Author Topic: Stir Crazy Software Coder Seeks Clarity  (Read 4780 times)

neo von retorch

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Stir Crazy Software Coder Seeks Clarity
« on: August 12, 2014, 12:15:25 PM »
I've been doing web application development for 15 years. I had a job I really enjoyed for over 5 years, but I wasn't getting much for raises (average 1% per year) so I accepted an offer elsewhere. That was at the end of 2011. So less than 3 years later and I'm on my 4th job! I've been here 2.5 months, and I'm already going mad. I keep looking for greener grass. I believe I need to work somewhere that...

  • I interact with people regularly rather than sit in an office or cubicle alone with my computer
  • I have some influence on product/software/interface design rather than just executing on specifications
  • I have flexibility on schedule - i.e. I can start at 9AM or a little later if need be to ensure my energy levels are healthy
  • Little or no commute - five to fifteen minutes was not bad but anything over that, especially on the highway is maddening

I thought the current job would work mostly because of the technology being used, but because of how limited I am in what I build, I'm learning very little and exercising no creativity at all.

What do I do? I'm far from FIRE (8-9 years) at my current salary. I've been job-hopping like a mad man.

I've had lots of ideas on starting my own web application development company, combining enterprise development for small and medium sized businesses with ideas I have for building software as a service. I've done freelance in the past, but have really struggled with it lately because I feel so drained after my day job. So I've had a hard time growing my freelance.

What if I take my mini-stache and frugal spending habits, and take a break from corporate to see if I can make freelance work for me? I definitely have a big fear that "working from home" would potentially depress me and sabotage my efforts, but if I am "working from anywhere" I could likely still find human interaction in between my productive hours of work. And depending on the clients/projects I take on, I could spend time with clients as we plan and execute on their needs.

Another option I've been working on is renting out more of my bedrooms (currently successfully renting one of three, with another listed) and then getting an apartment right by work. It would only partially solve my problems - less commute, more sleep...

I just don't know how much longer I can do the death march each day. I feel like a zombie, and I've been remarkably unproductive lately.

EDIT: Clarification of history / responsibilities

At the job I liked, I was hired for application development and moved up to leading teams in development as well as doing some of the server management and handling production releases. This was a < 100 person company with a web team of about 20.

Next job was 4.5 employees. I was the one and only developer for most of my stay, so I did estimates, all architecture and development. Later a freelancer was hired to do some of the front-end development. Left because I worried about the long-term viability of the company. (Company has since moved to a smaller office and have seen just one press release on client work being released in the 2 years since I left!)

Next job was ~15 employees. Was one of ~10 full stack developers. Just executed on specifications. Long commute, though. Left for a "promising" opportunity as a "consultant" who would work with clients and have a lot of influence on how things were done.

Next job was ~10 employees. Most had long-term on-site contracts. I got odd jobs and was mostly twiddling my thumbs. Really enjoyed myself while I spent 3-4 months on-site working directly with the client. Really hated life the rest of the time while I did very little.

So now I'm at a big company (200+ employees) but working as a contractor for a smaller company (maybe 50 employees.) But I am just one of the developer cogs executing on use case documents. As a contracted developer, there isn't really room to move to an analyst or architect position, at least not in the short term. I work in an office with 3 other contracted developers that just started, while the client is 90 minutes away. So beyond email, I interact very little.
« Last Edit: August 12, 2014, 12:49:43 PM by neogodless »

gimp

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Re: Stir Crazy Software Coder Seeks Clarity
« Reply #1 on: August 12, 2014, 12:36:45 PM »
I'm a hardware / embedded software guy, so it's a little different, but...

Small company. Startup. You want to be treated as a partner, not as 'the help'. You are part of the specifications, design, and implementation, not a 'code monkey'. Everyone puts in their dues and everyone is a code monkey for some time, but then you graduate to doing better things.

Assuming, of course, you have the chops for it. Plenty don't and either stay code monkeys forever, or somehow move into management. If nobody's willing to give you more responsibility, and startups aren't interested, you need to re-evaluate your skills. Harsh, and hopefully not the case, but it has to be done. I'd start with evaluating before trying to move, and finish with re-evaluating and going back to square one if you can't get what you want when you move.

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Stir Crazy Software Coder Seeks Clarity
« Reply #2 on: August 12, 2014, 12:42:21 PM »
Try working with a small company where they make you feel like you make a difference.

Right now, I am consulting for a big bank. Very bureaucratic and sometimes I do not even know why I am doing what I am doing. Not very  high job satisfaction. On the other hand, when I go home and work on my own projects, I get a great sense of satisfaction.

