I am an application specialist working for a small startup from the West Coast in the US. I am working remotely from the UK.

In my team we all code and work with customers, and I think I was hired primarily for being personable and well liked by all the 16 people who interviewed me.

Now I am the only technical person my company has in EMEA. I do a bit of everything, and my week is split between coding, supporting customers remotely or on site, attending events and workshops. I am independent 90% of the time, and if I don't talk to customers I might spend the day in isolation.

After a few months into the job, I got to the point where I am terrified I could lose it at any time. Reasons include:

  1. Most of my colleagues are much better coders than me. I rarely hear from them, and I am afraid I could be seen as the black sheep of the team.

  2. I rarely get feedback from my line manager in the US. I mainly work with a 'dotted line' manager based in Europe. He is a Sales person and he's very positive about my interactions with customers; but in general, I don't have ways of measuring how well I am doing. If customers or colleagues complain behind my back, I have no way of knowing; and I am afraid of asking for help. My manager is very busy and I am also afraid of asking too much support.

  3. They gave me an above-average salary (senior dev, even if I am not); this makes it fairly easy for the company to find a better, cheaper coder. Now we are hiring some former customer, I like her a lot, she's great, but I am afraid somebody will ask the question 'do we really need them both'?

  4. The culture is nice, but in terms of onboarding it's largely based on 'learn everything by yourself'. I feel I am not making as much progress as I should, and I am afraid I will be let go with my manager saying 'after all these months I expected you to know how to do this'.

My question is: how can I be more productive, getting to a point where I am no longer afraid of losing my job?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Sep 11 '16 at 7:01
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    It took me years to get over impostor syndrome. What finally convinced me was waking up on the first day of year 4 at the same job and thinking "they've kept me around for this long, i can't be that bad at what i do". Remember, your boss is a person, and he knows that people make mistakes all the time. There is no perfect employee. He hired you, so if he thinks you're good, trust his judgement. – user5621 Sep 11 '16 at 7:05
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    Anyone, even the best of coders, can find themselves suddenly unemployed. By honing your skill set (including soft skills) and expanding your network you improve your employability. Once you know you can get another job, there is no reason to fear. – Tony Ennis Sep 11 '16 at 15:36
up vote 32 down vote accepted

I am the single remote member of my team, though I don't have the 8-time-zones-away problem that you do. The main challenge is lack of visibility; you're doing good work but most of the rest of your team, including the manager who decides your fate, can't see it. Here are some things that have worked for me:

  • Take full advantage of whatever communication channels are already in use. On chat, hangouts, or the wiki it doesn't matter where you are. Participate and contribute. For meetings, try to use video so you're more obviously present.

  • Manager too busy? That's ok; peers can be just as important. Find ways to have technical conversations with, or get reviews from, the other developers. Does your team do code reviews? Work collaboratively on fixing bugs or developing small features? You need to get in on that. If they're doing code reviews but you're not part of it because of tools ("oh, we just meet at the person's desk and look it over"), it'll be on you to propose alternatives that fit in with existing tools and processes, but it's worth it.

  • The dreaded status reports. If your team doesn't already do regular status reports you probably don't want to be the one to suggest it (causing groans around the virtual room), but if you are doing status reports, make yours useful. Don't make them wordy (nobody's gonna read that), but summarize what you've done and include links where it makes sense (bugs, wiki pages, design specs, etc).

  • Find something to lead that involves other people -- a new feature, a process initiative like fixing the unit tests or build, a useful side project like collecting analytics on your published documentation, whatever. This does two things: it shows initiative, something that's expected of senior team members, and it forces you and others to work more closely together. It doesn't matter that your manager isn't one of the others; if you're doing good work, he'll hear it from your peers. (Plus, of course, you'll talk about this in your performance reviews.)

  • Look for mentoring opportunities, in both directions. Are there junior programmers who you could help? Yes time zones will be a problem, but synchronous discussions are only part of it. And is there anybody there who you could learn something specific from? Create those working relationships.

  • If at all possible, visit. A small start-up might not have budget for travel, but it's worth asking, particularly if there is some important gathering that everybody else will be at (a conference, a company retreat, etc). You're part of the team, not an adjunct; act as if of course they want to include you and it's just logistics.

