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How to Survive as a Solo Dev for Like a Decade or So (sizefivegames.com)
432 points by lj3 on May 4, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 164 comments



> I find it astonishing that startup indie devs pay out for an office, with all the extra bills that entails. Work from home, keep your overheads as close to zero as possible.

I've been a solo dev for nearly a decade (8 years) and I found that sometimes it makes complete sense to pay for an office. Before my daughter was born, I was able to work from almost anywhere: noisy cafes, at home, the library, etc. But after she was born it was like my brain needed a space away from home where I could close a door and have a room all to myself, a place where I couldn't hear family sounds or be within walking distance of anyone I knew. I tried cafes and libraries but, oddly, they no longer worked for me—the noise and the people walking by suddenly became a huge distraction. I couldn't focus. I decided to rent a tiny artist studio for $350/mo that I found on CraigsList and it was the best $350 that I spent each month in terms of direct impact on my ability to get work done.


I kill two birds with one stone: my apartment is actually two in disguise. I have two front doors, one leading to a third of the apartment (it's a rather large 4-bed) which is quite literally closed off from the rest by simply locking the internal door that connects the two. It may sound silly to have to literally exit the apartment to enter the office when it's literally next door, but it does have some value. Also it makes it much easier for tax purposes. Consequently a third of my rent is paid by my company, because it rents it as office space. Maybe it sounds weird or immoral or whatever, but it truly is office space and 100% legit, it just happens to be I'm also the landlord.


I totally get it; I also need a separate space to switch mindsets.

Your setup reminds me of an article I read many years ago on these sorts of "tricks" to stay disciplined when working from home. One of the tips an individual used was to

  1. Walk out his front door
  2. Lock it
  3. Walk around the block
  4. Re-enter the house
And he was now in "work mode". At the end of the day, he reversed the process by walking around the block in the opposite direction in order to "get home".

Seemed quite brilliant to me at the time.

edit: Just noticed that enraged_camel engages this exact technique below.


I used to do something similar. Go out but to a coffee shop and do my emails and planning, then go home and start the real work. I just found it too hard to go straight from breakfast to working at home without some sort of routine to switch to a work state.


When I was working remote for 12 months I did the same kind of thing. I had the added extra of living alone as well.

It forced me to get up, shower, put clothes on, see some kind of sunlight, even have a tiny bit of face to face interaction with another human at the convenience store/cafe/sidewalk, and then get home, log in, and probably just procrastinate for an hour or so anyway - but at least I was clean and dressed.


What's enraged_camel?



I'm not sure about the US but here in New Zealand, even if you just work in a room in your usual home, you can claim that percent of your home's costs in your business expenses.[1] So I definitely wouldn't say you're doing anything immoral tax-wise.

[1] http://www.ird.govt.nz/business-income-tax/expenses/homebus-...


Yeah it's the same here in Sweden but its much less hassle audit wise to just show a separate unit with the company name on the door than a single room. Or at least, that's what my accountant told me, and the grapevine seemed to agree at the time I looked this up.


Yes, the US has the home business deduction.

https://www.irs.gov/publications/p587/index.html


But most accountants suggest you don't take that deduction since they tend to be audited at a much higher rate.


I'm gonna call a hard citation please on "most accountants don't recommend" you taking a deduction that could get you a boatload of reduced tax liability.


Well I definitely got that recommendation too. His exact advice was that I shouldn't take it unless the office was it's own sealed off room that was NEVER used for ANY other purpose. He certainly scared me out of taking the deduction.


Agree, was told same. The requirements are strict and just not worth the hassle. Hope laws can be updated as working from home is more commonplace nowadays.


That's funny because turbotax always suggests this.


If you're scared about an audit, you shouldn't be in business.


I think many people use their home offices for other stuff than just work. Maybe it's a spare bedroom for guests or maybe they sometimes place computer games in it. If you get audited, you will have to explain all this. It won't be fun and if the audit doesn't go your way, you are looking at legal trouble.


Fear isn't the only reason to avoid one. They're also quite inconvenient.


I've been taking it for 15 years. I've never had a problem.


Same here in Belgium


This isn't really different than renting an office, just that your office is REALLY close to your apartment.


Also, really close to the fridge. Which helps on budget as well.


It's totally different in that you don't pay an extra rent. The office is just a room in the house with "which is quite literally closed off from the rest by simply locking the internal door that connects the two".


I'm assuming the rent for the double-apartment is greater than it would be for the single-apartment, so you are paying extra rent.


Tons of houses people already live in have an extra entrance or backdoor -- it's just a locked door between the other rooms. They could live in the same house and pay the same rent without using one room as a separate office -- as millions do.


Exactly, which is why it's also 100% legit.


Was it built as an inlaw suite or something? That sounds like a sweet setup.


I have no idea. It was built quite recently, in 2005 I think, and on the lease it just says "space available to let" or something like that. I've lived here since 2006 or so, but only recently started using the apartment like this. It's perfect!


A sweet suite if you will.


