Hi, I’m Meng To, author of Design+Code and world traveler. AMA!

Hi, I’m Meng, designer, coder and author of Design+Code. I’ve been traveling and working for 18 months across 30 cities, 20 countries and consumed a ton of coconut drinks.

My journey started because of a denied visa, and today I make 5x more money while traveling than I did in San Francisco. I accidentally built my own startup in the process and now have a remote team. It’s definitely possible to hit the road without sacrificing your tech lifestyle and entrepreneurial spirit.

Ask me anything!

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Thank you so much to have you here.

Questions

  • What do you think about swift? Could it be in production?
  • How was the moment of you said that you have to hire someone and how you handled it?
  • Did you experience some bad moments during this journey?

Thanks Arthur, it’s a privilege to be here!

  • I can’t speak for the developers who have massive projects, but for me, Swift is definitely ready. I build all my apps using Swift, and I’m working with two iOS developers who use Swift on a daily basis.

  • When I wrote about the code part, I always questioned myself if this was the best possible way to write code. So I consulted my friends, and that evolved into a real team. The act of hiring is always about getting people better than you at something. In order to continue providing the best content, I knew I had to get other people onboard. With the success of the book, that enabled me to do it and I’m so happy I can.

  • For me, the worst thing about traveling is being stuck in an airport and dealing with the visa, not being sure if you can enter the next country or not. But once that’s done, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. It’s like winning a small battle. Each time I deal with old systems and come out stronger, I feel infinitely grateful.

Hi Meng, nice to have you, I love your book!

At any moment in time did you worry about the book not doing so well? What would have been your backup idea? Would that have stopped you from travelling?

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Thanks, happy to hear that you’re enjoying the book!

I don’t think it would have stopped my travels, but definitely would have made it shorter. Just like anyone, my back-up plan would have been Freelance or getting a job somewhere. Before writing the book, I stopped 6 months in Hong Kong. That’s the brilliance of tech – you can work anywhere in the world with your laptop.

I freed myself from my reliance on my giant iMac and mouse. Gives me the ability to be flexible about the work environment.

Just signed up :smile:
Hi Meng!

It’s so great buying your book right on the beginning and receiving free and wonderful updates. Thank you so much.

Is it possible having a family and being a nomad?

Hey Ricardo, good to see familiar faces here. :smile:

I questioned myself many times if I should write more books, but every time, I looked back at the content and felt the itch to improve things. I could never repay enough the people who spent their hard-earned money on my first book.

Family and being nomad? Probably, but not as crazy as visiting 30 cities in a year. My ultimate goal is to have places to stay in multiple cities on earth and spend 3-6 months on each per year. Follow the sun, Sakura blossoms, and design events. I think 3 cities a year is definitely feasible while having a family.

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Again me.
How many bags do you carry around?
:smile:

In my first year, I took only a carry-on + backpack thinking I’d save a bunch of money. If you can do that, that’s great! I soon realized that it was too constraining and that Airlines always have a way to make you pay somehow. Plus, some of them give you a free checked luggage.

This year, I bring a big luggage + carry-on. Get a 4-wheel, it’s definitely worth the extra money! I eventually got rid of my backpack because it was uncomfortable (also you end up hitting a lot of people without knowing).

Will you write another book? Perhaps not about Swift/Sketch, but there are other apps that designers are talking about; Affinity Designer/Photo/Publisher for example.

That’s definitely possible. Before doing that, I want to make sure that Design+Code is a solid book, with updated materials that respect the latest Apple standards.

I’m not proficient enough with Affinity to write about it, but I heard great things. If I was to write another book, it’d be about Web or Android. I think there’s a huge need to simplify the design process for those platforms and explain them in a way that beginners can understand.

Your book and your lifestyle are truly inspiring!

I would like to ask that how can you be this productive during your travels? What is your average daily routine?

Last, but not least what are you most frequently used iOS and Mac apps besides Sketch and Xcode, you can’t live without?

Thank you for your answers! : )

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Thanks the kind words, Daniel.

