This post has been long overdue. So here goes!
There are a few times in life when you are forced to make a tough choice, either due to self-will or due to the circumstances around you, or both, in some cases. A year ago I took the decision to quit my day job as a full-time software developer in an IT firm and start out as a freelance consultant. This was the time when the IT industry had just broken the ‘recession’ waters and me branching out as an independent then was a bold move even by aggressive standards. So how has the journey been so far? A brief look-back at the sojourn.
Its funny, but I still haven’t been able to pin my decision of quitting the full-time guaranteed-salary-plus-perks job on a particular reason. Maybe there were many reasons. I’ll try and be as less controversial, yet honest, as possible. I was sure of one thing – I did not want to live someone else’s life anymore. Plus, if I was good at the job that I was doing and people liked it, why couldn’t I work for myself? That made sense.
I still remember Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech, in which he urged everyone to look into the mirror every morning and to think this over –
“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”
And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
I knew the time had come to throw off the bowlines and sail out. There would also be relatively more freedom, I thought, of choosing the work which I wanted to do. I had also started lecturing to college students in a few technical subjects then (something which I loved) and often found it hard to juggle time for both tasks. I have always been a dreamer and there were many other aspects of life to explore, which called for passion and required free time. Being an independent would give me a little bit more time than I had then; or at least that’s what I thought. Did it really happen? Read on.
‘Money’. But obvious isn’t it! When you are independent, whatever money you earn or loose, both in quantity and value, is directly related to your vision, efforts, will and luck. I knew achieving financial stability would not be an overnight task, but rather a long and steady process, and would depend on the opportunities I get, and more importantly – the ones I ‘convert’. Plus, I always wanted to be a man of quality and value, and that was one of the reasons why I quit my job in the first place because I was tired of mediocrity. So this aspect too had to be balanced with money-inflow.
When you have ever supporting and equally adventurous yet practical parents, support is just round the corner! Some of my closest friends believed in me, and just that belief was probably good enough. It might sound too poetic, but I seriously believe that the good wishes of my family and close friends carried me through the initial phase. Among others, I’ll be forever indebted to Amruta, Bhakti and Dnyanprabha for knowing all and still ‘being there’ for me every single time. In general, this period helped me in separating the true friends (believers) from the superficial ones (non-believers). I drew inspiration from a few friends, like Aditya and Harshad, who have successfully tread on the freelancing path before. The support of Gokhale sir and Rama ma’am, two people I regard as my ‘friends-philosophers-guides’ too must be mentioned. Some incidences and resulting revelations were quite heart-breaking, but they too added to the experience of finding out the real people underneath the masks they wore.
Financially, I started out with some savings from my job days. I had some lecture schedules then at C-DAC’s Sunbeam Institute of Information Technology as well as at the Fergusson College (both institutes here in Pune) to keep me busy. There weren’t any real software developments projects on the anvil, so I decided to make good use of the sabbatical when the lecture schedules ended in November.
From December through March, I voraciously read not just technical books to update my knowledge, but also non-technicals books and novels to help me grow as a complete person. I read the complete Harry Potter books collection from JK Rowling and Dan Brown’s collection of fiction novels (Digital Fortress, Deception Point, Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol) among others. Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged‘ and ‘The Fountainhead‘ provided me much needed answers to the questions I had about friendships, relationships, business and life in general. I read Scott Berkun’s ‘Confessions of a Public Speaker‘ to aid my public interaction as a classroom lecturer, and a few other business-oriented books like Randall Stross’ ‘Planet Google‘ and Phil Baker’s ‘From Concept to Consumer‘. Being a huge history buff, I sharpened my knowledge on ancient Indian, European and American history through articles on the internet, mostly on Wikipedia, and any good books which I could lay my hands on, mostly at the British Library. I could dedicate some time to photography, and also to reading more about aero-modelling and airplanes in general, an old passion of mine. Did all this help? Certainly did. You could easily draw parallels and analogies between the stories in these books and life in general, even the world of software development!
I think that at some point of time everyone needs to look at themselves closely and analyze their ideas, beliefs and actions. This period certainly gave me that reflection-time. It was absolutely priceless!
