The Road Coders Survival Kit

Your friendly neighborhood Twilio developer evangelism crew racks up a fair amount of road time around the world in our continuing mission to see the incredible stuff you all build. In addition to accumulating buckets of frequent flyer miles, mapping power outlets in every airport from LHR to SFO and taste testing the entire menu from Buffalo Wild Wings, we’ve also collected  in our travels a bag of products that are essential to anyone trying to cut code on the road.

Road coding is not easy – cramped screen real estate, scavenging for decent wifi and coping with your devices’ insatiable thirst for electricity can wreck concentration and shred context.  This isn’t a list officially endorsing or promoting anything for the affiliate green – these are just some products we dig.  If you’re pounding pavement while pushing commits, we’ve found this gear that will help you stay sane and productive while traveling.

Power Up

Easily the biggest struggle is keeping the phone charged.  As more and more non-coding work becomes achievable on the mobile device, the laptop stays longer and longer in the bag with your phone’s battery picking up the computing time balance.  Extra juice has gone from a weight luxury to a must-have item to pack.  Your devangel in Washington, D.C. Matt Makai sports the Triple C universal phone charger from J Crew.  While the camo finish screams deer hunter, the sleek profile and 1000 mAh capacity is a solid weight-to-recharge ratio.  Matt regularly goes from dead to 40% charge with this pack.

mophieIf you’re comfortable with a heavier investment in dollars and ounces, your Twilio evangelist in Philadelphia Brent Schooley recommends Mophie’s Powerstation brick.  While more weighty than other battery packs, the 4000 mAh capacity is difficult to beat.  This beastly brick will resurrect your iPhone 5 on a single charge three times over.  Further, the Powerstation identifies the charging speed of the connected device, auto-adjusting the amperage to get your phone or tablet back from the blink as fast as it can handle.  That said, the Mophie Powerstation adds some serious lead to the backpack – it’ll break the back and the bank.

While that takes care of our devices, when you do find an empty power outlet, you need to be quick on the draw with your laptop’s adapter if you’re going to score the juice in the Wild West of crowded airports like O’Hare, JFK and Heathrow.  For power cord agility, your DE in Charlotte, N.C Devin Rader relies on the popular PowerCurl for his Macbook.  A stinkingly novel add-on form-fitted for the Apple adapters of all types, the PowerCurl kills your cord tangle problems letting you sling the brick out of your bag like a custom-crafted six shooter.

powerstrips

Further, when finding a home for your swiftly deployed power adapter, a quick way to make a new friend is to turn one outlet into four.  Keeping a travel-sized power strip in the bag can make negotiating an already occupied power socket a breeze, particularly if you roll up with one similar to the Travel Power Strip from Hybernetics.  The key here is the dongle – a lot of travel power strips are one big body that is frequently incompatible with a number of the outlets you’ll encounter in the field.  Making sure the strip connects to the socket with a short throw cord ensures you’re never awkwardly eating up the socket beneath you with your big-bottomed Belkin.

Packing Light

Space and weight are the enemies of the seasoned road coder which makes balancing your choices for suitcases, bags and belongings central to survival.  For the overhead bin carry-on, your Seattle evangelist Carter Rabasa rocks the 2013 model Timbuk2 Co-pilot. This bag sports skateboard-style trucks for the rollers, a retractable handle that runs the full length of the bag for durability and – most importantly – exterior of ballistic nylon making it both durable and far more lightweight than plastic shell casters.

timbukUnderneath the seat I also turn to Timbuk2 with their TSA friendly Uptown Backpack.  In addition to less stress on the shoulders than their messenger bags, the Uptown sports a quick-zip foldout sleeve for the laptop.  This speeds up your time through the security line by keeping your personal belongings to a single tray.  Plus, when you opt-out of the full body scanners your officer will show extra care for fear of breaking your laptop by carrying the bag separately as the awkward unzippered flap prohibits carrying it with the tray.

Finally, Brent has another great tip with the Eagle Creek Pack-It cubes.  As you can imagine, we end up carrying a lot of T-shirts with us in our travels, and Brent’s find greatly compresses your non-collared apparel making it easier to fit a one or two week wardrobe in a carry-on.  I roll with the folder and it reduced space in my bag for t-shirts by a third.

Staying Comfortable

Airplane rides are the worst places to build context for programming.  Engine noise, crying infants, overhead announcements – there is always something ready to interrupt your bus.  Your devangel in Chicago Greg Baugues drowns out the noise with a pair of Bose Quiet Comfort 15s.  The around-ear cans of the best noise-cancelling tech out there, these headphones are way, way more comfortable for long-term listening than the classic on-ear model.  I picked up the Sennheiser PXC 450s last year as they came with two compelling features – a quick mute on the right can and the ability to bypass noise cancellation if the AAA battery is depleted.  Both are a hefty price tag and noise-cancellation does sacrifice audio fidelity, but in the air they have saved many a bug from getting written through distraction.

Greg also flies with the Prana Stretch Zion pants.  Unbeatable comfort with the same soft material found in yoga pants, but classy enough you can hop off the plane and still give a demo without looking like an undergrad late for a midterm.

umbrellaBut you can’t stay comfortable if you can’t stay dry, a constant challenge for Michael Wawra who serves as your devangel in London.  The capital’s constantly temperamental weather means he must remain en guarde, which keeps the Senz Umbrella omnipresent in his pack.  The elongated rear foil smartly lets wind spoil through without picking you up like Mary Poppins and the extra surface area to cover your backpack.  Plus it looks to the people in front of you like you are getting a low-speed air escort by a mini-stealth fighter, clearing a path easily through the crowded cobblestones of Shoreditch.

Preparing For The Worst

The only thing you can expect traveling the world as a developer is the unexpected.  Like wrapping a call to an external resource, the smart globetrotter always opts for robust handling of the inevitable exceptions bubbling up through your trip’s stack.

Matt Makai wisely treads on Smartwool socks when he’s on the road.  “If you have to wear socks more than once,” he says, “they better not smell.”

Your Twin Cities developer evangelist Kevin Whinnery always stows a Tomee USB SNES Controller in his top pouch.  Getting stuck in an unfamiliar city overnight is an excellent opportunity to kick off another playthrough of Chrono Trigger.

Joël Franusic – your devangel in San Francisco – relies on a Logitech Presenter R800 for every presentation.  The green pointer works illustratively in even the worst contrast projectors, works on Windows, OSX and Linux  and – importantly – sports a vibrating timer that will silently buzz in your hand when you have five minutes left to wrap up.  Always a clutch feature when the venue doesn’t have a timer.

And finally, your devangel in the greatest city in the world – New York – Ricky Robinett reminds you to pack the most essential part of any trip: gum.

What’s In Your Bag?

The Twilio developer evangelism crew is always on the lookout for new gear that makes road coding easier – I would love to hear about what you’re using to make developing while travelling easier.  You can find me on Twitter or via email.  Better yet, reply to this thread with your favorite gear and share with your fellow Twilio DOers.