Austin Gilbertson / RedCurrent
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Ari Well, spring is starting to sprung up here in Wisconsin. It's 42 degrees today. That's Fahrenheit. Kicking off the show today, one of the first things to call out is that we received our first rating, and it was five stars. That was exciting.
Ari The rating was from Carrie DePhillips [phonetic]...and that's assuming that our Googling that I did matched up with the username that was left in the review...but she left us a five star rating, and is a business owner currently traveling the world. Thank you, Carrie, for your wonderful review. If you would like to leave a review, you can always do so in the iTunes store, which we appreciate.
Jonathan As well as our other many locations.
Ari Yes. We are on many locations, from Stitcher to Overcast to even YouTube. If you prefer to listen to a version of this on YouTube, we actually also syndicate this to YouTube, which you can check out, and there's links on RemoteWorks.
Ari We'll go ahead and jump right into the interview here. I had a chance to sit down with Austin and interview him, and catch up. It was a lot of fun for me, as I work with Austin on a daily basis, so it was just kind of an extension of a normal day. Let's get to it. It's my pleasure to welcome Austin to the podcast. I've had the opportunity to work with Austin since late 2014 on my current contract. Let's jump right into it. Welcome, Austin.
Austin Thank you. It's great to be here.
Ari Starting off, give us an overview of where you currently live, your role at your current job, and your background such as school, and how you got to where you're at.
Austin Yeah. I'll go in reverse order to that. My background, it's actually in engineering, mechanics, and astronautics. I grew up in Minnesota and went to the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Then after that, I was working in engineering for a while, and stumbled upon this opportunity to join a start-up, and was working nights and weekends a little bit on this thing we called RedCurrent [phonetic] at the time. It eventually developed its own legs. I left my engineering job and went full-time as a...I don't want to say product manager...but a generalist employee.
Ari A problem solver.
Austin Yeah. As with most start-ups, you have to do everything. Right?
Austin It's the position I'm still in right now, actually, going on three years now. I worked at our actual company site in Minneapolis. Then about two years ago, my fiancée got into business school, and we ended up moving out to Boston, where I started working remotely. I'm still currently here.
Ari One of the things that has been a lot of fun on the podcast is that while the tech industry is the hot area right now for remote work, there is a wide number of jobs outside of direct tech, even though you kind of are in tech, that allow for remote. You didn't intentionally at the beginning be like, "I'm looking for a remote job." It just is how it played out?
Austin Yeah. I could almost say I didn't want to go remote to start. I was actually only dating Heidi at the time, but things were going great...and I'm like, "Okay, I guess maybe I'll move across the country. I'll work in a spare bedroom in an apartment and be a remote worker, I suppose." I was definitely reluctant to make the switch especially not...being I can't just get an assignment as a programmer or developer and put my head down and go after it. I needed a lot of daily interaction with different teams, and I wasn't very siloed out. There was a lot of initial hurdles to get over and figuring that side of it out, but it seems to be running smoothly now.
Ari When you first started in this role and you were part-time, were you working remote, or were you working part-time in an office?
Austin Kind of both. Our initial team was spread out. I was one of the only local ones. I would actually work really early in the morning at my engineering job, starting at 5:00 AM, be done around 2:00. Then I would drive over to Plymouth, where we had an office space, and work from about 3:00 to 7:00; and then head home; and then jump back on the laptop again, because we had a team in Japan at the time, and I could do one more hour interfacing with our team in Japan. It was a combination of work in an office and work remotely.
Ari I think that's the definition of hustle right there.
Austin Yeah. You can see why I was really glad when I was able to make the switch full-time to just focusing on one career path. It was definitely a very intense time.
Ari What's your schedule like now working remote?
Austin Much easier than that. We like to talk about our commute times. I think mine is... I measure it in steps. I think it's 35 steps is my commute time.
Austin It's a little different being on the east coast and having a lot of your team on Central Time; it's a little delayed. I would rather work early in the morning and be done early in the evening; but a little delayed on it, so it typically starts around 9:00 for me and then goes until around 5:00 or 6:00.
Ari You're working pretty regular hours now?
