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I'm going on vacation to Paris, France for 10 days. Actually, it's my girlfriend's wish to go there but I'm not very interested in visiting, sightseeing, etc. Recently, I came up with an idea of trying to do something like programming tourism. :)

I'd like to do something related to programming in a startup-like company. I do not want a salary or any kind of compensation. I want to overview process, social aspects, environment, and"what it feels like to develop software in another country.

I'm from Russia. I've been a software developer since 2003, and while I prefer C#, I'm ready to use anything Turing-complete. I have some MS certifications and am familiar with all .NETs since 1.1.

Currently I'm finishing a PhD in CS. I'm interested in multidimensional indexing and I can turn any piece of data and code into an OLAP system, but it'd take too much time. :)

What can I do? I have no more than one week, but I want a totally complete project in a short amount of time.

  1. Implement some features in well-tested project
  2. Do a code review
  3. Debug memory, performance and concurrency issues
  4. Do unit testing

So, about the questions:

  1. Is it legal? I'm ready to sign NDA if it's necessary, and I'll have a tourist visa.
  2. Is it possible? I'm sure that bureaucratic companies with lots of HR people and PMs will not allow such experiments, but small companies can afford it. I'm ready to guarantee support on my code after leaving for home. :)

P.S. I still haven't started learning French; I hope it will not take too much time :)


P.P.S.

  1. Yes, it's girlfriend-approved.
  2. What's in it for me? It's fun. It's fun to see new systems and people who created them. It's fun to complete meaningful things. Quickly.
  3. What's in it for them? Features, debugging, reviewing or testing. If my short-term colleagues like this style of working I can invite them to make a similar trip to my company. :) I think in Russia it's even more exciting. :)
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Is this girlfriend-approved? Better check on that first... –  Cody Gray Apr 10 '11 at 11:47
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You are from Russia, and you would rather code than see Paris?!? Я такого еще не видел! –  Dima Apr 10 '11 at 15:04
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Carefree for ten days ! just have fun with ur Girlfriend. –  shaahin Apr 10 '11 at 18:54
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Oh my God I feel sorry for your girlfriend... –  Ed S. Apr 10 '11 at 23:30
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Dude. Visit the damn Louvre. Drink some coffee. Ride a boat. Do something (anything) that does not involve your computer for 10 lousy days. Hell, who knows? She might even stay your girlfriend. –  Joel Etherton Apr 11 '11 at 14:35
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14 Answers

I don't think your plan is workable. Very few people can walk into a project cold and begin making a useful contribution within a week. Even if you are one of these rare people, your sponsors have no way of knowing that, so you'd be asking them to make a leap of faith, interrupting their own work schedule to orient you and set you up. I mean, even if the problem is just: "fix this segmentation fault", it's going to take them a couple hours to explain the problem and show you how to reproduce the bug. If it's a project at a big company or a university, justing getting you access to their repository could take a week. If it's a project at a small company they won't have the time or personnel to help you. If you are a stranger walking in off the street, promises to provide support after your visit are going to be discounted.

Since you are in a CS Ph.D.program, an approach that's much more likely to bear fruit is if you look up some papers in your field done by research groups near Paris. Email them well in advance and ask if you can visit them to discuss their work. If you have published work related to theirs, they may invite you to give a formal talk. At the very least they may be open to having a couple of lunch meetings to discuss problems of common interest. Have you asked your advisor if they have any collaborators in Paris?

Spending some time with folks from an open source project might also be an option, but again, you probably have to establish the working relationship before the visit.

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+1: If you're a Ph.D. student, then tourism is talking about your research. –  Ken Bloom May 15 '11 at 22:00
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I did a little programming tourism in the summer of 2010 and it was fun.

On a Mercurial mailing list I saw that aragost Trifork ag were holding a Mercurial Sprint in Zurich, Switzerland. As I was unemployed at the time and always happy of an excuse to visit friends in Zurich. I contacted the organisers and they were delighted to have someone over from the U.K.

Although I did no actual coding at the sprint, it did spur me on to learn Python, which later helped me into a new job, and I got to help out with documentation and bug tracking. We also had lots of interesting discussions, some regarding git and others which helped to flesh out some ideas for solving a workflow problem I'd experienced using dvcs' in the past.

