I Learned to Code *After* I became a Digital Nomad, with Mandy Moore

Mandy is one the of the longest serving Digital Nomads I know having spent 7 years on the road. Initially funding her travels as an SEO specialist, she got tired of Google changing the rules all the time and decided to learn to code instead.

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

I’ve always been a wanderer. We moved a lot when I was a kid and I’ve lived in 9 US states, DC, and 4 countries. I’ve visited a few dozen more. I start to get itchy when I stay in one place for too long. I wanted a lifestyle that would let me continue that wandering while also still earning an income that would allow me to live comfortably now and save for the future.

How do you make money?

I’m currently job hunting, but previously I had a full-time job and I’m looking for another. I also do some freelancing on the side.

How do you find freelance clients?

Usually through friends and referrals. Typically they’re last minute “something just exploded; can you fix it?” kinds of problems. I’ve tried some of the freelancing sites but I’ve found that most of the projects and rates there aren’t realistic. There are some good ones, but the amount of effort you have to expend to find them isn’t worth it in my experience.

So you would prefer to take a full-time remote job or build up your freelance portfolio? Do you think being away from home makes job hunting harder? What resources are you using for looking for remote jobs?

At this point I am looking to be part of a remote team. I am still a junior and I’m hoping to work with a company that has a strong interest in mentoring its employees so I can continue learning from those who have more experience than I have. I also enjoy working with a team and after many years of flying solo, I want to do that again.

I will continue to freelance, it just isn’t going to be my primary focus.

Since I’m only looking for remote positions, I haven’t found that being away from home is an issue.

I’m using the normal sites like We Work Remotely, Remote OK, etc. But it is likely that it’ll be my personal connections that lead to finding a job, which is pretty normal, I think.

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

I like creating things. One reason I became a dev was to get all of the ideas I have out of my head and onto the web. I also like working on projects that help people. My former company was in EdTech so I really loved working on projects that would help the US education system (which needs all the help it can get). I’m still a junior dev so I’m still learning. That can get super frustrating at times and I’ve spent hours before banging my head against a wall over a stupid problem. Luckily there are lots of great online communities to reach out to for help. Stack Overflow is the biggest but I also find the channels for coders, Ruby, and JavaScript to be very helpful on #nomads. I also use the women who code DC slack channel and the GA alum slack channel at times.

How do you stay productive?

I try to really stick to a routine. I get up, go to the gym and lift, go for a walk, then I get to work. I put in my headphones to tune out distractions and I make a to-do list for myself for the day. I get up periodically and go for a short walk, especially if I’m struggling with a problem, just to get the kinks out and fresh air to my brain. Occasionally I’ll use something like Pomodoro. Sometimes though I’m just not feeling it. If that’s the case, unless I have a strict deadline, I pack it in for a while and go do something else. Usually I’ll get the itch to work again after a while and that’s when I will get back at it. I’ve found that trying to force myself to only work certain hours can be counter productive. But this also means I have to be sure to not work too much which has happened in the past.

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

Some people carry pretty crazy equipment setups. I am definitely a KISS1 kind of gal. I only carry a laptop. I don’t have a stand or keyboard or any of that though I can see where they would be useful. I just like to keep my gear to a single carry-on so I have to limit. In addition to that, I try to focus on finding housing that has good internet and comfortable seating because I almost always work from home. Occasionally, when I need a change of scenery, I will head to a cafe or a park and work for a while in a different environment. I find that changing environments can help me if I’m stuck on something.

What does a typical day look like for you?

It depends on if I’m working full time or not. If I’m working full time, I’m usually up at 6 and to the gym by 6:30. One hour of lifting followed by a 30-40 minute walk. Then I will put in my 8 hours, taking occasional walks to get the kinks out. In the evenings sometimes I’ll attend meetups or that kind of thing but I’m generally pretty boring. 🙂 When I’m not working full-time, my default inner clock usually has me sleeping from 4-8 am. Then I hit the gym, as above, and get in a couple hours of work. From about 4-8 pm I have another sleep session after which I eat dinner, go for a walk, and then do some more work. I usually get my greatest bursts of motivation and creative energy between the hours of midnight and 3 am so when possible that’s when I try to work.

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

Logistics. I get super sick of planning everything out and making decisions. Currently, I don’t know where I will be living in 2.5 weeks. Where will I go next (almost limitless choices)? Where will I stay when I get there (more limited, but still a lot of choices)? How long will I stay there? etc. I get so tired of making decisions sometimes. To deal with it, I ask for recommendations from others (though occasionally that backfires and I end up with more options instead of less), I look at where things are cheapest, I look at flight specials to see if there is a cheap flight to somewhere I’ve never been (hello impulse flight to Thailand), and I try to figure out how to make it all easier.

I am working on a web app for nomads to create a curated list of recommended apartments in any given location that are good for nomads – reliable WiFi, work spaces, etc. So rather than wading through a billion listings on Airbnb or something, you could just go there and see which apartments other nomads have recommended.

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

Start learning to code now! I only started to learn coding after 4-5 years on the road. I wasted a TON of time when I could have really been adding to my skill set. Had I started learning then, it would have been an easier transition and I’d definitely be further along in my career.

I started, like most people, with free online classes on code academy and those kinds of sites. Then I progressed to paid sites like treehouse, code school, etc. They were all great, but not really the best way for me to learn. Having to wait, sometimes days, for an answer to a question was really hard. Eventually, I bit the bullet and attended a coding bootcamp.

I did a lot of research and ended up going with General Assembly in DC. It was the best choice for me. I learned more in the first 2 weeks than I’d learned in almost a year of doing online video classes. The best part is that they didn’t just teach me to code. They did that, of course, but the most valuable skill they taught me is how to ask questions.

Most devs I know spend a good chunk of time each day researching how to solve a specific problem. At GA I learned what questions to ask, where and how to ask them, and how to evaluate the answers, which I think is a hugely important lesson. Now when I’m stuck, I lay out my question like I would if I was going to post it on SO. Probably 80% of the time just doing that either answers the question outright or gives me a few more ideas to try.

It was expensive but well worth it for me. Some people will do great with just online courses, and I still use them for continuing education, but attending GA have me a huge jump start. In fact, I received and accepted a job offer on graduation day and a week later I flew to Colombia to meet my team.

Thanks Mandy! You can read more about Mandy on her blog: http://www.mandym.com

If you’ve enjoyed this insight into the life of a digital nomad developer, you can read more inspiring interviews here. And be sure to subscribe to Digital Nomad Weekly to stay up to date with the latest DN-specific news, opportunities and lifestyle stories from around the web.

  1. Keep it simple silly!