The marvels of modern technology have facilitated a record number of remote work opportunities. It’s only fitting that computer science jobs – responsible for so many of those marvels – would be among the positions best suited for remote employment. However, remote computer science jobs can be challenging to land for several reasons.
Technology companies have the digital infrastructure to support remote work but aren’t always willing to utilize it to offer fully remote positions. “Tech companies have long believed that employees clustered together in a physical space will swap ideas and spawn innovations that probably wouldn’t have happened in isolation,” write Michael Liedtke and Barbara Ortutay of the Associated Press.
Another reason remote work in tech can be challenging to come by is that the competition is fierce. Remote and flex-work options generate a lot of interest, which widens the talent pool and increases the desired level of skills, education and experience. Some companies will only offer remote work privileges to senior-level employees who they know can be trusted to get the job done without in-person supervision. Earning a computer science master’s part-time, such as the SMU Lyle School of Engineering online Master of Science in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence Specialization, helps candidates interested in working remotely set themselves apart in this competitive job market.
Employees who thrive in a remote working environment are productive – sometimes more than they would be in the office – and are happier working from the comfort of their homes. If you are one of those people, this guide offers information about what remote work in computer science looks like, how remote work policies differ from company to company and what it may take to transition to full-time telecommuting.
What Remote Work in Computer Science Looks Like
The COVID-19 pandemic proved to employees and employers alike that remote work is not only possible but also comes with a range of benefits. Global Workplace Analytics (GWA) compiled a list of more than 4,000 studies, reports and articles about “agile work” and found that it improves employee satisfaction, reduces attrition, increases productivity and saves employers money, among other benefits. GWA also found that more than two-thirds of employers reported increased productivity among telecommuters, and nearly six out of 10 cited its cost-saving benefits. Increased costs resulting from remote work, like the need to invest in cloud platforms or cyber security, are typically offset by reduced costs for travel, parking, real estate and supplies. Remote work also opens up opportunities to international employees, expanding talent pools. The 2021 State of Remote Engineering report from Terminal found that out of 1,100 software engineers, 67 percent say they’d like to work for a U.S. tech company, but 39 percent aren’t willing to move to the U.S. for the opportunity to do so. The pandemic forced many jobs temporarily to the digital sphere, but the myriad upsides of remote work may encourage companies to keep them there.
It is no surprise that computer and IT firms create the most remote jobs. Ecommerce product manager, tech support specialist, software engineer, computer programmer, data specialist – the list of potential remote titles for graduate computer science majors seems endless. Many of the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Jobs for Remote Workers are in computer science, such as software developer, information security analyst and computer systems analyst. These professionals often connect to organization networks via cloud systems or VPNs, which allow them to collaborate from afar. Thanks to the internet, cloud computing, and options beyond local area networks, even network engineers no longer need to be on-site. Network engineers who are project managers and computer network architects can triage and diagnose hardware from a distance and pass on instructions to lower-level team members on-site. Once a connection to the network is secured, network engineers can work from anywhere.
Again, just because there are numerous remote work positions available doesn’t mean they’re easy to get. The applicant pool is a lot more competitive for remote jobs. Eric Trickett, vice president of Global Talent acquisition at Dropbox, told CBS News that its applicant volume nearly doubled after it announced anyone could work remotely. Many companies are highly selective about doling out remote work privileges among employees. According to a Talent Works survey of hiring managers, 90 percent of senior executives now expect to work from home. These upper-level employees often have more leverage than their early career or mid-level colleagues when negotiating work-from-home schedules.
Work-from-Home Doesn’t Always Mean Work-from-Anywhere
There was a lot of hype in the first year of the pandemic about “the end of the office.” When McKinsey surveyed 278 executives in 2020, on average, they planned to reduce office space by 30 percent. Twitter – one of the highest-profile tech companies – famously announced that employees could work from home forever. Spotify introduced a flexible-work model that would allow employees to work “anywhere” – in an office, remotely or at a coworking space paid for by the company.
Then COVID-19 restrictions began to ease, and companies started to walk back their enthusiasm for remote work. After Thanksgiving, 2021, a study by building security provider Kastle Systems showed office occupancy topped 40 percent, signaling a shift back to in-person work. Despite fluctuating health protocols as new variants of COVID emerged, organizations continued to set their sights on a return to the office. A 2021 PwC study found that 68 percent of executives feel that an employee should be in the office at least three days per week to “maintain company culture.” And in President Joe Biden’s March 2022 State of the Union address, he explicitly encouraged Americans to return to the office.
