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9 of Clubs Seeks a new Deck of Cards

Posted by monsonhaefel on May 6, 2004 at 2:31 PM PDT


Recently I had the honor of being named one of the 53 most influential people in the Java industry by The Middleware Company. My card was the 9 of Clubs – I have no idea how to interpret that distinction. Obviously, it’s a nice complement especially considering that the votes came from developers who subscribe to mailing list – a resource I consult regularly even if the threads are frequently hijacked.

You would think that a guy in this deck of cards is probably making gross amounts of money and living a leisurely life. I can't speak for the other people on the list, but that doesn't describe my life at all. I work really freaking hard – as hard as anyone reading this blog – and I don't own a yacht or drive a Lamborghini. I'm not poor by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm not going to make the Forbs list anytime soon.

The truth is being an independent is hard work. I've been at it now for about five years and its never been a cake walk – ok occasionally it's been easy, but most of the time its not. For the most part I'm busting my butt trying to convince companies that I'm worth what I'm worth even if John and Jane Doe charge a faction of the price. The truth is, I'm usually over qualified for most consulting gigs so the spectrum of opportunities available to me is actually less than the average developer.

I heard once that winning an Oscar in Hollywood is a double edge sword. Actors who win are recognized for the quality of their work, but subsequently find it hard to find work. I even heard it descried as the Oscar "Death Knell": Its great to win, but its better to get nominated. This is probably a bit of hyperbola and I don't mean to compare my meager success to winning an Oscar, but the truth is: Success is measured in many ways and peer recognition – while wonderful – doesn't always translate into big bucks and loads of free time.

After more than five years of going-it-alone, I finally asked for help. This Monday I decided to try my luck for the first time with the grape vine. Although I have frequently helped others find work, I've rarely asked for help myself. Why? Well I guess I felt that I should be able to find my own work. Also it’s a matter of pride. I don’t like to ask for help. I don't want my peers to know that its hard for me to find work that fits my skills and pays well – everyone seems to assume that if your well known you automatically make tones of money. Its not always true.

I've been very involved in the Java industry. Two months after I started learning Java I started the Wisconsin Java User's group – that was back in the spring of 1996. Since than I've volunteered for all sorts of things from open source projects to JSRs and I'm proud of what I've accomplished. The culmination of all this altruism was being voted into the JCP Executive Committee last fall – an honor I've take very seriously.

I've done good things for our industry, but I feel its time to step back and let others have the glory. I have a family now. My boy, Henry is about 2 1/2, and my daughter, Olivia, is just 9 months. I need to look inward toward my family and put them first. That means I need to find a stable job with some longevity and hopefully something with a lot less travel. I think I was honored with the 9 of clubs because I've donated so much of my time to the Java community – people will probably laugh at that, but I can't think of any other reason. Working on expert groups, open source, and the JCP consume enormous amounts of time, but pays nothing, zip, zilch. That's ok, I knew that going into these endeavors and its expected that I should be able to leverage my contacts and name recognition into a living. I have done that to some extent, but it hasn't been easy. You still have to find work that fits your credentials and sell yourself at rates that are affordable – these are usually contradictory objectives after a certain point.

OK, so why this blog? Well, I'm hoping that someone will read it and say "Hey, I got just the job for this guy! What's his e-mail address?" (btw it is Head hunters and other professional placement guys should not bother to contact me - you guys are evil.

There is another reason: On occasion I've had people ask me how they can manage their career to become more successful – to be more like me. This always makes me wince. I've been fortunate – no doubt about it – but I wouldn't recommend my life style to anyone. It’s a lot of work with very little pay. As I said, peer recognition is great – its probably the best recognition you can have – but making a living is not a bad thing either. I'm honored to be counted in that deck of cards with the likes of James Gosling, Rod Johnson, Gavin King and others – but its time to join a new deck – one that gives me more time with my family and actually pays a salary.

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