In April I received an unexpected call from the Fergusson College’s Computer Science department to conduct a few lectures on Software Design Patterns. Frankly, I had never thought of studying this topic in detail, and now to teach it to students meant a big challenge. But when you are swimming in the water already, you don’t fear getting more wet, do you? I took up the challenge. Preparing for the lectures gave me an opportunity to delve into the topic, and I must say it was really enjoyable. Incidentally, I could use the some of analogies learnt from the fictional novels that I had read, in the lecture sessions while explaining some technical concepts. I can safely say now that the students ‘liked’ them if not ‘loved’ them 🙂
Return to software development
Around late-April I got a call from an old client of dad’s to come and visit him for some software development work he had in mind. I had a positive meeting with him and after a few presentations and discussions with the company’s ‘think-tank’, bagged my first real big software development project contract. The presentations themselves were something, because it was the first time that I was dealing with people almost twice my age, having tons and tons of experience! I had worked on cost estimation for a software project during my job days, but this was a totally different kettle of fish, and there were some really hilarious episodes there when I had to quote and re-quote! As I found out a few weeks later, this was just the beginning of the learning process 🙂
I was tasked with developing a software solution for designing and estimating the true cost of Cranes, a commonly used machine in material-handling systems. It was engineering college days all over again for me, as I had to re-learn concepts from basic physics and the laws and fundamentals of mechanics. Then I had to translate that knowledge into software code, and create a lightweight, relatively easy-to-use, yet fool-proof software with lots of permutations and combinations possible in the input parameters. The entire experience spread over almost four months, was priceless. On the last day of development, the highly meticulous tech advisor whom I worked with, took me and a friend of mine for dinner and said that he was very happy with my work. Well, you can now add the ‘memorable’ tag too to the experience 🙂
I was a consultant in the organization, which meant that apart from me and a couple of IT guys who looked after the computer systems and networking in that place, everybody else was from a non-computer background. Over the course of the development I had at least 25 different people walking up to me and enquiring what “exactly” I was doing there 🙂 It was fun answering the queries in as simple (non-geeky) a way as possible!
One thing I’ve always done since childhood is to keep my eyes and ears open for any kind of knowledge or information that comes my way. Sitting there and coding and listening to the stuff going on around me, I subconsciously picked up so many things about the working of the departments in the organization, for example, Human Resource Development, Accounts, Order Processing, Mechanical Design, Electrical Design, Purchase, Sales, Marketing. For me, this was worth its weight in gold, because in this roller-coaster ride called ‘life’ you never know when you’ll require a particular piece of information!
I was lucky enough to make some wonderful friends during these four months; friends whom I can relate with, which is so rare. I can just hope that these friendships strengthen over time 🙂
So, how did I fare?
When I started out as an independent a year ago, I had promised myself that I’ll evaluate my position every six months, both professionally and financially. This means that I’ve been through a couple of such self-evaluations. I’ll tell you what I concluded after these evaluations. I realized that success is much more than just 2 + 2 = 4. Professionally, it was great that I got a chance to work upon a different kind of assignment. It gave me a lot of satisfaction. Financially, I hadn’t expected to get a break this big in my first year as an independent consultant. So money-wise, that was sort of a relief. Obviously there is always room for improvement, and one could argue that I could have earned more if I had actively sought projects, but again as I said, the sabbatical at the start of the year was a blessing in disguise. Experience-wise, I feel I’ve grown by three years in just this one year! I put in my best efforts and I’m quite happy with the results. At the end of the day, that’s what counts the most.
The college lectures have continued to give me as much satisfaction as the software development work. I hope I can dedicate good amounts of time to both areas in the future too. In general, this year has provided me with far more free, yet valuable time than before. Its enabled me not just to recharge my mind, but also to pursue other hobbies and broaden perspectives.
I realize that this is just the start. There’s a long journey ahead and you never know what life might throw at you. They say that personal and professional lives should be kept separate. I don’t believe that. I feel that each one aids the other, and likewise each one affects the other. You’ve got to be alert. You have to be audacious enough to plan, and adaptable enough to change those plans to suit the situations.
I will end this post with one of my favorite songs. Its from the 1997 Disney animation movie ‘Hercules‘, and it gives a near perfect picture of my thoughts at this moment 🙂
“I have often dreamed
Of a far off place
Where a hero’s welcome
Would be waiting for me,
Where the crowds will cheer
When they see my face,
And a voice keeps saying
This is where I’m meant to be..
I’ll be there someday
I can go the distance,
I will find my way
If I can be strong,
I know every mile
Will be worth my while,
When I go the distance
I’ll be right where I belong..
Down an unknown road
To embrace my fate,
Though the road may wander
It will lead me to you,
And a thousand years
Would be worth the wait,
It may take a lifetime
But somehow I’ll see it through..
And I won’t look back
I can go the distance,
And I’ll stay on track
No I won’t accept defeat,
It’s an uphill slope
But I won’t loose hope
Till I go the distance
And my journey is complete..
But to look beyond the glory is the hardest part,
For a hero’s strength is measured by his heart..
Like a shooting star
I will go the distance,
I will search the world
I will face its harms,
I don’t care how far
I can go the distance,
Till I find my hero’s welcome
Waiting in your arms..
I will search the world,
I will face its harms,
Till I find my hero’s welcome
Waiting in your arms..”