Same work in both places!

gildedbutterfly

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Re: Stir Crazy Software Coder Seeks Clarity
« Reply #3 on: August 12, 2014, 12:54:31 PM »
I second the idea of looking for a job at a small startup. You might find more of the atmosphere you're looking for there.

But I would also say, as someone who makes her sole living as a freelancer (not in web dev, though), that you should try building a freelance business on the side. As tired/overwhelmed/zombie-ish as you feel right now, doing something small on your own can give you a shot of adrenaline. That's exactly the place I was in when I started my freelance career; I just told myself that I would spend 3 hours a week on it, and that turned into 6, and that turned into...well, the 60-70 I do now! :)

Besides helping you start a business that you might eventually be able to make your full-time gig, and giving you something to look forward to other than the boring cubicle job, a side business as a freelancer would also allow you to build your 'stache even quicker, perhaps helping you FIRE sooner.

neo von retorch

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Re: Stir Crazy Software Coder Seeks Clarity
« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2014, 12:58:56 PM »
Would you mind telling me a bit more about how you got started with freelance?

I've done it in the past, but I took a step back after I bought my home seven years ago. I kind of Forrest Gump'd my way into clients back then, but I know I cannot rely on luck and "word of mouth" alone to get new clients. I assume I'll find some luck by being more active in the networking events I sometimes attend, particularly if I gently inform the various people I know (and meet) what I do and find out what they do and what they need. What else might be helpful to know?

How did you balance your time between work, freelance and anything else that happens? (For example, right now my girlfriend and I alternate weekends that we visit each other, as we live about 95 miles apart.)

theonethatgotaway

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Re: Stir Crazy Software Coder Seeks Clarity
« Reply #5 on: August 12, 2014, 02:31:57 PM »
Hmm well in your list of criteria of a perfect job scenario I'm reading upper management of a mid sized firm. Upper management can dictate their hours (come in after 9), decide project specs, be closer to work due to pay increase limiting the commute, and so on. The trade off is more work and more responsibility. Can you try interviewing for management type positions?

I don't think a startup is a good idea as you will get burnt out.

The side gig is a good suggestion but you're asking how to balance personal life choices with work and hobby/work. Time management will fit everything together and like the other poster says it will probably be satisfying thus giving you more energy not less.

So your options a) seek management positions so in 2-4 years you can have more of your criteria or b) start a aide gig and explore that.

gildedbutterfly

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Re: Stir Crazy Software Coder Seeks Clarity
« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2014, 07:35:55 PM »

I've done it in the past, but I took a step back after I bought my home seven years ago. I kind of Forrest Gump'd my way into clients back then, but I know I cannot rely on luck and "word of mouth" alone to get new clients. I assume I'll find some luck by being more active in the networking events I sometimes attend, particularly if I gently inform the various people I know (and meet) what I do and find out what they do and what they need. What else might be helpful to know?


I like the phrase "Forrest Gump'd my way"; I'm using that from now on! :)

Honestly, that's kind of what happened to me. Since I started on the side while working a good-paying job, I just took a couple of clients that happened to fall into my lap. They referred me to some other clients, and one thing led to another. I did some networking and (very little) marketing or actively trying to get clients (other than telling all my clients, "I'm always open to new work, so if you need anything else or know someone who does..."), but I'd say that ~80% of my clients are there because they're part of the tree of clients that started with the first three that I lucked into early on. (Some of them are waaay down the tree, like client 1 referred client 2 who referred client 3 who referred client 4, and so on.)

If you aren't as lucky as I was, I'd give you two pointers:
1. Network, network, network - as you already know!
2. Find people who need your services and will pay for them. I have a friend who supports her family of four by blogging for companies. When I asked her once how she found clients, she said she looked for companies that already had a blog, but one that was not well-maintained. Then she approached them and said, "Hey, I can really make your blog work for you." She knew that if she approached companies that did not have a blog, they likely wouldn't see the value and pay for it, and those with well-done blogs may or may not hire her, but the sweet spot was those that needed her and had already seen the value of it. Not sure how that translates into your field, but that's the best advice I've ever heard about finding new freelance clients.

And no matter how you get the clients you get, the easiest way to get more freelance clients is to make your current clients happy. I have people who I've worked with for over a decade. They've moved companies, changed job titles, and they still call me up and say, "I've got something for you," several times a year. Not only will happy clients come back, they'll send you more clients.


