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?

High-level scripting

Fortunately, on second thought (and also because I'd already accepted a large job just before flying to Austin) I decided that I wouldn't mind working on really interesting JavaScript jobs. The key here is interesting. Just a few minutes ago I found the perfect definition: jobs that allow me to write a few interesting pages on QuirksMode. I'll take those, I'll refuse all others.

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.

Nonetheless, doing a high-level JavaScript job every once in a while sounds like fun, but doing it for 40 (or 60) hours a week definitely doesn't. I needed an alternative source of income.

Freelance mediation

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.

Sidenote: large vs. small companies

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.)

The standards revolution

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.

Time for a change

Remove boring code jobs entirely, take equal measures of freelance mediation and standards revolution, add a dollop of high-level JavaScript development and the spice of international speaking gigs, and the result is one happy web developer.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, web developer, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter or Mastodon.
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Comments are closed.

1 Posted by Alejandro Moreno on 20 April 2007 | Permalink

That's awesome, ppk. Congratulations to your newfound happiness. And I wish you continued good luck on your mediation and revolution :)

2 Posted by Derekk Boise on 20 April 2007 | Permalink

It is because of winter or exactly seasons. Every man has some season when he doesn't want to do anything, just leave him alone. This winter I almost didn't work, because I didn't want to. But I've found powers to fight with this state

3 Posted by Carst van der Molen on 20 April 2007 | Permalink

Good decision to keep doing what you're good at, but doing it in a way you still will like it in the long term. Sometimes you have to be creative to keep having fun.

Also great to hear some large Amsterdam companies are picking up on standards. Working for an Amsterdam design buro, most CMS developers we cooperate with are not aware of the importance of standards. For example, we designed a site for a Dutch city; the CMS was delivered by a party which has done this for many local governments. You'd expect their system to be based on standards, making it easy to create accessible websites. Not so. This still puzzles me.

Because our clients often already cooperate with a developer, we as designers have to make the best out of this choice. Our work would be so much easier if only more developers would embrace standards.

Another way would of course be if we had partnerships with the right builders. So Amsterdam builders, keep on this track!

4 Posted by pauldwaite on 20 April 2007 | Permalink

Awesome. Good on you for mixing things up.

> "Basically I take on jobs and send other freelancers to actually do them, and retain part of their fee."

I think "agent" is the best term for that in England. I'm not aware of this being done a lot in this country in this sort of industry, but you're kinda like a mini recruitment agency for web freelancers.

It's a fantastic idea: clients get good front-end guys, you get to monetise your reputation without having to take boring jobs, and freelance front-end guys get experience and work they might not have gotten otherwise. Congratulations for making it such a success.

5 Posted by Jonathan Snook on 21 April 2007 | Permalink

Great to hear things are on the upswing. Certainly all the best in everything. I like your idea of being a developer mediator. I'm sure there's a huge demand, in the Netherlands and elsewhere (if you ever decide to expand). No doubt you'll be busy!

6 Posted by Harmen Janssen on 21 April 2007 | Permalink

It's nice to see you've found a way to be happy about your work again.
Too bad I picked an MBO to study at after finishing my HAVO, otherwise I would've definitely applied :)

7 Posted by ppk on 21 April 2007 | Permalink

@Carst: CMSses will remain a problem for the time being. Their quality will eventually improve, but slowly.

@Paul: Yes, 'agent' sounds good, even though I'm not sure it's appropriate. I've got an agent for my book, and he has a quite different job than the one I'm doing.

@Jonathan: Yes, demand seems to exceed my expectations. No doubt there will be some outside Holland, too, but right now I'm emphasizing the personal touch: I want to know my freelancers and clients in person, and not only through mail.

8 Posted by DPP on 22 April 2007 | Permalink

Please translate to English. Just want to know your to requests to applicants.

9 Posted by Eugen Bunen on 22 April 2007 | Permalink

Great to hear, that you're happy with your work right now.
In my opinion, the CMSes would be more integrated in the frameworks, than right now. They would be also move with the time and hypes (ajax, usability and more..), but it will happened slowly.

10 Posted by ppk on 22 April 2007 | Permalink

@Harmen: I slightly lowered the education demands. As long as you know what you're doing while writing CSS, you can apply.

11 Posted by purvainais on 22 April 2007 | Permalink

Link to "wrote about losing my sense of fun in web development" is broken.

12 Posted by Harmen Janssen on 22 April 2007 | Permalink

Thanks, I will fill out the application form in the next couple of days.

13 Posted by PollyQ on 24 April 2007 | Permalink

Love your site! Thanks for all the great examples.

Re: "Freelance Mediation". In America, mediation is a less-formal way of resolving disputes that is meant to reduce the complexity and the adversarial nature of the legal system.

A better word might be "subcontracting". "Agent", as suggested above would also work.

14 Posted by WendyC on 25 April 2007 | Permalink

I think you would make big money with the speaking. But I wonder if you have considered other jobs that would include coding, or leading a team of coders to get really big projects going.

15 Posted by ppk on 25 April 2007 | Permalink

@WendyC: I'm not (yet) in a position to earn a lot of money by speaking; I see my speaking gigs as marketing for my book. I don't (yet) consider big projects because I hate doing project management.

@PollyQ: Yes, now that you mention it I remember this meaning of 'mediation', and I agree it's not really suited to what I do.

"Front-end agent" sounds nice; I might use this name for my new service.

16 Posted by Florian Vogelmaier on 30 April 2007 | Permalink


great idea!! All the best for your future :)

Anyone doing this in Germany? I'd like to apply ;)

17 Posted by Johan on 30 April 2007 | Permalink

I think PPK would be a great consultant. Or a project leader.
He is a historian/was a teacher so he sure has the communication skills.

I think maybe teaching classes at college/university abroad would be a great opportunity as well.

18 Posted by Dowcipy on 1 May 2007 | Permalink

It's nice to see you've found a way to be happy about your work again :) Maybe our work will be more happy :)
That's what I wish to all of us ;)

19 Posted by Sander on 2 May 2007 | Permalink

I'd go for "Prime Front-End Contractor" or something like that ( Contractor sounds way cooler than agent, just because it ends on 'tractor' I guess ;-)

About evangelizing web standards in large companies: I work at a relatively large Dutch internet company and try to spread the word around here. This can be hard sometimes, especially when it comes to unobtrusive JavaScript/progressive enhancement. But at least I more or less silently introduced accessibility as a default here, instead of being an option the customer can choose. There's still a long way to go though and a lot to learn, but the first steps are taken.
I'm looking forward to the article about your strategy to speed things up.

By the way, I'm reading your book right now. It sure reads well. Thanks for that one!

20 Posted by Marcus Tucker on 14 May 2007 | Permalink

Great idea, glad it's working out well for you! Have been a regular reader for years, though haven't had much opportunity to put theory into practice at work until recently - currently battling to get our pathetically invalid XHTML 1.0T code addressed and WCAG 1.0 AA compliance implemented too...

PS - I misread "Freelance mediation" as "Freelance mediTation" initially, which confused me momentarily! :p

21 Posted by Thorsten on 17 May 2007 | Permalink

It is necessary to change time by time things we are doing otherwise life is gets boring and unsatisfied. Sounds to me that there are also changes with your blog next time?