Developer Advocates: Go Alone But Not Without a Plan

Considering safety and comfort makes work travel more accessible for everyone.

Maureen McElaney
Aug 24 · 9 min read
People on moving walkway in airport with neon lights overhead. Photo by Adam Muise on Unsplash

Travel goes hand in hand with developer relations. If you are committed to supporting diversity in tech then you need to think about the differing needs of your developer advocates while traveling. The reality is that someone who is marginalized in tech has wildly different worries and considerations than someone who is white, male, cis, able-bodied, etc. Dont assume your team has what they need. Encourage open conversations about their travel experiences and ask them about their hesitations. I hope some of the things outlined in this post help get that conversation started!

When building a travel policy for our developer advocacy team I didn’t want to just share links to our HR policies around per diems and booking systems. I wanted to provide useful information on how to stay safe and happy while on the road and also while attending events. This includes things to consider when traveling to increase creature comfort and wellbeing.

I wanted to ensure my coworkers knew that they would be supported in taking any measures they needed to stay comfortable, even if it meant putting a little extra money on the corporate card so that they could be more productive the next day. Or turning down travel opportunities all-together. By ensuring your employees stay safe, happy, and comfortable while traveling for work, you not only protect your investments in their work, you also invest in their longevity at the company.

And here is a sample travel policy that I hope will help you consider what to think about when on the road!

Prepare for the Inevitable Problem or (Gods Forbid) Emergency

The first step in ensuring you have what you need on the road is solidifying your contacts list. This means saving a few numbers in your cell phone before you check in to airport security. And make sure your boss and team have your contact info, too, along with your emergency contact info.

Some important numbers to have at the ready…

  • Corporate or Credit Card Travel Agents
  • IT Help Desk
  • Your manager’s cell phone and his work counterpart or his manager’s number too (in case you have an emergency and need an immediate answer to a question and your manager isn’t answering.)
  • Ask your manager who to contact at your company about a security concern and save their number, too. This might be someone in HR. Or an executive assistant who handles travel booking. Or a corporate security team. This probably looks very different depending on the size and scope of your company!

If you are concerned about the welfare of a person you are traveling with contact their manager first for a wellness check. Their manager should have access to their travel info and emergency contacts. While their manager may not be able to disclose private information with you, they might already know where that person is and whether you should still be expecting to see them or not.

Managers should be prepared to receive calls at odd hours when their employees are traveling. Things happen and we need someone who is going to answer texts or answer the phone when we are in a pinch! If that isn’t you than think through who that will be.

Booking Awesome

When booking your travel make sure to consider what time you need to be at your event and leave yourself ample time to get there. You’ll want to account for time to get your rental car, check in at your hotel, and eat a meal. It is always encouraged that you book your travel for the day before the event if it starts early in the morning. It is perfectly acceptable to choose flights that get you into town at a reasonable hour, especially when traveling alone. This also applies to your flight home. If the only available flight gets you into town late in the evening when you don’t feel as safe traveling, your manager should approve an extra night in the hotel so that you can arrive to your home destination in a daylight hour (which varies depending on the time of day and part of the world you are in.)

If an event ends late in the day, you should not feel obligated to rush home that same day if it means you will arrive home late in the evening when you feel unsafe. You should feel supported in your decision to add an extra night at your hotel so that you can travel home during daylight hours.

The Joys of Customer Loyalty Programs

Even if your travel is sporadic throughout the year so you won’t be racking up tons of points, the benefits of joining customer loyalty programs often outweigh the costs of having to unsubscribe from unwanted marketing emails. Book your work travel using your own personal loyalty numbers and reap the rewards. While loyalty programs don’t always get you a ton of “free” things anymore, I have noticed that airlines, hotel chains, and rental car agencies do seem to perk up a bit when they see you have a profile. Even just being a reward member without any particular status can help you get access to better customer service.

I can say myself that being part of loyalty programs has gotten me bumped into comfort plus on flights, upgraded into nicer hotel suits, free water and WIFI access, and more direct lines to customer service even when it was my first time using a new loyalty number.

Pre-Travel Considerations

Pack as lightly as possible because you never know when you might need to hoof it across an airport with your luggage in tow. You don’t want to arrive at your event or client meeting sore and sweaty from carrying heavy luggage.

I try to avoid checking bags on shorter trips, but my company does pay for checked bags so I would much rather check a bag than have to worry about waiting for it on a jet bridge when my layover is short, and I need to hoof it across an airport to catch a connection. But know this… ALWAYS have a spare toothbrush, deodorant, t-shirt, underwear, and snack in your carry on. You never know when you might get stranded and there is nothing worse than sitting in an airport at 3am waiting to hear that your delayed flight got cancelled and you are hungry, sad, stinky, and sweaty from stress. (Been there. More than once.)