  • Ask for regular meetings with your manager for more feedback. Even if your manager doesn't have regular 1:1s with everybody, you can explain that you're feeling isolated and would like additional feedback. I've used these meetings to discuss everything from meeting mechanics ("do I talk too much? Am I coming across as rude when I jump into conversations without the visual cues y'all in the room have?") to longer-term goals ("I'd like to get more involved with Project X; how should I approach that with the team?"). (h/t PoloHoleSet for suggesting explicit discussion about feeling isolated.)

  • 4
    I can't say enough good about the visit idea. It has immeasurably improved our relationships to offshore workers when we have brought them on site to work with people here. They understand better about our culture, we understand better about their culture, we all understand better about the work that each person does and their general capabilities, people learn who they can ask for help (and perhaps most importantly how the person is likely to react). We get insight into hobbies and families and upcoming weddings, etc that help us connect on personal level. – HLGEM Sep 9 '16 at 19:49
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    @ta_notreddit - I'd also say specifically mention to the manager that you feel a bit isolated and out of the loop, and ask for a regular feedback/communication process, even if it's only touching base for a couple minutes each week. – PoloHoleSet Jul 19 '17 at 14:54
  • @PoloHoleSet thanks for that addition. I've added another bullet point at the end. – Monica Cellio Jul 20 '17 at 15:41

It's very hard to answer this, as you're only one side of the equation, and you admittedly question your own judgment on the situation, but as I'm in essentially the same position (USA: I'm in Denver, most of company is in Michigan), here are a few things to consider:

  1. Do not underestimate how valuable it is to have someone to send on-site. How many customers (as a percentage of your base, and then as a percentage of your revenue) are you within a few hours' travel? If the market you support is a sizable percentage of the base, you are more valuable than you know.
  2. You say the other developers are better than you? That may be so, but you can develop that talent. However, I'd wager that the truth is that the group of them are better than you. Stop being separate from the group. Do what you have to do in order to be part of the group. If that means working later into the night to synchronize shifts, then do it. Start being part of the meetings, there (Videoconferencing is essentially free, these days, after hardware is set up).
  3. You want more feedback from the dev manager? Then start engaging with him. regular face-to-face (Skype, Google Biz Hangouts, whatever) meetings, over-communicate status reports, etc.
  4. Whatever the dev team is using to communicate, get in on it. I can't say enough good things about Slack, these days. FANTASTIC tool for geographically separated teams. You can get started for free, there, too!

So, in a nutshell: You're worried about your job security because you see yourself as separate from the rest of the team. First: Stop seeing yourself as separate, and second: Stop being separate.

  • 16
    A $4 billion dollar company lets you get started sending text over the internet for free now? Whatever will they think of next. – TessellatingHeckler Sep 8 '16 at 17:29
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    I'd also note that while one developer thinking another is "better", the company has different ideas of what they think is "better". I've seen lots of terrible code from "better" developers that were likely only considered that because they got something working relatively quickly and left it at that. – David Starkey Sep 8 '16 at 20:56
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    @DavidStarkey Exactly! Human beings are not good at comparing ourselves to each other. We are either biased to think we are better or biased to think we are worse. I also have seen a lot of terrible code which I had to spend lots of time fixing from "rock star" and "senior" developers. I once heard a broken piece of code defended by "it was created by an architect. if anything could be done better, it would have been." – Brandon Sep 9 '16 at 1:31
  • From experience, both as a manager and as a contractor I can say that asking for performance reviews/feedback, on a scheduled basis is a great thing, it shows the business that you're aware that your performance needs to be measured in order for you to adjust to the needs of the company. and shows that you want to be! And they will not complain about this if they are a good employer. If they do complain, look for somewhere else, it's easy to get a high paying job, when you have a high paying job. but hard to get even a mid-range paying job when you're unemployed. – TolMera Sep 9 '16 at 14:39
  • Over-communicating status reports is my favourite tool for pushing managers to, well, manage. It's amazing how well that works. Some people I speak to rest on the laurels of "I won't tell them what they don't care to know", which I find to be such nonsense... and actively harmful when the "uninteresting" details they're withholding are the very details that might give upper management some idea of how much value their underlings' underlings actually provide ... even if they don't understand every word of the report. – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 10 '16 at 8:43

You're delivering, you're not getting negative feedback, therefore don't worry about it. If they're hiring it's either because they're expanding or going to let someone go. Unless you're privy to the knowledge there is nothing you can do about either. So don't stress yourself out over it. To me I would guess they're expanding.

