So My First Week Being Self-Employed Is Over…
I’ve been a professional software developer since 1998 when I took my first job at InfoBeat helping to build out the great set of email services that, well, have been sold off so many times they seem kinda spammy now. For 14 years I’ve been continuously employed with Exactis, Qubit Technology, CorAccess Systems, InsureWorx, EffectiveUI, up until Double Encore. But not today.
This week is the first week in my life that I’ve been self-employed and I want to tell you how it went.
I’ve debated going this route for a few years now. Five years ago I began a mini-career as a moonlighting Java ME mobile developer doing business as Rapture In Venice. Over time, I made good money from it and my day job, also as a developer, got harder and harder. I’d continually be thinking about my side projects or worried about the hours I was going to have to put in that night. Those projects paid about twice my day rate, but I found I was consistently working 55 hours a week in order to maintain my double identity. Credit cards got paid off, new toys were being purchased, and so the strain it took on me was just something I dealt with.
About 3 years in to it, I really started hitting my stride getting customers. I basically had one customer for the first 2 years, NetFuzion, then once I started spreading my wings and getting the hang of dealing with contract negotiation and client management, things started to explode and I started turning down business for the first time. I always found it hard to do. Yes, there was no way I could fit 2 or 3 side projects in my schedule at once, but as I presume any consultant will tell you, it’s hard to say no to someone waving a check at you.
The last 2 years have been a grind. My wife and I have 3 kids now and I’ve had times where I needed to turn down playtime with them. Trust me, you dads-in-waiting, that’s a killer. Plus, she stays at home with the kids, so we’re single income and we became quite dependent on the side work. Without it, the bills didn’t get paid. (Kids are pricey, man!) So I was taking more work, 2 projects a time. And it took its toll.
About 7 months ago I had hit my limits at EffectiveUI. I felt tossed around, being flung from one project to another, sometimes 3 or 4 at a time, and my code quality dropped. I had to make a decision…go with Rapture In Venice full-time or change companies. I came close, but ultimately I changed companies. I was afraid. Despite feeling like I’d proven myself, I was terrified to do it. To take that plunge. Melody was just born and we had a mountain of medical bills. It was a bad time, so I passed. But, after 7 months with Double Encore, and getting the right size contract to launch off of…I did it…
…I finally did it…
So how did It go for me?
This week has been a dream. Making the switch has been everything I hoped it would be and more.
Over the weekend, I finished building out a home office in my basement. I sat there Monday morning at 8 AM sharp. I stared at my new 17″ MBP and felt the peace of my darkened den. This little machine and my knowhow were going to come together to earn my living. And not just any living, my goal is to double my full-time salary. All of that without side work. 40 hours a week, or as close to it as I can reasonably get.
One of the first benefits I quickly took advantage of is that instead of scheduling 40 hours of work in a week, I could schedule 40 hours of my career instead. So I decided to use the first 30 minutes of every day for Coding Kata. Instead of doing iOS programming, I’m using it to learn Ruby better. Not only am I progressing rapidly, it’s become my favorite part of the day, where I embetter myself without any regard to any other work. It stimulates my mind. And the best part is that I can schedule something like this without needing a progressive or Agile company to do it for me. I made the decision. How liberating is that?
The working from home part is great, too. I did it a lot with EffectiveUI, but rarely at Double Encore. Having the office nook gives me a lot more peace than it did before. On Tuesday, I took time off to bring my son, Cedric, to his first day of preschool. I didn’t have to schedule this time off or be forced to make up the hours. I just did it. Once again, amazing.
A few times, I spent some time playing my old Nintendo. It’s my work. My schedule. And when I need the break, it’s nice to take that break for as long as I need and however I want without the big boss man looking over my shoulder. I can definitely see myself stopping everything to spend a couple hours, maybe even a whole day, learning a new platform slowly and surely with no regard to the billing department.
One thing that happened that I wasn’t prepared for by any of the blogs I’d read, though, is how much time I spent not coding. For instance, I spent a good 8 hours this week attempting to acquire more work. I sketched out proposals, talked to prospective clients, and spent a few hours today at Toast finalizing a new contract. In retrospect, of course this makes sense, but it still came as a surprise. I expect that time will drop down to just a few hours a week from here on out, but it’s something to keep in mind. Unless you’re working more than 40 hours, you’ll likely only do 30-35 hours of actual coding.
Is Consulting right for you?
I admit, I’m lucky, I stumbled into this. When I started doing my part-time work, I’d actually been looking to leave Fiserv entirely, but when a mobile job I interviewed for fell through (it was gonna be an ugly commute each day), I came home and minutes later found a 10-15 hour part-time job that I got hired for straight away. It happened to be through a consulting agency, but 6 months later when the contract expired and he hired me directly, I found out I would have to do my own taxes and…well…if I had to it myself I might as well look for other opportunities. By the time this week rolled around, I had no problem finding customers so the transition was easy. For someone who hasn’t gone down this path, it will be much harder.
If you’re considering this move, decide first if consulting is what you truly think it will be. What you might find is that you’ll leave your full-time job for a higher-paying consulting gig, maybe a 3-month contract, but with no benefits and no one to handle your taxes for you. $65/hour may seem exciting, but trust me you were likely making close to that when you consider what you’ve lost. Namely insurance, convenience, and peace of mind. And that’s *after* the health reform law fixed some of the kinks. :-) On top of that, you’ll still be taking instruction from a boss if you take this kind of work.
However, if you’re willing to find and work with your own customers, that’s when you find true enlightenment. You choose your own projects, you manage your own schedules, you decide on your own technology choices. I tell you what, there’s nothing better in the whole world. I can say this: If this isn’t a goal of yours right now, it should be.
Bliss. Bliss I tell you. Bliss.