Austin Yeah, a lot more regular. Since about half of our team is remote, on any given night something could come up. If we're all around, we all jump on it, and "Hey, let's fix this right now," and "Okay, let's go after it."
Ari With RedCurrent right now, I think there's still a team in Japan, but they're very asynchronous in communication. Then we have all the way from the Pacific coast time zone all the way to Eastern Time Zone where you're at. There are still a number of people that work in the office, but it seems to me like more and more... There's a lot more flexibility, where they have started working from home a couple days a week.
Austin Yeah. It all started with babies on the way. Pretty soon, it seemed like a lot more people, it was more convenient for them to work from home. Completely understandable. It's funny. Our west coast employee is actually nocturnal at the moment, out of sync with his wife, with their newborn, just so they have overlapping coverage. We always end up finding a time to communicate, and it seems to work, so far, at least.
Ari When you were back in Minneapolis and your girlfriend, now fiancée, were thinking of relocating to the Boston area on the east coast, was your first thought, "Oh, I'll just take my job with me," or was it, "Oh, well, maybe I should look for an engineering job again"?
Austin Definitely not look for another engineering job. I was really...and still am...dedicated to our start-up. The first thought was, "Okay, well, I'll just fly a lot. I'll fly out during the week, and fly out on the weekends, and come see you on the weekends," and realized pretty quickly that that wasn't the best case. Then, since half of our team was already remote, and I spent half my day video calling...even if someone was in my office, I feel like I've just video called them...and I was like, "You know, it probably wouldn't be that different if I went remote and gave it a try." I came back for a couple weeks in the beginning to ease the transition, and we realized it was really not a big deal at all. In fact, it has its benefits, for sure.
Ari Yeah. I find that you end up being very intentional in having to write out or think through your communication for it to be clear and efficient whether—Slack is the tool that we use, which is fairly common in a number of places—but whether it's that, or Google Hangouts, or other methods.
Austin Yeah. Screenhero seems to be taking over, since you can actually work someone else's computer and be talking to them at the same time. I feel like that has been even bigger than Google Hangouts now lately for us.
Ari Yeah. The quality of tools is really impressive now. Screenhero, for example, you're not getting a pixelated screen. You can very clearly read text and small details, especially when you're dealing with designs and very high fidelity level of communication. It's really pretty slick.
Austin Yeah, for sure.
Ari Talking about the process and the method of working remote, one of the things that is a common topic when talking about remote work is distractions and how you fight them. Why don't you talk a little bit about that? Have you developed any strategies for staying disciplined and on task, or does it just come naturally for you?
Austin Yes, no, and sort of, for all of that. The first week or two, maybe even the first month of working remote, you're like, "This is great. I'm going to do my laundry in the middle of the day," and "Oh, I can finally take my truck in and get that check engine light taken off," and "I can do this and that." You do those the first couple weeks, and you're like, "Oh, my god. I didn't get any work done. I'm missing this." You don't realize that you really have to dedicate time, actual time, the work day, towards it just being work. It's a little difficult with Heidi being in class, because she can come home halfway through the day, come home for lunch...and I can go see her for lunch...but she might want to talk about a wedding planning thing or something like that. I just have to say, "Yes, I can answer quick questions, but I am still on the clock." She's normally great about that and knows here's the time for this, and here's the time for that. In terms of little distractions, I realized my cell phone is one of the biggest distractions ever. That just gets tossed over on the couch. That was the easiest fix. It wasn't like a...I don't know...not so much like I can't look at my phone, it's just move it away and then I don't even have to think about it, all those little apps that just can steal your attention.
Ari It seems like every app you install, too, it has every single notification ever turned on. You install the app, and it's immediately notifying you of everything that's important.
Austin Yeah. There's no reason for me to be reading an email on this tiny screen when I get the exact same email on my computer. I can read it right there. Actually, switching over... I now have a testing phone for our actual app, and so, I keep that phone very clean, just for testing. It has been much easier. I'll keep that on the desk. Now, when I'm actually testing our app, when a Facebook notification pops up, I don't see it on my little screen now, and swipe over it, and get distracted on it. I just have a work phone that has our work apps on it.
