I have been unemployed for almost nine months. The project I was working on was moved from Milan to Poland in what was most likely an effort to downsize the project and cut costs.
I remember I was happy when the news broke out. Some people were crying, others found it very hard to accept it, but I was so relieved that I could finally free myself from the golden handcuffs. I don’t want to talk too much about it, but let’s say my boss didn’t care about doing good work and didn’t know what good work looked like. Remote work was almost never allowed before COVID and working hours were not flexible.
My previous experience was undeniably better in almost all aspects and I am grateful for the opportunity, but it still had flaws. Most people were great, skilled and cared about doing good work. However, the work itself became quite boring and repetitive after a few months and, as independent contractors hired through a vendor company, we didn’t have enough permissions (as in software permissions) and visibility to understand what was going on around us and meaningfully contribute as members of the product or the organization (nor did we really feel like one). Also, still stuck in the 9 to 6 office grind with no remote work.
Work takes up such a big part of your life that what you do is terribly important. I’ve been contacted by many companies and recruiters during this time, but the idea of going back to full-time work doing something I don’t care about or is not technically interesting just scares me. I know I would feel enslaved, with my physical and mental freedom taken away in exchange for some money. I’ve been very unhappy doing that and I’m pretty sure I would be again. Of course the money was nice, but thanks to Apple and Samsung paying salaries 2-3x the average and having moved back to Italy with two friends means that I have enough money to pay rent for a while.
During this time I built a few personal projects which greatly improved my technical skills and that I enjoyed more than my previous work experiences, but they were simple projects built mostly for fun and not for money (i.e. they are not and could not be “startups”) and they didn’t allow me to collaborate with other people on something bigger than the sum of its parts. However, simply working on something I liked or cared about while keeping my freedom made me feel much better. What’s more, the most rewarding work I’ve ever done has always been unpaid and that’s volunteering at the Red Cross — mostly unskilled work that anyone can do. Whether it is delivering food packages to families in need, raising funds in the streets or checking people in for their COVID-19 vaccine, I can feel useful as a human being in a setting where profit does not come first or is not even in the picture.
Accepting a job offer is a bit like getting engaged or married: you know will have to make compromises to make it work, but you should not go for it unless you’re 100% sure and obviously you should not marry someone you don’t know. If you do, chances are you will end up being unhappy for a long time or staying with them for longer than you want, because you will get used to the day-to-day and the “rewards” while still getting to know them. When you begin to have an understanding of who this person really is, you will already be invested and leaving will be hard. Many never leave. For a company however, it is much easier to stay with someone who is unhappy in their relationship [with the company itself], because it’s a one-to-many relationship. They have many other employees they can rely on, and an underperforming or unhappy employee can be easily shadowed by better or happier ones without the company suffering. Is it starting to feel dysfunctional?
So how can I find work I like? How can I avoid getting invested and locked-in on something I might end up not really liking? How do I, oh yes, fail fast when finding work, and how can I convince organizations (who may also be unsure) to date me? I have a few ideas on what I want from work, so this is what I came up with: what if I make the rules? In exchange, you make the price.
Here are the rules:
1. You will give me interesting or meaningful work
Interesting work means work that I think is inherently technically interesting or that will improve my skills in a direction I like. Examples could be blockchain, fintech, automation/devops, electronics/embedded development, programming at a more advanced level than what I’m used to. I like Python. I don’t like PHP and Java.
Meaningful work means work that I care about at a humanitarian/social level. An example could be a non-profit organization that helps people or animals, projects that contribute to a more open, private, anonymous or free Internet, projects that aim to prevent or reduce government surveillance and control over citizens.
2. The work will be part-time, fully remote, flexible and, where possible, asynchronous
No fixed hours, I will work when I want. No meetings that could be emails, no daily stand-ups, no out-of-the-blue calls expecting me to be available right there. The work will be remote and any required travel will be paid for or reimbursed.
I’d like to start this experiment at a maximum of 10 to 20 hours per week. I will evaluate proposals and then decide on one along with a minimum commitment from my side e.g. 4 weeks. After this time ends, I will re-evaluate the situation and any new proposals.
3. No technical interviews or coding challenges
I’m open to chats and discussions, but no technical interviews. You have my CV and LinkedIn profile which honestly describe what I can do, and my word that feedback about my work has always been good. I’m willing to learn any new and interesting technologies I don’t know, and if you’re not sure about me or my skills you can pay me 1$/hour until you are or just keep me as a jack-of-all-trades.
4. You pay what you want, per hour
That’s it, very simple. Humble Bundle-like, no questions asked as long as it’s not zero.
This whole thing is not about money, so what the work is about comes first. Of course I will prefer 100$/hour over 5$/hour if both proposals are interesting, but I will never accept one that pays more unless I really like it more.
I will prefer payments in cryptocurrency (BTC, ETH, DAI/stablecoins).
This might look nonsense or irrational to many. I see counterarguments: companies have onboarding costs and processes to follow, there’s already a lot of competition for the best/most interesting places and a lot of other stuff but, come on, you pay what you want.
I believe you should work to make your life go in a direction that aligns with your ideas starting from first principles, and this is my way to do it.