The virtual company is pretty new as such things go. The ability to work from anywhere – in particular to collaborate with a whole group of people while working from anywhere – is something that’s only just become possible within the last 10-15 years. As instant messaging, voice chat, video chat, good quality tools for online collaboration, and more have become available, a new way of working has opened up that allows us to stay very connected with a group of people without having to be in the same physical place every day.

I originally conceived Terralien as such a company four years ago, and it remains that way today. We have no physical office, and occasionally when initially working with a new crew member I won’t meet them in person until months after they’re an integral part of the team. It’s not that we’re against physical co-location, it’s just that it involves a set of trade-offs and we prefer the trade-offs of being virtual to the trade-offs of having an office.

But no matter how much we appreciate the flexibility of working from wherever, we still often feel the need to spend some time in the same place with fellow geeks. The wife and kids can only take so many explanations of the latest cool hack we pulled off, and a change of scenery can really help get the creative juices flowing. As with so many other remote workers, we started heading out to a coffee shop on occasion, which was fun, but still didn’t quite cut it.

Then our own Matthew Bass coined the term nomadic programming last year and we started practicing “nomading” on a regular basis. It’s amazing how having a name for something can really change its nature! There were hiccups at first (mostly caused by flaky and downright broken wifi) but we’ve got most of the kinks worked out after over a year of nomading on a semi-regular basis.

Nowadays nomading is a regular and vibrant part of Terralien culture, and at times we’ve even nomaded with clients. Just last week there were 6 of us at Morning Times in downtown Raleigh, and one of our clients who works right across the road came over and chatted with us for awhile.

There’s no required nomading; we have a few crew members in other states and they obviously don’t get to participate very often. But for those of us living in the RTP area, it’s great once a week or so to get out and work with other crew members. Even better, we usually have folks join us who aren’t crew members, and so the whole local technical community benefits.

I’m thinking that in the new year Terralien might start sponsoring a monthly “nomading day” at a local coffee shop, buying the first round of hot beverage for everyone and generally encouraging as many of the locals to come out to work (and socialize) as possible. Anyone up for such an event?

Posted by Nathaniel on Dec 22nd, 2009

You can still contact Nathaniel at