Year in Review: 2014

A reflection on family, business, and travel. See also: 2013.

It goes without saying: the biggest event in 2014 was the birth of our daughter, Ava Lucille. The past nine months have flown by; watching her experience the world brings new meaning to life. Furthermore, the home birth experience, which Leah wrote about, was amazing, empowering, and priceless for the both of us.

From Instagram, here are some of the highlights:

Professionally speaking

This year has been more, uh, turbulent than others in my career. I started 2014 as a Senior Engineer with Human Made, splitting my time between client services and product. In early February, I was fired. Don’t worry — we’re on good terms, and have since worked together on a couple of projects.

Getting fired turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Later in February, I landed my dream job with Digital First Media. I had grand plans to reinvent digital publishing using open source across DFM’s 100+ properties. But, while on my unofficial paternity leave, my business unit imploded, leaving me without a job again.

When you get fired and laid off within the span of a couple of months, working for yourself becomes incredibly appealing. I announced Hand Built, my WordPress consulting shop offering bespoke development, data migration, code review, and devop services. Since April, I’ve gotten to work with a variety of clients including:

  • Airbnb
  • Billy Penn
  • The Chicago Sun-Times
  • Easy Digital Downloads
  • Fusion
  • Investigative News Network
  • The New Republic
  • Pantheon

Solid list, huh?

Given my time with Human Made and VIP, I was fortunate to have a good sense of the consulting business. Still, solid advice always helps. Mike Bijon and Boone Gorges were nice enough to give me the rundown on how they operate their businesses (also worth mentioning: Modern Tribe’s freelancer guide). One of Mike’s invaluable tips: target 20 billable hours per week for 48 weeks out of the year, as you’ll likely spend 20 hours or more per week on non-billable admin, sales cycle, etc. In 960 working hours, I need to make all of the revenue I’d like to make in a year, also keeping in mind added costs of benefits and additional tax. This was a great framework for determining how I needed to sell my services.

A highly-relevant aside: I made an early decision to switch from Freshbooks to Harvest. Harvest is so much better than Freshbooks. One of Shane Pearlman’s, uh, pearls is to get religious about time-tracking. Before I started my business, I hated budgeting my time. Work estimates were the last thing I ever wanted to do. Once you get hooked though, you never go back — time-tracking is the only sane way to manage your most valuable resource. Harvest has really awesome Mac and iOS applications for logging hours against projects, and Freshbooks is basically a faff to work with.

Hand Built turned out to be viable. In 2014, I’ve gotten to:

  1. Work with (mostly) great clients on (mostly) interesting projects.
  2. Be pretty good about working sane hours and having a proper work/life balance.
  3. Put in 1,282.72 billable hours and 444.51 non-billable (including open source) hours since March.
  4. Prove it’s financially viable to be an independent software developer.

Closing the year, I’m spending the majority of my time with Fusion as interim Director of Engineering. It’s a somewhat of an odd limbo state — Fusion can’t yet extend a full-time offer because they don’t have a business presence in Oregon. If / when they do, I’ll probably accept, as I really enjoy the team and what we’re working on. But the limbo state has its advantages too — I’m on the hook for a fixed number of hours each week, and get to have my side projects.

2014-12-31 at 4.16 PM

In 2015, I’d like to improve upon two areas: open source contributions, and my product offerings.

In starting Hand Built, my goal was to spend roughly 25% of my time on open source. Even though I’ve become the maintainer of WP-CLI and a co-leader of WP-API, I’ve a bit fallen short: 28.66 hours on WP-API, 116.17 hours on WP-CLI, and 56.95 hours on other projects including WordPress core. But, this does equal ~12% of my tracked time so I guess I’ve exceeded Matt’s 5% goal. Setting monthly time budgets, as with any client project, is likely the best way to meet the commitment.

When I chatted with Boone, he mentioned 75% of his business comes from recurring, on-going contracts, avoiding one-off pick-up projects. In his opinion, it’s the most viable way to be a solo web developer. My past eight months echo this — the majority of my billable hours are priced hourly and a part of a long-term contract. I’d like to do more code reviews and migrations though, so I need to invest time productizing these offerings, marketing, etc.


Both Leah and I love to travel. In 2011 and 2012, I managed to hit ~130k miles flown each year. According to TripIt, here’s the tally for 2014 compared to 2013:

  • 18 trips over 90 days (2013: 24 trips over 139 days).
  • 64,193 miles flown (2013: 99,228 miles).
  • Visited 19 cities in 4 countries (2013: 33 cities in 8 countries).

Not quite as impressive, but still pretty good.

Cemre Güngör put together a neat app for visualizing your TripIt profile. Here’s how mine turns out:

Time to go celebrate my sister’s 21st birthday. Happy New Year’s Eve!


Boone Gorges December 31, 2014 Reply

Congrats on your successes in 2014, especially becoming a dad!

Rachel Baker January 2, 2015 Reply

Congratulations on the addition to your family and your continued success with Hand Built.

DJ January 7, 2015 Reply

hey man, just got to reading this, but great post. congrats on everything this year, and hope we get to catch up soon!

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