Birth of a Mobile Web Developer

Birth of a Mobile Developer

Two weeks ago I hit a cool milestone in my journey as a location independent developer: I actually started working from a different location!

I’ve been able to work from anywhere there is wifi since quitting my IT job at a bank in 2008. Even though I’ve had this subdued super power for over six years I’ve never worked from the road for more than a few days at a time. I felt like a poser saying that I could “work from anywhere” while spending most of my time working from my bedroom.

Our current trip is for two months on another continent so it’s my first real test of being able to run my business from the road. Because of the trip duration it took more preparation than a short vacation or a trip to an out of town WordCamp. Here are a few steps I took in preparing for the trip.

Get a laptop

For the past three years I’ve worked from a 27” iMac. It’s a great machine with a fantastic screen, but it is decidedly not portable. When I needed to travel I would borrow my wife’s 13” MacBook Pro Retina. We both need to be on our machines at the same time on this trip so I needed to get a laptop.

I bought a 13” MacBook Pro Retina and started the process of getting it setup. I did a fresh install of all the software I use and worked on it as my main machine for a week with my iMac next to it. Whenever I found something missing I’d stop, install and configure it then keep on working. So far there hasn’t been anything I missed, but I would have liked to have had time to move all my photos and movies off of the iMac to the cloud.

Put all data in cloud

Speaking of the cloud I put all my data in online services to mitigate any potential loss. If my laptop is stolen or becomes unusable I have a list of software and services so that all I need to do is buy a new laptop and take a few hours to get setup.

I use a Dropbox Pro account for files, pictures, and iPhone app data. I put copies of the apps I use (like a 2 version back copy of Skitch) and larger files such as video from my phone up in Amazon S3 using Transport. For spreadsheets and writing I use Google Apps.

I know some travelers use small USB hard drives to do backups, but this represented another device to keep up with and added weight. We use backpacks and not rolling luggage so I’m very conscious of the weight of my pack. I chose to try this trip without an external hard drive and instead rely on my internet connection.

Packing Light

Get a great bag

When I went to the Netherlands for a week last October I traveled with just a North Face Surge II backpack. Everything I needed for a week from clothes and shoes to tech and toiletries fit into that bag and it was easy to carry on.

When in a place for a longer period of time this backpack also serves as a great day to day laptop bag. I used to use an over the shoulder Oakley bag and it wasn’t suited to comfortable usage while doing a lot of walking around cities and using public transportation.

Unlock phone

Most US carriers will ‘lock’ your phone to their network and won’t allow you to unlock it until you have completed a certain part of your contract or pay a fee. Before I went to Amsterdam I didn’t unlock my phone. Away from wifi I had no access to email, texts, phone calls, or Google maps. It was a forced digital rehab. I started resenting my phone instead of thinking of it as useful. After that trip I vowed to never travel internationally without an unlocked phone again!

Before this trip I unlocked my iPhone 5 and my wife’s iPhone 4. It’s easy to buy a local pre-paid SIM to install in the phones to get access to data. We currently have O2 flat rate SIMS that give us unlimited data for €10 per month. All is right with the world when I can pull out my phone and check email, check Twitter or text my mom during a wait for a subway train.

The Roost

Upgraded mobile workspace

I planned on finding local coworking spaces wherever we stayed. I expected to find a desk, chair, and internet, but all other amenities vary from space to space. I couldn’t count on there being external monitors to be able to use. I remember seeing Matt Mullenweg tweet about something called The Roost, and recently my friend Curtis McHale talked about using his.

I ordered it and it arrived a few days before we took off. This awesome little guy makes working on a laptop for long periods of time much more enjoyable. The laptop and screen is elevated so that it is at my eye level and I can sit up straight and not hunch over.

Since the laptop keyboard isn’t usable I do need to pack an external keyboard and trackpad, but this added weight is negligible next to the usefulness of the Roost.

I’m loving being location independent!

I’ve used every piece of tech I brought and each piece has been well suited for its task. After working from the road and living out of a backpack for a little over two weeks I’m hooked!