Last time we met John Hunter, a digital migrant living in Malaysia. John is a regular human, with two mortgages in the United States, who took a ‘six month’ vacation to Southeast Asia in 2011 … and never came back.
We ended with John making the claim that he could live on $1,300/month in Malaysia. That’s $16K/yr, which, given taxes, means a minimum income around $10/hour to make a go of a forty-hour work week. At $20/hr, that’s a twenty hour work week- anything higher than that means less hours or more in savings. (Of course, that doesn’t include the cost of packing up your entire life, or the price of plane tickets …)
Still, it got me interested. Just how does John generate the income to sustain that sort of life style, plus to save up for emergencies or retirement?
I’ll let him answer in his own words.
Matt Heusser: Now let’s talk about the hard stuff. How did you find remote contract work in Southeast Asia? Who are your customers? How many hours do you really work a week?
John: I have several sources of income: rental income, income from my web sites, consulting income. All I have done to find remote contract work is talk to a few people I know. I should talk to a few more people I know (I planned to do so, but things worked fine financially and I kept myself busy so I never go around to it – if I had needed the money I would have). I work a great deal on my web sites but the income from that is fairly low. For The W. Edward Deming Institute I do some consulting, write their blog and present seminars. For Hexawise I do some consulting and write for their blog.
My total hours of consulting and seminars a week averages less than 10. I work on my web sites over 30 hours a week on average. I make less from my web sites than either consulting or rental income. At the very beginning the web site earnings alone (Google, Amazon and similar options) more than covered my living expenses. That has declined significantly (for whatever reason I had a significant surge in income for about a year but it has gone away – from a bit before I left until about mid 2012).
I wrote a book last year, Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability, which doesn’t show any evidence of providing significant income yet, but maybe it will (I do not think it is incredibly likely to do so however). I just launched it in January and have been working on marketing it. I probably averaged over 10 hours a week for 6 months on it. It was what I wanted to do with my time; not something I figured would pay well.
I have no question if I was most interested in raising my income I would need to focus on getting consulting and seminar work.
Matt Heusser: You decided to keep your homes when you moved to Malaysia and rent them out. Why did you do that? How has that turned out — I imagine the taxes, mortgage payment, and paying someone else for upkeep exceeds the rental income, so why do it?
John: Well it started when I kept my first house and rented it out when I bought my second. Actually it started when I was looking for my first house; part of my thinking was buying something that would be a good rental. I was actually planning on convincing my mother or brother or someone to take ownership of half of the first house (just to raise some cash and spread the risk – having to replace a roof or whatever) when I moved into a new house. But I ran the numbers and the return was so great it was crazy to give that up to someone else (even family).
I very much like the idea of multiple sources of income. And I had plans of going out on my own, in some undefined way, so creating an income stream from real estate was one strategy to support that option. My second house I was less focused on rental prospects and it shows – I paid significantly more (and it is assessed at more) but rent is about 85% of the other one and has many fewer interested tenants when I try to rent it. My first house is 2 blocks from a metro, in a very nice and active neighborhood.
The rental income is great. It provides a consistent stream of income. Though you do need to understand you can have months where you might have more expenses (due to repairs) than income. I do pay someone to take care of them for me – I actually started doing that the last few years I was there (for the first property – just to not have to deal with it myself).
Matt Heusser: Describe a typical day. How much time do you spend working, and what else is there to do?
John: A typical day is:
1) Wake up and go onto the internet, do some reading, maybe write some, maybe do some research… while grabbing a bite to eat
2) Option to go for a swim or play basketball (I’ll do one or the other 3 or 4 times a week)
3) Do a bit of work: maybe a bit of coding, write for one of my blogs, consulting… (basketball takes longer so this is not done if I play basketball)
4) Walk to lunch (a great Indian place about 3 times a week is 5 minutes away, some other places within 10 minutes. About once a week a longer walk (several more options within 20 minutes). Or I’ll get delivery, eat what I have on hand or take a taxi somewhere.
5) Work some more – with online breaks or reading books…
6) Dinner, normally I just eat what I have; I eat dinner out once or twice a week
7) Working on stuff for fun
I will have plenty of days where I only really do 2 or 3 hours work and others where I do 10 or more. I spend a bunch of time doing things that can certainly be classified as working but are certainly not the way to optimize income. I can spend a great deal of time gathering data and analyzing it for a blog post which couldn’t really be justified if I was trying to maximize income. I am working on what I feel like. If I needed more current income I would have to put more effort into where I knew the pay was greater (consulting and seminars) but as I don’t have to, so I do what I feel like. I would be happy to do more consulting and seminars, doing the work to get more of that work doesn’t really excite me so I let it slide.
