By WomenMakeBot

Steph Smith (@stephsmith) is working full-time remotely. A year ago she started learning to code and built 4 projects since then. She’s also nomad and has visited 52 countries so far.

The AMA took place on Instagram on September 25, 2019.

Hey Steph, thanks for doing this! Your personal website looks like you've been coding for years. How did you learn so quickly. What course etc? 😀

Hi Naya!! 😊 Thanks so much for saying that. I think the most important thing I did was track how often I was coding. I literally had a spreadsheet marking off which days I coded and which I didn’t, to keep myself accountable. In total, I ended up coding around 100 days in 2018. That might not seem like so much, but that’s maybe 2-300 hours and you can accomplish a lot in that time. I also made sure I was building stuff as I was learning, because if not, it’s super easy to forget and also lose motivation! In terms of the course, I took the web developer boot camp on Udemy, by Colt Steele. Would really recommend! If you’re interested in learning more, I gave a talk about this here:

1) What does a typical work day looks like for you? 2) What was the most surprising thing you learnt during your years of digital nomadism? 3) What is one surprising thing you recently learnt/discovered about yourself?

Hey Clo! 💛💛 1) I’ve never really been much of a routine person, so my days are pretty scattered and it depends where I am! 😅 When I’m in Bali, I’ll get up around 9 and logon to answer any msgs/emails from the night before, since most of my coworkers are in North America. I’ll grab breakfast somewhere and get a few hours of uninterrupted work in. I’ll grab lunch w a friend, and then cowork for the rest of the afternoon, sometimes on my own personal projects. Then if I’m lucky, I’ll workout (soccer or yoga - I can’t do the gym!) or watch sunset, before signing back on for work to catch up with my coworkers as they wake up. Honestly, I spend most of my day at my computer, but I like that in Bali it’s often with other nomads. 🤗

2) Nomading is *not* all its hyped up to be. Before I started nomading, I really thought it was a dream life. In many ways, it’s exactly the kind of life that I want to live, but it’s definitely not as glamorous as it sometimes looks. I’ve spoken with many other nomads who have done it for years, and most feel like it only really starts to get great after 2-3 years, once you’ve built up a community.

3) What a great question! I’m going to come back to this one.

Is leaving your full-time job something you could consider one day? If yes, what would make you take this decision?

Yes, absolutely! The biggest thing that I consider is actually not getting paid (although that’s nice of course), but instead how much I have to learn. Right now, I still think I have lots of areas to grow and really value working with other smart, talented people. When I feel like that learning curve is no longer benefiting me, I think I’ll make the decision to go full-time on my own projects!

You’ve built a few successful projects, what advice would you give to someone who wants to make successful side projects too?

I think it’s important to build projects *you* actually like or really care about in some way - not just a project that you think will get attention. People often pay attention to launches, but building projects goes on far past that and it should be something that can keep you motivated. I would also start small! Even big companies had to start somewhere, but people normally think of these massive visions, which end up overwhelming them and never end up being built. I would recommend Pieter Level’s Makebook if you’re looking for specific advice on how to pick a niche, how to launch, etc 😊

Hi! I’m curious to know about the early days :)
- What were some of the challenging parts of starting out with digital nomadism?
- Did you have a lot of savings before you made the final leap?
- Favorite book you’ve read in the past year?
Thanks a bunch! 😁 excited for this first AMA!

Hey Lara! Thanks for the questions. 😊 1) Definitely finding a community! Digital nomading isn’t all it’s hyped up to be, especially at the beginning. The highs are higher, but the lows are also lower. Specifically, can be super lonely, especially if you choose to hop around a lot (as I did at the beginning). I’ve now come to appreciate “slomading” and spending a lot of my time in Bali, where now I’ve built up my own little community of friends. Relationships are also difficult, bc I find most nomads (including myself here) are not really in a headspace to effectively focus on another person at the time. And finally, it really was a transition to learn to be just as productive remotely, since you have to basically design your own life and habits. It took over a year or two for me to really get there. I encourage people to really perceive nomading as a means to an end, but not an end goal, because it will not bring someone happiness on its own.

2) I was lucky enough to find a FT remote job so it wasn’t much of a financial risk. I did make sure to pay off my student loans, but I didn’t have that much in the bank when I made the switch!

3) For this year, Algorithms to Live By! “WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us” is also great.

Hi Steph!! I'm interested to hear how you've built your personal brand. I remember not long ago when you just started being active on Twitter. How did you grow a following, stay consistent, and build an engaged audience?
Also always love to know writing habit strategies (although I feel like maybe this is something you've answered before...), i.e getting inspiration, staying on track, etc.
You're the best!!

