A Day In The Life: Evan Mullins, digital nomad, Senior Front-end Engineer at 10up

At 10up we had an internal blog series entitled A Day in The Life to help us get to know each other better and share a bit about how we work on a day to day. I wanted to share mine here as well! It seems a day in my life is similar to many 10uppers, and yet, very different too.

Family intro

I’ve been with 10up for about a year and a half and been working on website front ends since 2007. I’m married to my best friend Krista, and we have 4 kids in tow: three boys followed by a girl. Currently we’re a nomad family focusing on slow travel, worldschooling and house & pet sitting! We treat life as an adventure and are involved with the lives of our kids as soccer coach, cub scout leaders, school teachers and more.

The Jump & a little about our remote life

I was born and raised in Metro-Atlanta (Georgia) went to the University of Georgia and studied fine art and new media. During my studies, I married my Canadian-born wife. Part of what brought us together was our travel aspirations and those dreams drove us to join the peace corps. But since she was still not an American we were denied!? A year after that, we found ourselves graduating college, starting my career as a web designer, settling down in the Atlanta area and having our first child all in the same summer! #noregrets We still had an itch to travel and we felt at times that our best life was passing us by, so we determined to hack life a bit! We got comfortable home-schooling our kids and I looked for 100% remote work. I’m so glad I connected with other 10uppers at a couple WordCamps!

My initial thought was to downsize from a house to an RV and tour national parks, but we worried about connectivity and comfort (with so many in such a tight space). Plus, we still had an itch to get farther from home and see more of the diversity the world offers. I heard about a friend of a friend who travels through trustedhousesitters.com and I became excited looking at places we could go via housesitting! I’ll never forget coming out of my office for lunch on my first day with 10up and my wife had taken everything off the walls! It was a reminder of our plans and to keep us from getting too comfortable. Another time I came out and she told me she’d just sold our bed! It was quite a process decluttering literally everything, as well as selling the house, but it went fast! I started at 10up in March of 2018 and by the end of May, we pulled out of town with everything we owned in the minivan (we did leave some keepsake type things in storage). We were going on a cross-country road trip (via Jackson Hole for summit), we sold the van in Utah and flew to the other side of the world for a 2 month house-sit “down under”. 

We take our “home” with us and travel to other people’s homes to house and pet sit for them. I work from their home and we homeschool from their home. It’s a nice base to then explore that corner of the world and full of adapting and adjusting.

We have a family saying now: home is where we are

House Sitting

Housesitting has been the lifehack to allow us to afford travel, but also keep a sense of home as we go around. I really enjoy exploring and learning about different cultures, so slow international travel is my sweet spot enabling us to visit many places. Worldschoolers is the term for families like us, we were even featured on an Australian radio show discussing worldschooling and our travel. For those interested in stats, we just calculated things about a month ago for celebrating our first 500 days of nomad life!

Stats

In 500 days: 350 days were housesitting, around a split with around 75 each staying with family and friends and 75 paying for a night somewhere (hotels, airbnb, campgrounds, family-friendly hostels). These 350 days of house sits, were between 11 individual sits, ranging from the shortest at 9 days and the longest 122 days with an average of about 30 days. We’ve pet sat for around 150 animals! We’ve had mostly great and some crazy experiences pet sitting: dogs and/or cats at almost every sit, but also chickens, cows, sheep, rabbits, hamster, birds, a mango farm and a kangaroos rescue farm. We’ve spent time in 7 countries along the way!

Some concerned family or friends have cautioned us that our kids need stability. I agree and it is something we are sensitive to and keep an eye on, but I also think the benefits outweigh the risk. We follow a worldschooling mindset where the world is our classroom rather than the kids’ classroom being their world. I’m working on teaching them to respect other people and cultures and that the world is theirs to explore. Staying in homes for the most part, does add to the sense of stability. We do our best to make new friends and get involved with the community when we arrive. We’ve joined sports teams and other clubs or even homeschool groups and have made some great friends along the way. A surprising bonus to pet-sitting has been the therapeutic love we find with pets as we travel, and especially for the kids. We’re able to “step into” lives of others as we sit for them and it’s a great experience to get to know their homes and pets as well as their stories. We still aim to give the kids a stable family life even though we’re constantly in different places. I think it actually helps our kids sanity that there are 4 of them too, they have friends everywhere we go because at least they are friends with each other.

