Life and remote work

29 Sep 2018

First of all, I’m not sure but probably some of these thoughts will change in future. But I’ll just talk about what I have in my mind these days and it will be a long post.

If you’ve read my previous post about epilepsy, you know that I am just resting since February 2018. I had plenty of time to think and plan the future. It’s really nice because when you are in the flow of work and other stuff, you can’t really see much further. Getting out of that flow for almost 8 months gave me a really good amount of time. Probably I won’t even have this opportunity since I’m 23 years old at the moment and I will be working for next x years, so there won’t be this kind of a space in future.

I live in Istanbul, Turkey. I’ll give some information about here so you can have a better perspective.

About Istanbul itself, it’s one of the most gorgeous cities in the world, if not the most. It has a great variation of culture and a incredibly rich history. Most of the people complain about, the biggest problems, how crowded the city is. Around 16 million people, living in 1,533 km² area. It’s very dense. A dense city means traffic, you can find yourself stuck in road for hours. The life is pretty fast and tiring in the regular work routine. Yet there are really beautiful places to calm down, rest and enjoy. I like being here but some people just run away to calmer cities.

Even if some stuff like cars and electronics are quite expensive here, cost of living is relatively cheap if you compare it with European countries or US. It’s almost same with Ukraine, as I lived there about 4 months. Salary of a fresh Computer Engineer graduate is in range of 2000-5000 TL, where the max is given to the experienced ones, the ones who improved themselves by finishing self projects, or simply by working somewhere during the education. $1 = 6 TRY right now, I’ll be typing in USD from now on. 5000 TL is around $833. It’s not terrible but you wouldn’t be too free to buy whatever you want, it depends but you won’t be saving much. And down to 2000 TL, which makes $333, you will suffer, it’s impossible to live properly. You have to live with family, which is what most of the people here do here until they marry around age 30. When they marry, sum of two salaries is being ‘okay’ to live. House prices in Istanbul is crazily high compared to these salaries, $100k-$340k. Good luck saving up that much. People basically spend their lives, hoping to get a house and a car, yes, a car is also incredibly hard to get here because of the import taxes. Some people never achieve these, some of them inherit enough money from their family, maybe even a house. That’s probably the only way to have it if you work with $800 salary here, which is considered mid-level. Another option is to move to a cheaper city, yet it’s very hard to find a job there because almost all the tech companies are based in Istanbul.

My dream couple years ago was to finish my game, finish the university and then move to US. Then climb the AAA game industry career up to Valve Software, Blizzard kind of companies which I admire. Work hard, make money, that was the dream end-game. Because of the politics in Turkey, I had a super negative feel about the country and I simply wanted to run away as soon as possible. Specially if you grow up in internet like me: play and chat with foreigners and consume foreigner content your whole life, you find yourself alienized a bit. The life here becomes irritating. Also for a person who spends most of the time on internet, seeing the websites like Wikipedia and imgur blocked makes you really really angry. The internet speed also suffers, even if we pay a lot more than most of the countries, there is quota stuff and even if you pay a lot, your upload speed doesn’t go over 5 mbps. So yeah my goal was to run away to a ‘successful life’ in US which most of the people dream about here.

Years passed and I was seeing lots of negative comments about AAA companies and game industry overall. After a while I got really cold to this idea. Most of the people who worked at those dream companies, even out of the game industry, companies like Amazon, Microsoft, people quit and either get into a tiny indie game studios, or just making their own. Since I was also developing my game and enjoying it, this looked great. Release a game, burn some of the earned money to make another game. Keep this loop going, live comfy and happy forever! Freedom sounded really good to be independent. At this point, you find out, maintaining this life in US or EU is a lot harder because of the cost of living. Because the money you earn is same, wherever you are.

At some point I got a job offer, a group of industry veterans making a new indie game company, a tiny one. I was going to be the only programmer, and in this kind of a small team, you get a relatively big freedom on your code, actions and decisions. Sounded good to me, also I wanted to have an office job experience. Started working there, it was really fun, the office and guys were great. Work itself was a bit overwhelming because of the work-load of having a very near release deadline. I was enjoying what I do overall. Yet there were couple stuff I wasn’t happy about, which are not about the company itself.

Working 10:00-19:00 was fine, even if it’s longer than the classic 8 hours. But when I was in this routine, it’s not hard to see that the time you spend for work is a lot more. Reason is ‘to commute’. I recently learned this word, meaning going to work and coming back home. I was waking up at 08:00, prepare for an hour and go out at 09:00, a very very tiring travel was taking another hour. So if I exclude the breakfast, before the work actually starts, I lose 1.5 hours of time and a good amount of energy. Going out of work at 19:00, the way back was a lot worse, takes 1.5 hours and climbing a long slope. When I was home, clock was showing 20:30 and I was so exhausted. To come back alive, I needed to just rest at least 30 mins doing nothing. Takes us to 21:00. Spent 2 more hours and my whole energy to work, not directly but still it is caused by work. Some people are very lucky that they live near work so commuting is not a big deal like this. But that’s not the case most of the times, specially in Istanbul. When you sum up, 3.5 hours are spent out of work, for work. Also work itself is 9 hours instead of the optimal 8. So in total, 4.5 hours and tons of energy wasted for absolutely nothing. Every, single, work day. Considering you want to sleep 8 hours a day to maintain being healthy, you have 3 hours to live your ‘life’. Oh by the way, if you don’t live with your family, in this 3 hours you also need to cook and do other home stuff.

