I run a team of trainee and junior developers in a software company in London. Since the pandemic started, we have moved to fully remote, and we have hired two new entry level developers in my team, and a few more entry level (less/non-technical) across our organisation. They are still mostly based at a distance that will allow at least occasional travel to the office in the future once that is save, but the idea is to stay remote for at least a while longer.
In general, it is very possible to work fully remotely as an IT person, at any level. Of course your team needs to support you, and the company needs to be set up to do that. It is definitely hard if you're the only person being remote, but if everyone is - regardless of if they're all in the same city or not does not matter.
You've not told us where you are based, so I will assume you want to work in the same country. Working abroad is always much harder, and out of scope.
From a company/mentor point of view, my experience so far has been that onboarding people completely remotely is hard, and very different to a personal onboarding. Working with them is very different. I find I can spend more time with each person, because I now schedule individual time slots, so we are much more mindful of what we do, and how we do it.
The actual work, such as pair-programming, is not much different than when you sit with someone in the office. Some bits are easier, others harder. I can use VSCode and LiveShare to click around in their code, or (and one shouldn't do this) change it, which is great. But if I want to draw a diagram, things get tricky and usually involve holding paper up to the camera.
Some people here have said that working remotely for your first job/entry level is bad, because you can't meet people. I mostly disagree with this. I think there is truth in that it is super different to being in the office. You miss out on gossip in the traditional way. There is no kettle/water cooler conversation. Maybe no table tennis if you have that, or going out for lunch with your coworkers. So team building needs to happen in a different way. But I do not think that it means you end up with fewer social skills.
If you are someone who is fine using
IRC Slack or Discord all the time, and you end up in a company that is mostly similarly minded, you will thrive. Yes, you will loose out on tea rounds, but that's OK. Working from home is possible.
As for the kind of company or type of job you should go for, that is hard to answer. I would personally never try to get a completely unpaid job. Your time is valuable. You are worth something. Giving it away for free is never great.
There is going to be a lot of information here on Workplace, as well as all over the internet, on how to get an entry level developer role. This information hasn't changed. The advice I give to people I meet through codebar.io, in a nutshell, is this:
- If you have no university degree, companies (in the UK) need convincing.
- If you have the time, build a portfolio. Learn things on your own.
- Look at resources such as roadmap.sh to pick stuff to learn.
- Use freecodecamp or coding challenge websites such as hackerrank or codewars to practice.
- Put stuff on your github/gitlab account.
- Learn how to use git properly, write good commit messages, make PRs to your own stuff rather than just push to master, and maybe create issues too rather than just hack away.
- Build a portfolio website.
- Make a StackOverflow account and participate (I love reading applicants' questions and answers on here, super useful as a hiring manager).
- Be prepared to be turned down a lot. Some HRs just look at degrees. The good companies look at what you can do instead, so don't give up if you don't get anywhere immediately.
I don't agree with the fact that this is the state of affairs, and I also dislike that many senior people often get challenged on not having open source work when they apply for jobs. Try asking a hair dresser how much they enjoy cutting all their friends' hair for free on the weekend, and you see why. The main reason this is happening in IT is that the entry hurdle to this profession is much lower than for more traditional craft-related jobs. You cannot reasonably practice to be a plumber, carpenter or even chef at home.
This is totally possible, and totally a doable career choice. It might not be as smart as moving to the next bigger city, at least for a bit. But it's doable, and ultimately your happiness should be one of the driving factors behind your mayor life choices such as your career. So not moving because you like where you are might limit your options, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to have both.