Penguins and Effective Advice.

Last week’s deliberate newsletter issue about Tesla, Bitcoin, and Ducks turned out to be a spectacular success, so I have an important update to share with you today. Did you know how flamboyant Northern Rockhopper penguins are? Well, now you do.

Image courtesy: @kaleybrauer

Another important piece of information about penguins is that there are penguins in Africa! I had the privilege to swim with them in Cape Town.

Best Advice is what NOT to do.

My mom loves sharing unsolicited advice with me, and my grandpa is a master mansplainer. He would ask me for help on something I do for a living and later interrupt me to explain a detail I just told him. (I think I may have inherited some of this advice-giving enthusiasm since, well, here is another email from me.)

We live in a post-scarcity world of information. The shortage of opinion is not a problem we have to solve. Quite to the contrary – we are bombarded with options and would gladly defer to someone to remove some of the choice.

And yet, people still act as if “just another idea to consider” is something we crave. My personal pet peeve is googling an article full of general non-information ending with “you should act in accordance to your personal situation and consider other sources.”. I know that, but JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO.

If you want to be most helpful, here is my advice-giving algorythm™️ (also on Twitter):

  1. Ensure that the other party is indeed seeking advice. It’s very likely that they’re seeking support or encouragement. Professional problem-solvers tend to skip this step.
  2. Good advice is NOT a truckload of other things they could worry about. People seeking advice are overwhelmed already. The best help is curing that overwhelm.
  3. The best advice is: “at your stage skip all this and all that. Here is the step you should focus on. Here is how you start”.
  4. The best way to know is to ask “What have you tried?
  5. Remember that advice is about helping THEM. Not giving you an opportunity to finally regurgitate all you know about a topic and prove that you haven’t wasted 5 years studying it. Give them a starting point. The simpler the better and don’t overwhelm them with information.
  6. The best advice is “don’t worry about these 10 things. It’ll sort itself out, or you can look at this later”.

Julia Evans, in her article “How to Answer Questions in a Helpful Way” recommends prefacing the answer with even more prompts:

  • Rephrase a more specific question back at them (“Are you asking X?”).
  • Ask what prompted their question.
  • Ask, “Did that answer your question?

Surprising Consequences of the Internet

Superstar Cities Are in Trouble (the Atlantic)

The Remote Work experiment of 2020 has caused a massive exodus from the world’s biggest cities. Employers had no choice but to permit working from home, and that has allowed deliberate choice about where this home should be.

Beyond anecdotal accounts of bankers fleeing Manhattan and tech workers saying sayonara to the Bay Area, we have loads of private data to back up the story that superstar cities are in trouble.

Redistributing workers (and tax revenue) to smaller towns is the most exciting consequence of Remote Work. I have been betting on this outcome for a few years and I’m really happy to see it start.

Superstar pain could be America’s gain—not only because lower housing costs in expensive cities will make room for middle-class movers, but also because the coastal diaspora will fertilize growth in other places.

Working From Bed Is Actually Great (New York Times)

Continuing the trend of surprising consequences, it’s now socially acceptable to work from your bed! Mostly because nobody cares. What you do in your bed is your business, even if that means business.

Working from bed is a time-honored tradition upheld by some of history’s most accomplished figures. Frida Kahlo painted masterpieces from her canopy bed. Winston Churchill, a notorious late riser even during World War II, dictated to typists while breakfasting in bed. Edith Wharton, William Wordsworth and Marcel Proust drafted prose and verse from their beds. “I am a completely horizontal author,” Truman Capote told The Paris Review in 1957. “I can’t think unless I’m lying down.”

“Being in bed is great,” he said. “I wish, in general, there were fewer norms and standards around where it is and isn’t acceptable to work.”

Almost a Jurassic Park (Traveller)

Clive Palmer wanted to build a hotel resort in secret, so he disguised it as a “dinosaur park” in documents. He thought he’d get less attention that way.

“…Then, in Paris and London and Frankfurt and Beijing, they started writing these articles to say that we were going to clone dinosaurs here.”

“We had 500 scientists applying for jobs, which got me thinking – there must be something in this dinosaur thing,” he said.

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! ?

? 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!

? 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!”