How did you balance your time between work, freelance and anything else that happens? (For example, right now my girlfriend and I alternate weekends that we visit each other, as we live about 95 miles apart.)

I'm the worst person in the world to ask this of, because (like most entrepreneurs), I'm a workaholic. For a long time I was doing really long hours. (Actually, I'm doing about the same number of hours now, but it seems like so much less because I'm the boss!) But I would say, try starting like I did: find 3 hours in your week--just 3--to work on it. The place where I was working at the time, it was ok to take a lunch break (some places I worked, that was frowned upon). I would take my laptop to a nearby library (or sometimes just a corner of the building where my office was) and work during my lunch hour once or twice a week. I gave up a couple of television shows to find extra time to do it. I was passionate and determined to succeed, so I figured out how to do it. (Though, I'm not going to lie, it wasn't easy!)

At first, those three hours will be completely taken up with trying to find clients, getting a website up (if you don't already have one for your freelance biz), getting business cards, going to networking events, etc. Once you've got a project or two, you might find that you can up that 3 hours to 4 hours per week, and then to 5 hours, and so on.

Again, one of the things I found was that, as I started doing side projects, I had more energy and verve. Suddenly, I didn't mind working in the evenings when I got home from work because I knew that I'd be wiped out when I walked into the house, but after an hour of working on my freelance gigs, I'd be more mentally stimulated and happy. I'm not saying that I wasn't exhausted, only that I felt less zombie-like. It's kind of like the difference in being tired after running a marathon and being tired after sitting on the couch vegging out all day. For me, vegging out makes me feel sluggish and completely out of it, whereas running means I'm physically exhausted, but spiritually and mentally energized. The difference in the two is huge.

Sorry for the long post--hope it's helpful! Good luck to you!

jsloan

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Re: Stir Crazy Software Coder Seeks Clarity
« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2014, 06:40:55 AM »
My wife and I have a side-business that is 98% work from home (occasional client visit to keep things running smoothly).  Currently I'm working full-time as an ERP consultant/developer which I'm eventually planning on transitioning to contract work in the future once we have more of nest egg saved up.  My side-gig is mostly php/mysql and my day job is .net-c#/sql server/specialized ERP languages.  I agree with some of the posters that my side job actually keeps me sane even though the projects tend to be less complex.  After spending all day combing through bloated corporate code to find a single bug, it is actually a relief to actually be able to create lots of code from scratch for a website or some scheduled job.  It makes you feel like you actually created something instead of applying a complicated patch.   

I originally started doing side work because I had always been in the Microsoft stack and wanted to learn an open source technology.  (I thought it would make me a legit programmer, not some MS poser :-))  I started to call around to local dev shops and told them my situation: I'm a full-time experienced developer, and if you have any overflow work I would love to work for a reduced billing rate as long as the work can be done 100% remotely.  I have a full-time job as well so my interaction would be limited during work hours.  I actually got a pretty good response rate especially since I told them I was local.  Some refused due to the remote condition, but I didn't really care since I already had a day job and I wasn't desperate.     

I saw it as a way to learn an open source technology and get paid for it at the same time (php was considered cool at one point!).  Over time I gained more clients but primarily the best clients have been local dev shops who feed me work constantly.  Since then these dev shops have gotten used to the 100% remote arrangement and I have raised my billing rate now so that my side-gig is making close to the same billable rate as my day-job.   

Currently most of my side work is done in php/mysql, but I would like to get into python and am considering the same path I took with php.  The only issue is I now have 2 kids and with an old house and a rental I really don't have much time for anything extra.  As far as the business goes, my wife is also a programmer and she now does 70% of the side business work and it also allows her to stay at home with our 2 kids.  She also handles the business side of things as well: hosting, billing (we are trying to automate more) and client ons-site visits.  We also also recently got into purchasing our own servers where we are making a decent chunk on hosting "passively" each month (I put it in quotes because there is still a lot of maintenance, etc that needs to be done to keep servers happy).       

If you actually like working with people I think consulting or contract work would be a good fit for you.  Working at a start-up also could be a good fit if you don't mind working ridiculous hours (I'm past the point of pulling all nighters while drinking  2 pots of coffee and red bull).  My wife and I's goal over the next few years is to possibly get into international consulting as a way to travel and while still getting paid.  My wife is more open to the idea than I am (more of homebody), but I think it could be a cool opportunity for the kids. 

