Today I want to talk a bit about the multiple meanings of independence. I'm going to focus a bit on trying to navigate different forms of independence that I've grown to recognize as healthy and good in life and career, and some forms that I'm increasingly seeing as toxic. I'm also going to daydream a bit about the future.
But first, where have I been???
It's been nine-ish months since I wrote on this blog. Sorry about that, I've got good reasons.
Bethany and I spent the better part of the last year and a half dealing with the sale of our first home, and the purchase of our second, a mere 3 years after we bought the first house just before the pandemic. Yes I know, that was a really short turnaround, and we probably picked the worst possible time to do it.
If you know anything about the housing market of the past few years, you know it has been nuts. The sale was much more involved and draining than we expected, and finding the new house was a draining process as well.
Nevertheless, we have landed in what feels like a much better location for us, and looking back on the experience, it was worth it, despite some significant hits we took in the process. We're fortunate in this world, in our generation, to have the opportunity to barely afford a house that meets our needs and provides a strong base for our family. I am very, very glad it is over, and I am very happy to have made the change. The process was nearly all-consuming, which left very little time or mental energy for anything other than work and managing the kids. All that aside, the fact that we can even buy a house is a serious fortune, and I can't stress enough how lucky we are to be in this position.
An increasingly independent life
At the same time, we've begun to emerge from the clouded haze that has been the global pandemic (though it doesn't feel done yet). The isolation of our previous home's location combined with the isolation of the pandemic burrowed a deep hole in our social relationships.
We felt a deep need to live in community again. We reflected on how much fuller our lives were in the past when we'd lived closer to town, where we could walk to accomplish at least a few of our weekly tasks, where we had neighbors we at least mildly got to know, and social events were far easier to engage in.
On top of our living arrangements, I've been on-and-off seeking a more office-y environment to work. When I used to work in the city, I developed a sense of place and belonging in Ithaca. The regular yearly festivals added a lot of enjoyment to normal lunch times, not to mention the semi-regular lunches with co-workers.
When I worked at Singlebrook, we had a weekly game hour at the end of the week, which even though it wasn't strictly observed, added greatly to my social time. All in all, I used to have a much wider array of people I got to interact with during my week, in a work and not-so-work context. I've had a few stints in coworking spaces that are helping some, but I want more.
The underlying thread here is that we felt like we were missing community.
We had established very American, very independent lives. Parallel to our personal social lives, both my daytime work and my constantly unproductive hustle-culture-induced moonlighting were increasingly isolating. A HUGE majority of my relationships were with colleagues and community members who I rarely saw in person.
Some of this is going to be built into the type of work I do and where Bethany and I live, but during the pandemic, the semi-yearly in-person events that mildly let me catch up on social life and real community were gone.
The local Cornell Drupal Camp hasn't been held in a few years, and I haven't been to a Drupal user group meeting in an even longer time. I spent a ton of time in Slack, trying to remain engaged with folks around technology and indie business.
In my previous post on returning to Drupal, I reflected on my burnout from side hustle mania, and my attempt to sort of start turning things around. I think finishing up the house move in some ways has helped wrap up that phase in life, and in some ways (because the new house costs more, just when student loan pauses end) has caused me to relapse a bit into trying to hustle-grind out some more cash!
What I feel I've learned is that I am not in a place in life to do the SaaS thing, I need to focus on small wins, that a single person with deep experience in developing with Drupal can achieve.
Some good things to depend on
Drupal, and more directly, the Drupal community, is something I am aiming to increase my dependence on. This includes both redoubling my efforts to use Drupal in my side projects (my wife's new website for her business is now running on Drupal Commerce instead of WooCommerce) as well as focusing on Drupal events.
I was previously afraid of depending too much on Drupal. I was worried it was too small of a market, I was worried I was leaving an opportunity on the table by not chasing seemingly more lucrative toolchains.
I completely neglected how good Drupal and its community truly are. I've previously lamented how difficult it is to sell Drupal code, but I've begun to realize that the Drupal community's culture of open contribution is actually much more in line with my personal values.
You see, I don't actually want to withhold code or knowledge from anyone. I want to just give things away constantly. Selling SaaS or something akin to WordPress plugins is really a game I have no natural advantage at. I can write hella good code, but I'm terrible at creating scarcity, building hype about secrets, and cold-calling people to find out if they'd be interested in the app I am planning to build.
Drupal's open source (GPL 3+ licensed) code enforces some level of community openness, and the rest of the community itself ensures through constant vigilance that the Drupalsphere is a place built of labor and not 'the gold price' of paywalls and subscriptions. This aligns with my values, this aligns with my natural mode of operation.
Drupal is something good for me to depend on, and community is something good for me to depend on.
