I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to Andy in real life, I have had very interesting conversations with him on twitter and am very aware of his work via Brighton Ruby and more recently from listening to his Life. Time. Value. podcast.
I was overjoyed when he got back to my request for freelancers to allow me to ask them some questions. I was excited to hear Andy’s responses to these questions, I think you’ll enjoy this one.
How long have you been freelancing for?
This time, a few months, before that, odds and sods over the last ten years or so.
What services do you offer?
I offer a few things to businesses working in Ruby/Rails environments.
I can of course do greenfield build of new projects, same as every agency, freelancer on the planet, but I’ll make sure the projects are well executed, tested, deployed & not full of craziness.
Most fun & challenging are specific projects on gnarly, middle-aged Rails apps. These typically revolve around a few areas:
- Performance improvements
- Restructuring apps where shipping has become hard and the code is brittle
- Improving delivery through improving test coverage (not always by increasing it)
- Rails upgrades
- Front-end work, again typically the focus is organisation and performance
I also offer this work as a productised service, you can buy each month.
What did you do before freelancing?
Most recently I worked as a Senior Engineer for two & half years at HouseTrip: a much-hyped AirBNB-ish travel startup that got acquired by TripAdvisor.
Why did you decide to take the plunge?
By the time I joined HouseTrip vast sums of money had been raised and spent. There was an unfortunate ‘resizing’ event, where the headcount of the tech and product side of the company was cut in half.
The app had seen many ‘hands’ over many years, so as well as doing a bunch of conversion optimisation work we rebuilt the entire search/checkout process to be fast and responsive.
So, once we were all surplus to requirements after the acquisition, I thought I’d take my approach to ‘Rails apps with issues’ out to the freelancing world.
How would you describe your first three months as a freelancer?
Pleasingly busy. I’m working with Coverage Book on performance and process. I’m just finishing a Rails 3 -> 4 upgrade (plus moving test coverage in the right direction) for a SaaS application with another Brighton-based agency.
I also have a retainer for another local client, for whom I did the original greenfield project.
If there was one bit of advice you could tell your pre-freelancer self, what would it be.
Charge more. Invoice regularly. Get paid. All by finding the right work.
In previous stints I suffered from the feast and famine of freelancing, plus I’d undersell myself to clients that were no good for me.
Now I either charge my day rate for ‘proper’ Rails work for business that can afford it or if someone wants a small little website I let them buy me a coffee and I throw something together on Squarespace for them.
As soon as you start doing discounts or “mates rates” you’re on a hiding to nothing. Expectations are too high, the money is too small to dedicate enough time, it all goes wrong.
What mistakes do you see fellow freelancers making?
Getting paid too late. Or worse not at all.
If you can arrange it, get paid up front: particularly for day rate work. Stagger payments if you’re working on deliverables.
Also, working for just one client and neglecting the ‘new business’ side of things. It’s super important not to leave a gig to an entirely ‘cold’ pipeline of work.
Like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff and looking down at nothing but air.
What one thing have you been doing way more of than you anticipated?
Coding! The current workload landed on me with very little chasing on my part thanks to local connections I’d built up through the local Ruby group and running Brighton Ruby for the last few years.
I had presumed I’d be doing more marketing and I had expected to have time to finish my book about building Ruby Gems.
I’m not complaining, getting paid is nice (!), there will be fallow periods, there always is.
Can you see yourself working for a company again in the future?
Not right now. I tend to cycle through periods of employment and freelancing. I think however I can do a lot more good for a lot more companies if I can help lots of teams get out from underneath their technical debt mountains.
Is there anything else you would like to say on the topic?
Not really, happy to hear from anyone who’s taking the leap, just ping me on twitter at @andycroll.
I want to thank Andy for taking the time out of his day to answer my silly questions, this he says you should add him on Twitter. And if this interview has got you wanting to read more, I have a whole series on freelancer interviews.