Software development can be fun. As a kid I had wanted to be able to make the games I was into at the time: Theme Park, Rollercoaster Tycoon, and any other simulation game. Along with some reasonable maths skills and an introverted personality, this meant computer science was my path through university and I eventually started a career as a software developer.
I got to work on some fun projects, from media websites to ecommerce platforms, and even Facebook games. Yes, the really annoying “Your friend Tom needs your help building a skyscraper” type, circa 2012.
Though I never got to work on a theme park game, these jobs were a great way not only to make money but also a lifestyle choice. Coding in the day time and pints with colleagues after work. I made some close friends in these jobs, and mostly had a blast.
In December 2017 I went to Finland, and with plenty of spare time during the dark evenings I started reading some books that opened up a whole new world of personal finance. Books like Rich Dad Poor Dad made me realise that being financially successful didn’t have to just be a dream, but could instead be a reality. As long as I actually put a plan in place.
From there I went down a deep rabbit hole, started learning about economics at the fantastic Khan Academy, and eventually onto investing.
I have by nature a risk averse personality. Investing had always been way outside my comfort zone, but I realised that if I wanted to keep any money I saved, and protect it from inflation, I was going to have to start. In early 2018 I began investing in index funds, having read they would be low maintenance and give a good return over a long-term period.
To cut a long story short, I continued to invest a substantial portion of my salary into these index funds, and after a few years when I looked at the balance I was really glad that I’d made the decision to start investing. Even though my returns seemed good though, I still felt like I was on the slow path to financial success.
Looking for the fast lane
By 2018 I was definitely a personal development junkie, reading on average 3 books per month, sometimes zipping through them at 2x speed!
One book that stopped me in my tracks was The Millionaire Fastlane. Despite being suggested by Audible again and again I had put off reading it due to the gimmicky-sounding title. For whatever reason I eventually picked it up, and what the author MJ DeMarco was saying made total sense to me.
Anyway, I’ll do the author a massive disservice by summarising his book in two points:
- making money through stock market investments is a great way to keep wealth, but a very slow way to make it
- if you want to become wealthy before your 60s, then adding massive value to the marketplace through a scalable business is the best way to do it
OK, well he said a bunch of other very interesting stuff, like not having any leverage when you’re working in a job that someone else controls. Some of this seemed quite controversial to me at the time, having been progressing through my career like a good citizen does.
This new train of thought was not one that I would be able to return from though.
Reassessing my “career” path
As you can imagine this all got my thinking about what I was doing and whether it would ever converge with my dreams. One of my main goals was (and still is) financial independence, so I could spend more time travelling but without the worry of a dwindling bank balance and eventually having to look for another job.
Around this time I decided to take a break from my career and “try” something else out. After I quit my job at the time, during the next year there were two failed business ventures, one as a serviced accommodation provider, and one as an SEO consultant. I was a little jaded after these experiences and eventually decided to get another development job, but this time remote working. Yes, I was a remote working developer before it was cool.
Some small success
Any new business ventures took a backseat as I dedicated myself almost exclusively to my new job, and learnt a tonne in the process, mostly about AWS and the build automation tool Gradle. In late 2019 I decided to reignite my entrepreneurial spark, in a small way, and start this website.
Can you guess what I wrote about?
Yep, mostly Gradle and AWS. Part of starting this site was an experiment to see if I could drive traffic to a website using only good content, as opposed to the SEO tricks I had learnt and failed to implement during earlier ventures. Well during the first few months I got very few visitors. Literally, 0, 1, or maybe 2 visitors per day.
But I was curious and kept writing articles on topics that I thought would be interesting to others, and eventually saw some consistent growth to the point where I was getting thousands of visitors on some days!
This was a really great feeling, especially for someone who’d never been able to create websites anyone actually wanted to visit before.
Ways to add more value
An important lesson I picked up from all the personal development books was that being successful in business is all about focussing on adding value. Not flashy business cards, not grandiose titles, and not adding a chatbot to your website!
I liked this concept, as it went against the negative stereotypes many people have of rich people. People actually become rich because they add massive value to the marketplace. OK, people also get rich for other less legitimate reasons, but I definitely wanted to be in the first category!
So given some success with this website, and also having started a moderately successful YouTube channel on the same topics, I was looking for ways to add even more value to my audience and get nearer to my goal of financial freedom. I thought creating structured learning materials might be a better way for my audience to learn than single articles or videos, so I decided to launch a course.
It took some time to decide what topic to cover. The candidates were AWS, Gradle, and Jenkins. The AWS training market seemed quite saturated and I wasn’t sure what specifically people would want to learn about Jenkins. Gradle seemed like a good bet though, because I knew people were frustrated learning it. I was in the same situation myself 5 years ago and people said similar things in comments on my YouTube videos.
So in January 2021 I launched a short introductory Gradle course called Get Going with Gradle. I really wasn’t sure how to make a course, but I concentrated on explaining the fundamental concepts, presenting in a way that was easy to understand, and recording with clear audio.
Oh yeah, and spending more than 45 minutes creating the course unlike some course creators out there!
Advertising the free course on my website and YouTube channels, I eventually got a steady stream of students signing up and was really pleased with the feedback and reviews. I had always had it in the back of my mind that I could follow up with a more advanced course that people would be willing to pay for, so this feedback gave me the confidence to move ahead with that.
Well, it turns out creating a full course is a tonne of work:
- creating sample projects
- writing each lesson’s script
- creating slides and diagrams
- recording, and editing
These are just a few of the time-consuming tasks. I started this endeavour while still in full-time employment, but eventually ground to a halt, mostly through demotivation due to the seemingly endless task of finishing the course.
Quit my job (again)
In early summer 2021 I decided to quit my job to spend more time on the course, and creating content in general. The job was my longest ever, almost 3 years, and I had learnt a lot of new stuff which you can read about on this site.
I spent the last few weeks of my notice period in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a Spanish island off the Western coast of Africa. Since it was a remote working job I had always planned to work while travelling, but because of one excuse or another had always put it off. I think I was scared I wouldn’t be able to setup a productive working environment abroad. I love my home office, but even with a single laptop screen on a stand I got a surprising amount of good work done in my last few weeks.
In June 2021 I flew back to UK and started working full time on the course, Gradle Hero. There were no excuses now, so through one way or another I managed to get chapter after chapter done, and am happy to say that in the last few days I finally launched it!
I’m pleased with the results, and am confident it’s going to help engineers get a solid understanding of Gradle so they can build software more effectively.
It’s still early days with the course, but I’m looking forward to hearing feedback from those that have already purchased it (yes there are some!), improving, and potentially expanding the course as necessary.
Now that I’ve created the course, I can dedicate more time again to this website and the YouTube channel. I have some ideas for additional content on Gradle, but I also think I need to try doing things a bit differently.
This could be:
- collaborations with other content creators (let me know if you’re interested!)
- different video ideas other than just teaching a topic, like how did Gradle help project x overcome its build problems
- covering topics other than just Gradle, for example other build tools
- create more “lifestyle” content, like this article you’re reading
Also, I plan to work from some awesome locations around the world. Now that I’m in control of my own schedule, I can take some risks and perhaps try living in some Easter European countries for a change.
I’ve shared this rambling story with you to try to document my journey, and perhaps give you some new ideas. I’ve had some successes and failures, and definitely feel like I’m still a work in progress when it comes to making my way in business.
If you’re a software engineer and are thinking of branching out, or have already done so, let me know your thoughts. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, I think ultimately what you end up doing should align with your values and long-term goals. That’s the most important thing.