From an office at CERN to an office everywhere

Can you imagine being able to work from anywhere? I mean, anywhere! Just imagine being able to change the location of your office whenever you like, wherever you like. It almost sounds unreal to me that there are people, like Przemyslaw, who are actually doing exactly that.

Choosing their working location, hours and days, as well as holidays is part of their job description. They do have deadlines for projects, but in every other regard, they have a freedom that doesn’t necessarily come with the job of a scientist.

In this interview, you can get an insight into a job of a web developer who, after CERN, decided to start working remotely. Find out about both, good and bad, sides of his work, where you can look for the job if you decide to follow Przemek’s steps and role CERN plays (or doesn’t play) in finding jobs as a web developer.

Przemek, it makes me so happy to have you here on Tau Bytes! Thank you so much for finding the time to share your experience with us. I have to admit that before I met you, I found the choice of working remotely quite an unusual one. We spoke a lot about it a few years ago when this was just an idea and I finally understood the motives behind it. Could you maybe share with the rest what made you decide for this option at the end?

Przemyslaw: I wanted to be as independent as possible. To be able to move anytime and anywhere I want. I was also tired of waking up early and commuting to the office (especially during winter).

Well, those sound like good reasons to me. Especially, waking up early part. :) Now that you have worked remotely for over a year, could you tell us what is it really like?

Przemyslaw: Imagine you wake up at 8 am, look through the window and see very bad weather, traffic jam and people failing to catch their bus. Then you go back to bed and sleep a little bit more because you know that it only matters to your employer what you deliver not where you are.

You don’t need to commute to/from the office, what saves you at least an hour a day. If you feel like it, you can even work from your bed! Flexible hours come in handy because you can organize your workday freely and (most of the time) you’re much more efficient. I’d say you can easily deliver 8 hours worth of office work in 5 hours of remote work. You can even change the country you live in, without changing a job!

There are some downsides though. If you’re not cautious, you may end up spending the whole days at home. What’s more, normally you manage to get enough of contact with other people in the office, when you’re 100% remote, you need to seek that contact yourself.

Honestly, what you described sounds amazing! And you work as a web developer, right?

Przemyslaw: Correct. I’m a contractor, so I’m working for whom I’m outsourced to at the moment 😄 I’m mostly working on complex front-end web applications written in JavaScript/TypeScript.

Ok, but how one finds a job in the first place? I mean, this is still not a very common way to work…

Przemyslaw: I was searching mostly using websites listed below. You can also contact recruiters and headhunters directly via LinkedIn. If you’re lucky, you might just receive a remote job offer, especially if you have a strong profile 😄

If you work as a programmer already, you might try to negotiate.

Thanks for sharing the links. Probably somebody reading this will find it extremely useful. If you don’t mind I would like now to go back in the past a bit and talk about CERN and your choice of becoming a web developer. Tells us, how did that happen?

Przemyslaw: We have those technical high schools in Poland. It’s like a regular high school, but takes one more year to finish and includes additional technical classes. My profile was mechatronics and that was when I first started programming. Mostly industrial systems back then, like robot arms, pneumatic/hydraulic systems. Call me crazy, but making physical machines move wasn’t really that cool to me. The moment I fell in love with programming was when I completely stepped in the abstraction. It’s really only the abstraction that enables you to work with real perfection while dealing with physical stuff you rarely can achieve something better than a good approximation. You say X=1 and it equals exactly 1, not 0,9999999, nor 1.000000001.

This very well fits in the image I have of you. Am I right to think that the choice of what to study next must came very easy to you? I honestly can’t imagine you doing anything else…

Przemyslaw: No. In fact, when I was still in high school, I wasn’t really considering to study at a university at all. I really had no clue what to do with my life. I sent my application mostly because one of my friends (who later gave up on the studies) and the girlfriend I was with back then convinced me to apply. After all, there was nothing to lose, those were 100% EU funded studies, which you could even attend during the weekends instead of the working week. I ended up studying Applied Computer Science at the Cracow University of Economics in Poland.

Oh, ok. After what you told me I guess it is safe to assume that becoming a web developer was not something you wanted to be when you were a kid.

Przemyslaw: Not at all. I wanted to be a bank boss when I was a kid. You got the money and power, what else is that one can desire? xD

Hahaha… You never told me this before! You are full of surprises!

Przemyslaw: That is me…

Indeed, haha. For those who do not know, we met at CERN and became good friends. At least, that is what I think. :D We worked on different projects though. What was that you were working on?

Przemyslaw: I was mostly helping in the development of web-tools used by the operation team, such as Machine Checkout.

And if I remember correctly you applied very last minute for Technical student position…

Przemyslaw: Yes. You see, I don’t really use facebook that much, so I was very lucky to see the post from one of my friends saying something like “There is one more week to apply for an internship at CERN!”.

For very selfish reasons, I am very happy you applied. My stay at CERN was so much better thanks to you and a few other friends. At the time we spoke a lot about your future plans and I can’t but wonder if CERN played any part in your decision.

Przemyslaw: Yes and no. Though I was planning to work remotely before I started my contract at CERN, it was the place I became convinced that I wanted to work remotely.

Can you share your impression of CERN with us?

Przemyslaw: You meet a lot of inspiring people from all over the world, you have plenty of days off and money that you can spend on traveling with those new friends. You learn a lot, not strictly technical stuff, but also about cultures and people. After some time at CERN, you feel more like a citizen of the world, than a citizen of a country.

As for the downsides. I would say that working at CERN locks you up in this very special community and it may be awesome at first, but then after some time, you may realize that it’s not Switzerland or France that you live in - it’s CERN. You may think like, let’s go out to that party in Geneva to meet some Swiss people and end up on another CERN party. Another “issue” I see is, once you worked at CERN there is not really that many places to go. You realize that in a way you’ve reached the top, so you can either stay here or seek something completely different.

Agreed. :) I am curious about one thing. Working at CERN for me had a huge impact on the further career, but I am a physicist. How is it for a web developer? Would you say it was an advantage or disadvantage in your line of work?

Przemyslaw: Unfortunately, in my industry, it doesn’t really matter that much. The recruiters may consider it cool, or not even know what CERN is. The companies usually check you very carefully during the recruitment process. What matters to them is only your knowledge and skills, less where/how you gained them. In practice, you don’t even need to have a bachelor in computer science to be a valuable employee.

That is very interesting! However, we can definitely agree that being part of CERN for even a short period of time is an unforgettable experience regardless of what you end up doing later. And since this section of the blog is about careers outside the academia and the difference between the two, what would you say to someone wanting to leave academia and fundamental research to start working remotely?

Przemyslaw: Unfortunately, there are still not that many 100% remote job offers available. Moreover, some of those are pretty bad. So it may take some time and effort to get a good one. I would say that in many cases, working in the industry is just earning money, while research may be more of a fulfillment.