Where does a developer work when he's tired of yet another CMS?
February 15, 2010 8:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm a programmer looking for some side work, but don't want to just build someone a CMS. What unexpected industries could make use of a developer?

I need a little help thinking outside-the-box about industries that could provide me with a bit of a break from the CMS-driven e-commerce sites that every client wants built.

A couple examples would be doing coding work alongside grad students in an academic setting, or making interesting apps in an industry you don't normally think of as being programming-y (example). I'm not so into going back to school right now, but suggestions along that line are certainly welcome.

I'm officially a web dev guy (Ruby on Rails), but my skills run the gamut from Java to interactive data visualizations. If it helps, my degree is in Cognitive Science. I've got a solid portfolio of independent work (site is in profile) so I'm not scared of cold-calling.

Part-time or temporary work is fine, I just want to spread my wings in a professional setting. I'm in NYC, so industries with a presence here are probably best.
posted by soma lkzx to Work & Money (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You can always try joining a UX firm of some kind and be a prototyper/designer. I'm assuming you specialized in HCI?

You could always try just starting up your own gig.
posted by mallow005 at 9:13 AM on February 15, 2010

I've done this kind of thing off and on over the years. It helps to develop a relationship with someone who can periodically ship you more work. Some examples of stuff I've done over the years:

* Supporting research departments of universities, particularly telecom and CS researchers. These are guys who usually have some interesting stuff that needs visualizing but don't have the time or resources (and sometimes skills) to do so. I started by doing everything for a lab - from IT support up - and ended up doing some of my own research, and writing applications for the other researchers. Using the contacts from that job, I've been able to do one or two medium sized projects for them a year, as they get funding. They also have referred me to other departments at the university that I've done stuff for. Much of it has been a lot of fun.

* Writing reporting and visualization applications for small government offices, and/or public utilities. These guys usually don't have much of an in-house IT staff (well, not 10 years ago, maybe now, though) and often are dealing with old cranky systems designed for government work (and public agencies are often REQUIRED to use these old cranky systems). So I did stuff between IT, DBA and programming for a public transit system in a middle sized city (Corpus Christi, TX) and I did some programming work for a public utility in a smaller city (Garland, TX). There are often some political problems (hiring you will probably step on someone's toes) but they are usually clean in and out jobs for me, I went in for a day or two, worked really hard, and then got out.

* In general, you can carve a better niche for yourself in programming if you do soup-to-nuts work for small businesses and organizations which have no chance of handling stuff on their own. Everything from purchasing hardware, installing, hosting, programming, possibly even light marketing or SEO type stuff. It's always an easier sell to a small customer if they can hire one person to do everything. Of course, YOU don't have to do it all, you can subcontract any bits you don't have the time or inclination to do, but this should ideally be *invisible* to your customers.

* Regarding cognitive science, I would bet real money that there are cog sci programs all over the US that are doing pretty cool research but need help with visualization, simulation, etc. I've done a little of that in the past and also helped some of them with getting their books typeset in the way they wanted them (latex and plain tex). Researchers are used to poring over raw data looking for stuff but they loooooove visualization and search tools.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:45 AM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Try looking at biology / bioinformatics departments at universities as well. I know of a few such labs which have hired a programer to help write the bolts of a data analysis program. Actually, a university with a biology department and NOT a bioinformatics department might need the most amount of help, as there is no one within the university that they can go to. (There aren't many relationships between biology and CS departments because the CS problems that biologists have are typically not interesting to CS people) (yes, I realize this isn't 100% always true).
posted by Peter Petridish at 11:26 AM on February 15, 2010

It's difficult, I know. There's tons of places that have in-house software, specific to their needs. Finding them, not so easy, especially since they're often just a few developers, and right now, there's not a lot of turn-around.

Best I can suggest is hoofing-it. Print off resumes, look at what interesting companies are around you, and basically cold-call it. Try your luck, be friendly to the receptionist, ask whether they have any software developers, and if so, could you please forward this to the manager (and HR).
posted by hungrysquirrels at 6:26 PM on February 15, 2010

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