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History of the Digital Nomad

Microsoft365 for Business
Microsoft for Business

The ability to reach beyond old school office walls to share and collaborate is all the rage now as hybrid work solutions have become affordable and easy to scale, thanks to the explosion in wireless connectivity and mobile devices. That mobility means workers can now be productive anywhere.

It also means they can be asked to work anytime as well. That’s just one reason corporate culture is promoting these hybrid environments as the end-all be-all future of work. And also why the work while traveling concept is taking off.

But the good news is device mobility also gives workers more control over their work experience. And I’m glad to say these new technologies have let the more creative spirits in corporate culture birth a whole new approach to earning a living that sets them free to travel the world (or their local communities), where they can experience varied cultures, build personal relationships for change, and contribute to local economies financially and through volunteering. I’m glad to say I’m one of them. We call ourselves Digital Nomads.

How it started for me

The term digital nomad has been around a few years. It was originally coined in a book titled Digital Nomad in 1997, written by well known computer scientist Dr. Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners. As mobile technologies and the ability to easily find and connect safely to wireless networks increased, so did the digital nomad community. But it really took about a decade to start gaining traction. Coincidentally, that was about the time I first learned about it.

For me, it all started in 2008 when the civil engineering firm I was working for shut down our small design studio and I was suddenly forced to pick up bits and pieces of design work to keep food on the table. All during what was generally considered a depression in the land development industry.

I was in urgent need of power, raw computing power, that could handle advanced versions of AutoCAD, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and more. But be mobile end reliable enough to travel with me from project site to home and to the small office I was renting on historic Salem Street in downtown Apex, North Carolina.

4 key pieces of digital nomad tech emerge

Unfortunately I was on a very limited budget. But somehow managed to scrape together enough for a laptop and all the software licenses. By the time I was done I had spent enough to buy a very nice used car. Thankfully I had a reliable car already and could sacrifice the funds for the tech.

During my research to configure a usable remote work system, I learned a lot about how it all actually works. There were four emerging technologies that would quickly become a daily part of my life and it turned out all four would grow rapidly, evolving collectively into what we now call the Internet of Things (IoT).

Personally, I hate that name. But Big Tech loves their acronyms. In fact I’ve heard that some Big Tech companies even have dictionaries full of the acronyms they use and that, more often than not, each acronym has been used to mean several different things within the company, creating a chaotic approch to product delivery. Yet for some unknown reason they keep doing it . . . go figure. Anyway, the four emerging technologies were:

The shift to big tech

These four technologies became the backbone of my Landscape Architectural practice. For the first time in my life I was freed from the daily dreariness of an office. I quickly embraced the new lifestyle, moving swiftly across coffee shops, restaurants, and even parks around my area as I worked. My productivity was high and the mobility allowed me to work anytime of day.

As my wife and I ramped up our travels around the United States, my portable design studio went with us. But there was a hurdle: internet access. That leg of the four was the weakest by far when traveling outside the tech-heavy confines of my home turf in RTP, North Carolina. But it and the others matured rapidly and I eventually got a front seat view of the entire trip after hitching a ride with Cisco, the big networking and cybersecurity company based out of San Jose, California.

Over the years I’ve had countless discussions with subject matter experts (SMEs – yep, another acronym) at Cisco and other companies about the technologies. I’ve heard their take on how it all developed and what parts they played. And, in the end, it all deserves its own book. And someday I’ll write it all down. But for now, let’s simply say that these 4 technologies somehow, miraculously to some, came to life at just the right time and in a mutually beneficial way in the early 2000s.

Honestly, it was a pretty random thing based on the conversations I’ve had. But, nonetheless, they quickly came to add value for each other, entering each other’s orbits, then rapidly picking up speed before colliding into quite a wonderful explosion. The result propelled remote work into mainstream consciousness. And by 2011, a

Next up: Part 2 – “The Office” Cancelled

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