Meet Aanjulena! A thriving Front End Developer from the US. Read along as she talks about what it takes to be a freelancer in the IT world – the ups, the downs, and everything in between!Hi Aanjulena, it’s a pleasure to have you here! Can you first tell our community about yourself and what do you do?
I’m a self-taught front-end developer from a small town in Washington State (up in the Pacific Northwest). I never really intended to be a developer, but after I started learning to code, I fell in love with it, and I’m generally up for working on whatever is needed, front-end-wise.
Currently, I live right outside of Portland, OR, which is great because of the easy access to a lot of great beer and food. Oh, and a bunch of great companies, too. However, I’m not much of a social butterfly, so I tend to spend most of my time working from home, with my dog, Mister, at my side. I focus on the front-end side of things, but I don’t really limit myself to anything specific, service-wise.
Being self-taught, I am pretty open to taking on or joining any type of project, even if it means I have to learn a new language or library, etc. I mean, that’s how I got here in the first place, really.
The most common projects I work on are custom WordPress builds, static websites, or front-end prototypes for a web app or dashboard. Over the last couple years, however, I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a pretty great startup, which I’ve done all the front-end work for, and I’ll tell you more about later on…
Tell us about your educational background and how your career path has changed over the years. How did your career start?
I graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing, and shortly thereafter, returned home to begin the search for an internship (in order to complete my second bachelor’s degree, in Advertising). As luck would have it, a family connection led me to begin an internship with Woobox, an early-stage startup company whose workforce (at that point, September 2011) consisted of only the founder/CEO who then offered me a job!
When did you actually decide that you wanted to become a freelancer and be your own boss?
After three very busy years at Woobox, I decided it was time to move on, and I ventured out into the world of freelancing in November 2014. For a little over a year, I worked on my skills as a developer through more self-teaching, as well as working on a small number of projects that I was fortunate enough to find via my existing connections. Mainly small organizations or groups that needed website work done. In addition to development work, I found myself doing a number of print design projects for weddings that I was involved with.
To be completely honest, at some point I realized that I was horrible at freelancing, and I really wanted to get back into some sort of slightly more structured position. Something where I could stick to doing what I do best (coding), and never have to worry about those other things that I’m less successful in (finding and winning clients, admin stuff, etc.).
You decided to go back to full-time employment. What was that like? Was it difficult to start working for someone else again?
At a certain point, I had to get real with myself and admit that I hated trying to find clients to work with, and dealing with all the administrative work that comes with freelancing. So I set out to find a new job in February 2016. Yet again, I was fortunate to find something very quickly, and boy did I hit the jackpot. Gambit was probably as close to a perfect fit for me as I will ever find in a company.
My comfort zone is probably smaller than most, but if I were to describe my perfect work environment, it would be a small company, leaning more to the “startup” mindset, with laid back people who enjoy what they do, as well as having a good sense of humor. Dog-friendly goes without saying. Oh, and flexible working hours. I am NOT a morning person.
Gambit was all this and more. And only ten miles from my apartment! Unfortunately, after only a year there, the owners (one developer and one designer) decided they wanted to do different things, and the company dissolved. I was lucky to continue working with both of them after the fact, and continue to work quite a lot with the designer.
Was it difficult to start working for someone else again? Not at all. It was weird to be back on a set schedule, and not get to just go to the beach on any sunny day that presented itself (rare here in Washington). But working for an agency gave me all the perks of working on multiple/varied projects for a number of clients while keeping me far, far away from the hassle of finding clients, and all that administrative BS.
What about the challenges you faced when you started your freelance business? Is there anything you wish you knew before?
In terms of financial miscellany, I am no expert, but I have learned one very important lesson. Set aside 20% of every paycheck for taxes.
Oh my… All of them. I was just terrible when I started. Terrible both in the sense of my development knowledge, as well as my entrepreneurial knowledge. As it turns out, getting a business degree in Marketing doesn’t actually help you in marketing yourself (or at least not in my case).
While I understand (or once did) the concepts involved in marketing, be it a business, product, brand, or individual, when it comes to marketing myself or my work, putting those concepts into practice isn’t something that ever came naturally to me.
I’ve been very lucky in that I had a lot of contacts right out of the gate when I started, mainly family friends with their own businesses, or friends of mine working with small companies or groups.
In terms of financial miscellany, I am no expert, but I have learned one very important lesson. Set aside 20% of every paycheck for taxes. Obviously, the percentage is dependent upon your location and tax situation, but I learned that lesson the hard way – I had to pay about ten times as much as I had the year before (still annoyed at how that math works). So err on the high side when you pick your percentage to set aside!
