just like the content he exposes me to and I enjoy tips, tricks and `weird shit from the world of esoteric he digs up`, as he himself puts it so eloquently. Some of my friends don’t share this enthusiasm, but it’s beside the point 🙂

Tim Ferriss in the 4-hour workweek introduced me to this idea of “Geo-arbitrage”. Basically, he says: for Americans it is extremely easy to travel, because the money they make in US can go a long way in other, cheaper spots on the map, so it would be a good idea to become a remote employee, travel the world, all while living a good life abroad.

Awesome! Work that allows you to travel AND save compared to your usual expenses? Where do I sign up?
Except, there’s one problem with that: I live in Poland. The only place that our salaries let you live on a decent level is Romania. And cheaper parts of Poland.

Nevertheless, I tried to make this happen. With one of my friends I started an e-marketing agency (Netivo) which I helped run while studying in Sweden. Turns out it’s pretty hard to travel, run a business and make enough money in Poland to live decently in Sweden (that plan is an example of reverse geoarbitrage and is generally a challenge stupid idea). But in that line of business I had to work A LOT with WordPress and became quite fascinated with it to be honest. I decided to become kind of an “WordPress” expert since.

Then the crash of 2008 made everything more difficult. I switched to JavaScript and found a career in safer, bigger companies as a JavaScript engineer.

I was quite happy, but in 2015 I started to crave greater things in life. I felt that world is moving forward, all these startups are sprouting all over and people get to change the world. In Silicon Valley, or even in Western Europe people could be proud of the stuff they build, all while working with the newest technologies or programming paradygms. In Poland, it felt like an “IT Callcenter”. We are good, reliable and cheap, but we were not on the bleeding edge of the innovation razor.

Then, I stumbled upon Automattic job offer.
They were hiring in JAVASCRIPT!
Not only in PHP, but also in JavaScript – the technology I became pretty decent in. On top of that, it turned out, that working in Automattic would let me:

  • Work with React, Redux, NPM, node and all the ‘fresh and hip’ JavaScript technologies;
  • Work with amazing engineers from all over the world and be a part of Silicon Valley;
  • Instead of reading articles about what ‘cool kids’ do, I could have an opportunity to join them!
  • I could travel quite a bit, or even live wherever I wanted! Automattic is a distributed company (or, as we put it: location-agnostic) which lets you see the world without taking a day of vacation (which you have unlimited amount);
  • Because of the whole remoteness, I could be in Poland whenever I wanted to, without skipping work. This is important to me, because I have very old grandparents and sometimes they really need help;
  • I was very excited with the product – I loved WordPress!
  • Tim Ferriss’s site is hosted with this company! (along with Time.com, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and the Guardian, but I find Ferriss more influential 🙂 ),
  • It was never about money, but geo-arbitrage is finally working in my favor;
  • Overall, this really looked like my “Dream Job”. I became determined to get it and to do it right.

Getting there

Well, you probably got pretty annoyed by the long lead-in. But this is my blog, my rules and I can write here whatever I want :).
But here comes the meaty part:

Reading

I was determined to do it right, so I dug up everything I could on Automattic and their hiring process:

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All I’ve read about Automattic hiring process

Polishing the resume

At this point I knew they must be getting a lot of resumes, so I decided to make mine one-page and make every word count. I reviewed it over and over, asked friends to review it and obsessed about it a lot.
Since I did my reading right, I threw in some “nice touches” about my core competence constituting off-the-charts-sandwich making ability and one of my hobbies being barbecue. All true. Putting that in a resume felt good.

The wait.

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After sending that resume I waited. And waited. And waited some more, all while questioning myself.

  • Did they get it?
  • Did they read it?
  • Did they reject me?
  • WHO PUTS SANDWICHES AS A COMPETENCE?! Why did I do that?!

Moar wait.

After 1,5 months I needed to do something constructive. So I booked a ticket to “WordCamp Europe” in Seville, where I was sure I’ll find an Automattician. That was the extent of my plan.
I actually met a bunch of them and they turned out to be very cool people. I even “pinged” them to get my resume reviewed and got back home.

Moar wait

Just after WordCamp Europe, a lot of Automatticians went to React Europe where they ran a coding competition for the attendees. They made a mistake of tweeting the URL, so I promptly joined in.
As you can see, I came in second, after “Moarhaus”, who (despite me trying really hard) had a huge advantage over me.
I have no idea who he is. I only have a vague notion as to where his soul may reside.

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Actual Hiring Process

Artur, can you please get to the point? This story is becoming longer and more convoluted that “Pirates of the Caribbean IV” plot and we didn’t get to the hiring process description yet!
I hear ya, but to be honest, Pirates of the Caribbean IV plot is just /dev/random…

1. Chat

First, I was invited to a text-based Skype chat. It lasted about an hour and was quite fun. It was way less technical than I expected.

