My 18-year long career as a self-employed web developer started with the best project for the best client I’ve ever had.
It was 1996, and I was working as an editorial assistant for Software Development Magazine in San Francisco. My job consisted of copyediting, some writing, and running errands. I worked for a great company, had awesome co-workers and bosses, and I even got to write an occasional product review. It was really the perfect job for me, except that I wasn’t paid enough to live on, and I made a horrible employee (but more on that later).
At night and on the weekends, I was writing a humor and travel zine called Motel Magazine with Margaret. The website I built for it received some attention for being less ugly than most things on the web in 1996. That was the extent of my web development experience.
Margaret’s dad owned an engineering firm in the city and they needed a website. He asked if I could do it. I said “Yes, of course!” and quoted a rate of $50 per hour. That was all that was needed for me to get the job, and to quit my day job.
For the next month or so, I spent the mornings exploring San Francisco and taking pictures of the client’s projects and of beautiful San Francisco landmarks to use on the website. In the afternoon, I played golf or sat in our little apartment on the far west side of the city smoking cigarettes and learning how to write code.
Occasionally, I’d go downtown to have lunch with the client or with a friend. Four billable hours a day was just about all I needed in order to be extremely well-off, and I had no time pressure or competing demands. My client knew what he wanted the site to be, gave frequent and useful feedback, and paid my invoices quickly – he even taught me how to create an invoice.
Of course, the good times couldn’t last long. As I recall, they lasted about 6 months.