Month: August 2015

Trail no more

Among the many benefits of a career in tech is the idea of becoming location-independent. For many people this concept may conjure up thoughts of working on exotic beaches while swigging cocktails. Others may fear the potential for loneliness and cabin fever that can often accompany solo remote working. But having the ability to work wherever you want, still pull in a decent income and remain fulfilled in your career can have further implications for other areas of life.

In 2009 I had just reached the end of a stint living and working in China. It wasn’t remote work. I was teaching English to a variety of Chinese businesspeople. I had a friend who was also teaching English and had married a local guy a few years back. She was throughly fed up, both with being in China and with the dead-end direction her career was heading.

As an American, she had a dream to return one day to the United States (or perhaps Europe) and start a new career there. But the problem was: her husband. He was stuck in China. As a Chinese citizen, visa issues made it difficult for him to join her. So she wasted away, feeling stifled and increasingly resentful of her situation. But the story has a bright side. Today, six years later, she has successfully switched careers and now has a great tech job in Washington DC, with all the flexibility that comes with it. However, her marriage didn’t survive. Her ex-husband never left China.

Among expats, the concept of the ‘trailing spouse’ is common. Often the woman, but increasingly the man too, this is the partner who leaves everything behind to accompany their spouse on an expat assignment. For the ‘trailer’, this can mean having to restart a career, find a new direction, or make do with an unfulfilling job in something like teaching English. All can be extremely stressful. It can even lead to difficult and painful decisions weighing a relationship against a career.

But when one partner works in tech, this difficulty fades into insignificance. When the location-dependent partner moves somewhere, the other can easily follow. There is unlikely to be much change in their income, type of work, career trajectory, or anything. In fact, in tech, it’s possible to carve out the ultimate portable career.

Having the option to work from anywhere has the added bonus of reducing stress on a relationship and lessening the chances that people will break up over what used to be insurmountable problems of distance. It means no-one has to sacrifice their career fulfilment for their partner. Fortunately, we live in times where the landscape of global employment is shifting. The ‘portable career’ applies to a number of other fields including freelance writing, journalism, graphic design, and consulting. If you set things up right, you may just find the world is your oyster.