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What Types of Jobs are Best Suited for Telecommuters? 226

Posted by Cliff
from the uprooted-and-on-the-go dept.
upwardlyAndconstantly-Mobile asks: "I'm a systems engineer in the IT department of a bank. My wife is a PhD candidate looking to graduate in 4 years or so. Due to the nature of academia, she may need to move several times for post-docs and professor jobs once she gets her credentials. Her job opportunities may come from any number of cities or towns in the US or around the world. My current skill set ties me to only a handful of major cities, so I am trying to figure out the best path to prepare myself for being uprooted. Besides running something like Slashdot, what are the best tech jobs that are mobile? How many people have jobs that can actually be done from anywhere they can get email and web access? What's the best way to prepare for something like this? I have time to prepare, but what should I be doing? (I write this anonymously because I don't want my current employer reading it!)"
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What Types of Jobs are Best Suited for Telecommuters?

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  • Technology journalist

    Everything else requires a modicum of face to face interaction.
    • Speaking of which... whatever happened to Jon Katz?
      • Probably out of work, like other (former) tech journalists I know. The only story these days is the economy.
        • Tech journo is right!
          I'm not a freelancer, I work for IDG Communications in New Zealand and I work from home (WFH)... it's the Holy Grail of employment as far as I can see. I have DSL, my work phone forwards all calls to the house, I have a cellphone. I schedule face-to-face meetings back-to-back (B2B F2F?) but having a daily deadline means most contact is over the phone anyway.
          Best of all there's no commute, no parking hassles, no office interference and if something keeps me late in the office, I can still be home for dinner! I can write stories late at night should I need to and since I feel I have to prove to my boss that I'm productive, and that he should allow me to stay WFH, I do far more work than I ever managed in the office ... and yet it doesn't feel like quite so much work.
          It's good for them because I drink my own tea/coffee/juice, use my own electricity/toilet paper and don't take up costly central city space and it's good for me because I can go and play with my neighbour's dog or hang out with my 5 month old daughter while I'm waiting for calls to be returned.
          If you can swing it, go for it. It takes a bit of getting set up but once you're there, it's the best.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Freelance journalist, researcher, analyst, some coder jobs,a lot of specific consultant positions where the main name of the game is analysing and interpreting external information.

      I cut a heap of code from home, and was an IT journalist for years working from home ... and found mysefl to be very productive.

      Regards,
    • Maybe until the business cycle turns up, maybe permanently. The number of publications going out of business are going up like a Microsoft bug count. Most places I've written for no longer exist. Most people I know in the business are thinking of leaving.

      Tech journalism was hit even harder than high tech in general. Remember, dot.bombs don't buy advertising anymore. "Old Economy" companies slowed down ad purchases as they discovered they didn't have metrics to discover their ROI in Net advertising any more than they actually have them for conventional TV/print advertising. The fact that they didn't have them for the Net bothered them. TV and print are part of the way they are used to do business.

      Magazines that have drastically reduced revenue streams don't have enough money to pay writers in significant numbers, if the income goes down far enough, the plug is pulled.

    • I used to work at a newspaper with a weekly tech publication. The staff couldn't recognise an ethernet hub when a cablemonkey appeared on their floor one day. I was left with a lasting impression that the people working there were too technically illiterate to work in the technology field, and too crappy a group of journos to make it on the business pages. Since their editorial content was largely dictated by the advertising team - the only area of the paper where this was the case - it made for a pretty pathetic picture.

      What was worse was that a number of them were head hunted to more prestigious publications. Apparently they were leading lights in their field.
  • Consulting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 31, 2002 @09:19AM (#4176131)
    Join a consulting firm or go out on your own. Work anywhere in the country/world during the week and fly back home to whereever your home is at the end of the week. Did this for years.
    Easy
    • Re:Consulting (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lrichardson (220639) on Saturday August 31, 2002 @10:57AM (#4176448) Homepage
      Flip side of the coin is that MANAGERS don't like telecommuting ... kinda shows that they're not as necessary as they'd like the upper levels (not to mention the workers) to believe.

      And, to be perfectly honest, given the 'immediacy' trend currently sweeping through the business world - (i.e. being able to get hold of people immediately - cell phones, pagers, e-mail, v-mail, etc - to make up for poor planning) - most of the time your physical presence is required.

      Flying back at the weekend is kinda going out of fashion. Money is _the_ issue. I had the other route, three hour drive Friday evening/Sunday night for a couple of years. It works, but it also takes a chunk out of my life that could of been used more productively (1. It's unsafe to play Quake at ~77 mph, 2. There's large zones where there's no phone service, let alone wireless, in the midwest ;)

      Support works remotely, and has done for years, but, again, biz types feel the need to see your face in the office (which looks like an extra from any ED flick after fixing problems throughout the night. Did work at one place that had a dedicated support group ... which worked very well, apart from the detail most people hate working midnight till 8 ... but, again, cancelled due to management concerns.

      The value of actually sitting with someone cannot be underestimated. There's a gazillion cues in face to face, of which teleconferencing (assuming you'd have such a thing at your home) captures only a fraction. A quick sketch on a napkin can convey more than pages of e-mail.

      Been at a couple of places that do use telecommuting for help desks. Then again, helpdesks have pretty much completed the transformation into helpless desks, a source of infinite frustration to be used after everything else has failed.

      And, one option that works to varying degrees, is partial telecommuting. I.e. you show your face at the office once a week, or go in for a week once a month. _Some_ companies have pulled this off to the point where they have double the number of programmers than desks.

      Translation work functions fine for telecommuting. Know of several people and places that do this. Not quite your line, but anyway ...

