Like all of us, I imagine, I spend an amount of my time thinking about what I will do next professionally, and the more that I think about it, the more I am certain that while I might perhaps enjoy the pursuit of and attaining of a “C-Level” job in my field, either as a CTO or even a CEO in the IT / Software game, that frankly I may not want that after all.
I have blogged about this before, that I would like to develop games, that perhaps I would like to run my own company, but the third option, that I have not really talked about that much, is that I might just quite like to spend the rest of my working life as a consultant, a jobbing coder and system architect working for companies that want to effect a culture change specifically in the way that they build software, or even carry out a project that needs a fresh pair of eyes or a different set of skills.
The thing that I am bound to wonder at this point is do these kinds of gigs exist? The experience of some of my professional contacts would seem to suggest that they do. The guys who founded Juxt, who I know a bit through the Clojure community in London are essentially doing this, exactly this, by running their own company. While I was at the BBC I met a couple of consultants who were doing this kind of thing by themselves, one way or another, and I realise now that I probably should have asked them at the time how they made that step from nine-to-five into picking their own hours.
I expect that the truth of the matter is that while they pick the hours that they work specifically on other people’s projects, they spend a lot of time networking, researching, blogging and trying things out so as to be “of use”, and that while it might well look like the best way to work there are doubtless some drawbacks as well.
What might be the advantages of this third way, this consultancy life? Well, as long as I had enough work, as long as I made enough money then I suppose I could make different choices about spending time with my family than I can as a nine-to-five operative, at least when I am able to. What I do know about the people that I have met and got to know who choose this path, is that there are times when they have to be away from their families, times when the trade off for freedom is travel and distance and that it is often at short notice. If I stay in the nine-to-five world I stand a chance of seeing my kids every day or almost anyway, but what if I choose this path and while I get the freedom I am looking for, I also have to disappear on short notice for days or weeks at a time?
There is a fourth way, I suppose, which is to look for a permanent, or at least steady, telecommute position with an established company and work nine-to-five (or the appropriate time zone shifted equivalent) for and with people that I never meet in person. I am not against this idea by any stretch of the imagination, in fact I quite like the idea in some ways, but again I wonder how easy such jobs are to come by. I have taken a look at Stack Overflow jobs, specifically the “Work from Anywhere” section, and my biggest concern would be that the good jobs seem to be in the US, and as such would likely have me working a weird offset of the day. Still that might work out quite well; being able to take the kids to school in the mornings, family dinners while transatlantic colleagues were taking lunch? Something to think about.
Clearly there are no easy answers. The obvious step to take when I make my next move is to look for a CTO position, I have all the experience and knowledge that I need at this point and hopefully by the time it comes I will have another provable case study under my belt for a successful, transformative project, so I could make that step without it being an over-reach. I could take everything that I’ve learned so far and one of the two or three ideas that I am hanging on to and start my own business. There is a lot of risk, in some cases a greater or lesser amount depending on the endeavour, but certainly the idea that I am most interested in pursuing would be a lot of risk and an act of stepping a very long way outside my comfort zone. Perhaps not… And so I come back to the idea of consultancy…