Jonathan ES Lin
Life · Tech · Faith

9 Months In

Sep 23, 2019

It's been nine months into my third round of self-employment. The first time was circa Sep 2014 - Mar 2015, where I focused on consulting work in Ruby on Rails. The second time was when I developed PageDash, circa July 2017 - Dec 2018. Third time's a charm? Not so much.


During the first 3 months, optimism is high. During this period, I mostly worked on KanRails. I upgraded my home office, installed an air-conditioner in my home office, and got new IKEA furniture, all worthwhile investments. I also worked hard on a GCP Associate Cloud Architect course for Udemy, but I lost motivation right about the half-way mark; I chose too large a topic. In retrospect, I should have chosen a much smaller topic to create videos about.


4-6 months in, the optimism begins to waver. I still mostly worked on KanRails, but I began exploring other revenue streams. I explored consulting for business websites as well as consulting for Google Cloud Platform projects. In a previous self-employment stint working on PageDash, this was the period where I gave up. However, I found myself unable to secure any jobs for website building or GCP consulting.


KanRails pretty much retreated into the back burner during this period. The realization is that KanRails revenue (if any) won't float the boat anytime soon no matter how hard I worked. I started FindTutor, a tutor-finder service based on my experience with a previous client who started something similar 5 years ago. This time, however, I decided to dogfood KanRails by using it as the workflow management tool for FindTutor. It was and still remains a great idea to motivate myself to improve KanRails with a real-world use case (my own).

This was the quarter where all the demotivation, sleeplessness, self-doubt, negative mental effects began to sink in. I managed to go back to consulting for a former employer, but despite the newfound cashflow injection it was particularly hard emotionally and psychologically. At this rate I would be lucky to earn 33% of what I earned last year in employment.

In this backdrop, I began applying to jobs. Very few companies in Malaysia use Go. I tried to land remote jobs in Go, but even after a few rounds of HackerRank I could not land anything concrete. The timezone here is also stacked against any sort of US/Europe remote work arrangement. If Go is out, then what? A friend at AirAsia kept beckoning to a DevOps role there, but even though they use Google Cloud (which I really like and prefer), travelling to RedQ daily seems an insurmountable barrier to me, and also do I really even care about traveltech? Doing DevOps as an engineer day in and day out seems rather boring to me also.

Google Cloud KL posted a Customer Engineer job. I applied and lobbied for the job, but I received no response despite applying twice and brandishing my two Professional GCP certifications. The realization is that I am not "enterprisy" enough for them. It's their loss; I am probably willing to work 10-hour days to push Google Cloud as the cloud of choice.

I explored other jobs as well. That's when I realized whatever dev skills and opinions I have been honing have become so non-mainstream that I'm basically not competitive for many jobs. Also, over the years I know that I am not the best dev around, probably around the 60th percentile if I am generous. It's time to be more realistic about my career in tech. I can't do everything well. I can't expect to be a coding rockstar when I am not. It's back to the basics.

Product / Service Report Card

The Malaysian Pulse: Dismal ad revenue figures with low user retention. A web-only news aggregator isn't a money printing machine by any means. Still left to explore is crawling press releases and incorporating sponsored press releases as a revenue stream. No one is biting the native banner ads package, which is potentially significant. (RM30/month from AdSense)

The Coin Parrot: Ironically, this offshoot from The Malaysian Pulse code is way more profitable thanks to a company using the API to crawl crypto news. (RM1000/month)

PageDash: A product I still personally use but admittedly have not been actively developing new features for (but heavily maintaining and increased stability via recent migration to Cloud Run). Have paying customers with relatively low churn (but if I don't keep developing new features I'll probably eventually lose all my customers). (RM1-2k/year) Surprisingly lead gen via Google Ads, KanRails for workflow management, and some manual work peddling resulted in a healthy and growing revenue. Managed to rope in my aunt to help out with the human boring bits, and trying to improve KanRails to increase the amount of automation to remove as much human intervention as possible. (RM700/month)

KanRails: A product I have bigger plans for. But we start small. I want KanRails to become a workflow automation platform, the AWS of workflow automation (Yes, AWS because the UI is not super polished, but it works well enough, like AWS). Feature by feature, we will get there. (RM0/month)

What's Next

I'm think I'm done with startups and freelancing for now? I am seeking to do cloud architecture work in larger companies (and learn to embrace AWS and Azure, as it were), if I can get the chance (I am currently interviewing in this path). I wish to fix my broken career, so far it's all over the place and lacking focus, I feel like I ended up nowhere, and going further like this no one will want to take me in for anything remotely senior.

I don't think it has been a waste of time, though, all this while I've coded full-stack (Rails), mobile applications (iOS and Android), front-end single page apps, backend (Golang), and geared toward cloud work (via much dabbling in GCP), and so by some fortunate turn of events I have a lot of breadth that may be very helpful in architecture and high-level work.

Stay tuned…