This is a continuation of my first post – you can read it here.
When you work on a project in your own time, on your own terms, you learn what it means to create something new. It’s the second most important thing you can do to advance your skills, and the only thing more important than that is finding sensible and well-rounded people to eat lunch with on a daily basis. Actually, it can endear you to a special set of people who also create new works, and thus, you can more easily convince them to eat lunch with you. In my last post, I mentioned that I spent 5 months of unemployment working on a web application that I intended to run as a business if I didn’t find a job, but ended up putting it aside permanently when I got my first “real” job at a software startup as a sysadmin. A few years later, I received a referral from a friend for a programming position at a financial company in Santa Monica by the name of Dimensional Fund Advisors. The hiring manager was Andy Baio, the author of one of the most influential linkblogs on the Internet, waxy.org.
It turned out that the thing which interested Andy most was the project I’d worked on during those 5 long months of halfhearted job searching. Although it was unfinished, I showed him and his boss the demo, and they were impressed to see another person who works on personal projects on the Internet with no outside pressure or motivation. Well, I suppose they were impressed, because I got the job. Over the next couple of years, I took on some seemingly insurmountable programming challenges corresponding to complex business needs, and I also got to know a wonderful cabal of lunch partners at Dimensional.
All of that was pretty great and lucky by itself, but it got even greater and luckier when I started helping Andy work on Upcoming.org in his free time. It was a small, niche web 2.0 collaborative event calendar, and I could see some areas where I could assist in getting features online quickly. I was once again burning the midnight oil working on a project outside of work, just for the joy of seeing programming make things better. It was through this lucky break that I ended up becoming a co-founder of Upcoming, which was acquired by Yahoo a month after I’d finished my major daytime work project and resigned from Dimensional in good spirits.
The amazing thing about this part of my story is that I’d never really made anything of that personal project for years, but that seed that was planted bore far more fruit than anything else I’ve done in my programming career thus far. I was headed into one of the big Internet companies of Silicon Valley as an entrepreneur, and I was about to be humbled, adapt, and then grow once again as a programmer.
To be continued in Part 3…