I have recently decided to make the move from an independent subcontractor to a full-time employee with Universal Mind. This is a big decision for me, one that I’ve been debating for a while now. I’ll try to explain my thinking a little. My official job title will be Principal Software Engineer, pretty pimp huh?
Building the team
We’re building a badass team to dominate the Flex world. Honestly, we’re bringing together the best developers, no question about it. One reason I decided to come on full time is so I can have more influence over that team. One of the best parts of my job is getting to work with some of the smartest guys I know. Guys who teach me new stuff every day on a project. The full time move gives me more pull to attract developers I want to work with. It shows I’m committed to what we’re doing and that there’s a reason to come work with us rather than some other Flex company. Now I really get to build this team. I have a say in who we hire. The biggest draw for me is the chance to work with rockstar developers, and at one point I thought maybe the best option was to branch out independently and get a kick-ass group of guys together to do our own thing. Then I started to realize that we already have a pretty badass team at UM, and in the last month we’ve brought on some ridiculous talent. So if I want to work with the best guys, we seem to be pulling them into UM already, so I might as well take that and run with it.
The product and intellectual challenges
We’re going to be raising the bar for mapping applications. If you think the ability to plot points (oooh, different colors even!) on a Google map is the definition of awesome mapping technology then we’re going to blow you away. I’ve been working as a subcontractor for the past 8 months and a lot of my time has been spent on a project dubbed LaunchPAD. We’re taking mapping to a whole new level. I made a video a month ago showing off some of the stuff I’ve been working on. That’s just scratching the surface. You ain’t seen nothing yet.
One of my biggest concerns about taking a full time job is that the day to day work will get stale. The consulting world offers a unique opportunity to work for short periods on varied projects. Some people like this, some people don’t. I found that it was a great fit for me mentally. I got to go into a random company, learn about the cool stuff they’re doing, and help them out. Then a few weeks later I got to go to a completely new project in a completely different field and solve different problems. If you ever get bored with a project you only have to deal with it for a few weeks or months, then you get to leave the poor suckers who work full time on the project to deal with it for the rest of their lives while you go off and do something fun (I’m not actually speaking from experience here, I loved all my projects, but I always viewed this aspect as a big plus for consulting).
The full-time move with UM is a bit more than a simple shift in employment status. It also represents a shift from being a normal consultant (ie jumping project to project) to focusing primarily on the mapping stuff we’re doing. When I was first considering this my immediate concern was that I would get bored working on the same project for more than a few months. Now, after digging in deeper in the online mapping/GIS space I’ve become confident that there’s enough breadth within this area to hold my interest and keep me challenged. Figuring out how to leverage mapping for a police department is quite different than for a farming company, or a public health organization. There are a lot of fundamental technical challenges (like how to draw client-side heatmaps, or how to visualize millions of data points) that are common to many of the scenarios, but each implementation brings unique things you can’t anticipate. And the fact that my software is going to be used in a police department just makes me feel badass.
And I won’t be spending 100% of my time on the same project. I forget the proposed split, but it’s understood that I’ll have a certain number of weeks allocated to consulting for clients (gotta help UM pay the bills somehow…). So I’ll get to focus on mapping, but still jump on fun consulting projects throughout the year.
The lifestyle and commitment issues
The move to full time won’t actually have much of an effect on the lifestyle I’ve grown to love while being a subcontractor. I’ll still be working from home in San Francisco. I’ll still have flexibility in setting my daily schedule. One big difference is that I’m now expected to work a certain amount throughout the year. I have allocated vacation time, which is good because I get paid for doing nothing, but bad because I’m expected to not take much more than the time I get. As a subcontractor I could decide to take time off between projects for as long as I wanted. Sure, I wouldn’t get paid for these breaks, but I had the flexibility to take a few weeks off and travel, or just chill out.
One of the biggest mental hurdles for me was the shift in thinking about time. The time scale for a decision like this is in years, as opposed to weeks or months when I was a subcontractor. Before, I would go from one project to another, but often wouldn’t know what I would be doing next after my current project was over. I might have some time off, I might jump straight onto another project. There was a certain unknown aspect to that lifestyle that appealed to me. I don’t have kids, I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t need to know that I have work lined up for the next few years. I don’t like planning. For most things in my life I don’t plan beyond a month or two. I just bought my plane tickets to Europe for Christmas last week. I knew I was going for months. I just don’t like planning. I won’t try to psychoanalyze myself here (my girlfriend is a psychologist, so that’s her department), but I’ll just say that the shift in time scale was a difficult mental challenge for me.
So what does this mean?
- It means Universal Mind is badass. We got some of the best Flex talent in the world, no question (and I’m not being an egotistical ass, I’m referring to everyone else working with UM). I won’t even tell you how ridiculous the Flex job market is right now. If you know Flex you can get a bazillion jobs anywhere. If you’re the best you can come work with us.
- It means Flex mapping is going to explode. We’re going to make some crazy shit.
- It means you can call me a sell-out for taking a full time job, but you have to do so to my face, not like a wuss in the comments.
- It means the emails about new jobs or consulting gigs can stop coming in now… thanks. I’m spoken for.