Devliance

I don’t normally write about things that are emotional or all touchy-feely – this post is an exception.

2020 has been a very interesting year. The world saw pandemic panic, economic crisis and social battles, to name just a few of this year’s challenges. It will be remembered as a year of struggles – and hopefully victory over those struggles.

For me, it will also be remembered as the year I started Devliance – my own software consultancy. Over the last few years, as I grew from strength to strength in my career, I’ve often found myself wondering, “How did I get here?”

Well, here’s how I got to where I am now.

IN THE BEGINNING

When I was 12, I started coding for the first time and instantly knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life – I wanted to create software. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people and the functions of businesses, so I set out to learn as much as possible about the topic. I knew that I would one day want my own software company.

Throughout school I showed a lot of promise when it came to creating software. My first high school had us learning Pascal. When I could actually take I.T as a subject, Delphi was what we were taught, and the next high school I attended had us learning Java. In between, I spent time learning C++, C# and a few other bits in between. I had great fun with OpenGL at one stage as well.

I spent hours each day coding after school and devoted many weekends to it as well. My parents and grandparents didn’t bother me much; I suspect this was because they knew I was moving towards a goal in life and not just sitting and playing video games all day.

STARTING SOMEWHERE

After school, I couldn’t take the opportunity to study further for financial reasons, so I decided I’d just work my ass off to get where I want. My very first job was for a local WISP – I managed network stuff, listened to customers shout when their internet went down (and fixed it) and had fun times with my colleagues climbing hills and mountains to maintain our wireless network. I had a great time, life was simple. In this time, I learned more about coding – I got fairly decent at PHP and was able to create some pretty cool stuff.
Eventually, it was time to move on and get a job as an actual developer.

GETTING SOMEWHERE: PART 1

I got a job as a web developer at a company called Gotweb a few years after starting my first job. This one was a bit more challenging than the hobby-coding I had done thus far. Here we had to create larger systems with PHP and JavaScript, and I had to create extensions for Joomla. I spent time here learning more and more about the technology I was working with, but I eventually felt stagnant. I felt that there must be a better way of doing the things we do. I felt there must be something bigger to take on. I got tired of the CMS life – working with Joomla was tiresome and didn’t give me the sense of accomplishment I desired. I also eventually hit a ceiling of potential growth with the company. After a few years, the feeling of stagnation and the need to grow made me decide to move on.

GETTING SOMEWHERE: PART 2

I got the opportunity to attend an interview at a company called Tangent Solutions. Their HR manager, Xante, told me to prepare for an AngularJS interview. I had no idea how Angular worked, so I took a weekend to learn the basics and build a few things. Dave – one of the MDs – came in to have a chat with me after my interview. Having met these two people alone convinced me that Tangent was where I wanted to be. Just from the interview prep I had already learned new technology, and I did well in the interview, even though I was visibly nervous. It’s a day that I will never forget.

I was nervous because I doubted myself. Impostor syndrome was getting to me a bit. I remember Dave telling me that I can relax – he could see that I knew what I was doing and that I would be a good fit, and that put me at ease.

Resigning from a job is an uncomfortable thing for me – I like to stay at a place for a few years and I tend to form close bonds with the people I work with. I also feel a sense of responsibility for the work I do, so I don’t just want to drop it and move on to the next thing. The offer from Tangent came through and I accepted it. My resignation from Gotweb was uncomfortable, but swift. I think another reason I dislike resigning is because none of my employers were ever really horrible towards me, I was pretty fortunate that way.

Tangent started me off at one of their large corporate clients. I spent a few years there and learned a ton of cool stuff. I learned how to deal with new things like Python, Django REST Framework, microservices, and I bettered my JavaScript a ton thanks to a team member that was a huge mentor to me – Francois. Competition keeps me going, and if there is someone that knows more than me, I try to learn from them. Francois was (and still is) a person that I could learn a lot from. Natalie, my project manager at the time, also encouraged me to take on new challenges.

Tangent eventually put me on some other projects for other clients. My last year with Tangent was spent with an insurance company, where I met another Francois from whom I learned a lot – maybe people named Francois are just generally smart? 

GETTING SOMEWHERE: PART 3

Near the end of 2019, I got a call from a recruiter who wanted me to contract for BMW – I thought this was pretty damn cool and I was excited. I went for the initial verbal interview and they seemed to like me a lot. I was less nervous for this interview – it was for a React developer position, something which I am pretty comfortable with.

A day or two later, the recruiter called me and told me that they want me to skip the technical test – they were so impressed with the interview that they just wanted to make me an offer – and they wanted to send me off to Germany in early 2020. When I got the offer, which was for more than twice my salary at the time, I graciously accepted it. However, I told them that I would want to work a notice period until the end of January 2020. Tangent had been genuinely good to me and I did not want to cause Xante the headache of hunting someone down to replace me during the holidays. BMW was fine with this.

When the time came, I handed in my resignation to Xante in person. I always resign in person – my employers have been good to me, so I feel an email resignation is almost disrespectful. I don’t think Tangent was super happy about it but they understood why I was making the move. I was congratulated and wished the best for the future by everyone. 

