Developers who work from spectacular locations

Check out the incredible locations where many developers are fortunate enough to work

travel bellamy montana
Séamus Bellamy

Working abroad

You may be parked, daily, in an ergonomic desk chair, staring out a window that looks onto a parking lot. But there is a rebellion happening outside your cubicle. A growing number—10 percent, according to a Stack Overflow survey—of developers work remotely full-time. Even more—19 percent— occasionally work from a remote location. Some of them have taken full advantage of this opportunity and have moved their daily office somewhere spectacular: an island, the slopes, lakeside, or even on a permanent global walkabout.

Many studies have found that remote work is healthy and productive. But there is nothing that brings that truth home like listening to tales from these spectacular locales, where skiing after work, SCUBA diving between meetings, or fishing instead of commuting are part of the daily grind.

Sound expensive? I hate to break it to you, but your cubicle-bound city life costs more.

We tracked down seven developers who live and work in some of the world’s most spectacular locales. We asked how they ended up there, if they get any work done, to explain the economics, and to show us their view.

Read on. And then start planning your exit.

slide2 meistrich new zealand resized
Jay Meistrich

Global wanderer

Jay Meistrich is a nomad. But before you use the word “homeless,” consider this: This year, he has skied for a month in France, shared a house in New Zealand (pictured) with other nomads for three months, and toured Paris and Copenhagen for weeks at a time.

He also handled development, design, and customer support for his start up, Moo.do.

His decision to uproot was—in large part—economic. He quit a job at Microsoft in 2011 and travelled before settling in San Francisco to build Moo.do, a company he co-founded. But life in the Bay Area is expensive and he had had more fun—and been more productive—while traveling. Being in a new locations made him focus on work so that he would have time to explore it. And exploring was healthy for mind and body, which fed his work.

So, at the end of 2013, “I sold or gave away everything and went nomad,” he says. Even with ski trips, flights, and touring, his costs are less than his rent in San Francisco. “My expenses vary depending on where I am,” he explains. “My costs in New Zealand were almost $4,000 a month because I needed a car, skis, and a ski pass. But living in a hotel in Bali or apartment in Chiang Mai costs less than $1,000 a month.”

slide3 ben dodson walk view cropped
Ben Dodson

Apps from a small English village

Ben Dodson is a freelance app developer for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. He works—sometimes in panamas—in a tiny village just outside Leicester, England. (The view from his morning walk is pictured.) “The greatest joy of remote working,” he says. “Is that you can work from anywhere. So, I could theoretically work in a hammock on a beach. But I’m much happier sat in bed with a cup of tea and my laptop.”

He became a remote worker by accident. He moved from one London-based agency to another, found his new job was a bad fit, and decided to freelance. “This forced me into remote work,” he says. All he needed was the confidence to quit and depend on freelancing for his income. “That wasn’t an easy decision,” he says.

“And it was difficult for the first few months.” At first, he succumbed to the distractions of working unsupervised. But when funds ran short, he developed time management skills that have kept him on track since.

“I am far happier as a remote worker than I ever was in an office,” he says. “So much so that I refuse to work in client’s offices, even for a few days. I can’t produce the same quality of work there.”

slide4 bradbookster resized
Brad Bookser

The last good country

Brad Bookser ended up in what Hemingway called the last good country by taking his discontent seriously enough to do something about it. “The leadership at my job was changing. There was a lot of stress. The political climate in the US was getting worse. And sitting in an office for nine hours a day was not what I wanted to do with my life.”

While searching for an exit, he found a remote job on Flexjobs.com. That was 18 months ago. Since then, he has added more clients. He works as an information systems consultant and as a WordPress developer. He has worked in Iceland, Norway, Canada, Germany, and Italy but is settled now in Spain. “Southern Spain [pictured] seems like the right place for my family. I get fast Wi-Fi and the cost of living is much less than it was in San Diego, California.”

Though he has a greater appreciation now for the tools his employer provided—office supplies, software, hosting, and online tools—the experience has been easier than he expected. “The hardest part was taking the leap of faith,” he says.

slide5 jasonbender fla resized
Jason Bender

Coding from a tiny island

Jason Bender started working remotely because—in 2012—his job called for it. He has never gone back. Today, he is lead UX developer at Texas-based Dosh, overseeing the development of iOS and Android applications. He works from Captiva, a little island off the west coast of Florida. “It's small but beautiful,” he says. “The island is so narrow that we have ocean out the front door and the bay out the back. I fish in the early morning, work during the day, and watch sunset on the water in the evening.”

