Do Programmers Work From Home?

In this post, I’ll answer the question “do programmers work from home?” This is a burning question in the minds of many. And it goes beyond programming and beyond IT. There are a few ways to answer this question so I’ll go through each. You’ll learn more about how programmers and anyone can work from home.

I’ve been on all ends of that spectrum in my eight years of working in software development. In the first segment, I’ll share my experiences. Later, we’ll look at how to find these opportunities. Finally, I’ll wrap up with other models besides full-time employment. Let’s get started with the first case…

It Depends

Let’s assume we’re talking strictly about full-time employment with a company. In this case, working from home depends on a lot of factors. There are different models for working from home on a spectrum from never to always.

Zero Work From Home

Some organizations take a hard line on working from home. In other words, they don’t allow it for anyone. This is the extreme of the scale. It comes from the legacy of the pre-technology world where working from home wasn’t possible. Here’s the fallacy in that thought: even before modern technology, we people worked from home. In fact, we’ve always worked from home.

I believe these cases are becoming rarer as time goes on. It’s becoming a critical mass that’s shifting the landscape of how we work.

Occasional Work From Home

The next shade of the spectrum is working from home occasionally. Adults have commitments outside of work. Volunteering, brand-building, continuing education, and parenting are just a few reasons we might have something going on during the workday. If that’s in the middle of the day and you have a long commute (not uncommon in larger cities), you might be able to work from home that day. The idea is this: why take the whole day off work when you have something for an hour in the middle of the day? That’s a whole day of productivity that’s lost. Besides, most programmers are paid a salary. If they want to log on and work while they’re away from the office, so be it! And this brings up a quick point about PTO (Paid Time Off).

A Note on Time Off

Some companies offer unlimited PTO and others offer limited time. Companies also differ in their vacation policies. Some policies allow vacation to accrue over the years up to a maximum. Others reset the vacation bank every year. In every case I’ve seen, companies pay out the vacation hours accrued when you leave for whatever reason. If you’re following me, this means that when vacation accrues over the years, you have a good deal. You can bank accrued vacation when you leave. When you have unlimited PTO, that’s not vacation time so they don’t have to pay it out.

Let’s get back on track to the original question: do programmers work from home? And let’s take on the next level of the spectrum.

Subset Working From Home

Much of how your business relationship with work goes depends on how you negotiate during the hiring process. Did I say business relationship? Yes, I did! It helps negotiations when you see your employment as a business relationship. If you can negotiate well, or simply just ask after they’re ready to make you an offer, you might be able to get to work from home. This can be sometimes or it could be most of the time. In this case, we have a subset of people who work from home and others who don’t.

As a policy, this can get a little weird. Imagine you’ve managed to negotiate to work from home regularly. In some organizations, it’s up to the manager to set the policy on this. Now, let’s say you’ve switched managers to someone who isn’t really on board with the WFH thing. You’re grandfathered in, but other folks on the team can’t WFH. This can create a sticky situation. I’m sad to say it, but there it is.

There are other situations where the role simply doesn’t allow you to work from home. Programming isn’t one of them. Let’s consider a situation where all programmers work from home regularly.

Programmers Working From Home Partly

Another model is where companies allow employees to work from home one to a few days a week. I’ve seen this situation the most. In my own experience, firms are willing to allow one or two days a week remote.

I’ve had this arrangement in two ways. One was merit-based and offered to everyone in IT (except those in service desk). That was a strict policy with a contract and all. The other was a “gentlemen’s agreement” to work from home two days a week. In both cases, the days were generally fixed (Tuesday and Thursday, for example). Most WFH folks prefer to “bookend” the week by doing it on Mondays and Fridays.

Others have done up to three or four in special cases. For example, one ex-colleague of mine worked four days a week from home. He came from another city (over two hours commute each way) to the office once a week.

Working Fully Remote

This is the other end of the spectrum. There are pros and cons to this kind of arrangement. On the plus side, you’re free to roam the globe so long as you’re getting your work done. In some cases, you have to stick to certain work hours. In other cases, your work will be completely asynchronous. In either case, you have to have some discipline to succeed.

On the cons side, you’ll have little personal contact with your colleagues. In a modern era rife with communications options, it isn’t a matter of communicating the work. What it really boils down to is the connection to others that makes a team really efficient. Companies that have gone through the transformation from in-office to fully remote may meet in person regularly in order to foster the feeling of relatedness that we all crave.

