P1410733 (Large)Imagine a workday like this. You wake up in a beautiful location. You look out the window at the sun coming up over several layers of forested mountains. You’re parked right next to a quiet lake and can see small fish jumping, creating concentric circles on the flat surface of the water in the soft morning light. You don’t need an alarm clock because the light streaming through the windows signals that it’s time to wake up and begin another joyful, productive day of work.

You get up, make coffee and get to work immediately on your laptop in your camp chair. There are no distractions here, no co-workers to come over and ask about your weekend, your favorite sporting team, or to describe their cat’s recent, fascinating activities. There is no commute. There is also no complicated routine involving fancy clothing, make up or hair styling. Because work begins at 7 AM, the afternoon is free for biking, climbing, reading or just relaxing.

alaska_officeThis is the remote work lifestyle I’ve been enjoying for over 3 years. I feel extremely fortunate to have such freedom and because of the perks this job offers, I am a very loyal employee. I have an office and go there occasionally but usually I just work from the van in beautiful, remote locations with good cell service. Some of my favorite places to work have been right next to a roaring rapid at my campsite in Alaska, or next to a river in Idaho where kayakers paddled by as Brian and I sat there working on our laptops. Over the summer, I spent 7 weeks on a remote work trip in Alaska, British Columbia and the Yukon.

virgin_riverThis camp along the Virgin River Gorge in Southern Utah was one of the finest ever, with both roadrunner and coyote sightings (at different times) and a great mountain bike trail, the Jem Trail, right across the river. We stayed here in late October when the weather was glorious and the trees were bright with fall colors.

How is this lifestyle possible, when a full time job seems analogous to being chained to a desk, or confined to an inhumane cubicle for at least 40 hours per week?

P1410108 (Large)It’s possible because working remotely is the best situation for both my employer and myself. The alternative is hunkering down in a cubicle or office to produce software 40-80 hours per week. I know how that feels because I did it for a decade. Often I wasn’t as productive as I could have been. The working conditions were sometimes dark, distracting or otherwise uncomfortable. Food (and other) smells drift through the air in a sea of cubicles. A co-worker’s family drama can permeate the work environment as sounds of children being disciplined by phone are overheard. The office can be a very social place, with co-workers stopping by to chat on a regular basis, either with you or with the people around you.

792268_10200592147745013_1936272389_oEven in this wonderful office I have at my current job, distractions are numerous. Even when I close the door, I see people walking by and overhear conversations outside my office. Each time a programmer is distracted from concentrating on a technical task, it will take at least 10 minutes to return to full concentration and productivity. Imagine this happening once or twice each hour, and you can see why programming productivity is greatly reduced in an office environment. Although some programmers thrive on the collaborative environment of an office, some may find themselves many times more productive when working independently.

It just makes sense to offer a programmer peace and solitude to concentrate on technical tasks and create quality software products. It can make the programmer happier and easier to retain, too. These are the reasons programming can work well with a remote lifestyle when the programmer is able to work autonomously.

P1410876 (Large)How can you convince your employer to let you do this? First, pay your dues by working at least a couple years in your position. At least, that’s what I did before I was granted permission to work remotely. Get really good at your job. Your level of remote work freedom will be directly proportional to your talent, the value you add and the level of dependence your employer has on your fine work. Make yourself indispensable and the remote work lifestyle becomes easier to negotiate. With one or two great performance reviews under your belt, it’s completely reasonable to request a trial period where you will work remotely for say, two weeks.

During this trial period, you are going to work very hard on something that will delight your employer. Or just try to increase your productivity noticeably. You’ll want to prove this lifestyle works for you and that it’s in everyone’s best interest to allow you to continue this way, free from the distractions of the office. You may need to come in for an occasional meeting, but for the most part you are free to travel and work via a laptop and smartphone with Wi-Fi. Why not? Communication via email and phone is usually sufficient and in-person meetings can be scheduled when they are needed.

P1420022 (Large)I’ve been at my current job as a senior programmer at a University nearly eight years, and the ability to work remotely has been one of the major factors in staying this long. On my last performance review I received the highest rating, excellent. The remote lifestyle works!

Not all jobs are suited for this, but many computer programming positions certainly are. I’m surprised more coders don’t pursue remote work situations. Adventurous people who are interested in a nomadic lifestyle may want to consider a career in computer programming. After all, just look at the places we’ve lived and worked. This is the best job ever.

Lisa Hackett

About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, drive from Idaho to Alaska solo, live and work in a van in the wilderness and dodge encounters with wolves and bears. Seriously. More

6 Responses to Living and Working Remotely as a Computer Programmer

  1. One of the problems with living and working remotely is…. Your friends miss having you around. To be able to share a great adventure with and see your awesome smile.

    • Nisal says:

      Wow, its great. Being a computer programmer myself and working in a typical office, I can imagine what kind of great time you are having. What are the languages you use? And to which company you work for remotely? I’m a PHP Zend Framework programmer still working in a small cubical (:

  2. Jessie says:

    Lisa,awesome post. I work in real estate from home. I am planning on adventurous travel too. How fast is the wifi?

  3. Wayne K Seymour says:

    Getting close to making a decision on this after dwelling on it for years.
    Any ideas on where to get more ideas, perhaps a social forum for others living this life?

    • Lisa Hackett Lisa Hackett says:

      Hi Wayne, there is a van life group on facebook but I don’t know of a forum for van dwellers. That would be great, though! Someone should start one.

  4. Miché Lozano says:

    Hi Lisa, I have been a van dweller for over a year working seasonal gigs (that don’t pay that well and not much job security) as a wildlife field technician and outdoors educator. I’m seriously considering getting into programming to travel more freely, have a higher income, more job security, and advance in the field of conservation (coders are in high demand). I am applying to a free Developer’s school in Seattle. I’ve NEVER done any coding, so I’m diving into this head first and learning as I go, I was thinking about learning JavaScript, Python, and Ruby. Can you share any resources for a novice programmer? Also Any tips on staying connected to the internet and communicating with your officemates?

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About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


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