Ukrainian software developer Anton Bredikhin is a Neil Armstrong figure to his fellow freelancers. A few months back, he accomplished his childhood dream: he completed a project for NASA.
It was one small step for him, but one giant leap for the tech freelance remote-working industry, which has started to attract the attention of giants such as NASA and Google.
Bredikhin developed a demo smartwatch app for the crew aboard the International Space Station. Along with status updates and other crucial information, it enables astronauts to receive critical alerts on their wrist to keep them safe. "It was a great opportunity for me and I'm delighted," he says.
It is Bredikhin's greatest achievement as a freelancer, a career he started eight years ago while living in Kharkiv, north-eastern Ukraine. He did most of his projects through Freelancer.com, a platform aiming to connect software devs who want to make an extra buck with companies searching for skilled staff.
NASA gave Bredikhin $2,500 for this project. "Anton was great to work with. He was knowledgeable in mobile development and remained accessible and flexible throughout the development process," NASA Tournament Lab's review reads.
A few years back, platforms such as Freelancer.com only offered gigs from small and mid-sized companies, independent business owners, and startups. Today, NASA and Google are among those who understand the importance and cost-effectiveness of remote working.
"Freelancing is gaining popularity and confidence from larger companies, bigger corporations, and organizations," Freelancer.com director Joe Griston says.
Technology is just one of the 950 job categories on the site, spanning various industries and countries. There are in total 140,000 freelancers registered in Ukraine, and 200,000 in neighboring Romania. "There's a lot of competition for work. So yes, everyone is very hardworking on the site," Griston says.
For techies based in Eastern Europe, a region where there are fewer cool tech projects available, and living costs are much lower compared with Western Europe or the US, remote working can feel like hitting the jackpot, developer Anton Bredikhin says.
"If you're an experienced developer with a good past record, you can definitely make twice as much as you would make in a regular tech job in the Ukraine," he says.
Bredikhin nearly doubled his income by freelancing on the side in addition to working a regular nine-to-five job.
Freelancer.com's Griston says finding work is possible for developers, irrespective of their location or nationality.
"The fantastic aspect of our marketplace is that regardless of where you're based, regardless of your demographic, regardless of your background or cultural identity, you can bid for and win work on our marketplace, for any employer globally," he says.
The experience gained while working remotely for US-based companies has helped Bredikhin land a job in San Francisco, where he currently lives. However, he keeps scanning the freelancing platform in search of fun projects.
Remote working of a different sort has also worked well for Mihai Tica, a Romanian developer. As opposed to bidding on projects advertised on a freelancers' website, he is employed as a full-stack engineer at a UK company.
"I used to work in London for my current employer. Then, after deciding to move back to Bucharest, I was given the opportunity to stay with my current company and work remotely for them," he says.
Working from home proved effective for him. "This way, you get less interruption and you can be more focused," Tica says.
His experience could be shared by others. The Romanian website BestJobs currently lists about 40 job offers for remote tech workers. Most require Java, C++, and Ruby skills. Companies are looking to hire devs, especially those with two to five years' experience, and offer salaries of up to $8,000 per month.
Tica tries to stay as close as possible to his team in London. They communicate via a chat group and video-conference meetings, so they stay up-to-date with each other's projects. "Whenever you stumble on a problem, and you know someone from the main office can help you, you initiate a one-on-one video-conference call with them," he says.
The lack of optimal communication is, according to him, the greatest drawback of working remotely. "In some cases, you find out about some changes weeks after they've happened," Tica says.
As a result, it's even more important for people who live far away from their team to be well organized and to set boundaries for maintaining work-life balance. Some tend to take longer breaks to watch TV or to play video games instead of doing their tasks, while others work too much and forget they have a personal life.
Ukrainian dev Bredikhin thinks the biggest mistake a freelancer can make is to underestimate the time needed to complete a job.
"Missed estimates and deadlines are your worst enemies. Not only are you unlikely to be hired again by [the] same person, they'll also write bad reviews about you and that will turn others away from hiring you in future."
Nevertheless, the remote-working lifestyle has a number of advantages. "You can set your own rules and define your work day to your liking. I'm very productive during night hours, and working remotely fits my schedule very well," Bredikhin says.
His years spent as a freelance software dev have taught one valuable lesson.
"Once you've completed [the] first couple of projects, don't be afraid to bid more than average," he says. "If you're a quality worker, clients will likely pick you over other people."