Ari One of the things that I know about you is that you have a love for travel. How have you mixed work and travel? Have you mashed them together yet, or do you still focus, "I'm traveling right now, so I'm not working." How has that played out?
Austin They are fully mashed. I didn't realize it going in, but Heidi's business school schedule... They get to travel a lot, and they go to fun places. They have big groups going, and it's all planned out. You just opt in to do it. I've been really fortunate that being a remote worker, I was able to go to a lot of these vacations and trips that they had. Just last year we did all of Patagonia; we did New Zealand; we did Iceland; we did Australia. It's not like I'm working full-time and missing out on the big adventures. I'm able to bring a laptop, find some Wi-Fi, and still check in for a few hours a day, and make sure the house isn't burning down. That has been probably the biggest advantage of working remote is that even just heading down to Rhode Island, where Heidi's family is from, for Easter, we can leave Friday morning, and I can work all Friday from her parents' house, and she can get time with the family. Then we just get extended weekends out of the working remotely.
Ari Yeah. That's one of the things that I noticed when I first started working remote is we realized that we could go travel to family, to a relative's house, and I could keep working, even if it was just half days, but some form of work. It made it really easy. It was like, "Oh, we want to go up there for two weeks? Let's go do that." It just freed up the options for travel, which was really a huge benefit.
Austin Yeah. Then it's always start the game of finding the Wi-Fi. I've had some fun adventures with that along the way, too, which it keeps everything interesting.
Ari Yeah. Not all Wi-Fi is created equal.
Austin Yeah, for sure.
Ari What do you do for personal development? When you work remote, and you're not in an office... Every job has a level of personal development that just happens unintentionally. When you're in the office, and you're co-located, and you hear someone talk about something, or they're discussing a problem totally outside your field that's of interest, or there's even mentorship type roles. What are you doing now that you're remote to facilitate that?
Austin I don't feel like I have had to make any different efforts in terms of seeking something out. I feel like it's still inherent just from all the communication we do have. Being on all the different Slack channels and still working day-to-day with all our different teams, I feel like I'm still connected enough with the actual office where I'm learning all sorts of things. Even just today, I'm now [INAUDIBLE 00:15:13] on my own and get my own [INAUDIBLE 00:15:17]. Colin [phonetic] has had to bear the brunt of teaching me a lot of that, but it's working out. I feel like I haven't had to make any actual attempts on my own. It's still coming to me.
Ari That really is part of the culture of the company, really embracing a remote culture, and having a common communication area on Slack where it still happens organically, as long as people are in the various channels that are relevant to them.
Austin Yeah. In terms of just having a random channel, literally named random, where we can just post all the interesting articles of things that are happening, who's been hacked, what's going on with Net Neutrality, it's a nice break, and I feel like I can keep up with the office chatter.
Ari Yeah. I think one of the favorite ones that popped up in random recently was the BBC interview that got crashed by the toddlers.
Austin Yes. Absolutely.
Ari Because that has happened many a time.
Austin As remote workers, we have all had that.
Ari Yeah. It's really a badge of honor. Welcome to the club.
Ari On the topic of health and working remote, is there anything specific related to health and maintaining it that you're doing? And not just remote, but even in an office, they're saying that sitting is the new smoking. What are you doing to stay active?
Austin Well, I'm standing right now. I did the poor man's approach, and got some two by fours, and just built a little platform for my desk...
Austin ...I have my classic desk from college still, and it's just raised up. I mostly stand. Then I do have a stool like a drafter's stool, just a cheap Amazon version. If I do need to sit down or it's...I tend to sit when I eat...then I have that, too. But in terms of physical fitness, yeah, I feel like I force myself to leave the house, because my remote office is in my home, and checking the mail once a day doesn't actually count. I'm fortunate enough that, as a partner to Heidi, I'm allowed to use the school gym, and I'm also allowed to play on the business school hockey team. I still have hockey twice a week, and I get to go out to the gym. Then there's just enough stuff happening on campus...and it's about a 15 minute walk away...that even just going onto campus a few times a week satisfies a lot of just not going insane in one tiny area.
