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Recently I’ve decided to take the jump from permanent employment to running my own company doing contracting, freelance work and product development. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for some time now, and it feels great to have finally made the decision. Running your own business is something that a lot of people aspire to do, and it gets harder to actually make that move the older you get. I don’t mean that age itself makes it harder, but once you’ve been in a career for a while the pay-cheque is required to pay the bills, the job security is more worrying, you’ve probably accrued no end of company benefits and in general it’s hard to leave something comfortable, secure and familiar.
Almost all of these things have been bashing around in my head for some time, and were mostly answered by finding the right first contract. However, the one thing that has never been a problem for me is the difficulty in leaving something familiar or comfortable. Which brings me onto 5 things I’ve learnt and have become part of my work ethic over the years:
1. Stay Uncomfortable
I’ve always resisted feeling comfortable in a role – this might sound crazy, but over the years I think it’s really helped me. Whenever I start to feel too comfortable, or a job feels too easy, I’ve always found a way to make myself uncomfortable, whether it by taking on new projects in my own time, committing to passing exams, or just learning and driving for something in my workplace. Whatever I did its driven from this simple fact that I don’t like to feel too comfortable in a job – and 9 times out of 10 these extra activities have proven useful.
2. Focus on the Next Big Goal
One of the strangest feelings I’ve had over the years is wanting to achieve something, and then actual having that desire realised. For me, the feeling I get is strange mix of genuine satisfaction, which is almost immediately followed a kind of panic, or fear of boredom. This probably isn’t a great character trait – but I have a genuine fear of being bored! To combat this feeling I have a very simple response – focus on the next big goal. This seems obvious, and it obviously relates to my previous ‘stay uncomfortable’ rule, but it is very important. It’s also really important that the goal is achievable and isn’t only financial focussed, but not too easily achieved. For example, something like ‘bank my first million’ is too unrealistic for me right now, and its only focussed on cash. On the opposite side ‘get a new laptop’ is too easily done, and also represents no real achievement. In the past I’ve had goals such as ‘deliver a public website’, ‘lead a development team’ and ‘work for myself’.
3. First Deliver Value, Then Receive Value
I’m not sure where this one came from, but it’s something that I read somewhere, and it really stuck in my head. Whenever working for a client I truly believe that it’s better to deliver excellent value for money before you start asking for something in return. This isn’t to ‘say work for free and hope you get paid’ – that would be crazy – the fact that I say deliver VALUE infers that a payment is already agreed. What I mean is if you take on a project / job role / contract your first focus should be on making sure your customer/ boss / client feels that you deliver value for money. After that, it’s easy to ask for some training or suggest using a specific technology that might enhance your marketability.
4. Keep Your Ego Under Control
This is especially important in the world of programming and development – I say this because I’ve lost count of the number of developers who think they’re better than everyone else out there! And by that I mean they think they know better than their peers, better than their managers and better than their end users. The 2 things that I’ve done to keep my ego in check is reading good developer blogs and looking at other peoples work. The realisation that there are so many talented developers out there is really humbling – most of which make me feel like I know nothing! Reading blogs like that of Scott Hanselman, Joel Spolsky, Martin Fowler and Ayende Rahien – these guys make me realise how much there is to learn! I sometimes find it a little overwhelming – but it definitely keeps me sharp and humble.
5. Take Responsibility For Your Own Learning
This has been on my list for so long now I can’t remember, and I can’t stress its importance enough. The thing I love most about development and technology is that it provides me the opportunity to learn new stuff all the time – I love to learn new things and its probably the primary reason I enjoy doing what I do. For me, the learning aspect keeps the job interesting – but it’s more important than just that. If you stop learning in this industry, you very quickly stagnate. If I’m totally honest, 90% of the developers I have met understand this – but at least 75% of them go about addressing it in the wrong way. I hate to hear people complaining about a lack of training – if you want to learn it, then go ahead and learn it! Get a book, do some personal projects, Google it – don’t sit and wait for the training silver platter, and then complain when it doesn’t arrive. Take responsibility yourself. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been in a situation where I’ve manufactured my own opportunities by just getting on and doing it!
So there we have my 5 golden rules (sorry about the unimaginative name) – for me they’ve really helped me move forward and achieve stuff. Maybe one day I’ll look back at this post and think that I was wrong, or maybe I’ll look back and it’ll remind me of something I’ve forgotten. Either way around, it’s worth putting out there!