Buying Back My Soul

by Jeff Langr

July 08, 2011

I recently traded away my beliefs for security and comfort. I had taken a three-month contract-to-hire at a local software company.

What had I hoped to gain?

  • The company is three miles away from home, a commute of 6 minutes with only one traffic light on the way.

  • They are stable. I received an offer at the end of three months. Due to the industry (government “defense” software), it’s likely I could have stayed there for many years to come.

What was my alternative?

  • Travel. I ultimately chose to return to a life of sporadic travel, consulting and training for Langr Software Solutions. The work is great–I love what I do and love helping people. But it’s travel. For those who’ve never traveled extensively, it’s entertaining the first couple times out. After that, you quickly realize that living in hotels, suffering the hell of airline travel, eating in often-lame restaurants, and being away from home and family is simply not fun at all.

So what was wrong with the local gig?

  • Money. I’m not all about money, and we don’t live extravagantly, but this was the second time I’d taken a pay cut in two years. It’s always tough to cut back on your lifestyle.

  • Industry. I’m a realist, so I understand that “defense” work is necessary, but I’d just as soon not be part of it.

  • Process. I thought I’d be ok with skipping process for a while (they had close to zero process elements). I’d hoped to help introduce some useful techniques and ideas, but it quickly became clear that the culture wasn’t going to support it. They had been reasonably successful without any real process. Not to say that they couldn’t have taken their game to the next level, but one individual can’t change a multi-hundred-person company with zero support.

  • Culture. The folks were nice enough, but I didn’t feel like I was a part of anything. Developers tended to stay in their cubes and keep to their existing cliques. I worked on a two-man development effort (fun stuff; I learned a good amount of Flex/ActionScript). I saw my team member and my boss (both good guys) a few times a week each. The remaining 97%+ of the week, I had close to no additional human interaction.

I sold my soul. Granted, I got to build software, something I love to do, but it was a lonely existence. Had I felt like I was part of a team, as opposed to a bunch of individuals who just happen to reside in nearby cubes, I might have stayed.

I’ve bought back my soul. What’s interesting is that I’m still not part of a team–as a consultant, you are an outsider when you’re traveling, and on your own when at home. But the tradeoff is worth it: I get to help others experience the joy of being part of a true, effective team.

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Jeff Langr

About the Author

Jeff Langr has been building software for 40 years and writing about it heavily for 20. You can find out more about Jeff, learn from the many helpful articles and books he's written, or read one of his 1000+ combined blog (including Agile in a Flash) and public posts.