Oh, I will


I remember when I was looking to move houses a while back and we saw one WAY out in the boonies that was otherwise unremarkable but had a small, but physically separate "in-law house" in the back, that had a bedroom, a tiny kitchen (enough room for a fridge and microwave) and a tiny bathroom. We didn't move there but I couldn't stop thinking about how well something like that would fit as a work-from-home office. Currently, with a wife, a kid, and all her kid-friends, carrying on loudly and ransacking the house at all hours, I couldn't imagine making a "bedroom converted to office" work for actual productive remote work.

Too bad these in-law houses (or nanny houses) are so rare in the Bay Area. Where I used to live in Florida they were all over the place.


>Currently, with a wife, a kid, and all her kid-friends, carrying on loudly and ransacking the house at all hours, I couldn't imagine making a "bedroom converted to office" work for actual productive remote work.

I can't imagine making a setup like this work for even maintaining basic sanity. Every time I read a post like this, I realize I did the right thing by not having kids. I'm constantly stressed out as it is because of the open-plan office; if I had to come home to people "carrying on loudly and ransacking the house at all hours", I think I'd shoot myself. How people can live without a good amount of peace and quiet, I have no idea.


Your body will trick your mind to love your children. It happens often after the fact - I know it did. Humanity wouldn't survive if not. And I now find hard not to go ransacking the house with them ;)


You may love your children, but that doesn't mean you don't get stressed out by them. It's quite normal for parents to want to take time away from their kids, even having kid-free vacations without them as well as just "date nights". So obviously even people who aren't condemned to work in open offices and who have kids like some peace and quiet now and then.


That's a reason to have a separate office, not a reason to not have kids (if you'd otherwise want to have them.)


I can't have a separate office; I'm stuck with the office my employer provides me. I could go find another job of course, but it's going to be the same there, or worse, since all the employers have jumped on the open-plan office bandwagon.

At home is the only place I get a little peace and quiet, aside from my cats jumping in my lap. Kids would eliminate that.


I feel similarly.

Where I'm working at the moment, apart from the noise and distraction of an overcrowded open plan office, there are people in my face literally all the time due to meetings, questions, pairing, dealing with outages, and other miscellaneous interruptions. As an introvert this all becomes seriously draining so home is very much my escape.

I don't think I'm alone in this either - plenty of introverts in software, and I certainly didn't choose software as a career so I could sit around yakking to people all day. Quite the opposite in fact. (I may have made this observation in a comment on HN before, so apologies to anyone who may already have read it.)

The real downside of all this is that I often don't want to socialise with my friends or talk to my family outside of work because I'm basically peopled out and need some peace and quiet.

Add to this the fact that the work is boring and the commute is a gruelling 2.5 hour motorcycle roundtrip (>4 hours by car, due to traffic, or about 5 hours by public transport) and it's probably high time for me to find other work.


I am not seeking a conflict here, please note that -- but I don't think you should limit that phenomena to introverts.

I am a pretty outgoing and easy-to-make-friends-with person but I still hate working in offices and 6 or so years ago I fought tooth and nail to achieve it. I succeeded, at the cost of a relationship, very old animal friends, most of my "circle" and quite a bit of few other sacrifices.

My point here is that there are other things to have in mind when choosing between on-site and remote: I personally hate commuting. Even if it's 20 minutes from my door to the office, I still hate them. That's a time nobody pays me for, and a time during which I can't be with my loved one.

Add to this that we all know that no work day is like any other; there are days when you're worth $1 and there are days when you're worth $20,000.

Outgoing, extroverted, expressive, call it what you want -- but I want to work on my own terms. And I am times more productive ever since I work remote. (And yes I am in a very happy relationship.)


Find another job, please.

Even if you made less, not having to commute would make you feel better.


You called it: I could probably tolerate everything else were it not for that journey.


Are you in a relationship?


I was extremely fortunate to be able to get a house with a 'lab' over the garage. The previous owners had built it as a sort of 'party' room with a wet bar and a small toilet. Makes an excellent 'home' office.


I have also been working out of my garage for the last eight years and I'm just now in the process of finding an office. I don't have any kids, but I still feel like I'm going stir crazy.

Sometimes you just need to put some distance between where you sleep and where you work.


I work from home. Here's how I get around this: after waking up and having breakfast, I go for a short (~10 minute) walk or bike ride around the block. When I get back, I start working. That kind of "fake commute" is sufficient to trick my brain into separating work from everything else I do in the same space.


When you end the day, do you have a second fake commute home?


Makes more sense to just sleep at the office and commute home in the morning.


In my case, gym.


This actually does the trick. I go to a nearby coffee shop to get my coffee. It's like, changing context allows you to switch to "work mode".


This is my trick too. It works out nicely if you have a dog, then you can walk them at the same time.


My dog doesn't wake up that early.


Doesn't work for me. The moment I enter my house again, my brain immediately smells home (=rest) and I cannot work again.


