Resources for Coders on the Road

Written by Rosie Allabarton.

The advantages of travelling and working were best spelled out over a century ago by Herman Melville, who wrote in Moby Dick – “I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of paying me for my trouble.”

Swap “sailor” for “programmer” and “sea” for your preferred mode of transport, and the sentence still rings true. Today it is digital nomad developers, not whale hunters, who can command decent incomes while simultaneously traversing the globe.

But while coding on the road can be liberating, it also brings with it challenges and distractions that can quickly ruin both work and holiday. Thankfully there are a few practical and technical solutions to keep you on track, even when you’re off trail.

Prepare to go offline

City dwellers are used to being surrounded by reliable wifi connections. But on the road, time is more often spent hunting down a network connection than seeing the sights. Instead of being frustrated by the lack of connectivity, it’s wise to plan ahead, adjust your patterns, and prepare to work offline.

The first step is to review your dependency on cloud-based services. Web-hosted e-mail and cloud-based data storage systems are now the norm, but they quickly become useless when there’s no wifi around.

Hosting a mail client on your laptop and storing messages locally means you can always access important instructions from clients. For the security aware, try Mailpile, a free and searchable mail client that makes it easy to encrypt messages, and works with your existing e-mail addresses. You can download an instance on your laptop, or store it on a USB stick.

Many companies insist on sharing files via cloud services like Dropbox and Google Drive. Both these and other cloud storage services offer desktop interfaces that store files locally on your computer and update them when you go back online. But be careful when you configure which files you want to sync to your desktop – you can easily copy hundreds of large files to your computer unintentionally.

Protect your traffic

If you do manage to find a wifi connection, be sure to protect your privacy by using a virtual private network (VPN) service such as Cyberghost. Open networks make it easy for anyone to intercept data packets and siphon out logins, passwords and sensitive information. Routing your traffic through a VPN increases your security, as does turning off your laptop’s sharing functions such as files, printers, public folders and network discovery setting.

Use SMS notifications

Although wifi connections are unpredictable, old fashioned mobile phone networks are abundant. And while mobile data roaming charges can ruin a freelancers’ budget, a simple SMS can cost little or nothing, and can be used to replace or augment many online tools.

Using SMS-based notifications on IFTT is a great way to ensure you don’t miss important e-mails, appointments or phone calls. IFTT – If This Then That – is a powerful free platform that allows users to create “recipes” linking multiple online services. Connect your e-mail account, calendar and social networks to your phone number through IFTT, and you can instantly route important notifications via text messages. Create a trigger to receive an SMS when an e-mail lands in your inbox, either from all senders, just a certain important address, or only e-mails containing set keywords. Get SMS calendar reminders, as well as notifications from a big list of social networks and online services.

But SMS push notifications are just a small part of the magic of IFTT, which can be used for a huge array of time-saving tricks. You can automatically respond to missed phone calls with a preset SMS informing your callers that you’re on the road. Create an automatic call log on a Google Drive spreadsheet to see who you’ve called, when, and for how long. Using an Android phone, IFTT can send you notifications when you enter a wifi zone, and another when you exit, to remind you to turn off your connection and save battery power.

For those addicted to Twitter, there’s a little-known trick that allows you to tweet by sending an SMS, a handy way to stay relevant to your online followers while you enjoy being offline. Just connect your mobile phone number and use Twitter’s shortcodes to get your tweet out.

Take your code shortcuts with you

Most coders’ favorite keyboard shortcut is copy-paste. Grabbing snippets from endless pages of online documentation is easy enough as long as you’re connected to the web. But where do you find helpful lines of sample code when there’s no wifi around?

Thankfully there’s Dash, a downloadable collection of code snippets that lets you search and sample from documentation for hundreds of APIs and languages. Dash is only available for Mac users and costs $19.99 for a license. For Windows and Linux users there’s Zeal, which is free and open source.

Programmers are used to solving problems by scouring through threads on StackOverflow. You can take StackOverflow’s entire library of millions of questions and answers on the road with you by downloading StackStash to your Iphone or Ipad.

Get a Copas membership

Instead of learning how to say “do you have internet?” in multiple languages, you can spare yourself the trouble by signing by using Coworking. A great Global coworking map can be seen at StartupBlink, which also shows all relevant startup entities in the cities you travel to.

Also consider using Copass, a network of over 400 coworking spaces worldwide which allow you to drop in, rent a desk, and get some decent work done in a friendly productive shared office environment.

Simply show up at a member coworking space, log in to Copass, and your credit card will be charged a daily rate for access. Of course, you could simply walk into any coworking space and pay in cash, but by using Copass you get a handy record of your expenses, as well as discounts on the usual rates, and free first days in many of the spaces.

For something more relaxing than an inner city workspace, try one of a growing number of “workcation” retreats, which combine the conveniences of a coworking space and a hostel in a rural setting. There’s Coconat in the woods near Berlin, the Mutinerie Village a short train ride out of Paris, and the chain of Surf Office locations in Lisbon, Gran Canaria, and Santa Cruz.

Get hooked on tech podcasts

If you’re going to be spending hours in transit, why not use your downtime to get audible inspiration through podcasts? There are endless niche podcasts for developers working on many platforms and languages.

For short general consumer-focused tech news, there’s Marketplace Tech.

On the Back to Work podcast, Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discuss productivity, distractions, and pop philosophy. And for a general business news update, BBC’s Business Daily brings you up to speed.

Learn a new coding skill

Long trips to exotic locations can provide an opportunity to learn a new skill. It is often easier to start something new when away from your home and habits. Programmers can take the chance to expand their expertise by taking an online course in related tech subjects. If you know a programming language, why not branch out into UX to better understand your front-end colleagues? UX designers can similarly learn how to turn their designs into functioning code. CareerFoundry offers high quality in-depth online courses that provide practical skills and help freelancers land more contracts.

CareerFoundry is excited to be launching its first ever Code & Surf Retreat. We are offering 3 lucky winners a week in Santa Cruz, learning about UX Design or Web Development in the mornings with a mentor-in-residence, followed by an afternoon of surfing, hiking and yoga! To be in with a chance of winning, simply head over to CareerFoundry Surf & Code Retreat and sign up. Good luck!

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