On Funemployment (and My Next Job)

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In software development, we don't generally worry about unemployment. We're so used to being in high demand that we have enthusiastically embraced a relatively recent euphamism for the term, in fact: funemployment. The idea is that since things will work out, we should enjoy the time off while we can. This was a "luxury" I've never enjoyed. Since I had a paper route when I was 13 years old, I've been steadily employed, never taking a break. 23 straight years of employment.

Until now.

Hello, Goodbye

It had been 6 weeks at my new job with Wantful, and late yesterday afternoon, I found myself tweeting:

This seriously bummed me out. Not just because I was without a job, but because I had been having such a blast at Wantful. They had a phenomenal team, and I was getting to work with Ben Scofield once again. Speaking of which, working with Ben Scofield is highly recommended. You should definitely try it.

I was also getting to work on some really fun problems, cleaning up older code, making drastic performance improvements, and extracting and improving our recommendations engine. Not bad for 6 weeks' time. And I was being compensated really well to have all this fun. Have I mentioned how much I love my work?

As quickly as it had all begun, it was gone.

Remembering to Breathe

And so, with the actual announcement, it became real. I'm "funemployed." I'd seen friends mention that they were doing the funemployment thing before on Twitter, and always been a little bit jealous, somewhere in the back of my mind. But now that it's happening to me, it's very odd. I suddenly have the time to do so many of the things I had been meaning to get to. I ran into a weird error message in Ruby (during an interview, no less), and I didn't have to wish I had time to fix it. I just forked it and submitted a PR. I've caught up on some open issues in repos I manage. I've made plans to reconnect with friends I haven't had time to chat with in far too long, and only some of those friends will be trying to recruit me.

I've also got time to take a step back and examine what I want in my next job. More importantly, to state publicly that I'm looking for work, and describe what I'd like to be doing, who I'd like to be doing it with, and under what conditions. That's new to me. It's also seriously empowering. Frighteningly so, in some ways. Based on the number of contacts I've received in the past day, I've come to one conclusion: If my next job is a poor fit, it won't be because I only had a few options to choose from. It'll be for one of two reasons:

  1. I chose poorly. This would also be the case if I joined a company that misrepresented itself, since choosing to work with liars is always a poor choice.
  2. I'm simply not good enough to get the job I want.

Here's where the rubber meets the road. While my previous happiness formula post set out some general attributes I look for (or don't) in a job, it seems that now would be the time to get much more specific.

My Next Job

My next job will be remote-friendly. I have no plans to relocate. Is it possible that my next job could convince me to relocate? I don't think so. That is to say, there are more possibilities in the universe than I can possibly account for, so I can't say it is impossible, but it would likely involve circumstances and/or compensation that I can't even imagine right now, so I think it would be unfair to lead anyone on by implying I'd consider moving. If you'd like to try to convince me anyway, go right ahead. You'd better be good.

My next job will not be a contract. 1099 gigs are a huge pain in the neck, from both a tax and relationship standpoint. While I've made the case that all employment is on an "at will" basis, and that's certainly true, I have no interest in working with someone who has a "try before you buy" mentality about me. Samples of my work are readily available for anyone to peruse. I've got a résumé (does anyone still use those?) and plenty of people who will vouch that I am a decent human being who can do what I claim I can. I've seen (and interviewed) far too many people who pass themselves off as more capable than they really are to know that it just wastes everyone's time.

My next job will compensate me better than I think I deserve. That sounds crazy, I know. As someone who has always battled impostor syndrome and gets surprised by the offers he's received, I'm going on past experience here. I was chatting with Zach Briggs earlier today about this experience, and he made the same point that I've heard before: "It's a free market, you're worth what the market will pay." That doesn't mean I won't still think you're paying me too much. That's actually just fine. This is a win-win. I don't have to worry about money, and you don't have to worry about me being a flight risk. If I leave, it won't be because of the paycheck. It'll be because I'm not in love with the work. Which brings me to the next thing.

My next job will involve work that makes me want to program wet and naked.

That probably needs some explanation. Do you know how, when you get a really tough problem to work on, or you are just making great progress on an app you're really excited about, you go to bed thinking about how to accomplish what's next? For me, I generally wake up thinking about it, too. Many of my past "aha!" moments have come when I'm in the shower. I've found myself resisting the urge to step out of the shower and immediately go write the code that's in my head. That's what I mean by "a job that makes me want to program wet and naked." Some of the most fulfilling moments of my career have occurred on projects like that.

My next job will stretch me. I constantly strive to feel stupid, or, as Chad Fowler says in The Passionate Programmer, to "be the worst". When I'm not being stretched, I'm shriveling up. This means my next job will put me in contact with people who constantly remind me how much more there is to learn, and will encourage me to tackle things that are at the edges of my ability. The best things I've ever accomplished in this life have been because I undertook a task before I realized I had no business even attempting it.

My next job will give me opportunities to share what I've learned. I've discovered that I really love teaching, and I want to be able find time to give back to my coworkers and my community.

My next job will expect me to make a difference. This is easier in small companies than in large ones. When you're 1/7th of a team, there's no mistaking everything you do will have an impact on the company. I've been kindly informed I've made differences in larger companies, as well, so I know it's possible. It's just harder. Either way, my next company won't expect me to be a cog in the machine, but will value the unique perspective I (and all of its employees) bring to the conversation. It'll trust me enough to empower me to accomplish things.

My next job will encourage me to take advantage of speaking opportunities. I've really enjoyed the results of my new year's resolution to speak, and I want to keep doing it, without feeling guilty about the time being invested in my community and myself.

That's it?

No, but this seems like a pretty decent start. I'm sure there's stuff I'm forgetting or taking for granted. I'd love to hear what your list of must-haves in a job are. Please share in the comments.

Oh, and since I'm actively looking for a job, I should probably let any prospective employers know how to get in touch:

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