Complementary Jobs

Author: Dave Cassel  |  Category: Entrepreneurism

Early in my career, I decided I was going to build a web site to compete with one that I used, but had some problems with. It seemed like something I could pull off part time, while continuing with my full-time job. At the time, I had little idea of how much work it would be, but ignorance is bliss, so I got to it.

I got nowhere.

I didn’t really pursue it all that long, but I did learn something valuable the hard way. If you want to moonlight, it’s really tough for your sideline to be something you’re learning as you go.

Back then, I was working as a C++ developer writing apps that would sit on a server chewing on large data sets. Good stuff, and I was learning a lot about how to do that well. C++, object oriented design, profilers, stuff like that.

My side business was based on building a web site. HTML, CSS, … cgi? java applets? This was back in ’97 or so. I knew squat about building web sites, never having done anything grander than editing HTML in Notepad.

Undaunted, I began reading up on how to do it. Of course, it’s tricky to pick a technical approach when you don’t know the implications of your choices, but I decided to go ahead with applets. After all, they were the future of interactive web sites, and I wanted to learn Java anyway. So, all I had to do was learn Java, learn how to build an applet, learn how to design a GUI and build it, learn what I needed about databases….

Don’t get me wrong. I love learning (just ask my wife how much time I’ve spent in grad school). But I quickly found that nearly 100% of my time was spent learning, and that didn’t leave much time for doing. My plans fell apart as I realized I just didn’t have time to figure out what I needed to know.

So what’s an aspiring entrepreneur to do? When I started Trovz, I was in a similar situation. At that time, I was spending my days writing a desktop app in C#. On the side, I was starting to build a web site in PHP. I didn’t know PHP, CSS, or Javascript. I didn’t know how to structure a web app well. And I struggled.

But then I got an opportunity that made a huge difference. I was able to switch my full-time job to working on a web site. The specific technologies were still different between my full-time and part-time work, but at least now they had a lot in common. And suddenly I was surrounded by people who knew a lot about building web sites. The difference was enormous. What I learned during the day helped me at night, and vice versa.

Lesson learned: if you’re going to pursue your idea part-time, get your part-time and full-time work lined up as closely as possible. You’ll get productivity gains in both that will make a huge difference.

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