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Afternoon Pages: June 27th, 2020

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I've been locking myself down until I think it's safe to go out again. To alleviate fear and stress, my writer's group has put together a daily “morning pages” get-together on Zoom in order to touch base before starting the day. Here's some of my brief thoughts.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh his tail curls up when you pet him!!

So many adorable photos and videos, so hard to choose!

I don't think I've really written this week, or done anything else besides working on a greenfield project for a client. The client's been excellent, I have complete autonomy for this phase of development and generally pleased with my progress. Most of my problems are on my end and have to deal with me. Let me see whether I can enumerate them.

I have a strong tendency to work too hard. Now that I'm at my parent's place, there's really no restrictions on how hard I can work. So usually it's between 9:00AM to 1:30 to 2:00AM in the morning, with very short lunch/dinner/bathroom breaks. Definitely not healthy. In recent days, I've had to take an afternoon nap in order to recharge, because I'm so dazed from working so hard that I can't really walk straight, let alone think straight. My rule of thumb is as long as I can produce output worth the time, it's worth keeping at it. Otherwise, break or no break, the output is the same, so might as well take the break.

I take my work too seriously. I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say about the project, but I built out a feature I thought would be useful for the client yesterday that took me most of the day, and I think the reception to that feature was lukewarm perhaps because the client valued that time-to-ship. I really wanted that feature for myself, and I don't think it's a waste of time (thought it'll take a lot more effort to make it production-ready), but I might have been much better off had I asked the client what exactly they wanted. Gambling on using time to “wow” a client doesn't always turn out the way you expect, especially if they're coming from different backgrounds and have different priorities.

I badly underestimated my own readiness at creating a SaaS product from the ground up. Things like frontends, which like many end-user clients I generally dismiss as things to be built cheaply and to throw away, still take some time in order to get up and running. I tried deploying a server publicly and it instantly crashed, because I wired the server to my personal website's DNS namespace and because it's heavily indexed, a whole bunch of requests from random crawlers came in and crashed the server. I understood that I didn't have too much in terms of security, but I didn't realize that without basic security measures, the server would become unusable.

Mostly though, I am grateful, albeit tired. I'm pretty happy with the money from the client, and I think I trust them to pay them on time (unlike some other clients I've worked for that have not). I'm pretty happy that the contract is non-exclusive (to the best of my memory), which means I'll be able to take my existing learnings and bake it into my infrastructure. This means I can help other potential customers, and have work for other customers (if using the same agreement) to help my existing client. It means I get to keep what I earn. If I do choose to invest in this space, the original estimate I made for the customer should be perfectly fine in getting product shipped out the door, and either I wouldn't need to work so hard or I can devote time/energy to gaining new customers, or working on my own personal software projects that I can hope to monetize.

Given the way the world is right now, and what it might look like in 10-15 years, I really value the optionality that comes from contracting. If I did get another job, I'll probably be doing the same stuff over and over again, reduced to a line worker, because companies like uniformity. This would make me far more vulnerable to being laid off or have salaries and benefits cut without being able to do anything about it. If I were to “boomerang” around different companies in order to look for a substantial pay increase (because that's the only way to level up in the software world), then I'd have to leave behind all my coworkers and progress and start fresh over again, which is a tremendous waste of time and energy. You can't invest in things to stay the same if you don't control the events behind them.

Most of all, I worry about my physical safety. If a manager didn't like you, or didn't care about you, they could easily off you by ordering you into the office during a pandemic, then fire you immediately after you get sick so that you don't waste the company's health insurance (not explicitly, but “at-will” employment means you can be fired for any reason, so just give another one not protected my the law). That's not including illegal things companies can do to you as an employee, which from my current point of view looks more like a suggestion or a money+time price to pay rather than an actual safeguard.

So I'm glad the truth is finally coming into view and that I'm possibly positioned to leverage it. There is no safety in resting on my laurels, there never was any safety. If I stick with contracting, I can re-negotiate agreements that aren't to my liking. Since contracts naturally run out, I'd have to practice and exercise that muscle often, which should mean I get better at negotiating every time. It's also more socially acceptable to negotiate a new contract than to re-negotiate an old one. If I build everything I keep, I'm accumulating my own knowledge base and intellectual property, as opposed to working for a company that will keep the work I've done for itself after they fire me. It's a lot of upfront work, but in exchange I should have a lot more independence and freedom and much less risk exposure to Black Swan (and honestly some not-so-black swan events), which ultimately is what I want out of my career.

We'll see what happens, but I don't think the status quo I've accepted in the past is acceptable now. I don't think I'd rather starve to death than go through the last three years again. But I know I'm much happier eating gruel for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I got to keep my freedom. Because I've done it.