Solving front-end and UX dilemmas

Is There a Dip in Demand for Remote Developers?

I’ve been telecommuting for the past six years, and as a front-end developer I’ve come to expect certain truisms, one of which is I can take my pick of gigs. I’ve consciously added specific skills through the years to ensure demand (a front-end developer who specializes in single-page apps, who can handle a full Rails stack).

Earlier this year I took time out to work on a personal project. I got it to a point where I could launch it (that’s another story in itself), then I started my usual routine of sending out emails to find a full-time job. I usually get responses a few hours to about a couple of days in, and the following week is spent interviewing over Skype. The more interested a company is, the faster the process gets. Conversely, I find that if a company takes more than two days to get back to me, it usually means the interest has waned.

Six years ago, landing a telecommuting arrangement was a difficult proposition - most companies with a perfect match for my skills would balk at the coordination hassles. Then around 2009 I noticed it got easier and easier to find remote gigs, I didn’t have to make the usual assurances about communication and coordination (thanks, Skype). It was also around this time I noticed a growing demand for the specific track I had taken - I had been in graphic design and advertising in the 90’s, and these design skills plus my Rails background were being described more and more in job listings (“combo developer”, “full-stack developer”, and lately, “design-gineer”). And the jobs were plentiful, I could actually take my pick, the first time I had such a luxury. I also discovered and learned to use Backbone.js a couple of years ago, and was able to find work on some seriously fun apps. Times were good.

Then this year the bottom fell out - for me, at least. I’ve been looking for a job for the past month and a half, and the response has been markedly tepid. I’m wondering if my marketing emails’ copy has gotten stale (I write my intros based on the job listings, but copy/paste my usual spiel after), or if the demand is being met by a surge in the supply of local developers. The word “remote” has been disappearing from job boards. I find myself being turned down because of my location (to the point where I stopped declaring I wanted a telecommuting arrangement in my introductory emails).

Living in the tropics (GMT+8) while working for startups in the U.S., I still work the usual hours (9-5) and have time for exercise, my family, and side projects. I usually decline offers to relocate to the US mainland (I hate winters especially), and for the past few years I’ve lived a charmed life. But now I feel for the first time insecurity has set in. Having a harder time landing a gig has gotten me thinking: is it time to update my skillset? Am I looking in the right places? Am I sending the right messages?

My pessimistic side has even entertained the thought - was it all a lucky streak that produced a false sense of security? But on a more positive note, my Google alerts for ‘front-end developer’ have seen an uptick of late, so the task ahead calls for getting to the ones that are open to telecommuting. Or at least convincing those on the fence that it need not be a bad word.