My new(ish) job and a decade of freelancing

Four months ago I got a new job. I mentioned it on Twitter at the time but it appears that not everyone I might vaguely know reads every single one of my tweets. I know! I can’t think what you’re all doing with your time. But I’m pretty sure that everyone I have ever known, and everyone I will ever know, reads this blog. So mentioning the new job here is definitely going to clear this up, once and for all. Yes.

I’m now working with the very fine people of BERG. Full time. Like, a proper job. You know, going into the same office every day, where I see the same people, working on the same things. Weird! Because, when I say I’ve got a new job, it’s not so much the “new” bit that’s a change, it’s the “job” bit. Before this I’d been freelancing for ten years, so this has been quite a shift.

I’d known for some time that I wanted a change, but it’s taken a while to make it. In 2009 I realised one major thing that was missing from years of freelancing. At SXSW that year I watched a video stream of Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com talking in another room and realised that in freelancing I was missing “being part of something bigger than yourself”.

Assuming you’re fortunate enough to get plenty of suitable work there’s a lot to be said for freelancing. I got to work with a series of different people and companies over the years, so there’s variety in ideas and working methods. I had a variety of work, and managed to do something new on almost every project, so I was always learning. Most projects were interesting and different in some way; not too many dull, “We need a company website,” tasks. The paying work paid enough that I only needed to do it around half the time, so I had plenty of time for personal projects (in retrospect, more of it should perhaps have been used for not typing into a computer).

And freelancing can be wonderfully simple. I was usually hired because there was a temporary role to be filled and a job to be completed. I’d complete the work, get paid, and move on to the next job, not necessarily in that order. I was fortunate enough to avoid long-term commitments, or having to maintain multiple projects over long periods of time. While there’s some administrative work involved in freelancing, being a gun-for-hire is nicely simple.

However, I think it’s hard to keep up this style of work over the long term. Eventually this routine — get hired, complete a project, move on — can become monotonous, and it did for me. Most of the projects were of a similar size. If it was programming work I was generally the only developer, or the only one involved in a particular aspect (back- or front-end). So, while I was always learning new technologies, I rarely had the opportunity to collaborate directly with peers and learn from them. And with every project being similar in scale, I’d never learn much about how larger projects worked. And, as I was only ever around for the planning or building stage, I’d never be involved in the longer-term work of running a service, and everything that goes with that: maintenance, customer service, and building and improving a product over time.

To keep freelancing going for this length of time you need a good reason for doing so, to consciously know why it was the right thing to keep doing. If it gets you free time then maybe that’s the reason, whether you use it for side-projects, being with family, or sitting on the beach. Or maybe you have longer-term aims that are best achieved by being solo, by making a name for yourself rather than as part of a company. Or maybe your aim is to start a company, and freelancing seems like your best route into that.

But I didn’t really have those reasons and, ultimately, the convenience of freelancing’s simplicity became repetitive, and I wanted to be involved in something longer term. A product (or products, or service), a team, a company and a culture.

Obviously, it’s taken me a few years since realising that to finally get a job, mainly for the reasons I went freelance in the first place — there were few organisations I was really keen to work for, and I didn’t know how to find any others. Being a bit of a generalist, it was also hard to imagine having a job in a company, because advertised roles are often so specific. I wasn’t confident that I could fit in and be happy anywhere, through a combination of feeling simultaneously superior (“I’m so much more than just a developer!”) and inadequate (“I’ll never be good enough to be a proper developer!”).

But, here we are, and I now have a job. The fact that my job title — Creative Technologist — is the same as when I last had a job, at UpMyStreet.com, suggests a decade of jumping from one freelance project to another hasn’t done wonders for my career progression. Or, maybe, that it’s simply a usefully vague title for one of the flexible and ill-defined roles of which this industry has so many. Yes, that’s definitely the reason.

Shopcoat.