David Johnstone

Why I quit my job

September 10, 2011

Yesterday was my last day of work at the company I’d been working at for the last eighteen months. The plan now is to make great things and then hopefully make money from it. The main thing I’ll be working on now is an art critiquing website that will work. (Do you have photos that you want thorough and thoughtful feedback on? You want to use my site. Update: what I planned on building when I submitted my resignation, and what I ended up making, was a website for serious cyclists to track their riding.) I’m looking forward to it existing so that I can use it. But the purpose of this post isn’t to explain that, but to explain what led me to where I am today.

Firstly, I have lots of ideas for things I would love to create. I was recently lent a book called The E-Myth which categorises people into three types: technicians (who make things and understand details), entrepreneurs (who dream up new and innovative things) and managers (who get people to work together). Each person is all of those to varying degrees, but the book claims that most people starting businesses are technicians who have a burst of entrepreneurial inspiration. But I’m confident that I’m as much of an entrepreneur as I am a technician. I have many ideas for things I want to create, and when I submitted my resignation four weeks ago, I was planning on making something completely different.

Over the past year and a bit I have spent over three hundred hours making quite a few things. But I want more time — the fifteen hours or so I can find in a good week isn’t nearly enough. And, to add to that, I find my own ideas far more interesting than what I work on at work. This has nothing to do with my current job in particular — I can’t imagine that I’d feel much different if I worked at one of the places consistently recognised as the best places to work, such as Google or Adobe. Quitting work to be able to concentrate on my own things has sounded quite appealing for some time. As a caveat to that, I am aware that I’ll need to concentrate on just one of my ideas if I hope to turn it into a real product and a commercial success, but that’s okay.

Having complete ownership of what I’m working on is also very appealing. I know a bit about what it’s like to be in control of development of something — MarkItDown is the “realest” product I have so far — and I enjoy the freedom that comes with it. Of course, it has challenges too, but hard things make people learn. I like to think I am okay at a broad range of things, so having complete freedom to make something completely as I want it appeals to me. Again, there’s a caveat worth mentioning, which is that as soon as there are users with thoughts and opinions of my product I will have to respond and develop with their feedback in mind, so I won’t quite have the freedom to do anything and everything that I would have otherwise done.

Being in charge also makes me responsible for the success or failure of the venture, where the risks and rewards are all mine. Compare this with a regular office job where you are essentially a cog (or resource) in a big machine and are generally insulated from much of what is happening. It’s very safe, but that makes it, in a way, boring. Part of the appeal is that this is riskier and there are so many potential outcomes, many of which are very good. Work isn’t meant to be a case of going somewhere and doing something every day just because you get paid to do it. Work is meant to be the thing you do where you make great things or do great things and make the world a better place.

Furthermore, being in charge of an entire product and company requires knowledge of many things, and I would love to have a more thorough knowledge of this. From a design point of view, I will have control over exactly what the website I’m going to create looks like. From a software development point of view, I’ll have control over how it behaves. From a user experience perspective, I’ll have control over how people interact with it. From a product development perspective, I get to choose when to add which features and how this will develop over time. From a marketing perspective, I will be responsible for finding users. And then there’s the job of making sure I don’t run out of money, finding and hiring technically excellent people who will also form the culture of the company, working out how to manage teams of people, and much more.

Another part of the reason I quit work to make something of my own is that I want to find out what I am actually capable of and what my limits are. I look forward to seeing how much I can do by myself now that I am able to completely focus upon it. I know I can do many of the things related to product development myself, but I would like to know how much I can produce in a given time frame. And then there’s plenty of other things — the business development and marketing and human resources aspects — where I have no idea how I will go (although I enjoy reading the Harvard Business Review, I’m on Facebook and Twitter, and I was once the team leader for my final year project at uni, so I can’t be too bad, right?).

Finally, the typical career path of a software developer has become less appealing to me (even though the profession is consistently rated as one of the best). It starts off by spending the first five or ten years as a developer or senior developer (which are pretty much the same thing, except one has more experience and responsibility and gets paid more). Then there’s the option of continuing as a technical person or moving into management. As a technician one can either take on more responsibility and look after bigger systems, or become an expert at something and do that incredibly well. As a manager there are people and projects to be looked after. There are other options apart from these, and although these are all worthwhile and necessary things, I want to do more. I want to be more directly responsible for creating great new things that have a meaningful impact on the world.

So, to summarise, I quit because I want more time to work on the things I want to create, I want the freedom to develop my ideas as I want, I want to learn what I am capable of, I want a more direct link between what I do and the commercial success of what I’m working on, and ultimately, I want to make great things that make the world a better place.

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