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handmade.network»Forums»Career Advice»Thoughts on Sabbaticals?
Ted Bendixson
28 posts

I make apps and games for Mac OS and iOS. Avid terrain park snowboarder. Park City, UT.

Thoughts on Sabbaticals?
2 weeks, 6 days ago Edited by Ted Bendixson on Nov. 3, 2020, 7:31 p.m.
I recently took a sabbatical from contract mobile application development. I had been doing it for 2.5 years straight, and although I can't argue with the pay and schedule (fully remote, over $100K/yr), I did eventually feel like I wasn't learning much on the job and that I needed to do something kinda risky to go somewhere new in my career.

Also, on a more practical note, when you're spending 40 hours a week prodding object oriented frameworks (or worse, React Native) and hoping they'll do what you want them to, that doesn't leave a lot of time for trying new things, learning, and growing. So it's pretty easy to get pigeonholed as "the mobile guy" and then basically stagnate until retirement.

Now that I have planted that somewhat dark thought in your mind, I would like to humbly ask if anyone here has tried taking a sabbatical from paid work.

If so, how long did it last? What was your goal? Did you start and finish a project during your time off, or did you simply take time away to "study up" on something different and new?

Did it work? When you came back to the workforce, did you do so in a capacity where you could work on projects you're passionate about, using techniques you actually support (instead of saying you do to get past a job interview)?

My plan is to try and work half the year for someone else, half the year for myself. I think if I can time some of these contracts to start in July and end the following July, I'll have two years with income below the Roth IRA yearly income threshold (~$110K/yr). Then if I can consistently save and invest half of my income, I'll gradually slide into a position of never having to contract again, or perhaps have a project of mine gain enough momentum to replace the income of full-time contracting.

But I am actually hoping others have tried a better strategy than mine. After all, it seems kinda extreme that I have to periodically end contracts early, or that I literally have to retire just to put enough work into projects I actually care about. Maybe that's just how the work world is, but I suspect there's something I'm missing. I do know some people who have fulfilling careers, and they haven't had to do anything as drastic as what I'm doing.
Abner Coimbre
324 posts / 2 projects

Founder

Thoughts on Sabbaticals?
2 weeks, 5 days ago Edited by Abner Coimbre on Nov. 4, 2020, 6:49 p.m. Reason: Edit for clarity.
Hi Ted,

TL;DR Cultivate multiple streams of revenue by spending years combining two skills 'only you' can pull off.

Where I Am

Your question is perfect timing because I am on sabbatical. My work history is here. This is a long story so grab some coffee! I'm also just talking about myself so it's going to come off a little bleargh and pompous.

*Ahem* I've been out of the workforce since March -- I made my decision back in January. I've used this time to build on Handmade Seattle, and to try and ship some software.

Handmade Seattle

I'm grateful Handmade Seattle (HMS) has been successful so far. Obviously not enough to replace my whole income, but definitely a reasonable slice through leftover profits from ticket sales and public and private donations. I like to reinvest those profits back into the business, with the hopes I can hire staff and give myself a salary one day.

HMS is the result of combining two skills in an unusual way:

1. Sales.

2. Systems programming.

I'm half-joking about sales :P I have a deep love for human interactions and am overtly social. People people people. I can enter partnerships, buy the right insurance, work hard on selling tickets, and talk to people all day. Last year I was always on the phone with the Seattle Center or onsite.

Note that my contributions to Handmade have been "on the side" since 2014 when I became a Twitch moderator for Casey. Six years later, a single tweet by Carmack has changed my life. Seriously. The level of support we're getting makes me confident we can rent a large conference hall after the pandemic, and from there on Handmade conferences may become a mainstream staple.

Shipping Software

In the past I've tried and failed to ship software, but now in my late 20's I've sobered up and understood this is slow and takes obscene amounts of grit.

