When you leave your comfortable full-time programming job to start your own software development studio while simultaneously moving halfway across the world, people tend to ask questions. Some ask because it’s something they’ve always thought about doing, some because they’re sure you’ll go back to a traditional job, and some just because they don’t have a category for what something like this looks like. Honestly, it’s all over the place; Some days you spend a few hours following up on leads, writing a few project proposals, and then call it quits and take off for the afternoon. Other days you just decide you aren’t going to work and you take your wife to the National Gallery to see Mucha’s Slavic Epic. But more often that not things are very busy. Here’s a look at a day in the life of a developer living in Prague working mostly with US-based clients and colleagues.
The alarm goes off. If you’re quiet, you have about half an hour to yourself before your daughter wakes up for school. You spent the yesterday trying to track down a particularly tricky software bug in someone else’s code, and another developer on the project has kindly offered to help. The problem is, he’s on the US west coast and has a day job, which means he’s only available at 11pm—which is 7am in most of Europe. So you get up, make a quick coffee, and spend some time on Skype trying to track the bug down.
With the kid safely delivered to school, you sit down with coffee #2 and go through the emails, Git commits, Slack updates, and social media messages you missed. You may have been asleep, but most of the US still had a good 6-8 hours left in her. You respond to a few emails and approve a pull request or two before you start in on your day’s to-do list.
If you’ve planned properly, you’ve just wrapped up your most productive hours; East coast clients and colleagues are just now waking up, so you’ve had the whole morning interruption-free to get some solid work done. If you didn’t do it right, you ran into some problems that required feedback from colleagues or clients who have been largely unavailable. The days where you realize you should have asked some key questions the day before are the worst—you end up with a whole chunk of your day completely wasted. Either way, it’s time to break for lunch.
East coast colleagues and clients are rolling into the office, so it’s time for a few quick status updates—a brief Skype call with your business partner and two email follow-ups with clients. You’ve got an hour or so before you head out to pick up your daughter from school and start the evening routine of dinner, downtime, and bedtime negotiations, so this is the time to send out any emails asking for clarification on ongoing projects. In all likelihood you will continue to field questions every 20–30 minutes while you try to have some family time, so that your colleagues who are trying to be productive don’t find you to be a bottleneck in the process.
Dinner is over, the kid has been convinced that she does need to sleep, and your colleagues on the US east coast are back from lunch while the ones on the US west coast are just beginning their day. This means more emails, more follow-up, and trying to avoid getting roped into anything that doesn’t have to be done immediately. This is the perfect time to compile your to-do list for the next day and send off any last-minute emails that you need to hear back from so you can be sure you’ll have what you need to take advantage of the productive hours tomorrow.
One last conference call! This time it’s with another client on the US east coast who is only available to talk after regular business hours. It’s 5:00pm there, so this is the first they’re available. You headphone up, spend a little time on Skype, and then call it a day: Time to charge the laptop and phone, climb into bed, and get ready to do the whole thing over again tomorrow.
So what has it been like running my own US-based business from Europe? Busy. It’s been a little busy. Don’t get me wrong, I love the flexibility that it gives me and I’m very grateful for the opportunities that going down this path has given me and my family. At the same time, it isn’t all sleeping in, daytime TV, and long lunches. Running your own business means you are always working, so it becomes important to establish some routine and some boundaries, while at the same time maintaining some flexibility so that the distance doesn’t feel like an inconvenience to those you work with. All told, it’s been pretty exciting and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.