This. The longer I 'work from home' the more I discover the importance of separate physical spaces for certain activities. If I spend enough time on entertainment in the same space that I work all day, over time working in that space seems to become more and more 'energetically mixed' (for lack of a better term) and it seems to get harder to focus on specific non-entertainment tasks. I now refuse to eat, sleep, or indulge in entertainment in the same space that I work. I don't even let myself read fiction books where I work. I try to do all deep thinking while walking outside, read fiction in bed before sleeping, and only work while standing at my desk.


I'd theorize that this has something to do with the fact that the hippocampus is implicated in both determining locational context (for navigation) as well as task management and executive function. I've read a bunch of books on the topic of willpower that indicate that decision-making is a fairly expensive on a metabolic level, so this makes sense to me -- it's like you're minimizing the array of actions from which your hippocampus has to scan when it determines what to work on from locational context.


When I worked from home I did something similar to what a previous poster has said. I would go to a cafe in the morning and work from there until lunch, I found I needed some humans around me for at least part of my morning to focus. Then after lunch I'd go home and work until 6 or so then go to the gym. Just doing this, the feeling of coming home from the gym, allowed me to have that mental space from work and home time.


I worked from home for 6 months and it was completely miserable. I have a small office at home and I tried really hard to see it as a separation from my "home", but I just couldn't focus in there. I could barley get work done knowing my bed and tv were just a few feet away. It was also really, really lonely.


I think the real lesson that's being conveyed is "Don't gear up like you're a successful business until you are a successful business".

> When your game sells and makes some money, treat it in terms of how many years you’ve got until you’d have to get a ‘proper job’

> I’d released three games before I went ‘full time’, and my 4th was just about ready to launch. The first games were made in my spare time while my Real Job paid for my food and rent, because honestly fuck starving yourself, fuck living on beans and worrying about rent. Go Full Indie when you can afford to Go Full Indie, and not before

If you're just starting out, making your first game in this case, it makes no sense to spend a ton on office space, designers, etc. You have no income yet... one step at a time sort-of-thing.

Too many people fall in love with the idea of running a business, but don't actually know what that really means. They run around organizing things, setting up office space, getting logo's designed by fancy marketing companies, hold meetings, etc... they do everything except figure out how to make money. They love the idea of being a business, but not the actual work that comes with that territory.


Wow that hits home. Been there, done that. Pro-tip, especially for Californians: If you're on a shoe string budget, don't go set up any kind of tax or business entity before you have revenue. Paying CA's $800 LLC tax and paying an accountant $400 to write "$0" on your tax return every year is a pointless waste of money. Ask me how I know.


But with a legitimate entity, you can deduct all kinds of legitimate business expenses to offset the minimum $800 tax. It's handy to write off the losses during your startup years. Doing business as a sole proprietor and filing losses is asking for an audit, which can be very time consuming. Doing the same as a legitimate business entity is far less likely to end up in an audit.


> They run around organizing things, setting up office space, getting logo's designed by fancy marketing companies, hold meetings, etc... they do everything except figure out how to make money.

I just heard an extremely similar message from Steve Martin in his Masterclass video series: "I was talking to some students and they were saying things like, 'how do I get an agent?', 'where do I get my headshots?' and I just thought... shouldn't the first thing you're thinking about be how do I be good?"


> ... they do everything except figure out how to make money. They love the idea of being a business, but not the actual work that comes with that territory.

We should call them "cargo cult businessmen".


$350/mo seems _extremely_ reasonable for a quiet studio. I don't think that's the kind of office expense the poster was talking about. For instance, in NYC, $350/month would barely get you a "hot desk" (i.e. chair at a table) in a coworking space.


I'm a solo dev, paying $550 AUD a month for a permanent desk at a great open plan tech community space. It's in an inner city suburb (Richmond) which is the tech hub of Melbourne, Australia.

I live about 22K out of town, in the green wedge with lots of trees. I like how I am still physically connected each day to the vibrant Melbourne tech community, but can come home to the family and be in a more open, natural space. I am so much more productive when I am in the office and it works well, when meeting clients, to have an address in town.

Best tax-deductible money I have ever spent.


Yes, but if you're self-funded every dollar is taken out of your "runway".


Or out of your profit, assuming you're making money. :)


Partially. It's a business expense, so at least you get to deduct it from your taxes.


The nearest WeWork to me in NYC charges $450/mo for a "hot desk" and $500/mo for a dedicated desk.

https://www.wework.com/buildings/w-43rd-st--new-york-city--N...


We pay $3000 a month for our startup for a small 3-4 person private office room in a shared space.


there are artist studios in east williamsburg that are about ~500. my buddy's even has fios.


> I tried cafes and libraries but, oddly, they no longer worked for me—the noise and the people walking by suddenly became a huge distraction.

I see that issue with cafés, but I never had such an issue with libraries. At least the libraries I know are very quiet and their staff takes great care to keep it quiet.

My problem with the library was that on some days, I needed to phone quite often, or was called quite often. Each time I had to leave the library temporarily, and this in-and-out was very annoying for me.

> rent a tiny artist studio for $350/mo

Wow, that's still quite a lot. Did you try co-working spaces? Roughly speaking, there you pay for a desk in a room, not for a whole appartment.


