Djangocon keynote: 23 years without a ‘proper job’ - Rachel Willmer

Tags: djangocon, django

(One of my summaries of a talk at the 2018 european djangocon.)

Rachel has used django since it was created, but this is her very first djangocon.

She hasn’t had a “normal” salaried job for 23 years. She’s been freelancing, self employed, some contracting to the Scottish government, had her own company, etc. So here are some tips for those that think about such a life.

We as programmers are very lucky. We’re very flexible. We can work anywhere we like at anytime we like. As a bus driver, you have to show up when the bus timetable says…. We have lots of freedom, we ‘only’ have to arrange it so that who we work for agrees to it.

She has a side project,, for searching for low ebook prices. Side project? Not really. She uses it to try out new techniques. Firebase, django channels, etc. Fun! And it helps her learn a lot more than when she would have just followed tutorials.

Ok, back to you. You want to do something for yourself. Perhaps your own company? If that is what you want, you have to learn how to run a company. You have to learn how to do finances (otherwise you work for your accountant instead of the other way around). You have to learn how to get customers. You have to learn to…

Tip: start small. Build a wordpress plugin or write an ebook. One-off. No support (though you could let people pay for it).

Support: that’s service. Real support. Or “software as a service”. The good thing: recurring revenue. But: it costs time. Your time. And that is your most precious resource. So don’t treat your time as being free. Charge for it (also internally in your company), as if it

Publishing. Blog, vlog, podcasts.

How can you monitize?

  • Sales of books (small percentage on books bought via amazon via your site).

  • Affiliate commission.

  • Advertising. Especially if you’re working in a focused market.

  • Sponsorship. You see it a lot in podcasts.

  • Data analytics. She isn’t a dirty facebook, but though selling ebooks, she has a lot of data on buying books. She’s able to sell that for serious money.

Some examples.

  • The documentation for “meteor” (real-time javascript web apps) wasn’t good. So two people wrote a good book on it. They made 300.000 in 1.5 years and self-published it.

  • Anyone used ‘balsamic’? Nice tool for wireframing. (I used it myself too). He started out as a solo founder. 2 million in profit two years ago.

  • You don’t have to be from the USA to get it to work. ‘patio11’ did it from Japan.

  • “I cannot do this”. Yes you can. Look at Jon Morrow. He cannot move from the neck down and still makes lots of money writing and has lots of fun.

Yes, you can:

  • OK to start small.

  • You don’t learn until you start to fail.

  • Don’t be afraid to think big.

  • Choose business-to-business and charge more.

    Regular customers want everything for free or cheap. Businesses are used to spending money to get something of value.

  • Choose the customers you want. Define the customers you want.

    Don’t be afraid to say “no, you’re better served by someone else” to a customer you don’t want. If you say “yes” to “anyone” at “any price”, it won’t work.

  • Charge more. Yes, really. And even more. If you do valuable work, it is valuable.

    You have to get past your “imposter syndrome”.

  • Above all: start a mailing list.

There are four things you need to learn to say: I don’t know, I need help, I was wrong, I’m sorry. It is OK to say those things. (She has it from a book “still life”, by Louise Penny).

She’s a veteran programmer, but she doesn’t know everything. So it is fine to look something up. It is OK to say you’re sorry (because she deleted a whole project once: she apologized to her boss and therefore she was relieved enough to be able to think about the backup she could restore… :-) )

Also important: yet. I don’t know yet. I can’t write ruby. Yet. Next week, when I have the project, I’ll be able to.

Photo explanation: constructing a viaduct module (which spans a 2m staircase) for my model railway on my attic. logo

About me

My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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