This year has been quite a ride! 🎢
It's felt like the first real year since 2020 that things have been somewhat "normal". However, looking back, it's been anything but normal.
Although I finished my job at Elvie back at the beginning of November 2022, I allowed myself a couple of months off before fully getting into recruitment mode.
I did a lot of interviews and general job-hunting busy-work at the beginning of 2023. For all my efforts, I had only one job offer come out of it, despite getting to final stage interviews on quite a few exciting roles.
Sadly that offer would have forced us to move back to the UK, which wasn't something I was ready to do. We will move back at some point, but I had hoped to make more of a 'success' of living in another country and not throw in the towel at the first sign of rocky terrain.
However, after pouring so much time and energy into job-hunting and really feeling like I wasn't getting anywhere (and steadily coming to the end of our savings), it was time to look for other sources of income.
This meant switching from the comfort of a regular salary to freelancing...
Freelancing work picked up and was going well for most of the summer. I was able to go to Laracon US (although the journey there was an experience) and enjoy a few days of nerding out with a bunch of old and new friends in the Laravel community, which was awesome.
I went straight from there to Sicily for a holiday with my wife and some friends. Although we had more travel troubles thanks to the ridiculous Mediterranean heatwave that occurred, and we were at one point legitimately concerned about our well-being due to wildfires, it was a welcome break.
But despite paying well, freelancing isn't my dream. I've spent too long in my career doing this kind of work, and when I joined Elvie back in 2017 it was a dream-come-true to move away from endless projects and to focus on refining systems over the long-haul.
I have always enjoyed a few aspects of working with clients: learning their business and their problems, solving new and interesting challenges, and meeting new people. But I find the lack of control or influence frustrating.
Moving back to freelancing, I feel like I've let go of my dream and hastily picked up client work again... something I'd wanted to escape for so long.
However, it has allowed me to work with some incredible teams. Most notably I've enjoyed working with Spruce, Manual and more recently Tighten.
One good thing from freelancing is that it has afforded me some extra freedom, allowing me to explore some of my side projects.
Aside of the hundreds of hours I spent interviewing, sucking at Rocket League and not really getting any better at guitar, my time out of work also gave me the headspace to think about some side projects that I'd wanted to explore for a while.
One idea was to create completely distributable Laravel apps by bundling PHP within Tauri. After a bit of banging my head against the wall, I finally nailed it, thanks largely to the static-php-cli package, which seemed to have gone somewhat unnoticed and in need of a lot of love.
But Jerry, the maintainer, was super helpful and back in March I was able to get a statically-compiled version of PHP up and running with enough of the needed extensions baked-in to run a Laravel app.
Then I tweeted about it and things went a little crazy. Marcel Pociot from BeyondCode reached out to me and NativePHP was born.
(Although I wasn't involved with its development, Laravel Herd also came out of this and I was using it for about a month before it was released at Laracon US)
We launched NativePHP publicly at Laracon US—Marcel changed the topic of his talk specifically to focus on NativePHP, which was super cool. He repeated the talk at Laracon AU.
The interest in NativePHP has blown me away honestly, but it's also been somewhat frustrating. While I'd love to focus all my attention on it, I can't because I have a family and we need to eat etc.
This has really brought the stark reality of open source home for me, where hundreds and thousands of people want something, but only a tiny, tiny proportion of them are prepared to put their money towards it.
I get that it's a bit of a Catch-22 situation: if it's not production-ready, it's hard to justify contributing towards it because you likely can't make any money from it yet.
Unfortunately, that has meant it's had to take a back seat while I go and do paid work or build up other projects that can generate some income for me.
Another idea I'd be knocking around for a while was a payment solution that did away with using debit/credit cards altogether. My previous boss and mentor got me onto the idea and I was keen to explore it.
Spred came out of that and it's been a bit of a vehicle for me to explore building something in public.
While the idea is solid, I haven't yet figured out why it doesn't have wide appeal. Fee-free payments seems like a huge deal, but I'm struggling to find businesses that are prepared to try it out. I've only had a handful of payments run through the service so far.
¶Veliance & Laradir
I started Veliance because I was freelancing and wanted to build up a directory of other Laravel freelancers. Having gone from being part of a team of people that I thoroughly enjoyed working with to suddenly being 'on my own' was a little daunting. Having some like-minded individuals that I could tap into felt appropriate.