The coworking spaces nearest me are priced at 250$/seat /month for the lowest level plan and I am in a cheaper city than most.

That doesn't include a desk that's yours, just that you can come in every day and use the space.

Your own desk starts at the price point for his office.

If your goal is peace and quiet, I would argue his studio is money well spent.

Source:http://www.804rva.com/memberships.html


I first thought that this is quite expensive (250$ are roughly 230€), but then I had a look at local offers here in Berlin. Here it is 210€/month, so only slightly cheaper. However, you can get a cheaper place if you use it only part-time.

Source: https://members.co-up.de/


Ditto, I worked from home for 7 years before my daughter came along. The last two years I've been at an office are the most profitable two years I've eved had. Also, when I go home, I'm 100% present with my family not distracted about getting more work done.


>I've been a solo dev for nearly a decade (8 years) and I found that sometimes it makes complete sense to pay for an office. Before my daughter was born, I was able to work from almost anywhere: noisy cafes, at home, the library, etc. But after she was born it was like my brain needed a space away from home where I could close a door and have a room all to myself, a place where I couldn't hear family sounds or be within walking distance of anyone I knew.

Or you could invest in some sound insulation and a good lock.


You can get shared space in a WeWork for about $350/month. Includes coffee, water, great internet, and if you're like me and enjoy interacting with humans, it does the trick. This is my preferred situation these days. Plus, when you travel, you can use WeWorks around the world (for a nominal fee).

I even made a video about it: https://youtu.be/912WN4gUBCs

Edit: I'm not affiliated with WeWork (aside from being a customer). I just like their business.


My experience with coworking spaces in NYC (specifically WeWork and Coworkrs) is that there's very little in the way of peace and quiet there--especially at the lowest price point. If you need to take calls, too bad. It's like trying to work out of a frat house most of the time.

It's probably totally fine for certain types of work, but for me it wasn't a good place when you had to really focus on solving problems and writing code. Way too many distractions.


Indeed, it's the equivalent of working in an "open floor plan" office.


I rent an office with a buddy in the NY metro area for about $350 each, its about a 6 minute walk from my apt. Best investment I could make, if I only work a few extra hours a week because of it then it pays for itself. Thats just me tho some people are fine working from home.


Same here. I started renting an office this month after about 10 years of working from home. Same reason: family is growing and the apartment is not large enough to isolate me well enough.


I totally understand you, you basically described what the book I am reading now: "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain.

It also explains the cons about these brand new "wide noise open offices" that companies are building today.


I've waffled on office location several times. My equilibrium is "home office first", use WeWork or shared office spaces for one-day to meet with clients, and use AirBnB for #DigitalNomad "workations".


Agreed. Starting a company (6 months in) - it's hard to work from home. Worth the money to have an office and not only that but the routine.


Hmm, I'm starting to notice this too (I have a ~3 year old) and it kind of worries me. Aging brain I guess.


Library?


> I tried cafes and libraries but, oddly, they no longer worked for me—the noise and the people walking by suddenly became a huge distraction.


For me, the reason is different. I don't mind people walking or even talking nearby, but I really hate the process of pack/unpack. Before work, I need to setup the laptop, the cables, the IP to access my local server from Android, get notebooks, pens, ohh my earphones, and a lot more, only then I can jump to work for maybe 2-3 hours (I feel a little uneasy to stay longer in the cafe). If you are working alone, the bathroom is more complicated. Oh and the outlet. And internet... It doesn't work for me. Office is my only option, because I want everything ready to start immediately.


Me too. I tried the library but it took too much effort to setup and tear down every time I needed to move (such as restroom break, lunch, quick break). Also, it would be impossible to have access to a nice large monitor.


This would be more accurately titled, "I survived 10 years as a solo developer and here are the choices I made". Here's my version:

1) Craftsmen pay good money for their tools. Invest in your office space, whether its a dedicated space in your home or a coworking membership. But be honest about what tools you need. You probably don't need a $1000 aeron chair. But you do need one that's comfortable. You probably don't need that super-cool triple-panel 17" laptop Razer pumped at CES for web development. You probably do need something with enough RAM to run a few VMs sometimes.

2) Outsource everything that doesn't make you money or that you aren't good at. Taxes and bookkeeping, for example. But know enough about it so you can tell if you've hired good help there.

3) Invest in yourself. Learn some new technology at least once a year—whether thats a framework, a language, or a skill like design. Go to at least one regional conference, and at least one national conference if you can afford it.

4) Work the shit out of your network. Set a limit on how many unpaid lunch meetings you'll take to hear about other people's problems, and always try to find a way to help them even if you don't wind up taking the job. And then try to hit your limit most of the time. Farm favors like they're a cash crop.

5) Find a way to keep yourself accountable, whether that's a mentor, a coach, or an accountability partner. We all need someone to keep us honest about our motivations and rationalizations from time to time.

