Tag Archives: freelancing

Be Worth Criticizing

It’s easy to point at Reality TV and call it the end of civilization, but that hasn’t stopped the office betting pools and water cooler analyses that pop up with every season of Survivor. And we think, why do these people get to be on TV? How can someone be famous for having no shame? What do they have that I don’t have? Besides extreme narcissism? It turns out that even in the infinite video universe, there is something to be said about being simply present for your 15 minutes of fame. You can garner a grudging respect for doing something spectacularly stupid because people have noticed it, and are making remarks. You become remarkable. We actually avoid taking risks and doing what needs to be done in our work because we are afraid of being noticed and criticized.

Fortunately for those of us who are not reality TV stars, we can take advantage of gifts that we actually have, like education, experience, and perseverance. It is not a foregone conclusion that we’ll be picked apart like those poor souls on The Jersey Shore. Being noticed, being worth criticizing puts you in front of more people, and gives you more chances to connect. Sure, you’ll have your detractors, but you are just as likely to find people who will cheer you on too. So tell people about yourself and what you do. Write that blog, record that youtube video, and post those photos. It’s your story.

How To Be A Programmer

There was an interesting little round table discussion at Wednesday’s Fraser Valley Ruby Brigade meeting. What is the greatest knowledge resource for programmers? The answer was a unanimous, resounding “Google”. I did say the discussion was little.

It’s well known that the freelancer’s greatest enemy is self-doubt. Anything less than a Tony Robbins level of enthusiasm can leave you with small wages, dull work and a series of hanger-on, dead-beat clients. I find that the problem of self-doubt in programmers is quite peculiar. Because our field is constantly changing, the result produced by 10 hours a year ago can be done in 5 today. In another 6 months, the task will be able to be completed in seconds. On last year’s digital watch.

Now, some programmers will look at this wonderful ability to look up code on google instead of slogging through a problem via trial and error and think, “my god, my skills are becoming obsolete!”, when really they are just able to do their jobs better. The carpenter was not undone by power tools and the dentist (thank god) was not undone by the pneumatic drill.

The ability to make software work, to ask the next question the user may have is something too nuanced to be left to machines. Software is little more than decisions we’ve already made carried out by a series of tiny blinking lights. Even after 50 years of the electronic computer, there are still many, many decisions that still need to be made.

This Is Not Right

The best minds of my generation are being destroyed. Not by madness, but by waiting. We are all bright, educated, and industrious. We’ve paid our dues and prostrated ourselves on the altars of “Seniority” and “Hard Work”. Still, we wait.

We wait for permission to use the skills we have been trained for. We wait, languishing in jobs we learn nothing from, being managed by people more interested in preserving protocol than making a difference. We wait, sending out resumes to companies without the simple grace to acknowledge us with a polite “no”. If only someone, anyone would realize that we are not a mere fiscal liability, that we are here to solve the world’s problems. But we can’t just ask for that kind of  opportunity, they tell us. And if we are not allowed to work on it? Well, you obviously didn’t work hard enough, you didn’t wait long enough for your opportunity. Don’t like it? Well, that’s just the way the real world works.

This is not right.

Notice I did not say that this is not fair. This is not right, as in not correct. Up is down, and black is white.  The idea that this is the way the world works is an illusion, a construct of a society that wants to be blind and deaf to us. The world doesn’t work like this. Never did. It was not built by the cogs of a grand bureaucracy. It was built upon bravery, risk, and sacrifice.

We do not need permission to work hard. We do not permission to use our ideas, save the planet, or make a profit. There is simply too much work to do in the world for us to be worrying about where our next paycheck is coming from. We should be making our living today, not waiting for it.

You might look upon this post as idle ranting. At worst, I’m ruining my chances for future employment by establishing myself as a troublemaker. You might even think I need to be more realistic. If I want to be realistic about this, I can’t just keep edging back my expectations. Every business has its own metrics for success. I have two. Either I get a full-time position in my field for at least one year, or my freelancing business revenue exceeds $5,000 a month. There are two widgets at the sidebar, one tracking the revenue, and the other tracking the number of resumes I’m sending out. I don’t know how long it will take to reach either goal, but I think those two statistics are a better measure of the economy that affects you and me better than the Dow, GDP, or what have you. I will also use this blog to tell you about the strategies I’m using to get where I want to go.