      And you mentioned working at a bank. There's another issue working against you there ... managers don't like the 'security risk' of people dialing in remotely. Place I was at just tossed Citrix (128 bit SSL) for MickeySloth's 'more secure' version. Technical reality is not the same as managerial decision making reality ... what is technically best (including telecommuting) does not include all the other factors (cost, perception, fitting in with the corporate image) that managers also use.

      In short, I'd say, if you can get it, go for a place that offers telecommuting, but the odds are still against never having to don a suit again.

    • In my experience, working at a consultancy will give you the opportunity to work in many places. The bad side of this is that you don't get to choose them. Where I work [accenture.com] we sign documents saying we will go where we are told. That's fantastic for young people who don't mind being told they are going to be leaving for Hong Kong next week for 6 months, but not so good if you want to be able to go wherever you want.

      I would go as far to say that most consultancies (ex-Big5 variety) will give you less freedom to go where you want when you want.

      If you don't like tech journo, you could review books. A friend of mine does that for Wrox, just sends back changes he would make. He loves it, esepcially when I rang him recently and he told me he was in Bali. On holidays? Kind of... he was still working but was earning at the same time.

  • Hmm (Score:2, Funny)

    by zapfie (560589)
    Telemarketing?

    *ducks*
    • Re:Hmm (Score:2, Funny)

      by k_stamour (544142)
      * Swings Again *
    • Actually, there is a niche market. Not mass dialing, but you could do telemarketing work for a big iron company, or a very specialised services company. Some major corporations are actually open to pitches that way
  • by KILNA (536949) <kilna@kilna.com> on Saturday August 31, 2002 @09:20AM (#4176135) Homepage Journal
    Systems security consultant: You don't even have to be given access to the systems you need to remotely access!
  • by i_want_you_to_throw_ (559379) on Saturday August 31, 2002 @09:22AM (#4176139) Homepage Journal
    I am a contractor a military agency and we actually have dedicated telecommuting offices set up. Plus you have to murder someone to get fired from a government job. Serendipity!
    • Plus you have to murder someone to get fired from a government job. Serendipity!

      Nah, you can get away with that, too. We have a paroled 1st degree voluntary manslaugsterer working with us. He got his job back on parole.
  • by JanneM (7445)
    Massage therapist is probably right out. Commercial airline pilot, on the other hand, is probably just a matter of time.

    /Janne

  • Do what I do and fly (Score:3, Informative)

    by CresentCityRon (2570) on Saturday August 31, 2002 @09:25AM (#4176146)
    I'm a software engineer and I fly to client sites for my job. Since I don't work at home I can live anywhere. Its reverse logic to what you're currently looking at. It might work for you.

    Most very large companies have a Professional Services or Enterprisee Consultants. It might be a slight switch from what you're currently doing but it will keep you employed in interesting work while your wife establishes her career.
  • Porn (Score:3, Funny)

    by SparafucileMan (544171) on Saturday August 31, 2002 @09:29AM (#4176165)
    You can always publish online porn!

    Last I checked the industry was worth 9 billion USD, plenty of upward mobility, you might say.
  • by gelfling (6534) on Saturday August 31, 2002 @09:32AM (#4176174) Homepage Journal
    Find and organization that encourages Telecommuting and it won't matter what job you have. My org does this and everyone from developers to project managers to secretaries can be remote if they desire. I am not only remote but I have a very nonstandard workday; pretty much whatever I want whether it's 2am or 9-5. I have never met most of the people in my department and many of them are remote as well.
    • Mod parent up. You can easily have a job that is condusive to telecommuting, but if you work for a bunch of morons, they'll say "Your start time is at 7... I want to see you at your desk!"

      I write for my org, but if that need died out, I'd probably try sales or consulting since the company itself is pro-telecommuting.
    • So, um, where do you work, and are they hiring? :)
    • I can see it now: telecommuting receptionists.

      Now you can have camgirls welcoming you to Megacorp, Inc:

      "Have a seat in the vidconference room down the hall to the left. It's the Brady Bunch room. Feel free to get acquainted with the person on each monitor beore the meeting starts.

      "Oh, and if you liked your reception, how about buying something from my Wishlist? I take PayPal, too!"

      And, then there's outsourcing... "The leadership team has decided it's in our strategic interest to outsource our camgirl receptionists. We've just signed a contract with Camwhores.com, the best-of-breed provider of camgirl services."
  • A lot of things change in 4 years. What languages should I be coding in? What kind of certifications will employers be looking for in 4 years?

    Yes this may sound like a troll, but ask the question when you're a big closer to your deadline. Who knows, four years from now maybe you could be running a laundry-mat from your home. [slashdot.org]

    • The real question is, if your wife is already a PhD candidate, why does she need four more years to write a dissertation. Most people I know slacked off and did it in two years. A few people, myself included, did it in one year. Tell your wife to hurry up!

  • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Saturday August 31, 2002 @09:33AM (#4176177)
    People e-mail me tips every day about how I can work at home. I've never looked into it, but it sounds like there are dozens of ways that you can be self-employed and make thousands of dollars per week, with little or no investment required. I'm surprised you haven't seen these tips, everybody I know seems to get them. I'll forward them to you if you want.
  • This link [dice.com] shows all the telecommuting jobs on dice.com. Lot of telesales and technology recruiter type jobs, but not many real jobs.
    • The thing about job ads is they always represent the worst job offers out there.

      If a job offer is reasonable, it will be filled from internal personnel, or from personal networks. The only reason a job hits sites like dice.com in a market like this is because they are being unreasonable in their request.

      • Yeah, there was a time when I'd completely disagree with you - but lately, I'd say that's dead-on accurate.

        With few exceptions, the jobs I've seen listed on Monster.com, Dice.com and HotJobs.com in I.T. have been looking for an extremely specific skill-set. It's not that the pay and benefits are necessarily bad, but the employers are fishing for a "perfect" candidate that just happens to have years of experience in several obscure technologies, plus a bachelor's degree and a couple certifications.

