Hungarian IT expert Árpád Vezse started working as a developer in the 90’s and never stopped being involved with the new, emerging technologies. His career is an interesting case study running from the first real mobile service company of the country to an IT freelancer hub. He shares his insights on the switch to remote freelancing from being a big company decisionmaker for years.
I got my Master as a technical IT specialist and started working in the telco industry, from 1995 to the early 2000’s.
It was an interesting era indeed. These are the years when mobile phones become commonplace and when the basic services are implemented. I was there when the first SMS was sent. I left when the first GPRS network was being installed, this was the first, pretty rudimentary generation of mobile internet. Even the Internet itself was in a fledgling state back then, when the ‘dotcom-balloon’ blew up, resulting in a huge collapse on the US markets.
Westel has been bought out by Deutsche Telekom and I went to T-Online, their Internet branch. I worked on database technologies and web workflow systems. I started my own business in 2004, in the early days of ‘outsourcing’. T-Online took maybe 45% of my capacity, so I had the opportunity to work as development coordinator or project manager at other projects we would call startups today, digging into free and open source solutions, something very different from the company software systems I was used to.
Readers in their 30-s and 40-s might remember how big of a deal a ‘ringtone’ was back then. It’s probably almost impossible to imagine today that in those days there hasn’t been a simple technological method for getting new ringtones, so people actually paid money for them, willingly, using premium sms. I worked for one of the first companies in the country which sold ringtones, which was actually quite an interesting challenge, because of the complexity. This was all new, so we had to build the frameworks from scratch, we had to develop secure ways to pay for the copyright of the songs used, after every single transfer, and we designed the whole payment method. So basically we created mobile-content platforms with PHP and MySQL, integrated with the SMS-aggregators. And we had to do this in an age when, unlike now, there were no standards like Android and Apple, all the phones in the market came with thousands of largely different screen sizes, shapes, and sound file formats.
We worked on the first sms-voting systems for TV-shows as well. These are completely different challenges to what I was used to in working in a multinational corporation. My job was usually more like system engineering, not really like coding in PHP. Eventually, it all came full circle when Magyar Telekom acquired this firm.
After this, I switched to business intelligence systems. The year was 2008, the early days of this technology, we’ve been working on systems of banks and energy companies. Our main task was to make sense of the data, to create useful reports. This required tons of coding, we’ve got beautiful platforms now for these tasks. This is the kind of work I’m doing now for my new client I got via Techysium, where companies can pick and choose IT professionals for their projects. I think I was one of the first developers who registered to their platform. This is 100% remote work, my client is a Swiss pharma company.
Via VPN connection, actually, just like with my regular BI clients. This area is a bit special in this sense. It’s not like I write a bunch of code on my own device and than I deliver it. Instead, I’m working on the live system from thousands of miles away. There are huge security concerns, so trusting each other, making proper contracts and offering guarantees is a must in this field, but the framework of these cooperation is clear by now, after this many years. Companies have practice in handling this security threat. Of course, it doesn’t have to be complicated if you are working on someone’s webshop, where you can ask for full access and you can clone the whole thing on your own system and patch the live one as you go on with the development. BI is different because of the sheer amount of data involved - it’s impossible for you to handle that, even if the company would let you. This is why you need do it with remote access to a certain segment of the system, and work on it live.
The clients reach out. You need to have an online profile, only registered and contracted clients have access to it. It’s pretty smooth: if you are a fit, they contact you, you do an online interview. If both parties agree, that’s all, you are contracted. From your point of view it’s simple because practically you are hired by Techysium itself, and you invoice them, monthly, no exceptions. And they deal with the client. I already have some experience with working from home, it was scary at first, but turned out real nice.
Daily routine, that’s the most important. If you like to sleep, you might find yourself starting to work at 10-11 AM, but that can easily make your day fall apart. I solved this with waking up with my partner and taking her into work every day. I also went for her in the afternoon, so this provided a good, stable framework for my workday too. After I got home to the empty and silent flat, I could easily immerse myself in the deep work state, and it turned out that I’m much more productive this way than in an office environment. At a regular workplace, even the commute takes time. And then you arrive into a community. You talk with people, drink coffee together, have lunch together - these activities are all important and have their function, but it’s not like the focused work you can deliver as billable, when you are freelancing. Hard to guess, but it’s safe to say that this social aspect bites a further 1-2 hours out of your workday. So, slowly I realized that I get more work done from home than from a workplace. Of course, it helps if you enjoy your work, because it’s easier to get distracted from stuff you already dislike. All in all, in my experience, this nearshoring model, with outsourced work done from home, can work very well.