10 months, 10 days and 10 hours of remote working
I recently read an article written by a colleague of mine and a really nice guy, Ian Duffy: 6 months of working remotely at Scrapinghub.com and I was inspired to write about my own experience of working at ScrapingHub.
I have to say this is not my first remote job, but it’s the first that actually feels like that because tolerating remote work is different from encouraging it. ScrapingHub was always remote and the majority of people in the company work remotely.
I was recruited by the same guy who found my previous job in Ireland: David Wilson. I still owe him a whiskey 🥃 …
When he asked me if I know about ScrapingHub, I immediately said “Of course!!” because I used their main product Scrapy and Extruct too, in the past and I knew about them as a company.
The recruitment process was smooth. I had a friendly HR discussion, then I was asked to write some code to solve some problems. After that, I had a tech interview on Google Hangouts with two of my current colleagues, intense but fun. At the end of the interview, I remember I told them: “I know you have other candidates, but pick me!!”
And now here I am.
How is it to work remotely
Even it’s remote first, ScrapingHub offers access to the WeWork co-working space for people living in Dublin, so I immediately took this option.
I very much prefer to travel to an office, because that time sets me in the mood of “Ok, now I’ll start working”.
On the way, I usually listen to podcasts, or read a book, or maybe listen to some music if I’m too tired.
It’s valuable time, I try not to waste too much time swiping the never-ending Instagram, or Pinterest feeds.
When I joined, I was asked to choose a laptop: Dell or Macbook. I chose the Macbook, but now after 10 months, I’m not so sure I made the right choice, because the new MacBook Air 2018 kinda sucks.
I didn’t buy any special hardware for myself, I don’t need anything. I don’t use a mouse, or an external keyboard and my old Sony headphones still work perfectly.
The major bonus is I can travel light, all I need is my laptop and the charger.
The first days, going to the co-working space, I was always unprepared 🙄… Some days I would forget my phone charger, others I would forget my laptop charger. Some days I would forget my Leap Card or the WeWork access card, others I would forget my notebook or my pen.
I never forgot my laptop, but I forgot my phone a couple of times.
Eventually, I started to organize better, to know what are the objects I need to have in my bag every day and check them a couple of times before I leave home.
In the WeWork space, I have everything I need: coffee ☕️, tea 🍵, biscuits 🍪 and a place to sit.
When I work from home, I sit on the couch, or in bed and I keep my laptop on a rectangular trencher on my lap.
Over the years, I developed the habit of stretching every hour or so. I just stand up and move my arms, back and neck in very weird positions, until they stop cracking and snapping 😅
I sometimes work from Insomnia, a good coffee place near my house, that’s also an option.
In the first months, I was dreaming I’ll work from a new coffee place every day until I explore all the places in Dublin and become the most experienced coffee reviewer in Ireland.
That didn’t happen.
Part of it was because of my laziness to actually walk and find a place where to work, but equally important is the cost. You can’t just stay in a place all day and spend €5. You have to buy stuff and it can get expensive.
Well, there’s also a lot of small stuff that you don’t really think about until you work in a place for multiple hours. Is the chair comfortable enough to sit all that time? Where do you charge your devices? Do you have enough space to work without feeling like someone’s watching your screen? Do you go to the toilet and just leave your bag and laptop on a table (it’s not a good idea!!)?
All in all, I generally work from home one day a week and the rest from the workspace, it’s the perfect balance for me.
The pros and cons of working from HOME
- I don’t have to wake earlier
- I can take a shower during the day
- I can brush my teeth after lunch
- I save time and money from travel and food
- I can talk to my family much more during the day
- some days when it’s rainy or cold, staying inside the house sounds like an awesome idea
- my family doesn’t understand that working from home still means working, so there are some distractions
- during the lunch break, I somehow end up doing chores in the house, like washing dishes, or taking the trash 😅
The pros and cons of working from the co-working space
- it’s fancy and cool, let’s face it
- it’s a much better place to have meetings
- I get to meet some of my colleagues and talk to new people
- unlimited coffee and beer 🙀
- interesting events and tasty random treats
- there can be some distractions, like people walking around, or talking too loud. Not a big deal most of the time
- not many disadvantages to be honest
I didn’t notice any difference in productivity between home, workspace, or coffee shops.
I organize my work really well, I take notes of what I’ve done, what I have to do, ideas and things I learned and can find them quickly anywhere.
In ScrapingHub, all the communication happens on Slack and sometimes there are formal discussions on e-mail. Depending on what Slack channels you joined, you might see a lot of chat, or not as much. I like to keep my channels to a minimum.
We have a fun Slack channel called #donut where we are randomly paired with people every week, to remotely hang out and get to know each other, because you know, otherwise it’s impossible to randomly talk with your colleagues during a coffee break.
I had chats with a lot of interesting people and I actually met some of them in person, after the Data Extraction Summit.
We use Jira for tickets and Confluence pages for the official documentation, like everybody else. I never liked Jira, and Confluence is just an inescapable maze… but in our team, we use Google Drive a lot, and for the technical documentation, we just write Markdown files in the source code repository, and I enjoy the flexibility.
The code we write ends up either in Github, or in Bitbucket. There’s a ton of open source libraries in ScrapingHub’s repository and we release more code as it matures.
We have catch-up meetings every Tuesday and Thursday to discuss what we worked on and what we need to do.
From my point of view, communication is really good and the team members support each other.
I like my team lead and my managers, and that’s a hard thing to find.
What are we working on?
Our team is working on a product called AutoExtract - AI Enabled Automatic Data Extraction. Peeking under the hood, I can say it’s an amazing piece of technology.
An interesting coincidence: AutoExtract is similar to what I was doing with my ➹ Clean-mark application a few years back… only AutoExtract is much much better.
I worked on a bunch of things for and around AutoExtract: Scrapy middlewares, Scrapy spiders, supporting customers, some automation, working on the Annotation UI. For me it’s exciting because I’m not doing the same thing too much, it’s something new every time.
In my spare time, I’ve written a few spiders and middlewares for Scrapy, to learn and have some fun:
- https://github.com/croqaz/scrapy-quotes - Spiders to scraping popular “quotes”
- https://github.com/croqaz/scrapy-cameras - Spider to scrape a few cameras 📷 stores
- https://github.com/croqaz/scrapy-count-filter - Scrapy🕷 middleware for limiting requests based on counters
- https://github.com/croqaz/scrapy-link-filter - Scrapy🕷 middleware for link filtering
Looking at the code, now that I have more experience with Scrapy, I realize I could have written the spiders above ^ a little better, and I should update them 😂
::⏳update:: Two of my libraries are now public !!
- https://github.com/scrapinghub/scrapy-autoextract - AutoExtract API integration for Scrapy
- https://github.com/scrapinghub/autoextract-spiders - Pre-built Scrapy spiders for AutoExtract
I also gathered a lot of similar Scrapy tools and libraries and made a list: 😎 awesome-scrapy.
To conclude: I like ScrapingHub, the people and I enjoy what I'm doing. I feel there are still a lot of interesting challenges on the horizon 🌅 and I'm happy to be a part of it.