A look back before going forward

This last Thursday, December 7, I finished my latest paying consulting gig. And I have nothing lined up for the next few weeks. This will give me time to do a few things I had planned for pjtrix.com and my “web presence” since this summer, but which I just couldn’t get to in all these months.

2006 has been a tough year for me. The first two months were good, but then funds ran out and my two-year project was cancelled in February. I had a good two years working on bringing open source to a university’s curriculum and student body. But there were a lot of things about our work environment we didn’t know going in, which made the work difficult going at times.

In March 2006, I decided to hang my shingle as a web developer for hire. This has been a very bumpy ride. I had cash reserves to live on between projects, but these were depleted every time I didn’t have work for more than a few weeks (and there were a few of these times, making for a stressful year.) I should have had deeper reserves before starting this new lifestyle and should have worked more proactively in cutting down on frivolous expenses (a few too many trips to Borders, Starbucks, and Pizzeria Uno when I had money coming in, which meant less money saved for the lean times. Live and learn, I guess.)

Now I am in the same boat: in between projects, with no next project in sight. But things are actually looking up, don’t fret. I recognized my mistake soon enough, and changed my spending habits during the last five weeks of this last project. This resulted in deeper reserves this once. I should be OK well into January.

If for any reason I can’t find any more freelance work, I know I have the skills and experience to work as an software development consultant with IBM Global Services, Optaros, Thoughtworks, and other companies of that kind. I am confident I can find more freelance work before things get ugly, but I also have to be realistic and proactive in securing work. I have already sent my résumé to several places.

In the meantime, I also have a plan to get more high-paying freelance work in 2007. My plan is to take less “brochure website” projects, which can be built in a few weeks with an open source CMS such as Drupal and bits of custom PHP. I have a sliding hourly rate scale, and CMS and other “simple web work” are at the bottom of that scale. Add a significant amount of AJAX “effects” and user interaction complexity to the CMS or website, and the rate goes up, as it takes more effort to get the navigation and feel right with these.

Because CMS-type projects pay less and are typically for a short term, I should try to take on fewer of these. The better projects are at the higher end of the scale.

At the middle of the tier are long-term custom development projects, building systems from scratch with Ruby on Rails, Python and Django, or Java EE and Spring MVC or RIFE. Topping the chart are mentoring teams in Extreme Programming, Java EE, Spring, RIFE, Ruby on Rails, Django, and maybe even in Drupal.

There are also other platforms, such as the Mozilla XULRunner Runtime Environment, that have been growing recently (Songbird, ZAP!, WengoPhone, and The Venice Project), but which have rather significant skilled staff shortages. ActiveGrid is another platform where broad expertise in XForms, XPath, BPEL, and web services, could bring in high paying projects, as the technologies involved are just not that well known. Learning these platforms will help make me a more marketable asset.

All this is moot if potential customers don’t know I have these skills. So the plan for the next few weeks is to write up blog posts about these technologies and my experience with them. Maybe I’ll try my hand at videoblogging and make a screencast or two.

So that’s the plan anyhow. Let’s see what 2007 brings out of these strategies.

Happy holidays and a prosperous 2007 to my four faithful readers! :-)

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About dreadpiratepj

I have been goofing around with computers since May 1978, when I was about seven years old. For the past decade, I've even managed to have people pay me for this! Suckers! :-)
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2 Responses to A look back before going forward

  1. Ken Nelson says:

    Season’s Greetings, PJ. It takes guts to strike out on one’s own. You’ve made it nearly a year, which is a milestone for independents and small business.

    Sometimes financial lessons are best learned via SHK (The School of Hard Knocks). 😉 Sounds like you’ve graduated.

    Good look in landing a new situation; I’m looking forward to whatever you have to say about web technologies; that’s an area I know next to nothing about. I can’t even spell the acronyms :)

    Best wishes for Christmas, and a blessed and successful 2007.


  2. Merry Christmas, Ken! Once again, your thoughts are appreciated.

    I should have the first of many web technologies posts coming out over the next few days. I’ll try to bring everyone up to speed as we go along. :-)

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