The result of all this back-and-forth about remote work is that many companies are more flexible than before but not quite as open as many predicted. Employers may offer flexibility as long as remote employees remain accessible. Rather than providing what for many is an ideal work-from-anywhere situation, many companies, including Google, look for employees willing to come to the office occasionally. Apple employees are returning to the office three days per week. Amazon similarly adopted a hybrid model, acknowledging that it would likely hurt hiring. SHRM predicts that these hybrid work arrangements – wherein employees put in some days at the office, some days at home – will be the new norm.
Just how accessible employees must be will vary from organization to organization. Fully remote opportunities can also come with stipulations that make it challenging to work in a different time zone or on your own schedule. Don’t be surprised if an offer for a full-time remote computer science job stipulates that you must log on from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or live within commuting distance.
How to Get a Remote Computer Science Job
If you have gotten used to remote work and find it suits you, here’s how to land a computer science job working from home. First, peruse openings for computer programmers, web developers, software engineers and other job titles on sites such as We Work Remotely, RemoteOK, FlexJobs and Remote.co. These aggregators compile remote, flexible and hybrid job listings regularly. We Work Remotely even sends notifications about new job postings directly to subscriber inboxes. Second, temper your expectations and prepare to negotiate. Remote entry- and mid-level computer science jobs are rare except for the most service-oriented roles, like customer information technology service and support specialist. You’re more likely to find openings for technologists with less experience at large companies that are already distributed.
For those computer science professionals who are already employed but interested in switching to remote, Shannan Monson, a women’s leadership expert and serial entrepreneur, offered some negotiating tips via Fortune. She suggests framing the switch as a win-win in conversations with your boss, highlighting what you have been able to accomplish in past remote work experiences, and agreeing to a trial period.
Another way to show your employer that remote work can benefit them is by letting them know that you will use the time saved from your commute to advance your education. An advanced computer science degree like SMU’s Master of Science in Computer Science with AI Specialization (MSCS-AI) can make you a stronger asset at work and increase the likelihood you’ll land a remote role. According to the 2019 American Time Use Survey, “among workers age 25 and over, those with an advanced degree were more likely to work at home than persons with lower levels of educational attainment.”
Core courses and electives in SMU’s MSCS-AI curriculum teach the skills and qualifications employers value most, including advanced data mining, machine learning, and neural network and natural language processing fundamentals. Demand for expertise in cyber security, artificial intelligence and machine learning is higher than ever, and supply is low. Computer science graduates who add these in-demand technical skills to their resumes are better positioned to meet hiring needs and negotiate remote opportunities. The hardest-to-fill computer science jobs offer the most room for negotiation when you have the proper credentials.
Many companies will vet your experience and education more intensely when hiring for remote openings. Some organizations will offer a remote work or flex-work policy, with stipulations, like location restrictions or regular check-ins. A job as an information systems manager in New York City, for example, may not require you to be on-site but may require you to live in the city or state. On the other hand, because remote work is more commonplace, some enterprises may be open to flexible working arrangements even if they aren’t broadcasting that in job listings. Keep your search parameters broad, and don’t be afraid to ask about remote options as you go through the hiring process.
What It Takes to Excel on a Remote Technology Team
Working remotely comes with its own set of challenges. Social worker Krystal Jagoo, quoted in Healthline, asserts the “increased cognitive demands of video-conferencing communications” make ‘Zoom fatigue’ a genuine condition. Remote work can also make forming relationships with colleagues more difficult. Then there is the great irony of remote work: when workers do their jobs online, they appear to be always available. Slack messages, emails and phone calls after working hours become regular occurrences if you don’t set up and maintain boundaries. According to a TELUS International survey, four out of five remote workers have trouble maintaining work-life balance. A study by Buffer showed that the biggest challenges of remote work are “not being able to unplug,” collaboration issues and loneliness. All of this is to say: succeeding in remote work requires its own set of priorities and abilities. There can be a learning curve.
To thrive in a remote work environment, workers need excellent time management skills, an aptitude for problem-solving, communication skills and the ambition to succeed despite challenges. No one will be looking over your shoulder – it’s up to you to close out of Twitter and meet deadlines. SMU Lyle prioritizes these soft skills. Faculty and administration recognize the value of training professionals who can smoothly transition from in-person to virtual collaboration. Weekly sync sessions allow faculty and students to meet virtually and set computer science career goals. The program uses the same new technologies that help digital workplaces facilitate students’ learning processes. Getting a remote education is excellent practice for excelling in a remote work environment.
No one could have predicted the rapid switch to remote work precipitated by the pandemic. But now we know what to expect. As tech organizations continue to grapple with the future of offices, now is an opportune time to pursue a computer science master’s degree that will help you excel as part of a distributed team.