DNS #7 Rick Graham:: “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day of your life”

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Digital nomad stories are weekly story series sharing experiences and tips from nomadic entrepreneurs all over the world. Join the journey! 

Hey! I’m Rick Graham, the second in a long line of non-conformists…my nomad story goes a long way back, along with my career. I was one of those kids that almost didn’t have a choice of what they were going to be when they grew up because, by the time I was a teenager, I was already in the process mastering my craft.

My parents raised me to see that we build our own destiny, and we do it one day at a time. It was a maker like environment; we built tree houses 40’ up, featuring tin can telephones; train tables complete with tunnels, valleys, and forests; and C scripts that told us what letters to pick if we were ever in the final round of Wheel of Fortune. (ps, it’s not RSTLN-E)  Anything is possible, right?

I wrote my first line of code when I was 7 years old (that was 1990, good times). I found my dad’s first computer one day, an old Timex Sinclair 1000, a machine that didn’t have an operating system, but rather ran directly from Basic code. You were able to plug it into one of those old fashion analog tube televisions via UHF, save and load programs through a cassette tape player through a ⅛” cable.  We also had an expansion block for it, a brick of a block that plugged into the back of it to gave a massive 16kb RAM expansion….pretty sweet machine if you had of asked me then. I just looked at it as LEGO on steroids.

All this happened at my cottage, 2.5 hours east of Toronto, Canada in a beach town area called Prince Edward County, on Long Reach to be exact.. Pretty remote for 7 year old I’d say.

As time went on, I watched my father build up local businesses and I got a taste for the entrepreneurial spirit. While there were easily a half dozen over the next decade, two of them still stand out to me. When the internet became a thing, we didn’t have it in Prince Edward County, that was a problem for him..I remember going into the office of this new venture not really understanding what it was all about. Network maps on the wall were intriguing AF though..one day we went into the back room of a furniture store where on the wall I saw an array of little boxes, this was my first server room! There were 24-36 56kb modems where people could dial-in to, and have access to the world wide web. It wasn’t long before the whole country had signed up and he saw the company sold to a larger company on the mainland. Start-ups, eh? Cool.

The second company that still stands out to me, started out as three guys in a basement in Ottawa, Canada.  They wanted to be able to use math to create graphics…I remember the demos they built, do you recall the cool “star field simulation” that looked like the Starship Enterprise going into warp speed? It was like that, only a program made it! They were designing a vector graphic language. That business ended up being a company of 150 people that later sold to Motorola, and was in the running for an Adobe acquisition. Do you remember Flash? Well Shockwave had beaten out Bitflash for that $3 billion purchase…no hard feelings though. That position put him in the W3C for the SVG version 1 spec group, and a whole other set of international experiences followed that as I met expert developers from Europe, Australia and Asia, more often than not, to go skiing.

Back to my career, as I watched my father’s experiences like a fly on the wall, I continued to learn about computers and the systems that were being built up, he was, after all, like my own personal Google before Google was a thing.  I had access to his computers, his reference manual’s and of course, he himself! One day in the middle of all this, I was the seventh grade, and the school’s computer teacher introduced a friend (and future business partner) and I to something new.  He opened up the browser to show us a website, it had pictures and text laid out on it, which was interesting, I guess, but he took it one step farther and showed us how it was built.  This my first introduction to HTML, he showed us some of the basic markup tags and the next year was filled with building really lame personal websites filled with stupid pictures and “really cool” animated GIFs.

By grade 12 I had learned a lot, I had a half dozen websites out there that sucked, but were a fun exploration into the craft. I had access to some industry leading software such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, and pretty much anything else I wanted, and started incorporating them into my websites. I began working my first office job that I had found through a classmate in my Computer Programming class, it was at an environmental company doing some drafting in AutoCAD.  My experience with computers, math, and vectors were an asset to them as I created documents that described the findings of their property surveys. That year, I created my first online community in the county that became pretty popular with high school students in the area. It garnered views from a few hundred individuals from around PEC and the surrounding area who had seen my friends’ band at local skateparks, high school/graduation dances, battle of the bands or at the local rotary halls. We were famous! haha not really, though.. This was all before my first day of post secondary.

