Taking freelancing seriously

What does it take for an experienced developer to find interesting work?

The old way

I’m about to paint a mental picture of how I was told finding work was supposed to be.

Getting a full-time job starts with an updated resume. I went to workshops to be able to pass the resume screening phase. I was told to include buzzwords so that the ‘human resources’ people and robots that they were using would get me to the shortlist.

Sometimes a recruiter would approach me for a full-time opportunity. I went to meet some of them, but they were useless. All they cared about was the number of months of iOS development experience I had. Their algorithm was simple:

let candidates = linkedInSearch('ios developer', near: 'vancouver')

for eachCandidate in candidates {
  if eachCandidate.experienceYears >= job.requiredExperienceYears {
    meet(eachCandidate)
  }
}

func meet(candidate) {
  if candidate.speaksEnglish && candidate.doesNotStink {
    disclose(job, to:candidate)
  }
}

func disclose(job, to candidate) {
  expect(candidate.salaryExpectations <= job.salary)
  expect(candidate.caresAboutCulture == false)
  expect(candidate.caresAboutFlexibility == false)
  interview(candidate, with:job.employer)
}

This is what they most recruiters get paid their referral fee for.

After being sifted, I would then be given an automated technical screening ‘interview’ that would assess my technical ability. I don’t mind if people get filtered for not being able to program a fizzbuzz, but these are rather hard algorithm questions. When was the last time I had to balance a binary tree? Reverse a linked list? Never. These coding interviews don’t have anything to do with how capable I am as a developer, but I’m asked anyway because it’s the industry standard. They are told that it’s what they are supposed to do. And I am told to go through this formality.

After passing the technical interview, I actually get to talk to them about the job, and the employers often assume that you’re willing to put in 40 or more hours a week, and keep the seat warm regardless productivity. Flexibility is a nuisance, and working remote means he wants to slack off. They have a square job box to fit square candidates in. A well-rounded individual like me with degrees in both business and computers, does not compute.

At a new job, work is exciting. I get to learn their tech stack, which libraries they’re using and get to writing code in a few weeks. But passion can only last so long. Working on the same app, day in day out can take a toll on a creative individual. Months of routine burns me out and bores me through. 9am, clock in — 5pm, clock out. Groundhog day.

“How’s your weekend?”, “I hate Mondays”, “TGIF!” If I ever hear those words at an office, I’m quitting the next week. Celebrating not-work is symptomatic of wage slavery. Working so you don’t have to, asking permission for time off from work, counting down the days to retirement — why? Is work a necessary evil to a life well-lived? Wouldn’t you rather spend that half of your time spent awake doing something fun and exciting?

At one job, I ran out of UI bugs to fix because I worked so fast. And when the manager saw that I was doing nothing, he didn’t even bother to talk to me about potential for more responsibility. To him, I was machine that takes a Jira ticket, do work, and push that ticket to done. More tickets pushed, more productivity. And by the way, that’s what they call them? Tickets? I don’t want more tickets. No more tickets!

So I quit. At top tech companies, the average techie stays for less than two years. But when they hire you, they act as if you’re gonna stay for 5 to 10 years. And when the business needs change, you’re laid off. It doesn’t look good on your resume if you quit early, regardless of how much value you’ve contributed during your time there.

I’m not demonizing employment. Most jobs are not for me. It works great for those that want to work in a semi-stable social environment. Or those that need benefits for their family. Employment means free health care in America. I live in Canada.

The dream

I know what I don’t want, but what do I want? Here’s a mental picture of my personal life goals.

I want to travel, as cliche as it may be. I can stare at my Instagram feed for photos and videos of other people having a great time wherever they choose, but I prefer the real thing.

In my daydreams, I wake up to a view of the earth, the water, the trees and the sky. I mindfully brew a cup of tea, summoning energy from the deep sleep. As I walk a trail, I gather thoughts and jot them down in my notebook. Ideas bloom, and begin to materialize in my workshop. Surrounded by tools, I listen to the music of serenity. I make things. I program insights into products. I fuse with my past and thrust influence into the future. If I’m feeling sore from the workout the day before, I read a book and eat protein and fiber.

I want to pursue my hobbies and develop them into small businesses. My leather crafts will have a queue of customers. A coffee cart will cater to events by appointment only. I will own the tiny gym whose squat rack is bookable. I will busk with my Kalimba by the beach sunset for couples falling in love.

My dreams are about doing things, not having things. I need more time, not more money. That means I don’t need to make six figure incomes year after year. I need to reduce my personal burn rate and boost my personal earn rate. I can spend less by living in a van, but how do I increase my earnings without a full-time job or travelling to the past and investing in Bitcoin?

The solution

I’ll become a freeelancer and charge for expertise, not time. But there’s many obstacles to overcome. How do I prove that I’m an expert? How will I differentiate myself from poor communicators in India/China? How do I prospect for clients?

I already have the skills, and there are plenty of people that need it. Will I advertise myself on billboards and annoy countless others that don’t need my expertise? Would they trust a guy who puts his face as an iOS developer on a bus stop billboard? If I was to approach potential companies individually, I’d be spending half my time working, selling, getting no response.

It’s a marketing problem. Only if there was a market for top talent…

Toptal is like tinder, but for experts/companies. Instead of expecting full-commitment based on a couple hours of talking, experts like me can ‘hook up’ with companies that need work done. Compensation is based on the work done, not hours spent. I’ll be motivated to do my best work.

I’m joining the iOS app development experts Community so that I can help those that need my iOS skills and cut through the hiring BS.

Will I miss employment?

I won’t have a steady stream like I would with a full-time job, but I don’t need to get paid every other week because I don’t have a mortage.

I won’t be supervised into doing work, but I am self-taught and well-motivated.

I won’t have work friends to shoot nerf guns at, but I’d rather be focused when I’m working.

I won’t be in a group of developers sharing skills, but I can pick up most skills online, and when I need help, I have a network of mentors to guide me.

I’m in the process of developing myself to become better every day. Freelancing will allow the flexibility to pursue that further.