The new plan

So this is what I came up with at 4am on a Sunday. I’d like to think rainbows were coming out of my head too, but more likely it was a faint whiff of unwashed hair and pre-shower fruitiness.

Now, full disclosure – I’ve edited it a bit, but only to take out stuff that’s too personal to shout at the world. Nothing else is changed, so I’m not going to apologize for anything – tone, grammar, general impression it gives of me – because it was never intended to be shared with anyone. Except my wife, who got it at 5.30am.

You’ll need some context for this to make sense. For a slightly fuller picture, check out Why this blog?, but if you’re just determined to dive straight in, here’s the bare minimum.

I’d been a management consultant and general business-type bod for about 15 years and had finally realized that wasn’t me at all. The original plan was to become a network engineer as I’d just passed a Cisco CCNA exam, which is all about routers and switches and routing protocols and cables and Ethernet and WANs… and a whole lot more. At the time it just seemed a sensible way to go. Anyways, here’s the new version:

I’d really like to sell myself properly and find an organization and people where I can get stuck into truly interesting and challenging things and work with people like me. What does that mean? Possibly not being a network engineer or a web developer because they are quite narrow roles. I am definitely now a jack-of-all-trades, master of – well, not none, but one or two in fact. I have such an unusual mix of experience, and perhaps my absolute no. 1 skill is that whatever I do, I learn fast and I don’t do it superficially. Although inevitably because I’ve done so many different things I’m not a true expert in any of them – I can’t compete with someone who’s done one thing for twenty years plus – I mustn’t do myself down in thinking that I can’t do any of them. In many things I’ve reached a level of understanding and competence that is useful and beyond a lot of people, even if it isn’t full-on expert level. There are plenty of people who’ve done lots of things, but I don’t think there are many who’ve done lots of things to a high standard.

So why not pitch myself to people like Google or Automattic? Tech companies that are known for doing unusual stuff and looking for unusual people?

Part of the problem is I don’t really know what I want to do and I don’t know what’s out there. Maybe I should be pitching myself to companies (the more unusual and interesting ones) really selling my own diversity and uniqueness, and in effect saying, “I’m not actually really sure what I want to do specifically – but I’m here and available to do stuff for 3 – 6 months unpaid (provided it’s interesting) and at the end of that I very much hope you’ll want to employ me to keep doing that sort of thing. What do you think?”

Of course it couldn’t be quite that undefined, but I could set out areas of interest and what I have done in terms of coding, web development, networking and machine learning. And in pitching myself that way I would find it easy to put together a strong CV and covering letter etc. The style and content of the letter would be unusual too – and in that context I think it would work to talk much more openly about some of the rough times I’ve been through as it’s all part of the story in terms of what I’ve been able to do.

Specifically, skills I would want to push:

  • Coding generally (several languages)
  • Web development
  • Machine learning
  • Complex analysis and mathematics – as evidenced in some of my machine learning work and of course my engineering degree
  • Writing – as evidenced by the Africa book and interest from Random House, plus the content on Sneezing Trees. Who knows – I could even end up doing some tech blogging. Writing articles for someone like wpbeginner.com. I don’t think I’d want to do just that – more of something on the side and anyway you can’t write about tech without doing the tech – but the point is to be more open to using my range of skills and seeing that as an advantage.
  • Communication skills generally and I suppose to some extent management skills – though I would want to make it clear I don’t want to be doing management: I want to be in the guts of the techie stuff.

In thinking how I would put myself forward in writing, the letter style would be slightly less formal than typical. I see it as saying right up front that I’m unusual, that I’m offering myself for unpaid work (for a period) and giving a one para punchy hit of all the different things I’m good at. Then being honest about not being entirely sure where I want my specific focus to be in my career, which is part of the reason for unpaid.

Then some more details on what I can do and to what extent – this is really where I need to showcase stuff. And what I would like to do here is direct people to specific parts of Sneezing Trees, so that it acts as a powerful selling tool for me. That would mean a chunk of work on putting things on there – and a change in attitude about showing things off. So for example:

  1. I’ve always said it’s frustrating I can’t show off all the various sites I’ve done because they’re not live – Well Judged, Joe’s travel site, James’s upgraded company site. Well why can’t I put them on sub-domains on Sneezing Trees and point to them there? For those that are necessary e.g. Joe’s I could put a password on to access them so that they are not publicly available but I can give the password to a recruiter, say. And I could put Owen’s site on there too – that’s already 4 sites, plus Sneezing Trees itself, plus my 2 WordPress plugins.
  2. Have a section where I put all my Machine Learning papers up.
  3. Put the first 3 chapters of the Africa book on there. Or maybe just the first. That can go in with a very short article on how I loved writing it and I am undecided about whether to try to get it published, or to publish the whole thing for free on Amazon, and in the meantime here’s a taster.
  4. Have a post about passing my Cisco CCNA exam – and I can put on my little badge they sent me 🙂

All that, together with the posts already on there about various WordPress bits and bobs suddenly makes for quite a rich representation of me. Quite a lot of work to get everything on there as lots of it is at 95% and needs finishing off, but perhaps it’s the only way to show people the richness and depth of what I can do. Without that all in one place, it’s just me telling people I’m good at lots of stuff. I need to show them. And the kind of areas and people I want to work with are all about presenting oneself in this way. It needs to be online and present and available, linkable to and neatly presented. If I don’t present myself that way, I just don’t think I’ll be convincing to that crowd…

Then of course I need to talk about the constraints I’m under re location and travel. Briefly though. And I need to point out that much of the stuff I’ve done has been during pretty testing times with unusual constraints – therefore even more impressive. Also the chance to express how I’ve just fallen in love with coding and it’s what I feel I am meant to be doing – how I wish I’d done it from the beginning.

If you’ve got this far, then you might want to see what happened next – which basically was another plan, aimed at applying for an Automattic Happiness Engineer position in a ridiculously short timeframe of 2 weeks.

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