All in all it was a fun few days and I'd definitely do it again if I had the chance. Having said that, I still managed to find plenty of time to visit Zurich's fantastic museum's, art galleries and of course the Sprungli chocolate confiserie. *8')

To answer your specific questions,

  1. I am not a lawyer and wouldn't offer legal advice on a here if I were. Having said that, it's not something that I worried about. The 'work' I did was informal, unpaid and in my own time. I declared it to the Job Centre, so they stopped my unemployment benefit for that week, but that was because I was 'unavailable for work' (being outside of the UK) rather than because I was 'working'. Also, as Ken suggested, at it was a sprint for an open-source project, so I wasn't exposed to anyone's trade secrets and didn't need an NDA.

  2. Yes, it is possible. That's not to say that it will be easy though, unless you can luck into a situation like I did. You may be able to find someone through the wonders of the intarwebs though.

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Add to #1 that you were participating in a sprint for an open-source project, so you weren't exposed to anybody's trade secrets (we hope), and didn't need an NDA. –  Ken Bloom May 15 '11 at 21:58
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I like the idea of programming tourism very much :)

A couple of other ideas in case you don't find a willing company:

  • Get in touch with some local universities. See if you can sit in on some lectures, or participate in a research group, see if you can tutor some undergrads, or something along those lines.
  • Read up on some history about computer scientists/engineers/mathematicians from the area you're going to; check out where they lived, what they contributed, etc. E.g., Blaise Pascal if you're going to Paris.
  • Get in touch with some local programmer meetup groups, see if someone wants to some pair programming or something.
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+1 for local coder meetups. Also check out local hackerspaces or co-working offices... often these will have free space for people who want to hack on open source projects. –  Jason Lewis Jan 12 '12 at 15:44
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I can hardly imagine a company being willing to let you do this. For them, it's a question of potential benefits versus potential losses.

Even if you're the greatest coder who ever lived, ten days isn't long enough for you to contribute much of anything. If, however, they give you enough access to their system to do much of anything, 10 days is long enough for you to steal a huge amount.

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm certainly not trying to accuse you of anything dishonest at all. I'm not saying they would necessarily think you were likely to do anything dishonest either. What I am saying is that the potential harm to them is much greater than the potential benefit.

Given the "CYA" attitude of many managers, I have a hard time imagining a company allowing it. As much as I might like the idea, if somebody was asking me, I can't see any way I'd approve it.

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I guess you need contacts. I mean most companies would probably find it a bit suspicious that you want to work for free for a week just for fun. I mean what's in it for you? Are you there to steal ideas, source code or what are you after? Also what's in it for them? What could you possibly do in a week that's of any value to them? It's probably going to cost them more to teach you their processes and stuff, than they will earn from the code that you'll eventually write.

I think you'll either need a good friend at the company or a very impressive resume that will convince them that you'll be able to produce something of value to them in just a week.

However, I don't think you have anything to lose from sending your resume along with a letter explaining your intentions to a bunch of companies in Paris. I would look at local job ads to see who's hiring and what kind of help they need. Start now.

Good luck!

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For a long time I wanted to visit Vancouver and when I finally did, a drop in on a user group meeting was quite interesting despite the incredible sites outside. But it was just a drop in. I got a geeky fix and got a sense of the development community in another country but left it at that.

You may want to read up on Georges Haussmann, nicknamed the architect of Paris. He took a city that was a maze of cramped sewage soaked streets and turned it into a rationally laid out well functioning modern continential capital. The man basically refactored an entire major city! There are lessons that can be learned about software development from how he was able to do urban development on a massive scale. Though you don't have to be in Paris to read about what he did, being there will give you a chance to examine it first hand.

BTW, just because your girlfriend says that she's ok with you ditching her for the week to geek out doesn't mean she is actually ok with it. In relationships, things aren't always as they appear.

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+1 about the part with the gf. –  Anders K. Apr 13 '11 at 2:58
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If you were coming to my city, I'd suggest dropping in to a "techmeetup" or various regular user-group meetings to meet fellow tech-heads. Maybe you'd even find a ready audience for a presentation of your own work. For Paris, a quick google turns up this for starters. But really, you're there on holiday, not for work!!!

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I would think an open source project is sort of like programming tourism. You get to collaborate with other programmers (from everywhere).

Admittedly I have never programmed in a company outside of the US so company culture might be a little different (which could be interesting), however, that is what I call nuance more than anything. I would think that a job is a job.

I think even in the states you would have a hard time traveling from company to company, I would imagine that a request like this would raise major red flags with HR departments.