        I often wonder if they ever find what they're looking for. Sometimes, you see these ads get listed over and over for several months, and suddenly disappear. (Did they really find someone, or just give up running the ad and settle for someone less qualified?)
        • Oh, they do. Most people will ditch a sinecure
          at IBM for a telecommuting start-up with stock
          options in quick order. If you open your jobs to
          100% telecommuters, suddenly you're hiring from a
          pool of 6 billion people instead of a local pool
          of the small disaffected percentage of qualified
          candidates in your local metropolitan area. The
          result is that you can focus your requirements much
          more finely, and get much higher-quality candidates
          willing to work for less money.

  • by wowbagger (69688) on Saturday August 31, 2002 @09:34AM (#4176184) Homepage Journal
    You don't give us any idea of what your current skill set is, so it is hard to offer meaningful advice.

    Question: is your skill set rare enough that your current employer might be conviced to allow you to work remotely most of the time? Perhaps you can offer to telecommute 3 out of 4 weeks, and be on site for the 4th week. True, if there are more people with your skill set than there are jobs you are screwed, but the fact that you are currently employed suggests that may not be the case.

    You may also be able to start consulting in your current work area, and thus travel to the customers' sites. You might be away from your wife for much of the time, but if you are bringing in enough money you can consult 9 months out of the year, and coast the other 3. That may even work out better depending upon your wife's schedule - you may find you can take a nice vacation over the summer months.

    Otherwise, you will have problems - if a job can be outsourced to Joe Bloggs in the USA over the phone, it can be outsourced to Miguel Jloggs in Mexico, Chackra Coggs in India, etc. If your skill set isn't rare enough, you can be replaced, so you will have problems.

    Can you give us a hint as to what area you are in?
  • You can do many jobs or even re-train yourself to do coding from remote. System Administration is often conducted from home so no real problems there unless it's a small company because you need somethere there to do physical systems work.

    So your looking for a SME to a large company, very likely global, that will allow you to work remotely. Hmmm this is'nt going to happen. You need to define what country your wife is going to work in and then do something about it.

    You could of course run an Internet business, however many people forget that even that cannot be run completely from remote, there is still paperwork, meetings, bills, landlords, and other physicalo necessities that you'll need. I'm sure some college kid on here will disagree with that, but then they probably hav'nt clocked up 1 real day of work in their life.

    So in short, you both need to define what countru your going to end up in, before doing any more planning. Also bear in mind the differences in infrastructure between country's, you may not have access to ADSL/Cable modem/leased line in that region/country.

    Good luck.
  • Online Tech Support (Score:2, Informative)

    by c0enzyme (221872)
    If you have a robust spirit (patience),
    then you may enjoy an exciting carreer in tech support.

    Many web hosting companies have online help desks that are ran 24/7. You are a smart fellow, so you might qualify to be at the top rung of tech support, getting all the truly interesting problems.
  • it can be done (Score:2, Informative)

    by icedivr (168266)
    I have a few friends who do infrastructure consulting for a multinational chemical company. I think only one of them has ever met the client face to face. They all work out of their houses and dial into one of the company's RAS servers. From there, they go across the globe managing 3,000+ network nodes. In a company that big, physical location is meaningless.

    Offshore development firms prove it too.
  • by AtariDatacenter (31657) on Saturday August 31, 2002 @09:39AM (#4176201)
    I'm very happy with my job as a Systems Administrator for a major IT outsourcing company. Because there is an on-site hardware group, there is no reason for us to be in the office at all. My coworkers and I work from home (with new management having just created a less nazi-like policy than my former management) under very reasonable terms. In short, if I get my work done, and I respond quickly to requests, they don't care if I am at the beach or on the moon.

    So, a Systems Administrator role that is not tied to performing the on-site hardware maintenance is a very nice work-from-home job. Of course, FINDING a position like that is tough!
  • One job I can think of is the one a friend of mine has, he's a Websphere technician, does all his technical support on the phone or by different remote admin solutions. Pays pretty well too, and he actually sends the phone bills to the caller, so he can do this anywhere he can have a SECURE (very important) computer to acess his customer's setup with a handsfree (much easier) phone. But keep in mind, he's got a truck load of certifications so it's just not something you jump into, but maybe with the skills you have there is a variant of his job that would work for you.
  • by Jerry Hicks (599962) on Saturday August 31, 2002 @09:45AM (#4176225)
    As a embedded software developer who does a lot of telecommuting I can assure you telecommuting is not all it is cracked up to be.

    On the home front, things tend to get muddled up and it's difficult to keep home and work life separate. Make sure to set up an office in a separate locked area so you can "leave the office" for the day.

    I find that a good balance is to mix it up, spending about half the time at my place, half at the "real" office.

    Beware the pitfalls of jealous and politically inclined co-workers who haven't been permitted to telecommute because they are perceived as slackers by management.
    • Yes, I second that. I also telecommute on a full time basis to a company that is 750 miles away from my home/office.

      It takes the right kind of person to do this effectively. You need to learn discipline and the ability to communicate in various mediums. We use phone, email, and instant messaging; there is place for each, but effective use is paramount. The discipline comes in because the benefit of working at home is also its liability. You are always at work! Don't let yourself or anyone else take advantage of that.

      The part about the office is key. A separate room is the only solution.

      One last point. You need to be supportive of your coworkers. Not seeing people face to face can allow negative feelings to grow where they would otherwise not. Always give your coworkers the benefit of the doubt and be generous. I work with about 6 other people up and down the east coast, all telecommuting, and we have been doing great/profitable work for the past 2 years. So I know this works.

