Marc Grabanski, CEO & UI Developer of Frontend Masters

2008: Acheiving Freedoms

December 25, 2008

2008 was a year of embarking on a journey towards personal freedoms in my career, which although was scary at times, paid off in spades.

Attained Freedoms

The following freedoms are available to me, that I didn’t have at the beginning of this year:

  • work from home remotely
  • hire people I trust
  • create my own applications
  • work as much or little as I desire and still get paid for it (as a contractor)
  • take time out to eat, read and pray (during the work day)
  • spend more time doing things outside of normal work like go to conferences, spend time with my girlfriend and go on vacations

Assets VS Liabilities

Attaining these freedoms became incredibly important to me late 2007 when I realized I was building someone else’s assets. I realized that if I stayed the course I was headed down, I would end up dependent on that next pay check to pay for the liabilities (things on credit) just like those surrounding me. I needed to break out of the system and forge into new territories.

It would have been a cold day in hell before I launched any major start-up companies while working for someone else - working nights and weekends. Not to mention I became border-line depressed working so much. Instead, I decided to cut my (client) work week down to 24 hours per week to allow the rest of my week to build applications that make my business into an asset-driven company (I’ll explain later).

Breaking Into Contracting

In April of 2008, I pinged a few companies to see if they would hire me for 24 hours per week, remotely to cover my living costs. After casting the line, I got a few offers. I ended up turning down a job offer working on the Firefox Addons theming engine (which I was grateful for the offer!) to work for an internet marketing company in Duluth, MN. Why? My #1 reason for turning down a job with Mozilla is, Silicon Valley doesn’t need anymore high-level talent. Silicon Valley takes away much of the great talent (poke at Dave Dash of we have here in Minnesota.

Instantly Respected Names VS Local Business

The bottom line is that I want to work for local companies and grow them, without a company name that demands respect attached to my name. It is for the same reason I went to a small college - The College of St. Scholastica, who has heard of that? Strengthening the computer science program was a high priority for me, as it most certainly will be in the future.

If you work for Google, you have “Google” attached to your name for the rest of your life, and instant respect. Some people want that, I don’t. My attitude is to do it the hard way from the ground-up and not bank on others’ success. I learn more that way and get only the respect I deserve. Yes I was interviewed by Google, many times over. But it was in the process that I came to some of these realizations.

The Unexpected

Not everything went perfect this year. My first startup company will launch in the first week of January, which I wanted to launch exactly one year prior. It turns out that launching a (good) startup takes thousands of hours or work and investment. You just can’t put in that kind of time unless you own your own business and have flexibility (without pulling in investment dollars). So far I’ve spent 1800+ hours of my time and a pile of my own cash to hire awesome talent to help me with the tough parts. I might argue this isn’t a downfall, but it was mostly just unexpected.

I had to give up my seat on the jQuery UI development team . It was just too hard to generate revenue, launch startup companies and program open source at the same time. Datepicker was just consuming way too much of my time and I had to give it up. Though, I did review a book that is coming out soon on jQuery UI, so that was cool.

Reflecting on 2008 Goals

The goals I’ve made in the past have been fairly lofty, but all-in-all it is good to make them once and a while. As I’ve found out, it is incredibly hard to hit software development goals because things change and your focus can shift. It is hard to stick out projects to the end in this dynamic profession, but if you do stick it out you may get big rewards.

I’ve met more amazing people this year, and have continued to grow past work relationships stronger ( thanks, Twitter ). I know things will continue in the midst of the failing economy because I work with great companies who have strong client-bases. Each company has been chosen wisely.

Looking Forward

2009 will mark the pursuit of creating assets, jobs and reliable tools. Assets are things that have value without you being there. They generate (or hold) value without you having to attend to them. The rich generate assets and the poor and middle class generate liabilities (car, house, tvs, etc) and pay lots of taxes.

But this year isn’t all about money. 99% of the time I talk about my career because this is what my website is about, but the secret sauce to my success is that I have a deep spiritual life that fuels and inspires me each day to be the best I can possibly be (and beyond).

So Happy Holidays everyone! I’m hoping you have a great 2009.

Marc Grabanski, CEO & UI Developer of Frontend Masters

Career Journal on Web Dev, Business, & Life

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