“Digital Nomad” the millennial buzzword that surrounds the mythological pleasures of travelling with a laptop on a digitally based income. Enabling you to work remotely, travel, and sustain a glorious lifestyle of wandering through foreign lands like some kind of minstrel poet enlightening distant regions with your brilliant tech wisdom as locals offer their daughters and lay trinkets at your feet.
Well that would be nice..
As a kid, you hear about these magic jobs like being a “video game tester” and wonder how on earth any sane individual could pay someone else to do something you’d do for free. Digital nomads have achieved a similar status of dreamlike quality, because it sounds a whole lot like getting paid to goof off and travel. And in some ways it is.. But the experience of getting there is not without its emotional hemorrhoids.
I never understood the concept properly until I caught myself in Eastern Europe at a boutique fair trade coffee shop with a road-worn dell, debugging a WordPress project for a startup in London, writing for a tech blog and simultaneously surfing for my next gig on up-work. I was accidentally “doing the thing “ — and it was an antidote to what had been till that point frankly a ball achingly dull and massively uninspiring introduction to the industry.
We all tend to be encouraging when someone sparks an interest in our field. But what we don’t often mention in software development is the fact that it’s actually pretty soul grinding to get established in. You have to subject yourself to unnatural levels of focus and patience every day, constantly maintain motivation to go on learning and endure the perpetual cycle of ego rebirth, as you continuously uncover the gargantuan realm of all you don’t know yet.
I left university with a bachelors mid-2016 and everything looked pretty bleak for us graduating that year. New Zealand had about 5 reputable software companies and an influx of students from all over Asia graduating every semester to compete with. Not to mention other talented people of all walks flocking to the country every day under the warped notion of escaping to the last untainted paradise of planet earth.
Through my studies I was lucky to land a spot in a small company as a trainee analyst and honestly that is a glamorous title to define the work I was doing. There were days where my task list was just buying milk and dusting office PC monitors, I also had to answer the phone which is a brilliant opportunity for any young person but precisely what I’d gone into tech to avoid. It was so ball achingly dull that I’d escape a couple times a day for lunch naps in my car and trips to the bathroom for suspiciously long number 2’s that may or may not have included the occasional… number 3…
Leaving home was the obvious antidote to the situation and after tangling myself in the couch-surfer community as a student — I’d somehow fallen in love with the prospect of travelling and one traveler in particular. But when I moved to Germany (as when you move anywhere in life) I found the same problems from home had joined me for the ride, as if they’d grown legs and climbed into my suitcase. I still felt depressed when I considered my experience in respect to the jobs I was applying for — and the jobs themselves (although high paying) seemed to desperately lack any engaging quality or creativity.
Feeling like a failure I moved to London a few months later and removing the language barrier certainly upped job prospects. Recruitment agents in London sniff out qualified expats like pigs digging for truffles. It didn’t take long before I found myself in a tinsel covered version of the same day to day drudgery of my former job. Sure, you can spruce up working in data management with a bit of HR flare and the occasional ‘employee lucky dip’ but at the end of the day professionally manipulating excel spreadsheets is like medically suppressing your lust for life. Living for the 20 days holiday you get per year just didn’t seem like a sustainable way to get through this life thing. It didn’t last long…
Feeling hopeless and high on whatever I could get my hands on I left London on a drug and alcohol fueled binge tour of Europe with the hopes of busking to fill in the blanks and hopefully figure some things out. Eventually I landed in Budapest and found myself in many senses back to square one, how to get a job when all the jobs suck and you suck even worse.
As my funds seriously started to red line, I called my old man and arranged to have my motorbike sold to free up some cash. A few things occur to you when you find yourself 21 and broke in another country with no job:
1. it’s no way near as tragic as you would expect
2. actually, it is pretty tragic but you can handle it
3. not only can you handle it, you’re a fucking badass
Off the coast of Italy on Sardinia Island, I was laboring on a small farm and chipping away at the last few hundred euros, when a call came in from a friend I’d once hiked with in Wales. It was an opportunity to work unpaid and build a prototype for a startup project — I jumped, working for nothing was second nature by this stage.
From there the project developed and after a few months thankfully led to actually getting paid for my effort. Contacts made in that opportunity led to the next and within 6 months I could sustain myself well enough with full time work on my own schedule and a relatively diverse stream of incomes.
Cue the warm fuzzies: for the first time in my professional life I felt I could be relied upon to produce any output of actual value to broader society.
And it only took 9 Udemy courses, 4 years of study, 3 countries visas, 2 mild to moderate instances of substance abuse, and a whole lot of self-loathing to figure out.