When I left Apple just over a year ago, I didn’t have a clear-cut idea of what to do next. I did have many ideas for products to make: a Periodic Table of HTML5 Elements in website & iPad app edition, featuring regularly updated reference content for each element on how to use it; a webdesign web app for quickly designing and building layouts right in the browser; a publishing platform for the iPad to push books and content into a revolutionary new direction (think Inkling but not limited to textbooks / educational works); a new approach to rich text editing, and more. After some initial deliberating on this, I went on a soul-searching road trip to figure out what exactly I wanted to do in life, hoping to—at the very least—figure out which of these products to focus on first.
But as it turns out, when you have several rock-solid ideas for products but several important hurdles to cross before you can work on any of them, those ideas are effectively worthless. Unless you can execute on them alone—which, with the exception of the Periodic Table of HTML5 Elements idea, was not feasible—you really don’t have anything at all. Thus, you must find other people to work together with.
I found those people for the more complicated ideas, but unfortunately in my case, finding people who wanted to work with me was the least difficult hurdle to cross.
You see, the moment I left Apple my work visa for the U.S. was revoked, meaning I couldn’t legally work or earn money in the country. This compounded on my soul searching efforts, because besides figuring out what I wanted to do in life, I also had to figure out where I wanted to do it. The backstory of my life is in The Netherlands, and while I rose to a modicum of Web Design stardom from my development & standards advocacy work there, I had no interest in returning permanently to my original home country to continue my career. Conversely, I did really enjoy life in San Francisco and the close proximity to infinite-seeming amounts of smart people from whom I could learn lots of great things, but I was open to alternative locations—including other countries entirely.
Many months of (extremely exhausting) traveling later, I still hadn’t worked it out. Meanwhile, I was unable to really get any of my product ideas off the ground, because pretty much everyone I wanted to work with on them was based in the U.S.; I was not allowed to work there, and I had no interest in staying in the Netherlands to work from there remotely.
Unfortunately, what was once a perfectly reasonable decision for me, was now coming back to bite me in the ass—hard. Back in 2000, I opted not to go to college because web design & development education in The Netherlands was significantly below my existing skill level at the time already. I wanted to work, not sit in classes for days on end learning very little (in retrospect, a graphic/print design class would’ve been a perfectly educational alternative choice, but you know, hindsight and so forth). Throughout my career, having no formal education proved irrelevant: the good companies I wanted to work for knew better than to care much about diplomas, focusing instead on you as a person, your skills and eagerness to learn, et cetera. To this day, there still hasn’t been a single job that I’ve wanted to get that I didn’t get (or get offered). In short, my lack of a College Degree didn’t matter…
…until I had to deal with the U.S. Department of Immigration.
Unlike any modern Tech or Web company, the U.S. Department of Immigration does care a great deal about your academic achievements, even if they are virtually irrelevant in your line of work. Obviously, my lack of degree had suddenly become a big problem. Getting a new work visa was (and still is) an unforeseen difficulty for me, something which has caused much additional stress and anxiety in my life. (remember, this is an unusually personal blog post)
Then, to further the already staggering set of complications, my years at Apple had very effectively trained me to be secretive about everything I was doing. I didn’t even share the full set of my product ideas with the very people I was trying to sign up for the job!
Now, at long last, I’m bringing about some change. I’ve had it with the anxiety that my self-inflicted secrecy creates in me. I’ve had it with worrying about which product to spend time on and which not to. I’ve had it with trying to figure out ways to work with people I can’t work with because I don’t have a million dollars (needed to “buy” yourself a Startup Visa as a non-American), I’ve had it with all these things. Besides, Josh Duck just made a Periodic Table for HTML, Jason Santa Maria wrote publicly about the web design app I’ve been envisioning, and every major publishing house in the world is trying to figure out iPad publishing. It’s folly to think of my ideas as unique or ahead of the curve, because by now, they very clearly aren’t either—and it’s only been a year.
So instead of all that, I’m going to shift my focus on the things that make me happy, the things I enjoy doing. I love writing, and I love editing written works from others. I love pushing the boundary of what browsers can do, and making great websites or site elements that inspire people in their own work. I love Modernizr and the direction we’re taking it for 2.0. I still would love to work on the products I’ve been envisioning and even worked on (some) for the past year, but I no longer wish to helm their creation or make them my own. That time is now officially over; I’m starting a new chapter in my life, and trying to be the lead designer/creator of four different major products is not a part of that chapter.
There are some things in the works for myself and my career which I can’t talk about for legal reasons, for a change, but I hope to be able to share those with you soon. Meanwhile, my next post will be a detailed outlining of the products I have been working on in my head and on paper, so that someone else with an entrepreneurial spirit, the resources and, most likely, the privilege of having been born on American soil, can take a shot at them instead.
That last element is a bittersweet reality for me, but despite the hardships it’s given me, I’d never want to trade my childhood life and my growing up in The Netherlands for having been born American and not dealing with visa challenges in starting a company.
On a closing note, I haven’t yet gotten around to re-implementing comments to this blog, though I do intend to (at long last). But for now, if you wish to discuss any of the above with me, either contact me privately or simply Tweet me publicly. If you want to know more about the product ideas specifically, just wait for the next blog post.