6) Try to exercise some self control over how many self-indulgent HN comments you make in a given period of time. :)


You can buy a $250 aeron chair on craigslist although ;)


I think #6 has been what's keeping me from earning a Pulitzer. Thank you deeply for this enlightenment.

On a more serious note: good advice all-around :)


>> You probably don't need a $1000 aeron chair...

my most productive setup is a self-made workshop desk and a $40 craftsman workshop stool :)


Not gonna lie, I'm in love with my Aeron at home. I've never had such a comfortable chair. But I'm building a desk from scratch to go with it - just a few more coats of polyurethane and a weekend spent getting it set up, and I'm good to go.

Tips from the process:

- The "get a solid core door and stick legs on it" process really works. You don't need to get fancy unless you want to - legs can be as simple as chunks of 4x4 cut to length and mounted with right-angle brackets and lag screws, and you don't need to be remotely competent at carpentry to get a solid result. (But if possible, get a door that isn't veneered, because that'll have a microscopically thin layer of wood veneer over several layers of what's basically cardboard, which is just terrible to try and work. $70 versus $300 isn't nothing, though, and you can work with a veneered door if you have to.)

- Iron acetate stain really works, too, but you need to know what you're doing, and you need to test on a scratch piece of the same wood first. I let the steel wool soak about 18 hours and got a very handsome steel-gray result. Then I stupidly put on a second coat without testing, and got a medium brown that's still decent but not what I was going for.

- If you don't have shop space, you can get away without it, but be prepared to put in more effort as a consequence. I'm doing all the work, including staining and sealing, in my ~600sf one-bedroom apartment's living room. A circular saw is pretty much a non-starter, but that's okay; a miter saw will go through 4x4s with enough effort, and you can hand-drill pilot holes for lag screws. (A drill press stand is preferable, though.) A dropcloth or two preserves the carpet from stain and sealer drips. The only hard part was getting an eighty-pound door up three flights of stairs - I don't want to do that again!

- Iron acetate-stained wood will smell of rust to the touch forever, so you really need to seal it. General Finishes water-based polyurethane is effectively odorless; where the vinegar reek of the stain lingered for hours even with the windows open, the sealant doesn't smell at all even while it's being applied.

- It's a really nice feeling to build a piece of really solid furniture out of wood with your own two hands and have it exactly meet your needs. I highly recommend it!


You can also get something like this:

http://www.homedepot.com/p/Simpson-Strong-Tie-Workbench-or-S...

Comes with brackets and screws for all the joints. You just buy the wood and make the cuts. I got some thick MDF for the top and shelf instead of plywood, which is something I definitely recommend if you're going to use it as a desk-type surface instead of a working surface.


Very cool info. I'm not that handy though. My setup is basically an L-shape plywood top with rubberized covering.


>>> Don’t spend any money: Do as much as you can yourself. If you can’t afford it, don’t pay someone to make assets that you could do yourself. What’s more, do you really need to hire a full time coder? Or can you just hire a freelancer for a month? If you don’t have money, make the sound effects yourself.

Nah. As a solo dev you need to spend your time efficiently.

You can go to Fiverr and pay literally $5 for stuff like that. Sure, what you get won't be amazing, but it will be passable and it is pretty much guaranteed to be better than what you can create as a pure beginner.

That is far more preferable to spending hours or days (or maybe even weeks) learning to do it yourself.


> That is far more preferable to spending hours or days (or maybe even weeks) learning to do it yourself.

It depends whether you're trying to maximize your income over the next year or over the lifespan of your career. Investing in yourself by taking the time to learn technical skills and also develop your aesthetic taste in different areas of design is usually going to pay dividends in the longterm far beyond whatever immediate benefit you'd get by outsourcing this.

Once you know how to do it yourself, then by all means find a consultant to do it for you, but until then it's just a risky shortcut that's not likely to work out.


By all means enrich yourself and learn new things, but don't delay your game for 5 years so you can teach yourself how to draw, use proper proportions on figures, color, etc. (on your own because why pay a teacher?). Remember that you're in business, and even if you're a solo dev it's not all about you and your personal growth, it's about whether your business can deliver.

The good advice from a conference this past weekend: "if I was hiring, would I hire myself to do this job?"


> That is far more preferable to spending hours or days (or maybe even weeks) learning to do it yourself.

Unless you are interested in learning that stuff, then it is not only cheaper (in terms of cash, but not time) but you are doing something you'll enjoy as well as learning new skills.


if he comes from a decade experience, he's probably not gonna have started at a time where services like those where in existence.


It also depends on the point of the assets. If you need a proof of concept, it doesn't need to be good at all, just enough to prove that the image/sound/whatever is showing up when it's supposed to. You should be good enough at photoshop/paint.net/whatever to push out some WIP assets.

If you want production quality assets, then you'll likely have to pay more. I think what the author is saying is build shit you can build. If you can't build shiny spaceships, then choose a different direction.


Quality matters - the usual question of outsourcing stuff is whether you can describe what you want accurately enough.


The best advice that I got was don't quit your full time job. My desktop sharewares dont sell that often nowadays, but its enough to pay my rent and monthly expenses. The salary that I get from my full time job goes direct to my bank untouched.

