Warning: this post contains images of me over the years. I take no responsibility for the damage this may cause to your retina and/or mental state.
Time’s a funny thing; it just keeps on passing. There it went just now. And again. And here I am, burning your actual time postulating about how time passes. And again, with that apology. Sorry. I should stop now.
Another thing is that we have this impression that there’s a “right time” for things. Sometimes there is. Most of the time, the right time is just whenever you actually do it – that’s mostly how I view things. JFDI and there it is, it’s the perfect time.
But the concept of timing has struck me recently as I’ve watched my local community and the world suddenly ‘discover’ the idea that maybe tech, creativity and startups are things we should be doing more of. It’s all the rage right now, with talk of co-working hubs and building a community of like minded individuals. This is unquestionably a great thing and I intend to help out where I can. But there’s a little bitter voice at the back of my head, even while I enthuse with others about the possibilities, that keeps saying:
“Where the hell were you guys 10-20 years ago?”
20+ years ago
I always knew I had an itch to write code and make stuff happen. After tinkering with things while at school I finally taught myself C aged 16 in 1989 from a book, and started to get a bit more serious about it. But the thing is, I had no idea that was something I’d ever be able to make a living out of. Everyone I knew said you just had to get a job in finance related subjects, and I tried accountancy until it bored the tits off me. I had no Internet access, and no real contact with anyone doing what I was trying to do until I bought a modem in 1993 and started connecting to BBS’s, including a local one called Black Ice run by Damien Guard, who would become one of the few local people I knew who wanted to push the boundaries a bit and hence a fast friend in a sea of an otherwise boring environment. We’d scheme and plan and write code but really we had no idea what we were doing, and had basically no-one to advise us. We just had to make it up, fail, try again, over and over. At the time, I tried to get jobs in game dev off the island, but no-one would give me the time of day without a CS degree. Both Damien & I had dropped out of school, taught ourselves & then aced part-time CS degrees later to prove to idiot HR depts we were worth talking to, then never really used the degrees again. Lets just say this early experience naturally led to a lack of faith in authority & conventional structures
There were pros and cons to this style of early development. On the one hand, if I’d had someone showing me what was possible, and an Internet to learn from, I’m sure development in those early years would have been faster. But on the other hand, I’m sure having had to do this mostly alone built a certain level of character, independence and pure stubbornness that has been useful.
~10 years ago
11 years ago in 2004 I set up my first company, through which I started to work part-time for people around the world using my project at the time, Ogre3D. My partners were a mixture of British and American, and I mostly worked for American and Canadian companies. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and all attempts to access advice locally met with blank stares and “well if you were making a finance company, or trading locally…”. Useless. I just took the plunge anyway, hired lawyers in foreign countries where necessary, bricked myself a lot, and somehow, it all worked out. By 2006 there was enough demand for my ‘part time’ work that I was killing myself so I had to choose – and I chose to quit my day job and run my company full time. I started to experiment with different business models and eventually made the transition away from contracting to making my own products, which is where my passion really lies.
It’s probably this period I feel most bitter about – the local business assistance was really poor around the time I needed it most, in those early days, and the very strong impression I got was “Why aren’t you doing something from this small list of ‘Team Guernsey’ things? We’re not really interested in anything else”.
Now of course, tech is fashionable and I’m asked to pitch in & help. Which I’ll absolutely do for the benefit of the new people coming through today. But I can’t help but roll my eyes at the kind of people who were around back then, and who are now having a sudden epiphany like some born-again tech evangelists, and who want me to help them out.
Today, I have all the opportunities I wished I’d had 10-20 years ago, but mostly I’ve moved beyond wanting them. Today, all I want to do is work on my own ideas & passions, make the products I want to make, and be able to do that without being beholden to investors or bosses. 10 or 20 years ago if you’d offered me any job at somewhere like Google or Apple, working on anything, I would have snapped it up. 10 years ago if you’d offered to invest in my startup, I would have probably taken it.
Today, I just really like making things that I find useful, the way I want, undistracted by investors, bosses or anyone else. I like doing it in my quiet home office, provided with coffee from my own setup, with a cat by my side. It’s somewhere I can get up, walk about, wave my arms and talk to myself (or the cat) and that’s totally OK. I don’t mind too much how big anything I make gets, or whether it makes a ton of money, so long as it’s useful, I like it, and I can afford to keep doing it.
So yeah, my timing has been totally off if you consider that the tech-friendly environment today would have been perfect for me 10-20 years ago.
But then again, right now I’m pretty much exactly where I want to be. So maybe it’s been perfect timing all along.
Just like always.