Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Unplanned Career Change?

It's been weeks since I wrote any code. The crazy part is, the first thing I did when I realized I was staying afloat with my coaching program, blog ads, videos, etc.: I bought Let Over Lambda, a book on advanced Lisp techniques, and Computer Models of Musical Creativity, a book on algorithmic/AI-driven music by David Cope, probably #1 in the field worldwide and all-time. But I've been too busy working through books on analytics and psychology to get to either book yet. Likewise, if I had made a little bit more on my last video, I would have signed up for David Cope's Workshop in Algorithmic Computer Music - but I didn't make enough for that. (Or, at least, not along with the other things I wanted.)

I've been blogging about entrepreneurial topics for years without dipping my feet in the water. I never thought I'd find it so easy, and at the same time, I'm not sure it'll keep going. It's a little bit terrifying. Pretty much everything I've learned (and everything I teach in my videos) is valid and works, but it still surprises the hell out of me that I'm even paying the rent. It's a very disorienting experience, but I like it.

Anybody who's read my blog for a long time or seen my Archaeopteryx presentation knows that I'm also interested in other things besides code, most notably movies and music. Some people might think, "oh, well, if you're into movies and music, then of course programming is too nerdy for you." Except, between Facebook and the iPad, what is more fashionable today than apps?

It really shows how being a programmer is changing. Check out this recent Dilbert. The office intern got a cheap nose job from a veterinarian and ended up with a snout:

Consider: "you look too unconventional to be an engineer." What would Scott Adams, Dilbert's creator, think of the Ruby community?

For instance, here's a famous Rubyist:

why the lucky stiff, by rooreynolds on flickr

And a slide from MountainWest RubyConf:

Here's Nick Kallen's picture, from his Working With Rails profile:

Ooh la la! Sexy nipples!

Here's my old boss at ENTP, along with the CEO he hired and a Python programmer - who are also the members of his band - right after shooting a music video:

They look too unconventional to be engineers, but the same is probably true for two out of every three engineers in San Francisco. When you consider that we have Richard Stallman as a role model, I think normal people are probably lucky that engineers don't dress like Lady Gaga and speak only in Esperanto. Who knows - maybe Scott Adams is just getting old. Bringing the tanget to a close, it actually makes a lot more sense today than it might have a few years ago for a person's major interests to be music, movies, and code.

I totally forgot where I was going with this, but it'll all make sense if I begin dressing like Lady Gaga and blogging in Esperanto.

El punto es facil: ¿qué código usted escribiría, si usted no tiene que escribir código? Y: ahora yo non necesidad de escribir código. Pero puede ser que necesite escribir código otra vez muy pronto. No se. Tengo miedo. Pero me mucha gusta. Y sé que las actrices que dirían este nivel de riesgo se están relajando. Viven con los niveles de riesgo que hacen que el empresario más valiente parece wuss.

Qué sucede después sigue siendo un misterio a mí.

By the way, that was Español, not Esperanto. I don't speak Esperanto, and (more to the point) neither does BabelFish. Then again, I'm not sure BabelFish speaks Spanish, either, or even English.

The point that BabelFish engrished there: the amount of code I'm writing is unusually minimal for a programmer, but the level of risk I'm under (scary though it is) is unusually low for an actor. Likewise, a guy like Why The Lucky Stiff might have been unconventional for a programmer, but he was pretty straightforward for a musician - which I am, or at least, which I like to imagine myself. I like to imagine myself a programmer and an actor, too.

In fact, the only reason I began looking into Internet marketing was because I needed a way to make money which leaves open the option of going to auditions at any time. In theory working part-time, remote, as a programmer should have worked; in practice, it failed, several different times, in several different situations. Either I didn't make enough money, or I made part-time money while spending 40 hours or more in the company's chat room, or I made great money but worked 40 hours a week or more (up to 60 or 70!), or I got told I'd work 20 hours a week and ended up being asked to work 40+, etc., etc., etc. The work I did as a Rails programmer brought me into contact with a few very conventional corporations and a lot of optimistic entrepreneurs who had every reason to tell me whatever I wanted to hear; the result was that after several years of trying, I gave up on the whole idea of working part-time as a programmer and went back to the drawing board.

In everything I'm doing now, I'm researching the hell out of every angle and forming strategies based on principles I abstract from the research. I know logically that it should work, but it still surprises me every time, and I think the reason is, I don't get why everybody isn't doing the same thing. After all, researching, analyzing, and forming strategies that surprise you when they work is the long way round. There are shorter paths.

You would expect more geeks to abandon the startup culture for the Internet marketing culture, simply because it just works and there's plenty of short paths from "I'm on the Web all the time" to "I'm making money on the Web." There are Rubyists embracing Internet marketing and information products - Peepcode, Pragmatic Screencasts, Envycasts, Amy Hoy, Ben Orenstein, 37Signals' first book, Marc-André Cournoyer - but by and large, the VC culture still reigns supreme.

The VC culture annoyed the hell out of me a few years ago, back when I still thought it at least made sense; but today, with the knowledge of so many simple, proven ways to make money on the Internet, the VC culture mystifies me. In a sane world, it'd be normal for everybody to establish a simple, profitable, minimal-effort business online before or while also launching high-risk, high-effort experiments; VC represents to me a substrate of society where people seem determined to pretend that establishing simple, profitable, minimal-effort businesses is impossible, and launching high-risk, high-effort experiments is necessary.

I spoke to somebody recently who is considering teaching his children about Internet marketing. There are already very successful teenagers making great money online. Imagine that you could make money while working much less than you do now; now imagine what it would be to like to figure that out at around 16 years old. It's got to be a freer world.

Speaking of a freer world, I heard a podcast where Tim Ferriss told a story: when he graduated from college, he asked a girl in his class where she was going to work after college, and she wasn't. Her family had money, so she didn't need to work. Instead, she was going to explore the Amazon for a few months. Ferriss of course pushes the idea of building a simple, profitable, minimal-effort business online and then bailing to travel the world. But of course, that couldn't ever work.