The time difference means if I need communicate in real time with the USA I need to do the early in the morning or in the evening.
I just started a new activity: taking a course via coursera.org. It looks like that might take a significant block of time (more than an hour a day), I just started this week (and am signed up for a second course taught by Dan Ariely).
After a great deal of email correspondence and a phone conversation or two, I can start to see how John is successful. I can’t help but notice that while he needs to work 10 hours a week to make a living, he ends up spending forty on business. Plus earning that $16K won’t pay for plane tickets, so he doesn’t get a chance to get back to the United States as often as he might like. Finally, I’m struck with how John has certain advantages over the typical tech worker in a developed economy.
So let’s dig into that, with a final piece of the interview next week, where I ask John his advice on how others can get where he is. I’ll close with my own thoughts, including how to develop that differentiation yourself.
Stick around; we’ll have cookies.]]>
So earlier in the week I was on craiglist, looking at gigs.
Yes, gigs. Not jobs.
Part-time, temporary, and flexible, gigs represent a different lifestyle, different risk profile, and different rewards. You can start them with a day job, and have the best of both worlds … there is just one small problem.
They don’t pay much. Or at least, they often don’t pay much.
This article is about how to change that — to get the high-paying gigs, while doing good, ethical work, that you can tell your family about with pride.
The first thing I notice about Craigslist gigs is the types. Labor, Crew, and Talent. Labor is back-breaking work that anyone in reasonable shape can do – moving furniture, delivering pizzas. Because there is high competition for labor gigs — they are often cash-by-the-day, ideal for undocumented workers – the pay is extremely low. Crew is the next level up; it not differentiated, but a smaller number of people have the special equipment (typically a camera or A/V equipment) and skills to do it, thus it pays slightly higher. Then there is talent.
Talent is where the money is.
When a cameraman gets sick on the set of “The Counselor“, Bradd Pitts new movie, you get a new cameraman, maybe from Craigslist.
When Brad Pitt gets sick, the whole dang movie shuts down. You lose a few hundred thousand dollars a day, and you get a world-class doctor in really really fast.
Talent gets the nice office, fresh bagels, and can command the kind of rates that you would hope they could command.
Maybe not $20 million for a nine-month movie shoot, but yes, Virginia, Talent does exist in IT.
Talent In IT
Last week I was in New York, city, doing a live video-shoot with my friend, Michael Steinhart, about Cloud Computing Security fr TheSMBAuthority.com. Here’s a still from the show (click-through to watch the entire episode):
I’m not showing you the link to show off.
Actually, quite the opposite. Look at me real carefully.
I’ve got a weight problem. I have an acne problem. My shirt, though high-quality, wasn’t wearing right; it was bunching at the bottom.
Somehow, this very non-Brad-Pitt like dude got to do a day of consulting in New York City at a ‘talent’ level rate. It’s not my first one; in November, I was in Malmö, Sweden, giving a slightly ironic talk called “Building Your Reputation Through Creative Disobedience.” Yes, there is video.
Again: I am not Brad Pitt.
Now watch the SMB video. If you are a real operator in technology, you watch a video like that and say “hey man, that’s introductory stuff. wide, sure, but not very deep. Why … I could do that.”
Yes, you probably could.
How ‘Talent’ Works
When I look at the classifies, I see two general categories of talent. The first is work that many people can do, there there is an existing market for, but most of us would find distasteful. (We don’t need to get into it here, but it involves things that are probably best kept private, and no, don’t click those links at work.)
The second way is to develop specialized expertise that is a known quantity.
The last step is to offer the services on an as-needed basis. That means you trade some personal risk for the ability to negotiate each assignment separately.
“The Counselor” could have any unknown actor for a hundred thousand dollars, but with Brad Pitt, the movie is sure to be a hit.
It is better to be that guy.
Hey, I’m an old fat guy, and I have my moments.
It takes a bit of work, but we can cover it here.
More on the how next time.]]>
Regular readers will remember last month’s Las Vegas Trip to Interop (including the Booth Babes). A few of you may also know that, while in Vegas, I found time for an onsite with Zappos,
Long-time readers know that when I make these trips, I ask a lot of questions. Some aren’t relevant for the C-level audience; others need to be interpreted by an audience with a bit of … finesse, or, perhaps, would be great, but the answers I get just don’t fit into the piece.
That’s what we have unchartered waters for.
Zappos is a subsidiary of Amazon.com; the company was purchased in 2010, when it had just broke the $1 Billion in annual revenue threshold.
For a website primary known for selling shoes, that is, well, a lot of sales.
Not only did the folks at Zappos invite me for an onsite; they also extended the offer to include attending the all-hands meeting the day before.
Why yes, now that you mention it, I did take my video camera.
