Some thoughts on freelancing, working from home and next steps in my career

It’s been almost a year and a half now since this whole ‘working from home’ thing started. What at first seemed like something that would last a couple of weeks, or maybe a month or two max, has turned out to be a much longer-lasting phenomenon. And while at first I really enjoyed all the extra time gained by no longer having to commute for 1.5 to 2 hours every day (why did I do that for 14 years in the first place?), like so many other people I’ve talked to I too have started longing for a (partial) return to the office. Or at least for more opportunities to get out of the house!

So, what have I been up to since March of last year? I’ve delivered a lot of training sessions, most of them, unsurprisingly, online. Those few days where I was allowed to teach on site really felt like an elementary school field trip.. Yay, I get to get out of the house!

Next to that, I’ve been working on two open source libraries, and as the people I’ve worked with were located around the world, that too I did from the increasingly familiar surroundings of my own kitchen or bedroom.

And while I’ve been really lucky to not have been out of work (many others have been much less fortunate), somewhere at the beginning of this year I, too, hit a bump in the road. Pretty much focusing full time on delivering training, preparing for training sessions and finding new clients caught up with me, and one morning while walking outside it hit me that something really had to change if I didn’t want to crash big time.

I decided that the only way to find the time and space to think about how to find a sustainable balance between all the things I like to do was to clear out my agenda for all of February. This meant that I had to disappoint some of the people that I was looking forward to work with, and that still bothers me even months later, but this really was the only option I had.

The time off and the space to think that this gave me made me realize that I needed some more stability in my workload, and the best way to find that was to start a long term consultancy project again. One that gave me the flexibility to still deliver training and do some writing and public speaking, albeit much less frequent. I’m happy to say that I quickly landed a project that gave me that freedom, and I’ve been working with them for a couple of months now with pleasure.

I’m still doing training every now and then, if only because it’s probably what I love to do most of all. I stopped working with training companies, though, and pretty much exclusively work with clients that find me, instead of me having to find them. This gives me a lot more freedom and peace of mind (and better rates, too!), and because I have a consultancy gig, I don’t have to continuously chase after new clients anymore.

This newly gained peace of mind also freed up headspace to start writing new content, too. I’ve since started a new article series on contract testing and Pact and I’m also working on a new ebook, which I hope to publish in a couple of months from now. Even though I spend more hours actually doing work compared to the end of 2020, my mind is in a much better place, and I’d like to think that this shows in the quality of my work, too.

I’ve also started doing more talks again. So far I’ve done 6 this year, where in 2020 I only did 2 in the entire year. All of these talks have been online, of course, but I have good faith that before the end of the year I’ll have done at least a couple of talks live and in person again, too.

So, is this what my future will look like? Consulting, with a bit of training, writing and public speaking thrown in the mix?

Well…. Maybe.

Another thing that working from home as a freelancer for a year and a half has taught me is that it is lonely. At first, I loved that. No more commuting, as I mentioned, working in sweatpants, the freedom of going for a swim, run, bike ride or walk in the middle of the day, I couldn’t be happier. And while I still enjoy all of these perks, I’ve been starting to think ‘is this what I’ll be doing until I retire?’ more and more often lately, too.

Now, retirement is still a loooong time away, and I’ve stopped making those horrible five year plans a long time ago, but for the first time since I’ve started freelancing 7 years ago I find myself thinking that I maybe won’t be doing this until I’m 67, or whatever age it is I can stop working and enjoy the pensioner’s life.

I don’t know if this is some sort of a freelancer’s ‘seven year itch’, or that it’s because of working from home for so long now, but I’ve been starting to think about eventually joining a company again more and more often. I guess part of me does want to be part of a bigger team, something I couldn’t imagine only a year ago.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love the freelancer life, and especially the freedom and income that comes with it. But increasingly often I start to think ‘would joining a company really be that bad?’, too.. If someone said to me a year ago that I’d be contemplating this, I’d think they’d be crazy.

What I know for sure, though, is that I wouldn’t join a company to be sent to clients full time anymore, like I did in the first 8 years of my career. I can do that as a freelancer, too, without having to worry about meeting billable hours targets, and making a lot more money in the process. No thank you.

What does look appealing to me, though, is to help build something for the long term. This could be a company or department, but also a product, as long it is something I believe in and that brings value to the testing and test automation field and community.

I have no idea what such a job would have to look like, other than that it would still involve a certain amount of freedom in deciding when to work and what to work on (freelancing has spoiled me for life in that respect), and as little red tape as possible. You want to schedule an end of year review to decide if I’m going to get a raise? I want to know where the exit is and where to hand in my letter of resignation on the way.

Ideally, if I were to join a company again, it should allow me to spend time helping others through:

  • Designing and delivering workshops and training courses
  • Public speaking at conferences and webinars
  • Writing articles, blog posts and ebooks
  • (Some) traveling abroad to meet clients or coworkers and discuss what they’re dealing with

(With regards to the last bullet, I’d especially love the opportunity to travel to and work with people from either South Africa or Canada, as those countries hold a special place in my heart)

Recently, I’ve even started reaching out to a couple of people and companies, if only to just to test the waters and see ‘what else is out there’, to see what the options are. You never know what that might lead to, maybe not now, but who knows at some point in the future. I’ve gotten the best new opportunities from informal talks like that in the past, and I have no reason to think that the future would be different.

So, am I actively looking for a job? No, definitely not. As I said, I still love the freelancing life and all the freedom that comes with it. I am not in the least in a hurry to change things, and would be happy to continue working like this for at least the next couple of years.

Am I open to speaking to people and companies who are looking for someone to fill (or create) a position that looks like what I described just above? Definitely. If something would come along that I feel would be a great fit for me and would allow me to work with others to build a great company or product, I’d love to talk and explore the options.