What I am, and have been, up to

It’s been a while since I posted anything about what I’m doing, so…

(Summary: I’m freelancing again. It’s fine.)

I left Berg a little over a year ago, shortly before it sadly wound down. I spent a few months last summer trying to work out where I would, ideally, like to work next. During that time I dabbled in the bizarro world of D3.js and spent way too long making a thing that no one, not even me, would find particularly useful. This seems to be a habit.

Towards the end of that summer I joined a new team at Citizens Advice who were starting to work out how to transform all the charity’s digital stuff: how to make their vast quantity of advice more usable and understandable, how to make the public site work better and do more, and how to improve on the tools their employees and volunteers use to help those most in need.

My contract expired at the end of March this year and I decided not to carry on, although the team is now growing and moving on to the next phase. You can see the content and tools we developed over those few months. I wrote the bulk of the code you see there and — taking the usual excuses and embarrassment about one’s own work as read — I’m reasonably pleased with it.

But I think I’m not cut out for working in large organisations like Citizens Advice. I realise the journey to making good, difficult, worthwhile stuff is rarely smooth but I get overly frustrated. The quiet contrariness in me simmers away as I keep my head down and do nothing but the internet typing, and that doesn’t feel like enough (for me to be happy or to be most useful). It’s probably a good thing that I never signed up to work on GOV.UK like so many of my friends; I can’t imagine what I’d have made of the civil service. More than ever, you all have my mystified admiration.

And so, now…? Right now I’m back to freelancing. For the next 2-3 months I’m spending some time with the very lovely folk of Failbetter Games doing front-end development, and the rest of my time putting together a site for another client using Craft, a CMS which looks good so far.

After that? Maybe more freelancing, but I’m not sure.

I first gave freelancing a go back in 2003, when I left UpMyStreet.com, because I had no idea where I wanted to work. I wanted to work somewhere I felt excited about, and eager enough to do a great job, but I couldn’t think where that was. So I tried freelancing and a decade later I was still at it.

(I feel obliged to acknowledge that being able to ponder “where do I want to work?” is an absurd luxury when there are plenty of people with skills and knowledge scrabbling to make any kind of living.)

A dozen years later I feel like little has changed. Freelancing is fine. It’s reasonably varied, and I’m fortunate enough that I seem able to work on fairly interesting projects with nice people and get enough of it. And there’s a simplicity to doing a discrete chunk of work somewhere then moving on. But all the reasons I wanted a change a few years ago still stand:

  • The scale of the work varies little — I usually work on small projects as the sole developer or the sole back- or front-end developer.

  • The work is quite narrow — the client needs x to be built, so there’s less involvement in other aspects of the project than there could be.

  • There’s no chance to build something over the longer term — this is the reverse of the enjoyable “simplicity” I mentioned above. Freelancers are rarely around long enough to see something grow (or not).

  • I’m only briefly part of a team — I won’t be around long enough to see a team change, develop, and learn to work well together over the long term.

  • It’s easy to stagnate — while it’s possible to keep learning new technical skills, there’s little scope to grow in terms of my role, whereas that might be more likely as part of a growing, developing organisation over a longer period.

Of course, this is comparing some bad aspects of freelancing with working in a mythically brilliant organisation. We could just as well compare the many benefits of freelancing with the downsides of the worst permanent roles.

But with that list nagging at me, I’m usually dissatisfied, wondering what it is that would excite me enough that I’d really, really want to join, or really, really want to start. And the longer I carry on with wondering, the higher the stakes feel, and the more perfect something would have to be for me to commit to it.

So, while freelancing is fine, I can’t help but constantly look around, trying in vain to find the place where the grass is not only greener, but, by now, the perfect shade of green. Maybe this is silly. I’ve been looking aimlessly around for so long. Maybe I should accept that standard green grass is fine, that this is fine.

So, that’s what I’m up to. It’s fine.

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10 May 2015 at Twitter

  • 8:56pm: @mikechamberlain Sure, thanks! But I'm busy for a bit and don't like to get committed way in the future. But never hurts to talk!
  • 7:05pm: @purplesime sounds great, well done!
  • 6:26pm: @purplesime Thanks! I can completely understand the desire to start a company - I hope it's worked out well.
  • 5:36pm: @tomstuart Oh, thank you!
  • 5:21pm: RSS crew: no need to stress and click that link. You can read it or ignore it in your own time. No pressure. Relaxed Simple Syndication.
  • 5:21pm: I wrote about what I’m up to. I’m freelancing again. It’s fine. gyford.com/phil/writing/2…
  • 9:07am: The important issues facing the country today. Vote now!
  • 9:06am: Does anyone in the world know the difference between “cushioned” or “responsive” sockliners on Nike trainers? I’ll only use them for walking

10 May 2015 in Links