I’m not saying I have all the answers, but what I do know is that we need to stop pretending that this is okay.

Freelancing and Reality

When you tell people you want to go into business for yourself, they often respond one of two ways. They either wax poetic about being able to work from home and your own hours, or they get a look on their face like you’ve got cancer. Why would you want to do such a thing? Isn’t that risky? Wouldn’t you feel safer working at a real job? You have to be realistic! Now, if you’re faced with this kind of reaction, you can tell them this:

I’m not doing this because I get to work from home. I’m not doing this because I like taking risks. I’m not doing this because I think I will make more money. I am not following my spirit. I am not “finding my true self” under the auspices of a self-help guru with a “Phd in Pain”. I am doing this because I am realistic. I want to take control of my own income. I will not leave my employment up to the byzantine policies of unions and human resource departments. I will never stop looking for work. Doing that is the very heart of freelancing. But if that plum government contract job dries up, I want to be ready to sit back at my desk and keep providing for myself and my family.

I can believe there was a time where you worked for one company all your career, where you could start in the mail room and work your way up.  It was also a time of pensions, extended medical benefits and a General Motors that wasn’t bankrupt. That time has passed. Although I’m now responsible for all my marketing, production, and billing, this era is still my home. It’s going to take all my strength, tenacity, and ingenuity, but in the end, I will be a better worker for it. And I will be just fine.

I, Freelancer

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I wake up every morning at around 6:30. I wait for the shower if I don’t get there first. I get dressed, pop a diet coke, and sit down to my computer. I am now at work. Although I’m not technically employed, right now I’m doing web projects for a select set of clients. The work is flexible, and I’m available to perform any sort of errands a teacher’s husband needs to do. Every day is a series of decisions that could potentially affect the rest of my career. Should I work on this project, or that project? This proposal promises more money, but that personal project without a client could promote my business. Even writing this blog is a business decision. Sometimes I wish I could just go to an office 8 hours a day and pick up a direct deposit pay stub like everyone else.

But then again, what everyone else am I  talking about? Most people my age are in the same boat when it comes to employment. They might not be fencing web projects from a basement apartment office like me, but consider the following. I have never held a job since graduating university that had any expectation of permanence. Okay, there was one, but my whole department was outsourced before the end of the year. Saddest Christmas party ever, let me tell you. When a friend gets laid off, it doesn’t quite have the stigma it used to. You just grab a beer and move on. The security that our parents had may not have been the best idea to begin with. General Motors went bankrupt because of the health and retirement benefits it had to pay over the years.

It sounds like we’re working more for diminishing returns, but there is a trade-off here. Sure, there’s no payroll department shoveling money into my account every month, but when I’m done the work I need to do, I move on to some other client or business that needs me. I don’t have an office per se, but I’m also no more than 20 feet from my own fridge and television either. In turn, the people I work for run with less overhead, resulting in savings that they can pass on to the end consumer. Everyone is producing more work with less resources, and over time that’s what a liberal capitalist society is wont to do.

If there any disadvantages to this situation, it is that there are a lot of unwritten rules of the office that no longer apply to the new workaday world. Phrases like “paying your dues” don’t mean much when your contract runs out in six months. Should workplaces have the right to admonish you when you look for new work while on their payroll? How do you even look for that new work when simply sending in a resume is such a crap shoot? How much should you invest in your own computer hardware and software? These are tough questions, but they’re certainly not intractable. The industrialized world didn’t get its start from people who were just looking to follow the rules. There was a time before people decided what a resume looked like or what a bathroom break policy was. Now we have to make those decisions ourselves and stick to what works. When you’re in control of your own destiny, there’s no one looking over your shoulder to see if you put the semicolon in the right place. It’s just you and the real world.