In the last six months I’ve come a long way in figuring out how I want to configure my work / life. I think I’ve finally figured out a pattern which ticks all the boxes.
Last year was a bit of rollercoaster for me. I started the year plans to put Twivel, the startup I had been working on the year before, on ice. Then things took an interesting turn when a customer was interested in entering into a joint venture and supporting the development of Twivel. Things got even more interesting a few months later when they financially imploded, forcing me to scramble for consulting work to pay my shiny, new London mortgage.
On the upside, I could not have landed at a better place. I spent four months working with the Wellcome Trust, who are a remarkable organisation that manage a £23bn endowment which funds world-changing biomedical research. The only downside was that the work I was doing was often not so different from what I was doing in 2008: building neat stuff on Drupal.
Towards the end of the year I was back in a place where I could think about what to do next. My passion for building a businesses and products was only strengthened by my experience with Twivel and I was keen to get back on the mat (as we say in judo).
Given that I didn’t have another idea to work on (or the means to fund it) it seemed like I faced a choice: stick with Drupal consulting and make money but remain intellectually static or join an existing startup and make a financial sacrifice but gain more knowledge and experience.
After a few chats and interviews at different places, I ended up as employee number 1 and CTO at EmpowerRD, a fintech startup. Without going into too much detail, EmpowerRD are really interesting company that brings transparency, efficiency and massive value for money to one of the murkier areas of tech finance: R&D tax credits. The company has a brilliant value proposition and a founder with unparalleled domain expertise.
I thoroughly enjoyed building out the core product, the intelectual challenge of converting complex workflows to code and the creative freedom that comes with having technical ownership of a product. However, after a few months, slowly at first and then with growing certainty, I got the feeling that this wasn’t the best possible thing I could be doing with myself at the time. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great thing to be doing but I felt it just wasn’t the right fit for where I wanted my life to go.
I realised I’m world class at figuring things out as I go along, and that can get you really far.
Simultaneously I was spending a lot of time thinking about what to do next. I realised a few things that both surprised me and helped cement my thinking on what to do next:
- I’m a pretty good developer but I’m excellent at working at the intersection of tech / product / delivery and business. Instead of comparing myself to the neckbeards of Hacker News and feeling inadequate, I should double down on the areas where, as a VC would say, I have an unfair advantage.
- I don’t need more experience for what I want to do in life, I just need to do it. We often think that people in senior positions need uniquely valuable experience and to aspire to be in a position of importance without that would be irresponsible. It is not (unless you’re writing self-driving car software or negotiating Brexit). I realised I’m world class at figuring things out as I go along, and that can get you really far.
- Boring, well paid contracting vs interesting, less well paid startup job is a false dichotomy. I could make an excellent living with interesting, high value-add consulting around my strengths mentioned in point 1.
For me, these three realisations are a big deal. They have reframed the way I look at what I can work on and what I can achieve. Without the Twivel -> Wellcome -> EmpowerRD process, it would have taken me much longer to get here.
All of which is a circuitous way of saying: I’m back in the consulting game while I search for the Next Big Thing. There are a few differences though. Firstly, I’m focusing my time on helping organisations at the intersection of tech / product / delivery rather than pure development.
I’m focusing my time on helping organisations at the intersection of tech / product / delivery
Secondly, I’m focusing on part time or shorter engagements so I have dedicated tinkering time to work on my own projects both new and old. I’ve only been in the new routine for a month or so but it feels like just the right configuration for what I want to do with my life at the moment.
Speech flower fragment
Acrylic, collage, print transfer on canvas, 100 x 100cm
Lynne Cameron 2017 (my mum!)