  • by God_Retired (44721) on Saturday August 31, 2002 @09:46AM (#4176230)
    Seriously. Four years from now, you will have worked your ass off putting your wife through the PhD program. Having to deal with a lot of shit and being the chief breadwinner. It'll be time for you to take a break. She's got a PhD now, so you can sit back, figure out which beer you like the best, maybe pick up some tennis or something. Trust me, you'll want a break. Then after a year or so announce that your skills are outdated and that you are going to go back and get your own PhD.
    • Oh jeez, be a man, be the bread winner and always contribute to that role. We have not evloved far enough to not be the breadwinner. Maybe when men start having babies, then we can swap roles, but not now.

      I suspect if you "take a break" as soon as your wife gets going with her career, she will lose some respect for you no matter what she says. I've seen it happen too many times. Remember, it takes a man to be a man, do it.

  • To date I've never worked in an office, I've always worked out of the home. I've done everything from software support to development using the web, an email client and a toll free number directed to my home.
  • Even if you telecommute, you still need to see people face to face once in a while so you can't live *too* far away from your business, clients, etc. Until, of course, we have holographic onferencing or something :)
  • Usually, women have less qualification for their job then their husband.
    Perhaps you should choose the path any secretary etc. would take if they get a highly skilled academic husband:
    Staying at home and raise the kids.
    Of course, if you wife has an artsy-fartsy profession where she won't make any money ever in her life, this advice wouldn't be very helpful.
    I suppose that is is also the reason why most female art profs at universities aren't married.
  • Tech writing (Score:2, Informative)

    by y_a_duck (201454)
    I have telecommuted for over a year as a tech writer for a large software company. While it's not so far that I can't drive in once in awhile for face-to-face meetings or to have my company-provided desktop upgraded, I do most of my work online. Even with a slow broadband connection (768k cable), email, IM, Lotus Notes databases, and the telephone are all I need.
    • Hey, if you see my reply - can you provide some more info on your technical writing job?

      I took a number of creative-writing related courses in college, and had a couple computer-related articles published in a local computer journal before. I also wrote a number of documents detailing procedures for our I.T. staff at my last job.

      I almost took a contract job as a technical writing for a large firm, but declined at the last minute.

      Now, I've been considering the idea of doing technical writing (or some type of writing for hire) again. What is the pay like? When I've searched for offers to pay freelancers to write articles for tech. magazines, I'm shocked at how little they pay. (Typically, about $25-$35 per article used.) I don't see how freelance writers make any kind of living that way.

      On the other hand, many of the "technical writer" jobs I see posted seem to want a lot of HTML experience, plus experience with a particular Lotus product that I've never used. (I assume it's sort of like a desktop publishing package, designed mainly for pre-publication document formatting.) I guess these people are mainly focused on getting a large amount of technical information posted to a corporate Intranet?
  • I just created my own telecommuting position with the company I am with. Essentially - I needed to move about 400 miles away for my family's sake, but didn't want to stop working for the company.

    Just approached the boss with a proposal. Took a few months to grow on him, but he went for it - and its working. Its working better than we could have hoped. What it really boiled down to - is that the tasks that I actually perform have little relationship to the relative position of my butt in XYZ space. Now if I was making license plates or ceramic widget polishers or something in a factory .. it might be different. . . . but give me a fast net connection, a webcam and a mic, and in some ways it works better than before.

    Noone takes my stapler anymore . . . .

  • After getting tired of working for someone else, read I was laid off, I decided to go into business for myself creating and selling databases. I currently have one which is a fairly all encompasing solution for university police departments and another for hair salons on the drawing board. All I need to sell and support them is the ability to travel to various universities and a cell phone and email so they can get in touch with me for sales and support questions.

    This sounds like an almost ideal solution for you, moving from place to place would constantly change your sales area as basically anything within easy driving distance is fair game. You can support you existing customers from anywhere you can get email and obviously a web site for your product doesn't care where you are located, just update the contact info as necessary.

  • If you can learn to do something creative that you can do by yourself where delivery is measured in weeks or months. That is the first step. What that thing is depends on what you're good at or like.

    If you can find a business that regularly requires what you can deliver, that's the second step. You may not have much flexibility until you establish trust, but this is your first client.

    Once you establish trust (the third step), you can work from wherever you want as long as you deliver on schedule.

    The final step is looking for more clients, earning you more money and more security.

    Congratulations! You're a contractor in business for yourself!

    (I'm working on step 4)
  • I can't think of anything better than this. Ask Scott Adams about it.

    If your artistic capabilities don't allow for this, I'd go with software development (self employed of course).
  • Why posting anonymously? Four years from now, you'll have probably gotten laid off anyway! In my past experience, employers don't like their employees looking for jobs on company time. But if their employees are making a big life choice, like moving to a different city in four fucking years, they're usually pretty supportive. I've given my bosses 6 months notice (after I make the decision, I give myself 6 months to tie everything off) for a move in the past, and they've always been grateful and supportive. One offered the opportunity to telecommute. It was perfect for a long time... 'till seeing nobody but my bitter and angry girlfriend day to day because I had no friends and no life drove me crazy. I was writing web apps, search engines, etc. Any web-based job like that would work perfectly. You could remotely administer an entire ISP, if you tried hard enough.
  • 1. Programmer
    2. Project Manager
    3. Tech writer.
    4. CTO/CIO
    5. Instructional designer (or subject matter expert on your field)

    Pretty much anything that does not require you to be a day-to-day first line supervisor for a team. Project management is possible since you are running the project, not the people.

    At my previous job we had all these people telecommuting. The CTO telecommuted from Rhode Island to Maryland ahd he was pretty damn good at it. He travelled to our office once a month, spent two days in meetings and then back home for another month.

    Half the programmers were telecommuters. Only one person out of 10 abused the telecommuting, the others played it by the book. They liked the concept so much that they did not dare goof it up.

