My Dream Career is to be a Professional Tinkerer
A different kind of entrepreneurship.
I’ve had a wealth of professional experiences in my short time on this planet. In fact, I used to be insecure that I’d done this wide variety of stuff but ultimately had little to actually show for it. But the things I’ve learned have made me a very well-rounded person, ideally situated to do what I’m interested in doing now: becoming a full-time tinkerer.
Most of my professional experiences are something more akin to experiments rather than sustained opportunities. In no particular order, I’ve:
- Lead and run a large volunteer game design team.
- Managed a small political campaign.
- Worked for two companies as a full-time engineer: one medium-sized in marketing development, the other quite large in e-commerce.
- Taught at four different game-design summer camps or after-school programs.
- Written a few dozen stories here on Medium.
- Produced ~30 episodes of my own podcast.
- And more…
Recently, I’ve been focusing on developing clarity on what I want in life, and I realized that I’m not on track with my ambitions and the impact I want to have in this world. In fact, I had set a goal when I was 22 to become a millionaire by 30 years old ($1M in net personal assets). Well, I just turned 27 a month and a half ago and still have about $985,000 to go…
Somehow, in the last five years in Corporate America, I kinda lost sight of that goal and the reasons behind it. I’m going to be completely honest: I got a little complacent.
I’m a full-time Software Engineer, so I started by trying to get a higher-paying day job as the first step in taking control of my life again (I could make significantly more money than I do now). This came with the implied understanding that eventually I’d want to build cool, valuable stuff and become a full-time entrepreneur where I’d make a lot more money and work on more things I enjoyed.
Then it occurred to me: why wait? Why pursue a better-paying pitstop on my entrepreneurial path when I could also potentially just start designing my own entrepreneurial career perfectly suited to my strengths (and weaknesses) right now. So I’ve decided to pursue what I call being a professional tinkerer:
A professional tinkerer is someone who makes cool — and sometimes random — stuff and shares it with the world to make a living.
I’ve dreamed about this vague notion of a career for years, but now I want to solidify that notion into an actual plan, and hopefully, I might inspire one or two of you to think about your career too.
Let’s Explore the Dream
I’d call this career something of a hybrid between being a content creator and a startup entrepreneur. It’s a career path that is only made possible by the internet and the proliferation of tooling that makes building software and businesses way easier than it’s ever been.
When you design your own career, you have to think about a lot more details than just following a corporate career ladder. While this is intimidating to many (and understandably so), it’s actually quite thrilling to me. Let’s explore some of those things together.
How Do You Make Money?
We all need to make a living, and in my case, my ambitions will require significant investment as well. So I technically need to make a lot more than just a living, but let’s take one step at a time.
Companies don’t hire full-time tinkerers — and that would defeat the purpose anyway — so a regular salary is out of the question. In that case, it’s best to think about this career’s income prospects as business revenue sources rather than personal income sources. My initial goal is $10,000/month in gross revenues (which will allow me to go full-time doing this). Of course, that’s a floor, not a ceiling.
The revenue sources of this business are basically split into two things: selling aspects of the journey to an audience and selling the things I make along the way.
For the former, I plan to write about my journey here on Medium and maintain a freely weekly newsletter (link at the end of the story).
For the latter, the term “tinkerer” is intentionally vague, but the idea is that I’ll be creating things that have value and sharing them with the world, monetizing some and letting the others serve as audience-builders.
Some Examples of Things I Might Build
- A nifty little piece of software like a net worth tracker, stock trading fundamentals tool, crypto portfolio tracker, or personal goal-setting tool.
- Courses or other premium knowledge products: focused and information-dense so you can get maximum value in minimum time.
- SaaS products in any of my interest areas (gaming, crypto, finance, business, personal development).
- Crypto dApps, NFT projects, etc.
- Games and other fun interactive experiences.
Build and Grow in the Open
The final tenet of this career is that I want to build it in the open. That means sharing the progress with you, my audience, regularly along the journey. From development updates on the things I’m working on to revenue breakdowns to personal insights and reflections. Those will all come through in the newsletter (again link at the bottom of the story).
My goal is to have you be able to participate in my journey from a corporate engineer to a full-time tinkerer, all the while getting to tell a great story and deliver value to you guys. It won’t happen overnight of course, and I may or may not be able to hit my millionaire-by-30 goal, but the journey is what I’m ultimately looking forward to.
What’s the Deal with Corporate America?
I want to be clear: Corporate America is not necessarily a bad choice. It’s just not a great choice for me, because of my goals. If this story inspires you to think more deeply about your career, I don’t want you to think that leaving Corporate America is the only choice for a fulfilling career. There are people talking about leaving the entrepreneurship world to go back to Corporate America. Heck, my own family (entrepreneurship runs deep in our genes) will often tell me not to underestimate the benefits of a corporate job and that being your own boss is, in many ways, far more difficult than holding a job.
I would argue even, that most people are best suited finding new and better work within Corporate America than trying to leave it all behind. There are many interesting opportunities in the corporate world, and they are accessible to the people willing to search them out and get a little creative.
But that life isn’t for me. I’m wildly ambitious, and what I have found so far in Corporate America is that my ambitions are frequently squashed in order to fit into the box that my boss wants/needs me to be in. And that’s not because I had bad bosses necessarily (well I had one not-so-great boss but the other two have been great), but they have objectives they need to fulfill too and those won’t always jive with my personal objectives.
Whether my ambitions are squashed by my boss or squashed by myself because I don’t want to make too many waves, the end result is the same: feeling like I can’t do the things I want to do.
However, while I’d love to be able to just leave tomorrow and never go back, I still need to continue making a living until this journey can start supporting itself.
So for now, I trudge on, emboldened by my journey and eagerly awaiting the day when I can officially put “Professional Tinkerer” on my LinkedIn profile.
Thanks for reading! As I mentioned earlier, I have a free weekly personal newsletter: consider reading more about it and joining us.
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