I have a business instead of a job!
The biggest change this year is that I left my job in August after working there for 5.5 years and now I don’t have a job! Now I have a business (wizard zines).
This has been exciting (I can do anything I want with my time! No rules! Wow!) and also disorienting (I can do anything I… want? Wait, what do I want to do exactly?). Obviously this is a good problem to have but it’s a big adjustment from the structure I had when I had a job.
My plan for now is to give myself a year (until August 2020) to see how this new way of existing goes and then reevaluate.
I wanted to write some reflections on my 5 years at Stripe here but it’s been such a huge part of my life for so long that I couldn’t figure out how to summarize it. I was in a much worse place in my career 6 years ago before I started working there and it really changed everything for me.
2019 was !!Con’s 6th year! It’s a conference about the joy, excitement, and surprise of programming. And !!Con also expanded to the west coast!! I wasn’t part of organizing the west coast conference at all but I got to attend and it was wonderful.
Running a conference is a ton of work and I feel really lucky to get to do it with such great co-organizers – there have been at least 20 people involved in organizing over the years and I only do a small part (right now I organize sponsorships for the east coast conference).
This year we also incorporated the Exclamation Foundation which is the official entity which runs both conferences which is going to make organizing money things a lot easier.
I understand how the business works a little better
Earlier this year I signed up for a business course called 30x500 by Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman. They’ve influenced me a lot this year. Basically I signed up for it because I had a business that had made $100,000 in revenue already but I didn’t really understand how the business worked and it felt like it could just evaporate at any point. So $2000 (the cost at the time of 30x500) was worth it to help me understand what was going on.
I was hoping to build a system for selling printed zines in 2019 and I didn’t get to it – that’s probably my one concrete business goal for 2020. I tried out Lulu for printing in the hopes that I could experiment with print-on-demand but the quality was awful so it’s going to be a bit more work.
blog posts and things
In 2019 I:
- wrote 29 blog posts
- did some experiments in interactive SQL/server exercises, which I’m excited about but are sort of on the back burner right now. Maybe I’ll go back to them in 2020!
- gave 0 talks (which was a goal of mine)
The blog post I’m happiest to have published this year is definitely Get your work recognized: write a brag document. I’ve seen quite a few people saying that it helped them track their work and it makes me really happy. A bunch of people at my old job adopted it and it’s one of the non-engineering projects I’m most proud of having done there.
Publishing this post about my business revenue was also important to me – in the past I loved blogging, but I didn’t think it was possible to make a living by explaining computer things online. And I was totally wrong! It is possible! So I think it’s important to tell other people that it’s a possibility.
I published 2 zines: Bite Size Networking and HTTP: Learn Your Browser’s Language. And wrote most of a third zine about SQL which should be out in January.
I made the same business revenue as in 2018 (which I was thrilled about).
published a box set of my free zines
In August I published a box set of all my free zines with No Starch Press (Your Linux Toolbox, it’s in Real Physical Bookstores!!) They did a fantastic job printing it: the quality is really really good. I’m very happy with how it turned out. (and if you do buy it and like it, leaving an amazon review helps me a lot).
And No Starch just told me last week they’ve sold 4000 copies so far and are looking to do a second printing!
Having a Real Traditionally Published Thing out is really cool, I could not have imagined 4 years ago that I could go to an actual bookstore and buy the little 16-page zine I wrote about how much I love strace.
The business aspect of it is interesting – because I’m so used to running a business where I sell my own zines, getting 10% in royalties instead of 100% feels strange. But printing and distribution are complicated! And it’s really cool that I can say “yeah, go to Barnes & Noble, they’ll have it”! And No Starch helped me a lot with picking a good title and cover art! And basically the whole traditional publishing ecosystem just works in a completely different way from what I’m used to :)
I think I’ll have a better sense for how to think about traditional publishing from a business perspective in a year or so after the book has been out for longer.
A big thing I learned from this project is that having zines that are printed in a higher quality way (not just on a home printer) is really nice.
what went well
some things that were good this year:
- spending time understanding why the business works the way it does instead of just guessing
- collaborating with many great people on !!Con to do a big thing together
- publishing the box set!
- I’m happy to have given myself the time/space to do whatever it is I want, even though it’s a big adjustment
- writing things that help people a little bit with their careers (the brag documents post) is nice
some things that are harder:
- I used to have a lot of really amazing coworkers at my job, and right now I’m working much more by myself. I definitely miss having so many great people right there to talk to all the time.