Celebrating One Year in Business

A year ago, I left my job at Ibuildings and went freelance. At the time, I didn't really know what I wanted to do next, and I was excited about the opportunity to try out a few different things. I blogged about my new (ad)venture when I launched it, but I haven't written much since and people keep asking me for updates - the anniversary seems like a good time to reflect.

Well, I still don't know what I want to do next, but that seems like less of a problem these days. I'm busy but in a planned-in-advance, only wearing myself down because there was something so exciting I couldn't say no, kind of a way. I am not a great fan of travel, and have always tried to avoid it, but in fact so many interesting things came up this year that I ended up on the road more than ever. It turns out that there is a world of difference between being sent somewhere on short notice, and planning a series of interesting professional engagements that just happen to involve being away from home a lot all at once. And if I don't want to go: I don't go. It's amazing how many people will wait til next month if you ask them!

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A Book Burndown Chart

You might have noticed that things have been a bit quiet around here lately ... that's because I'm writing a book and doing a lot of editing at the moment. I love doing both of these as part of my work, but it turns out that when you're already writing/editing 3k words a day, it's hard to find more words to blog with (well, and I usually blog whatever code I'm writing which isn't a whole lot right now). I did however want to share with you the news that I'm working on a book (about PHP, for the lovely Sitepoint).

I'm completely new to book-writing and it felt like a mountain to climb. I have five chapters of around 8 thousand words each to write for the book (I have co-authors, who are also lovely), and the general advice I got was to just take it all one step at a time. This sounds a lot like the way I teach project management and time management to developers, so I used those same skills and created a burndown chart (I blogged about creating these before):

As you can see, there have been some great days, and some quieter days. The flat lines are mostly weekends or days where I was out of the office with other clients. Although I feel slightly overwhelmed (and this doesn't show the edits that come back after I submit each chapter), the graph is at least going in the right direction!

360 Degree Feedback

I mentioned the 360 Degree Feedback Technique during my keynote at PHPNW10 and had many comments and questions about it since, so I thought I'd post about it in more detail

Introduction to 360 Degree Feedback

The basic premise of 360 degree feedback is that rather than being given performance feedback at work solely by your superior, the feedback comes from people all around you. This would include your manager and your peers, but could also include your direct reports, and people that you work closely with from other areas of the business. For example a developer might receive feedback from the rest of the development team, the design lead, and the project manager.

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Business Strategies: Office Day

I'm now self-employed, which means that I have to do my own administration, invoicing, accounts, correspondence, sales, marketing and maintenance (not to mention running the household, a sports team, and whatever else I've volunteered to get involved with lately). I am pretty organised as a person, which is a real gift now I have all this going on! I have some coping strategies and I thought I'd share one that has helped hugely - the office day.

The idea of the office day is that I block out a whole day every month or so where I'm not going anywhere, not on site with clients, not speaking, not delivering anything, just in the office, doing whatever needs doing. I tend to put these days in either day before or after runs of days away - either with clients or at events, just to give me time to catch my breath. Working this way means that when I'm working on something, I can just work on it, and know that there is time set aside for all the little things. Also the days where I'm just back from somewhere and the inbox is so full, it is ready to bite, then it gives time to get things straightened out and right, without feeling stressed because there is other work to do. Although it does mean that I'm not doing billable work that day, I find that splitting the work up like this works really well for me, and I thought I'd share - perhaps this suggestion will help someone else, and I'm always interested to hear how others fit in all the business bits and pieces around their "real" work.

Three Months In: The (Ad)Venture Continues

It's three months since I gave up the day job and so many people have asked me how it's going, that I thought I'd give a quick round up!

I am a statistics nut so it will surprise nobody that I track my time religiously (using harvest, which I'll post about some day soon). From this I can tell you that I spend about 40% of my time working for other people, and the rest doing things like writing, preparing talks, accounts, meetings, or whatever. I've also taken 14 days off, which has been absolutely fabulous after a decidedly work-heavy first half of 2010. The biggest change is that I've only worked one weekend day. One.

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Giving Up The Day Job

The In-A-Nutshell Version I have resigned from Ibuildings. I will complete my notice period here in a couple of weeks and then move on to a wide and interesting variety of well-paying freelance assignments covering development, consultancy, writing and speaking. Hopefully.

The slightly longer version really is this. Two and a half years ago, I left a job at a type of company I usually describe as a yet-another-website company, where literally every new project was another CMS website. Which was fun for about the first 4 months and got old pretty quickly. Two and a half years at Ibuildings and I haven't done yet-another-anything, the projects have been technical, challenging and my colleagues are the best qualified set of people I'll probably ever work with.

Along the way I've also done a wide variety of other things, most of which are achievements beyond my wildest dreams, some within the scope of this job and some on my own time but of course influenced by all that I've learned. I've delivered training, led projects, been published, become a regular conference speaker and travelled internationally doing so, collaborated on an open source project, edited a developer portal and hosted a major international PHP conference. I've even learned to say those things about myself in public without feeling too much of a fraud!

