For the last few years, I’ve been battling the inner struggle of anyone with a specialized skill — when is it time to go out on my own? When does the chance for undiscovered opportunity outweigh the benefits of security and steady income? When do I choose self-reliance over a supportive team of professionals? It can be a maddening exercise, often with no resolution. I’ve been very patient watching these internal dynamics unfold, and I’m happy to say that at long last, the battle is over. In the bout of Uncle Cheese vs. self-doubt, Cheese has prevailed.
A lot of my readers may be surprised to find out that I am not currently freelance. I’m employed at Bluehouse Group as a SilverStripe developer. I’ve been working there for five and a half years, and, among many other features of my legacy, I introduced SilverStripe to the company.
I’ve grown a lot at Bluehouse Group. A lot. I was greener than a golf course when they took a chance on me back in November of 2006. I was hired as an HTML/CSS developer and found myself floundering in the pursuit of pixel-perfect perfection. Eventually, they decided to give me a shot at PHP programming in Symfony, and when our search for an open-source CMS solution led us to SilverStripe, well, the rest is history.
I know I’m telling my story with a certain level of hubris and pretension, but the fact is, I’m really proud of who I am today. I’m proud of the developer I’ve become. I’m proud of what I’ve given to the SilverStripe community. I’m proud that I never stopped believing in myself. I’m also very fortunate. I’m lucky to have fallen haphazardly into an up-and-coming product. I’m lucky to have a base of supporters and fans who understand how much time and commitment I’ve put into SilverStripe. I’m lucky to have people who click that “donate” button to the right.
Between the pride and the luck, a new path presents itself, and I’ve decided to take it. Here’s why.
1. I smell blood.
It’s a little dramatic, but that’s honestly how I feel about this adventure. For years I’ve been scared to take the plunge — even when I knew I had the client base to support it. I was always trying to sell myself (and my wife) on the idea, and neither of us could ever make heads or tails of it. Today, it’s much different. I’m ready to take on new projects, nurture some ideas, and exert my influence on the ever-changing world of web technology.
Sometimes I think about what kinds of conversations I’ll have with my grandchildren someday when they ask about what I did during my working years. I’ll tell them about this enormous cultural, technological, and socioeconomic paradigm shift called the Internet, and I was right in the heart of it, among myriad developers and entrepreneurs making big things happen. I don’t want to have to say that I didn’t at least take a chance. I owe myself more than that.
I’m ready. I want a piece of the action.
Some of my Twitter followers know that I recently announced that I have a new member of the family on the way. My first born child is expected to arrive June 23rd of this year. My wife and I couldn’t be more excited. Until then, there’s a lot to do. We have cribs to build, rooms to paint, and car seats to install. After he shows up, well. I won’t even insinuate that I believe my life will be anything but busy and unpredictable. (People who are already parents love to tell you about this. Watch the comment thread light up.)
All of that said, a newborn baby doesn’t understand the structure of a nine-to-five day, and I know that I’ll need extreme flexibility in my work schedule. Being my own boss will help immeasurably.
Feel free to indulge in any ”Nephew Cheese” and “Father Cheese” references. I’ve heard them all, but I could always use another laugh.
3. More money.
Surprisingly it’s a huge consideration! Who’d have thought?
The thing is, when you’re turning away freelance work because your day job demands most of your time, it may be time to start thinking about parting ways with your job. But when your day job is doing exactly the same thing that you would be doing if you were freelance, then there’s very little thinking to be done. You shed the overhead carve out your place in the market.
Although my hourly rate will go up considerably, I’ll have a lot more expenses, including an office, self-employment tax, and foregone employer contributions to my 401k. At the end of the quarter, however, I expect my earnings to beat those of my day job.
4. More opportunity.
When you put yourself in a position to make your own paycheck, you often find yourself pursuing creative ways to make that happen. I’m looking forward to being challenged in this way. Whether it’s developing and selling a product, finishing an existing one (SilverSmith, <cough> <cough>), working for equity in a promising start-up, or buying, fixing, and flipping an existing website, there are countless opportunities out there for a talented web-savvy guy like myself, and I can’t wait to sink my teeth in to some of them.
5. Meet new people.
One of the primary obstructions to going freelance for me was for a long time the idea of being alone all day. I love my co-workers, and my work day makes up a significant portion of my social life. I will have a hard time parting with that.
It didn’t occur to me until recently that working as a freelancer and working at home are not one in the same. There are several collaborative workspaces in the area that offer the same amenities and atmosphere as an office, only they serve independent contractors rather than a cohesive team. Last week, I put a deposit down for a spot at Three West Collective, (pictured above) where there are several other freelance web developers, designers, and writers. I’m anticipating a great synergy emerging from a work environment like this, and I think there are a lot of rewarding relationships in my future.
6. A regular workday.
For the last year or two, I’ve been working full-time during the day while entertaining a handful of freelance clients at night. Like many other developers in my position, my addiction to the extra income got out of hand, and I often found myself filling my entire night with freelance work. I never want to be in this position again. Work should have a beginning and and end. I don’t want to be on my laptop when my wife goes into labor, or when my son is taking his first steps. Working as a freelancer will afford me the time during the “normal” workday to get the things done that I’m used to getting done off-hours. And in a life that will be everything but “normal” come June, I’ll need all the normalcy I can get.
7. I miss the city.
Our progressive state of 600,000 isn’t exactly home to the nation’s most vibrant urban fabric, but we do have Burlington, a walkable city on Lake Champlain with a good pulse and an attitude that’s unparalleled in other states. There’s an expression among Vermonters about Burlington — “The nice thing about Burlington is that it’s so close to Vermont.”
True enough, it is an anomaly among the sprawling pastures and cow towns, but Burlington is what brought me to Vermont nine years ago, and now it’s bringing me back. Having an office in downtown Burlington will quench a thirst for a sense of community that I’ve had since leaving its jurisdiction in 2009.
8. Increased productivity
When you’re a company of one, it’s impossible to have meetings. I’ll have phone calls and Skype sessions, but it will be on my terms, and it will be built into my schedule. There are many benefits to working in an office full of co-workers that I have enjoyed for the last five years, but every developer does his best work in heads-down, wired-into-headphones mode.
I’m even looking into a few productivity enhancement methods. Has anyone tried the Pomodoro technique?
9. Learn new things
I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for SilverStripe, and truth be told, 100% of what I’ll be selling on day one will be my SilverStripe skill. But I’ll be in a new space, and I’ll be competing with other, more well-rounded developers on the open market. This will be great incentive to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time — learn another language. I’m particularly interested in Ruby on Rails due to its influence on SilverStripe, but I’m open to ideas. My hope is that by this time next year, I won’t be such a one-trick pony.
While going out on my own will afford me the opportunity to learn new things like programming languages and design patterns, it will also force me to learn things that are inherent to running a business. I’ll have to learn how to be a better accountant, a better salesman, a better marketer, a better communicator. I’ve never been particularly motivated to be any of these things, so I welcome having them thrown upon me.
10. More time to blog
Last entry was November 17, 2011. You think it’s because I’ve got nothing to say?
Want to work with Uncle Cheese?
I’m ready and willing starting next month. Feel free to contact me at unclecheese at this domain name by email.