How Remote Is Remote? Working From Argentina

Author, Jeffry Hesse

Author, Jeffry Hesse

This is a two part series on how Jeffry Hesse tested the boundaries of working remotely.

One of the main reasons I took the job as an Agile Coach at Sonatype was because the job was billed as fully distributed. But how remote is completely remote? Most of our team members work from home, and I got to thinking about that. Why not see if I could work from any corner of the world that had decent internet? I pondered how effective I could be from, say, South America. What I’d like to explain is my experience with working from anywhere and how efficient I was with the Nexus team.

Why Argentina?

Working Remotely

I wanted to go to back to Argentina for a number of reasons. I’d been there a number of times in my past and I love it. Patagonia, Asado, Friends, Summer Weather. I also however wanted to be as effective at work as if I was working from my home office. An important note at this point is I hadn’t told anyone at Sonatype that I was planning on working from South America.

I figured this experiment wasn’t a true experiment if I told everyone up front. I’d introduce some form of bias and I definitely wanted untainted feedback. Could I pull this off without anyone noticing? That was to me the truest test of being effective. I also secretly knew that Jason Dillon, the Tech Lead on the Nexus Team, would instantly tell me if he noticed I was being anywhere less than 100% effective.

I began my experiment with a trip to Alaska. I wanted to see what it would be like to work from a location with relatively slow internet and very far removed from our team geographically.

Escape from DC

Working Remotely

Standing on a Frozen Beach in Anchorage, Alaska

I ended up leaving DC a week into working for Sonatype to go to the great state of Alaska to visit my grandmother. Alaska put me at least one time zone behind my nearest team member and at least nine against my furthest team mate. This meant that I was waking up for meetings around 5 AM AKST/9 AM EST. While this doesn’t sound appealing at first, the sun doesn’t come up till around 9:30 AM AKST so it really didn’t make too much of a difference other than in the hour I decided to go to sleep.

I noticed quite a few positive and negative things while working from Alaska.

PROS

  • Work-life balance was amazing. That is one reason I feel a large portion of us take all remote jobs, making our family an important priority while balancing a professional career
  • Being we have team members in Europe, if I felt like staying up extra late I could easily talk to them in their morning and actually did a few times

CONS

  • Jitter/audio chop on VOIP was bad if I shared my screen. I initially chalked this up to bandwidth but later discovered it was WiFi latency.
  • Even though I rise fairly early, rising at 5 AM AKST after a while did get a bit physically taxing. Since I am from DC and a good portion of the team is on the west coast I did find myself staying up a bit later. This can be draining if you don’t pay attention to it. Answer? Siesta
  • Alaskan internet connectivity has some odd pricing levels. If you decide to work from Alaska and need to do VOIP/screenshare/etc… look into plans that don’t charge by the gigabyte

With a good month of experience working “very remotely”, I came back to DC for a week and went into the Sonatype office in Fulton, MD. Pretty much immediately after being in the Sonatype office for the first time, I jumped onto a flight to Santiago, Chile and began my great experiment. I took the following items with me in addition to all the normal things you’d bring on a long adventure:

  • Cisco SIP Phone, I figured I’d need to be hard wired to get the best VOIP connection based on the previous experience in Alaska
  • Six different cameras, I wanted to document the entire trip in many different formats, and at least forty rolls of film
  • A wireless repeater/bridge/ap/router so I could plug the SIP phone further away from the main router

Escape from North America

Working Remotely

* Arrival in Chile = Hot Dog Completo

Arriving in Córdoba, Argentina on Sunday after a brief weekend in Santiago de Chile I stayed at an apartment that I had rented on previous trips. Jacking in for work I noticed a few things quite immediately which I hadn’t noticed in prior trips.

 

  • Running speedtest on the internet connection, I was at 6mbps download and 1.5mbps upload. This is basically like breathing through a straw.
  • Running a VOIP speed test on the network, I noticed that my connection wasn’t the best which suggested I’d have some jitter

 

I attempted to counter my discoveries by plugging my Cisco SIP phone in to the router and found more surprises! When you connected via ethernet to the router in this apartment it turned into a bridge, and the Argentine company who supplied it had locked down the router admin page. I also couldn’t get SIP to fully register. Thad Watson on our ops team eventually found out I wasn’t in America but only because he tried to help me troubleshoot the issue. He asked “Hey why does it say you are trying to register from Argentina”? BUSTED. I’d been in Argentina less than a day and already been found out. However, I chalked this one up to Ops having super powers.

To make matters worse, I’d gotten a new Macbook when starting at Sonatype which doesn’t have an ethernet port. That meant I needed to find an elusive Thunderbolt Ethernet Adapter in Argentina. A friend and I tried to source one but quickly discovered that was foolish, and best of luck finding an alternative product even on MercadoLibre, the Argentine version of eBay. If I couldn’t figure out how to make this experiment work I knew there was a very expensive plane ticket in my near future.

In testing how effective I could be under this setup I noticed I had a lot of jitter, and some interesting latency. The latency was worse if I screen-shared, and if I moved the screen while I talked, you can forgot about it. This made for some very delicate meetings that week. All in all, Jason would remind me of the latency often. I knew I had a problem and thus I continued experimenting.

What I ended up with as a setup was my SIP phone plugged directly into the bridge, and hoping that the bridge would allow WiFi to work. This setup only worked for dialing conference lines, direct SIP calls would fail. As well, the WiFi would drop intermittently which would cause join.me to lose connection mid conference. This lasted around one frustrating week, at which point I decided I needed to change something and quickly.

Check in next week for the continuation of the story. Will Jeffry fall victim to the slow internet of Argentina? Will he get lost in a Chilean Hot Dog haze? Only time will tell!

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A total Scrum Bag, working to remind others that it’s more important to Be Agile than to just Do Agile. I spend my time coaching and mentoring, helping others to find the answers they already know and giving advice when asked. When not figuring out just the right amount of process to succeed, I can be found in the remote stretches of the Earth observing the beauty of nature.
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