    Project managers do very well as part time telecommuters. It all depends on the project schedule and on incoming client meetings.
  • by Jahf (21968) on Saturday August 31, 2002 @10:29AM (#4176350) Journal
    I was an admin at a mid-level (statewide) ISP for about 4.5 years in the mid-late 1990's. I had a similar situation to yours and didn't know where to go.

    Turns out, if you are willing to move out of admin and more into marketing and research, the skillset is highly valued by many companies.

    I ended up going to work for a small linux-based ISP equipment manufacturer that within a year got aquired by a major telecomm equipment manufacturer. I'm still with the larger company, though they have had some layoffs during the tech crunch of the last couple of years.

    I started out as a field technician for technical support doing remote problem diagnosis and some travel for on-site issues. I was transferred to Sales (not my choice) for a couple of years as a Sales Engineer, where I basically worked as a system engineering consultant helping customers define exactly what products they needed (in many ways, this position can be the antithesis of the dreaded sales rep position since I got to say when the rep was wrong and both sides valued the fact that I was honest in my recommendations). During this time I started working with the product groups to define new products right before the smaller company was aquired. Later, after the aquisition, I found an opportunity to exit Sales (yay!) and went to work for the product definition group as someone who helps define various technical areas of a product that they were not familiar with, as well as provide real-world feedback on feature requests.

    All of the above areas are good for someone with practical experience in the field who doesn't mind public speaking. I still work from remote and have moved twice in 3 years. Lately my company has faced lowered travel budgets, so I'm expected to travel less and get to stare out my back office window at the rocky mountains on a daily basis.

    During this time I've been approached a number of times (without scouting for them) by other companies who are looking for a similar combination of problem solving/technical knowledge/public speaking for similar jobs. Note that you don't particularly enjoy crowds of people (I don't), but you do need to be able to hold technical discussions with strangers and write/give presentations to large groups (250 is my largest crowd so far) intelligibly and warmly. I usually retire to my hotel room after such a gig and chill out with a movie and room service while the sales and marketing folks go out and party.

    I have been considering finishing my degree (I started working at the ISP and dropped out of school due to lack of time) so that if my company cuts more workers I feel confident going back into the IT workplace, but so far it appears that marketing and product definition jobs get cut at a far less rapid rate than remote sales positions at my particular company.

  • I work for a software company with five offices in the U.S., one which is about to close, and a single office left outside the states in London (we closed Cambridge and Calgary).

    My title is Senior Network Engineer out of Texas, but I work for any and every one of the offices requiring attention to their network gear (mainly Cisco) or Unix systems (mainly Sun, with some IBM and HP). For example, at the moment I'm tracking problems across a matrix of eight Catalyst 2950's in London, trying to identify a trend in the significant CRC and frame errors.

    As others have mentioned, this type of work has a significant hurdle - a physical presence is required at some point for work like this. Each office has staff that can perform the physical work as specified by me, and I do travel several times a year. The people I work with make a kick ass team, and I enjoy the job more because of them.

    I was not hired into this position, however. The office I've worked in for many years is closing, and staff not relocating are given severence and sent on their way -- except for myself, because of my expertise. This is probably as rare a situation as you'll ever run across, and took some wrangling with management goons to make them understand I really don't need an entire office to keep doing everything I've been doing for every other office.

    In short, I wasn't hired into a telecommuting job - the job mutated into a remote situation. I'm not sure jobs like this are even offered to new hires.

    Good Luck!
  • Web Design (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AsnFkr (545033) on Saturday August 31, 2002 @10:33AM (#4176359) Homepage Journal
    A friend of mine does fill time free-lance web development, and works with people and companys he never actually contacts physically all the time. All he needs is internet, a phone line, and a good long distance plan. (Cell phone with free long distance and alot of minutes). He tours with a band he is in and while in the van does web development on his apple laptop..when he gets to a hotel connects to the net VIA a AOL (they have local access numbers EVERYWHERE) account and uploads what needs to go up. It works out fantasticly.
  • by Zeddicus_Z (214454) on Saturday August 31, 2002 @10:33AM (#4176360) Homepage
    Telecommuting is one of those wonderful benefits that was supposed to give us all the oportunity to kick back, relax and work at our lesuire from home. As long as the work was done, and the projects on time, who cared if you started your working day at 9am or 3am, right?

    Unfortunately, the real world doesn't work like that.

    Telecommunting isn't a myth. It's not equal to the fabled "paperless office". You actually can telecommunte. However, don't expect to do it straight off at your new job.

    Telecommuting has many advantages. It also has many potential down sides. Which is why 99.99% of employers will want you in their building, at one of their desks for at least your first 6 to 12 months. Why? To ensure that you actally can do the work you're supposed to be doing. It's all well and good sayin you can code like a guru, or are to systems administration what Tolkien was to the fantasy genre, but most employers won't take that risk on new people.

    For situations such as yours where you're going to be moving away, I wouldn't count on telecommuting to make your life easier. Unless you're insanely lucky, no-one will give you a telecommute job - regardless of your past achievements at other firms - without testing you out in-situ first.

    • > Unless you're insanely lucky, no-one will give
      > you a telecommute job

      This is just not true. Many companies are now
      entirely virtual, and there is little or no
      opportunity in such organizations for non-telecommuters. I've been telecommuting since
      1990, and I've gone through several cycles of
      acquisition/bankruptcy/option-cash-out/disgrun tlem ent
      without once doing the anti-environment, anti-
      family 2-hours-in-gridlock thing that passed for
      productivity in the standard model of the old
      millenium.

      My advice to anyone who values quality of life
      over ego-boosting is to refuse all non-tele
      positions, if your skill set is sufficiently
      desirable.

      Of course if all you can do is reboot AS/400
      consoles, matters are very different.