Ari You seem like a highly sociable person that loves interacting with other people. How has that transition been? Do you have any pets, or plants, or things that need your love and affection there at your home office? How has that played out?
Austin Yeah. No pets. Dog for sure in the future, but we're just traveling so much right now that it would be pretty difficult. I do have a pet jalapeno plant, which should be budding any day now. It requires a little bit of water, nothing intense. The one nice thing is that Heidi does tend to come home after lunch, or after her classes, and between some classes. So, I'm not just completely alone for 12 hours during the day, because yes, then I would be going pretty insane. There's slow days now and then. That's when I can just call into the office. Even just catching up on, "Oh, how is this going? How is that going?" It doesn't even have to be I have an issue, just checking in to see what everyone's up to like, "Is anyone working over there today? Slack seems pretty quiet." Any communication is great.
Ari What advice would you have for someone that is considering working remote?
Austin I guess, since I've really only experienced it with our company, I probably don't give the best advice. But I feel like having other people be remote, as well, seems to really help out. If I was the only person not in the office, the [INAUDIBLE 00:19:42] level would be through the roof. All you'd hear about is what they're doing, and every call you're on, you're going to be wondering if that's the Mario Kart theme song you're hearing in the background. Knowing that there's a lot of other people out there in the same situation, it really fosters better communication, I think. I also think having a dedicated space is really nice, because I can go into our second bedroom; I can close the door; and this is an office; I know I'm working. I don't have to think about the dishes right now. I don't have to think about the laundry. I can just think about my office. That has been really nice.
Ari What do you see as your long-term career objective in terms of remote work? Do you want to be back in an office at some time? How do you see yourself going forward, now that you've had this experience?
Austin It's so hard. I do love the office, and I love interactions. But now, being able to compare and contrast working remote vs. working in the office, especially since I still go back for weeks at a time, I realize how little I get done going into the office sometimes. Combined with traveling and the commute, there is a lot more small talk or even just fixing problems here and there that aren't really related to you but end up consuming a lot of your time. In terms of my future, of being a really productive worker, I'd say remote is best for working for me. But at the same time, I also know long-term... I'm not sure if I went to a new job how it would evolve into me working remotely. I feel like it's still not that common yet, but slowly becoming more common. I think I would like to continue working remotely, though.
Ari Long-term career-wise, are you thinking that you would like to stay in the product management side of it, more the business side, or do you ever see yourself going back to the engineering that you did previously?
Austin I love the engineering side. I love the problem solving set that I get to do. But I really love the product management side of being able to touch a lot of different things, working with the back end, working with the front end, working with marketing. It's weird; I can satisfy my engineering needs on the weekends doing my own personal projects, building my own little...tinkering here and there, and that sort of thing. That satisfies that engineering side. I do see myself staying in the product management role, especially since I now have some skills making it work remotely.
Ari Well, Austin, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast and join us. I guess, I'll see you back at work.
Austin Yeah. I'll see you on the next Google Hangout.
Ari Yeah. Excellent. Thanks so much. We'll put the links to Austin's social profiles and all that type of stuff in the show notes so you'll be able to check those out later.
Jonathan And we're back. What are your thoughts, Ari:?
Ari Well, it's interesting to hear from Austin how he comes at this as somebody who didn't really seek out remote work but rather fell into it. It seems like he's now enjoying it. He also showed a concern with the remote work, which I feel is something that may be a little standoffish for some people, too, which is I'm all alone; I need interaction; I need other people. He found a way around that. I think that's pretty neat that you can do that, where you can go out there and work remote, but not be all alone, and find ways to interact with people, whether you directly work with them or otherwise.
Jonathan Yeah. I think that really has been a common theme from a number of people we've talked to where they just stumbled into remote work. They were doing some type of project work, or they heard about an interesting opportunity that they picked up on the side, and it blossomed and grew to something more full-time, which is a great way to approach it, and get your feet under you, and learn some of the practices for remote work. One of the other things I liked is the fact that Austin had a background in engineering and has crossed over into a new field. I always love to hear people that have a background in one specific area, and they take that experience or the learning, education, that they did and apply it in other ways. In Austin's case, a lot of project management, and critical thinking, and analytics, and that type of stuff. It was great. I appreciate it.
