Remote work skills today look like being online in my youth

Checking my emails frequently. Responding to a few group/direct-message chats at a time. Managing to write code, do math, or put together a slideshow/essay at the same time. Always in front of a computer.

That’s what productivity in my college years1 looked like. There was lots of multitasking and goofing around online. A smidge of collaboration via nascent networks2.

There is little coincidence that’s close to how I work today. Slack is a better IRC3, messaging apps work a lot like AIM4 and ICQ5 did back in the day. I try to focus more and multitask less, to the extent that circumstances and discipline allow.

What strikes me is, when my career started6, that’s not how we worked.

In the early 2000s, if I needed to talk to more-experienced developers or managers, I wrote an email or walked over to their office/cubicle7 to try and catch them for a quick chat. If I needed to talk to a more junior developer who was just out of college (like me), I sent them an instant message. I probably had Slashdot, IRC, or several blogs open in a minimized window somewhere.

Now, I’m the experienced developer/manager-type person, and the style of work matches a lot of my college habits. A lot of that is leadership determinism (i.e., I have the agency to set and model the structure of our work). Maybe some is down to measurable productivity improvements that, e.g., Slack bring. Most of it feels like it is down to the opportunity seized of remote work – you can’t work remotely without all the tools folks in my cohort started using as we were pivoting from students to professionals.

Today, “Extremely online” is a whole other thing that is unrelated to how I work professionally. But as a new generation becomes the largest in the workforce, probably that will change and things will look a little weird to me. So it goes!

  1. 1998-2003. Most of those spent on a dual-everything Linux PC. I bought my first laptop/Mac in December 2002.
  2. Mostly, folks were Very Offline. Especially outside my generation, but even in my peer group. Now, we’re all Pretty Dang Online.
  3. For all but the neck-beard-est measurable axes.
  4. AOL Instant Messenger, the definitive software of my youth.
  5. Which required knowing your user ID to get people to add you as a friend. Thusly, I can still tell you my ID to this day: 11772935.
  6. Roughly 2000 is when I did my first productive programming for money.
  7. Thinking back, cubicles were not great or cool, but they did beat desks in an open layout on most axes. Larger pair cubicles with someone you like to collaborate with were pretty good, all things considered.
Adam Keys @therealadam