Hi Kelly!! Thanks for the thoughtful questions. 💛 1) The first thing I think is important is just making sure people know what they’re getting. When people think of my personal “brand”, they think remote work, tech, productivity, etc. If I started tweeting about pop culture all the time, they would be “this is not what I signed up for”. Outside of that consistency, I think the biggest driver to the growth is how open I’ve been with everything. I’ve opened up almost everything in my life, from how often I’m exercising to what books I’m reading or what projects are next. Not everyone needs to share absolutely everything, but I think people are able to connect with you more, the more you share. I’ve dedicated my Twitter to sharing my journey, but also sharing anything I think might be helpful to other people. If I learned how to set up new tech, I’ll write an article and share it. If I discover a new tool that I love, I’ll share it too. Sometimes people view life as a zero sum game, where if they share info, they’re hindering their own success because “life is a competition”. I choose to do the opposite and share as openly as possible. I actually answered a similar question on IndieHackers recently and linked to a presentation I gave about how impactful “building in the open” has been for me:

2) I’m actually writing an article about this! I actually am not a natural writer (I hated English class in highschool), so I try to make it as low barrier to get started. I draw inspiration from literally everywhere and make sure to make a note of it in my tracking spreadsheet. From there, every time I read a book or see a tweet or anything that could add to my existing ideas, I’ll add it. That way, eventually I’ll have a working document that’s halfway there, before I even start writing! I think people often overwhelm themselves to thinking they need to create a piece in a single setting and then never start. My articles take many, many iterations. Will publish the article in a couple weeks, but in the meantime, some more info here:

What steps did you take to encourage MYGA to reach #1 on Product Hunt? Any PH tips?

Hey Allison! Honestly, that particular project shot to the top on its own (to my surprise!). In fact, it wasn't even featured for the first six hours or so.
In retrospect, I think that particular project did well as it had a somewhat head-turning title and was something almost any person could test, and then resonate with. Are you launching something soon? I wouldn't worry too much about hitting #1 on PH. It's a great feeling, but fades pretty quickly. Launches are only one small piece of the puzzle to build up a product!

Hi Steph! Your story is pretty inspiring. You’ve been at 52 countries. How do startup / maker communities look like all over the world? And one more question. How did you learn to code?

Thanks Tasha! 1) You'd be surprised to find that there is innovation truly everywhere you go. I love going to coworking spaces and attending events to get a sense of what's "cooking" there. I really like exploring outside of the SV bubble, since I find the companies being founded and the problems being solved to be more diverse. Communities differ across the world, but I've found digital nomad hotspots like Bali or Chiang Mai to have the best maker communities, since those demographics overlap so well!

2) I first took a full-stack web development Udemy course! (This one: ). It took me around 4 months to complete it while working FT and then another 4 months to build and launch my first project!

If you're keen to learn more about my journey in learning to code, I gave a talk about it here:

Thanks for doing this Steph 🙌 How do you balance writing on your blog, building a new product, your day job, and all the rest?

Hi! 💛 It's not easy and I've definitely been letting some things drop recently.
One thing that really helps me is being able to work remotely and design my own schedule. I spend a big chunk of my day on my FT job during the week, but I try to spend at least an hour or two each day after work on something outside of that. Sometimes it's an article, sometimes it's coding. Even just an hour daily compounds significantly. And I almost always work on the weekends on my side projects. Since I only choose to write about or build things I love, it's not as overwhelming as it sounds.

Also, as I've written about before, I literally watch almost no TV, have no commute, and am trying to spend less time on my phone. What I think has been most impactful is tracking what I do daily, so I can easily see "hey, it's been 10 days since you last coded. Maybe it's time to catch up there". One final thing to mention is the idea of "epochs". Someone commented this on a HN post of mine and I really like the concept. I can't have everything a priority all the time, so I kind of switch main priorities between sections of time. This year has been focused a lot on writing. Last year was mainly focused on coding. Maybe next will be on my physical health. They're all things I constantly work towards, but the absolute top priority shifts over time.

Hope that's helpful!

Women Make bot

Hi Steph, I am interested to know How do you validate your product ideas? Thanks Steph! 😊

Thanks for the question! Honestly, this is an area I should probably be more scientific about. 😊 I mostly build projects that I personally find value in first, and then try to think about whether others might be facing this problem too. I actually don't look for huge industries, but niche ones that I expect to grow. Women in tech, remote work, and people learning to code are all important topics to me, but also areas on the rise. I think instead of overthinking what might be successful, it's actually more important to validate in "the market" by launching, so I rely on that to provide me the accurate feedback I need to decide whether to continue on with a project!

Hi Steph! I admire that you tend to make great short and long term decisions. Thinking long-term about your life, what are the core beliefs/values that drive your decision making, and how do you balance your short-term goals with the long-term ones?

Hey Madi! That's such a thoughtful compliment, so thank you.
There have been a couple important realizations in my life over the last few years which I think fuel my decision making. Growing up, I always wanted to be "successful" in a traditional way, mostly related to financial wealth. Once I gained financial stability, I realized that made me no happier. A classic story, but that really left me considering what kind of life would bring me the most happiness. I started by considering, "Who are the people that I admire?". I noticed that it wasn't the classically successful people, but people who did a few things: stuck with their values, supported others, and had an optimism about what the world could accomplish together. I’ve tried to orient my life around that concept and question: “If someone was living my life and making the decisions I’m making, would I admire them?”. As for long and short-term goals, I’ve learned to be patience with the process that is life. Coming to terms with the fact that “exactly where I want to be” is always evolving and is an unreachable state, I mostly center around the question “am I moving in the right direction?” and change what I can control. So I suppose to answer the question, I don’t think too far out because so much can change in the meantime, but I do make sure that my short-term decisions aren’t in conflict with my longer-term goals.