A silhouetted girl jumps off a pier

For the past year, I've been employed by 352 Media Group, based first in Gainesville, FL and then in Atlanta, GA.

Recently, I decided that the time had come for me to try to make it as a freelancer. I'm not the kind of person who thinks everyone should follow the path of self-employment. On the other hand, there comes a point in some of our lives where the idea of working for someone else is so distasteful that the inevitable pain and isolation that comes from going it alone is actually attractive.

In other words, it isn't all roses. I'm extremely optimistic about what the future holds. I know that my skills are valuable once they get in the right hands. But for the past year, I've had people above and around me figuring out how to distribute my skills, and now that's all on me. Project management, IT, business development, marketing, public relations, HR... they all just collapsed into the singular incomprehensible mass that now rests before me.

Back in August of 2007, I had this to say about my expected trajectory. I'm reposting it here, unedited, because I think it's important to remember that I was as clueless then as I feel now, and things have gone pretty well so far.

One of the most striking patterns that has shaped my life is the exponential feedback of intentionality. What I mean is, I seem to be eerily good at making things happen that I set my mind to. Before I ever spoke to Microsoft at the Fall 2006 job fair at UF, I wrote a Post-It note and stuck it to my mirror: "I will work for Microsoft."

Several months later, I was. Before that, I had opportunities in tech support, web application development, and game development that were greatly aided by just thinking hard about what I wanted.

The key to manifesting intentions is to let your subconscious mind discover opportunities for you, because you could easily burn 25 hours a day looking actively for them. As long as you keep your goals (which should take no more than about 20 words to state) in your mind at all times, following your "heart" (really your mind giving you hints about the correct choice of action) will cause you to converge on your goals.

What happens when you don't keep specific goals in mind? You will consistently converge on whatever occupies your mind for the moment, or on nothing at all. One way or another, you'll notice that you spend a lot of energy just getting by.

I can't conceive how many of my peers accept the reality that shortly (in about 10 months for some of us), they will be sitting at desks in whatever big company pities them with an entry-level position and 3 days of vacation doing menial coding tasks that amount to a piss-take in the ocean of personality-free software.

This is not the corporate America of your father. $30 a hour is not enough for me. $200 an hour isn't enough either. Not if I give up control. Not if I'm beholden to someone whose seniority will always dictate their position (above me) in the org chart.

These are the reasons I will not accept a safety net once I graduate. It's all or nothing, because failure is never final. Failure is just one more motivation to try harder. The alternative to trying again after failure is death.

So, come what may. King me or kill me.

Truer words. But words without commitment or substance. So, the fresh realization is that there is no substitute for cutting the cord for real. For shipping. For taking clients and failing or succeeding on my own merits and not within someone else's support structure. It took awhile to get here, but here goes...

Creating Value at Starbucks

Starbucks logo signage in an urban environment A recent article by Tom Davenport on the Harvard Business Publishing metablog has me thinking. Entitled "Is Web 2.0 Living on Thin Air?," the post asks whether all us hipster Starbucks jet-setting metrosapiens are really creating value, or just participating in a "fluffy" game of social media- powered self-delusion. I think it's the wrong question to ask, but because Davenport implicitly answers another question, this present post is vindicated and the fundamental issue at hand is revealed as both beginning and end. </Helmut "The Architect" Bakaitis>

Concordantly, allow me to ask the question that Davenport really wants to ask: Regardless of the degree of engagement in often frivolous social networking activities (i.e., poke wars, media tagging, and adding edges to the social graph just for the sake of increasing your friend count), who is creating value and in what is that value based?

Speaking as an aspiring coffee shop hipster creative, I can tell you that when I'm sitting down with a Grande Pike Place drip brew, I'm not going to be spending much time on facebook; I'm going to be spending time slicing .PSDs, writing CSS, and scripting PHP and jQuery, or my language du jour.

I remember reading a much more conservative piece by an individual I could only imagine being the type of neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie who could make a career of doling out largely vapid and condescending advice. Substantial Googling and Snopesing turned up Charles J. Sykes and the relevant quotation: "Television is not real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs." Surely enough, he's at it again. Suffice to say, this kind of polemic fails to inspire me. I guess my necktie is a little too loose for me to get the point.

It turns out that it's possible to create value darn-near anywhere these days. I'm not saying every job is implicitly mobile; vanishingly few are. But for those of us knowledge workers who produce the technology that makes everyone elses' lives richer and easier, a favorite coffee shop can, as in the vision for Starbucks envisioned by Howard Shultz, provide a comfortable "other place," a sacred venue away from the distractions of home where, on the best days, everything but the workpiece fades into the background and we're cruising along in the zone of maximum productivity.

In short, the value we produce takes the form of applications and systems that make it easier for people to do whatever it is they do. So indeed, getting overly engaged in social networking can be a big drain on personal productivity. But we shouldn't confuse such value-sapping minutiae with the value-creating work of producing sites that encourage engagement, including, yes, the creation of social media sites.

Blog Action Day '08: Moving Slowly on Poverty

A black and white photograph of a seated woman In the last hour or so of the day (on the West Coast, at least), and even though this site is still under very active construction, I wanted to drop a quick post for Blog Action Day '08. The topic of the year is poverty.

As I am a white Anglo-Saxon male who grew up, if not in, at least adjacent to, the suburbs, most people would assume that my experience with poverty is minimal. They would be correct. I have never known clawing hunger for days on end; have never lacked a roof, four walls and a carpeted floor; have never been the subject of an exposé on wretched conditions in the inner city nor a child with baleful eyes who could get by with a mere 75 cents a day.

No, being in the first world, I like to imagine that I can get by, due to my place of privilege in Maslow's hierarchy, on just my principles. One of my friends recently posted on facebook a quotation by Protestant minister William J. H. Boetcker, from which I take the following excerpts: "You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong[...]" and "[__You] cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves." As much as this sentiment reeks of the hackneyed arguments people make for trickle-down effects between classes, there is something to be taken from it, and it has everything to do with urgency.

Obviously, the time and money dumped into efforts to "elevate" the third world has benefits, up to and including saving lives that would otherwise be lost. But is this naive approach adequate when the very lives that are saved lack the infrastructure, knowledge, and other resources necessary to perpetuate it? This is what Boetcker meant when he said, "you cannot help the poor by destroying the rich." If all the wealth generated by the top 3% of earners in the world went to feed, clothe and shelter children in states of poverty, we would have not one but two destitute generations as a result.

The good news is that "elevation" doesn't have to entirely recapitulate the history of the Western world. We routinely design and commoditize hardware that is decades ahead of that available in the poorest areas abroad, which means that the adoption cost in those areas is a tiny fraction of the initial development cost - yet another instance of the way in which the pricipal of a personal investment can be multiplied many times over.

So, in moving on poverty, the answer is not strictly an influx of capital. Obviously large humanitarian organizations must be aware of this at some level, because their operations are not as naive as the base case described above. But the broader population should be grounded in firmer realities than the swollen bellies of starving children half-way around the globe. These images are tragic and unsettling, and run the risk of inducing despair or a kind of detached revulsion; instead, where is our collective plan for introducing infrastructure and slowly burning poverty up in the flames of progress and accrual of benefits from both social and monetary investments?

It's a humanity-sized goal, but for as slow as it would seem to be, it's the fastest way to see the payoff we'd all love to see.