> "Working from a cafe"

100% agree. For me, no work gets done from a cafe. I wonder what work people do by sitting at Starbucks. I cant write one line of code if I am being constantly distracted. Does anyone feel different ?


I've written tons of code in cafes. As a notorious procrastinator I find the cafe setting very helpful for avoiding the obvious distractions like Wikipedia holes, etc. I'm sure it sounds stupid to people who are more naturally focused but just the feeling that strangers _could_ be judging my use of time is pretty effective (I know I do it...I may not know why you brought your Macbook to this coffee shop but I'm pretty damn sure it wasn't to read rumours about Kim Kardashian). What I do find hard is thinking through difficult architectural problems in such a setting...often I'll spend an hour in the park with pen and paper thinking about that stuff and then hammer it out at the coffee shop. Different strokes I guess.


> the cafe setting very helpful for avoiding the obvious distractions like Wikipedia holes,

Don't forget a cafe (or anywhere) is also "not home" in that -- over time -- you are conditioning yourself that a cafe is a place of work whilst your home is not. This helps one be more productive in both environs.


Doing this very often. Abstracting the background noise and conversation is a skill that can be trained.

It's even better in public libraries, because the noise is 10x lower than the typical open-space environment. You also make random encounters which usually turns out great.

The only things that could be a blocker is music with vocals, for that I use earbuds.

I tend to think of different places like psychological anchors, each one good for a particular type of work.

Moving physically itself is a powerful reward for accomplished tasks.


+1 for libraries. Support your local library!

More importantly, if you can relegate the hustle and noise from a cafe into white noise, you'll be doing yourself a favour if you end up working in a crowded office. A loud office is the worst kind of problem, because it's rarely a dealbreaker- meaning you have to endure it.


It's harder in the office because it's a social group, the chatter may talk about you, your project, etc.. So the expectation is that you listen to it.


I really dislike working in libraries; I've tried several times, but the "quietness" is very distracting to me. Add to this the fact that many unsavory characters like to hang out in the library, the difficulty of finding a desk with a good view of the sunny outside, and it is no wonder I just can't do it. I suspect there are many like me.

I much prefer cafes, and I don't have any problem concentrating there at all.

There is something different about a loud office, though, and I don't like those either


I work in cafes most of the time and seem to get a lot done.


It works for me. The noise of a cafe blends together, whereas at home the occasional out-of-place sound is a lot more significant.


Coffee shops are great place to do admin work or any work that doesn't demand a lot of attention but tends to be boring. I find that I have an easier time focusing on such work in a coffee shop than at home.

On the other hand, I have a lot more difficulties concentrating on work in an open-space office mostly because the discussions around me would then tend to be related to my work so I can't just completely tune them out.


I am very productive in a cafe environment, I like the atmosphere and it is a nice change. I just pop in some noise cancelling headphones and code away. At a cafe there is a lot of noise, but other than that there is really no distractions.


noise cancelling headphones may be the best €250 I ever spent.


IIRC the two guys from 2dboy developed World of Goo in coffee shops.


I think there's quite a few indie developers who do. Delicious Monster got featured in Wired for working out of Zoka Coffee in Seattle [1], and if I remember correctly that's where the Cloak VPN team works from sometimes too.

[1] https://www.wired.com/2005/01/monster-fueled-by-caffeine/


> Sit down and do some fucking work. Don’t go for a coffee, that’s not work and you know that’s not work, no you’re not ‘working from the cafe’ stop lying to yourself. Get up, get on and do some fucking work.

I can relate so much to the coffee trap. Just went back from grabbing coffe. Just another to delay working.


Yes, coffee and reading hn and the like. You could also say "don't procrastinate". Sure, I'll start doing this right after I read this one last post ;)


Damnit you reminded me I should be working.


Same here! Will go back to work just after replying to you! :)


    echo 127.0.0.1 news.ycombinator.com >> /etc/hosts


The noprocrast setting also works well. Too well.


Works nicely in the Windows hosts file too.


I have to disagree, I've started working from the quiet coffee shop near my house every once in a while. After a while I just need to get out of the house. I guess if I did it all the time, it probably wouldn't work. But sometimes I start to feel catastrophic in my home office. finding a table to work by myself has been a decent productivity booster.


I have to strongly disagree with this. Right now I simply can't work in ANY other environment: home office, company office, library, etc. Not that I have not tried.

Co-working spaces are the closest second choice, but I suspect they need to become more like subscription-based cafes before they can work for me.

I think there is research showing that there are a confluence of factors that make working out of a café so productive for many.

It seems some have not actually tried it or are simply not wired to like it. To each their own.


It really depends on the kind of work. I'm a programmer by day and a writer by evening. For coding, the coffee shop is useless. For writing, it's priceless. I think getting up and ambulating to new scenery helps to stimulate the creative mind, and the coffee shop is a good destination (stimulants, horizontal surfaces, electrical outlets, climate control, etc).


