Open-sourcing my career

Hi, I’m Avdi, and I basically belong to you.

Since 2011, when you came and watched my talks at a ridiculous number of conferences for a rookie speaker, I’ve been embraced by the developer community—in particular, the Ruby community—to an absolutely humbling degree. Soon after that, I hung out my shingle as a consulting pair-programmer, and for the better part of a year you helped me make that unlikely title into a full-time job. When I launched my concept of a technical screencast series built on short, ultra-focused episodes, you quickly made me one of the few full-time solo screencasters… and then sustained me in that position up to the present day.

Along the way you’ve sent me kind emails, DMs, and postcards (you know, the ones on paper) that have encouraged me, floored me, and kept me inspired. I could probably fill a book with just the overwhelmingly nice things people have said to me in the last 7 years.

In a very real way, you’ve made me who I am. This thing we have: it’s rare, but it works. In 2018 I’ve decided not to be bashful about it. I’m not just a hacker temporarily sidetracked into training. I love what I do. I want to keep educating. I want to keep encouraging and inspiring and equipping developers. I want to keep boosting the voices of hackers with something helpful to share—technical or otherwise. I want to do it on a larger scale, and I want to go beyond solo.

Most of all, I want to keep infecting this industry with joy. Yes, I have been to the wilderness, but I am back. I want to inspire programmers new and old, from all kinds of backgrounds, with the enthusiasm and pleasure I find in coding. Because if there is anything I came back from the wilderness with, it’s this: the conviction that code is not value-neutralOur values shine through our code and into the world. I want to see a new age of humane informatics, and I think one part for me to play is to demonstrate coding as a joyous, empowering, life-affirming and life-entwined practice.

But there’s something I’ve held back from you.

Even as I’ve branched out into unlikely career territory for a hacker, I’ve followed a relatively traditional path when it comes to strategy: when it’s time for a change, I think about it for a few months, toss ideas around with close friends, and then suddenly announce my direction to the world. I’ve followed the model I’ve seen demonstrated by every company in the world, which is: play your cards close to your chest, then pivot confidently and with great fanfare.

In short, even as my career has become 100% community-supported, I’ve treated my career as closed-source. It’s time for that to change.

Some of my other commitments for 2018 are to more fully embrace transparency and vulnerability, in all aspects of my life. These values aren’t for everyone, but they feel right to me. I’m privileged to be in a position where I can be transparent and vulnerable as a public figure without a lot of blowback.

So, transparency. Here’s where I find myself in January of 2018: professionally, profoundly lucky, blessed, and in a long-term relationship with an amazing community.

Personally, at the lowest ebb of my life thus far. Grieving the unexpected end of a 17-year relationship and all the hopes and dreams that went with it. Temporarily a full-time single dad of 4. Responsible for a household of (currently) 9 people (long story). Struggling to keep myself together while making ends meet with certain newly increased financial commitments.

Most of this stuff is just going to require time and emotional support to deal with. But all of it would be a lot easier—especially the parenting and healing bits—if I weren’t constantly taking on even more work in order to pay the bills. (Want transparency? To put the bills in some kind of concrete perspective, my monthly household after-tax break-even with a rigidly controlled budget is at about $13k. That’s without saving for contingencies. I can break it down further in another post if people are curious, but it’s dominated by healthcare, spousal support, childcare, mortgage, and food.)

I am not going to ask for money this time.

Over the years, I’ve felt myself perpetually on the cusp of “critical mass” moment, where things finally start sorting themselves out revenue-wise, and I can focus on doing the stuff I love the most and stop looking for quick-fixes and band-aids. And every time, some new financial need has come along (usually healthcare-related), and that inflection point has floated out of reach. And usually I have thrown a sale, or launched a new product, or scurried for some short-term consulting clients, or just plain asked for donations. (Yes, in case you were wondering: The course I’m running now, while something I care deeply about, is also one such short-term fix.)

I am sick of it. I’m tired of asking the world to get me over just one more hump. I’m tired of looking for quick fixes and microptimizations. I want to a) be present for my kids during this difficult period; and b) do the work I was put here to do. And I want to start doing both of those things without checking my rear-view mirror for an onrushing financial catastrophe.

And yes, I recognize the privilege in even being able to dream that such a state is possible. I own it. I genuinely believe I can do more good for people if I’m not constantly having my priorities inverted and my perspective constricted by the needs of the moment.

So, here’s where you come in.

I have lots of ideas about where I could go from here. Seriously, lots. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking to friends about this. I’ve thought about “coming in from the cold” and taking a corporate job. I’ve thought about seeing if there is a company, or group of people, who might partner with me. I’ve thought of seeing if I can accomplish what I want just by going the route of publishing more and more courses (I have a LOT of potential courses in the wings). I’ve thought of focusing more on live broadcasting of things like pairing sessions, collaborations with technology experts, etc. I’ve thought of so many other options.

