Join the Engineering Leisure Class

When you want to make something new, there are three strategies

  • Work within an existing organization: Whether it’s a government agency, a non-profit, or a corporation, working within an existing organization can give you the resources to attempt something big. The limitations of this strategy are that (1) you can only pursue projects that fit the organization’s strategic goals and (2) as organizations get larger, they develop inertia that makes it hard to gather support for your idea — especially if it’s crazy.
  • Form a startup: This is the glorious way to bring something new into the world. If you have the right team, enough passion, and enough luck, you can change the world. Aside from burnout risk, the limitation (and strength) of this strategy is that at a start-up the clock is always ticking, cash is always running out, and you always have to be finding a way to make money out of whatever it is you’re doing.
  • Work on your idea as a side project: This is the traditional way to try out a whimsical idea or scratch an itch, and Hacker News is filled with awesome things engineers have made on the side. You might make money with the project, but you can also happily give it to the world as a gift. You’re not limited to small ideas, either: part-time volunteers in the open source community have built huge parts of the modern world. The limitation of this strategy is that the more time you spend on your side project, the more your day job or your personal life suffers.

Let’s add a fourth strategy

  • Work on your idea full time without pay: This strategy has all the benefits of a side project but allows you to focus on your work without having to sacrifice family, friends, or health. Ditching your day job frees up time to learn more, be more giving, and be more creative. The biggest limitation is that with no feedback from the market or from a boss, it’s hard to be sure you’re doing something useful. It’s up to you, every day, to evaluate whether you’re taking a risk on something valuable or whether you’re just entertaining yourself. Money is the obvious second limitation, but you can solve the money problem simply by spending less.

Engineers are wealthy even if they don’t know it

My experience leaving paid work

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Chris Loer

Chris Loer

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