Meet Spencer Jentzsch, US-born Korean linguist and location-independent CEO of Hacker Paradise, which runs group work and travel programs. Welcome to “Life by design”. This Discovery Sessions interview series probes prominent voices for their life design, entrepreneurship and travel ideas to inspire readers just like you.
Rosie Bell: For those who may not know you, where are you from?
Spencer Jentzsch: I’m from the US and have lived in Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin as well as a couple of years in both Canada and South Korea before coming out on the road as a traveller for the last 3 years. I finished a masters in Korean linguistics and taught Korean language and culture at university for a while.
I also did project management for a healthcare tech company for almost 6 years before deciding to leave corporate America and start working remotely.
RB: The term ‘digital nomad’, like it or loathe it?
SJ: It isn’t my favourite. It carries the connotation that you’re burning through your savings or barely making ends meet to me.
Most of the people I meet out on the road have great careers that they love and, while we are all aware of how much money we spend, it’s generally not an I-have-to-make-my-business-
RB: What’s your advice for people trying to become digital nomads or just starting their journey towards location independence?
SJ: Have a plan. Don’t trust the blogs that tell you just to quit your job, move to Bali, and *hope* everything will work out correctly.
Most people who are doing this long term have planned for it and built up to it for a while beforehand—most of us did not just quit our jobs and start working remotely on a whim.
Have at least a basic plan about what you want to do, how you’re going to do it, how you’re going to stay afloat financially etc. before you quit your job.
RB: Hacker Paradise is a 100% remote company. How does having distributed employees benefit you, your processes, competitiveness etc?
SJ: Being a 100% remote company has its advantages and challenges, though I do think the advantages outweigh everything else.
As a team, we love what we do and love the flexibility of working remotely. Being able to travel the world and have the possibility to set your own hours in a nonconventional work environment with some really awesome people is a huge part of our employee retention.
We’re able to cut out a lot of the not-so-important work chatter since we aren’t co-located but that also makes the precision with which we communicate more critical.
RB: Today, you live and work from wherever you choose. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of the digital nomad lifestyle?
SJ: The pros are you have a lot of freedom and flexibility. The cons are that freedom and flexibility can be overwhelming when you’re trying to make a decision. It’s also easy to get lonely on the road if you travel alone, which is why I think joining a community like Hacker Paradise can be extremely beneficial.
RB: Digital nomadism is as much about life design as it is seeing the world and having extraordinary experiences. What are your thoughts on the future of work?
SJ: It’s coming, there’s no stopping it. As the world moves more towards remote work, you will see more organizations popping up that are going to provide services to help solve problems related to remote working.
RB: There’s a common misconception that work and travel programs are one big party and digital nomads are simply overgrown college kids. What are your thoughts on this?
SJ: At least with our groups at Hacker Paradise, this isn’t the case. We often have people say that they’re more productive while working on a trip with us than when working from home.
We have joiners from all around the world from different industries and from all age groups who come and join us. Some are married and with kids. We have an eclectic group of remote workers who want to live differently.
Today we all went to the office to work, then had two great talks provided by people in our group and had a lovely Korean BBQ dinner. We then sat around for an hour and had a really great conversation about what connections mean to us and how they change as we get older. When I left they were playing a group board game in the apartments.
If you want to have a great time working remotely abroad while meeting awesome people, we are honestly the group for you. Don’t get caught up in the misconception that remote workers are millennial trust fund babies.
RB: Hacker Paradise enables people to travel the world while working remotely. What sets you apart from other work and travel programs out there?
SJ: I think that fact that we aren’t a group of partying, overgrown college kids is one to point out again. We have the most serious group of remote workers with us and have the most cohesive alumni network. We’ve got people referring others to jobs, starting companies together and joining boot camps that someone else in the program runs and much more.
We are pro-kindness, pro-live, pro-diversity, and pro-inclusivity but we have a strict no assholes rule. This helps us keep our community well connected and positive. You will get closer to people you travel with at Hacker Paradise in four weeks than people you’ve known for a year back home.
RB: Of all the Hacker Paradise expedition destinations, which is your favourite?
SJ: I’m a beach bum so I love Tel Aviv and Brazil. There are awesome cities with lots of things to do, lots of beach time, great food and warm and friendly people to get to know.
RB: How do you think social media (particularly Instagram) is impacting the way we travel?
SJ: Unnaturally. People only see the pretty sides of a photo and not the other sides of a location or the difficult parts of travel that are important to be mindful of if you’re going to embark on this lifestyle.
RB: Would you mind sharing with Discovery Sessions’ readers your most fun or wacky Hacker Paradise experience to date?
SJ: Fun and wacky are in the eye of the beholder. The most eye-opening thing has been getting to talk to people who are from a totally different background and who think completely differently from me. This could be a new friend I made within Hacker Paradise or someone who’s defected from North Korea.
There are always things that keep life exciting, from someone almost cutting off their finger sandboarding in Peru to people getting engaged on a trip. Then there are the unexpected things that happen like when someone you travel with buys all the tickets for the correct date the following year and you have to scramble to fix it at the airport. Unexpected things happen while you travel.
RB: Hacker Paradise encourages mobility for a generation of people who want their jobs to work for them and not vice versa. What does a day in the life of a Hacker Paradise participant look like?
SJ: The short answer is your day isn’t typical at all; that’s the beauty of group work and travel programs.
Instead of working from your couch, you’re working from a posh coworking space or a Hello Kitty cafe. Instead of feeding your dog, you’re washing an elephant. Instead of shovelling snow solo, you’re shovelling themed food into your face-hole with new friends at our weekly potluck dinners.
However, while your surrounding environment might change drastically, many of your core goals, both about getting work done and having a good time, remain the same.
It’s hard to describe a typical day at Hacker Paradise because (a) no two days are the same and (b) you get to pick what your day consists of.