Next steps: teach, travel, freelance

I’m writing this article to share where I’m at, what I want to accomplish next, and why.


Where I come from

One day, when I was 6, my father came back home with a new shiny high-tech toy: a Intel-386 PC. He did not expect that, a few weeks later, I would master his work tool more than him.

Fascinated by the computer, I started to play with the MS-DOS command prompt, then I learnt how to make jokes to my father by messing with autoexec.bat. My oncle Joël then offered me a great gift: a book about QBASIC programming, with its diskette. Since that day, my passion for programming has never faded. Just the language.

QBasic IDE and interpreter for MS-DOS

How I grew up

During my childhood and adolescense, I wanted to spend all the time I could on the computer, to program things: scripts, games, and even a window manager from scratch. When I started high school, I asked for a Ti-92 calculator for christmas, and coded games in C for it. I kept begging for an Internet connection in the late 90's, so that I could play with ICQ, Subseven, and publish my curated list of vintage games (with homemade optimized installers, and instructions) on my own web page.

Even though I had been taking drumming lessons for many years, and playing in my high school’s unique rock band, I definitely wanted to become a professional programmer, as soon as possible. So I enrolled a 2-year practical university degree (DUT) in Computer Science, in Aix-en-Provence, and really enjoyed it. In the end, I decided that I wanted to learn more, so I enrolled into a Engineering School (MSc-equivalent) for 3 years in Lyon.

TI-92 calculator

First encounters with the professional world

After 3 challenging internships, a one-year exchange program in Australia, a Masters’ thesis in a research lab, and my first freelance gig for an Australian start-up company, my crave for joining an innovative software company was higher than ever.

But, somehow, I ended up working for a consulting company, just because I was offered a position in their new “mobile devices” team. It was in 2006, I owned a Windows Mobile PDA, I knew how to code applications for it, and the iPhone was soon going to revolutionize the mobile phone industry. So, even though I didn’t like the idea of working in a consulting company, working in their “mobile devices” team sounded exciting to me at the time.

A few months later, Nokia published a very inspiring white paper about “Dynamic ride-sharing”: basically proposing the premises of Uber and other modern Smartphone-based consumer transportation apps, back in 2007. I was frustrated because my consulting company did not care to create this kind of application, so I left them in order to develop my own project… by starting a PhD Thesis!

A three-year dip in Academia

In France, private companies are financially incentivized to hire PhD students, so I accepted an offer from Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs to work on an interesting topic: Context Awareness. You know, applications that adapt their content, based on your location and/or habits. That was year 2007!

A sample of Phdcomics by Jorge Cham

Besides the amazing memories of international conference trips and highest levels of anxiety I had ever experienced, I learnt three important things during my PhD:

  • While I was procrastinating in my lab, there were dozens of cool start-up companies blossoming in Paris;
  • Research is too slow and bureaucratic for me; (e.g. it takes one year to get your 5-page paper published so that other research can read it)
  • What the hell am I doing? I should be changing the world in a start-up!

So I finished my thesis as soon as I could, in order to join a new exciting start-up company: Whyd!

An early version of Whyd.com, before it became a music curation service

Four years of passionate crafting

My experience at Whyd is way too rich to sum up here. But I can say that:

  • While being their lead developer, I confirmed my skills in full-stack web development (deploying Node.js in production since version 0.3);
  • I succeeded at leading a development team in both project and agile modes;
  • I sharpened my skills for evaluating, hiring and coaching new members of our development team.
  • Overall, this experience increased my confidence and motivation to build other start-ups.

Not to mention: I had tons of fun working in that crazy start-up team.

But, after four years of following someone else’s plan, I really wanted to do start-up work my own way, and experiment new ideas. For this reason, I left Whyd in February 2015. We’re still great friends with the team, and I’m grateful for that.

Independent experiments for saving the world

As a new independent experienced start-up developer, I am not hurried to join another start-up, nor to found my own, yet. But, there is one problem I have really wanted to tackle: help non-technical founders (desperately looking for their “CTO”, a developer who would build their idea for free) bootstrap their startup.

A non-technical founder, as seen by a developer

Why is this important for me? Because I believe that citizens creating start-ups is the best way to make our society evolve, and solve contemporary world-class issues such as ecology, inequality, hyper-consumerism…

Sure, most start-ups fail. But what if the next Brian Chesky (CEO of AirBnb), the next Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla), or the next Drew Houston (CEO of DropBox) could not bootstrap their idea, just because they sucks at attracting their first developer?

So, I thought of two approaches so far:

  • Teach non-technical founders how to bootstrap with/without developer;
  • Coach computer science students so that they can bootstrap a founder’s idea during their internship, and hopefully become their technical associate.

I quit the first approach for several reasons, and shared a guidelines document towards non-technical founders, instead.

And I decided to spend less sourcing effort into the second approach, after disqualifying three motivated CS students at my own evaluation recipe. Picking students that are not good enough for solving problems, planning, or unable to ask for help when stuck, is too risky for non-technical founders, and thus, for my coaching business.

So, what now?

I learned a lot in the past 4 month. Having decided to put less effort in my attempts of bringing non-technical founders and CS interns together, I now want to sail in different seas:

  • I want to teach javascript programming to young computer science students;
  • I want to keep helping start-up companies by providing freelance programming and coaching;
  • And I want to experiment nomadism, by doing freelance while travelling. (next destination: a south-asian country, yet to pick).
How it’s like to work as a nomad, at Hubud, Bali, Indonesia

So far, I had decided not to publish my availability and contact information on freelance listings. Today, I decided to do it on a highly selective platform: Toptal. By being present on that platform only, my hope is that I will find clients that will match my expectations and respect my values better. (including my choice to work from abroad)

I’m currently being evaluated for joining Toptal’s Node.js Developers network, and I’m also designing a hands-on javascript course for young Computer Science students. I hope that both projects will succeed; I’ll let you know how it goes!

EDIT: Turns out that my solution to Toptal’s 90-minute algorithmic challenge on Codility did not reach their level of expectation. It’s ok, I may join another platform that matches my strenghts better. Even though I’m skeptical on the relevance of such tests for demonstrating the skills of a professional web developer, I appreciated the fact that Toptal provided feedback on what I did wrong according to their criteria. This helps me to improve, and shows respect to candidates for the time they invested into the screening process.

As always, I love reading your ideas and suggestions. So please feel free to express yourself through comments and/or replies!