2. ‘Simple’ coding challenge

After the chat I got a coding challenge to solve. It was not in JavaScript.
The instructions were very open – ended, without any deadline and only with vague description of problems to solve. I assume my drive and ability to self-direct my work were also tested.

I later learned that it was designed to take 6-8 hours of my time.
I devoted about 35 to that project making sure it was perfect.
I may have taken it too far.

3. Chat + Challenge feedback

It took 40 minutes.
I am in for a trial! Wohoo!

4. Trial

What can be a best way to make sure you fit in a company? Ask you questions about JavaScript context execution, new ES6 syntax and what would `”potato” + {} ` evaluate to? Brain teasers about roundness of sewage covers?
Turns out, that the best way to see how an employee would perform is to well, employ them.
This is how trial works. I was working on my trial project, communicating with other coworkers just how I would If I was already working there.
You can do trial “after hours”, keeping your previous job. I decided to throw everything at it and take no chances. For me, it felt more risky to approach this opportunity tired, after hours of my usual work than to quit my safe spot at a huge company. I quit my previous position at Samsung and decided to do the trial full time.
I got paid 25$/hr, which was way more than I was actually making before.
The project was similarly open-ended as the previous one, just much, much bigger. I had to research proper technologies, communicate my progress and design my tasks.

The trial took me ~1,5 months.

5. Matt chat

The final stage of the process is a chat with CEO, Matt Mullenweg. It is a unusual opportunity, as he is a “celebrity” in IT world and frequents the Forbes and other such magazines.
The chat itself also isn’t a mere formality – mine lasted 4-5 hours and I felt that Matt wanted to know me at a personal level. He seems to take this hiring thing very seriously. It is great!
Because of his schedule, sometimes you have to wait quite a bit until he finds time. He caught me in a movie theater, but fortunately I had a good excuse to postpone the chat.
I was watching “The Martian”. It was pretty neat.

I started my job 2 days after that. It was my 30th birthday.
Most awesome gift ever!

Grand Meetup

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GM is a yearly event where all employes meet in person. Because our company is completely distributed, we don’t see each other face-to-face. During this one week a year, we get to shake hands, do some awesome activities, party, geek out, eat together, hug, have a meal, have a walk, eat together, try Polish vodka I brought from home and eat some more.

Naturally, being a relentless badger as I am, during my trial I tracked down other Polish Automatticians and pumped them for information when the Grand Meetup may be.
Knowing the date, I tried to expedite my hiring process so I can “make it” to this years GM. 9 days after my “Matt chat” I was on a plane to Salt Lake City to meet the rest of my new coworkers.

It was a whirlwind!

My team is bunch of the coolest, funniest, most awesome people around!

Automattic Benefits

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Working very hard for those benefits from a Whiskey distillery in Bushmills, Northern Ireland

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  • You get to work with really awesome people,
  • The product you work on has 100 000 000 (yep, that’s MILIONZ!) users. The stuff you do matters,
  • You work from wherever you want. Seriously,
  • You want WHENever you feel like it. If you have flow, you can work 12 hours, and the next day – you don’t have to do much. It’s up to you (at the beginning, it was hard to me to understand it),
  • No distractions, meetings and corporate b***t to slow you down,
  • You can spend time with your kid when you need to, walk your dog, set you laundry,
  • You get unlimited vacation,
  • They fly you to awesome places to meet your cool coworkers,
  • Friends all over the globe,
  • A lot of other stuff, listed on benefits page 🙂

And that’s me, Cognitive Engineer, Artur Piszek. One of the cool kids.
Who would have thought.

And yes, we’re hiring.

Working from home? I could never!

Let me tell you about quite typical situation in my life.

I’m sitting at a bar with my friends. A few people I’ve just met overheard me telling some travel story and they want to know more about remote work. So I start to explain the reality of it – that our company has no office, we talk over internet and so on.

They nod along for a while, and after about a minute or two I hear something like:

🙀 But I couldn’t work from home!

I DO understand why they say that – and they are right!

Working from home makes one… different.

This programmer has been working from home a bit too long

It’s good to stay in touch with other people. Have you ever been sick for 2 weeks and then you just became sick of… being sick?

There comes a time when you would do just about anything to leave your apartment. The perspective of spending every day like this is scary indeed.

🐦 Stages of working from home

Believe me, I can relate. The only difference is that I have a crow sitting in my window. Her name is Kraaatherina.

But I do have some good news!

Remote work does not (necessarily) mean work from home.

One of the benefits of remote work is that you can choose a place within walking distance from your home.

  • You don’t waste so much time commuting to the office,
  • You are not limited to companies hiring in your area,
  • You can work for the company of your dreams without having to move.