Cat sleeping on floor in train station. Photo by Batu Gezer on Unsplash

Delayed/Cancelled Flights

That said, delayed or cancelled flights are sometimes an unavoidable reality of travel. If your flight gets cancelled while you are in a city other than your home, and it’s late at night or the next available flight isn’t until the next day, you should feel confident that you can book a hotel at the company’s expense. Sleeping alone in an airport is uncomfortable at best, but most of all creepy and unsafe for many people. Call your corporate travel agents or update your reservation(s) in your company’s online booking system if you have your laptop with you. You can’t do good work after you’ve spent the night sleeping with one eye open on a dirty airport rug.

Safety at Events

Pace Yourself

When it comes to travel, ensure that you give yourself downtime during each event and after an event completes. This includes making time to eat three full meals a day and drink plenty of water. Do what you need to ensure you maintain a healthy diet while on the road. But be careful! Make sure to adhere to the company rules about food spending. Always be careful not to overspend on food and drink while on the road because you might end up paying out of pocket for those party times.

If an event occurs on the weekend, you should feel empowered to take a flex day for each weekend day which included business, this includes travel days. Just be sure you keep open lines of communication to ensure your team and manager are aware that you’ll be taking time to decompress.

Whenever possible, space your travel out to ensure you can maintain a healthy schedule and leave time to attend to things at home that need to be done. While traveling, schedule in time to be able to connect with loved ones. Facetime is a great way to let your loved ones know that you care and helps you fend off the travel blues.

Codes of Conduct

By valuing the existence and effectiveness of Codes of Conduct and Anti-Harassment policies at the events you participate in you not only ensure your own safety but also the safety of those around you. If you notice an event does not have an enforceable Code of Conduct in place you should feel empowered to decline your involvement. Ashedryden wrote a great Codes of Conduct 101 + FAQ that I’ve found to be an invaluable resource. Read this in full if you have any questions about what makes a good code of conduct policy. Here are a few key bullets…

From this resource, “A Code of Conduct is a policy statement issued by an organization. To be considered an adequate code of conduct, it must have four complete parts:

* statement of unacceptable behavior
* how the policy will be enforced
* how and whom to make an incident report to
* training and reference materials for organizers, staff, and volunteers on how to respond to incident reports”

While we’re talking about safety, no one should feel pressured to travel to a location that has public policy in place that puts you at risk or makes you feel unsafe. This includes things like unjust or discriminatory bathroom laws or customs, places known for police brutality, locations with riots or violent demonstrations actively being reported, etc.

Alcohol Policy

As Developer Advocates, oftentimes we are presented with situations where alcohol is present. No matter what, you should feel fully able to refrain or leave early from an event or conference where alcohol is present. Your comfort and safety are paramount! While you may be permitted to drink socially at tech conferences and events, please do so in a way that maintains a professional demeanor. Remember, you are representing your employer at these events.

Check to see if your company has an official policy on alcohol and take note of that as well.

Buses, Trains, and Automobiles

If you didn’t grow up in an area of world where public transportation is available or easy to use, you may be hesitant to use it. But there are many cities where public transportation is robust and might actually be the better choice for you than renting a car or relying on car services. Some examples of this could be Chicago, New York, Berlin, etc. In many places you can get around much quicker by public transport than you could in a car. If you aren’t sure, ask your team what they think and what they would recommend.

If you aren’t used to taking public transportation, there are a few things you should keep in mind…

Keep your laptop and valuables out of sight and tucked inside of your bag while on public transport. Don’t leave your bags unattended at any point. If something happens that makes you uncomfortable don’t hesitate to contact the police.

That said, if you’re REALLY not comfortable taking public transportation then you should always feel free to take a cab or ride share. Just know that there may be times when this decision means your travel time may be much longer than expected due to traffic and be sure to plan accordingly.

When taking a taxi/uber/lyft in an unfamiliar place, consider letting someone know before you get in the car where you are going, and what time you expect to be there. Even if someone isn’t physically in the same city, they can still be accountable to you. Before getting in the car check the child locks on the door and ensure they are off.

End of the Line

You should feel confident that your company and team supports your comfort and safety while traveling for work no matter what. But before taking any of the advice here you should thoroughly read your company’s policies because they may contradict some of the advice here… I hope that the things mentioned in this article spur positive conversations and if any changes need to happen to your corporate travel policy I hope you feel more armed with the knowledge that this is how other developer advocacy teams are doing it.

The goal of travel policies should set a baseline so that everyone on your team feels supported and can maintain a healthy work/life balance while getting to experience new and exciting places and spreading the good word about the awesome tech your company builds. Developer Advocacy is a fun job because you get to visit your users where they are and get new users excited to try things out. Maintaining your wellbeing while on the road ensures that you can stay in this job for a good long while.

Maureen McElaney

Written by

dev advocate at @IBM CODAIT. co-organizer at @vtcodecamp. board of @vttechalliance. content here is mine. Website: http://mcelaney.me/

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