A few weeks ago I put out an open call to anyone interested in sharing their creative career journey. It was my hope that I would find individuals that would inspire others to follow their own career aspirations. I can’t stress how important it is to see real life examples of people that are doing what they love.
I’m happy to announce that I’ve rounded up six individuals who have succeeded in doing just that. In this six-part series you’ll gain insight on various career paths. The good, the bad and the ugly…it’s all here. Before I start I just want to send out a big thank you to all my interviewees! Now to kick off the series I’d like to introduce you to Franklin Marmon. Enjoy 🙂
Name: Franklin Marmon
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1. Tell us a little bit about your career.
I write software, mostly protocol stacks, for phone companies. It isn’t flashy or exciting by most standards, but I really enjoy it. I make servers that allow things like text messaging, voicemail and various other services to work on cell phones. I also support the programs I write.
If I were a developer for a normal company in my field there would be 3 layers of technical support between me and the customer. I would probably only speak to a customer once a month at most. Feed-back would be in the form of trouble-tickets and I’d work to managerial deadlines and black-box specifications.
Fortunately I don’t work for a normal company. There are four of us, total, in the company. Two of us are owners, two of us are employees. That’s as much like a company we are. Everything is self-driven. We could almost be self-employed contractors. We do have an office where three of us work. There are no ‘managers’ in the company, nobody looking over your shoulder or cracking a whip to get the job done.
We do not give customers time-frames on new development. We can’t really since we do the support for our code as well as the development it is next to impossible to give a time-frame and then meet it. Any time you do something comes up to push it back which just aggravates everyone involved. Some customers hate that, but most of our customers have realized we get the projects completed in time but need flexibility to do it.
2. What’s an average day look like for you?
I get up, take my kids to school, go to work, and then the typical stops. Some days are all day support marathons, some are all day coding marathons, and some are you-tube marathons. It just depends.
If I had to pin down an average day it would go like this: after dropping the kids off I make some tea, check my email, read the comics, the start in looking at whatever project I’m currently on. There is often a lot of research involved in our projects so I will spend a few hours reading and then move on to writing code. In between reading and writing code I’d be answering email and/or the phone to handle support issues. I’d probably end up on a conference call at some point throughout the day.
3. Did you set out on this path intentionally or stumble upon it?
I stumbled upon it, mostly. I went to college to be a chemical engineer. After a year of that I switched to computer science. After skipping most of my second year I dropped out and moved to a new city and eventually got a job at an ISP. I learned network, protocols, how to read documentation and many other things working at that job. After four years I got asked to join a super small company but I wasn’t ready to leave the ISP yet. After two more years that same company asked me what it would take for me to join them. It is a great thing to feel wanted, sought after even. I gave them a number and they accepted it. That got me where I am.
4. What are some challenges you’ve incurred – past or present?
The biggest challenge I face is pretty typical of the self-employed (though I am not self-employed). I find it difficult to stay focused and force myself to “get the job done” since there is nobody standing behind me ensuring I do it.
Another challenge I face all the time is self-doubt, the feeling that I’ll be found out to be a fraud. “I don’t really know what I’m doing, I just sort of do it.” Someday someone who knows what they are doing might see me and blamo, I’ll be boned. Until then I just keep telling myself that my clients are happy with my work so it must not be that far off base. There was an article about this recently. It was kind of nice to know I’m not alone in this feeling and really just knowing that made it much easier to live with.
5. How do/did you move past these?
It is a constant struggle. I don’t think these are things you can move past, more just handle as they hit. To stay focused I just remind myself of what it feels like to have someone trying to motivate me, god I hate that. To get over self-deprecation I remember how awesome I am! It is a joke, and it isn’t. If you’ve been working at creating things sometimes looking back at all you’ve completed is a great way to get out of the doldrums, at least it is for me.
6. What keeps you motivated?
My motivation is different depending on what I’m doing. If I’m writing a software package I’m particularly proud of just doing it is motivation enough. If I’m writing something I don’t really want to be working on the fact that if I get it done I can stop feeling guilty and maybe screw around for a while works.
I am also motivated by feedback. I really like the high I get when I pull off some impossible task and the customer is gushing thanks and adoration. Aside from that, I like what I do. Before I became a professional programmer I wrote little programs in my free time. When you enjoy what you are doing motivation isn’t that difficult to come by.
7. What’s the best part of your career?
I do not like to be bored. The cellular world is constantly changing. We create new products to keep up with it or fill voids where they need to be filled. I get to speak with intelligent people who for the most part work out of the face of the general public on things almost everyone uses. It is fun! Combine the fun with the lose work environment and lack of managers and corporate structure and my job is awesome.
8. If you could do it all over again, what would you change (if anything)?
There are a couple classes in college I wished I’d have attended or taken. Otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am without the decisions I made so I’d probably not change too much.
9. Do you have any advice for someone looking to embark on an unconventional career path?
Be ready to handle the swings. It isn’t always going to work out, and there will be shit times. I recall that right before I started working at the ISP I had been grinding eye glass lenses for a living. It wasn’t fun, and was pretty boring, and then the company I worked for got shutdown for medicate fraud. I had nothing to do with it but it meant I was out of work, right at Christmas. I got pretty depressed and was mostly lethargic all the time. I probably could have just started out doing something else right away if I didn’t let it get me down so far. Eventually I looked for a job to pay the bills and landed at the ISP, learned what I needed to know to do what I do now.
10. What else should we know about you and your career?
I didn’t set out to be a programmer. I took exactly 3 programming courses in college, ADA, ADA95, and C++. I didn’t take any other computer science courses at all. To do my job I’ve needed to learn a lot of things I didn’t know. Many of them I would have learned in college had I attended. I couldn’t get a job at a ‘real’ company doing what I do. I don’t have the qualifications on paper to get through the front door for an interview. I’m pretty good at my job though. There are many people who would back me up on that. I don’t let other people tell me what I can or can’t do, or even what I should or shouldn’t do. I think being self-motivated/self-employed requires that type of mentality.
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