Year One – part four – Be The Speak That You Change About

This is continuation of part one, part two and part 3, a series of posts summarising what I have learnt from my first year of freelancing, in the hope that my experiences will help others considering something similar. This post discusses continuing your learning as a freelancer, and conferences.

Learning

Something that I believe in particularly strongly is that you need to be responsible for your own personal progress, and have the drive to better yourself. Companies can help to facilitate this, but it shouldn’t be entirely on them to improve you. As a freelancer, I have nobody telling me what to do, nobody signing off on my educational requests, and nobody guiding my choices. It’s up to me to decide what I should be learning, and what I should be doing. Kev McCabe recently wrote a series of posts on Software Craftsmanship (1), (2) which had a lot of great points on this subject. As I’ve mentioned in this series before, for lots of this year I’ve made a conscious effort to take contracts which were very different, and which let me learn on the job to an extent. I’ve messed around with lots of different tech, and it’s been both great and a bit overwhelming to be the master of my own destiny. I’ve tried online courses such as Codeacademy, I’ve tried out things that people I’ve worked with have been using, and I’ve followed recommendations that have been in blogs that I follow or on Twitter. In addition I’ve spent a lot of time on trains reading. Everything has contributed to me feeling like I’ve progressed this year, but I’m the kind of person who feels like it’s never enough. As I mentioned previously, since I started my contracts I haven’t really had any kind of break in them, in the sense that I’ve had holidays and done conferences, but haven’t had professional gaps to take a step back and invest time in things. This is something that I think I need next year. The time to work on personal projects, or to learn  outside of work is quite important, and I’d like to make sure that I have at least a few proper days every 6 months to do so.

Conferences

This year I managed to get to the Responsive Day Out in Brighton, Adobe MAX in Los Angeles (speaker), Scotch on the Rocks in Edinburgh (speaker), dConstruct in Brighton, and Ladies Who Code 2013 in London (speaker). With being a freelancer, conference budgets need to be even more carefully considered than usual. I love attending conferences a lot and get loads from them, but the cost of tickets plus travel and accommodation quickly racks up. I managed to offset this somewhat by doing some proper speaking this year, which allowed me to attend things I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do. Doing my first big thing in the form of Create The Web in October 2012 was a deliberate move to challenge myself by doing something that scared me, and whilst I now feel a bit wiser from my speaking endeavours, it can still be very daunting. I’m by no means any kind of pro, and it isn’t easy to put myself out there. The peak of this, as I’ve blogged about previously, was speaking at Scotch on the Rocks in front of people that I consider friends, as well as people that I’ve looked up to professionally for years. That was by far the most stressful speaking experience of the year, purely for those reasons. In all honesty I’m not sure how I feel about speaking long-term. Once I get up there I really enjoy it, but I know that the kind of things that I come across day to day aren’t always relevant to any particular audience, and I sometimes find it a challenge to come up with topics that may have broad appeal to the masses. I also haven’t got over the self-doubting reasons that I started doing it in the first place, which is probably one of the things driving me on to do more. I’ll work on these. I’ve absolutely loved the conferences that I’ve been to this year, and although I’m not sure exactly what I want to do on the speaking front for 2014 I’m currently putting together a plan for those that I’ll hopefully be able to attend.

Next up(?)

I had originally intended to do a bit of a personal summary of the year at the end of this post, in the vein of the usual light-hearted year end summaries. This series has however grown to be more of a sharing piece than I’d originally intended, and as such it doesn’t really feel appropriate to book-end it with stats about social media and albums and the like. I’ve been quite reflective over the last few days, and I’ll likely put something together at some point around the new year, but now doesn’t seem like quite the time. Hopefully this very long-winded account of my year may be useful to some of you, and I’d encourage you all to share both the good and the bad things you experience in your working lives, rather than just painting a picture of perfection.