Why I'm hiring junior developers
Hey! I'm Victor.
That's how I start pretty much every proposal I write for a freelancing job. I've written a ton of proposals -- thousands, probably -- and I make my living from web work. But this isn't a post about proposals. This is a post about the decision to move to the next stage of business beyond personal freelancing: starting a company.
Let me back up a bit: I do front-end dev, and I've worked making every kind of website imaginable with every kind of client. I've been burned on payments, I've gotten lucky, I've travelled doing web work, I've worked in more languages and libraries than I could name here. I started out just hacking things together (which I still sort of do), and am 90% self-taught (no degree). I know how to "make things work" and I deliver for my clients. I get plenty of work and I make a decent living doing web dev.
Why not just freelance forever?
Starting a company isn't obviously a great thing to do, in my eyes. My whole family is full of entrepreneurs, and I've always seen how much work they all put in; endless time and energy to creating something that is so much about money. It's a burden to manage people, deal with legal challenges, debt, growing a business, being responsible... it's a lot and I don't take it lightly.
One thing everyone loves about freelancing, including me, is the freedom. I can pursue my ideas and creative outlets, including web-related (see Native Land), while not being chained to any particular company, place, or lifestyle. It's freaking rad. I've hitchhiked for months at times, moved all over, and fully enjoy my "whatever damn schedule I want to have" lifestyle. That would be potentially jeopardized by a company.
Yet another argument against a company is that, well, I don't know if I want to trust other developers and people to do good work for me! So often it seems that a lot of the other work out there is done badly, and I always hear stories from clients about other bad developers. And really (I think to myself)... aren't I an amazing dev? No one's going to be as fast and as smart as me, right?
Make some moves
I'm naturally competitive, and that entreprenurial thing that runs in my family runs in me too. Obviously freelancing is one expression of that, but, in recent months, I've been interested in growing professionally. Maybe turning thirty last year did it. Maybe I'm getting over not becoming a rockstar... probably not, actually. Well, whatever way, I'm starting to be OK with being a huge nerd, and now thinking: 'where can this go?'.
I noticed that I inhabit a really particular and valuable niche as an interactive mapper online. I can make just about any website, but I particularly specialize in anything to do with maps: filtering, routing, analysis, custom tools, imagery, and endless more. There's a ton of work in mapping. More than I can handle... but maybe I could teach someone else a bit. Test the waters. What could I lose? Maybe I have to work harder if they do a bad job. Not that big of a deal, really.
So I put a post out there asking for some junior devs. I got a ton of responses. I still felt pretty hesitant about becoming a "manager" and all that... but I read the proposals sent my way.
Come on in, the water's warm
A few of the applicants clearly wrote to me whereas others were obviously stock, so I ignored the stock ones unless something else was really interesting about them. I appreciate a clear communicator, and someone with a little bit of demonstrable experience, and I sought that out. I found a wide price range of talent available, and many people were interested in being 'mentored' into the freelancing lifestyle working for me.
Eventually I got a job that I thought was small enough and simple enough to give to one of these junior devs. It was a basic directions app with one interface -- the perfect test project. I hired the dev that I felt the best about and threw the project his way. It could have easily been another dev -- many dropped off after an initial proposal.
One thing I have to admit now is that... well, I'm not really as great as I thought! This junior dev whipped the thing together quickly and did a great job with the code, and did it faster than I thought I would have (almost)! He was courteous, fast, and was interested in doing more work after, too. I was impressed, for sure.
The success of this little project made my brain go crazy with possibilities. Since then, I've been applying to jobs like mad, and working on setting up a real business structure, doing all the proper registration and budgeting and planning for how money will flow through. It's honestly fun to be exploring this, at long last -- really, it's just another thing to learn, and if there's one thing I love, it's learning.
Now I need to find a social media lead and a designer... and then more devs! Onward and upward!
You never know where things lead
So to anyone out there thinking about hiring someone to grow a business... try it! Make some moves, and learn a few new things about your own capabilities. All this is starting to make me think that maybe I'm not actually the best at being a dev -- I might be better at client management, or even just at coming up with ideas for projects! I like doing development, and building things, but I'm willing to grow and morph and change. Maybe the thing I'm best at, I haven't started doing yet!
Hiring a junior dev was a great thing to do. It really opened my eyes to where I can go in the future. Maybe the company will get too much for me, the commitment, the workload. I hope it doesn't get out of control. But at the end, what's life without risks?
Check out the fledgling company, Mapster -- we will be going places, so you'll see us around again!