With the winter months approaching the motherland, it's probably time to remind my readership, respectfully, that I live in the Bahamas and you don't. Of course, there's always a chance that you are also a .NET developer living down here. To which I reply, "I've been looking for you everywhere! Where the &*%$ are you?!?"

For the rest of you, forgive me if I sounded boastful. I meant to, but forgive me anyway. It was necessary to set up this post. Two questions were asked of me recently:

  • Is there a lot of work on the islands?
  • How are you able to land contracts working remotely?

The first question is easy: no.

The Bahamas is an island of about 300,000. That wouldn't even qualify it for the list of the top fifty most populous cities in the United States and places it sixteenth on a similar list for Canada, behind London, ON and Laval, QU. And the IT industry kind of runs counter to what the government generally likes to promote to other countries. Hard to reconcile "Hotbed for mobile device development" with those Corona commercials showing people skipping Blackberries into the ocean.

beach hammock
Working remotely also requires at least one crazy powerful wireless router

Another problem is that the very few development shops that do exist have, shall we say, "skewed" expectations when it comes to value per dollar spent. There's still very much a "two junior developers can do just as much as one senior developer" mentality that, to date, I haven't worked up the effort to fight yet.

The reason I haven't taken up the cause leads to the second question. I have been reasonably successful in landing remote contracts in recent years. But I'd be lying if I said it was easy at the beginning, and even now to some extent. In the four and a half years I've lived in the Bahamas, I've spent a total of eighteen months away for work, including twelve months in the first two years alone. And the rest of that time included an eight-month stint as an employee for a local company.

Since moving here, I've worked on about half a dozen or so contracts and exactly one of them was entirely remote. As in: they didn't need me onsite at the beginning, middle, or the end. And for that one, I was subcontracting for another contractor who actually *was* on-site and managing the project. The rest of them, in some form or another, required me to be on-site for all or part of the contract.

In my experience, companies like to see their contractors, especially senior ones and especially senior ones that live in the Caribbean. Unless you go in to a place where you are a known commodity or strongly recommended, many places want you on-site at least at the beginning, if only to prove your mettle.

For the last two years, I've been contracting for companies in Calgary because that's kind of my home base in Canada. I know quite a few people which is how I've been able to land the work. In all cases (three to-date), I've given a hard end date as to when I was heading home. I think it's important to do that because there is no "well, we assumed you'd be staying longer". Be very clear to all involved that you will be leaving by a certain date up front.

And if they balk, treat it like a rate negotiation. I.E. If you really want the contract and don't mind staying longer, offer to stay a little longer. If you are keen to get home, tell them you're leaving by that date whether you're working for them or not (but say it a little less crassly). Few will complain if you say you don't want to be away from your family that long. Like I said, if you're up front up front, there will be less pain in the future.

In one case, I started the contract not knowing if they would even extend it past the date I said I was leaving. That requires a bit of a leap of faith and more than a little confidence in yourself. When it came near the end of the contract and they asked me to stay, I said I'd love to but that I was very clear that I had to leave by the date I gave them and if you'd like me to continue on, I'll need VPN access so I can work from home. That one had the advantage in that staying any longer would have had tax implications so there was even less flexibility involved. The Hillbilly pays tax for no man, woman, or company.

As I mentioned, all the remote contracts I've landed have been through people I've known. And I can not stress enough the importance of that kind of networking when you want to pull this off. People are far more likely to assume you're not playing XBox all day if they are familiar with you and, more importantly, your work. My current contract was landed through an e-mail blast to my address book when someone responded with "Come work for me, biatch". You don't get that kind of personal service from an agency.

So make yourself known. Blog, attend conferences, go to user groups, *speak* at user groups. That's what is currently working for me. It also helps to be ridiculously good-looking or irritatingly handsome (oh wait, which blog am I writing today?)

Final comment: I didn't set out to do what I do. It came about through necessity. My wife's work moved her down here and I tagged along. And given the answer to the first question above, I had to learn to adapt pretty quickly. Not everything worked and my career is still a work-in-progress (and I kind of hope it remains that way until I retire). You'll encounter your own challenges and have different success factors. Flexibility will be key at the beginning.

There are some tips to use when you actually do find a contract working remotely. And when I say "remotely", I mean a situation where you can't "pop in" for the occasional meeting. I mean you are working in a different time zone. But I'll save those for another post 'cause the Hillbilly appears to have run on a bit.

Kyle the Beached