These are fantastic benefits that can change your life. But if you don’t feel like it, you can ditch the office – there are plenty of options to choose from.

☕️ Working from a Coffeeshop

I’m sure you have stumbled upon a romantic, greatly overused photo of a wooden table and a MacBook perched on top. And a cappuccino (of course).

This is what I am talking about!

I’m aware this looks like a hipster’s wet dream. When working remotely,  you have to get used to the fact that your life resembles a promotional photoshoot. Working from exotic places, whipping out your MacBook at a cafe…

The struggle is real.

Me.

So how does it look in practice? How do you get work done from a coffee shop?

I usually pick a chain one. Unfortunately, my favourite cafe in the neighbourhood is taken over by moms with their kids. It may be surprising for you, but this constitutes a sub-optimal work environment.

In Poland I opt for Caffé Nero – they have the best sandwiches. But while traveling, there is always a Starbucks. And a Starbucks on the corner of every Starbucks.

  1. At a chain coffeeshop, I don’t feel self-conscious when I’m sitting and sipping one cup of coffee for 3 hours,
  2. They usually have a long, wooden table where I can secure enough space for my laptop. Romantic, round tables are probably useful when discussing poetry and charging tourists ridiculous prices, but not for real work,
  3. You know what to expect. I appreciate some variety in my life, but when I have a stressful task to accomplish – the unexpected factors,  high noise level or limited bathroom access can make us feel a little uncomfortable.

However while travelling, I do look  for “pearls”. When my fiancée and I worked from Paris, we were heartbroken by the fact that all those Parisian cafés are incredibly uncomfortable. But you do (have a chance to) stumble upon some interesting decor. Rainforest Cafe (an USA chain) imitates, well, a rainforest with fake gorillas and all. In Lviv, there is an amazing “Apteka Mikolash” where the inventor of a gaslamp used to spend his days.

Usually I get to a cafe around 9:30-10:00 and leave before lunch. Sitting there for about 3 hours, I pick “less popular” times so I don’t block the table during breakfast and lunch time which is an avalanche of hungry mob.

I like to eat breakfast at the cafe, to leave more money – in the end it’s a business, not a charity. Unfortunately, healthy options are sparse. If you want to limit caffeine consumption at the same time – it’s even trickier. Most non-caffeine options are pretty sugary. By the way, I highly recommend ginger tea in Starbucks. It’s great for those cold mornings.

When I walk into a place, I’m like a special-ops commando. But instead of assessing exits and possible murder weapons, I do check for power outlets. I carry a 3-meter extension cord with me (write me if you want to know more), so it’s less of an issue nowadays. If I happen to secure comfortable-looking table close to power outlet, I need to mark it by my sweatshirt. Searching for a proper work spot carrying a sandwich and a coffee is a real challenge.

As I mentioned – I like those long communal tables, even if I have to share them. I don’t mind company, but I really value desk space.

So I start to work.

Headphones are key, but from my experience cafe is not the most noisy environment. Other patrons tend to scroll their facebook feeds, chat in small groups, read book or work like me.

Do you want to know how to make sure you can secure a power outlet, which headphones will ensure blissful focus and what cafe is best to work from? Sign up now! 👇

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🏢 Cowork

Cowork is an office space you share with other companies / freelancers. You can get a whole room, but a desk in a an open space is much more common. You can get your own dedicated spot or a “hot desk” – where you just sit at the spare desk.

This arrangement is the closest to traditional office and has some benefits:

  • Every day you see the same faces. You meet folks during coffee breaks, you can chat about football, startups or challenges of your projects. You will have the opportunity to network – or even find friends.
  • If you’re a freelancer, it makes it so much easier to find business partners or clients. The startup that is producing a video game 3 desks away may trust you with their marketing campaign if your off-handed advice will pan out.
  • Coworking spots tend to have their unique communities. In my WeWork we get breakfast for the whole community every Monday. We can get to know one another while aggressively fighting for the last spoon of tomato hummus. Nothing brings people closer than food and a brawl.
  • These are the most beautiful offices you have ever seen. Coworking spots are evaluated the same way as potential spouses are – totally superficially. The nicer looking one always wins. Fortunately, its less paperwork to get out of coworking deal than a marriage (usually). WeWork puts a lot of effort into design.
  • Every cowork puts coffee, scanner and a printer as a benefit. Those perks may be less important for you – but you don’t have to worry about it anymore.
  • You get a physical address to put on official business documents. In Poland, that’s a legal requirement and not every landlord lets you do that in a rented apartment.
  • If you buy crap interesting items on AliExpress or do a lot of online shopping – you will have someone to sign for all those packages. This is important if you tend to wander around the world like me.

Price usually hovers around $250-$350 for a desk, but that depends on the location.

But there are tradeoffs

As I mentioned – coworking spaces have a lot in common with regular offices. With all the up and downsides.

