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Going Indie

September 21, 2013 / Brian / 6 Comments

I put my two week notice in yesterday.

But why give up my comfortable, well-paid job with benefits and all the free candy and ice cream you could ever want?

It doesn’t make sense. Just look at those photos. Why would I ever give that up?

About a month ago, I got a performance warning that snapped me out of my sugar-induced coma. I was on auto-pilot, cruising along a path that wasn’t for me. Even though I was learning from being in close proximity to experienced practitioners in the field, I wasn’t learning what I wanted to be learning and I wasn’t passionate about the product. As a result, I wasn’t motivated and I wasn’t doing well. I needed the wake up call.

There are a lot of great things about working at Aggrego. For more experienced technologists, there’s a lot of leeway to problem solve and use any solution you can think of. One of my coworkers, Ross, thought of a use for a graph database and was able to start building it that day. My coworkers are all incredibly smart and learning from them was a great opportunity. Just being able to see how they approached problems and how tenaciously they dug into bugs.

For instance, Dave always got to the root cause of the problem, never just flipping switches randomly until things worked, which is oftentimes what I did early on. You learn when you get to the root of the issue. You do not learn when you rely on flipping switches to magically fix problems.

I was also given the go-ahead and a budget to start a meetup that would gain over 100 members in less than 6 months at Aggrego. It’s a really cool place to work.

But sometimes, tough choices have to be made. When I signed on, I was under the impression that I would be learning front-end development, an urge that I held onto even though most of my work became bug fixes or back end work. When I was given a chance to do front-end stuff, I loved it. I loved working with Erick because I could see the fruits of my work visually, and he could take pure data and dress it up for Sunday brunch. Unfortunately, this consisted of a fraction of my work.

In the beginning, I was also under the impression that, because I had worked in newspapers and because I liked writing, I would be passionate about the publishing industry. This turned out to be a false assumption. I am much more passionate about people and the products that serve them than I am about the publishing industry. I would rather be creating something newsworthy rather than the tools to publish that news.

Now, back to that performance warning. I immediately started speculating – what would I do if I had to find a new job? In fact, what would I do if I didn’t even program? Did I even like programming? (As it turns out, I do.) What if this was just not the field for me? What would I do?

After getting over the fact that, given a choice, I would just not do anything, the alternatives I had thought up started to dominate my thinking. Even a week after the performance review when I was told that I had improved, I still felt the urge to leave. But it wasn’t a fight or flight response to the threat of being fired. It was more like being on the runway in an airplane. I was ready to go.

So…the alternatives. There is a dizzying array of things I could do. I could: find a new job as a Rails developer (San Francisco? Boulder?!), get into consulting, become a street performer. I could stick with Ruby or learn Javascript, Go, or any number of things. I could freelance. I could join a startup, create a startup, or disappear into the woods. Or Canada.

I had begun to work on a friend’s startup already, and I began to realize that I relished the responsibility and the programming. I discovered that I did like programming. To be honest, I’m not sure that I had ever liked programming before. I was never one to get lost in my own code. Tutorials and guides, sure, but I was never able to create something I liked. The closest I came was my original tic tac toe submission to 8th Light, before I had even started Code Academy. I was proud that I had gotten something to work, more or less, even though the AI wasn’t perfect. Again, I found joy in developing the user-facing elements. But otherwise, programming anything non-trivial was an exercise in frustration. I didn’t know that the most difficult part of coding wasn’t the algorithmic wizardry or the syntax, but the organization and the human contexts in which code is executed.

I had also long been in talks with Kelly, an apprentice at 8th Light, about our experiences learning to program, both from Code Academy (now Starter League), which we both attended, and her experiences as an apprentice. I’ve long felt like I’ve had this weird quasi-relationship with 8th Light. I’ve attended many of their events and I know a lot of craftsmen at 8th Light. But things never quite worked out. I was poor at the time and needed a job, so I couldn’t really focus on my apprenticeship application or take the risk of starving to death in order to complete an apprenticeship. I also didn’t know what it really was. A significant number of those factors have changed since then. I think I am ready to reapply now.

So right now, I’ve got a startup to nurture and an apprenticeship application or two to complete. After these two weeks are up, I’ll take a week or so to veg out, and then I’ll be going indie.

† See Organizational Skills Beat Algorithmic Wizardry and the fact that the “weed out class” of the Rails Tutorial is setting up your development environment. Let’s not even get into deployment, because I still don’t know shit about that.

Tracing an upward curve

March 6, 2013 / Brian / 0 Comments

Shit’s so boring when it’s going according to plan.

Yo! It’s been a long time. I haven’t updated because I felt like nothing that eventful has happened. Nothing has surprised me, and I haven’t disappointed myself too much lately, which I’ve found is a great reason to start writing – so that other people don’t make my mistakes. Everything is pretty much on track.

I guess a few updates are in order:


I seem to keep acquiring people eager to learn programming, and it’s exciting and scary to be guiding them toward…toward what, exactly? For those who are motivated and interested, I want them to achieve their goals. That generally means a job in the industry, which, while I don’t think is as difficult as many make it out to be, as developers are in such high demand, I find myself wondering who actually can do it. There is probably some truth to both statements: that some people just can’t program, and that everyone can program.

It’s the play between the two that’s scary. At least, when it comes to helping people achieve their goals of entering the industry. But, I live to serve. I will continue to be a resource for as long as I can.


Work is still awesome. It is a great, relaxed environment, built by programmers for programmers. I am organizing a hackathon in April, so stay tuned!

Speaking of which, I think the cool thing about work is that I am relaxed enough so that my personality bleeds into the company culture. My coworker, Erick, made a powerful comment when we were visiting another company, something along the lines of the fact that, as a young company, each of its members is crucial for the formative company culture. It’s true, and it’s incredibly empowering. But it’s also effortless. It will become who we are. That said, I think it’s still important to keep an eye on what kind of company it becomes.

I think I’ve been the most active in the Chicago development community, and I’m thinking about leveraging that activity into ways that helps Aggrego/Wrapports out. We’re hiring, for instance, so if you’re a Rails dev or a User Experience person, you should email me at brian.kung AT wrapports DOT com to say hi and get the ball rolling spacer


The opening self-quote and the title of the blog post are really what I was supposed to write about – about how I am basically on track and things are proceeding as planned. I am being challenged, personally and in career, but I feel like these are challenges that I anticipated. These are learnings that I knew would happen. I’m building up a nest egg for launching into my own startup and building up my technical skills.

No surprises. Just tracing a slow upward curve.

Positive /\w+/

Be kind whenever possible.
It is always possible.

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