Road to Independence

Posted by Kirby Turner on August 30, 2004

I recently wrote the article below but have not published it yet. I am working on an article section on the White Peak Software web site but I haven’t completed the software change yet. So instead of waiting longer, I decided I would post a draft of the article here on the blog.

Road to Independence (Part 1: How I Got Here)
Kirby Turner
White Peak Software Inc

July 2, 2004


Earlier this week I told my employer that I resign from my position so that I may pursue a career as an independent consultant. This has been a long time in the making. It is both an exciting and scary move for me.

Although it has been done before, I thought it would be fun to share my experience as I journey down the road to independence. This article is the first in a series I plan to publish where I share the good, the bad, and the ugly of going and being an independent consultant and running my own software company.

Disclaimer: This first article is more about my history and less about lessons learned. Future articles in this series will be more practical for the individual considering a move towards independent consulting.

How Did I Get Here

The first computer I ever played with was a Sinclair 1000. It was my father’s and I was immediately fascinated with it. A few years later my high school was selected as a pilot school for hosting a computer class. Note this was in the early 1980’s. The class focused on the history of computers for the first half of the school year. I was bored and sometimes disruptive in class. Needless to say I did not make a good grade nor did I leave a good impression on the teacher who was considering kicking me out of the class before the start of the second semester.

During the second half of the school year the class focused on programming in BASIC. My boredom quickly left and I completed all of the class assignments for the second semester within the first few weeks. From that point on I helped other classmates learn how to program. It was my first experience as a mentor.

An advance computer class focusing on PASCAL programming was offered the following year, my senior year, taught by the same teacher. Before teaching these classes, the teacher taught math. While teaching she returned to school to studying for her master’s degree in Computer Science. Once again I finished the class assignments early in the school year so the teacher gave me assignments based on her own college assignments to keep me busy.

She resigned from her teaching position at the end of the first semester, but she agreed to continue teaching the advanced computer class through the end of the school year. She left teaching to start her own computer consulting company and I was her first employee. I was still in high school getting paid to write software for customers of the teacher who was considering kicking me out of class a year earlier.

Over the years since that time I have spent most of my career as a computer consultant writing software for different clients. I have also worked for a few ISV which is where I got exposure to commercial software development. I went independent in 1999 as a sole proprietor but that lasted only a year. I learned I wasn’t ready for the responsibilities of being an independent and I didn’t have the skills I felt were needed to grow a business. It was back to regular employment for me.

Working Smarter Not Harder

It was during the next four years that I learned about running a business and how to engage other businesses. It was also during this time that I became increasingly more frustrated with my career. Although successful during these years, I saw things happening that I did not agree with. And I was constantly telling myself and those around me that if we used this or that approach we could improve and do better. We could work smarter, not harder.

The idea of working smarter not harder became a top principal held by me and one that started guiding my career towards independence. It gave me a new way of thinking about my career and how it fits into my life. I was tired of giving up my life to work harder. I was tired of working long hours, 60, 80, and sometimes 100+ hours per week. Working smarter was my only option.

There was another motivating factor for working smarter. While I was learning more about business over the last 4 years, I was also an exempted employee which meant I did not get paid overtime. The real kicker though was that if I worked 60 hours during a single week for a customer that customer would be billed for 60 hours even though I was getting paid for only 40 hours. For me, working smarter was also about not giving my time away for free to someone who is profiting from that time.

Life Goals

Working smarter gave me a new way of thinking about my career and how it fits into my life. I had learned the importance of life outside of work and I no longer wanted to be a workaholic. Working smarter allows me to be more productive than working harder while at the same time keeping reasonable hours. As a result I have been able to enjoy more out of life with this new balance between professional and personal life. But I wanted more.

Last year I looked around and asked: Is this what I want to do with my life? Do I want to continue working for others, helping my employer make more money while I make the same amount I was making 4 years ago? The obvious answer was no.

I enjoy creating software and helping customers meet business objectives through the implementation of software solutions, but I also want to spend more time with my wife and family. I want to spend more time on the wintry slopes snowboarding, and I want to spend more time pursuing career goals and interest that I otherwise have not been able to pursue while employed by others. Yes, there still is a bit of the workaholic in me but remember computers are just as much a hobby for me as they are a career.

I remembered my time as sole proprietor, which was one of the highlights in my career. It only made sense for me to return to that career life but this time leverage the business skills I had acquired. Thus began the concept of White Peak Software Inc.

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