On Being Flexible

A main component to life with the Mullins is flexibility. Something that changes quite frequently is my working hours and even my timezone. For example, in Australia I worked the local night-shift to accommodate project schedules. I’d start work around 7pm and stay on until 3 or 4am. In New Zealand I couldn’t conceive of staying up until 6am for meetings, so I got up and started my day at 5am locally and worked until lunchtime. It does take me a little time to figure out a good schedule when we end up in a new place or time zone and I’m thankful my project leads have also been flexible when working these things out with me, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think any projects have suffered because I was up later or earlier than some think is natural. It’s actually kinda nice to be up and working when the house is quiet. I’ve found a good focus in those moments because I also have to be flexible with my workspace. I do travel with a wireless keyboard and mouse and set up a space at any table or desk I am lucky enough to find in the house we are calling home for the moment. I’ll usually find a second screen or even a television with hdmi input and set up my second monitor, which I’ve found is golden for my own productivity. Having 4 kids that are home much of the day, I have invested in nice headphones that really help me focus. I’m always listening to music unless I’m in a meeting, and it helps me find my focus and cancel out the background noise. Here are a few of my work spaces:

Daily Work & Routines

Lately, I prefer to start my day early (ideally around 6, but in actuality usually around 7) with a cup of coffee and get some work in before breaking for breakfast when the family is up around 8 or 9. We’ll talk about the day, what field trip my wife has in store for them that day and maybe touch on a homeschool lesson or watch the latest CNN10. I’ll get back to work as they work on their “essentials” for the day (reading, writing and math). At my desk, I like to have a pad of paper next to me for jotting notes and organizing thoughts. I’m a natural list maker and am always making a list of my todos. It helps to see them in one place when I’m dealing with projects simultaneously in teamwork, github and jira. I work to make progress on my tickets every day. My projects of late include: InvestorPlace, Google Site Kit, Credit Karma and most recently I’ve been fully resourced to Dennis. It’s been really nice to be able to focus on one big project and get deeper into the code base and processes and not be as distracted with context switching and remembering the nuanced differences from one project to the next. Each project I work on I have a file for notes that are specific to my needs and process. Things like which node version I have to `nvm` to, all the build and test commands, links to dev sites and quick notes on process. I tend to list things and note things so I don’t have to try to remember them, because I usually end up forgetting something.

“Paper is to write things down that we need to remember. Our brains are used to think.”

Albert Einstein

I usually have a tab open with my work gmail, work calendar, music player, harvest timesheet, 10k ft dashboard and my project management sites for each project. I also bookmark every useful link and organize them into folders per client and project. I name the bookmark descriptively and when I need something I type these names into the address bar and bookmark autocomplete as I type. I have a couple work tools to plug for productivity too. I really like Dato to replace the native clock on the mac because it integrates a calendar and multiple time zones. I love the clipboard manager Flycut. It’s so nice to have a copy history and it helps to copy groups of text and paste them in a series. I use Local by Flywheel for my local wordpress environments, sourcetree for git and VSCode for coding. I’m not super organized with blocking off my calendar – I’ve tried it and found that it’s more stressing than helpful for me. I track my time throughout the day though and will log my time every couple hours. I’ve found that if I don’t, I can’t remember and have to guess more than I’d like to about how long various tasks take.

I have very much enjoyed being on the styling team for Dennis projects. We’re focused on building and styling a shared component library across a growing multitude of sites. We are using styleguidist to create a style guide per site that loads all the react components and styling variables. Then other teams take the components we style and wire it to the CMS. Designing systems, not pages has been a mantra of mine and it’s been great to be practicing it!