Jonathan In this section of the show called What's the Buzz? we share a tip or trick that is helpful if you work remote. Ari:, why don't you kick us off?
Ari Well, on the focus on finding that remote job, for those people who are either currently working remote and looking for a new job or looking to go remote, there's a newer job board which I've been trying out, looking at the opportunities called goremotejobs.com. They say they're remote jobs for, as they put it, the digitally inclined. That probably covers a large portion of the types of people we've been talking to or talking about, for the most part. Obviously, we intend our audience to branch out further than that. But for those people who are in that group, it's all working in a digital type field, whether it's working technical customer support work, whether it's being a software engineer, developers, things of that nature.
Ari Right. There's a walk-through video producer is the title on this list.
Jonathan Oh, there it is. I'm going to click on it. Let's see what this is. This is for Hubstaff. Shout out to Hubstaff. They're looking for a creative professional to make walk-through and instructional videos of their software in action. Ooh. That's actually pretty cool. I'm guessing that's a lot of doing screen capture and screen recordings. That's a neat job. That peaks my interest, for sure.
Ari Yeah. There's also some animation-oriented front end web development, some back end development. You just keep going down. There's some quality assurance work. Somebody posted for an executive assistant. I'm not sure how digital that is, but it's on the list.
Jonathan Excellent. Well, that's a great summary and a shout out. One thing that's fun to see when you're remote is that there really are a wide variety of jobs and organizations that may not be local, that have great opportunities. We'll link to that in the show notes. For mine, I have the [INAUDIBLE 00:27:11] Lamicall cell phone tablet stand. I recently picked this up for my desk. It holds my cell phone, and it's about 10 bucks. The thing that I love about it is it's all aluminum, so it's a really high quality product, and I love it. We'll put a link to that in the show notes where you can pick it up.
Ari Very nice. Yeah, I'm looking at it. It holds it up nicely so you can actually keep it plugged in and charging, too.
Jonathan Yeah. One of the things I like about it, too, is the fact that it actually works with a case. I have an OtterBox commuter case on my phone, and the stand is big enough that the phone actually sits in there quite nice with the case still on it. Some other stands not so much.
Jonathan We actually have one more clip to play from Austin here. He actually chimed in, too, on What's the Buzz? so we'll hear what he has to say. Austin, do you have any tips or tricks? Basically, what's the buzz?
Austin I do, actually. I've got two apps for you that I've been loving recently. The first one is Wi-Fi SweetSpots. It's basically just a Wi-Fi sniffer that I found; is really useful when you're traveling. I've used it in coffee shops to walk around the open tables and find the one with the strongest Wi-Fi. I've also used it to reset Heidi's parents' router when we couldn't find it. Apparently, it was buried down in the basement in a corner. The app basically just pings as you get closer. The closer you get, the stronger the signal, and the faster the pings become.
Jonathan Is this for an Apple or an Android?
Austin I just have it on Apple, but I'm assuming it's so basic they should have it for Android, too, I'm guessing.
Austin Simple download; it was free; and it serves its purpose.
Jonathan Awesome. What was the second one?
Austin The second one I just discovered a few months ago. It's called Duet. It's an app that you get on your computer and on your iPad, if you have one. It turns your iPad into a second monitor. I get spoiled with my two big monitors at my desk; but when I travel, all I have is my 13" MacBook, and it's a little difficult to work on that. I pull my iPad up and stand it next to it, connect it with Duet. Then I can put Slack channel over there; I can put my mail over there; or whatever else I'm working on. It's very responsive, very fast. I don't know if it works with Android, but I do know it works with Windows computers, Windows computers to iPads.
Jonathan Okay. That's slick.
Austin That's been a great trick for traveling, especially if you're going to set up a remote office for any duration of time, a remote remote office.
Jonathan It helped you to justify the purchase of that iPad Pro, too.
Austin Oh, absolutely. Yeah, for sure.
Jonathan Excellent. Thank you so much.
Austin Yeah. Thanks.
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