  • Let me get this straight. Your wife is going to be at a University. The last time I looked, every university had an IT department, and they are all desperate for people. They don't pay top salaries, but they are always hiring.

    Or is your skill set so limited that a university wouldn't hire you?
  • For about two years, I lived in Kentucky and did realtime systems development for a client in Georgia. They shipped me the hardware I needed, so I could do the development and a certain amount of testing at home, and then I would upload the software to them and do remote testing/debugging with them over the phone. It worked out really well, and when I joined a consulting firm I brought them along as one of our clients.

    There are companies that make telecommuting and remote development their standard practice - check out Art & Logic [artlogic.com] for example.
  • by sting985 (605396)
    My company had a woman in TX do programming on a Lucent Merlin Legend/Intuity Audix system when we added a T1 switch and did a cutover. She'll get a paycheck but we never saw her in person. Everything was conducted over phone lines. She made either $75 or $100 a hour. Also investigate company layoffs as there might be a lot of experienced people trying to start this up on their own. It's something to look into without playing commuter, that's a lot of stress and it didn't sound like that's what you wanted.
  • by ONOIML8 (23262) on Saturday August 31, 2002 @10:46AM (#4176407) Homepage
    "My current skill set ties me to only a handful of major cities...."

    Nope, it's your attitude that ties you to those cities. If you'll open your mind you'll find that your "skill set" includes things that could get you hired anywhere.

    Drop all the way back to the very basics for a moment. You could pump gas or flip burgers. The chances are good that you could stock shelves at a Wal Mart or answer the telephone in a legal office. Work up from there.

    The only problem that I see you having is that the only "skill set" you WANT to use ties you to those cities. I live in an area where there are quite a few folks who were in either entertainment or law enforcement in southern California. Don't ask me why people from those professions are so common here, I don't know. But they have either dropped back to basic skills to live here or learned other skills.

    You can too.

    Methinks you just need to open your mind a bit more.

  • I test software for a living, and last year when going through a family emergency, my employers (bless them) let me work from home for four months. It worked out well. I went into the office every couple of weeks so that people would remember who I was and not steal my cubicle stuff, but even that wasn't necessary to get my job done well.
    -aiabx
  • Your question assumes that the only tele-commuting option is for you to work at home from wherever you wife's academic job search leads her. As you suggest, this leads to your family having little or no geographic choice: you live where the job is, no matter how disgusting a place it is.

    Such is the nature of academe....at least until recently. Now there are opportunities to be a work-at-home professor as a long distance faculty member of a University or College. There are good jobs out there with accredited institutions, and the competition isn't as tough as for traditional faculty jobs because lots of folks don't know about these positions.

    Two caveats: (1) some academic snobs still look down on distance education, and (2) there isn't anything comporable yet to a "premiere job at a Ph.D.-granding research University." (Then again, 95% of traditional academics don't land that sort of job, either! So, unless your wife is limiting her search to "first tier" academics only--a nearly suicidal job search strategy for academics--the distance education option is worth throwing into the mix.)
  • The easiest, most flexible, and most lucrative way to earn money with computers is as a consultant. I've been working from home for years, and rarely see my clients (except for analysis meetings). Web-based development, database analyst/admin, sysadmin -- all can be done remotely, and usually ends up being cheaper for your client as well. In fact, why not approach your current company? Base your hourly rate on double your current salary, and you'll be beating the competition.
    • That's all fine and well if you have the clients.... Building a customer-base is *always* the tough part, though. I partnered with a friend of mine who was trying to get a computer consulting and on-site service business going, years ago, and the cost of advertising our services exceeded our income.

      If we had a big loan, up front, to work with - sure, I think it would have broken even in a year or two, and started making money. Fact is, we didn't have that luxury. We simply had a limited budget to start with, and the knowledge that we were both really good at what we did.

      Being good at the job doesn't equate with short-term profitability, though. When you're out of work and need to pay the bills, this type of thing isn't usually a workable solution - unless you've got large cash reserves.
  • A friend of mine did websites for internal use in a major (and now bankrupt) telecommunications company. She was home everyday when her children came home from school, made a nice income, and only had to go into the office to mail packages or put training manuals together (so about once a month).
  • If your wife is a PhD candidate, then you are obviously living close to a college. The best place to look for a flexible job is at the university. You may go the traditional route of applying to posted positions, but I would recommend a different approach. Probably the best way to get a job, would be to become more socially active with people who may need new hires. Many people who post jobs have already made their mind on an internal candidate so that's why its important to find out about these openings before they are posted. As far as telecommuting goes, Universities tend to be very flexible as long as your work allows you to be productive without face2face contact. As a programmer working on a project with 2 other people, I don't need to be in the office that much so I'm allowed to telecommute 3 days a week.

    One word of warning, make sure you have decent home office to work in, a few years ago OCSA passed some crazy regulations in regards to telecommuting, so most HR departments are really paranoid about a telecommuters workplace. I know my setup [phataudio.org] is going to be inspected next month by some guy to make sure the it is ergonomically correct, which is completely ridiculous. Basically they will justify their existence by telling me to get keyboard trays even though my keyboard is already at a good height. Way to go OCSA, keeping me safe from the dangerous height of my model-m keyboard! They will probably furnish me with an MS keyboard that I will immediately throw in the closet.

  • Just tell your Pointly Haired Boss that you'll wear a really uncomfortable hat.
  • If I telecommute, won't I be competing with a PhD from India, who is happy to work for $500 a month?
  • I don't know what field your partner is in, but it should be noted that a PhD is not a guarantee of an academic career. You might want to see how things develop in her studies as well as her and your job market over the next few years before making any irreversible decisions.
  • Not to troll, but this is the exact question I submitted as an 'ask slashdot' a few weeks ago...I'd like to re-phrase it the way I posed it in my question: What are the most portable tech skills? Besides desktop support, which is computer related and can be done anywhere, what skills are are the most portable and relatively high paying in not-necessarily urban areas?