In coworking spaces there are companies dealing with various things – for example sales or accounting – and make a lot of phone calls.

Fortunately, in my WeWork there are dedicated phone booths. This is a gamechanger. Loud phone calls are the reason why I left my previous cowork. The noise made it impossible to focus.

I generally have 2 complaints against coworking spaces:

  1. It is surprisingly louder than a coffee shop.
  2. If you travel a lot, it may not be feasible. The per-day passes are around $20, so monthly memberships are much cheaper. But if you plan to sightsee and enjoy the city, coworking spot may not be the best option.

📚 Library

Paris city library

When you were in college – did you happen to swing by the library to finish some project or focus? Why should it be any different now that you have your amazing remote career?

I am a fan of libraries myself.

Me, while smoking a pipe
  1. This is the only place that ensures quiet working conditions. You don’t even need your headphones!
  2. There is no shortage of outlets and desks.
  3. It’s free.
  4. Sometimes the interiors are phenomenal. All over Europe, libraries are the most spectacular buildings as they were founded and frequented by rich & famous. Now you have to be rich and famous to keep that tradition. It’ll be easy because – as you already know – libraries are free.

🎨 Museums

People sitting in a coffee shop without laptops. Has to be some surrealism. Thanks Chicago Art Institute!

Now, that’s a pro territory.

Museums are a very picturesque environments/ interiors. You get to work from a very impressive/intriguing/stimulating location, get some culture and learn interesting stuff during the breaks. The potential is big, but you have to do your research.

A few hints how to find a museum and which ones to avoid:

  • Science, naval and war museums tend to have more seating options,
  • Unfortunately they tend to have more screaming children,
  • Your best bet are very unpopular museums,
  • Power will be an issue in all of them. Bring extension cord or a powerbank,
  • Usually the best chance of a table and power is the museum cafe,
  • It will be loud,
  • Some museums have libraries!

⛰️ Outside

Working in the open air is like having a beer in the forest. But with a laptop and continuous quest for better wifi/lte signal. And without the beer.

By far this is my favourite mode. I love spending time in nature, watching trees and waterfalls. My remote work arrangement lets me commit new code in a Canadian National Park, conduct a video call with the Loire Valley castle backdrop and test new product version from the beach in Thailand.

WiFi is widespread nowadays, but it’s good to always have a 3G option with you. “Hotspot” option in your smartphone is usually enough.

US and Canada have a lot of picnic tables in parks. They are probably meant to be used as a place to have lunch, but they are also a great spot to whip out the laptop and pretend you are working while secretly checking your Instagram likes.

🏡 Home

Artur, you promised that I don’t have to work from home!

I won’t lie anymore. I worked in all of those places, but pretty often I end up in my… home office.

We recently bought an apartment and I enjoy my place a lot. I can see birds from the balcony (I need to keep tabs on Kraatherina). I love being able to cook fresh vegetables, going to the gym or the swimming pool without carrying all my belongings and a laptop with me.

If you want to know how to arrange an awesome Home Office, do sign up!

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🌍 Everywhere!

Remote job allows you to work not anywhere, but… everywhere!

In a traditional job you have to sit in one place. Moreover, you have no say on the matter. It’s only natural that while moving to a remote setup, you are searching a replacement.

But… is it good for you to sit in the same position for 8 hours trying to focus? Won’t your mind appreciate a little bit of change? Won’t it feel energized in new surroundings?

  1. In the morning you can work from home. Let everybody else stuck in traffic jams,
  2. Once crowds are gone you can get your morning coffee and enjoy the coffee shop,
  3. Around lunch time it might be a good idea to work from a restaurant? From my experience, Mondays are always empty and nobody will mind the laptop,
  4. Maybe… Don’t you feel like a library is a good idea today?

Or maybe it’s better to hit the cowork early in the morning, go to the gym when everybody else is still in the office and finish work at home?

You get to choose. It’s worth it!

The best benefit of remote work is that the workplace has to fit you. Not the other way around.

I want to be a programmer!

Ordinary World

Chuck was few years into his career. He was sitting at a desk for most of the day, doing menial and repeatable tasks, filling out Excel spreadsheets and agonizing over “ASAP” PowerPoint presentations that nobody really paid attention to during meetings that were absolutely unnecessary.

But the absolute majority of his day was consumed by Facebook. Be it boredom or burnout, he compulsively checked his stream. And to add salt to the injury, pretty often he would stumble into a story how those fresh-out-of-college programmer-people got an obscene salary, office restaurant, laundry, assistant or something as ridiculous as an office with michelin star-train chefs for YOUR DOG. No, seriously.

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Call to adventure

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Chuck said to himself: I wanna be a programmer! I have plenty of friends in the industry and I will ask them what to do.

Continue reading “I want to be a programmer!”