An interview with Gabriele Carboni - AI Software Developer
The human side of remote working
16 December 2021
Reading time: 6 minutes
Born in Sassari and back in Sardinia after 10 years of study and work in Rome. A few years of collaboration with a local company and then the idea of applying to a company in Bergamo that was NOT looking for a full remote developer. How did you find us, but more importantly, how did you convince us?!
I applied for all open positions, just to make sure you noticed me! I first met Oròbix on social media, through a like from a shared connection. I visited our website and I was pleased to see that, in addition to the customer list, there was a list of values (editor’s note: our Manifesto). I found myself in those 10 points, especially in the ambition to have a real impact on society through our work. Reading the case studies, I found creativity, courage and a problem solving approach that I support.
The first interview was very technical, you tested me and I think that’s how I convinced you: by proving my competences. I immediately mentioned that I was looking for a full remote position and that would be my first experience. On your side, you already managed full remote collaborators, across the world, but only on specific projects. We discussed it and together we decided to try.
And why us?
I dealt with Artificial Intelligence during a post-graduate internship. In particular, I focused on collaborative and behavioural robotics. It’s a very technical topic, but with a lot of cognitive sciences and philosophical aspects. I am passionate about software development, and writing code to build Artificial Intelligence solutions is the best for me. Passion is a significant component of my work, especially now that I work remotely and I believe that the Software Developer profession is one of the few jobs still strongly inspired by passion. At Oròbix I have the opportunity to participate in very challenging projects, and I really like the idea of being involved in building applications that have a real impact on business. During these months I have been working on the development of Detectiv.ai, our solution for anomaly detection on manufacturing production data. In Oròbix I found the practicality of those who take the field to really make an impact on business and generally speaking, in people’s lives. Until now, I’ve only experienced Artificial Intelligence applied to academic research or used to do ‘nice’ things, but now I realise that I can contribute to create really helpful and practical applications.
Let's start with the practical stuff. You work from the beach, with a cocktail next to your mouse. Are you comfortable there? The sand in particular... isn't it a problem?
I don’t work that way! I hate seeing social media posts that portray remote work in this way. Maybe someone really works like that, but I think it is not a spread reality. The home workspace setup is crucial for me, especially to find the right concentration. I have a dedicated room, a desk where I have everything I need, I dress like any other coworker, I have the same working hours as my colleagues (of course, during the summer – after work – I go with my wife to the beach to watch the sunset and that’s an extraordinary benefit…). Technically, it is possible to work from any place, in any situation and on many businesses, but it’s not only technology that makes you a good remote worker.
Leaving technical definitions aside, what is remote working for you?
I was born in Sardinia and I have to cross the sea to go anywhere. That’s why I can answer that remote working for me is a sort of bridge. It’s a great opportunity to work with companies located far away from my island (editor’s note: never say never 😎). It allows me to challenge myself on tough and innovative projects which are not accessible to all companies. But it’s also a responsibility. Being part of a company is always a responsibility, even more so doing it remotely. When working remotely you really have to make use of the “infamous” soft skills, especially those related to the communication area.
A software developer who talks about 'communication' strikes me as quite unusual. Please explain!
Working remotely means you have to learn to make yourself understood, because the video interface makes everything more complicated. And I’m not just talking about explaining your work technically and documenting your code in a way that everyone can use and understand. If you want, by working remotely you can hide yourself quite well. The relationship with colleagues can easily be limited only to the time of a meeting call. But if you want something more than that, if you want to create relationships beyond the scope of work, you really have to put yourself on the line. It sounds strange to say, but remote working has made me more “human”, it forced me to tell more about myself beyond the code I write and to listen more carefully to the people who share the video with me. Asking “how are you” at the beginning of the call is not enough to create empathy. We have not to assume that using any technology reveals our soft skills. In fact, this probably amplifies our vulnerability and shows it to everyone: we get bored listening to someone and, believing nobody will see us, we start doing other things… In person, this is something we never do! The pandemic forced us to speed up the transition to new ways of working, but I think it’s time to start asking ourselves some questions.
"Do we really have the ability to listen to other people and how much are we open and ready to share about ourselves in order to create human relationships even over distance?"
This is the journey I’m on in these months. I am now learning to talk about my troubles and needs in the right way and at the right time. Remotely, excuses, strategies and escapes do not work. Everything depends on trust and transparency, also with regard to personal limitations. If only one of those elements is missing, I believe that a remote relationship will be impossible to manage.
How do you establish trust working remotely?
We build trust by working openly, asking for help and sharing goals. We all have to work on it, both on the business and the employee side. It’s a journey. As I said before, communication is a key factor. For a team – either physically in the office or remotely – following the same “why” means having the same vision, which is not only the annual revenues (and the end-of-month salary), but the real possibility to develop solutions and make them work in order to solve problems and achieve real changes.
Talking about the team, don't you miss the 'social' part of the job?
I believe that places do not make connections between people. Iit’s empathy – that makes us able to build good relationships even beyond a screen – and walking together towards the same goal that makes the difference. I definitely miss being part of a group that you can see outside the office, I miss the pats on the back, the face-to-face conversations in difficult and joyful moments. You can do everything online, but not all is equally effective, and the social side is surely influenced by the use of video. To be honest… working remotely also has the benefit of spending just the necessary amount of time with people you don’t particularly like! (n.d.r.: 🤔)
Your choice seems to be a very conscious one, not based on the moment. How did you decide and what is your advice to people who are thinking about it?
I have been working in distributed teams for a long time, groups of people working on the same project, from different companies, physically located around Italy. I learned a work approach based on the scrum/agile method and the use of some tools that allow scheduling activities and tracking progress over time. I organise my time and my activities in order to always be conscious of where I am, how far I am from the goal, what I have to do to reach it. We talked about learning how to communicate.
I think this is my advice to people considering a career as a remote worker.
"Do not presume that the only important thing is the code you write, find the time to introduce yourself to other people and to discover who you are dealing with."
And to Oròbix, what advice would you give?
To keep trusting the employees, either remotely or in the office, and asking for transparency. In my opinion, that’s the only way to really empower people and create a long-term relationship. Continuously communicate values and goals, beyond results and profits. Considering remote working as an opportunity for mutual growth.