I worked there just 5-6 months and I had to leave because of my epilepsy situation. But even that short amount of time gave me a great experience. I quickly decided that I don’t want to spend my whole life living less than 3 hours a day. I mean work itself is also living but if you were so wealthy, and you still love programming, you would do something else as hobby. Then it could be ‘living’. Otherwise I don’t count the job you do to survive as living, because you have to work to survive. Most of the people don’t do what they would like to do. Even if you are in the industry you want to be in, it just might not be enjoyable as it could be. If it is, you are very very lucky.

This is the point I started having my resting time. Having lots of time to observe, research and think. So I thought, what do I do then? A job is a must to survive. What are my main goals and values? Instead of finding a temporary solution, I wanted to find a life style which I can maintain as long as I will work. I’m an engineer so optimizing this situation starts with cutting off the commute part, because I need that daily energy and 4.5 hours of extra time. That’s good, how then?

Remote work, working from home! Sounds simply amazing to me. Yet there are couple reasons some people would not to do have this. First one is that they like to go out and work in an office. It’s reverse for a person like me who likes to be home. Second reason is that office environment is the biggest part of their social life. This also is not my case as I already have lots of old friends to socialize with. I don’t require the office environment in any way.

I released my game already. What I did was also working at home, I already experienced that, and it was great. So I could keep doing this as I wrote before. But after game started to sell, even if it was selling okay, I saw that it was not good enough to survive just doing this. I spent 3.5 years on it and it is not a good investment, money-wise. I was a lucky one but in last couple months, I saw many similar scale games being released after 4 years of development and they sold even worse. And these guys are living in EU or US. It can’t be scarier than this. You work for years earning nothing, then you release and it does not sell at all. In the most of the cases, this is the reality. Huge financial success is possible, but the risk is also craziliy huge. It isn’t sustainable in my opinion.

Another option to work at home is to do freelance. Again, sounds good. I headed to freelancing websites. In those sites, there are lots and lots of tiny projects. I picked the ones which match my skills. In the project page, I needed to do an offer which includes the price and the time that it will be completed in. So I did. Lots of offers to lots of projects. Yet I could not get any. Even if my CV is pretty good, my profile page in the website did not have any finished freelance jobs. So it is a weird situation where your profile is empty because you can’t get any jobs, and you can’t get any jobs because your profile is empty. Other offers have like +100 references and +4/5 stars. Only way to break out of this loop is to offer a price lower than everyone. That’s the only way to get picked. At this point, guess what? The lowest ones are already crazily low, because they are offered by people from China or India. There are many offers from those countries and those people can afford working this cheap. So cheap that if I go under their price, it will be meaningless for me. It’s the only way to fill the website profile page with references but it is a very long process. Also even if you are able to get jobs, there are also: searching projects, giving offers, doing the project with unrealistic expectations, then chasing the guy to get your money. Considering you’ll get lots of projects at the same time, I don’t need this kind of a stress in my life.

I was really annoyed, until a friend told me that there is something called ‘remote job’. I simply didn’t know it exists. It is basically a full-time office job, but at home! Working only 8 hours, having a stable salary. What can be better than this? As long as I would have my laptop with me, I can even move to and stay in another country for months while working at the same company, without asking for vacation days. It’s the most optimal way to live in my opinion and I’m so glad that it is possible if you are a programmer. Everything is so great, I couldn’t find any flaw yet. When I searched about salaries and stuff, American or US companies pay less than what they would normally pay for an office employee. That’s really good for them, yet if you live in those countries, it would be hard to live on this salary. On the other hand, living in a cheaper country like Turkey or Ukraine, their ‘low’ salary is incredibly big here. Range is like $2000-$5000 as I saw, compare that to the $833 I told earlier. So it is a huge bonus if you live in a cheaper country.

I am searching for a remote job since July, yet since my specialization is on game development and C++, I couldn’t find many job posts. Most of them are about Javascript and web development. I have a bit of experience on that too so I leaned a bit towards it, I need to adapt myself if needed. But when I apply to the web development jobs, most of them reject because my CV has nothing about them. Also the desired skill for remote jobs are a lot higher than office jobs. They simply search for the best ones, mostly seniors with +6 years of experience.

There are also websites like Upstack, Crossover and Toptal. These work like those freelancer websites, but they have full-time jobs too. The cool part is that you compete against a lot less people because to get into these platforms, you need to pass through tons of hard interviews and algorithm tests. That filters lots of people out, increasing the chance of landing a job. I did some research about Crossover, and people tell horror stories about it. It goes creepy as taking your picture from your camera. I did not want to do that, again it’s extra stress that I don’t need.

I recently got accepted to Upstack, it has only web development jobs and they said it takes a while before they find a job for me. I also applied to Toptal as a C++ developer. These two companies look really nice. I want to co-exist in both communities, as web developer in one and C++ developer in another. I will post about my experience on remote work in future. I really hope Toptal tests and interviews also go well, wish me luck!