South Africa’s tech industry is currently not equipped to handle all the complexities of remote work. This makes it very difficult to get freelance jobs, communicate with teams remotely and mature as a software maker. That’s why we decided to run an event on ‘How to Win at Freelancing in SA’. Our speakers were Florah Chuene, Jahil Khalife and Maia Grotepass, who all have first-hand experience working as freelancers in South Africa.
The speakers all agreed: The future of work lies in the ability to choose the times and spaces that allow you to work productively.
“I think we have the opportunity to build the industry so that we can still work while being able to prioritise what is most important to us,” said Maia Grotepass, an Android developer who previously freelanced. “I want to stay here but also be able to work overseas for 3 months at a time. So, if we can connect local and global industries, then anyone will have the ability to do what they feel is best for them.”
In our first event around this theme, “The Future of Work”, we discussed the common problems that arise when software makers try to get into the freelancing space, and how they can work to overcome them.
SA’s tech industry needs a paradigm shift
When discussing how ready SA companies are for remote or freelancing work, Jahil noted that “many companies are scared that you aren’t going to do your work if you aren’t in the office. So, a paradigm shift is needed for companies to be able to think differently about what employees need to be able to work most effectively.”
He echoed Maia’s point about choice, and how this plays into happiness: “I don’t want to be constantly micromanaged by my manager. I want my company to offer me the freedom of working from home, where I can be more productive and live more of my life in the way that I want to - not stuck in traffic. But, I think that companies need to be nurtured into the space where they can understand these benefits.”
Naomi Bruwer, from OfferZen’s Make team, mentioned that few companies offer remote work as a perk for permanent employees. But she’s learnt that most companies are willing to take remote workers if Make can confidently find someone with the specific skillset that the company is looking for. She highlighted that “we have the opportunity to start that paradigm shift if we can prove to them that freelancing can be a massive win, and that freelancers can actually deliver.”
What if you want to start freelancing anyways?
After some discussion about how to make freelancing work in such a tough environment, the panel and audience suggested the following tips on how you can start setting yourself up to win as a freelancer:
- Do a lot of research on freelancing to find out what you need to be aware of.
- Figure out what you’re passionate about, and what work you want to do.
- Start actually doing work in this area:
- If it’s a new tech, make an open source project that you can share in your profile to keep track of your experience.
- Github also has so many projects out there that need contributors all the time. A good way of proving your skills is to contribute to a larger codebase. You can start small by looking for projects that you’re interested in, and then writing a pull request which will be shown-off on your timeline.
- Build a profile that actually brings across your personality and shows that you have the initiative to offer something unique. For example, a side-gig where you set up a gaming console for your community.
- Go to events and meetups to help you build your network.
- Communicate the skills that you have to others, this will build your communication skills and your network.
What a new freelancer should take note of
Maintaining effective communication when working remotely
Questions were raised around how hard it is to communicate when you aren’t able to constantly interact with a team that sits in the same office space. Maia responded by saying, “Nothing beats sitting next to someone and being able to read their body language. But freedom to work anywhere requires tools that can bridge the communication gaps that come with that. I make sure that I choose tools that accommodate the conversation and allow me to capture what needs to be communicated. For example, Skype is useful if you need to read facial expressions, and Slack is great for supplementing the organisation of any face-to-face interactions with clients.”
Although, Jahil mentioned that “If you’re in a remote setting, you should be communicating throughout the day despite the medium.” While this can be difficult, he added that “it is a good idea to have more than one medium in case the other one fails.”
What can make this difficult however, is if your team is in another time zone. In this case, Jahil highlight that “someone is going to need to make a sacrifice at some point. So, you’ll need to decide who will wake up early or stay up late for important conversations that can’t happen over email or IM.”
Maturing as a software maker without constant mentorship
While remote, or freelancing work, has its perks, it often means that you can’t easily learn from those who would otherwise be around you if you worked in a permanent office environment. Florah believes it is important to start off working in industry for two reasons:
- “Your seniors will teach you important information that you’ll be able to take with you into the freelancing space.
- You can build up a track record which can really speak to your credibility as a developer.”
“Although, when you’re freelancing or doing remote work, you won’t always be working alone,” Jahil noted. “You’ll probably be working in a team, who can possibly also provide mentorship. But if you’re working alone, then it is up to you to upskill yourself!”
Maia advises that “part of learning to code is reading other people’s code. Read code from other people and share your code so that other people can comment on your work! This can provide you with some of the mentorship that you may be missing.”
It’s not just important to be mentored, but also to mentor others. Jahil spoke about his experience in mentoring 2 people for an entire year: “I learnt that if you can move your skillset over to someone else, it gives you unexpected ‘street cred’. This is because you solidify your own skills while teaching, and also create a situation where other people can speak to your ability to teach good and useful skills!”
You can check out the podcast and video taken at the event at these links:
What do you think about the future of work in South Africa? Let us know in the comments below.