Issue #51: Freelancing,  Vidéothèque

Mike Monteiro

Erika Hall and Mike Monteiro founded Mule Design, a design consultancy in San Francisco, around 20 years ago. Mike was (in)famously known around a decade ago on Twitter, where his profanity-laden rants about design, ethics (or lack thereof), unionization, and open condemnation of fascism, reached peaks of popularity and retweets.

Kids: those were different times in social network history.

During those golden ages, Mike gave a legendary talk called “F*ck You, Pay Me,” with a title inspired by a quote from the recently deceased Ray Liotta in the 1990 movie “Goodfellas.” The talk was part of the “Creative Mornings” series of meetups held on Friday mornings in San Francisco, a series that had many spinoffs around the world.

What is interesting about this talk is that, despite being primarily directed to designers, its contents are immediately suitable for freelancing software engineers, a profession whose work is, at least since the return of Steve Jobs to Apple in 1997, inextricably linked to that of designers.

The video starts with one of the most excellent title screens ever made for a meetup (an idea this author plans to steal at some point in the future shamelessly.)

Then Mike asks the audience about everyday situations where designers end up in disarray: customers not paying in time, projects canceled, and changes of scope. At some point, he introduces his lawyer (who hid secretly as part of the audience until that point). He explains how a designer, particularly a freelance or a small agency, can get screwed in business negotiations.

The critical element of the talk is the word contract, a concept foreign to many independent software developers out there in the market, who, for some reason (most probably urgency, hunger, or ignorance), would not make their customers sign one before starting to work. In particular, it does not matter if you operate in the United States or another country. As an independent software professional, you (and your lawyer) must assume bad faith from the other side of a commercial transaction. At least to a certain degree, of course.

As Mike says,

You’re at the point where you need a lawyer when you’ve decided to stop being a design amateur and become a design professional.

Also, having employed lawyers in a country as expensive (and as business-safe) as Switzerland, this author can safely assert that they and the contracts they crafted were worth the money. When running a business, keeping the lights on and meeting payroll is tantamount. As an independent software professional, you are a business with just one person on your payroll: yourself. Protect your interests accordingly.

Replace the word “design” with “code” throughout the video, and think.

After watching this month’s video, “F*ck You, Pay Me,” read more from Mike: his books, his stance against fascism, his guide about unionizing tech, a list of reasons why it is our fault if customers do not understand what we are saying, and his explanation of why design is political.

What he says, and how he says it, is essential, simply because code is political too.

Cover snapshot by the author.

Adrian Kosmaczewski is a published writer, trainer and speaker, currently in charge of Developer Relations at VSHN AG, Zürich, Switzerland. He holds a Master's degree from the University of Liverpool.