In my second year of college, I started my first company with that friend that was sitting with me when we were introduced to HTML, it was a design and development studio. Between the two of us, we were making some pretty great websites for the time. Most websites still dawning shitty animated gifs and barely had any style, we were building full flash websites integrated with blogs, photo albums, contact forums…everything a growing web platform needs. By this time I had my fingers in a dozen toolsets and languages (in this order) Basic, C/C++, HTML, CSS, Javascript, and ASP/PHP, MySQL, and was learning Java, VB.net, C# in the courses I was taking (plus a few that are not really worth a mention).

By 2005, the relationship fell apart as we wanted to do different things with ourselves, and I started RaddStudio, or the Rapid Application Design and Development Studio.  I’ve never been much of a salesman, but it left its mark on all the projects that I worked on since then.  That same year I got my first developer job at a company doing C++, C#, and other web design/development work for a line of products in the financial industry.  They had an AIX Unix transaction switch that could handle millions of transactions a second, and I worked on their monitoring product that our customers used to manage their access to the system as well as their machines on the switch. In 2010, I spent a winter out west to ski bum which was eye opening to me. I had a season’s pass at Whitewater, couch surfed and hitchhiked to and from the hill daily.  I got over 50 days on the mountain that season and my life had never been the same.  My entire life’s path shifted after that, but I wasn’t quite ready to go all in.  After almost three months of ski bumming, I returned to start a job doing Javascript at a Ruby on Rails shop, it was very forward thinking. I learned about community, the agile process, test driven development, continuous integration, and started going to local meetups.  While I had started learning Ruby/Rails a couple years earlier, I got a real taste for it at that startup where I rose to the position of Lead R&D as the team dynamic had shifted in the following years.

In April of 2014, I made the huge life change and moved to the west coast to start my first officially senior developer position, using my experience to lead the development team towards an acquisition. I quickly found myself a part of the local developers community by going to events for the Ruby, Javascript, and Python meetups. Within a couple weeks I was mentoring students at one of the local code bootcamps. I helped 120+ students over the next year with their studies and development projects. By February of the following year, I had left my senior job and was working with my recruitment team to go 100% remote, inspired by a desire to have a healthier work-life balance.  I purchased a 1979 Dodge Royal 200 Camper van and soon found myself working from the base of the local Ski Mountain’s or over on the Pacific Coast. Fueled by a need to have a different kind of board meeting everyday (pun intended), I started working my afternoons/evenings away while spending my mornings surfing or snowboarding.  

After I had established myself as a reliable resource, my reputation started garnering me the types of roles I was looking for, and in January of 2016, I found RemoteYear. A platform that allows digital nomads to travel around the world, while maintaining enough stability to be able to focus on their work, but still enjoy being in a new city every month, for 12 months. This was the first time I had hear of the term “digital nomad”, something that I was, but had never realized until then.

I have spent the last 8 months living in Europe, Africa, Asia, and next month I will be heading over to South America for the final leg of our year.

What’s your normal daily routine as a digital nomad?

I try and get up as early as possible, but it depends on how late I have been working away. Which for me, is more often than not, when I prefer to do my work.. My day is usually split up by “me time” unless I plan on surfing or snowboarding that day.

 

What’s your favorite part about of being a digital nomad? & What’s the opposite – least favorite?

Being remote comes with a lot of freedom, but that freedom does come at a cost, I am pretty much open to working at any hour of the day, which means always watching for emails, and making phone calls.  The more you hustle, the better.

 

What’s the first adventure that comes on your mind from your DN career?

