It’s been a while. As I’m sure every blogger does, I’ve been through a fair ol’ slump in my writing (4 years). I’m at ease, though. A lack of blogging isn’t a reflection of the rest of my life during that time.
Wanting to come back to writing, I had a think about where I am now and realised that I’ve come a long way from where I was. There were large and small events that lead to this moment, and I’d like to pen down some of the times when I took a risk and it paid off.
I’ll call these moments personal reinventions.
From freelance to full-time
I started doing freelance web development and brand design during my university days. Not thinking it’d be a serious gig at first, I took on the website build for a family friend and fell in love with the art of coding. More freelance projects came through from word of mouth (thanks Mum!) and I took them all very seriously, but the time came when I wanted more structure, less overhead from non-coding activities and time working with other developers.
It was daunting interviewing for the first time as a developer. Impostor syndrome kept me thinking people would be nuts to hire this junior with practically no industry experience to work on professional websites. After some cringe-worthy interviews, I got lucky and had a call from a headhunter who got me in front of a company that I could actually picture myself working for. They were a small business, working out of a converted barn in the heart of British countryside. If I had to say, I think there were 3 things that secured me the role:
I had a personal website, which I poured my heart into with fancy jQuery interactivity and a snazzy design
I tried to be as conversational as possible to my prospective boss
I made it clear I was in this for the passion, not the money, and accepted a wage that was only a tad higher than what I was already earning in a call centre (though I would have accepted less)
I had some creeping doubts after getting hired, but accepting that position was absolutely pivotal in getting me into being a developer and starting my full-time career in a role I loved.
I’ve heard stories from other developers who stuck with freelance longer than me and made significantly more money than me. Regardless, I wouldn’t change a thing - I’m glad I played the long game, being a sponge for information, building my confidence working with others and asking lots of stupid questions (and realising there aren’t any stupid questions).
Not only did full-time engineering improve my confidence, it also pushed me into making decisions about the specific role I wanted to occupy. I realised early on that I needed to make a decision: Frontend or Backend? I chose to target Frontend, given my love for turning code into something visual. I’m glad I specialised, as that made me desirable for the type of role I fit into. If I’d spread myself too broadly, hiring managers would have probably seen less expertise on offer. I’ve seen this first-hand after conducting interviews myself; those who don’t specialise unfortunately come across as less experienced than their years indicate. Specialists know their domain deeply and can be relied on in that area, with skills that transfer easily to other areas as needed.
By shifting gears and switching from freelance for full-time, it required a significant reinvention of how I worked and portrayed myself, and I see it as the genesis of my 10+ year career in software engineering roles.
Key takeaways: Freelancing gave me the basic passion to work in web development, but working in a company with a team accelerated my learning, and I achieved much more with others than I could have being solo. Specialising in a single area of engineering deepened my knowledge in that space and I found even greater passion through mastering my domain before exploring other areas.
Living & working in another country
Without a doubt, the biggest change I went through came when I upped sticks from the UK to live in Singapore. The super short version is…
I’d wanted to experience living in another country for a few years. Serendipity stepped in when I was contacted out of the blue by a certain lady based in Singapore through a dating website. We hit it off well and when I flew over to visit her I fell in love with the country (and, of course, the girl). I took the chance of a lifetime and in the first 2 weeks of being here I decided: I’ll get a job and move to Singapore.
Being an introvert and probably more cautious than some may know, I surprised myself at the degree of change I was putting myself through, mostly for the sake of a girl and a new place to live. As I approach my 8th year in Singapore, it’s still the most impactful reinvention I’ve put myself through.
To live in another country so different to my own, I had to adapt immensely. It’s said that Singapore’s the “gateway to Asia” and I agree. It’s a blend of Eastern and Western cultures. Did you know that Singapore’s national language is English? I didn’t, before I came here. (Bless you, naive little Brit.) Regardless, it doesn’t matter where you move to, if you migrate after nearly 30 years spent in your home country, it’s a massive leap.
