Learning new skills as a freelancer, our meet on 6th March

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On 6th March 2024, twelve freelancers got together in the Battle of Trafalgar pub in Brighton to talk all things freelancing.

This is the topics I managed to note down:

  • “Work no longer falls in my lap” – searching for work in the current economy
  • Proxy header problems impossible to diagnose with Safari’s browser tools
  • Things to think about when renting a flat
  • Car troubles / looking after your parents
  • Travel stories
  • Different levels of WordPress development from straight PHP to lots of React
  • Learning new skills to match the market
  • Mt. Gox payouts are finally happening
  • Considerations when selling a personal project
  • How old are your users?
  • Using AI in development
  • Using AI in analysis
  • Email deliverability explained
  • OpenAI’s Sora generated video demo
  • “Not all hunter gatherers could become farmers”
  • Where will humans be in a future with better AI tools?
  • Laptops with Linux
  • Working towards your personal projects becoming your main income
  • Neurological treatments for Alzheimers, Parkinsons and Gambling addiction
  • Confusions caused by people with the same name who do the same thing as you
  • SSDs are so tiny compared to hard disks
  • The joy of version control in a multi-person project


Learning new skills

In tech, learning new skills is part of the world. Languages move on. Software gets redesigned. The market moves as new things become popular. As a freelancer, you have to give yourself space to learn new things.

Sometimes, you’ll get paid to learn. This is usually on-the-job (or rather, project) as the feature you’re working on requires knowledge you don’t have to get it made. Sometimes, a client will formally give you time to learn something new if they can’t find anyone who can do what they need. Other times, you’re learning on your own time.

For me, a lot of learning is market-driven. The first programming language I learnt for the web was ColdFusion (then owned by Macromedia, now by Adobe.) It did me very well for four years as an employee, then many years of freelancing as one of the tools in my belt. But, it was never very popular. Hosting for it was expensive, and there weren’t a lot of companies using it so my potential market of clients was relatively small. So, I learnt to program in another server side web language as well: PHP. It was easier to find clients who had PHP sites and needed work on them, and some of my ColdFusion clients moved to it to get the advantages of PHP – inexpensive, reliable hosting, and the ability to easily find people to work on their code. I had clients using ColdFusion up to two years ago, which always surprised people who’d been telling me it was a dead language for the 16 years before then, but now am only developing in PHP.

There is still ColdFusion work around, but it is mainly the sort of deeply tedious unpicking of old applications written by people who left the company one or two decades ago work that I can do and can be satisfying, but I’d rather not spend my whole time handling. I moved on to get work more easily and be able to look at a wider range of projects.

Hazlitt spent a lot of time two years ago learning React, working through a long course on Udemy in his own time. He did this because the rates for React were very, very good and it interested him to learn something new. Something new and potentially lucrative is a lot more interesting to a freelancer than purely something new. At first, he couldn’t get React projects, but did get several Vue.js ones, which were an easy transfer of skills as he’d learnt React and the Javascript ecosystem very thoroughly. He then got lots of React work, and has had projects combining both React and WordPress, one of the other strings to his bow. The number of freelancers who have good experience in both React and WordPress is very low, so he gets repeat business from clients who need those skills together. All of this has more than paid back the time he spent learning.

Pushing yourself to learn new skills can revolutionise your business, as it did for Ali, who moved from being a PHP and Flash developer to someone with excellent Javascript skills, then in his contract work also learnt the Scala language and many technical architecture, project and people management skills. If he hadn’t put in the effort to move into Javascript, he wouldn’t have had opportunities that he’s now turned into many years of success.

If you’re freelance, make sure you give yourself enough margin to learn new things, and take the chance to learn within projects where possible. You might find something you love, and you might also find something very, very good for business.