What kind of services do you provide and what kind of projects do you enjoy most doing? Any particular work you’re especially proud of and would like to present?
My main focus is on front-end development, with the majority of my experience probably being in the development of custom WordPress themes (based on a provided design), as well as static websites. I’ve also worked on a number of projects where I’ve built a working prototype of a design, for something like a web app, form wizard, or admin/dashboard experience.
Unofficially, I offer some design services. In my opinion, this is more of a benefit of working with me as a dev, rather than a standalone skill, because I can usually “fill in the blanks” of design for any missing elements in the given comps.
As for work I’d like to present here, I have been working for a couple of years (on and off) on a new project, a new way to memorialize loved ones. We set out to create a better obituary, one that would tell a story reverently and beautifully while also making it easy for anyone to create. It’s called Olition, and in short, it’s a web service to create beautiful online memorials for your loved ones and keep their memory alive for years to come. You can create a memorial for a loved one who passed away years ago, a recent loss, or a favorite family pet.
I’d love for any readers to check it out and let us know what you think! You can see a live example of a memorial here, and you can also find a little blog post about Olition and why we created it here.
How do you find new clients that are interested in your services? Is there a marketing strategy that you’ve proved to be great so far?
As I’ve mentioned already, I’ve been fortunate to have some great, and generally consistent connections from my past employers. Most of my freelance work has been done for those individuals, or people/clients they have recommended me to. Other than that, my “self-sourced” clients have been acquired via word-of-mouth through connections in my family and/or friends.
As far as differentiating myself from others, I think the obvious thing is that I’m female. While it’s becoming more common, it’s far from the norm, and whether it actually benefits or hurts me is probably (and unfortunately) based on the situation. Beyond the obvious, I would say my attention to detail coupled with my honest and unabashed appreciation for design. I truly want what I’m coding to look and work exactly the way that it’s designed, and I do my best to keep it beautiful even when there isn’t an explicit design for the screen size or issue I’m working on (please see my one and only Medium post, “Dear Designers, I’m Sorry. Love, Your Dev”).
On top of those, I would venture to say I have a pretty wide range of skills. Being a self-taught developer, I have dabbled in a lot of different pools, and, luckily for me, I typically pick up new skills pretty fast. So, for example, when I’m called upon to work on a project in a language that I haven’t used before, I can jump in and contribute something solid very quickly.
Do you work with international clients or just with local clients? How do you deal with time differences and what apps or tools do you use to manage such projects?
At this point, I haven’t really worked with any international clients in a freelance capacity. However, being that I’m in the US, we have plenty of time zones for the time differences to be something that isn’t uncommon to deal with.
Luckily, I think that it’s safe to say that technology has progressed to a point that makes scheduling, etc. easy enough by automating whatever time the event is to each person’s current time zone.
In general, the apps and/or websites I use on a pretty daily basis are as follows (in no particular order, kind of):
- Toggl – Time Tracking
- Transmit – FTP, etc.
- Atom – Text Editor
- iTerm 2 – Terminal App
- Sketch Measure (a plugin for Sketch)
- Google Docs
- Google/Apple Calendar
What does a typical workday look like for you? Do you work 9-5 or how do you organize your time?
A typical day doesn’t really exist for me, but if I had to summarize my general routine when I’m working on a big project, it would be something like the following…
Assuming I’m working from home, I wake up around 9:30, get up and get dressed, etc., then take my dog outside, go for a coffee run (Starbucks is just across the river). Usually, I’ll get home and be working by 10:30 or 11:00, and basically I work until Mister (my dog) lets me know he needs to go out, or I look at the clock and realize it’s been several hours. Rinse and repeat.
I can’t say I have any specific schedule for any housekeeping items, and certainly no productivity tricks. I do use Toggl to track my time. During the time I’m working, I’ll usually start by skimming through email to make sure there’s nothing important/relevant to work, and then just dive into whatever project I’m involved in, and work until either myself or my dog need to pee.
What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the tech industry, an industry still largely dominated by men? What advice would you give to women considering a career in the tech industry?
Honestly, I feel like I’ve probably benefited more than anything from being a woman in this industry. It’s something that makes me stand out, without even looking at my actual experience or skills. That being said, it’s not necessarily something that I even think about much, or that comes up very often (or ever), since I’ve been lucky enough to make the long-term contacts I have.
My advice to other women (or anyone) interested in the industry? Do it! Assuming you’re good at what you’re doing or aiming to do, just fucking go with it. Find something you enjoy and work at your skills until you just kill it. Age, sex, race, gender, etc. are flat-out irrelevant when you’re good at what you do.*
* Obviously this should be irrelevant always, but sometimes the world sucks.
Where can you find Aanjulena?
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