David Thorpe
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5th April 2020

On Being Average

I started my career in software development way back in 2007.

I used to love those days. I would soak up every bit of knowledge I could about new ways to do things, best practices and I would follow every single “thought leader” and their tweets as if my career depended on it.

I was the biggest fan of people like Phil Sturgeon, Sarah Parmenter, Taylor Otwell, Elliot Jay Stocks etc. These people had made it and they were an aspiration.

Underlying all of this excitement and trend-following however was the feeling that I hadn’t yet “made it” myself. I felt very inadequate. I hadn’t proved myself. I could be better. If only I could come up with a great product, framework or following.

Let’s Play Startup Goldenballs.

Back in 2013 I started contracting as a PHP developer and using the extra money I made, I purchased camera equipment, microphones and lights and began developing a video learning platform aimed at teaching beginners how to play the piano.

Piano Schooling Screenshot

It was called Piano Schooling. I focused all my time and effort on building the platform out instead of actually producing the content, you know, the thing of value.

A screenshot of the website at the time. Quite awful. After about 3 months of development whilst working full time, I eventually started planning and recording the content.

I only ever finished two videos. It was exhausting, time consuming and quite frankly my wife was getting fed up with the spare room looking like a make-shift video studio.

I got bored. I told myself that I had to be okay with someone else having that idea and executing it. I had failed.

The Rest.

Fast forward to today. Here’s the things I’ve committed to build and partly have that I believed at the time would make me a tonne of money and get me to a similar level of those devs who crank out projects seemingly on a monthly basis:

  • Estimatr: A web app that uses standard deviation to help you estimate line items on an estimate for clients more accurately than you otherwise would. Got bored of it after launch. Didn’t pursue it even though I got 2000 users overnight from being top of Hacker News and some great feedback.
  • YouTube: Build a following, big enough to feel like I’m worth something. Then figure out a way to sell something to that audience.
  • gigsnetwork: I built a job board specifically for UK developers. It went great. I pushed it all around different communities. But then it got quite tiring since I wasn’t making money from it. I stopped pushing it and haven’t thought about the best way to charge money.

Why I felt shit about it.

Despite all of these pursuits which ended up no-where other than something I might be able to show potential employers / clients, I enjoyed the rush of the idea and the initial building phase. The trouble was, when the going got tough and I had to put in hard work that I didn’t want to, that’s when I dropped the tools and said “fuck it I’m bored”.

We’re humans and even if we think we don’t, many of us compare our current position in life to those around us. Social media, see Twitter / Hacker News has made this even easier for us to do.

What is dangerous about these platforms is that we tend to follow “thought leaders” or other developers / people that have been, in most people’s minds a success.

As such if all we’re exposed to is people launching their startup, getting their VC money, making half a million in 3 days by launching their product, releasing a book etc, we can naturally feel like we just aren’t doing enough ourselves or that we’re missing out.

It makes us feel lazy. But we’re not.

How much do you want it?

Ultimately my sincere belief is that if you want to do something like this (release something, be someone) and you haven’t done it or are not on your way to doing it then I’d say you fall into one of these two categories:

  • You don’t want the end goal enough to put the work in to get there.
  • You have other commitments in your life that you actually value over the work required to get to the end goal (this was me).

Both of these are absolutely fine and it’s actually very normal and should be encouraged. If after a hard day’s work you have all evening to yourself because you’re single but all you want to do is play video games then fuck it, play video games! But just be honest with yourself that you simply prefer to chill out playing video games than “grinding away” trying to build something new and shiny that the world will buy from you.

We can’t all be the next DHH, Jason Fried, Levels etc. Much of the success of these people can be attributed to hard work and perhaps an element of circumstantial luck that their situation at the time of doing what they have done has allowed them to end up where they are now.

Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Be kind to yourself. Take time off from feeling like you constantly need to produce. You are enough! And finally, revel in the fact that you’re an average developer because there’s nothing more beautiful than that ❤️