Some terrible things to depend on
We've watched Twitter...errr X slowly implode since Elon Musk took over. People have been warning for years about the risk of making Twitter, or frankly any social media platform your primary publishing and distribution channel. Nevertheless, I sank countless hours into Twitter over the last few years, trying to involve myself in a slew of conversations. Some of it was for enjoyment, Twitter was a unique way for me to interact with people I'd have few chances to exchange words with via any other means. I've gotten replies to tweets from my favorite musician (Dustin Kensrue of Thrice), a few indie entrepreneurs who I respect (Justin Jackson, DHH [respect for him has unfortunately waned in the past few years]), and I've had many interesting micro-exchanges/micro-conversations over the years.
Ultimately though, I was investing time in Twitter to grow a following, because I had heard the story of entrepreneurs building an audience via Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, etc. I was hoping to convert that social capital into an audience that would support my independent work when I finally released something.
It was ultimately fairly pointless. Why on earth does a web developer with over a decade of experience need to give their thoughts and ideas to a multibillion-dollar soulless corporation when they are perfectly capable of publishing their ideas on their own, to a property that they 100% own?
With the Musk collapse in full swing, it's become obvious that the 400ish people I convinced to subscribe to my micro-thoughts, and let's be honest, mostly my replies to more successful people's tweets were never really getting the best of me to begin with, and those relationships were 100% at the mercy of a giant corporation who could and did eventually implode spectacularly.
I now log in to Twitter maybe...once or twice a month? This isn't some principled boycott either, the platform just got so legitimately less interesting to use that I naturally stopped checking it for interesting conversations multiple times a day.
I spent a good deal of 2023 in social media consume-only mode, I got fairly into Tiktok because some interesting accounts align with my social and political interests, but even that has had a massive drop in quality over the past few months, as more and more of my feed is replaced with both uninteresting livestreams and infomercials of people trying to sell me products.
I spent some time on Threads, its been mildly interesting, probably the best replacement for Twitter's 'worldwide everyone including famous people is here' vibe, but ultimately it's still only mildly interesting. I tried Bluesky, but I don't get it, seems like it's a room full of five people having an internal discussion about something I have zero context on.
All in all, social media is going to be a place where I absorb some other folks' content, but in terms of my own efforts, I do not see myself putting significant effort here.
Where am I headed?
So looking forward, I'm looking to move towards independence from truly private corporations, and I'm looking to move towards dependence on cooperative community.
Open source software has literally given me the fabulous career I have, I am so fortunate that past folks have decided to give away their valuable work for free, and I want to follow suit. I am looking to start contributing more to the Drupal community especially. I'm starting small, I published the Apple Pay Verification module on Drupal.org, and I am planning to perhaps work on some other projects, current ideas include:
- A Tailwind CSS based theme (that is focused on components and is easily sub-themed)
- An install profile for Indie creators
- Maybe an install profile for small events businesses like my wife's?
- Open sourcing small bits of functionality I need to build out this site and others I work on
- Maybe some useful Symfony CLI tool?
I've also been meaning to make some more contributions to Drupal core itself, but I always have a hard time finding an attack vector to bite off some interesting work and get it done. I want to try to find a way to crack into a groove here.
I want to find more ways to let individual community members support me so that I can spend more of my time on what I naturally love, which is supporting others, one on one, with no quid pro quo exchange. I'm planning to use Drupal Commerce to make this site my own personal Patreon, where I can offer things like a membership to support my indie efforts (with perks of course!), and maybe offer some pay-what-you-want info products or something. I want to avoid 100% paywalling things, but I've got to work on making it sustainable.
As Much as Possible, fully FOSS, fully indie
I've started moving away from freemium/paid external services. I had previously signed up with both ConvertKit and Mailchimp at various times to build a mailing list. It was a headache to keep integrated with their systems, thankfully Drupal is awesome, and there is an early alpha of the Simplenews module ready to kick the tires, so like any good developer, I installed and configured it on this very site (go ahead and sign up in the sidebar!).
It will be a bit hairy I am sure, but this is yet another opportunity for me to help. The module is open source, and it's not like I am unfamiliar with the APIs it integrates with! I will be looking to build with simple on-site tools whenever possible going forward, trying to keep control over the tools I work with (independence on tools and platform) while integrating deeper with free and open communities (dependence on community and principle).
Courses are something I've thought of in the past, and then I got sucked into the black hole of deciding where I'd put them, would I go with Podia? Udemy? Skillshare? You know, Drupal Commerce can do that too, and there are probably some modules to write to make that easier.
Beneath it all, I want to create a life where I get to spend as much time as possible helping people out, and having enough in the emotional, physical, and financial tanks to keep that train running, and I want to spread that to as many people as I can.