Around three years ago I released an article 'Why I left my freelance role to become permanent.' It seems quite the juxtaposition to now be moving back into freelancing, so I wanted to go through what I have learnt and also how I have grown in the past three years.
So what have you been doing?
For the first time, I had joined a team of ambitious people who wanted to create something useful that millions of users would use. We set about doing exactly that, I was the first full-time employee after the C-level staff. Let me dispel any myth right here right now.
Startup life is hard work
However, it can also be one of the most rewarding experiences if you build the right team with the right vision.
With the help of our CTO and an intern backend developer we created and released our web application in just two weeks. It was crude, it had bugs, it wasn't the complete package, but in truth, the founding blocks of what we created did not change too much regarding layout.
One thing you learn quickly in a startup is that as soon as you meet a goal, there are several more to delve straight into. You are always trying to stay ahead of the curve, always pushing for the best, always thinking about the product.
Bringing me nicely to my first point, mentally for the past few years when I leave work, I am still working. It's a 24/7 thought process, even more so when you start managing a team of developers. I am quite looking forward to being back in the freelance world where I leave work and can forget a little about the job I am currently at. Don't get me wrong, of course; you think about the job in hand still, but there is an essential change to what you're doing. You are being paid to help someone else's product. You do not have the internal pressure of this product has to be the best it can be as my future depends on it. Again, this is slightly untrue as you still have to do a great job if you wish to get recommended as a freelancer but hopefully, you see the difference between the two.
Within a year we had grown from a team of 6 to a team of 22, things were going well, investors were happy with the user growth we had been achieving (We had around 500k users at this point). Not only that, people loved the product. If you took a little look at twitter and searched our company name, you would find plenty of users giving positive feedback, some even calling the product a 'lifesaver.' We continued to build on this momentum, building the product out, making our search better, making the platforms more stable, looking at our users in deeper detail to understand their needs even more. In fact, that was one thing we always did as a priority over everything else; we made sure we put our users first. If something were not working for them, we would change it; we would listen and evolve.
Skip forward to a year on from this and the investor marketplace had completely changed from that we initially knew. A post-Brexit country no longer cared about purely growth and user data alone; it needed to be a profitable business as well. At least showing that it could be a profitable business with tried and tested methods of monetization. With that in mind we set to work on what that looked like, within three to four months our first payments were being taken, and institutions were also signing up. All seemed well, and we were proving that people loved our product enough to pay for it. We were now at over 1 million users and continuously growing. The team had also grown to around 43 members of staff.
So why are you no longer there?
Well, unfortunately, there wasn’t a choice in the matter. Along with a lot of the team, I was made redundant. It was hard at first to understand how we got into the situation but at the end of the day it is business and that happens. However, I have learnt so much from my role that I can’t have a bad word to say about it all.
I have had a significant role in creating a product that is used by over 1.5 million people. I have worked with some truly incredible people. I have managed a team of up to 18 engineers at times. I have thoroughly understood the pitfalls of growing a development team too quickly. I have dissected new methods and practices to understand making a highly performant platform creating over 600k data points daily. It has truly been an honour to take part in this process.
So why freelance not permanent moving forward?
Good question! There were a few things from my previous article I realised, the first, being part of a team is not true. This was just something I had experienced as part of my career; I now feel that I am an integral piece of the team and a freelancer.
Currently, there is not a product, or something similar that has come through my inbox or I have discovered that I can honestly say I want to get behind it from a permanent employee basis. Right now I maybe a little jaded, but I want to take the time to help others not discover the pitfalls I did but also to work on a variety of work. I’ll explain more later, but development isn’t my only passion, so I also want to explore these further shortly.
My circumstances have changed, and I feel that being freelance adapts itself perfectly to the stage of life I am. I can pick and choose when I need to take holidays or breaks from work. I can be a little more picky with the work I take on. Also, this has been made ever clearer by the death of my father this summer. Life is too short, and we all need to live day by day and enjoy ourselves. That doesn’t mean living recklessly; it means truly enjoying as much of your daily life as possible. If something isn’t enjoyable we all have the methods and ways to change it.
So what does the future look like?
First and foremost 2017 brings my biggest challenge to date, and some would see as probably the scariest yet. I am going to become a father! I am so lucky and excited to be bringing a new member of the family into the world. It is something that my wife and I have known we would love to do for a long time. Of course, it will bring with it challenges that neither of us expected, but together we will overcome them and grow a beautiful family of our own.
Work wise I have a lot of options that currently lie in front of me:
My cycling brand T Cycling
Some of you may have seen through social media the business that has been a big focus of my free time in the past 4 or so months. T Cycling is a cycling apparel brand I created and successfully launched through Kickstarter this year. The plan is to grow the company throughout 2017 and simply see where I can take it. It was born out of love for cycling but a dislike for the majority of cycling apparel that was currently available. Either from a design sense or just cost, so with thorough research and design I have created something that is more affordable for cyclists that I would enjoy wearing myself. I don't believe a brand should release clothing that they as individuals would not like to wear themselves.
Freelancing as a developer/engineer
As an experienced engineer, I have been fortunate to work with clients ranging from small independents to companies like Apple and Google. My role with RefME also gave me the unique experience of growing a team and product to cope with over 1.5 million users.
I will always love doing my development work; I am currently contracting at Kingfisher Digital Hub where I am consulting and helping lead one of their agile teams. Unfortunately, I can't talk about the work itself in more detail as I am under an NDA.
It's an exciting time in the web and app world; we have a great responsibility to create applications that cater for the needs of all our users. No longer should we focus on just making something pretty, we should look deeply and understand the user to create a seamless experience for them.
Freelancing as a creative
I could not think of any other title that would encompass this work the best other than a creative. Effectively my plans for the next 12 months are to utilise my skills in Design, Illustration and Photography to increase the variety of work I will be able to focus on.
All of these skills are something that I have focussed on usually as side projects or hobbies, but I feel my standard is high enough to start utilising these in a professional sense as a service for others. Up to this point, the majority of these projects have been to help friends who are starting or have their businesses.
The best place to currently view my creative work is through my Instagram feed here.
Writing more articles
Now that my mind has been freed a little from my duties at a startup it has allowed me to take a step back and refocus on areas of my work that I used to enjoy.
One of those is to write more articles; I will not just be talking about tech in these like I used to. I plan to cover all aspects of my work and interests.
After recent chats with David Walsh who I have written for in the past and highly respect as a developer and knowledge provider for others to learn. There are plans for me to write more development articles for his blog. Here are some of the previous pieces: