Ashray Baruah (Ashray Baruah)
Blog Words : Blog of the week | 24 March

How I became a digital nomad and why I love it

Our featured blogger, programmer Ashray Baruah, explains how he earns income while travelling the world. And how you may be able to as well.

As a computer programmer, I'm lucky to have a job I can do anywhere in the world – as long as I have a computer and an internet connection.

I’ve been traveling and coding for almost two years now and I can tell you that there have been times when I:

·– Wished I had a big screen

·– Wished I had faster internet

·– Wished I was in a better time zone

·– Wished I was working with a team, discussing ideas, writing on a whiteboard, getting excited about solutions and the future

·– Wished I was working at a startup somewhere – trying to change the world

·– Wished I was working with really smart people on cool stuff

I tried to satisfy those needs through a few projects. i.e. moved to a place, started working with a team. What ended up happening though was that after two weeks of being in a place with all those needs satisfied I ended up wishing that I could work from a beach somewhere/or just head out somewhere/or just be on a bus to somewhere.

We’re all different but personally, the case always ended up being one of the ‘grass being greener on the other side’. When we travel all the time, we crave that feeling of home, curling up on the couch and just watching TV/Netflix/whatever. When we’re at home, curled up on the couch watching Motorcycle Diaries, we suddenly wish that we were out there – doing cool things!

It's been pointed out to me that I can manage only simple work projects on the go. This really depends on the kind of person/client you are dealing with. You need to be REALLY good at using asynchronous communication tools (Email, Trello, etc.). More often than not, if you are traveling, the internet connection is the second limiting factor. Your first limiting factor is your time zone and resulting schedule mismatch. The issue is that if you’re in Bangkok and working with someone in the US, you’re pretty much on opposite time zones. If the person in the US is not going to be able to deal with “Hey it’s Monday morning, why doesn’t this guy reply to me ?” then you will definitely feel a lot of pressure. This needs to be hashed out at the beginning of any new client relationship.

I don’t personally face this problem a lot because most of my work is on independent projects (meaning things that I start up on my own). However, the few times that I do work with clients, it’s always understood that emails have a minimum 24 hour turnaround time (unless it’s urgent..) and usually we follow a pattern where we first finalize the specification, then I deliver, and then iterate if needed. The first step by far is the most communication intensive. Everything else could be done on a local environment with no internet access. (I once created an entire mobile site in 2 weeks in Cuba with no internet access!)

Sometimes I miss the camaraderie of working with a team. Sometimes I get too entrenched in arguments on twitter about certain things. But, at the end of the day I'm the one sipping mojitos looking at the sun setting over the Pacific.

Self development in your area of expertise is definitely hard to come by but with time, and varying projects, it’s certainly possible. There are plenty of 9-5 jobs which do not allow for any creative freedom/self development.

I’m a strong proponent of location independence. It’s very nice to take short trips to places but to really be somewhere and experience a culture, to notice its nuances and celebrate them, takes a while. There are times when we are moving constantly (every 2-3 days) and work piles up. During those times we just decide to take a break from moving a lot. We rent an AirBnB or something for a week or two and just stay put. There are a number of variables that we look at when we try to fix up a place like this but the most important by far is the quality of internet connectivity. That’s why we chose Phuket for this week as opposed to Ko Phi Phi. Would you call that location independent? I certainly would call it highly location independent if not 100%.

Lastly I would like to address this that someone asked me:

“Even though it might be obvious, during my travels I found out the hard way that creative, meaningful work, requires some routine. Changing your location once a week, working from benches, hammocks, cafes, bars and hostel floors is a cool way to fund your vacation, but it certainly doesn’t help you when tackling hard programming problems.”

I just want to say here that I guess different people operate differently. I have been able to mull over and solve some of the hardest programming challenges of my life on long 9-hour bus rides in South America. There’s just something inspiring about the mountain scenery drifting by that helps me think for long periods about what my next project should use.

Yes, in the beginning you are not going to make any serious coin. In fact, you’re lucky if you’re able to sustain your travel expenses. However, over a period of time things do tend to get better, especially if your focus from the start is on doing your own thing (meaning, no client dependence).

Programming on the road certainly isn’t for everyone. There are numerous challenges that you may face. There comes a time when you want to be in a certain place and do certain things with certain people. But there’s a time in your life (before kids, old parents, etc.) that you can actually take to the road like you own it.

And that’s why I say: Programmer’s it’s time to pack your bags!

Backpack MeAshray Baruah | Backpack Me

I like to call myself an entrepreneur and world traveler. I started a gaming website when I was 13, and today it’s one of the largest gaming websites on the planet. I also have a number of other projects online and this makes me someone who travels and works at the same time.

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