The company is actually based in Henderson, Nevada, about fifteen minutes from Las Vegas, and is in the middle of a huge, ambitious project to move to downtown Las Vegas. Once of the references that Tony Hsief, the CEO, made was that as companies get larger, the per-employee productivity goes down — yet as cities grow, the per-human productivity got up (for most reasonable measures of it.)
Why is this? Well, lots of things, but I suspect choice and competition are two of them. When you get more rug-sellers in the market, the customers win. When people have autonomy over where to live, and realize that, if they put work into the house and community, it’s value will go up, they put effort into property and community. More people means more specialized clubs and social events.
After describing the advantages to downtown, the company leaders showed a video that was a Walk-through of the Zappos Campus, really a world-class comceptualization. My camera was on, and yes, I can show you the recording. The all-hands was enlightening; I got to see the fun culture, the focus on customer service, and a couple presentations from outsiders. (I have a little more film, I can upload it if there is request.)
Then Things Got Interesting
The second day was where the real action is — the heart of my CIO piece. One thing I captured on camera that I haven’t had a chance to publish yet is my interview with Chris Weiss, then architecture lead (now director of it) at Zappos, about how the site’s hardware and systems interoperate. When you consider the volume of traffics they get (the site is rank #216 for traffic in the United States by Alexa), having a 200ms response rate from inbound to outbound is incredible.
How do they do it?
Here’s Chris Weiss in his own words:
Just one more thing: There’s plenty more to come.]]>
Last time I introduced Andy Lester and his book Land The Tech Job You Love. Today we return to ask about the specifics of the book; what Andy recommends to job seekers, and where can go to learn more about it.
Matt: Tell me about the book; how is it structured?
Andy: It’s in two halves: Finding the job and then applying and interviewing.
The first half is about the part of the process that’s entirely about you, that you do by yourself. The second is the parts where you are actually interviewing with the company.
I made a point of splitting the chapter on resumes into two chapters. The first discusses the words that you’re going to put on your resume, and the second talks about presentation and format. One of the things that I’ve seen from years of reading Slashdot and Reddit is that people think primarily about formatting on the resume, and pay very little attention to what they’re actually saying. I hope to help people get past that.
I’m also emphatic that you don’t have a resume, just one resume you send out for every job. You have a base resume that you then modify for every job for which you apply. No two jobs should get the same resume, because no two companies and positions are the same. For one company, you may want to emphasize your database skills, and for another, your educational background is the most interesting. Yes, it takes time to tailor every resume you send out, but hey, you want the job or not? Besides, if you don’t have a job, what else can you be doing that’s more important than everything you can to get a job?
Matt: How do you find the company you’d like to work for? It sounds like you are not suggesting the “numbers game” resume approach …
Andy: There aren’t 200 jobs out there that will make you happy, so why are you sending out 200 resumes?
Instead of going scattershot looking for any position possible, start looking for the types of companies that you’d like to work for, or doing the kind of work you’d want to be doing as well. Talk to whoever you can. Ask for pointers on what kinds of companies might be a good fit. For instance, if I was looking for a job, I might drop you an email saying “Hey, Matt, you know I’m big into automated testing like you are. Can you point me at any companies that are strong in that area, or could use help getting ramped up with testing?” Note that I’m not asking for a job, but just help along the way. When the requests you make of your contacts are small and non-imposing, it’s much easier to ask for help.
Matt: You mentioned the second half was about interview tips. I expect that all of our readers know to show up ten minutes early, to get a good nights sleep, and to dress a level higher than the job would generally require. Could you share a few tips that have a bit more, well … depth?
Andy: Actually, you might be surprised by how many people don’t know those interview tips. I”m finding more and more that the people raised on the Internet have apparently never picked up a book on job hunting of any kind. I often tell job hunters who are completely new to the job hunt to go to their local public library and start there. You’ll find dozens of books that will have a solid overview of the process.
My #1 tip for interviews is to have stories to tell. The interviewer is going to be asking about your skills, and a story is the best way to do it. Don’t just say “Yes, I know Oracle’s PL/SQL” when you can say “I’ve been using PL/SQL for three years, and I had to implement a Foo system in it, and convert a Frobnitz application from Postgresql to PL/SQL.”
The first answer says “yes”, the second answer says “Yes, and here are details to support it.”
The #2 tip is to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. What is it that she wants to know about you? What problems does she have to solve? The hiring manager wants to hire you. She wants you to be the ideal candidate, so she can hire you and then get back to the rest of her day-to-day job. She is on your side. What you have to do is tell her the things she wants to know so it’s a slam-dunk decision.
Matt: Let’s say someone is living in a medium-sized area, and there are tech jobs, but he lacks some specific buzzwords and doesn’t want to move. How can a person in that situation land a great job? Do you have any advice?
