Saturday, July 21, 2012

Life of the Independent Worker

I had quit working for others for almost 6 years (I think, kinda lost count), it is liberated freedom and quite a culture shock as well. Suddenly there is this new found power with no one to report to (and take orders from), and I am responsible for my own well-being with no one else to blame (the days of my company and boss sucks is over).

The Beginning

The beginning of the journey is filled with mix emotions, as I am not used to such great freedom and responsibility. The great thing about employment is the illusion of direction and comfort, where I just need to complete a set of tasks given by the management, and I go home a happy and satisfied man, with enough money my pocket to spend on leisure. When I gain the power to decide on my own life, what the hell am I supposed to do with all these freedom?

So, I figured out some ways to fill in the extra time: read some books, exercise, catch some naps, work on some pet projects, catching up on all the things I didn’t have the time to do. Wait, why did I quit the job again? Because I believe I can do better than my ex-bosses and companies, and there is a really cool project I like to work on. Right, let’s get to work. Code code code, must complete and ship the damn thing and not letting it suffer a pre-mature death. It’s easier said than done, as many didn’t get to execute their idea and dream, and many more didn’t get to finish it. Though I did finish it, but it didn’t gain “success” (in terms of traffic and income).


Perhaps it’s time for Plan B: setup a new company with friends (that didn’t work well after a year). The main challenges in partnership are fulfilling each other’s expectations, where everyone should be on the same boat: taking the same risk and shit, and shared the glory. When the risk-shit-glory ratio is unbalance among partners (which could be very difficult to achieve among strangers), the ship is not going to sail far. As much as I envy some of the Silicon Valley dream team, but the fact is partnership seldom work out due to certain human nature, which I have yet to nail it down. Partnership is like marriage, you don’t make backup plan by having an affair outside; you bet your future life and happiness on one girl, and optimistically, there is no turning back. Pack all your things, get on board together and set sail; no looking back, no ship hopping.

Reignited Dream

After the failed partnership, freelancing works well for me for 4 years, until the day I could no longer find the heart to work on stupid projects for stupid people (sorry). The money is there, the challenges had gone stale, and are no meaning left. I wanted to build something which leaves a mark, something of my own creation, something that could get me to work day in day out without reluctance. I do believe in the Maslow hierarchy of needs: when you fulfilled your physiological (food, sleep, etc.), safety (house, stable income, etc.) and love (family) needs, the next level is esteem. For me, I wanted the achievement of building something I always wanted to do, to put those dreams and ideas into action.

Why now? I believe I started with the same kind of dream and passion when I quit the job 6 years ago, but I didn’t make it due to lack of experience and confidence, and clouded by the needs to create a stable income. Now that I have satisfied the basic needs, and gain more confidence through multiple trials; I am ready to relive the dream again, in a bigger scale and higher commitment than before.

What not to do

After embarking on this new journey for about 9 months, I’m still not quite satisfied with the result. I seem to be fairly busy, but yet the work done doesn’t translate to satisfaction; and yet it always seems there are so much more to be done. I rule out a few distractions along the way, where I have decided on
  1. I shall not debate pointlessly on Facebook, as it’s just a thread which are not going to bring about a change no matter who wins.
  2. I shall reduce on attending events, as I am not good at socializing and networking (defeat the purpose), which are the main agenda of events. If I want to learn something or listen to a talk, there are plenty of good ones on youtube and slideshare.
  3. I shall not waste time chasing venture money (or join pitching events), as I suck at persuading people to give me money, and not many investors could provide a meaningful feedback besides the usual business BS; I shall work on projects within my own means, and the only person I need to convince are my users.


At times, I am still plagued by either be laser focus on the existing idea, or experiment with some other relevant ideas? Should I keep on maintaining the current development platform or tryout some of the more shinning technology? I understand the need to be focus and push it through until the product reach critical mass or tipping point, and working on existing technology is more economically viable as we focus on production (which create values) rather than research (which cost time and money). My logically mind tend to vouch for focus and production, but my motivation says otherwise.

I used a Kanban + Pomodoro (KanbanFlow) tools to keep track of my time and productivity, and found that under 2 circumstances that I am super motivated and productive.
  1. When there is a deadline: I realize something too up more time than it should, I mentally flag it as critical and I must ship it ASAP no matter what.
  2. When I get to work on something new, either a new idea or a new technology.
I found that I perform below average on the following circumstances
  1. The feature I am working on is boring, but necessary.
  2. Working on the same project using the same technology for too long.
  3. Working on monetization/sales effort, without the elements of fun or adoption impact.

Technology is my friend

I am always intrigued by more efficient, elegant or productive ways to do things. PHP are more fun to code than .NET and Java (too much hassle and structures), and CakePHP is a beautiful architecture compared to raw PHP, and Python seems like a cooler language than PHP, and Flask (and other micro-frameworks) seems to suit me better than a full-stack framework as it provide greater flexibility with less magic, and Google App Engine have some really cools services which I enjoyed (and save me the trouble of server setup and configuration). I know I could not withhold this natural desire for long, so I start to have some fun with new technologies using my Hackweekend project, without affecting the progress the current main project.

Having fun is important

I realize I could not just focus on one product and continue with older technology just because it works, and I also realize the importance to focus by continuously iterating the product. Now I could relate to the Google 20% time project: no matter how cool or important the current project is, we could get bored after working on it for too long, thus we need to reignite the motivation through the 20% time project or hackweekend. It’s a balance, in the sense that we could not spent all our time working no matter how much we love our work; we need to take a break to enjoy a nice meal, watch a movie and have some fun. Such is the case for work; we need small “leisure” project to keep our work life interesting.

Listen to our heart

I believe being an Independent Worker is an interesting journey, filled with challenges and experiments, and most of the time, we could make the decision to follow our hearts, after we learn to listen to our heart.

Being an Independent Working and working on a Startup are part of my bucket list as well.

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