As far as FIRE goes, my goal will be to eventually quit my day job and transition to side-gig consulting full-time/part-time as my wife has already done.  I know I have written a wall of text at this point, but hopefully some it helps :-).               

neo von retorch

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Re: Stir Crazy Software Coder Seeks Clarity
« Reply #8 on: August 13, 2014, 10:36:26 AM »
So concisely, start company, satisfy clients.

Thank you all for your thoughtful, detailed responses! I've got to roll up my sleeves and get some work done.

GW

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Re: Stir Crazy Software Coder Seeks Clarity
« Reply #9 on: August 13, 2014, 11:46:25 AM »
Quote
"I've done freelance in the past, but have really struggled with it lately because I feel so drained after my day job. So I've had a hard time growing my freelance."

I started out doing a freelance web design business right out of college purely out of necessity. After a year, I jumped into the corporate world. Since then the company I joined has been purchased and resold, in the 5 years I've been there. I have continued with the side business throughout my entire corporate career. My largest year so far was $15K in additional income on top of my 9-5 salary.

Before I realized my hair was on fire, I'd spend that money on frivolous items. Now it goes to paying off my only debt, student loans, while investing my salary.

I struggle with the same thing at times. Mainly b/c I do similar work for both positions. It's hard to grind all day, and then find the energy to knock out client work. But now that I'm very close to being debt free I'm getting more excited about client work. Having a solid F.U Fund in place, "I hope" will give me more options going forward, or the courage to leap full-time into the side business.

In my experience so far working for myself brings me the most joy. Best of luck.

neo von retorch

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Re: Stir Crazy Software Coder Seeks Clarity
« Reply #10 on: August 21, 2014, 12:37:48 PM »
So, the advice is nice, and I think that long term, it will pay off.

Right now, though, I'm less than 3 months into my current job, and I have a huge problem with focus. I'm spending more time distracted than productive. What do you do to keep yourself focused on work, productive, and still valuable to your employer?

gildedbutterfly

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Re: Stir Crazy Software Coder Seeks Clarity
« Reply #11 on: August 21, 2014, 12:58:19 PM »
So, the advice is nice, and I think that long term, it will pay off.

Right now, though, I'm less than 3 months into my current job, and I have a huge problem with focus. I'm spending more time distracted than productive. What do you do to keep yourself focused on work, productive, and still valuable to your employer?

Full disclosure: as we've already established, the "employer" is me, so it's a little different. However, what I find works for me now (and worked when I worked for someone else at a 9-5) is to set quotas/goals for myself each day/week/month. I make it a game/competition with myself, so that if I meet a goal one week or month, I try to top it the next. That works for me because I have a hyper competitive spirit (used to be a semi-pro athlete) and I'm more competitive with myself than with others. Of course, it also means that, after a while, I have to take a step back and either take vacation time or (more common now that I'm SEP) just have a week or two where I really dial back the productivity. This usually happens ~3x per year, maybe 4 if I've been really working hard that year.

A friend of mine has had a lot of success with the pomodoro technique. If you're not as competition-driven as I am, that might be a decent alternative, though I'm sure there are others who have other good suggestions, too.

Annamal

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Re: Stir Crazy Software Coder Seeks Clarity
« Reply #12 on: August 21, 2014, 01:35:17 PM »

  • I interact with people regularly rather than sit in an office or cubicle alone with my computer
  • I have some influence on product/software/interface design rather than just executing on specifications
  • I have flexibility on schedule - i.e. I can start at 9AM or a little later if need be to ensure my energy levels are healthy
  • Little or no commute - five to fifteen minutes was not bad but anything over that, especially on the highway is maddening

I'm a government employee (not the US government mind you) and I get all that minus the commute (although since my walk takes me to work via a forest and the harbour I am not complaining too much).

I can start anywhere between 6:30 and 10 (for me it is usually 10) and finish up between 3 and 8. Because I do hybrid support and application development I spend a lot time going backwards and forwards with my clients over what they actually need and I can use what they say to influence what I build.

There's a lot of other stuff that is less good but thanks for reminding me why I love (most) of my job.

gimp

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Re: Stir Crazy Software Coder Seeks Clarity
« Reply #13 on: August 21, 2014, 02:30:23 PM »
So, the advice is nice, and I think that long term, it will pay off.

Right now, though, I'm less than 3 months into my current job, and I have a huge problem with focus. I'm spending more time distracted than productive. What do you do to keep yourself focused on work, productive, and still valuable to your employer?

Take a little time in the morning to wake up. Put on headphones. Rock out to code. Eat lunch. Rock out to code some more. Key is standing up when you feel you're blocked, and walking around. And focus on whichever aspect of the work is the most fun and do that as much as you can.