It’s been almost a month since I’ve updated my LiveJournal. I see I wrote then, “I feel like I should be taking an entirely computer-free day, but that’s hard for me to manage.” Both parts of that statement are even more true right now, but especially the first one.
It’s a kind of perverse state to be in: I’ve been working with computers almost daily since I was in elementary school, and while I’d decided I wanted to be a writer by the time I graduated high school the truth is that I’ve always made a living working with computers. I’d decided earlier this year that if I ever went back to school (God help me) it would be to backfill the foundation in computer science that I never actually had. The contract I’m on now that’s not quite keeping my head above water1 is for web development. The jobs I’m trying to get? Web development again. Hell, the main move I’d like to make is from doing PHP-based development to Python-based development…which is something I’m hoping Claw & Quill will help with, since right now I’m facing a chicken-and-egg problem (nobody will give me a job using Python/Django because I haven’t had a job using Python/Django).
And right now I am really sick of staring at computer code.
I’m dragging on the contract work because I’m having so much trouble focusing.2 I have contacts from recruiters that I’m procrasting returning. Granted, in part it’s because the contract work is, as it turns out, likely to run another month, and my assumption that I’d be able to start another job while finishing up the contract work is likely to prove false. But honestly, it’s in part because I just don’t want to deal with code.
I have a friend who’s been a freelancer for years now, doing desktop publishing work rather than coding. I’ve occasionally thought about following in his footsteps for web development/design—and in a way I’m experiencing it now. I can take two (or three or four) hour lunches. I can work at my desk or in the living room or on the balcony or at the Chili’s in San Bruno or pretty much anywhere I can set up the laptop and get email. (When I started writing this I was, in fact, at said Chili’s.)
But really, I’m always on the clock. If I decide I’m just not up to working right this moment, nobody’s going to fire me—but the work still needs to get done. I may be working on a weekend or past midnight. Stuff I need for my job may come on somebody else’s schedule, and it’s somebody who’s paying me, so I can’t just lean across the cubicle wall and say, “Hey, get off your butt.”
People will tell you that the plus of this lifestyle is that you’re doing what you love, and have freedom that you can’t match with an office job. We like to think that working on our own terms is worth nearly any reduction in salary. Well, we’d better think that. I have another friend who’s a tech consultant in Florida. Between him and the friend out here? Most years both of them could be making more money at Starbucks.3
Okay, two isn’t a huge sample size, and I know of freelance designers/developers who’ve raked in the money. But the guys who talk about making more money than they ever did at their office jobs are really good. This isn’t to say the guys I know aren’t good or that I’m not good, but we are not “being actively sought to teach at conferences” good. Being on the 10% side of the Sturgeon Line gets you enough not to be starving and homeless, but you need to be in the top half of that top 10% to keep up with the guys who stayed in the cubicles—and in the top half of that half to be doing it every year. It’s not a pleasant truth, but it’s a truth.
And the really perverse thing is? Right now I’m still in love with the idea of working on my own terms.
1. Technically, the job will have a bigger payout at its end, but the whole thing is flat rate plus potential royalties, and the checks I’m getting now are advances against the flat rate.
2. To be fair to myself, I’ve actually been averaging 40 lines of code a day the past few, which isn’t completely slouching.
3. No, I’m not kidding. According to Fortune, a “Coordinator II” at a Starbucks—an hourly, not salaried, position—averages $35K annually.