Just my 2 cents.

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A week to 10 days is far too short a time for you to be productive in any environment, especially at your level (or lack thereof) of professional experience. Therefore no company will (even if you offer to work that period for free) have a positive return on investment for taking you in.

Combine that with the suspicious nature of your venture (what's he up to? Industrial espionage? Trying to find our top people and hire them away for his real employer? Steal our code? Sabotage?) and things get even more hairy.

Last but not least you're from a non-EU country and will have a tourist visa. That makes it actually illegal for you to have a job in an EU country, and any company hiring you (even for free I think) would face heavy fines if they're reported for doing so. You of course would face prison time and deportation.

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I like the idea, it's typical and very lovely russian idealism we see here at work. Unfortunately, the European Union is a bastion of protectionism when it comes to economic matters, trade and foremost labour. France, in particular, has a minimum wage law, so even if you were not russian but from some EU member nation, they risk being sued by unions for not paying it, etc. It is not impossible that letting someone work as you intend will be perceived and fined as tax & social security swindle.
Therefore I regret to say that I think your idea will not be easily realized. Save you find a very courageous small startup that has no unions in the house. But then, this will not show you the typical feeling how it is like to work in the EUdSSR, the realm of bueaurocrats who use the word "freedom" exclusively in sunday's speechs, and that's it.

Regarding language (I mean french): Don't count on anybody speaking fluent english! One often can get the impression that french people are proud not to speak english.

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Sorry, but the lovely Russian idealism would be "to see Paris and die" (there was actually a Russian movie by that name), not "to go to Paris to write code". I guess this must be the new post-Soviet generation... –  Dima Apr 10 '11 at 15:52
    
It is possible to work for free in France, look at "stage" (meaning internship) –  Ubiquité Apr 10 '11 at 16:26
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Not programming-related, but at least scientific tourism in Paris:

Have fun!

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This is certainly a very interesting idea. However, I suppose, you would get completely different result, if you staid for several months.
If you really want to perceive the everyday routine, you need to become a part of the team, rather than being the guest (otherwise you're likely to get an overly positive impression).
Also, I personally think Paris is a beautiful and exciting city (more speaking of the night life than the popular tourist attractions), and it is far from being the cheapest place to go in Europe. So you shouldn't let it go to waste.

Assuming you are employed and you need to negotiate a leave for several months, you could argue, that your employer can actually benefit from the knowledge you get, when returning.

edit:
If what you want is to make a sprint project, I'm sure there's numerous occasions, especially at different developer community meetings. You might want to look for those. As to your actual plan, you need to simply find a company willing to go through with this (I suppose one could technically argue, that you don't work, which would simplify legal issues). And to get in touch with them, I guess you best use a suitable network (Xing springs to my mind, without wanting to advertise it. it's just the only one I happen to use).

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I can see Programming tourism as a means to travel and see the world, touch it, taste it, meet it, learn from it, love it... I've been dreaming of it for a long time now...

This is the first time I see the concept used to escape from it...

I may not understand your motives or intentions, perhaps your world is vastly more interesting than mine and after reading the works of Herbert, Tolkien and many others I'm very glad to see some people prefer living inwards.

My advice to you would be to use the occasion to discover a new API, try a new technology you have not tried yet. Create a proof of concept of an idea you've had for a while but never found the time to test out. Basically use this time as a vacation for yourself as well weather it be in your head or in the world.

Just make sure you do spend some quality time with your girlfriend. Again I do not know either of you but from experience she would have to be VERY independent and your relationship would have to be VERY solid for her to visit Paris while you are cooped up in the hotel room programming. I have had relationship broken up for much less !!

Anyways, my 2 cent.

Regardless of what you decide I hope you both enjoy your trip. I would venture one advice in the direction of most here though, since you will need food; do take the time to try and taste Paris, French food is really a world wonder just as would be the great wall of China or the breath taking landscape of New-Zealand.

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Corey Haines did something like this:

After 12 years of coding for money, Corey said: "Enough!" — and went on a year-long, Journeyman pair-programming tour. Traveling the world, coding for room and board, he spent his time teaching, learning, and living.

Since that tour ended in 2009, Corey has focused his attention on helping developers improve their fundamental software design skills through the use of focused-practice events, such as coderetreat. He also consults for business owners, helping them get the most value out of their software strategies. When not on the road, he spends his time building projects and products.

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