Mike McQuaid
Senior Software Engineer
August 20, 2018

Interview with Mike, a software engineer who works remotely at GitHub

Mike got started with remote work after getting an offer from his dream organisation. Learn how he works remotely while working on open source projects and publishing books.

How did you get started with remote work?

I never intended to work remotely. I'd left my last office job and received an offer from my new, dream organisation that had no offices in the UK. As a result I decided it was worth accepting anyway and just rolling with the whole remote working thing.

Despite thinking I'd miss the social aspect of work, I loved my increased productivity and flexibility, got my socialising done with friends outside of work and chatted with coworkers during the day online (instead of in person).

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What are you working on?

I'm currently working at GitHub as a senior engineer. I also dabble a lot with open source software; most notably I'm the lead maintainer of the Homebrew macOS package manager.

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What's your typical work routine?

I tend to get up fairly early, read through my emails to figure out what I'm going to do in the day and then head off to the gym. When I come back I'm energised and ready to get properly started at work. I tend to eat at my desk (not ideal) but I love that this gives me most of the day to focus on my work. Most of my coworkers are not awake until my afternoon or even early evening so I don't have any meetings until then.

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How has your routine changed over time?

I try to spend more time during my day dedicated to exercise than I used to.

I find that it has paid massive dividends in terms of mental health, physical health and productivity.

I've removed my work email and chat applications from my mobile phone and log out of them at the end of my work day (unless I'm on call).

This helps a lot with work/life separation and balance.

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Do you have a dedicated space to work?

While I've had a home of my own I've always tried to have one room as a dedicated office.

I'm not too strict about not going into my office in the evenings and I find it easier to have my perfect setup in one place where there are no distractions from the outside work.

Also: being able to use speakers instead of headphones is bliss!

Home office of Mike McQuaid

Home office of Mike McQuaid

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What tools do you use to stay productive?

Qbserve helps me to make sure I'm spending my time sensibly during the day. iOS and macOS Notes, Calendar, Reminders and Fantastical apps allow me to keep track of what's important and work on it.

GitHub allows me to collaborate on code with coworkers around the world. Zoom provides excellent videoconferencing. Visual Studio Code is a great programmer's text editor.

My adjustable standing desk and monitor arms helps me from getting stuck in one position.

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How do you stay on task?

Keeping healthy helps with staying focused.

I try to always get 8 hours sleep a night, go to the gym multiple times a week, take my dog on long walks and eat well (particularly by not keeping junk in the house).

Mike says taking his dog for a walk is one of the ways he stays healthy when working from home.

Mike says taking his dog for a walk is one of the ways he stays healthy when working from home.

Having long stretches of uninterrupted work with no visual distractions helps me get lots done in a relatively short period of time.

I try to ensure meetings are scheduled in clumps later in the day so I'm not trying to get back into the zone in between them.

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What do you like about remote work?

I like the time and location flexibility it affords me and my family. It decouples my preferred employer (currently GitHub) from my preferred location to live (Edinburgh, Scotland).

It forces my employer to judge me on how much I get done rather than how long I'm sitting in a particular chair in a particular office.

I like that I'm more productive working remotely than working in an office; it feels like both my employer and I are getting a better deal.

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What do you not like about remote work?

Ideally I'd work in a small, quiet office a short walk from my house.

I miss having coworkers to chat to in person whenever I feel like it but between real-life friends, family and web chats there's not really any meaningful isolation.

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How do you manage having too much or not enough work?

When I have too much work I try to ensure that I'm strict with myself on not working too late into the evening.

I have hard cut-off times and if I can't get my work done by then: tough.

When I don't have enough work I try to find things to do but if I'm struggling I take the time to unwind so I'm better mentally prepared for when I do have more work to do. This is another luxury of not working in an office; I don't need to always look like I'm being productive when I'm not.

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Do you have any advice for remote workers?

Don't try to force remote work into a work culture that actively or passively opposes it.

If the vast majority of your organisation, division or team are not remote you are going to have a really tough time being included in conversations (unless they are already mostly happening in places like Slack and GitHub).

Make sure you ask tough questions about such topics in your interview process so you don't end up somewhere unfriendly to remote folks by mistake.

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What did we forget to ask Mike McQuaid?

At RemoteHabits we're always trying to improve our interviews, what question should we have asked Mike McQuaid?


Mike McQuaid

Mike McQuaid is a senior engineer at GitHub where he works from home in Edinburgh. At GitHub he works on improving the quality of internal and external software whilst attempting to automate himself out of the job.

Outside of work, he is the lead maintainer of the Homebrew package manager for macOS, author of Git in Practice (published with Manning) and has contributed to a wide array of other open source projects including KDE and the Linux kernel.

Previously in his career he’s worked as a full stack engineer and built CI and CD at AllTrails, been an international engineering consultant and lead and trainer at KDAB, setup CI and CD as first employee and engineer at Mendeley and created high-performance network analysis tools at BT.

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