We were only a few days into our coronavirus mandated remote learning exercise when Audrey Borgra posted on LinkedIn:
“Nashville Software School started with remote classes last Friday. This was new territory for us and honestly, it was scary. However, the last couple days working remotely on a group project has totally changed my perspective.
This is a chance for us to learn vital skills that we will need in the workplace. Remote work and collaboration requires an immense amount of communication, trust, and autonomy. The current NSS students are going to graduate with the ability to communicate effectively in any type of situation and will have so many additional tools and skills for working with teams in any setting.”
This is a great example of resilience and, as the old joke says, finding the pony under the pile of, well, you know, horse stuff. But it was also a whack on the head to us that we need to wake up and see the opportunities - that in this time of stress and disruption there are also new insights into how best to prepare our students to launch their careers. We just need to be awake to those insights.
And Audrey is very insightful. It’s absolutely true that there is already a great deal of remote or distributed work for technical professionals, including software developers, analytics developers, etc. Tech organizations commonly operate partially or up to 100% remote in companies like Buffer, Basecamp, Github, Gitlab, and many others. Many freelancers work 100% remote. And even more traditional organizations allow developers to work remotely at least part-time - one recent worldwide survey found that 70% of professionals worked remote at least one day a week with 50% working remote half of the week. And we’re already seeing speculation that the coronavirus-induced remote work surge won’t be temporary - that this is going to further accelerate the trend to remote work that’s been building for many years now.
I wonder if this also creates a key opportunity for how Nashville might best grow. We are already a hot destination for corporate relocations or for new office locations. But given the trend to remote work, especially in tech, I wonder if a big economic development opportunity in the next 10 to 20 years is leveraging the Nashville area’s advantages for remote professionals who can choose to live anywhere. We have been for many years one of the most popular destination cities for millennials. We’re still a quite affordable city compared to any of the other major tech hubs and coastal cities. We have one of the best creative scenes in the country, we’ve become a very good foodie destination, we offer urban, suburban, and country living - all within relatively short distance. And remote working creatives and professionals don’t clog the highways during rush hour or otherwise contribute to some of the congestion and growth issues that come from major office developments. This flips traditional assumptions of economic development on its head because in the remote work era, work, in effect, comes to the talent, wherever it lives.
But in any event, given NSS’s forced move to remote learning, our students are getting invaluable experience in both individual and team remote work. We need to learn how to best help our students and graduates connect with remote work opportunities and build careers that include remote working. Since many organizations that hire remote developers want prior experience in remote work, what our students are getting is an additional advantage in their job search and the opening of more job opportunities for them to pursue after graduation. Opportunities that will allow them to stay in Nashville and be part of the great local tech and creative community while working for companies located elsewhere. Now we need to bake this remote work experience into our classes even after the coronavirus lockdown ends.