When I got my Campervan on the west coast, parked overlooking the Pacific and working while tethered to my cell phone was a pretty memorable moment. I remember thinking, is this really my life now? www.instagram.com/p/BDW985oRBtg

 

What are the hardest things to keep up with while being a digital nomad?

Friends and family, being remote means being away from them, and it’s not hard to get distracted by work or travel to such a degree that you almost don’t have time to stay connected. The lifestyle is always throwing something new at you, and it can be easy to pass the time away without connecting for long periods of time.

“How can we ever have time, if we never take time”, hold’s true to this point. Make time for the people that matter to you, they want to hear from you, I promise.

 

Are there any online resources you find really useful and essential for your career? If so, please share some!

There are some that I really love, you should checkout www.nomo-fomo.com as well as www.thebasetrip.com, both really great resources that I use regularly. Also worth a mention are www.nomadbase.io, coworkingmap.org, workfrom.co, and www.thetimezoneconverter.com/

What’s the biggest misconception people have about digital nomads? Is there any way we can try to change that?

That we never work, haha it’s easy to share your favourite moments on instagram and facebook and all people see are the high moments, but honestly why would I share boring photos of me working? (I actually do try and do this here and there, mostly brunch related) The truth of it is, I work a lot more now than I did when I did a 9-5, it’s just that all the other moments of my day are worth sharing so much more than they used to be when I spent my day commuting to the office and working for the weekend.

 

Being a digital nomad may include a lot of traveling. What are your tips & tricks for better travels?

You definitely want to pack smart, only carry practical clothing with you, leave the “luxuries” behind right away…you’ll learn soon enough that all that stuff, is just stuff, and it doesn’t really have any value to your life. Except for a wetsuit, and a skateboard, I never leave home without them! That will very depending on your interests, granted…you need to be able to have something that allows you to do what you love to do when you’re not working.  It’s never 6 pairs of shoes, makeup and a months worth of wardrobe.

 

Many people are afraid of never being able to settle down after being nomads. What are your thoughts on this? 

Well the lifestyle is still at the beginning of the bell curve, it’s only recently that we have had laptops, wifi, cellular networks that allow us to do this…. My advice would be, don’t worry about it. Do what is best for you and when you do that, you will find your way. The Universe has a way of giving you what you need, when you need it.

 

Where have you experienced the strongest nomad community? Also, please share, if there is any place where you’ve found a lack of it!

There are plenty of events and groups on Meetup.com and facebook, just search for the city or country in those places with the right keywords and you will find your plenty of people reaching out…pretty much every coworking spaces will be feeding this niche. Also consider following the programs that have come out. On RemoteYear we self-organize multiple events every month! I would wager a guess that the other programs that have popped up since are doing the same. It’s not a vacation, it’s as much of a professional network as anything else.

 

What’s your favorite way of meeting new people as a nomad?

I’m not sure I am really able to provide the greatest feedback here, I am an ambivert that leans a little closer to extraverted and I approach life a lot like I do my personal life. I find that when I need to reach out for help or friendship I do, the rest of the time, I am just focused on what steps I take next.

 

What are the main things you are looking for when deciding where to go next?

Cost of living is high on the list, and for myself, I like to travel where I can do the things that I love, which includes board sports, food, and beaches! I like to use the www.thebasetrip.com before jumping into a new place to get a sense for the destinations in question.

 

Top 3 places to visit as a digital nomad

South East Asia has been amazing, I hesitate to pick specific locations in the region, but I will; Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines are all great spots..it’s not hard to spend 6 months there with never a dull moment!

What’s your vision of the future? How long are you planning to keep up with your digital nomad lifestyle? Do you have any long-term plans on your mind?

I don’t plan to stop anytime soon, I have been positioning myself to be a part of some workshops and coworking spaces in the places I love to spend my time the most. In Canada as well as certain places in South East Asia.

 

What would you now say to your old self, back when you just started?

“Nothin’ to it but to do it, baby!”

Good luck, with love.
Rick

 

Connect with Rick:

www.raddstudio.com

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