But I’m tired of acting like a business black box. I’m tired of pretending I’ve got my shit handled, it’s all planned out, and I know exactly where I’m going.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career, it’s that I’m not very clever on my own. I stand on the shoulders of giants—actually, the shoulders of a whole lot of normal-sized people–every day.

And like I said… I basically belong to you. I’m effectively already a community project.

I want to hear from you, the community that has brought me to where I am today. What should I do next? Where should I focus my energies? Where might I find the most leverage? Where to apply my particular set of skills?

I’m open to anything. The only requirements are:

  • I can’t do it all. I need focus. I can’t keep spreading myself across different initiatives. Right now I’m juggling RubyTapas, a course, and consulting sessions, and it’s just not sustainable. Plus it’s capital-intensive: keeping that many balls in the air requires the weekly help of half a dozen different part-time contractors, costing on the order of $3k/month.
  • I need a revolution. I’m not looking for another patch, another quick fix. I have lots of those ready to hand. I really want to take my career to the next level in both impact and income.
  • I want to move in a direction that makes me more accessible and useful to the community, not less. As an example, one of my ongoing frustrations with my consulting sessions is that they don’t scale. I absolutely love doing them with newbies and others who don’t have the funds for a pricey consultant; but the only way I’m able to make them worth the time they take is to price them into a range that is only really accessible to corporate clients. (The current rates are actually too low to be sustainable, one of the reasons I’ve frozen sign-ups temporarily).

Please, if you have thoughts, post them in the comments. I won’t sneer at any of them. Or, if you’re not comfortable posting publicly, feel free to send a private message.

Thank you. I love you. Happy hacking!


  1. Can Ruby Tapas being expanded into other languages? If you hired other people, trained them, and provided a brand, could you make enough income from that to make it your only busines? I’m envisioning something a bit like what Peter Cooper has done with his X Weekly email lists.

  2. You’ve hit on something very significant. Software development is increasingly an essentially social activity performed by typically anti-social people (or, at least, fine folks acting somewhat anti-socially at the time they practice their craft).

    We seem to want, simultaneously, teams to perform the work, but have individual wringable necks available when things go bad.

    Perhaps there’s an opportunity to create a model for concurrent programming, just as technical developments have made it increasingly important to generate concurrent software.

    [Or this may be nonsense; if that’s the case, please chuckle and ignore).]

  3. Thank you, dearly and sincerely, for sharing this Avdi. I identify with a number of your challenges, namely sole financial support for a household dominated with healthcare issues.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to have steady clients over the years that have allowed me the opportunity to do what I love: write code; create solutions. And I’ve been able to do so without breaking the bank for my clients.

    And I would love, absolutely Love, the opportunity to work with you, even in some small capacity. But I’m hampered by 2 big obstacles: 1) lack of bandwidth, and 2) a healthy lack of confidence in the form of “impostor syndrome”. You do so much and no body knows me. 🙂

    I’ll not air my dirty laundry here, but the lack of bandwidth extends to personal obligations as well. My schedule is so fluid and volatile at times it’s difficult to know if I’m coming or going. Long term projects I’m 100% reliable; short term changes or projects, not so much. :-/

    I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for you, Avdi. We should absolutely be helping one another (the royal We).

    Wishing you the best,

  4. I would love to hear you podcasting again, and I think that if you had a decent number of listeners you could be backed by either Patreon or sponsors (or even both). It scales really nicely financially and is a fixed (and relatively small given a big enough audience) weekly time commitment .

  5. Given your continued interest in teaching and your desire to scale your work, I can imagine a “Confident Code Academy.” You create the the curriculum and train a few high quality like-minded people to help you teach it. Over time, you may be able to hire more teachers and not be exclusively responsible for producing content.

    I think it’s easy for people to write-off bootcamps, code schools, what have you. I think it might give you a chance to stretch beyond your (excellent) micro lessons into getting students to think at a high level about problems in ways that you have found useful.

    A physical space may be a deal-breaker for you, given your somewhat remote living situation (as far as I can tell). I bet you would get a lot out of interacting with students on a daily basis in-person though. Reality is very high bandwidth. I suspect it would be nourishing for you.

    Best of luck to you. I’m excited to see what happens next.

  6. “Confident Code Academy”, I love that name. I could imagine you, Avdi, building a “Confident” brand and using it for other services of your (future) portfolio as well. Not only does the word feel like it fits your personality exceptionally well (as far as one can infer after years of following your public posts); the word “confident” may also resonate with a broader audience. Example: I live in Western Europe; given our rather rigid corporate culture, I’d never dare ask my boss to buy me a “Tapas” subscription.
    But a subscription to a “Confident” academy course? Ten times more likely.

  7. Forced to stay in the US?
    With 8k you can live real nicd in india, thailand, central america, Eastern Europe.
    Even get some help with the kids..

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