I have recently been laid off. It's the second time that it has happened to me, and both times were caused by subtle years-long management mistakes followed by a necessary economic restructuring of the affected organizations.
I'm planning to explain in future posts how to prevent those mistakes, but for now I'm looking ahead at my own future as for the third time in my life I am at a major professional crossroads. The first time was when I needed to select which program to attend to at school. The second time was when I was unable to complete said program due to various issues in the modern education system, and had to come up with a backup plan. Said plan was successful, and this time, the crossroads I'm considering are not by necessity, but by choice.
In the past, I was broke, living with my parents and had to live with nothing except for my natural talents, a certificate in applied programming and a near-minimum wage job with no security. Thanks to my hard work and a little bit of luck, I was able to jump from better job to better job relatively quickly. I was very good in guiding fate in the right direction, but in the end I was still relying on it.
However, it was a means to an end: gaining sufficient professional experience, buying a home and paying all my debts. Now that I have accomplished these, I believe that I am ready to become the master of my own professional destiny. Of course I could always perfect my experience in a specific domain beforehand, but I feel that I reached a point where the risks involved in becoming an entrepreneur are minimal for me, and that I would gain more experience by launching my own business anyway.
But becoming an entrepreneur is easy. Having a good business plan is not. I've been thinking really hard these last few days about possible directions I could take. Here are some of the possibilities I'm considering.
One obvious specialization for me would be IT security, as I'm well-versed in this field, it is in high demand on the market and it is something that I've constantly seen organizations fail, ironically from other security consultants as well.
Another specialization would be to improve quality assurance practices of organizations, although I'm not sure if there's enough demand for such a thing. Similarly, product management is something that I truly enjoy, but I don't know if it makes a whole lot of sense in terms of consulting opportunities for me.
This path is the closest to being a regular employee, so it would be an easy switch for me. It would give me the opportunity to be the expert and help other organizations to prevent or fix the mistakes I've constantly seen in the past, which I believe would find fulfilling. I would also be able to set my own fees and schedules up to a reasonable extent.
The main problem with this path is that it's not something I'm passionate about, as I would be mostly helping others achieve their goals instead of designing and realizing my own products. There's the additional legal requirements and marketing considerations to take into account compared to being a standard employee, which may take a third of my time based on my initial research and has a higher risk of going to court if a disagreement appears. Also, since I've never directly worked in security before, it may take some time before I build a reputation on this regard, although my current LinkedIn recommendations might help.
Research & Development for Video Games
During my time in the video games industry, I've often seen organizations having to deal with two big issues: constantly reinventing solutions and being too risk-averse to invest in research. I believe there is a need to fill here, and I've already identified several research ideas with some business potential.
Being in research would mean working on challenging problems, which I usually enjoy, and developing an advanced expertise. Having to deal with a niche target audience should make market research and marketing easier. It also opens the door to tax credits in my area.
Unreliable output is the main issue here, and securing external funding would be a constant challenge for an undetermined period of time. Finding human resources to support such research projects would also be difficult, as it requires extremely talented developers. The business model would be much harder to determine, and so is figuring out how to deal with piracy. As for personal motivation, I already know that I would not be able to commit on full-time programming, and I am unsure how I would cope with failed research attempts.
Indie Video Game Developer
This path is something that I have contemplated for a very long time. I even tried my luck at it once after I finished my formal education, although I stopped relatively quickly due to my quick professional ascension as an employee and my lack of overtime endurance.
I've been passionate about designing video games and telling stories since my youth, so this would be an obvious choice for me and a dream coming true, as my mind is constantly thinking about new game concepts and optimizing development of such concepts. I usually prefer niche games with unique concepts, which may help in finding a passionate audience and building a fan base as long as they're not too niche. The ease at which it is possible to develop and distribute video games in recent years is remarkable. Tax credits for video game development are also very important in my area.
Video games has a market with a ridiculous amount of offer right now, and success stories are extremely rare. Each project would require a substantial marketing investment to partially counter that, as due to their nature, the success of one game would not guarantee the success of the next one. The long development cycle and my weaknesses in some areas of production are also important factors to consider and would affect funding accordingly.
The Hybrid Approach
Why invest only in one possibility? I could work part-time as a consultant to secure life savings and basic funding, and use the remaining time in video game development and licensing researched solutions for particular problems if any appeared.
Not only would it balance the advantages and disadvantages of previous approaches, but it would allow the option to change how my time would be split, for example if one area becomes particularly successful.
There is a risk of trying to put more energy in each project than what my endurance supports. It would also slow down overall progress if I don't fully commit to a specific project.
I'm currently tempted with the hybrid approach I've just described. There is still a part of me however that would like to go back to product management, as it is something that I truly enjoy doing and has less unknowns, but it may require me to go back to being a full-time employee.
For now, I'm still trying to find other possible business ideas that I might have not considered so far that would be a good match for me, and discussing with my contacts for advice, and consulting entrepreneurship resources to determine what is the best strategy for me.
In any case, the future looks bright.