Working from an idyllic island has economic benefits as well aesthetic ones. “I eat out a lot less working remote then I did in an office. My wallet appreciates this. I'm a terrible cook, though. So I get tired of peanut butter and jelly.”  

Is there a downside to paradise? If you are working collaboratively, there is. Technology tools like Slack, Hangouts, and Skype have made collaboration possible regardless of location. “But there really isn't a substitute for being able to stand in front of a whiteboard with a peer and hash out a problem,” says Bender.

slide6 melissang resized
Melissa Ng

Accidental nomad

Melissa Ng (pictured) got a job seven years ago that required her to move to Vietnam. “The job didn't last,” she says. “But I loved Saigon. So, I stayed and went freelance.” She quickly realized that location didn’t matter to her clients, none of whom were in Saigon. “A combination of Skype and email were enough to keep my business going,” she says. “So, I started travelling, and accidentally became a nomad.”

Today she runs Melewi , a location-independent product design studio that has clients all over the world. She spends about a third of her time at home in Singapore and the rest traveling. “This year,” she says. “I'm all about chasing winter, so I've mostly been in Europe and New Zealand.”

There are countless aspects of the lifestyle she finds difficult. “But the problems I thought would be tough turned out to be the easiest: time zones, finding Wi-Fi, or being distracted away from work. If anything, I work too much.”

Feeling isolated, something she didn’t expect would be a problem, has been the hardest part for her. “I had to learn to come out of my shell and be less shy. And I had to be conscious of maintaining the friendships I have when I am far away from them.”

slide7 roger grimes fishing resized
Roger Grimes

SCUBA diving between meetings

Roger Grimes is a security consultant—and writer—who specializes in host security, PKI, identity management, cloud security, and advanced persistent threats. He chose this work, in part, so he could work from his home in Key Largo, Florida.

“My wife and I love SCUBA diving,” he explains. “The Florida Keys have warm, azure waters [pictured]. From our house, we can be on the most popular coral reef in North America in ten minutes.” They dive between meetings. “We also took up fishing,” he says. “Because what else do you do when you live on a tropical island?”

He admits that working remotely can sometimes lead to being left out and overlooked when it comes to promotions and advancement. But it hasn’t hurt his career. “I make the most money I’ve ever made working remotely,” he says. “And nothing beats the lifestyle. I stare at the ocean, sun, and palm trees every day.”

Also, it’s cheaper to not have to maintain an office wardrobe. “I only get halfway decent looking when I have a video conference,” he admits. “Otherwise I look more like Tom Hanks’s character in Castaway.”

slide8 johannes rieken resized
Johannes Rieken

Going dark in Switzerland

Johannes Rieken is a software engineer at Microsoft working on Visual Studio Code, an open source editor that’s popular with developers. “Half our team is in Zürich and half is in Redmond,” he says. “That makes us colocated and remote at the same time. Then there are my open source colleagues with whom I collaborate a lot. Working in open source is always remote.” He lives in Zürich.

His days are filled with programming, bug fixes, managing feature requests, and answering questions. “Some problems require that I go dark for a bit,” he says of getting offline, out of the office, and focusing on a problem until it is solved. “Being able to choose where and when you work helps a lot with that.”

But because he works out of a small office in Zürich, he rides a mountain-bike to work, takes a lake swim over lunch. And when he and is team decide to “go dark”—or just working remotely. “We work from home, from a train (Switzerland has really good public transport), between ski runs (Switzerland has even better skiing), or when visiting family since most of us are expats.”

slide9 james kiesel screen resized
James Kiesel

A nomad with roots

James Kiesel is part of a small team of developers working on the open source project Loomio in Wellington, New Zealand. He spends about half his time working remotely from different countries. Even though, he could get a more lucrative job if he stayed in a city, he prefers the flexibility of his lifestyle to money.

But none of this started because he sought the open road. “I like to work with my coworkers in Wellington,” he says. This started because he had to leave the country for visa reasons. “I got a flight and that was that,” he says. That was three years ago. “I’m in Wellington now,” he says. “But I just returned from the US, Mexico, and Fiji.” (He is shown at the Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah.) And he plans to keep traveling.

Being a digital nomad is not, says Kiesel, for everyone or forever. “Arranging travel is time-consuming,” he says. “And it's taxing to be in foreign places with no support system.” He thinks most nomads start looking for a home after about two years—though that often is not their original home. “When nomads go home,” he says. “It often doesn’t feel like home. Your friends have moved or changed. And you don’t relate to the place in the same way.”