At this point, there are so many things I want to be doing, writing, speaking and so on, as well as some interesting development projects, that holding down my 9-5 as well has become untenable; that's the main motivation for this change. I don't intend to take another full time job, although I don't have a lot of paying work lined up so please bear in mind that I am looking for some ;)

Things I would like to be doing:

  • Working with development teams on skills, tools and process (think teach a man to fish, rather than sell him a fish)
  • API development
  • Technical writing
  • Meeting cool and interesting people and embarking on cool and interesting projects together

Advice on achieving any or all of the above is appreciated - if any of you can also think of me when discussing business, write me a linked in recommendation, or retweet my announcement of my news, that would be fabulous!!

If you're still reading, then I'll share a little something with you. I decided that with a career move, I needed a little rebrand, so here is my new angel avatar. I hope you like her :)

Wish me luck in my new (ad)venture, I'll be keeping everyone up to date as always!

Whose Responsibility is Your Career?

There are 10 types of people in the world: Those who understand binary, and those who don't.

I guess we've all seen this geek witticism, its a little piece of the fabric of the culture. Personally I split people into two groups along other lines: those that look out for their own professional interests, and those who don't. I'm an optimist, so lets start out looking at those who do.

These people are self-starters. They have read relevant texts on their subject and depending on the type of industry they are from they either have blogs, news and syndication sites on their feed reader, or they subscribe to the relevant periodicals. You'll see them at some of the events, sometimes a long way from home, and always "off their own bat". They'll be asking questions about how different technologies go together, about who they could approach with a particular question, and so on. If you mention web resources, they'll go there and read what's available. They might come back with follow-up questions. And they will be the first to also help another along his way, passing along the gifts that they have been given from those who went before and helped them to this point.

Then there's the other kind of people. The kind that doesn't have books of its own, that doesn't interact with communities outside of work, and that "can't" go to events because their employers don't send them. I understand that money and time are both something that can be in short supply, yet I still have little patience with people who have this attitude. None of us can be everywhere that would be useful, but one event a year is do-able for most people, and in my opinion career development shouldn't be free and effortless.

So - which kind of person are you? If its the first kind, what do you do to ensure you keep learning and keep growing? Post your stories in the comments!

Six Months of Telecommuting

Although it seems impossible, I really have been in my "new" job for 6 months. The big change this time around is that my new role is based almost entirely from home - I'm a salaried, 40-hours-per-week, home worker. This post is about my experiences adapting to this change rather than the new job itself (its going rather nicely, thanks for asking!)

The first thing to say about telecommuting is that it isn't for everyone - and the second thing to say is that I absolutely love it! I wasn't expressly looking for a remote position, and there are definite downsides, but I find it really suits me nicely. Strangely I'm a really sociable person most of the time, and I go a bit crazy if I spend too long on my own, but working on my own is a revelation.

Workspace

With excellent timing, we finished turning one of the smaller bedrooms into an office just a few days before I started looking for a new job. It has lots of storage, more network and electricity than I know what to do with, and a nice view of my (completely overgrown) garden. It also has a door that shuts and a futon for visitors to sit on. I acquired the large desk out of the study bedroom I had as a teenager, and have a fabulous office chair to sit on.

Communications

The thing about working remotely is that it can be quite isolating. For quite a while now I've had more interaction with online friends than coworkers - and even when communicating with co-workers I have usually used IM. So to be physically elsewhere actually makes little difference except I don't have to hear their music played too loud over headphones or someone typing really loudly. I like to interact with people and found it quite easy to get to know my new colleagues, although it took time to meet them all in real life. It is often difficult to ask for help, but I'm very good at it (ask any of my usual questioning targets) and I find everyone very sympathetic and helpful even when my problem is actually that I'm having a "blonde moment". In a real office, I'd probably ask the person next to me to cast their eye over my code and spot the problem - and its actually not that tricky to do it with a physical divide. I use IRC, Skype, twitter and pastebin to interact with various people - coworkers and other techies.

Working Hours

I'm contracted to work a normal working week, and although I have flexi-time, so far I'm dodging the bullet of losing too many hours to working when work and home are the same place. Part of that is that I'm a morning person anyway, and I work for a Dutch company so I usually log in early my time and join in their morning greetings. I also have a social life which is adapted around working a 9-5 office job - so I'm out most evenings. Add into the mix a partner that does work those regular office hours most of the time and needs his dinner at the same time every day, and you can understand how I find it possible to work regular hours and still play hard as well. There are plenty of distractions around the home, chores to do and games to play, but I'm trying to stay in my regular pattern of working in the daytime and saving everything else for evenings and weekends. Being at home though does mean that lunchtimes can include a nap or a swift round of mario kart, and if I put my washing on the line I can go and rescue it if it rains!

I've skated over the downsides, the days where you don't know what you're doing and the person you're trying to get hold of isn't answering emails or phone calls. Or the days when things are going really wrong and its hard to know what other people are doing and who you might interrupt for help. All in all though, its all good, probably helped by having a job that is stimulating, and colleagues that are friendly. Having discussed this with a few different people, I am of the opinion that not everyone would experience this the same way have. But for now, life is good.

Seaside Sunset

Here's the view from my hotel balcony yesterday evening:

So far the Netherlands is a great experience, my colleagues are friendly and its a lovely country to visit.