I’m a better, more well-rounded person for the move. Being surrounded by new cultures, people, languages, religions, ways of working, food, and much more, meant that I had to adapt to get the most of my new environment. I made that decision very consciously. I reinvented myself to fit in to new ways of living, and whilst there were times of confusion and difficulty, I overcame each hump in the road. I’m now much more confident that I can accomplish anything I truly set my mind to.
Key takeaways: Living and working in a completely new environment was an opportunity to challenge myself and evolve into a better version of me. It also opened my eyes to anything being achievable with enough determination.
As any parent will attest: having kids changes you.
Not only do I have an amazing wife who supports and loves me as I am, I’m lucky enough to have had 2 children with her. Getting married was a big step, but that didn’t change us anywhere near as much as becoming parents did. The difference between pre and post-child life was truly night and day.
Unlike other times where I made the decision, I was forced to reinvent myself when it came to being a (hopefully) good parent.
I want my kids to grow up with the right fundamental values ingrained, things like politeness, generosity and thoughtfulness towards others. Easier said than done! Not only am I responsible for encouraging the traits they’ll exhibit, I also need to deliberately show these through my actions, too. The opposite is also true: I can’t be seen by my children to go against those values, otherwise they’ll think it’s OK to ignore them.
The point here is, I’m always being watched, and I need to pay extra attention to the things I say and the actions I take. I need to be a constant role model for the things they should be doing more or less of to be good people. I sometimes need to go out of my way (and my typically British close-mouthed comfort zone) to show my children with actions the values they should adopt.
After children, I also needed to plan everything with a lot more thought. Where I’d previously spend hours going out for jogs or photography sessions, I now needed to spend less time on my own and more time helping my wife or just being around for the kids. There’s a strong sense of responsibility that comes with being a parent, and I had to shape everything around that. That wasn’t bad at all, by the way. It gave me great purpose and having children reliant on me as a role model made me hyper-aware of my flaws and encouraged me to do better.
Final note on having children- health is absolutely critical. Of course, I wish my wife and kids the best of health, but it’s all too easy to forget your own. With the added pressure of being the main breadwinner, I learnt early on that I had to take my own health seriously. I took up running as my go-to exercise, and luckily fell in love with it. Mental note for Aaron in 2023: Get back to regular exercise, you lazy sod!
Key takeaways: It’s challenging, requires personal sacrifices and tests your patience like nothing else, but raising children is the most rewarding thing in the world when you give it your all and see the results in their growth.
And when all’s said and done, introspection keeps me humble
These are some thoughts I’ll close off with.
Looking ahead is good. It gives me something to focus on and helps me prioritise things in my job and life in general. Do I want to impress at my next performance review to work towards a promotion? Do I want to get fitter so I can be healthier for longer? Do I want to spend time with the kids to show I’m there for them in the future? This is about doing things today to benefit me tomorrow.
However, I like to stop sometimes and just think about now. What amazing things do I have in my life? How did I get them? Who do I love the most? When I introspect, I realise I’m incredibly lucky being who I am and having what I have. Where did that luck come from? Partly, it was just that: the luck of being born into a family and a place in the world that have gave me great privileges. Partly, it was my own reinventions- finding ways to adapt myself to new situations and leveraging the unfamiliar to my advantage.
After this reflective writing, I’ve come to realise that I’m always reinventing myself in ways minor and major as a reaction to what’s going on around me, or as a result of something I want in life. I’m sure it’s not always benefited me, but I’m definitely at a net gain overall. I highly doubt a 10-year younger version of myself would recognise me now.
P.S.: Thank you for reading this far, if you did. This took a lot longer than expected to write. I’m glad I overcame my Imposer Syndrome for this post and converted some thoughts into words (and without the use of ChatGPT!). I hope this marks the start of a reinvention of my inner writer. To put pressure on myself to continue the trend, I plan to post another article soon about some cool technologies that I’ve recently started using, and how they’ve reinvigorated me as a software engineer. Cheers!