During this sabbatical I'm making my own terminal, and I hope to give "Early Access" in early 2021. It's still a prototype, but the skills I'm combining are:

1. Career experience with gamedev

2. In-depth-ish knowledge of terminals. I obsessed over the literature for a year or two.

I'll discuss what's hopefully interesting about my terminal later, but I can at least say it's hardware accelerated, based on Vulkan. That's not a thing elsewhere, AFAICT, and I really enjoy working with the Vulkan drivers vs the OpenGL ones. I've endured frustrating tutorials and made my own library to succeed so far.

Selling a tool is a viable path to a revenue stream. Look at 4coder, RemedyBG, Code Clap, etc. While I won't be able to sell something valuable for a while longer, there is hope :)

What's Next?

I will likely look for a job within the next 1-3 months. With the conference -- and one day (soon?), the terminal -- I have more leverage to find a fulfilling career and negotiate a contract that lets me run side-businesses. I will also hunt jobs that allow 4-day work weeks. Then if I ever go solo again, it might be for good.

I hope my story helped. I still make huge mistakes. Still get afraid. Still don't know if I'll succeed financially the way I want to. That said, I'm closer now than I've ever been. So that's something.

In your case, you clearly know how to make a good living. You take risks. You have strong mobile experience (check.) What's a second unexpected skill you can bring to the table?

Best of luck,
Abner

Started Handmade Network.
Ted Bendixson
28 posts

I make apps and games for Mac OS and iOS. Avid terrain park snowboarder. Park City, UT.

Thoughts on Sabbaticals?
2 weeks, 2 days ago
I love hearing these stories. Thanks for sharing yours!

I can definitely chime in and say you're on to something with this notion of combining two skills only you can pull off.

I spent my 20s more or less being a snowboarding bum. I lived in various ski resort towns working odd jobs, really just trying to work as little as possible so I could spend the afternoons getting really good at hitting snowboard jumps.

It took about five years of consistent practice to get to a level where I was regularly hitting the biggest jumps in the terrain park. At the peak of my abilities, I was doing double backflips, 720s, gnarly stuff like that.

I spent summers in New Zealand because I was that crazy and that addicted. I think there was a year or two where I didn't experience summer at all because I would just fly to wherever it's winter.

Obviously, unless you're like a mega pro who was born with a snowboard strapped to your feet, there's not any money in snowboarding. And even at that level, there's always someone better, someone younger, someone who came up through the right channels.

I was pretty happy with what I had accomplished, but I knew I needed to move past the snowboard bum phase of my life.

And one day, I saw these kids playing with these plastic dice on the gondola. They had tricks on them. So you would roll a trick and try it, challenge your friends, that kind of thing.

This was right around the time smartphones were becoming mainstream, so it occurred to me that you could put this on phones as an app.

Long story short, that's how I launched my first product, Snow Dice. My team then took the idea and expanded it to skateboarding and skiing. It is the result of doing exactly as you say, combining two skills only you can pull off.

Nobody I knew in the snowboarding world had the same knowledge of the sport plus ability to ship software. And there were plenty of people who could ship apps, but none of them were in the sport or could understand it as well as we did.

The idea was always for the product to be more than just a software version of the dice. You can use it to learn what the tricks are. It has difficulty settings, so you can try things near your ability level. There's even an advanced feature that puts tricks together in a line, something nobody was doing at the time.

Anyway, this was some time ago, but the crazy thing is the product still makes consistent revenue. The idea is kind of timeless. I've been collecting that dividend for almost ten years now. It hasn't really grown much, but it doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

People say there's no money to be made in mobile, and that's half true. If you aren't drilled down and focused on a specific kind of customer, you'll be competing with everyone.

For me and my team, it worked because we were the customer. We knew exactly what our friends would want in that product, and we built it for them.

I'll have to chew on what you've said though. Over the years, my interests have kind of changed, but I've also wondered about some new ways to use software to train people up in the sport I love.

For anyone reading this, the coolest thing about doing any of this isn't the little bit of money you get every month. Oddly enough, my apps have somehow gotten onto over 100,000 smartphones, and it's not too uncommon to run into my customers on the chairlift.

Small things add up over time.