Now that I've experienced the start-up world twice I have to say: What's the big deal about working full time in big corp? Not all of them have cubicles and ask their devs to wear suits. T-Shirt, free coffee, huge desk, free hardware, other smart people who are just like me, reliable income, some level of attractiveness to the other gender due to stable life.

Honestly I don't know why I didn't do that from the start and worked on my projects in my spare time.


I don't think it's possible to work as a software engineer full time and have enough mental energy to do meaningful work on your own projects in your spare time.


Agreed, I just moved to Product Management as I want to have the mental energy to work on my own stuff. While I was a full time Software Engineer I'd get some done but would be way to fried to get any real progress going.


How did you transition from dev to product management? I'm keen to stay in this industry, but I am thinking seriously about getting away from the coding side of things. I'm part BA at the moment.


Managed to find a company where the product fitted my technical knowledge, took a bit of a pay cut as well but well worth it.

It's been a few months and I do not miss coding full time one bit, hell even no longer being involved deeply in tech is a breath of fresh air.

I've had previous management experience (CTO in small start up, Lead Dev ...) so I managed to leverage that during my interview process, then it was mostly showing I was really interested in growing a product and see it succeed.


I also thought so. But I have yet to experience one start-up project that doesn't demand so much of your time that you worry you won't get to take the 10 minute walk to the super market today. If you can do that, you can easily with the same amount of energy work a side project.


Physical energy/time, and mental/emotional energy, are different things.

Software development, for whatever reason, directly spends "spoons" (in the sense of https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine...) at a high rate.

Because of this, it's hard to do much else that requires willpower after putting in a day's work as a programmer. You can do habitual things just fine; or procrastinative things. But, outside of those two activity-classes, it's hard to even do the most enjoyable of things—like, for example, watching a serious, dramatic movie—because you won't get anything out of such activities if you don't invest some emotional energy into them, and you've just plum run out.

---

In a more technical sense, it's my understanding that the activity of programming somehow "uses up" a lot of dopamine, and so gradually depletes one's available store of dopamine over the course of the day in much the same way that stress, cold environments, and surprising loud noises are known to.

Thus, a neurotypical person who spends eight hours programming in a day, will end up effectively equivalent in behavior/mentality to a person with ADHD for the rest of the day, until they can sleep it off and recover.

(This means you could probably restore your "spoons" by taking ADHD medication just after leaving work... but that seems ill-advised, for multiple reasons.)


Yes, after 6 hours of hard software engineering work your capacity for the day is pretty much exhausted and you start doing bad work, but if you put these bad additional hours into your day job or your hobby doesn't make much difference energy wise.


Can you link a news article or study about the similarities between programmers at the end of the day and adults with ADHD? Just curious... for a friend... ;)


I've done it successfully. It was not easy. One of the hardest things I've ever done.


In my experience it requires sacrificing "some level of attractiveness to the other gender due to stable life" by investing an enormous amount of your free time.


I switched 4/5th schedule. Less money, more spare time. But you're right. Actual regular work can be exhausting (I'm project manager and, that eats energy)


Sadly, you are right.


There are several reasons that come to mind:

1. IP ownership - many companies include total IP ownership during your time of employment.

2. If it's a soul sucking place, you'll burn out quickly and won't want to touch a computer, even if you love coding.

3. Making some company 10-20x your salary is disheartening.

4. You are at the whim of your bosses.

5. Many companies make getting anything done a huge pain in the ass. Over zealous security policies, over tight virus scanners choking your development box, requiring shitty company hardware to develop on, some DBA rejecting your SQL because he decided everyone should do it this way this week, network guys not fixing a horribly slow network, etc.

There are advantages, of course. The problem is you probably will never be able to get a business up and running while working at another job, it just takes too much attention.


> What's the big deal about working full time in big corp?

I think it depends upon what you want in life from your current situation. Having worked extensively in both startups and big corps, I've enjoyed working for startups where my work and ideas can make a huge impact on the business, far more than in the corporate world. And both have asked me for extra hours at crunch times, but at a startup they know they are asking a lot, and there's a chance for abstract future rewards as a result. When I've had mandatory unpaid extra hours at a big corp, I got a couple of slices of "free" pizza (and I got to not be fired).

In recent years I've worked for small established businesses/non-profits, and I enjoy the happy medium.


It really depends on the person, thats great you recognize that you do well in the corporate world. Unfortunately in many places the company would own your spare projects due to the intellectual property assignment rules in their employment contracts. Beyond that some of us strongly dislike conformity and being a replaceable cog in the corporate machine. Connecting with one's customers and seeing directly how what you build helps them instead of dealing with corporate politics is a huge improvement to me.


I feel much less replaceable, since I have rights. You can say "nope" to your boss. You can't do that to your customer if he's the only one paying your rent this month. And the smaller you are the more others will push you around, not because they are mean but because they don't have to think about you, and just like you they are tired and barely get done more than 80% of what they want to do. And in some cases people are really parasites and will suck dry everything that's too weak to fight back.


