Back to the future

Here we go, again. Starting a blog. So 2003…

Back to the Future

These are interesting times for me. I’ve never been in a position where I actually do not know what I’ll be doing in a few months — or even days. And it’s the first time also when I can enjoy some months of total freedom in relative financial comfort and just have to think, or not, about what to do next. To be honest, I find that both exhilarating and frightening.

I’ve only been employed by two companies so far. The first one hired me as a summer intern before my scholarship was over in 1999, and I chose to come back to work there “for real” later. It was a small — 20 persons or so — development company that was working for bigger companies and institutions on a project by project basis. Despite a continuous struggle to make a living, we managed, on several occasions, to answer to client requirements with ambitious, risky, but highly rewarding approaches. I got a chance to manage a four persons — plus me — team of great developers and tackle issues like ad hoc data stores tailored for specific requirements. From the look of it, and what I’ve been told, several components we designed and developed at that time are still in production a decade or so later.

At the end of 2008, I chose to quit and join Fotonauts/Fotopedia. The financial aspect was quite different: in a funded start-up, money is quite easy, at least as long as there is some. Product becomes king: feature set and time-to-market take over as main concerns. We had a great team, and even if we failed to find a sustainable business model, we released great products and I loved nearly every minute of it. The time was right for several new emerging technical toys: cloud infrastructure, iDevices, NoSQL, and we had our share of playing, trying and experimenting.

Now it’s finally over. Time to find out what’s next. Being fired in France comes with a relative comfort: all in all, my current salary will be paid until the end of the year, and then the unemployment insurance will kick for two more years (roughly 70% of my salary).

Finding jobs in Paris matching my profile seems relatively easy too. So basically, there is no rush, no pressure to try and fit in at any cost. The whole situation sounds more like an invite to define a dream job, and try to make it happen.

So, what’s my dream job ? I like technical matter, dealing with its complexity, find ways to build stuff or solve puzzles. I like very concrete issues, bug tracking, database design and optimisation, instrumentation, information collection and processing but also higher level “start-of-cycle” conversations about software architecture and wider technical strategies.

I do love writing code, but I like this activity to be immersed in a bigger picture I have some grasp of. So I feel like I won’t be happy in a “developer”-titled job (and salary would probably prove inadequate anyway). On the other hand I’m not at all ready (and it may never happen) to leave the technical hand-on sphere.

I obviously like working with people, particularly when there are fields where each other knowledge can benefit the other. Authoritative day-to-day management of a team is not a task that I particularly enjoyed when I had to perform it. Basically, what I like is working with peers more than managing people.

I joined Fotonauts some time after the actual start, I was the eleventh guy. It was a nearly ideal place to work. But I fear such positions in such startups are not so easy to come by in Paris, or anywhere else, and hard to summon. I don’t feel like I have the energy to start one myself, or at least not alone. Finding an idea, feeling what the market needs or will need is not something I feel particularly competent at. Don’t even get me started on raising money and dealing with investors…

So all in all, I think my best option for now is freelancing. Meet people, learn about projects, and technologies, see what people do and how they do it, try to help them and build myself a sustainable income. It will not make me rich the way startup can get a few chosen ones rich, I will probably never be able to pay my ticket to Mars or the Moon this way, but maybe I can manage to finish paying my loan, working with interesting people on interesting topics, all the while dodging tasks that will make me feel inadequate, bored, miserable or useless, and staying available for the right opportunity if it presents itself.