So I’m a traveling programmer. I used to work 40 hours a week with 20 days paid leave. But last year I quit by job, grabbed my sweetheart and took off to see the world.
I hear/read a lot these days about how programmers are treated unfairly, aren’t valued for what they do best, get taken advantage of, etc. But listen up fellow programmers, you have a gift, something that most other professionals can’t really have. You have flexibility. You can work remotely, you can freelance, and you can choose problems that you’d like to solve.
Time to pack those bags and write some code while sipping mojitos in the caribbean!
But.. but.. how will I advance my career ?
That’s a valid question, and definitely an important one. Doing small time contract work is probably not going to help you advance your career. However, through this post I hope to talk you through some of the obvious pitfalls and help you take the leap!
First and foremost – the question that is on everyone’s minds.
You know what they say, it makes the world go round. So how does one approach the problem of making money while traveling ? Well, the good news is that unlike people who teach English abroad while working for minimum wage, programmers can actually work on challenging projects and assignments and gain some decent cashflow. You obviously need to balance the amount of work with your expenses but many countries are very affordable at hourly programmer rates.
Before you decide to leave on a jetplane, it’s a good idea to take on some freelance work on sites like oDesk and build up your resume on Linked In. This will help you get projects easily in the future without needing to seriously undercut other people’s prices (and your own living budget..).
Obviously, having highly sought after skills is great but no one said you can live the dream while being lousy at what you do ;)
I’m sure you, the reader, are a smart person and have by now grasped the idea of making money while freelancing programmer projects. So lets move onto the next important question.
But… what if I lose my skills ?
This is challenging. What if your freelance work doesn’t push you quite as much as your day job ? Open source!
There is no dearth of open source projects that you can contribute to. Not only that, but Stackoverflow is a great place where you can spend time building your profile and reputation while solving problems and helping people out.
I used to think that open source projects were only for very experienced and highly qualified developers. No! The beauty of open source is that you can take the initiative to start something and more often than not, other people with ideas/experience/mad-skillz will be more than happy to help you out and contribute to your initiatives.
The point that I’m trying to make here is that open source projects are available at every stage and every level, especially on platforms like github. It’s easy to start contributing to some and to be honest, you might even enjoy it! :)
Other than open source projects, it’s up to you to pick challenging/rewarding projects to work on while you travel, so make sure you pick stuff that appeals to you and moves you forward in some way. As an example, I wanted to learn backbone.js and recently picked up a project where I got to do exactly that!
Alright, so you probably aren’t going to learn many managerial skills or gain a scrum master certification while traveling. However, working on multiple projects, contributing to open source, having an awesome stack overflow profile, will definitely get you noticed. Also, the fact that you traveled and interacted with different cultures, learnt new things and didn’t turn into a complete bum probably bodes well for you!
Poor Internet Access
There’s nothing to worry about. Unless you plan to go to extremely remote locations (Easter Island..) or Cuba (bad internet..) – you’ll be fine. Internet access is available in almost every country. You’ll have access to WiFi and 3G in most places. My personal strategy is to buy a pre-paid sim card with 3G access in every country that I visit. I haven’t been disappointed this far. I even write reviews about them.
But shouldn’t I be traveling ? Well, you are traveling! If you could work 40 hours a week while spending 2 hours a day commuting or work 20 hours a week while surfing in the morning and dancing salsa at night – what would you choose ?
I’ve done a cost analysis on my stay in Mexico and we got by with just $900/month per person.
Of-course, it’s important to manage your time well and make the most of both worlds. But this is where modern technology comes in. I use Wunderlist to manage my To-Dos, Boxcar to get my email notifications (for all my email addresses), and a number of other apps/programs to keep track of what I need to do.
Things like availability, reachability, etc. are minor issues as long as you don’t end up in extremely remote locations. I have pingdom setup to monitor all my servers, Skype forwarded to my local number in each country, and many other ways of being available and reachable, just like I am locally.
Yeah, you have this going for you. What kind of gear do you really need ? Well, I just have a tiny 1kg Macbook Air and that’s really ALL I NEED >< Seriously, even a traveling musician needs more gear than you. So quit bitching and get on a plane already!
It takes a while getting used to doing this and I suggest you set off with some savings. I can’t think of any other profession that has the kind of flexibility with the kind of rates, that programmers can have today. Almost everyone I know wants to see more of the world that we live in.
It makes total sense to take advantage of your perks and see the world while you can!
So don’t hesitate, time for a leap of faith!