This time last year I was in despair, I wasn’t enjoying my job and it was getting me down. Up to that point I’d spent 6 years writing software for Barclays, 5 years writing software for npower/Yorkshire Electricity, 3 years writing software for the digital agency Technophobia. I could feel myself getting stale and much as I enjoyed working with a lot of my colleagues, it felt to me like I needed a bit of a change.
During August 2011, I left Technophobia and set up my own limited company ShedCode without much of an idea what to do next! Fortunately I was able to get off with a cracking start; I was able to share an office above the Site Gallery in Sheffield City Centre with 3 good friends and then I was able to do some standard contracting work, 4 days a week to get some funds in the coffers.
Having an office was key to me going freelance, I didn’t really want to work from home, too many distractions, but sharing a small office with people I like and can trust was ideal. Being at tenant at Site also meant that I started to meet people in the building, both staff & other tenants. It’s a great place to work & it’s also where I first heard about the Happenstance Project. In a nutshell, the project is a 10 week residency for technologists in Arts Organisations of which Site was to be one of them.
After umming and ahhing a bit about applying, I decided to go for it, the weekend before the deadline. The actual application process was really useful for me, helping me to work out some ideas about what I wanted to do next, with my career and ShedCode. To cut a long story short, I managed to get a place as one of the residents and at the point of writing this, we’re 7 weeks into the 10 weeks.
Time really flies when you’re having fun and learning new things and so far that sums the residency up nicely. We’ve built thermal printing sentient characters from Wuthering Heights which are mobile, tweet and respond to SMS text messages. An incredible polargraph drawing machine as well as fixing lots of technical things for the Site organisation itself. You can read more about what we’ve been up to on the happenstance project blog and our tumblr site.
I’ve hankered after Research & Development time for years and getting the odd day here or there hasn’t been enough. This residency though has been a mixture of R&D and practical help for the organisation and it has seriously got me thinking. It’s one thing to have an idea, it’s something else though to have the time to actually try and get it to work. There have been nights after working on happenstance when I have not been able to sleep as my brain has been working overtime trying to solve problems… I feel a bit more alive!
The question now though for me, is
I’m pretty good, if I can blow my own trumpet for a minute, at technical problem solving. From laser printers, to wireless networks, to security, to domains, even WordPress. As a problem solver and nosy chuffer, you don’t spend 17 years working without picking up some knowledge of what your colleagues do!
I’ve spent most of my time though writing and designing software. I’m not the best software engineer in the world, in fact there’s a lot of my code out there which other people now have to support for which I apologise most sincerely, but I’m not a bad all rounder.
Once Happenstance finishes, at the end of June, I’d like to take some time to work on some of my own projects. I’ve got two railway related products I’d like to build, plus a project for school kids and then at least one other one which is coming together.
Since being a Technologist in Residence though, it’s given me the hunger to get involved in other things too. It’s been a real privilege working with my fellow resident Leila Johnston, she is a great writer, inventor and organiser of exciting events and has an incredible network of interesting people who do really interesting things.
And as I wrote that sentence above, it’s when I thought, hang on, that’s what I’m after. I think I WANT TO BE AN INTERESTING PERSON! So that people can say, “Hey, you know who you should get in to do such and such, you could do a lot worse than hire that friendly freelancer James Jefferies!”