My summer of hustle

The mojitos have been drunk, the neglected lawn work is mostly completed — Memorial Day is over, and now our de facto summer in the United States begins.

I’m writing this post more for myself than for you, generous reader. I hope you forgive my brief use of the weblog’s confessional mode. I need to make an official announcement that I have work to do. Inspired by Amy Hoy’s description of her year of hustle, and by Giles Bowkett’s long post about what he did when he got fired, I’m launching an all-out effort this summer to build and ship some code.

I wandered into web development because it was really cool. It was the next major mass medium, and it did something new: it made documents easy to distribute to the world. That was 15 years ago. I had no contemporary programming experience. I had a newly-minted social sciences degree and a lot of curiosity. I started in production and management and steadily got more and more into software development at a series of failed start ups. Now, in my mid-30s, I finally feel code literate. I also feel like I know something about the realities of writing code and trying to sell applications and content online. But what do I have to show for myself?

Those start-ups are gone. The project management work I did at an interactive agency? Zzzzzzz. I’ve built some decent sites lately, but their futures are uncertain, and my best work for them, I can’t really write about it because it belongs to my clients.

Thirty-six is a funny age in this business. It used to be old. Now, there are plenty of 40-ish and 50-ish people in the industry. But they’re visible. They’ve made a mark. My suspicion is that a lot of other people who didn’t make a public mark are finding it hard to continue doing decent anonymous work.

The solution is to make your mark by releasing something valuable into the world. And with open source having conquered the world, it’s never been easier to do this. So, like my assistant professor wife, I find myself facing a publish-or-perish moment.

Hence my plans for a summer of hustle. This week I’m getting geared up for RailsConf, but I am also reviewing my interests, my passions, looking for inspriation. It’s time to overcome my misgivings — that I don’t know enough, that I’ll embarrass myself, that no one will care about what I produce. Because I’m getting too old to live on work-for-hire.

Not that I’m counting on making money, directly or indirectly, from what I release. I’m not thinking about bread alone. There’s a point when the spirit demands more. It seems to me there are intangible benefits to contributing to the global codebase. More human contact, certainly, and with more intelligent and creative humans. There is also the satisfaction of creation, of making something purely for its own merits.

Although I’d sure like it if it did bring me suitcases filled with cash.

So there, I’m committed. No pressure.

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