So I've been thinking that I probably haven't been doing a very good job keeping you up to date on my mental processes. Which is very probably for the best, honestly, I'm not sure how much value you would have extracted from most of it given the kind of shit-work I'd been doing. But it still feels like bad form to basically cut contact for the better part of a year.
I checked just now. That's about how long I'd been with my most recent employer, and in that time I've written about 22 blog posts with maybe five worthwhile ideas between them. That's a pretty shit record, given how much thinking I used to do about various aspects of software construction, and its gotten me thinking about a few other things too. In particular, how much I value certain things in my life, and what that ought to mean about how I spend the rest of it.
See, I'd been trapping myself in a false dichotomy. The one about whether I should work at a large company or a small company. The hidden assumption being that I had to have some individual telling me what project I should be working on, and extrinsically motivating me to work on it. I think that may have been a mistake that just cost me a year. Fairly comfortable year, mind, but at the end of it
- I still haven't built anything that has significantly changed the world in a meaningful, positive way
- there's no artifact that I can publicly point to that has been a result of my labors
- there is no useful technique or approach I've learned that was not the result of extra-curricular study on my part
In other words, other than generating a slightly larger pile of money, I may as well have been asleep for on average 18 hours a day instead of the 6-8 that I actually managed. This is not a good outcome. It feels like it should have been a relatively simple task to do much better, but I failed.
Ultimately, I need to start having fun with work again, rather than having fun against it. Thats what its been feeling like. "Work" was this increasingly-all-consuming chore that I needed to get out of the way every goddamn day, and "Fun" was a thing I had with my family, or at the gym, or on the dance floor. Those things are fun, and I don't want to stop them either, but on reflection, I think it may have been unwise to use them to medicate myself. That needs to stop.
To that end, I'm sitting at the square of York University, watching the fountain run, and thinking about where to go from here.
That part's harder. I, likely like you, live in a capitalist/socialist hybrid society. Which means that I need to be economically viable as a human in order to increase my chances of survival. Which unfortunately means that I can't just not work, and instead focus on my studies. I'm not an academic, and hear a lot of bitching about lost productivity from the academics I know anyhow. So "just think about and work on interesting problems" is sort of off the table for me1.
The standard deal in the professional community at the moment seems to be "Sign an employment contract with us, then work ~8 hours a day on boring shit we point you at, and pay you bags of money". The standard deal in the startup community seems to be the same, except with a multiplier of between 1.1 and 2 on the hours, and lottery tickets in place of some of the money.
Neither of these strike me as good deals at the moment.
An alternative is contracting for dev work directly. The main problem with that one being that finding work seems to be an extra part of the work that I'd have to factor into my hourly. If I could find a recurring stream of contract hours somewhere, it would go a long way towards freeing up a bunch of the rest of my time for thinking about better architectures and tools.
A third alternative is setting up some kind of paid service to do something online. No particular idea what, mind you, but there are probably things I could build that people wouldn't particularly mind paying for. This isn't mutually exclusive with the other options2, I suppose, so I might do it in parallel.
Really, I should have been trusting my gut the entire way along, and done five or six things differently. But that's sort of in the past. Other than trusting my gut next time, here's what I'm thinking now.
- I will henceforth work significantly fewer than 10 hours a day each weekday.
- If I'm to spend any time working on a project, then that project will do at least one of
- Teach me something significant
- Be extremely fun to work on
- Pay me staggering amounts of money3
- Logging intermediate output to this blog should be a mandatory activity, not a "when I get around to it" thing4.
This doesn't sound like a list of goals that anyone I know told me was a possibility, so I'm cautiously optimistic.
As per the last point, I'll let you know how it goes.
- For now, at least. I'll see if I can think my way around the trap. It doesn't seem to be impossible, but it likewise doesn't seem to be easy.↩
- Except that startups tend to have some really fugly "We own everything you do while working for us" clauses in their contracts, and both startups and large companies tend to try to keep you working on their thing to the exclusion of all others. So there's a definite tension there, if not outright conflict.↩
- Or small amounts of money in a quasi-reliably recurring fashion.↩
- Because I otherwise lose out on a lot of useful reflection and course-correction, and you otherwise stand to be slightly less entertained.↩