Mat Trudel


2012 in review

29 December 2012

21st century is comin, 20th century almost done (thirteen years too late, but it's a solid song. You simply can't go wrong with Fela Kuti). In the spirit of everyone else talking about their years, I'm jumping on that wagon too. Here goes.

Setting the scene

From January through May, we were living in Waterloo with my in-laws. We moved back to our house in Toronto in May, and spent August in Italy. That gives us about six months of 'normalcy'. Taking into account the work I started while living in Waterloo, I'm counting roughly 7 months of work done in 2012. Now that our family's health issues are (hopefully) behind us, I'm expecting 2013 to be a full year work-wise (which means roughly 10½ months of paying work planned for 2013).

What went well

I've had three large contracts throughout the year, plus a few smaller one-off engagements. At a high level, I'm really enjoying contracting. Although I remember my time as a wage-slave with nostalgia, I prefer the freedom (both time and technical) that contracting affords. So that's good.

I spent about 40% of my time in 2012 on iOS development, and having developed 8 apps from conception to ship-ready, I now consider it my most solid platform. Sharecropping issues aside, I really enjoy writing in it, am very productive, and have enough contacts for future contracts that I can keep busy (and command a good rate) for the foreseeable future. In that sense, my iOS work has been a good short-to-medium term investment. I'm wary of basing a long-term career on it, but for now it's too lucrative (and frankly too enjoyable) to pass up.

The same goes (to a lesser extent) with Javascript, where I also spent about 40% of my time. I've now done enough work that I have my own style (and reasons for it, and am perfectly comfortable with the idioms and limitations of the language. I don't really like it all that much, but it's an undeniable fact of life, and with my long term goal of moving towards the open world, I can't ignore it.

Money wise, we're well ahead of our monthly burn rate, with lots of money left over (if anyone is interested, I'm happy to talk harder numbers, just not in public). All my contracts are reliable clients, so collecting hasn't been an issue (with the caveat that waiting to get paid for the first few months of contracting was really tough). So overall we're good on the money front.

2012 was also the first time that I've ever bothered doing any formal paperwork in terms of running a business (for now that means registering as a sole proprietor & getting an HST number. I'll look at incorporating next year). While Freshbooks isn't perfect, it's 90% of what I need, and it's free. Tax prep doesn't look that much harder than previous years, and most of the financial decisions to be made with respect to incorporating / taxation / etc are quite clear to me. Contract negotiation and client management isn't that hard either. In short, the actual running of a business is nowhere near as daunting as I'd always thought it to be. It's actually kinda fun as long as I'm not doing it every day.

I also kicked out a couple of fun side projects this year, notably matchat, Easel, and two yet-to-be-released iOS pods. One thing I really missed about working at was the amount of fun & short duration side projects I worked on. I'd like to design my work around more of those in 2013.

Near the end of the year I started doing weekly Skype checkins with an old friend and colleague with the aim of having a technical sounding board for tactical decisions, mostly technical in nature. This is helping a lot, especially with iOS development where I'm the only one of my Toronto cohort who's on the platform. I'd like to keep doing more of this in 2013.

What went badly

While we were still living in Waterloo (and while I was waiting for the paperwork to be processed on the first contract I picked up), I spent about two months putting three iPhone apps together. All of these apps are basically store-ready at this point, yet only one of them is actually in the store. Even though none of these apps are real money-makers, there's still a psychological price to be paid for not shipping, especially with products that are this close to being done. I need to get better at this.

Networking. I did some in 2012, but not as much as I'd like. I'd set some goals in this respect with a few colleagues, and we all did a collectively awful job in living up to them. I'd like to do a better job of this in 2013.

Tuning out on vacation. We spent August in Italy, and I made some promises regarding workload during that time that I wasn't able to keep. I let people down and created needless stress for myself when the better approach would have been to just unplug for the month. Next year, I'll do that.

Other than that, I think 2012 was a banner year (at least considering where we stood this time last year), and there's not a whole lot I would have changed.

Looking forward to 2013, I have contract work lined up through the first 4-6 months of 2013, with solid leads on work for the balance of the year. I'd like to wind down from 5 days a week to 3-4 by mid-summer, and take the balance of the time to tackle my own non-paying work. Either way, it's comforting to know that the work is there if I need it. We're also planning on taking a month off to travel again, probably in September.

So that's that. As we wrap up 2012, taking stock of everything has reinforced what I already kind of knew; that it's been quite a good year. And you?