It wasn't an app, it was just a Notion page hooked up with a Typeform or two. A lot of it was manual and I didn't expect it to explode or anything—we're talking about a niche within a niche here—so the workload was never going to be intense.
While I was spreading the message about Veliance, someone pointed out Laradir. It looked like they'd had a similar idea and had already started to build out an app. I reached out to them to see if we could collab... 🦗 🏏
I watched the site over the months—the number of registered user accounts kept climbing steadily and I thought they must be onto something. They had an 'open metrics' page, so I was able to see the signups going up, but revenue wasn't really moving (maybe the cron job broke?)
And then, out of the blue, they got back to me. We chatted and I learned that the team behind it had kind of moved onto other things and didn't have the budget to carry it further. The opportunity to acquire the site came up and so I made an offer. And they accepted!
This is the first time I've acquired a website or app. I couldn't be happier with how this went and I'm excited to do it again.
It all went super smoothly and now I'm running Laradir. And I'm super excited to keep on developing that platform to help even more Laravel developers find work.
Where Veliance was focused solely on Laravel freelancers, Laradir is for all Laravel engineers. I only managed to get about 70 devs signed up to Veliance, but Laradir already had over 700 when I acquired it.
Since then it's grown to almost 2,000 (1,988 as of today)! These aren't huge numbers, but it's a start. I think there are plenty more to come. If you haven't joined yet, please do!
Something I've been wanting to do for a while is live-stream programming. I wasn't able to do it at Elvie because it just wasn't ever going to be that kind of org. But now that I'm a free agent, I wanted to give it a meaningful shot.
I'm not a showman. I just enjoy writing code. I'd love it if it helps someone, but honestly, I largely expect that someone to only be me.
That said, I had a few goals:
- Create some accountability to help me focus and get things done.
- Do it regularly and meaningfully, even if no one is watching.
- Keep the overall commitment low.
- See if it's something I enjoy doing.
I think it's passed on all counts:
- It has given me a reason to build different side projects in public, which is nerve-wracking and exciting.
- I've limited it to just Fridays for now. And I find that around 2 hours is enough time. But I'm trying to keep it a regular slot every week.
- I haven't gone out and bought any new gear to do it—I use my iPhone camera (Continuity Camera) and I bought a Røde lavalier. I haven't decked out my office or installed soundproofing or bought an expensive mic.
- And I am really enjoying it!
It's honestly quite tiring, but it's worth it. I think every stream I've done has been better the previous one, both in my comfort level doing the stream but also in what I'm able to work on and the progress we make together.
And somehow I've got 127 subscribers on my channel, which I honestly never believed would happen! Thanks to everyone who's been on the show, said hi and subscribed. I really appreciate your support 💜
I'm proud of many of the things I've done this year. But it's also been quite hard. That takes a toll. I've felt quite tired and frustrated by a lot of things—more than normal.
I consider myself to be quite patient, but I feel like that's wearing thinner... I'm becoming a bit of a 'grumpy old man' and honestly I have to have a strong word with myself every now and then.
I am extremely fortunate all things considered: I have a beautiful and caring wife, a sometimes-obedient pup, and a modest set of relative luxuries... a nice home, a car, eating out, the occasional holiday etc.
My wife has worked insanely hard on her business too. It's been a really tough year for her.
And even in the last couple of months, we've had some pretty big ups followed by some equally low downs.
All this combined has had us talking more and more seriously about a move back to London.
Although life after the pandemic (is it ever really over?) seems to be returning to something like what it was prior, there's still quite a deep unsettling feeling that I don't think I've had before. I feel like I used to have a pretty good idea of what the next year would bring, but I honestly have no clue for 2024.
I do feel a bit more positive about the year ahead than I did at this time last year, but the levels of uncertainty are still quite high.
The best I can do is stake a claim on trying to achieve a few goals:
- Drastically improve my Spanish!
- Grow Laradir so that it becomes self-sustaining.
- Launch Spred so that anyone can sign up and start using it.
- Continue streaming and enjoying it.
- Get NativePHP out of alpha and into production—especially the Tauri driver.
A stretch goal might be that all of the above do enough to financially support us that I can scale back freelancing.
For sure there will be some unexpected curveballs to throw some of this off track. Hopefully they're good surprises and not bad surprises