Fitting In & Other Fun

I have a strong visual background (comes with a fine art degree), and ended up in engineering via studying animation and flash. I’m not ashamed to say that actionscript is where I first figured out how `if` and `else` clauses and even `for` loops worked. It was amazing to me to visually see these commands being followed when I’d script some interactive animation. It was messy code though, and I was also learning about CSS at the time – connecting the technology with the design was where I found a home. But, since I initially started school to be a cartoonist, I feel like I kinda fell into web development. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoy it, but I feel like as a self-taught developer, my formal coding training pales in comparison to others.

So sometimes it is hard to feel like I belong among so many other amazing engineers. I still prefer to use a GUI to run my git commands rather than staying in the terminal. Sometimes, running `npm` or `yarn` commands honestly feels like black magic. Sometimes I feel like I’m in over my head and everyone else “gets it” while I’m stumbling in the dark. Our field is constantly changing too! I have learned to accept that in two years time many of the rules and standards I follow may be different, irrelevant, even my whole toolset may have changed. I (try to) take a little break and remind myself that while I don’t know so many things that seemingly everyone else does, everyone else may not necessarily be an expert at what I do know. While focusing on all the things I need to brush up on and learn, it’s too easy to forget what I do know and what I bring to the team. I have specific capabilities that led 10up to ask me to join the team in the first place. We each bring our skills to the team and together we are a full piece band. So if you’ve ever felt similarly, chin up! Remember that you are unique and bring much more than you realize to the table. :cheers: We’re all in this together!

Dealing with complex tasks on top of the emotional stresses of parenting and logistical stresses of constantly moving my family does take its toll sometimes. I’ve learned that after being stuck on a work task it’s always helpful to talk it through with someone. Nearly every time, in framing the question, I find the answer or the fix. Whether it’s via slack or a quick zoom or even explaining it to my wife or one of the kids! When I get stuck on a task or stress out I like to step away and take a break. Fresh eyes also fixes nearly every issue, half the time it’s a typo anyways. I’ll go for a walk – with a dog (if we have one at the moment), by myself or even walk with the family. I also try to relax playing guitar (if there is one handy) or even just listening to some good music. I’ve learned that I carry my stress in my back and shoulders so I’ll loosen up with a deep tissue massage and stretching, mindfulness meditations and even yoga. Destressing regularly pays off in huge dividends to me. I focus better, do better work, feel happier and in the end am even a better husband and father.

During my off hours I do focus some serious time on logistics. Things like finding our next house sit, researching things to do in our current or upcoming areas, learning how to purchase a vehicle in a foreign country or watch for affordable travel for 6. I also join the family touring local sites and enjoying local food. It’s fun to have constantly changing surroundings and never have a shortage of new places to check out. We strive to be more than tourists, but to really get to know local customs and people. I find cultures fascinating in that they teach me so much about myself. I’m so grateful for a remote job where I actually get paid to do what I’m interested during the day and also get to travel and do the fun work of living my dreams when I’m off the clock!

Where do we go from here?

After our stint in the UK through January, we’re still not sure where we’re off to we just confirmed a house-sit in France early next year. So, I guess we’ll make our (br)exit from the UK… After that, who knows! We may continue housesitting, or start renting longer stays or even go back to an RV. At some point we’ll probably need to settle for a while and take care of some looming issues, things like orthodontic work for our oldest. Some days it’s very unsettling to not know where I’ll be in just a couple months (we try to have the next few months planned out but it varies from time to time). Other days it feels completely liberating to be living this lifestyle. It’s not for everyone, but for me, it nails that fine line between genius and completely insane where I think is a pretty good place to live life. It’s certainly never boring! It’s extra work to do this as a family, but I’m proud to be teaching my kids firsthand to chase their dreams. If you’re interested, we’ve got a website about the adventure at nomaderwhere.com complete with map!

It’s been really fun to share a day in my life and participate in this series. Thanks for reading!

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