Person-to-person communication really is the most efficient form. All senses are engaged, and that means a lot when it comes to memories. What you think of other people is tied to your total experience at the time. What was the smell, the taste, the lighting, the sounds, even the temperature when you spoke to your colleague last?

Finding Work From Home Programming Jobs

You’ve probably got the $6 million question on your mind. OK, I know those work from home jobs are out there, but how do I find one? And even more importantly, how do I land one?

Finding One

The best way to find out about part-time work from home policies is to ask. If you want to program from home all the time, you’ll want to filter for those jobs when you search. Here are some common places to look for these kinds of jobs:

  • StackOverflow—Finding a remote job on StackOverflow is easy, there’s a filter on their jobs page. Just check the “Remote” box and you can view the results, see?
  • LinkedIn—It’s a bit tougher with LinkedIn. They don’t cater to software engineers so they don’t have “remote” as a filter. You have to type in “remote” and “work from home” along with other criteria. You’ll get some false positives and odd matches. It’s not the best for what you want, but you’ll find some options this way.
  • Job sites—You can always try the mass job sites too. Here’s a search on Monster that might be productive. You may need to tune it to your specific talents. There are plenty of other job boards to check. You’ll usually get a lot of false positives, but the work from home jobs are on those as well.

Hopefully, you can find what you’re looking for, but you still need to land one once you’ve applied.

Landing One

Many companies have a multi-step hiring process. Here’s a typical process that you’ll often encounter when it comes to programming jobs:

  1. Apply—Upload a resume, write a cover letter, and fill out application forms. Sometimes quick-apply works too.
  2. A coding test—Many places use some kind of code challenge to make sure you’ve got the chops.
  3. A phone call with the internal recruiter—A lot of companies have someone who finds folks to hire. They’re the ones who post the ads to job boards and they’ll talk to you first. Some companies skip this step, but it’s not unheard of.
  4. A phone screen—More often than not, there will be some kind of technical phone screen. A more senior programmer or even a manager will talk to you about your experiences and skills.
  5. An in-person/virtual interview—If you’re applying to a partially remote job near your home, you’ll likely do an in-person interview. Depending on your level of experience, this could take up most of a day. When you’re going for a full remote position, you’ll either do the interview virtually on something like Zoom, or you’ll fly in for the interview.

If you’ve made it through the process of applying for a full-time job, congratulations!

Now take a few moments to contemplate some other options for working from home…

Working From Home Other Than Full-Time

There’s a whole other world of programming where you don’t work full-time for a company. This is the world of freelance programming. It can also be done in consulting and contracting. But even here, there’s a spectrum.

Rarely Contracting From Home

In the contracting world, you’ll have the least control over whether or not you work from home. Contracting is a world where you work for yourself, but you go into other companies and help them out on projects. Typically, you’ll have a six to twelve-month timeline at a company. You’ll go in and start programming on a project. Toward the end of the project, they’ll either ask you to stay on for another project or you’ll line up a gig somewhere else. Some places are OK with working from home occasionally. But you’re being paid a lot of money and they can drop you readily. It’s harder to depart a full-time employee for several reasons.

Position for Consulting From Home

In consulting, it’s also hit or miss. The distinction here is that when you’re consulting, you’re delivering a result. In contracting, you’re delivering labor. So if your consulting arrangement is that you come into their office once a month to center up and do phone calls every day, that’s what you do. Again, there’s going to be a spectrum. But in this world, depending on how you position yourself, you’re more likely to have some control.

Find Freelancing From Home

Then there’s the freelance world. Sometimes, freelance looks a lot like contracting. Other times, you’re doing one-offs that take days or weeks to complete. There are some platforms for these kinds of gigs. This is the gig-economy of programming. You can get in and try to discover bugs at HackerOne, compete and bid for gigs at Freelancer or UpWork, or if you’re really good in a niche, make videos for Pluralsight. Those are just a few sources of ways to freelance from home.

Go Forth and Program!

You’ve learned how programmers work from home and how to find those jobs. Sometimes you have to dig a little harder to find them. And once you do, It’s not always easy to land one, but it’s possible. So if you’re considering working from home, I encourage you to brush up on your programming skills first. Then go forth and do what we humans have been doing since the dawn of time!