    I am in a similar situation as this guy, so want to know the concensus...But, here are my thoughts on the matter:

    The ability to change your skillset, and adapt to any skillset is one of the most valuable assets in the tech industry...Working as a tech is primarily about problem solving. The technology itself is (often) dynamic, and little more than the context within which you solve these problems. Granted, some technologies are easier to use, easier to understand, and more enjoyable. But, once you have developed your problem solving skills, you should be able to apply this to any technology... In line with this idea, I think a wide variety of skills are the best preparation for a nomadic tech lifestyle. Preferably ones you enjoy working with!!!

  • Kids?

    I imagine they're not in either of your minds at the moment, but 4 years is a long time, and minds change with them.

    On a less contentious topic, I've met a few people who worked several hours away from home at the end of a modest international airline journey, arriving mid-morning Monday and leaving lunchtime Friday, over periods of years. Admittedly, you need a really secure partnership to do that for any length of time, but it seemed to work OK for them (kids in these cases were either absent or had already left the nest).

    Like someone else commented, 4 years is a long time in the IT business. Using it to generalise your skillset so you can pick up short-term assignments nearer where your peripatetic wife will be located.

  • Ok, stop laughing. Faced with exactly the same quandry, I chose to trade stocks. You can do it from anywhere, the hours are great, and my tech skills haved all been expanded well beyond the limited horizons that a mere bank job can offer. Programming, networking, hardware, and math abilities have all been put to the test. And believe it or not, I am making a pretty good living at it, even in this market. Same cash as the bank job (I was a senior developer) but I have to pay for my own benefits. No PHBs and their loser deadlines [slashdot.org]. Full telecommuting benefits, with no travelling to the main office for "important meetings". Vacation whenever. It's hard work and took a long time to prepare for, but it's definitely worth it.
    • You're not talking about buying stocks with your own money are you? Surely you're talking about handling other peoples stock purchases for a brokerage fee.
      Or should this read:
      Ok, stop laughing. Faced with exactly the same quandry, I chose online gambling. You can do it from anywhere, the hours are great, and my tech skills haved all been expanded well beyond the limited horizons that a mere bank job can offer. ...
      Or maybe:
      Ok, stop laughing. Faced with exactly the same quandry, I chose hacking bank software. You can do it from anywhere, the hours are great, and my tech skills haved all been expanded well beyond the limited horizons that a mere bank job with a gun can offer. ...
      Contrary to your first line, this post was supposed to be modded up as funny, right?
  • I work for a mid-sized IS department for a unamed corporation. Our Is is centralized though we have facilities in 4 states. We didn't have a formal telecommuting policy BUT the IS folks who had DSL/Cable set up a VPN so work could be done from home. Some folks took 1 day a week. Others worked through rush hour then came in. All in all it was a good deal. Productivity was up (number of help desk calls closed was up). Employees were happy.

    That was until the top dogs pulled everyone in last friday. Apparently some folks complained that they could not telecommute. So rather than take what was working and modify it and define roles/positions that could telecommute they pulled the plug on ALL telecommuting.

    This was a good way to piss off a lot of good folks.

    Bottom line, if the company you are looking to work for says they allow telecommuting make sure they have a policy in writing.
  • What a Fraud (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Peahippo (539266) <peahippo.mail@com> on Saturday August 31, 2002 @01:30PM (#4177092) Homepage
    While we're on the topic ... I don't doubt that some sensible telecommuting is going on, BUT ....

    Telecommuting isn't being used mainly to save on transportation or infrastructure costs. Transport is borne by the worker, but the authority to telecommute is with the worker's management. Telecommuters also tend to have their own desks, cubes or offices at the company workplace.

    "Telecommuting" is mostly a code word for the subtle authorization of management, salesmen and programmers to take time off at home while still getting paid. This is laziness and thievery, but since they are expensive and privileged labor, few have the position or gumption to call them those names.

    Note well how call centers are filled with people who must commute every workday to do a job that is structurally well suited to working at home over the telephone. But that's not telecommuting as currently practiced -- that's for privileged types and not for the sweatshop laborers no matter how heavily the system revolves around pure telephony.

    Exception-That-Tests-Rule: I do know somebody personally who successfully telecommuted while being on the bottom of the corporate totem pole. But the same impetus to allow a telecommuting employee like that, was part and parcel of cutting all kinds of costs, such as in-office management, rules for work (yes, I asked for the rules and regulations for employees and was basically laughed at for my trouble), and also abiding by federal and state regulation of their medically-oriented business. She was eventually fired for not following the unknown rules, and the last we heard, the state was all over the company anyway for noncompliance.

    Work-from-home schemes are rife; they are always scams when advertised remotely, or half-scams when advertised by a local office; and the popular perception of telecommuting is equally out-of-touch with reality (the AT&T commercials being fine indicia of that). I am at a loss to envision how real telecommuting can become as pervasive as it needs to be, given all the work that could be done at home and isn't yet, as well as all the work that will need to be done outside of the continued downsizing of workplaces.
    • Telecommuting isn't being used mainly to save on transportation or infrastructure costs. Transport is borne by the worker, but the authority to telecommute is with the worker's management. Telecommuters also tend to have their own desks, cubes or offices at the company workplace.

      Yes and no. Hot desking/hoteling is the best example of telecommuting/road working saving money on real estate. But those workers are more expensive to support, since a laptop in a bag is more fragile than a PC on a desk.

      Note well how call centers are filled with people who must commute every workday to do a job that is structurally well suited to working at home over the telephone. But that's not telecommuting as currently practiced -- that's for privileged types and not for the sweatshop laborers no matter how heavily the system revolves around pure telephony.

