My journey to craftsmanship - Freelancing and start-upping
23 July 2021
The first gigs
My first child was born in April 2008, and I started freelancing in the fall.
A snippet of wisdom about starting freelancing is that you should have a financial cushion of about six months if things don't turn out well (it's hard to develop software from under a bridge). I had a bit more, although, for total transparency, I wouldn't have ended up on the street no matter what.
I received my first real-life lesson in freelancing in the summer. I was still working at Blogads but expected to take on a freelancing side-project in Rails I was "drafted for." The project never took off, but that wasn't a catastrophe: I was lucky to learn early in my career that I can only count on a gig if the contract is signed and the work has begun.
Keeping contact with my Spanish freelancing peeps, I learned about a Rails conference ("Conferencia Rails") in the early fall. I met Aitor and Alberto there, who had a small company called LinkingPaths. Rails was becoming hugely popular, and they were developing apps both for clients and an open-source platform in-house. They became my first client, and I couldn't be happier.
Living on the edge of Budapest, the time I spent traveling to the office and back home went from 2.5 hours to 10 seconds so I could spend way more time with my baby daughter. The guys at LinkingPaths were great dudes, and we had a great time working together.
I wasn't always that lucky with clients, though. I won't name names, but one of them disappeared from the radar when he should've paid for a large amount of work. He didn't answer any of my emails, messages, or phone calls. Weighing my options and still having access to the site I'd been building for him, I replaced the content of the home page with a single message: "Jake, the work is done. Pay up." (His real name is not Jake.) My phone rang two minutes later, and he promptly transferred the sum.
Except for the occasional nuisances, I had a happy life freelancing. I kept going to Ruby/Rails conferences, and I was a master of my time and professional development. I didn't mind having to deal with finding clients, negotiating contracts, and other necessary activities I hadn't had to do as an employee. I didn't particularly like some of them, either, but it was well worth the freedom it gave me.
Then, in the spring of 2010, a friend we worked with on a few projects convinced me to join a startup.
I've never worked in a startup before. However, it was very much like I imagined: very few and very motivated people, a ton of energy, and willingness to change the world - even if only by making the online shopping experience of clothing better. I was imbued with enthusiasm and was even willing to work on some Saturdays, though less enthusiastically so.
My second child, a boy, was born in the fall of the same year. The importance of spending time with my family, the grueling commute to and from the office, and the fact that I haven't felt the same office vibe as at the start made me gradually lose my enthusiasm.
I was rushing to the bus, from bus to tram, from the tram to subway, to sit in a place where I didn't feel that well became a chore. That probably showed in my work, and they let me go towards the end of 2012 before making the same decision myself.
Hugely relieved, I made the hour-long commute home with a smile on my face and knew the following day I'd be back to freelancing.
I've been following Rob Walling, a serial "micropreneur" who had a blog, a book, and a podcast about launching tiny businesses alone or with a single partner. I contracted the bug of wanting to have a product that makes money while sleeping from my startup years. Having a profitable idea and being able to implement it is huge. Though I'd been vaguely aware of it, Rob's book hammered home the point that it takes way more to sell a product than coding it up.
I followed the steps described in Rob's excellent book, "Start small, stay small," to validate a few product ideas, and none of them seemed worthwhile to pursue. At the same time, I was running low on money, so I abandoned my idea of becoming a solopreneur and started doing two things: looking for freelancing gigs and checking what's hot in web development to acquire new skills.
Luckily for me, shortly after I started playing around with Ember, I've found a paying project that involved Rails and Ember.js, with an emphasis on the latter. The project took about six months, and I went from knowing very little about the framework to being quite proficient in it.
Not only that, but I've developed a fondness for Ember. It certainly had a steep learning curve (not least because of a lack of up-to-date learning materials at the time), but it was beautiful, and I wanted to have others feel the same a-ha moments I went through.
I attended the first European Ember.js conference, EmberFest, with a couple of friends in Munich in August 2013. I came away enthusiastic, and shortly after, a new idea was born.Share on Twitter