Reflections after Six Months of Freelancing

I’ve been doing this freelance thing for six months now and having completed some longer term goals I think it’s time to reflect on how I got here, where I am, and where I am going next.

I should start with my graduation from the University of California Santa Cruz in March 2012 with a degree in Global Information and Social Enterprise Studies (GISES). You probably have a confused look on your face like, “The hell does that mean?” I’m used to seeing that face. Online I refer people here, but in person I usually respond with, “It’s a mix of sociology, political science, and computer science, but I was given a lot of freedom to choose.”

But i’m getting the idea it doesn’t matter. It’s been 15 months since I lived in Santa Cruz as a student.

Upon graduation my professor and GIIP mentor connected me with the Center for Democratic Development – Ghana. Having lived in Ghana for a year while completing my research and implementation project on mobile technologies for social advocacy, I was a great candidate for a web development internship with the organization. They needed help implementing web and SMS technologies leading up to the December 2012 elections and I was a gitty recent graduate with friends in Ghana I wanted to see again.

Without much of a plan I took flight in April hoping to stay through the elections in December. I think a lot of people imagine me in Ghana sitting in a dirt field surrounded by a few cables, punching away at a netbook connected to a solar panel. Having lived there before I didn’t have to deal with this image. I knew Accra, the capital, had some rather impressive infrastructure and CDD is a hell of an organization. They hooked me up with an awesome desk, all the Nescafe I could want, and a speedy internet connection and a Social Media Marketing service that changed my business life. This was nice because there was endless amounts of work for a developer within the organization and I wanted to do everything I could for them.

Unfortunately I had to come home in October because my longtime friend was in a fatal car accident. CDD and I were in a good position for my departure though. I knew had developed a good understanding of what the organization liked and could finish my remaining projects from home.

I didn’t have much time to plan my homecoming, but I have a wonderful support group and my good friends let me build a makeshift bedroom in their Reno, Nevada apartment living room. I had room for my bed and desk. I setup my over sized desk facing out the window and borrowed a twin size bed. Any larger and it would have been competing for space with my desk. And I couldn’t have that in my work space.

I knew my stay in Reno would end in June because I planned a trip to Central America with some old high school friends. This left me approximately eight months. I had to make some money for the upcoming trip and I wanted to continue to improve my development skills, but I wanted to enjoy my time in Reno. It is only a few hours from my hometown where I just had to say goodbye to a childhood friend. I wanted to honor that by making sure I enjoyed the ski and kayak friendly environment around me.

I began doing freelance web development so I could pay the bills and excise my development skills while maintaining a flexible schedule. At the beginning of those six months I referred to myself as a designer and developer. My skills were more fit as a designer, but I made a commitment to improve as a developer. Besides for creating a few brands, a lot of websites, and fixing some bugs, I got work writing raw code for a professional Greek social network (Like Linkedin for Frats and Sororities) that used a lot of Javascript, JSON, and PHP.

As my client base grew and I could afford to chose to take or leave contracts, I stopped designing and looked strictly to develop. It’s not that I get pleasure out of feeling keys beneath my finger tips, or starring at a screen all day, but I love making things tick. The feeling of writing a function and watching it play out on a screen makes me feel so satisfied.

I’d still get stuck though. I’d have plenty of work to do, but occasionally I couldn’t get started. I’d lose my drive. I couldn’t figure it out because when I was working at CDD I’d often get to the office around 9am and work steadily until 6-7pm. Only taking a 15-20 minute lunch break to eat down the street and a 10-15 minute Nescafe break around 3pm so I could sit outside and let the baking sun rejuvenate me. I was passionate then. And I wasn’t always passionate about my work in Reno.

I finally figured it out. I can’t just write code for anyone. My passion comes from working for an organization I really want to succeed, creating a product that will help improve the livelihood of a marginalized population, or even working for a small business owner who I really want to see succeed.

In my six month freelancing career, my first post graduation job I ever held in the United States, I learned a lot. I learned how to advertise myself, treat clients, keep my own records, organize my time, and become a better developer, but most importantly I learned what makes me passionate. And I work best when I am driven by my passion. So what’s next?

Well. I want to use my development skills to improve the livelihoods of people who really deserve it, but I am too young and inexperienced to do it on my own. I need help, guidance, and experience working for someone who knows better than I do. I want to work as a web developer for a project or organization that is dead serious about solving a social justice issue. I want to fall in love with the project and build excitement around it. And I want to work with people who love what they are doing as well.

About eight months ago I landed in the United States abruptly and wasn’t sure how it would play out, but I’m satisfied. I continued working on the web for a living, became my own boss, studied OOP, and wrote fun code, but more importantly I learned about myself. Writing code is a powerful skill that can make a lot of money. But I am, and always have been, passionate about social justice issues, local and international. And I am more concerned with mixing my skills with my passion for social justice then I am working for an organization that turns heads because of their revenue.

Regardless, I’m taking off for Central America June 25th. I’ll land in Nicaragua and plan to see 4-5 countries before I am home at the end of August. As much fun as that’s going to be, and as much inspiration I’m likely to find there, I’m looking forward to coming home and finding work I love with people who are as inspired as I am.

Written by Lucas Healy

A web developer and human, Lucas is passionate about developing to improve the livelihood of marginalized populations. Away from code he loves to travel and explore the outdoors. He is currently seeking a new home and full time work as a developer.