My first year as a consultant in France

I think many of us are attracted by the idea to start their own business. This was something I was dreaming about for a while until the context made it possible. One year later this is how things are going.

I also wrote about my progress when I was half of the way through my first year: my first six months as a consultant

At the end of June 2015 I left my job at Groupon and I moved with my girlfriend to Lyon, France. I decided that I was going to be a consultant for several reasons:

  • I really wanted to focus on building languages and tools, because this is how I can deliver more value
  • I thought this was my chance to go independent
  • There are startups and interesting companies in Lyon but I could not find the same level of work I could easily find in Dublin and I did not want to settle for something not challenging enough

The kind of work I did

As I started I worked on different kinds of projects. I was interested in everything that was challenging: from building complex web applications to writing software that runs on millions of cars.

Over time I started focusing more and more on Language Engineering. I have worked mostly with Jetbrains MPS, ANTLR, and Xtext. I have been building new languages, editors, simulators, interpreters, test automation, documentation generators and so on. It was very exciting because it meant for me:

  • understanding the challenges of specific domains
  • collaborate with amazing people, enthusiastic and willing to disrupt their development processes
  • building tools that can help people to deliver more, making their job more enjoyable and giving them the possibility to focus on the interesting part, while the redundancy is reduced and the tools support help them reducing the errors

Challenges

Starting your own business can be a challenge. Doing that while moving to another country could make that challenge even more interesting. If you want to spice up things a little bit more you can move to a country of which you do not speak the language. Extra points if this is a wonderful country with a taste for bureaucracy and a distaste for English. Yes, France, indeed. Facing everything together was not trivial but with patience and the help of my amazing business accountant I managed to survive.

Bureaucracy and language issues were the annoying challenges: they are part of the packet so I went through them while thinking about the interesting challenges. They mainly were about figuring out what I wanted to do and I wanted to do that. As I thought more and more all revolved around two questions:

  1. How can I be more useful?
  2. What I find most interesting to do?

How I feel today

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When you start your own business and you keep receiving calls from recruiters you feel a bit reassured: it is comforting to know that there is always a plan B for you. Then, as months go by, you become more and more confident about the path you take. At that point you are able to say “no” to recruiters from a few very well known companies and do not feel bad about it. You smile and you keep doing your thing, happy.

I am not saying that from time to time I am not stressed or that I have figured out everything but I definitely feel happy about my choice. I am so extremely thankful to everyone who encouraged me and supported me. This would be a long list, starting with my friend Luca, including most of my clients and many ex-colleagues and friends.

What I miss from Dublin

In Dublin I could breathe IT in the air and in every single pub. Everywhere you met people from world-class tech companies. They were your colleagues, your friends, the people sitting next to you in a restaurant, the people organizing tons of Meetups. Because of that in Dublin you feel you are part of a worldwide conversation about technology. There is enthusiasm, there is awareness about what is going on in the world.

Dublin is the exception, I think there are few other cities like that in Europe. It would be unfair to ask Lyon to be the same. I have to say that Lyon is an amazing place where to live and it is very nice to talk a walk in the park, order a plate of charcuterie or drink a beer in the sun. But yes, it is not Dublin. Here I have the feeling people are less aware of what is amazing in the rest of the world, or even in the rest of France, outside Lyon. There are many specificities and a focus on what is happening at the local level: local companies, local tech trends and so on. I think this is absolutely normal, it is just that I was spoiled living in Dublin. I try to participate more in online communities and having worked with customers from different cities and countries help me feeling more part of the global conversation.

The future

It was an amazing year for me I would like to keep things going in the direction they are currently going. I want to keep a strong focus on Language Engineering. Ideally I would like to find the time to produce more open-source frameworks and content. I worked on a few pet-projects using Jetbrains MPS and use more lightweight technologies. I would like keep looking at problems from different points of view.

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