Thursday, June 30, 2005

To Employ, or To Be Employed

Bill Gates was sort of my inspiration when I was young. Though I don't know about his background very well at that time (nope, I dunno who Paul Allen is), but I know he is a rich dude to makes money from developing software. Suddenly there is hope for programmer to get rich by being Techie, rather that doing boring business (naiveness in action). I kinda ditch engineering and decide on Computer Science for my college years. My dream was to build some magnificent software, start a software house and make millions of dollars.

At first I wanted to be a game programmer, since I have a lot of exposure in C++ Programming and some of DirectX and OpenGL. I frequent GameDev and Gamasutra a lot as well, and pick up OO design pattern, game engine design and 3rd party game library. I wanted to work at Blizzard or EA, even applied for a job there (I don't think they like overseas newbie game programmer). Somehow along the way, I found out that game programming is not an easy way to get rich, it is tedious but hell lot of fun work. Too many skill and resources are required in a game production, like programming, design, art and music. That are too many things for one person to cope with, and I can't find enough people to join me in my course. Besides, I was thinking of getting rich, so this might not be the best path.

R&D Programmer is my first job, where I do a lot of nifty stuff like Speech Recognition and Signature Recognition. Later I decided to start doing some business: web hosting (OMG! You call that business?). I spent around RM 4K to set-up a Linux server and put it in a datacenter, and start renting out some server space. I notice I am somehow incapable in marketing and sales thus only manage to sell 2 of these and didn't manage to recover my cost. Luckily I still have my day job.

Some years later, I decide to take the plunge: quit my R&D job and join venture with a friend to develop software for Insurance Agent. That didn't go well too, as there are serious communication and expectation problem between me and my partner. He was quite independent and has been doing well in this arena, but he sort of refuse to guide me. So, as a newbie, it is pretty hard for me to start off as well. The partnership slowly faded, and I end up doing some freelancing work alone. I did manage to make some money from freelancing.

After 6 months being unemployed, I landed on a job in my current company. The pay is pretty good, and my freelance business haven't take off to make sufficient living. Now the situation is better, since I am having a day job and doing freelance to supplement my income, which is pretty good. Actually after 4 years doing freelancing, I only have 3 clients. But the repetitive business is quite good, so I have good quality clients (so far all are good paymaster, lucky me).

Slowly, I found freelancing is pretty time consuming and tedious. It is good pocket money or a way to make a normal living, but it is no road to be a millionaire. I decide that I need a flagship product, something to push to every customer rather than building a new application everytime. I have some experience in Document Management System (DMS), and the market is picking up and there is ample opportunity for a low cost DMS. I applied for the Cradle Investment Programme to get some sugar money to kick-start my plan, but they turn it down as they said the idea is too plain and too many such product already exist. What they say is true, but there is always opportunity for alternative product, especially if I can do it cheaply. Clearly those consultants are no businessmen, or they are looking for more glamorous ideas. We don't actually need a very innovative and brilliant product idea to make millions, what we need is to fill the void of market demand. You won't make the headlines in news though, but I don't mind. The DMS solution in the market is either too expensive or inferior. I am confident of building a cheap product with adequate feature to target the lower-end market, at least that was my plan. I continue with the project without funding, but that didn't last long as my time was used for other freelance project and other pet ventures. I still haven't give up on it yet, just that I have resource constraint at the moment. Another path I have taken is to develop a MRP solution, as I have already done so in a freelance project. I just need to figure out what other clients actually required and polished the product a bit before making it an on-the-shelf product. Besides, there are many things taking place at the same time. Too many ideas and opportunities, too little time and guts. Concentration and execution is the key to product launching, I need to keep this in mind.

I like my current day job as it pays well and not too demanding, as I don't work on weekends and I seldom do overtime. Thus, it is a good environment for me to nurture my freelance business, and hopefully complete my flagship product. At the same time, my ex-colleagues offer me a higher paying job. The job should be very exciting with many new things to learn and able to make a lot of money for the company (good bonus perhaps), but it is very demanding as well. If I do take up the job, I might have to slack my freelance work and lessen the opportunity for me to start my own business. I haven't quite figure what to do yet, just playing wait and see at the moment.

What do I want? My own business or a better career opportunity? Perhaps the job in the new company would make me a more resourceful person, or it would make me a work slave forever. There is no easy answer. Perhaps I should evaluate with an open heart, and trust my guts feeling a bit (though they are not always right, but somehow it would turn out beneficial to me in some mysterious way).

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