Andy: If they’re buzzwords that he wants to learn, then start by learning them. Spend an hour less a night watching TV, and read a book on the topic, and create a homemade project that uses that technology.
Want to learn Ruby? Or a new variant of SQL? Or HTML5? The technical knowledge is out there, and you can spent the time to learn it. You’ll just have to do it on your own.
Matt: I can see that working for open-source tools (I just did a tutorial post on how to get started with EC2), but can that work for large, expensive databases, or, say, administering MS Exchange? For that matter, have you seen a lot of people have genuine success with that approach?
Andy: A fantastic solution, if you can find it, is to join an open source project focused on the object of your learning. There’s a huge difference between putting on your resume that you’re teaching yourself Ruby, and that you’ve been contributing to the RubyWhatever project.
As you point out, this isn’t always possible. An alternative might be to take a class at your local community college that is at least in the same general area as the topic. You could also find a user group, say, the Des Moines Exchange Admin User Group, and attend meetings. Mailing lists are fantastic for this, too. Just join a mailing list and read the archives and learn from the problems and experiences of others. It’s not as good a learning experience as having your own Exchange server to play with, but it’s far better than nothing.
Matt: thank you for you time today Andy; where can our readers go for more?
Andy: You’re very welcome, Matt. If your readers want more, they can visit my blog about jobs and programming at petdance.com. I’m glad to answer questions from readers when possible, too.]]>
It’s a tough world out there. Unemployment runs at 9%, but if you count the under-employed, part-time, or those out of work more than two years, the percentage could be twice that.
Then you have employers, a fickle lot, that like to require a very specific skill set, down to the level of sifting out people who have experience administering the wrong point-release of specific operating systems.
Then along comes Andy Lester, author of “Land The Tech Job You Love.”
Let’s be frank: The first part, “land the tech job” is hard enough, and here Andy comes promising the second.
I thought it was time to talk to the gentleman, man-to-man. (Plus I’d let you watch, because I’m that kind of guy.)
More seriously, Andy wrote a book about developing habits to get, and keep, a job suited to your skills and temperament — and offered to talk to us about it.
In Part I of this interview, we’ll talk about the experiences and motivations that Andy drew on to write the book.
Matt: You’ve been a programmer, manager, and technology evangelist. What inspired you to write a book such a human-resources-y topic?
Andy: Years of hiring programmers. I’ve had so many people interview for programmer positions with two big failures. First, tech people tend to not like to talk about themselves, and you have to sell yourself to get a job, because if you don’t, someone else is going to beat you to it. That’s not the entire problem, but it’s the tip of the iceberg. Second, I talked to many people who didn’t seem to especially care what job they got. They just wanted to come in and write some code and go home. This seemed like such a shame, because I figure that life is too short to spend working in a job that you don’t love. You spend as much time at the office as you spend waking hours with your spouse, so why not love what you’re doing?
Matt: You’ve been a hiring manager since about the time we first met, in 2003. Of all the candidates you’ve seen, what would you say is the #1 mistake you’ve seen?
Andy: I always ask for printed code samples before an interview. I want them printed so that the candidate and I can look at them in the interview together, and I can get a feel for the candidate’s design and coding decisions.
So this guy comes in at 9:10 for a 9:00 interview, which is Strikes #1 and 2 against him right there.
He doesn’t apologize for being late, and hands me an orange 3.5″ floppy disk and says “Here’s my code samples, my printer ran out of ink this morning.”
Never mind that I didn’t have a drive capable of reading a floppy, even years back when this happened, but he told me quite a lot about himself.
First, he was unable to complete his first assignment as directed. I said to do X, and he didn’t.
Matt: Let me guess — second — it told you that he was comfortable transferring his problems to you?
Andy: Exactly. Third, he waited until the morning of this important meeting to do the assignment. Fourth, he didn’t have the presence of mind to go to a Kinko’s and print off copies.
Matt: Can I ask, what were the top two or three things you’ve seen as a hiring manager that impressed you? What were the good things?
Andy: I’m always impressed when a candidate has clearly done his or her homework and researched the company or me. I always give my name when I’m going to interview someone, giving them ample opportunity to find out about me on the web. If you can find blog posts or mailing list messages from your interviewer, it can give you insight into what he and the company need. This isn’t creepy. I’ve already Googled the candidate before calling them in for an interview, and they should have the foresight to do the same in return.
At the very least, everyone should find out as much about the company with which they’re interviewing before going in for the meeting. I wish it weren’t so uncommon that it impresses me when people do it.
Candidates who are well-prepared for the interview and work to tell about their value to their companies in past positions always make a solid impression. It shows that they know I’m hiring them for a job, not just for the heck of it.