The opportunity of commuting

$$ If you’re a developer interested in who’s hiring near you, check out http://www.jobstractor.com for the latest word of mouth jobs mined from twitter. /$$

There was an article linked on Hacker News yesterday called The True Cost of Commuting and an associated comments thread on hacker news mainly discussing errors in the calculations in the article and generally agreeing that there is a cost people forget about to commuting. I’d like to talk about the other side of that, the opportunity commuting can give you to invest in yourself.

I took my current job nearly 8 years ago, it’s about 60 miles from where I lived then and still live now. I live in Bristol which is a moderately large city in the south west of England, the job is in Taunton which is a small town a bit further south. Fun fact,  Bristol became a county in 1373 thanks to the power of the local merchants and them not wanting to commute to Taunton to go to court in Somerset.

The first question I asked my future boss in the interview was why the hell he’d started a software company in Taunton? He was living approximately as far south as I was north of Taunton at the time. Taunton seemed like a good solution to wanting to get close enough to Bristol to attract some people down whilst not ruining his own commute. It worked reasonably well and we have a number of people who commute from Bristol or similar distances.

The benefit to me has been how I’ve spent the time commuting. Since podcasting has become more popular I now spend 1 hour a day (walking to the train station and back) listening to podcasts (see below for my top 3ish podcasts). This has been an excellent experience, very educational and inspirational. I’ve spent another 1 hour a day on the train coding or reading. I’ve read 2 inch thick technical books I enjoyed but honestly wouldn’t have read otherwise. I’ve experimented with some code for work which has helped me better understand the problems we’re solving or occasionally has been useful enough to go into the product. I’ve also worked on my own projects (most recently http://www.jobstractor.com, did I mention it already? ;-)).

That’s it really. Yep, it can be a pain. Yep, getting home after everyone else has already nipped for a quick pint after work is a shame and yep it costs. But, there is a positive side as the time you get to yourself commuting can be an investment in yourself.

As promised, my top 3 ish podcasts:

  1. Tech Zing Great listen for developer-bootstrappers
  2. Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders
  3. Mixergy
  4. Also, I’d add the stack overflow podcast which is entertaining and educational. And the Java Posse which kept me up to date on developments in Javaland with minimum effort from me and is also entertaining.
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15 Responses to The opportunity of commuting

  1. Ian says:

    I built my own side-project in 20-minute bursts in a tram on a netbook, so I know from whence you blog :-) But I think there is a BIG distinction between using public transport where you can sit down, and driving in a car where you can listen to podcasts, but anything that requires the use of your hands is out…

  2. C’est ça oui…

    That’s when you’re commuting by train, when you’re well seated for an hour or so. When you don’t do odd hours, etc.

    I commute by bus, metro and RER (from Paris suburb to Paris suburb) and you cannot do a lot of work or educational stuff when you barely have enough space to stand up in and when you have to change transport three to four time depending on issues in the traffic :-)

    That’s 3h hours lost each and every day.

    The least I commute, the better I am, believe me.

  3. nice post, i’ll be sure to check out your podcast recommendations for my commute!

  4. Jono says:

    Yeah a commute can be good as long as it’s unbroken. I live in London and have always had a commute of about an hour, but it was always broken up, i.e. 10 mins on a bus here, 15 mins on a tube there, so it’s difficult to focus on reading for long enough. My commute now includes a single 30min stretch on the train which helps. This together with my Kindle has made me read so many tech books this year!

  5. Commuting every day for about an hour from the center of the Netherlands to Amsterdam by train and I love it. Before this I had a company car and listened a lot to Mixergy. Now I’m addicted to my Kindle and try to finish a book every two weeks (depends on the size of course). Didn’t have any big problems with the public transportation yet, but things might change if we get a strong winter.

  6. Robert says:

    There’s truth to this. I’ve got a 50 minute train ride. Being forced to have 50 minutes at the start of the day to catch up on email, read a newspaper (or website), catch up with friends via IM, phone, whatever, or simply think is pretty valuable.

    Especially in a society where we are bombarded with information 24x7x365 and rarely get a break. The train ride is one of my only waking moments where I’m not “doing something”. Yes, I have my phone and I’m addicted to email, Twitter, etc. But it’s easier to put down than walking away from a computer or turning off the TV.

    Train breaking down one morning in a tunnel with no signal was actually a blessing one morning. Took a nice 30 minute nap, figured out a problem I was working on at work… got in a little late, but hit the ground refreshed and ready to go. It was pretty impressive actually.

    Sad that life has become so busy a train ride is a break… but that’s how it is these days.

    It’s also an excuse to leave at a reasonable time every day. When you live nearby, it’s much easier to stick around for an extra hour to get a jump on the next day, or get in earlier. It forces a schedule I’ve found most don’t do well in keeping.

  7. I agree that a long commute needn’t be a total waste of time. I use my commute to listen to all sorts of stuff. I couldn’t code on the trains though — they just got too crowded (plus the journey from Nottingham to Birmingham was taking double what it took in a car).

    The podcasts you suggest are definitely great — I especially like Mixergy — but audiobooks are good too. One audiobook that I’d definitely recommend to anybody who is even remotely interested in business is The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E Gerber. This book reveals how you should approach the idea of owning a small business – not as a job for the founder, but as a well designed system that consistently creates value and opportunity in the world.

    • jobstractor says:

      Thanks for the tip adrian I’ll check it out. I’ve got to admit I don’t always get the space to code that I’d like, but when I’ve got ‘the madness’ as the Techzing guys call it I’ve coded in some pretty cramped conditions between carriages.

  8. I agree. I live 10 minutes bicycle ride – 5 min motorcycle from my job. I do not go anywhere very far in a car at all – which, I know, is Un-American. My coworkers all listen to podcasts and audio books but I never do. I have only recently begun to listen to comedy channels on Pandora.

    I was actually thinking just yesterday about how if I had a commute I would be happier because I could listen to audio books I just cannot listen while it in the kitchen or while I am at home I just pick up reading or I go outside. I wish there was a podcast station on Pandora – maybe there is I will look right now.. nope..

    My girlfriend has an opposite commute – meaning she is going from downtown to a suburb for her job as a teacher – she spends maybe 12 minutes in the car. That is enough for her to catch something. Maybe I will try to get her interested in podcasts and I will get into them again.

  9. Seth says:

    You should check out the No Agenda Show podcast. Two shows per week at roughly 2.5 hours each. Best podcast in the universe!

    • jobstractor says:

      2.5 hours is too much! I’ve had to cut some of the longer podcasts from my list as I’ve got quite a few I want to listen to each week. 2.5 hours would mean giving up on pretty much all the others.
      Maybe I need a longer commute…

  10. Simon says:

    Commuting is just an extension of work. Except it costs you money and time which is never compensated.

    I just switched from a 2.5h round trip on trains every day to 30 min round trip on a bicycle.

    I saved 2h which I use to play the piano and spend time with family. Neither of which is possible on the train.

    You never lose by not commuting.

  11. Pingback: Developer traction report | JobsTractor

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