Amy Truong, Quality Engineer at GitHub, Talks About Life as a Digital Nomad

Amy works as Quality Engineer for GitHub (you may have heard of them!). This year she’s worked remotely from San Francisco, Thailand, Hawaii, The Netherlands , UAE, and Morocco as well as taking in quick stops at Ecuador, Taiwan & Denmark. She has a tonne of great advice and I really love her honesty and openness.


What was your main reason for wanting to live this sort of lifestyle?

My first reason is I love traveling and seeing the world. I have a travel blog at http://genericdreams.com where I write about some of my adventures so I wanted to incorporate travel into my lifestyle versus traveling a few weeks a year during time off. It’s fun but also tiring being a tourist dashing from sight to sight so I prefer staying in one place a little longer to enjoy it at my own pace.

Coupled with my love for travel, I did a little soul searching (a bit cheesy I know) and realized I wasn’t happy with the typical corporate 9-5 lifestyle. I needed more freedom to feel happy and fulfilled and waking up everyday to go to my 9-5 corporate job just (personally) wasn’t going to cut it for me. Luckily, I’ve grown up in an age where today’s technology is rising so fast that it is much more feasible and possible for people to work remotely than before and particularly awesome that companies are also realizing this trend and adopting these practices as well.

How do you make money?

I’m a full-time quality engineer at GitHub. It’s a software company headquartered in San Francisco that’s remote-friendly and currently has almost 400 people.

Do you do the same work as before you became a Digital Nomad?

Yes, I’ve been in software testing and QA/QE since graduating college. I started out in IT Consulting in the Washington DC metro area, and over the years I worked for big & small consulting companies before moving onto smaller tech companies.

I don’t work for government consulting firms anymore since that requires being in the office with all the security that’s required to work for secret projects. Prior to GitHub, I was at a DJ music software company called Mixed In Key which was a small team of 10-12 people and 100% remote.

What do you enjoy about the work? What do you hate about it?

I love working at GitHub because of the flexibility and freedom that allows me to work however I want and whenever I want. If I want to live and work in Morocco for a few weeks, I can do it. If I want to go to headquarters in San Francisco, it’s an amazing and beautiful office with everything I could ask for or need while working. (Yes, there’s awesome perks like a full bar, lounge, free food/drinks, a gym, massages, and more goodies that I can’t even list them all). GitHub really tries to take care of us and I’m really thankful for having such a sweet gig.

Then there is that saying,“When you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” I am surrounded (virtually and at HQ) by really intelligent, amazing, and talented people which inspires and motivates me to learn more, do more…be more.

For example, when I first joined GitHub, I noticed some of my team members kept going off around the world and speaking at conferences. I started to secretly wish I could have the guts to speak at one and one of my managers actually pulled me aside one day and asked if I would ever like to do such a thing because it seemed that I had the “personality” for it, if I so wanted. THAT was pretty awesome.

Going back to the remote thing, I think other companies are slowly moving towards remote working for a number reasons, but one is because they realize that talent is worldwide and not just isolated in one city or place and to acquire this talent, some flexibility is needed. Besides GitHub, there are many other companies that are remote-friendly, such as Buffer and Automattic.

One of the challenges about working at GitHub is definitely working with team members around the world in different timezones. I’m constantly checking my calendar to make sure I’ve got the correct meeting time or that I didn’t send a BlueJeans invite to chat with someone at 3 am on their end. Teams are pretty understanding when it comes to working around timezones but there are times when you do have to be up at 1 am for a video chat but next week, it’s another team member that has to be up at 4 am instead.

Another personal challenge is that GitHub is a very technical-oriented company (built for developers by developers) and sometimes that can be daunting when you’re not as technical. I have to admit that I have a bit of imposter syndrome at times but that’s something that I just need to get over.

It seems like QA is a great job for a Digital Nomad, but you don’t hear about it too often. Would you recommend it to someone as a different way of getting into being a Digital Nomad? And if so, what advice would you give for getting started?

Quality Assurance, Software Testing, or Quality Engineering is a great way to get into the tech field, which lends itself well to being a digital nomad. However, when I first started out in this career path, I was always in the office, learning from coworkers, and on the job. It was only after gaining a good amount of experience that I was able to be remote. The pay ranges from $10 an hour (ex: in the gaming community) to well over six figures in the consulting world and software development firms.

To get started, I recommend playing around with UTest.com if you have zero experience in software testing. UTest.com is a website to find freelance testers which will give you some tips & tricks on what is necessary to be a successful tester. There are also different certifications you can get to gain a foundational level of what software testing is and why it is important. Going into this field requires being super detail-oriented, having a curious mind, always trying to “break things,” being able to deal with monotony sometimes, to be able to work and collaborate with developers, and you almost have to be a perfectionist. The more technical you are, the better since we also have test automation as another separate field (but closely related).

How do you stay productive?

Technically, I just need my laptop, headphones, and a decent internet connection to work.
However, if you’re a remote worker, you need a lot of discipline and self-motivation to actually be productive because there’s always plenty of distractions and not someone always physically looking over your shoulder.

Some days, it’s easier to stay focused and other days, I find myself distracted and must re-focus to get things done like any other normal person (there’s also that little fear of being fired if you’re not getting stuff done).

I don’t mind having various meetings throughout the day/night because it helps to break up the day and I can remember to take breaks in between. Also…a glass of wine certainly helps! 😉

What tools, equipment or tactics do you rely on for working while travelling?

For equipment: I have a Macbook Air, decent headphones with a mic for video calls and music, plug adapters (when in a different country), spare battery chargers, a notebook and a pen because I like taking handwritten notes. I also have a Surface Pro 3 since I tend to work on the Windows side of things at GitHub and sometimes need to work on an actual Windows machine instead of through a VM.

For software/tools: Gmail for e-mail, Google Calendar for meetings, BlueJeans for video chats, Slack for messaging, Spotify to stay sane, and of course, we use GitHub to create GitHub and Github related products/services.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Probably like everybody else’s – I get up and immediately check e-mail! (Such a bad habit, I know). I’ll go through Slack and GitHub issues, read replies from team members and answer any questions they may have. Depending on where we are in the release cycle of a project, either I’ll go through a test manifest to find and report any regressions or bugs, verify bug fixes, reproduce issues with exact steps so developers can fix a bug asap, or update test cases as needed.

GitHub is a company that generally dislikes meetings but they’re a necessary evil so if I have any during the day (or night), I’ll arrange my tasks around them. I usually go out for lunch since I don’t really cook and usually give myself a break in the afternoon.

What’s the biggest challenge of being a Digital Nomad? And how do you deal with it?

I often find myself worrying if I’ll ever settle down in one place. I really love traveling but in a way, I hope I will “get it out of my system” because if my addiction to seeing new places doesn’t go away and I’m continuously on the move, it’s way harder to be in a relationship and also stay in touch with family and friends.

On a lighter note, I get super paranoid about finding decent internet if I’m not in some big modern city like New York or San Francisco. I remember considering the Philippines until I did more research and found out it was nearly impossible to work there, so that got scrapped.

What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time to when you were starting out as a Digital Nomad?

I would’ve done it sooner! However, I needed to gain the experience and skills in what I do and that takes time. Having a strong and valuable skillset that can easily translate to being remote is the most important thing.


If you want to read more about Amy and her travels you should definitely check out her blog or @generic_dreams her twitter. This is the first in a series of interviews with digital nomads working in tech.