How to turn Web developer isolation into something more outgoing?
March 21, 2012 6:17 PM   Subscribe

I'm a humanities-oriented people person freelancing as a Web developer and IT person, but tired of working from home in isolation. While I enjoy running my own operation, I wish I could get out there and teach people, work with kindred spirits, etc. Anyone have any ideas or experience they might be willing to share on beating this predicament?

I'm specifically wondering if anyone out there has had any luck switching from a model of "stay at home writing PHP" to running some kind of workshop? or training people? or even advising-them-on-how-to-not-blow-money-on-bad-software? thing. For money. Or something along these lines that I haven't thought of.

I've always been good at explaining and presenting computer programming concepts, and the most fun I ever had working was a summer I spent teaching kids to write computer code. So I wonder if there is some way to do stuff like this for money to break up the long hours alone in cafes with my Unix shell. I am in the Bay Area. I wish I had some sort of advanced computer degree, but the closest I have is a master's from a journalism program that ostensibly offered a track in "New Media."

Any help much appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Technology (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Can you offer tutoring? Are you good enough to help someone with basic undergrad courses, for instance?
posted by jacalata at 6:32 PM on March 21, 2012

oops, anonymous so no responses. What I was driving at is that when I was in college, I remember seeing ads asking for individual help with subjects. You could check out college noticeboards/classifieds for these ads, or write your own ad offering your services.

If you don't care about getting cash for it, you could look into volunteering at your local library with 'IT for Seniors' or similar classes.
posted by jacalata at 6:35 PM on March 21, 2012

If you've got enough steady work to provide for yourself, can you expand on that and find some people to share the work with? There can be a lot of headaches there if you get into the territory of employing people, but I've worked for dudes in the past who operate on that model. i.e., they'd line up contracts and farm out some of the work to people with appropriate skills.

The best thing I ever did, personally, was find a "real" job in an office. I lost most of the headaches of freelancing (hustling jobs, insane clients, dealing with my own taxes, etc.), and gained a bunch of talented coworkers I like and respect.
posted by brennen at 6:38 PM on March 21, 2012

you could look into volunteering at your local library with 'IT for Seniors' or similar classes.

There may even be a local Adult Education program that does similar stuff. Where I live we are ALWAYS looking for tech teachers [we are not the Bay Area] and the classes pay decently. You might also think about having a few different things you like to teach and talk about and think about some sort of public speaking or workshop thing you could do. In my line of work this is library conferences and talking about the digital divide. Once you get known for doing good presentations/workshops this sort of thing can pay and in your neck of the woods there are likely a lot of organizations that could use things.

Places like schools that do continuing education, colleges that have professional development. Local users groups who have speakers in. Think about what makes you different from all the other code monkeys out there. Think about whether you could do something like this part time while you still do your other job. Think about what parts you like and don't like. Think about whether you could do enough self-promotion to make it worthwhile. Just spitballing here but that sort of thing doesn't require a college degree at all and could conceivably be fun and useful.
posted by jessamyn at 6:52 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might like this episode of Herding Code with Sara Chipps. She talks about her experience running classes for (mostly) female developers. It got me thinking.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:57 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

First of all, isolation issues? Look into coworking! I haven't done it--I was getting ready to when my primary client moved offices and let me use theirs--but I know folks who swear by it.

As for teaching, you have valuable skills that lots and lots of people would like to learn (like me). Have you considered signing up with a local community college, parks & rec department or the like to offer lessons? Or maybe Craigslist something? Also, consider reaching out to after school programs and the like.

Finally, schools are DESPERATE for folks with tech knowledge--it's hard to keep tech teachers when they can be making three times as much in the private sector. If you *really* want to get involved, depending on where you are in the Bay Area, I could hook you up with folks who look after the Academy of Information Technology academies in San Francisco. They're always looking for volunteers, and I'm sure would be happy to accommodate you on whatever level: being a guest speaker, advising on a class project, helping after school, etc. Sadly: no money because career tech ed gets little funding. Maybe you could ask your tax person about possibilities for tax write off for your time?
posted by smirkette at 7:06 PM on March 21, 2012

Have you heard of THATCamp? The closest one to you that I see coming up is in Fullerton, CA. Might be a good chance to network and get ideas.
posted by Orinda at 7:12 PM on March 21, 2012

Just focusing on the isolation issues:

Do you make enough you could get some office space in a shared building, preferably one of those with lots of interior space and shared breakroom-type areas? You'd have your own little nook for working in, but you'd bump into people in the halls and at the coffee machine and such. Might help some.

One thing I do is hang out in a shared chatroom with a bunch of other freelancers I'm friends with. The back and forth and random banter and occasional outbreak of professional chat gives me that sense of "colleagues" even though we don't work together.

Is there an association/trade group of some sort you could join that does regular meetups? One I'm in has beer nights once or twice a month and it really helps with the being alone kind of thing.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:08 PM on March 21, 2012

For the longing to work with kindred spirits predicament, you could go one step beyond a co-working space and consider co-operating:
posted by ioesf at 8:13 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

One thing I do is hang out in a shared chatroom with a bunch of other freelancers I'm friends with. The back and forth and random banter and occasional outbreak of professional chat gives me that sense of "colleagues" even though we don't work together.

I'd like to second this - one cornerstone of my working life is relationships with other technical folk on IRC and IM. I notice the same for a lot of the people I work with: We all have a handful of people out there on the net who we can ask for advice, talk through problems with, rant about work with, etc. They're sort of like meta-level coworkers. It's not a substitute for being in the same room with people, but it's good for a sense of shared struggle and it's a great outlet for that desire to teach and explain.
posted by brennen at 10:16 PM on March 21, 2012

I am in a similar situation to you.

What I did was to plan out a couple of three-to-five day training courses that I could teach, and start selling them through an agency.

I only actually develop the material for each training course once I'm under contract to deliver it, in order to make sure I'm not wasting time on stuff that doesn't sell.

I have plans to ramp up this business fairly soon, and I intend to do this by selling directly to customers rather than through an agency. Agency training work is frustrating, because you don't have prior contact with the customer, so it's easy to find out on day 1 of the course that the customer really needs something completely different.... but using an agency is an easy way into the business, that lets you get a feel for the marketplace and figure out what works and what doesn't.

Nobody buying training courses gives a flying whatnot whether you have a CS degree (I do, but so far nobody's showed the least interest in the contents of my CV).
posted by emilyw at 3:56 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's the podcast I meant to link to: Herding Code - Sara Chipps Updates Us on Girl Develop IT at One Year, but the first one is worth listening to as well.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:47 AM on March 22, 2012

« Older What exactly is the purpose of teens again?   |   Shaking hands at the end of a date too formal? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.