In early February I wrote about losing my sense of fun in web development. Basically, from mid November until the writing of this entry I was in a kind of extended haze. I worked as little as possible, and when clients old or new came knocking on my door for yet another HTML/CSS template or yet another small, unexciting script, I did everything in my power to turn them away. In fact, there was a short time in December when I seriously considered quitting web development altogether.
February was a normal month. I did a lot of work and sent out a lot of invoices, but I wasn't what you'd call happy about it. In this respect, my visit to SxSW was an excellent chance to take some distance from my everyday life, and when I returned home I knew I wanted to change a lot of things. I realised that I didn't want to code for a living any more.
Which begs the question: if I would quit coding, what would I do for a living?
My current code job qualifies: it requires me to delve deeply into the arcane realm of Range objects, and boy, have the browsers made a mess of it! I haven't yet reached definite conclusions, but if you like you can look over my shoulder while I work.
Fortunately a solution was staring me in the face. For years I've been attempting to do a bit of recruitment and selection of good front-end programmers. Although this effort largely failed due to lack of clients (Backbase was the only company that regularly asked me for front-enders, and one client is not enough for such a scheme), I still had a few good freelance front-enders in my network, as well as experience with quickly selecting good front-enders.
Thanks to this site, I don't have a shortage of job offers, either. Not a week goes past without some sort of business communication. Sometimes the jobs are not very good, but every once in a while there are a few gems. Besides, I've come to know quite a few people in interesting positions.
I shrewdly combined these two points and decided to try my hand at freelance mediation (I doubt this is an official English term, but I don't know how to translate Dutch detachering, and besides it doesn't quite cover what I'm doing, either).
Basically I take on jobs and send other freelancers to actually do them, and retain part of their fee. This makes everybody happy: my client gets his job done, my freelancer gets a nice start in the wonderful world of web development, and I get some money for little work.
In addition, my personal presence on the background tends to calm my clients. Part of the deal is that if something goes wrong, I will personally make sure the project's delivered on time nonetheless, even if I have to code some templates myself in a frantic hurry. Of course I hope I'll never have to do this, but the guarantee is part of what makes this service attractive.
Freelancers can apply here, companies wishing to hire one can contact me normally. This service is only available in the Netherlands. Currently I have no plans to extend it beyond the national frontiers.
The astonishing part of this idea is that it already works, even though I took the decision to try it less than a month ago. I already sent a freelancer to a large Web company, and next week I'll have a chat with another one.
The gratifying part of this idea lies in "large Web company". I specialise exclusively in standards-aware HTML/CSS template developers, and several large Amsterdam companies that complain that competent CSS developers are so hard to find have already expressed interest. Apparently, many large companies over here have silently converted to the standards. I knew of one or two, but there turn out to be far more than I thought.
I can easily level with their front-end lead developers because I've been in their position: from the end of 1999 to the start of 2002 I was lead front-ender of the then second largest Dutch web company. That helps me understand the internal and external problems my colleagues encounter, which leads to a pleasant business climate. And apart from increasing my finances these contacts might also help the standards revolution along quite a bit.
Incidentally, sometimes I have the feeling that I'm one of the very few well-known standardistas whose natural habitat is the world of large website creations companies instead of the world of the smaller businesses and the self-employed, or universities.
(Businesses founded by well-known standardistas because they are well-known standardistas don't count.)
In fact, I'm a bit concerned about the total absence of any sort of strategy aimed at evangelizing front-enders in the large companies. Sometimes it seems as if most standardistas have given up on large companies, and that's Not Good, to put it mildly.
As my Amsterdam examples show (and I will eventually get around to introducing some), there are quite a few large companies that work with web standards. Most of the time this was caused by one or two people who just started working the right way and eventually convinced their colleagues to do the same. (BTW: I'm currently writing an article that will deal with this process and ways and means of speeding it up.)
In any case, large companies seem to be left out of any web standards equation, and it's time to do something about it. (OK, OK, so I have to do it myself. I will—eventually.)
I devoutly hope my new freelance mediation service will eventually net me a nice income for very little work. Although this may sound a bit capitalist and piggish, I can assure everybody that the money will be re-invested in the standards revolution right away. Basically, if I can make a living off other standardistas' backs, I can afford to spend a significant portion of my time on the standards revolution.
Right now I'm concentrating on the revolution in the Netherlands, in which the Web Guidelines are cast for a crucial role. I am being deliberately vague about the details because my plans haven't fully matured yet.
During the past few weeks I made a lot of phone calls and had a lot of talks, and every time I proposed something the reaction was "Great idea! Let's do it!" Even though it's not yet certain all involved parties will actually do something, these reactions are positive enough to keep me going.
Finally, I will shortly announce a new speaking gig. I think I'm becoming addicted to high-level international speaking, even though I still have a depressing amount of learning to do.
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