Year Three Review

18-10-2014

Another year has passed and it's time for my yearly review. I like to keep these professional and helpful for people, though these two goals can conflict. If there is stuff here you want to learn more about, do email me. Often the tales I want to tell I really can't on-line, but a few beers down, I'm usually game!

It's been an emotional year this year, with some excellent projects under my belt. The Equatorie, Phantom Limb Mk3 and EchoForms have all been fantastic projects for me, to mention but a few. There have also been some difficult times. It's a year where I've had what I'd call a "Memo moment", only it's lasted for at least 6 months and is only now beginning to lift.

When I worked for Memo Akten, he told me a tale whereby he was gaffer taping a projector to a ceiling in a dingy pub to get some installation working. At this point he realised "what the hell am I doing?". This year, there have been a series of projects and distractions where I should have said "no". Learning to say no is something everyone talks about, but it's something that's very important for a freelancer and hard to get right.

I've learned that saying no should be coupled with an accurate and positive view of your worth. After speaking with clients, getting feedback and learning the industry you begin to know how much your time is worth. But it's not only projects you sometimes need to turn down. Other things creep in like previous commitments that turn out to be a distraction and a net loss. When one is focusing on a business one really needs to focus on it. Thats not to say one can't have hobbies and other things, but there is a balance.

I've become aware of things that could potentially hurt my brand; I spent a long time on one project and it wasn't computer graphics related. I get the feeling brand is important and with the way the industry is going, being a specialist is a really good thing! That said, I don't necessarily like it.

The industry is something I'm relatively new to, being in academia for a while but one thing I have noticed is how technology is changing. The so-called 'tech' sector is being co-opted by really nasty and annoying people, which happens when any sector grows up or grows big. There is much I don't like about it and it's really easy to snark at various aspects of it. I cringe at the words "cyber", "internet of things" or "wearables", as a lot of people I know do, but one needs to develop a critical eye and find the good in all these things; separate the signal from the noise.

In the future, programming ability alone won't be enough; that much is clear to me. Expanding one's skills is very important; it always has been. I feel it's even more important now and in some ways, it's quite hard, especially when you work for yourself. However, it's even more important in this case because people are investing their money in you. There is no-where one can hide really. In that sense, learning new skills in this industry is paramount.

There are plenty of options though. In the past year I've almost finished 7 Languages in 7 Weeks, one linear algebra course from Coursera and the year before, Electronics with MITx. It is possible but it's a lot of work, though I'd highly recommend it. I suspect functional(ish) languages like Erlang, Haskell and Clojure will be more prominent. In graphics, it's all about the ray-tracing and separate architectures like Metal and Mantle. It's something I'm still trying to make work.

Though it's been tough, I've had some of the best projects this year, along with working with some lovely, smart people. The Equatorie ranks quite highly, along with Phantom Limb Mark 3. Having the chance to work on my own libraries, but with clear, set goals is a great way to actually finish something.

In addition, last year I mentioned that working the way I do can be quite lonely in terms of being removed from your peers; you don't get as much chance to pick-up on how the industry does things, or the latest changes to standards etc. This has been partially solved as I took over the office this year, and gave it a catchy name. This means I'm now working with people in a similar area. In addition, London is good for meetups of different kinds so finding people and talking to them is less difficult than it might be elsewhere.

The real joy of this job is that you have more freedom to explore what you are interested in the most. This year, I've not only written a lot of code, but I've looked at LED Signage, helped run a large first aid team at a festival, and even went to paris, celebrity spotting.

People have begun to come to me for work, almost a year after I first spoke to them. This is something I'd say for freelancing; you never really know when someone will give you a call - it could be a long while but if you are good at what you do, and the client believes they can work with you, good things will happen. Luck has to find you working.

Also, turn off your mail client, block facebook and twitter, jog into work, and install a nice coffee machine and things will be awesome!