kicking and screaming

refusing to grow up

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be my own boss. As a child this was certainly inspired by my dad starting his own company and lead to me dreaming of countless inventions and gadgets I could build.

I've also been infatuated with video games and interactive software for most of my life. When I was 8 or 9 a friend showed me that it was possible to make your own video games (🤯) using a program called Klik 'n' Play (thanks Clickteam) and I was hooked. From there I spent most of my free teenage years split between awkward social events and late night coding binges. I made dozens of games and websites, most of them terrible, but it didn't matter. I found communities of fellow creatives online and experiencing one another's work let me know that I wasn't the only one.

Then as highschool ended the reality of "growing up" rudely presented itself. I was going to have to find a job and make money, I couldn't just spend my time building things that I thought were interesting, it had to be for business. I can't say what the common reaction to this is for others, but I immediately felt the walls closing in on me. My stomach sank imagining my days in an office, wearing stuffy business attire, doing exactly what I was told and then going home exhausted.

How could it be possible that the freedom, vibrance and imagination of my youth just... stopped right there? I sense that many people are forced to accept this, that it does indeed stop right there for some. Growing up, I was assaulted from all angles with the image of what "professional success" looked like: high salaries, busy schedules and a thoroughly warped perception of status. Throughout university the sense of impending doom grew, was there any way to avoid this? Does “growing up” mean giving up my personality?

I turned to startups and the culture pioneered by Silicon Valley as a sanctuary of "weirdness" in the industry. My first job (as an undergrad) was at a 5 person startup being paid minimum wage and honestly, I kinda loved it. With time I outgrew the role and moved on but it left a lasting impact on me: it is possible for a few people and computers in a room (with an internet connection) to actually connect with one another on the human level and build something new.

My next role was at a larger company (around 50 people, with ~8 software engineers) and the contrast was stark. The business, as you might expect, began as a startup but successful startups become businesses, and successful businesses become corporations... And somewhere through that process the people become worker drones in the colony rather than members of a team. The more time I spent in this role, the more I felt like I was slowly dying 😨.

All software engineering jobs today are marketed to prospective employees using the "Silicon Valley ideals" but make no mistake, there is little creativity to be found in most of these roles. Smart, talented and creative people are found at these companies but often they're building cookie-cutter CRUD apps and legacy system migrations. They're buried in bureaucratic ceremony specifically designed to discourage independent thought.

Despite this complaint I do have a job (4 days a week at a company of ~10 employees) and it’s a great place to work. I know today that it's possible to find bastions of humanity and connection out there. I still aspire to build my own path but I want to be clear that this is not a value judgement on employment. Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur (nor should they) and we don't all have the same luxury of choice when it comes to work.

Regardless of the financial scenario I find myself in I firmly believe that software and technology are infinitely bigger than business. It's tragic that software is so effective at creating business opportunities because we forget what else it can be. Software is pure creative expression; it's ✨magic✨. It enables one person to touch the lives of thousands, if not millions. It deserves to be explored, for us to push the boundaries, even if it's not possible to turn every innovation into a hyper-growth-hacked SaaS product for $8/user/month.

Today I am still tempted by job openings at larger companies. I could be paid more, I could work "on global products" and I could be "impressive". But even after years of reflection, nothing strikes fear into me like the prospect of being forced to conform. I am proud to hear people tell me that "this isn't how the world works" and reply, "according to who?"

Some might call it immature, or stubborn, but I refuse to roll over and submit to the corporate world. web3 and the creator economy are, in my view, direct efforts in this cultural direction. It is possible for us, as individuals, to aim higher than generating more revenue for large corporations. Does it mean sacrificing an inflated salary? Our professional status? Our job titles? Even the respect of some people around us? Maybe. Let's find out.

✌️ ben