  • The key is to love your work more than you love traveling. Focus is important. You have to understand what makes you focused: music, good wifi, great projects, etc. I’d suggest getting an unlocked iPhone and ask for a SIM card first thing in every airport that you land to.

  • I spend an average of 5 hours of focused work per day. Before a launch, that can grow to 12, but that won’t be sustainable. I travel with my fiance, so sightseeing, culinary explorations and watching movies is part of the deal. :wink: – I do enjoy the balance and I think that’s key to keeping it consistent and avoiding burnouts.

  • I can’t live without Ulysses, Screenflow, Ember, Dropbox, CloudApp, Mint, StrongVPN, Slack, Keynote and of course Twitter.

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Thanks @MengTo for doing this AMA, I’m a big fan of your work :smile:

Since you’ve been denied for a visa to the US, your life changed radically. Do you still have the same will to work/live in the US as before? How did that change?

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The feeling is mutual. Love what you’re doing here @levelsio!

  • The beauty of traveling is to open doors. It really made me rethink about my options. I don’t look at working in the US the same way anymore. Considering the visa hurdles I’d have to go through, I am not as desperate to work in the US. But who knows.

  • I’d call the denied visa the best thing that ever happened to me. I am who I am today because of it. Steve Jobs summed it best:
    “Sometimes life’s going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did.” -SJ

Hi Meng To. Your book is mind-blowing. Congrats.
My question is: what tech persons inspires you the most and why ?

Thanks,
Adrian

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Really appreciate it!

Definitely Elon Musk for both his bold vision and phenomenal execution. I really believe that he’s going to change transportation, space exploration and energy in a big way. If you read Nikola Tesla’s short autobiography (something he wrote a century ago), you’ll find that we are still far behind our potential as a human race.

I still read about Steve Jobs. But I must say that I’m very impressed with Tim Cook’s ability to grow Apple in his own way. Perhaps not as visionary but still extremely efficient and world-changing as ever.

Obviously Jony Ive, the subtle force behind Apple. His taste is so disciplined that it changes mine. I think that innovation has the ability to change minds.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
― Henry Ford

Ray Kurzweil really changed my life with his view of the future (singularity, scary stuff) and how I should approach my daily habits in regards to eating, sleeping, taking supplements and analyzing my own self. Technology is going to change biology and medicine in an unprecedented way.

Finally, I just started reading about Ed Catmull, the CEO of Pixar about managing creativity. Super inspiring stuff.

So nice to see you here. Read your book and your very inspiring story.
Could you tell how you transitioned from using large-size iMac to laptop (and btw, what size MacBook and Air/Pro do you use?).
I’m also faced with this question; it seems so interesting and promising to work on MacBook, but when I use it after bright and large-sized Thunderbird display, its like… a porthole :wink: Not to mention all panels, even in Sketch, take too much screen space… Were you struggling with the same things? How did you solve them?

I’m humbled to be here and to receive these amazing questions.

  • Currently, I’m working on a 15-inch Macbook Pro. I did travel and work on a Macbook Air for a year. I think the need of a big monitor or a mouse is an illusion, because it’s really really hard to get out once you’re used to it. But over the years, I found that it’s a really good practice to get out of your comfort zone and really try new things. In fact, I’d force myself to, so I can understand better the people I design for. I did so with the Mac 10 years ago when I transitioned from Windows. Most recently with going mobile-first, using the Macbook, iPhone 6 Plus, etc. It’s only after a long period of time that you can truly judge the pros and cons. Traveling has been instrumental because it forced me to live with less materials.

  • I guess you learn how to work with full-screen windows instead of having them open next to each other (which I would argue is more distracting). Reality is that we all suck at multi-tasking. Command + ~, Command + Tab really helps.

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Do you use Retina MacBook? As I have a choice of 13" Pro Retina and 15" Non-Retina (but with faster processor and more memory).
If Retina, at what scale do you work in Sketch? As 100% seems pretty small and 200% a bit large compared to reality.
And Photoshop looks awkward, you can hardly see 14pt text in layouts when its 100% scale.