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Experience from practice

Commercial web development from a developer's perspective in 2019

26. 07. 2020

Obsah článku

After five years of freelancing and developing all sorts of websites both through agencies, referrals, clients acquired from history or just by chance, I find myself in a position of some frustration. I've come to understand that if you want to deliver **quality websites, it's not just about valid HTML** and templates, there's often much more behind it. This article outlines the specific factors I look out for based on experience and how to dramatically increase my value in the job market. Please see the article as more of a collection of observations and recommendations, *use at your own risk* and I am open to further discussion.

The beginnings of commercial cooperation through agencies

If a person is starting out as a web developer and wants to tackle web projects and gain experience in the process, they are often in a pretty awkward situation. The best solution at that time seemed to me to establish a B2B cooperation with an agency that manages its clients and I, as a developer, will handle specific tasks prepared by the account manager.

This approach is absolutely fine and I'm sure it will suit many people in the long run (some of them maybe even for life), because the developer himself has almost no responsibility, he doesn't need to have contacts and he just needs to do the tasks, that's why I realized over time that this way of development has many disadvantages.

I would like to present some of them:

  • One gets very quickly to high earnings (a programmer after a year of experience can earn up to 50 000 CZK per month in Prague in 2019), which greatly encourages spending
  • Over time, the job becomes a boring routine, as the developer reaches all the key knowledge in the field and there is almost nowhere to move, except adding a few technologies once a year
  • Because companies are mostly trying to maximize profit and save on costs, they use older proven technologies that make development fast and keep support for even 7+ year old code just because it's too expensive to redo things that work
  • In the long run, it's a road to the rat race because it does generate relatively high revenue, but it's definitely not passive

The conclusion is definitely not that working with an agency doesn't make sense - it depends on each individual's point of view, values and goals. I found that my primary motivation was not money, so I looked for other options.

Own projects with clients directly

I've acquired a few regular clients over my lifetime who I manage websites for on a long term basis and are paid relatively decent fees. Compared to working with an agency, there is no certainty of monthly income, as customizations are usually done once in a while when the client needs something right now and the developer has to deal with many constraints.

Experience shows that there are many factors I have to watch out for. The most important ones:

  • No company represents the client, so contracts, all agreements, negotiations, remuneration, delivery, technical support and other things are handled by the developer.
  • I can easily delegate the boring and routine work.
  • If it's a client with a technically simple site, most of the work can be delegated to cheap juniors (typically high school students), thus gradually getting rid of the Rat Race and creating a somewhat passive income, but at the cost of relatively high risk
  • If something breaks, the budget is misjudged, or some other fatal error occurs, there's no one to turn to and the developer has to figure it all out on his own (even if he's on vacation)
  • This is how you can manage mostly small clients, because for bigger business you need stability of the company regardless of money

The last point is just a theory, because I happened to work with a medium-sized client and deal with a more complex project that handles dozens of orders every day. However, this is not a frequent case, because here the principle of gradual building of brand and own company worked.

Building your own brand/company

I really like the idea of Cashflow Quadrant by Robert Kiyosaki, which says that one of the few ways to get to financial freedom is to move from the role of an employee/lifer to that of a business owner or investor. Investments are a great thing, but who has the resources to become an investor these days when they are, say, 5 years out of college and handling all their own financing? Actually, everyone does, but there needs to be a paradigm shift.

Thanks to literature and personal development courses I realized that even one hour of my time is worth more than even the richest company in Prague can pay. Don't you believe it? Maybe you're just in the first stage, before you change your approach to life.

In this regard (I admit) I was influenced quite a bit by the book No! I Don't Want Anything! by Jan Laibl, which I hereby recommend as an absolute primer into the profere businessman's thinking about life, relationships and financing. In the book, Honza describes that we are all actually salesmen, not only in our work, but also in our private lives, because if someone says he would never sell anything, he is just selling you his personal opinion... and what's more, he is not selling, he is directly pushing it without discussion or further questions - but you can read that directly in the book yourself.

In general, you could say that I got to a stage in my life where I could develop almost any app, work in almost any team, and adapt to them within a month, and it would be all about chasing the best hourly rate. But now comes the real question, What's it going to end up being? Money that I'm going to spend anyway? Another firm on my resume to take me on at another firm where I'll get a hundred more an hour that I would have gotten anyway? Or just one step closer to the heart attack that awaits every programmer anyway?

When traveling abroad, I've been locked on a plane offline for long hours and had the opportunity to think without external distractions.

Try asking yourself:

  • What are your values in life?
  • What are the goals you want to achieve? (regardless of whether you're working on it right now)
  • Do you want to work all your life as an average person until retirement and then live off the little you have?
  • Will retirement be enough for you? If not, what can be done about it?
  • Are you already in the Rat Race? And how do you get out of it? Hardly, what...
  • Do you think about what you're doing in life, or do you just do it and it works out?
  • Do you invest in yourself, personal development, PR, ...? And you want more?
  • Do you work for the right hourly rate? And it's not enough?

There are literally hundreds more questions and we address them in personal consultations and trainings. If you want to talk individually about similar topics, let's arrange a personal meeting in Prague.

The practical conclusion is some awareness of how things work in life and that selling yourself for an hourly rate may be a short-term solution to a momentary situation, but in the long run it does not lead to achieving specific life goals. If you want to effectively improve your life situation, it's not a good idea to start saving more... quite the opposite, invest and earn more.

The current real consequence is a complete redesign of my key website, which is a personal business card that currently promotes personality and resume. The other site is PHP Manual, which gives me very high quality leads to real developers who are solving real problems. My good friend Pavel Rencin (and incidentally the writer of a number of novels that I will review soon) said that stories work well on people, and he is very right about this. Literally a month after the launch of the new resume and personal story website, the offers that arrive in my email daily have started to improve. Instead of job postings for top companies, offers are coming in for a job as a team leader or an associate at a startup.

Isn't this a dream job? Actually, it probably is, but who wants to work? :D Resp. The job is great, but again, it leads to the Rat Race and perhaps the worst trade ever devised by mankind that we should all be ashamed of - i.e. exchanging time for money... like really? You mean you can buy part of someone's life for a few pennies (which have no long-term value anyway, because cashflow is what matters)? Time that passes and is never returned? We spend almost a third of our lives at work - crazy.

I'll leave the solution to these questions open for the moment. However, I like the idea of passive income, creating our own products, some form of boxed solutions, delegation of work and resources, and other big ideas that we'll discuss together next time.

I'll be happy if you visit my new personal website and if you're a web developer, you better believe that a website is not just about writing valid HTML. It's mostly about having to sell, provide value to its owner, and save time. That's why he's hiring you.

Jan Barášek   Více o autorovi

Autor článku pracuje jako seniorní vývojář a software architekt v Praze. Navrhuje a spravuje velké webové aplikace, které znáte a používáte. Od roku 2009 nabral bohaté zkušenosti, které tímto webem předává dál.

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