Harry Roberts: Don't you wish you'd done it sooner?

Orde Saunders' avatarPublished: by Orde Saunders

Harry Roberts (@csswizardry)  was talking at Dot York about making the decsion to work for himself, these are my notes from his talk.

Between the ages of 12-15 I did manual exhausting labour for my Dad - long hours for low pay - but I learned the value of money, what it's like to work (not just sitting down at a desk), giving up on the right now for the future benefit. 

Did my work experience at Copy Concept who then gave me an after school job, learned about retail and eventually 'design', learned how to deal with people, the public suck, be the tea boy and work my way up.  Mum and dad told me not to leave.

KeyClicks were looking for a freelancer, tiny agency with all dev work outsourced (me and three middle aged people), local clients (who I never spoke to) and I was earning £5.60 an hour (after costs I was making about £10 a week), taught me how to work in a distributed team and how to be a professional.  They offered to pay me through a  degree but I decided not to.  Mum and dad told me not to leave.

Sense internet gave me my first full time job.  Lots of fun, I still have friends from working at Sense.  Taught me how to deal with clients.  The single biggest change in my life.  Sense were starting to wind  down and I started to look for somewhere else.   Mum and dad told me not to leave.

I got an email from a company called Venture Lab - it was a real life dragons den.  It was two years too early and it flopped.  We had one project go live in 18 months and that was the company website.  I got paid a lot of money to do nothing.  I was so bored I started writing a lot on CSS Wizardy.  The company got wound down and my Mum and Dad didn't give me any advice.

I could have gone freelance at this point.  I had twitter followers, I was writing articles, I was known.  But I didn't, I got an email from Sky offering me a job as a senior developer.  I didn't know Sky had an office in Leeds but they knew me.  I worked in product, there were big teams, I learned process, business critical applications, operations and architecture.   I learend more about my career at Sky than anywhere else - if I hadn't gone to Sky I wouldn't have been a successful freelancer.  Big companies face very different problems to agency work, I know the problems big companies face and can help them.  Working in a agency you get shielded, you don't learn how businesses work.  I can now sell all of this knowledge - I'm not cleverer, I happen to have been in an environment most people haven't.  We don't sell our time, we sell our knowledge.  Sky taught me how little I know.

The Dunning Kruger effect:  someone who is bad at what they do thinks they're good, they don't understand themselves.  People who are good at what they do don't understand others.  Stay aware of how little you know.  Staying humble stops you looking a fool.  It's also good business sense. 

All of this adds up.  It influences how we do what we do.  Even the shit jobs are pretty good for you.

Made two lists:  What can I offer?  What do I want?  Realised that to get what I wanted I needed to go it alone.  A well considered transition of faith.  It's hard, it's stressful beyond measure, it's exhausting but rewarding, it's lucrative but risky.  If you are thinking of going it alone, know what you want to be.

  • Employee:  job security, can be limiting
  • Freelancer: variety and freedom, have to find your own work
  • Contractor: more security and better paid, larger commitment
  • Consultant: lucrative, high pressure

Work somewhere most people don't.  Take an opportunity to work in a specialist area.  Gain a competitive advantage over your peers.  Capitalise on everything: shout about things, charge for things.  Take advantages of other people's time and money, get your employer to pay for training - clients don't want that, they want someone who already knows things.

Will I work for someone else?  Probably - never say never.  We don't know what's ahead of us.  Working for yourself isn't the pinacle of employment, there are different challenges everywhere.

Don't rush, take advantage of where you are right now.  Be aware of your limits and fill them in.  Plan for the worst, capitalise on everything.

With hindsight I'm really glad I didn't do it sooner.