GETTING SOMEWHERE: THE FINALE

During my notice period, I was contacted and asked me if I would want to contract for Tangent instead. This would mean I would be my own person, not an employee – the same deal I would have gotten with BMW. This would also of course come with a hefty rate increase. Sidenote: I’ve always wondered why contractors are so expensive – I understand it now. After having to handle my own accounting, provide my own hardware, budget for my own leave days, I see why some people told me that working for yourself is no joke.

I knew that sticking with Tangent as my client would probably provide a number of great opportunities. I gave the idea some thought and accepted the offer – I knew that Tangent could potentially open many doors for me if I am good to them, as they are good to me. I felt pretty bad for letting BMW down in that way, but the recruiter did let me know that they found someone in my place, and also got in touch a few months later to check if I was still happy with my decision.

And thus, Devliance was born.

For a number of reasons, I chose to establish a company through which to handle my contracting for Tangent. This would also enable me to finally start something that I can eventually grow into my own full-fledged software company. 

LESSONS LEARNED

I’ve learned a few valuable lessons in the process of working for myself.
The sense of freedom is not what people anticipate. You work much longer hours, do much more admin and need to manage your finances much better. The sense of accomplishment only comes a bit later when things start stabilizing – I am still working towards that stage. Free weekends are a thing of the past in the beginning stages of your own consultancy.
Finding clients is not easy. Clients don’t just fall into your lap – at least not good ones. I have been fortunate for the opportunity I have been granted with Tangent.
Marketing is crucial. I sat around way too long before I got a proper marketing plan together. Marketing is not easy, either. The services I provide are obviously not cheap, so the good old “friends and family are your first clients” route wouldn’t work well for me.
Leave is expensive. Being that I work on an hourly rate – there is no such thing as annual leave for me. I work long hours and taking a day off means that I lose that day’s revenue. That’s where better financial management comes in.
Hardware is even more expensive. There’s no such thing as a company laptop when you are on your own. I had to buy a Core i9 MacBook Pro to keep up with the tasks I need to do and purchase my own home office equipment. Every little thing I need to do costs me, so I try to invest in good equipment that won’t let me down. 

A LONG ROAD AHEAD

I have heard how people talk and I can tell that many people think going off on your own to run a business is easy and it’s just about making more money. I can definitively say that that is not the case – at least not at the start. The future holds massively long days and nights for me, a lot of sacrificed weekends, and I will probably age a bit quicker than I would otherwise. With my goals in mind, though, it all becomes worth it. The juice will be worth the squeeze. It’s important, however, to not forget about the people in my life that have helped me get here and supported me. I am at the start of a very long and difficult journey now, but I am excited to see where it goes.

I am hopeful that Devliance will eventually grow into something successful enough that I will have a bit more freedom, but I know the beginning stage is a hard one and I’ll have to work my ass off, as Arnold Schwarzenegger puts it in the video below. 

BEING THANKFUL

Finally, the real reason I am writing this post: I have a few people to thank for their parts in my life over the last few years.

Dave – Tangent director: Dave, I look up to you. If I can manage to achieve a fraction of the success you have achieved in the future, I will be impressed with myself. You’re a huge role-model to people like me – you’re a reminder that seemingly huge goals can be achieved if you really work for it.

Xante – Tangent HR: Xante, you’re the best HR manager I have worked with. You’re understanding, helpful and always find a way to take the best care of people. You are always willing to listen or have a chat when people need it. Even though I no longer work directly for Tangent, you treat me like part of the family, and I will always be grateful for that.

Natalie – Tangent GM: Nats, working with you has been (and continues to be) an awesome experience. You’re always motivational and you encourage everyone on the team to do their very best. You even laugh at my silly jokes, which is a nice gesture. I am sure that Tangent knows how fortunate they are to have you on the team, and I know how fortunate I am to work with someone of your caliber.

Stacy: My loving (and incredibly patient wife) – you have been there when I get cranky as a result of not sleeping for three days under severe deadlines. You have seen me at my worst and at my best, and you give me that extra push that I need sometimes to get where I need to be. You have always been there to support me and make sure that I don’t forget my goals in life. It also helps that you listen when I ramble on about techy things that probably sound like white noise to you.

Francois – Genius developer of note: Saving the best for last. Francois, you have been an absolute inspiration to me. You’re always willing to help where you can, and you’re a great mentor to the people you teach. The fact that you are so knowledgeable and talented at your job has driven me to be better at my job each day that I work with you. Thank you for setting a great example of what every good software developer should aspire to be – a bloody rock star.

There are others who have had influential roles in my life and in my growth, and I am thankful for them as well. You people are awesome, and I hope to still have a long road ahead of me with you all.

Thank you for the amazing people that you are.

I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me.  

FAILURE IS NOT THE END

Devliance is not my first attempt at starting a company of my own. My first attempt was a failure of note. I made many mistakes including financial mismanagement, undervaluing my skills and taking on the wrong projects for the wrong kinds of clients. The failure was a hard one to swallow. I mention this because I feel it is important to know that failure is not the end. Setbacks are a part of life and are nearly inevitable. The only thing that makes a setback an actual failure is if you don’t get up and try again.