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Monday 20 April, 2015
#The Forest Road Reader, No 135 : Not a proper job

In this modern age, we all take it for granted that "jobs for life" don't exist in the way we fondly imagine they once existed for our parents and grandparents. We do, though, still have a notion of what a "proper job" is. We might struggle to precisely define quite what it is but, like pornography, we know it when we see it. Mainly, anyway. As a freelance software developer - a contractor - I'm not sure if I do have a proper job. Even as contracting goes, I don't do that properly. The standard model is to find work through agencies, and work on site using equipment provided by the client. For nearly all of the past 15 years, I've worked primarily in my attic, and I haven't used an agent for at least a decade. I've been very lucky to do that, and I've been lucky with the clients I've had and the work they've given me. I've had the chance to work with on some really interesting problems, with some good people and, largely, been able to try and do the best work I could.

Last Christmas Eve, at about half past six in the evening, I realised that the best work I could do wasn't actually that good any more, and I needed to get a new job. In truth, while it was a moment of clarity (and who hasn't had a moment of clarity while sitting on the loo), it had been coming for a while.

If we spin back a few years the company I worked for, Practical Law, was, as a software development organisation, in a bit of sticky place. We'd spent a year moving from an in-house content management system to one we'd bought in. I, and many others, thought we'd been sold a duff bill of goods, but we were where we were and we got on and, through heroic effort, made it work. We finished the work on pretty much on time, without too many horrible bugs, and I don't think we lost any clients either, but we weren't in a happy place. Developing new features was difficult, our test coverage was pretty thin, getting a build done was stressful, and deployments doubly so.

Spin forward a bit and things were very different. Builds were a snap, our test coverage wasn't bad, and deployments, while still taking a bit of time, were reliable. We'd worked hard to improve, and were reaping the benefits.

Then came the corporate seimic shift - Practical Law was sold to Thomson Reuters and became part of Thomson Reuters Legal Services. There was a great deal of uncertainty, but the mood, for a variety of reasons, was generally positive. Not only would we be fine, we'd bring our new colleagues with us.

Come forward a couple more years to December last year and, mid-Boxing Day constitutional, I realise that not only are we no longer improving, I'm not even sure we're staying still. We weren't fine. We didn't win. We didn't carry anyone with us. Instead, the sheer weight of corporate status quo-ism slowed and flattened and muffled and dampened and stifled. As I sat, I knew I'd had enough.

It took another three months for me to finish up and finally get my release into production. I was sorry to leave, and I've feel like I've let people down, and I'm sad that I won't get to do some of things I was working on. But now I'm out, and searching the job ads, ringing agents, and, after all these years, acting like those all those other contractors. Still not sure it's a proper job, though.


Hello there. I had a bit of a tickle in my throat, coughed, and that just splurged out. Breathing a bit easier for it, though. Better out than in, and all that.

How are you? Keeping well? Have an owl.

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