      Call center staff don't just answer the phone, they also have to do stuff on behalf of the customer. In essence, a call center may be viewed as a "black box" voice recognition system. You connect one end to the phone system, and the other end to your corporate IT infrastructure. Assuming that the cost of its external voice and data links are the same, a call center can be located anywhere in the world, so you put it where the internal mechanism (i.e. the people) can be sourced most cheaply.

      The reason that it's difficult for call center staff to work from home is that the technology is not quite there yet to allow them to securely run the applications that do the call center's real work (manipulating data in a corporate database), even though the technology to link them to voice networks does exist. Once this problem is solved, you simply pay operators by calls answered satisfactorily, and then they can telecommute to their heart's content.

      Work-from-home schemes are rife; they are always scams when advertised remotely, or half-scams when advertised by a local office; and the popular perception of telecommuting is equally out-of-touch with reality

      Telecommuting works if its an occasional thing. For example, an on-call sysadmin can RAS into the office if their pager goes off, or perform routine maintenance from home (say, checking the backup completed). But if people want to work from home then they need a job structured in such a way that all resources are available at home and contact with the outside world can be asynchronous for most of the time. Examples of this are writing books or articles, many types of art, even shareware developer.
  • You don't say what your skill set is that limits things so dramatically- it's hard to be specific without knowing that. One thing to consider instead of telecommuting, though, is to plan on taking technical positions at the various institutions that your wife may be doing postdocs at. A few issues:
    • Technical jobs at universities or research labs don't pay as well as their corporate counterparts, but for many people, the environment is more reasonable.
    • Large universities and research labs are always shorthanded when it comes to sysadmins and network people, for example relying upon students (or ex-students) for a large part of their expertise.
    • Universities are pretty accustomed to reasonably rapid turnover in technical positions, for a number of reasons. So just being someplace for three years is not unusual or a big downer from their side, unlike some corportate positions.
    • There are a lot of interesting problems that arise in scientific computation settings, for example, if your skills are applible there.
    • Many women in research/academia have similar concerns of finding acceptable employment for both halves of a couple, commonly known as "solving the two-body problem." Many universities have progressive methods for helping to solve two-body problems, at least if there are interested in getting strong women faculty.
    • Though there can be bad things about both halves of a couple working at the same place, there are also some really nice things too.

    That being said, if your wife does want to continue down the PhD path to research and academia, she may find this book: Ms. Mentor's Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia [amazon.com] as helpful as I have. She (and I) may not agree with everything in there, but it certainly makes you think about a lot of things that you might not have otherwise.
  • As much as I dislike office politics, it is not
    something that can be disregarded or discounted.
    To me the most important practical feature of any
    telecommuting environment is an even playing field.
    That means that an organization in which all or the
    bulk of the employees are telecommuting is 10,000%
    more desirable to work for than an organization
    that merely allows telecommuting.

    From my point of view, the single positions that
    benefit the most from telecommuting are software
    development and HR. Software development because
    of the immense gains in efficiency from a quiet,
    uninterrupted period of work, which categorically
    outweight any losses due to the increased expense
    of team co-ordination, and HR because it *is* the
    network, so to speak.

    I've been telecommuting for 12 years now, and I
    would never go back, unless I was offered an
    opportunity to accomplish some over-ridingly
    important goal by taking a commuting position.
    Much more important than the choice of job desc,
    I think, is the choice of organization.
    Telecommuting in a Nasdaq/Fortune 500 will always
    stink, because office politics are vastly more
    important than production, delivery, in that
    environment. Go for a well-founded start-up
    or a deeply entrenched niche-market organization.

  • That's your best bet for a good telecommuting job. You sit around the house in your underwear all day telling callers that you are sitting around in your underwear.
  • Become an open-source developer! Using SourceForge, you can work anywhere.

    Only problem is that the pay isn't there...
  • Telephone sex workers should be able to work at home instead of at call centers...
  • You may not be able to find a good job telecommuting. In all likelyhood, you'll have to do one of three things:

    • Forego your opportunities at career advancement so that your wife can have the best career she can find.
    • Force your wife to make do with whatever is available so that you can have the best career that you can find.
    • Both you and your wife compromise so that you can both have satisfying careers, even though neither is optimal.


    You should both forget the notion that your job is very portable and that you will be able to find a satisfying job wherever her tenure track takes you. You've already started on this track by realizing you may not find on-site jobs that work. But you probably won't find telecommuting jobs that work perfectly either, and being uprooted every couple years to an arbitrary place won't help your career either.

    You and your wife need to realize that both of your careers are equal in importance. As such, to keep the marriage intact, you will both need to evaluate offers and locations in terms of what they offer both of you, and you will both need to settle for something reasonable, because you probably won't find a place ideal for both of you.

    If you don't compromise, one of you will probablyu be very bitter and it'll put huge stresses on your marriage. My wife chose a location for grad school that has no jobs that I find enjoyable. I'd explained that I didn't think this area had anything to offer me, but I allowed myself to be overruled. I'm employed, but my job is exactly what I promised myself I would never do. I've come extremely close to movinjg out and on several occasions. For our next move, we're both looking at areas, and we're not going to choose a location that both can't agree on.

  • I work for an IT department at a bank, and I telecommute about 90% of the time. Employer pays for broadband and provides a laptop, and a set of docking stations, keyboards, mice and monitors (one for home one for office). You get VPN software and a SecureID card and you get a credit card to buy equipment and books you might need.

    My boss has instituted a mandatory In the Office day - every second monday of the month we all come in and get free lunch. However, some people live outside of practical driving distance, and are exempt. Most people live reasonably near a data center, close enough to drive to once a month.

    It works excellently for us, but our managers are all pretty good with it - in fact, my manager _refuses_ to meet employement candidates face-to-face until they've actually been hired.

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