You can only get stressed if you allow yourself to be, the measure of a pro to my mind is self-confidence. Develop strategies to build this in yourself because this is a personal issue. Focus on positives until it becomes normal to do so. Once you have that, pressure is nothing. Even the prospect of possible termination becomes more of an intellectual issue to solve, than a seriously threatening problem.

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    And if they're expanding than mean his company is in good shape, adding the fact they didn't go greedy on his salary, it all seems fine. – Walfrat Sep 9 '16 at 14:27

I actually have to disagree with the other posts that say your current situation isn't a problem. I actually think that you are describing very serious issues in your current environment that need to be addressed before they become fatal problems. There are two two serious questions that you need to get answered soon:

  • How do you measure success in your position?
  • How do you ensure that your manager has visibility to this success?

Ultimately determining the answer to these questions are the responsibilities of your management but you as the employee are the one who will end up seeing any consequences. I would strongly suggest bringing these concerns to your manager and exploring ways that you can help him/her see your progress and create an action plan for the areas where you feel you need improvement. Your manager should absolutely want you to succeed in your job (after all their success depends in some part on yours) so this should be well received. Depending on how busy they are you may have to do a lot of the leg work in this regard but ensuring that your progress is recognized by management is an absolute must for job stability, growth and peace of mind.

Common tools for achieving this visibility to management include recurring one-on-one status meetings, weekly status reports, team-based status meetings, hour tracking/billing tools, goal worksheets, annual/quarterly performance reviews.

Relax. As a customer-facing singleton, you have quite a bit of job security because there's nobody who can easily replace you! Nobody else can do technical on-site visits to or run workshops etc for EMEA customers, and even a simple phone call would require that somebody in US HQ get up at dark o'clock. And if Sales thinks you're doing a great job with this, and apparently you are, you're golden and they would be nuts to fire you.

The actual problem you're going to have is career advancement: do you have room to grow without moving to HQ? But that's really a separate question.

  • OP has highlighted a concern with the company hiring a customer - implied is this new hire is working the same area (s)he does and is potentially a threat to their sole in time zone status... – kiltannen Aug 18 '17 at 21:51

Some suggestions:

  • Sometimes when worrying about these things we see 'signals' that aren't there. Due to you post I think you're overthinking it. Don't worry!
  • Asking for feedback is totally fine. Just say that you want to know how things are going and if there are things you can improve, because you want to achieve the best and are eager to learn. If you don't ask, you'll never know. Besides, every company should provide feedback to their employees. We're human, not robots.
  • Ask your colleagues if they have educational resources for you, because you want to keep improving. Contact can be less because of the distance, but keeping the contact warm is a good idea. The more they know your name and the more you ask good questions or give good advice, the more they'll remember you.
  • Try to bring in something new: tech news, trends, new techniques. That way you'll have more contact but you're also an innovator, which is good.
  • Try to find the thing that the company can't live without. Can you start doing something that they'll really need, so they won't want you to leave? Make them a bit dependent.

I hope you can find ways to do this and feel at ease again, good luck!

Your fears boil down to:

  • there are better coders than you in the company
  • there are cheaper coders than you out there
  • you might be doing a terrible job and you might be replaced

If there are better coders than you in the company, not only is that a healthy sign for the company but it's also a huge opportunity for you to learn. Grab it. Also, there isn't a single team anywhere where there isn't a talent / skill gap between their coders. It's simply not realistic that everyone on a team is equally competent but what you can do is try to get better. Read coding books, talk to the people you see as better coders, ask for code reviews.

There will always be cheaper coders than you. You can't change that so I'd stop worrying about them. But understand this, the cost of hiring someone is not just their salary, it's also what the company loses if they don't pull their weight.

Yes, you might be doing a terrible job but you probably aren't. Most people are average. That's just simple statistics. You being terrible or great at your job is not impossible but it's less likely than you being average.

Yes, you might be replaced but that can happen regardless of how good a job you are doing. Not only that, this can happen to anyone in any company. Even Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple. This is not in your control, so I wouldn't worry about it.

But back to your question:

how can I be more productive, getting to a point where I am no longer afraid of losing my job?

Your fears seem to stem from imposter syndrome. One of the most effective therapies is to write down your fears and what you think will happen if they do become reality. What will happen if you lose your job? What will that do to you? What will that mean for your life?

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