Thursday, 25 November 2010

Career opportunities are the ones that never knock

CAREER OPPORTUNITIESLately I find myself daydreaming quite often about a career change. As usual, I'm too much of a chicken to actually act on this whim; things will most likely start and end with this post. Yet it is interesting to analyse the situation at hand.
The reasons for wanting a change seem fairly obvious:
  1. I'm getting too bored with what I'm doing at the office. I was hardly ever put to the test with assignments that truly challenge my capabilities, perhaps because I never offered myself up but also because most employers do not really want breakthroughs. As it is, I am going to work in the mornings not for self-fulfillment but rather so I can pay the mortgage.
  2. Since becoming a parent, the ongoing battle for work/life balance is taking its toll. It is best felt when our child is sick: not only do I have to make the extra effort running after him, I also have to make the extra effort to cover up for work. Yet even under normal circumstances times are hard: between childcare open and closing times, my workday does not leave me much leeway for luxuries and I'm always short on time.
  3. Like everyone I would like to be doing at work what I like to be doing off work. As it is, the stuff I'm doing at the office is stuff that I'm probably good at, but it is also stuff I got to do through circumstances (mostly the need to get a proper job after migrating to Australia) rather than my own career choice.
Obviously, if a career change is what I want, then the question is what career options I have that would satisfy my three main demands: income, work/life balance and interest?
In an ideal world the answer would have been making money out of blogging/writing, but we are not living in an ideal world. There are very few people that really earn money this way, and probably only a handful that make a proper living out of such activities alone. Looking at people that do make money writing, like Cory Doctorow or John Scalzi (to name two personal favorites), it becomes obvious that in order to them to maintain viable income they have to comb the world over all the time. I'm pretty sure they can't be there every evening at five to pick their child up from childcare.
There are, however, other things I like doing. In particular I noticed how I am acting as many of my friends' consultant for all things PC: I advise them on software, I fix minor issues on their computers, and I even install stuff. My specific niche is in the free software: I advise people on acquiring free anti virus software, free firewall software, free anti malware software, and even free operating systems altogether (Linux). I also advise on free tools that deal with specific needs: I tell people about free movie editing software and photo editing software that can give Adobe and its products a good run for their money, especially for with people of more amateur demands.
I believe that when looked upon this way, I do have a market I can get some money from. The market is simple PC users who want to get more out of their computer but do not want to or do not have the means to pay much for it. I encounter people like this all the time, starting from each time I look myself in the mirror. My business rivals are also plainly obvious: there are companies out there making billions out of telling people they need to spend money on software that I consider unnecessary. Take the anti virus arena: people are actually paying for inferior security products from the likes of Norton when they can get much better alternatives from the likes of Avira for free. The best example is Windows: Microsoft is very good at pushing Windows down our throats, yet I am convinced the vast majority of users would be better off with Linux. Take my parents, for example: In half an hour I can install Ubuntu on a PC for them and set it up so that they never need to do a thing to keep their PC up to date and secure while, at the same time, they can get all the functionality they would ever want to get out of their PC. Half an hour, and it's verified, because I have done it before.
If you want my business model then there it is: advertise myself to people like my parents (e.g., old) that want basic computing/Internet abilities but cannot deal with the implications of keeping a PC running reliably, and charge them an affordable one off sum (say, $50-$100) to sort things out for them. I would enjoy doing it, I would feel like I am spreading the good word while doing it, and I truly believe I would make a difference to people's lives. Having an Internet connection you can adequately use is not a thing to be trifled with!
Obviously, there are problems with my vision, and quite a lot of them, so I'd better keep my day job for now (or forever). I am unable to tell how much demand there will be for my services - again, I am fighting billions of marketing dollars here. Then there are the people I will be helping, who will stop being my friends once I go commercial: they will have their own weird demands, they will have PCs that have been so totally ruined under the Windows regime I won't be able to do anything before reinstalling the entire operating system, and there will be lots of people with hardware problems whereas I do not pretend to be able to have the tools required to deal with that.
The temptation is there, though. I'm pretty sure that if I was to lose my day job I might even give it a go!

Photo by mike fischer

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