This definitely depends on a lot of factors. If you do work where you are easily replaceable sure. Most software developers don't have anything special rights wise as so few unionize. As an independent developer if you choose work in niches where the demand is greater than supply you can fire your painful customers anytime and move on to other ones. Different solutions work for different people.


I've got to believe that—besides what reasons people are consciously aware of—it's at least a little bit that startups, due to volatility and risk, are far more addictive environments than stable salaried bigcorp jobs are.

People will find themselves preferring "startup life", going from startup to startup, never staying past acquisition, without really knowing why; and then they'll invent all sorts of clever justifications for that. But really, they just enjoy the fact that their job is a gamble and could disappear at any moment, and will miss that and "feel bored" whenever they don't have it.

Just like some people who are "natural soldiers" find it hard to find jobs they enjoy after coming back from a war (e.g. https://www.reddit.com/r/CombatFootage/comments/68v9dv/photo...), some people who are "natural startup people" find it hard to find jobs they enjoy that aren't in startups. Because the risk/stress isn't there, and that's what they really want out of a job.


> some level of attractiveness to the other gender due to stable life.

Are you proposing that every freelancer / solo-dev is unattractive to potential mates per se?


I was a solo for 10+ years. I rented an office when my kids were too little to simultaneously grasp the ideas that 1) I liked them and wanted them near me and 2) I could not actually have them near me right now. When they were old enough to understand I moved back home. It didn't make much of a difference in terms of productivity for me.

One thing that did help was a sense that my workspace was both mine and a place for work. I needed to know that and no one had the right to interrupt or try and shoo me away. Public spaces never worked for me because other people had a right to them, too, and they could bring their kids or ask me questions about the nearest chair or whatever. I could concentrate better knowing that was true. It was worth money to me.


Not really well written, but some of the points on not wasting money and time with BS activities and expenditures were important.


If you want to make it for much longer than just a decade plan for those once-every-in-10-years dry spells and accidents and SAVE. Sock money away as if your life and career depend on it, one day they will and if you don't have savings you will end up in trouble. Save 20% of your gross at a minimum, then, once you reach 100K or so of rolling reserve you can relax and start spending a bit but really try to maintain that reserve.


Being an indie developer for 10 years feels too much for me.

I mean, once you do 2-3 games and you have a little success, I think you should use that notoriety to gather more talent and assemble a team. Forget starting a startup, studio, being an entrepreneur. I say you should continue doing what you do, but instead of doing all the development yourself and outsourcing the graphics or the sound effects, just bring them in.

A team of 2-3 developers, 1-2 artists, and a composer should level up faster. Watch Fullbright[1], they had amazing success together, while on their own they were.. just ok.

There are any former solo devs here that could share their story? What was the next step for them?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fullbright_(company)


But then you are an employer rather than developer, not all of us want that.


I've worked as part of a larger local remote team for a number of years. I'm dealing with customers, group meetings, or hackfests on about a 3-5 day a month basis. Outside of that, I'm fully remote.

I used to have a garage office, but the last several months the coffee table is the remote office. Soma.fm queued up when I start working. I take breaks for bike rides/lunch/exercise, if I feel the need to be "social", the local brewery (more like park + brewery) has outside seating and friends are there.

Solo - just gauge how much interaction you need and when you need it.


was the author abused by a 3d space shooting game? why pick on that genre as the holy grail of a game that won't be finished? Iam almost sure I'm missing some internal game dev joke.


It's a reference to Star Citizen which is well known for the repeated delays and promises.... Or maybe a reference to No Man's Sky...


> Say Game1 brings in £40,000: with rent and beer and socks that’s probably two years’ salary,

Be prepared to not make a huge amount of money, but you get to write games for a living.


"Sit down and do some fucking work."

The other stuff is just optional.


and don't make 3d space game I guess. :)


Seems like 3D space rail shooters (e.g. StarFox) do okay, but nobody ever wants to make one of those. (Even the StarFox team seems to only want to make games that are at most half that, to everyone's consternation.)


Unless you can fleece people out of tens of millions on Kickstarter...


To fleece people out of tens of millions on Kickstarter, one must first establish credibility by fleecing ordinary investors out of tens of millions. It helps to have spent some of that on paying Mark Hamill to record cutscenes for your previous space games.


Indeed.

"don’t be a fucking idiot, be sensible."


My comment is about being a solo dev. You can check all the other blocks, but if you aren't actually working, you're not going anywhere.


nice article and I almost bought your game but I don't play games on my pc :( But if I did I would - looks mint - Nice trade on experience for advertising


Well huge suggestion there. Download games instead of handling disks/cartridges all the time; Use your controller (XBox, PS, individual versions all there) as you're used to; Be able to play games from indies like these or from competitions like Ludum Dare; Damn, even be able to make your own games!


Not sure I understand. I don't have an xbox or anything. I play mobile games sometimes! It's just my personal use. I'm starting a company so I'm glad I don't but I guess I find some other distractions (such as hn)


I find that the frequency of posts about solo entrepreneurs has increased. Are there any startups working for this niche?




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