- Part-Time Tech
- A 14 year old iOS app + part-time non-profit consulting
A 14 year old iOS app + part-time non-profit consulting
How Bill Atkins uses flexible work to balance business, mission, and leisure
👋 Hey all. It's time for Part-Time Profiles in Tech.
Bill is a local friend I actually met through this newsletter! His career and current work/life situation is a blend of a lot of themes I’ve been seeing lately - a mix of entrepreneurship and mission-focused climate work while leaving plenty of time and flexibility for hobbies. He also is an example that the tactics in How to work part-time can be successful!
We’re also trying something new with a classifieds at the end of the article. This will be for independent contractors and agencies who represent some of the best of the part-time and flexible movement. Check them out if you’re hiring or need help! Email me if you’d like to list a classified as well.
⭐️ Today’s Sponsor
Poach the Best Developers from the Top US Companies
Looking for senior software engineers from companies like Apple, Nike, Microsoft, and ATT? Fraction has you covered. Fraction provides access to top-tier, U.S. talent without breaking the bank.
We screen candidates for skillset and availability, ensuring that you get the best US-based engineers for your team.
Bill Atkins is an independent iOS app developer. He and his wife Jess designed and developed the popular closet organization app Stylebook for the iPhone and iPad, has been covered in outlets like The New York Times, Wired, The Wall Street Journal and The Today Show, and won a Tabby Award.
Currently, he splits his time between his app business and working part-time as a software engineering consultant at a climate science non-profit.
In his spare time, he enjoys traveling, learning languages, gardening, helping out in the community, and co-organizing the Princeton Python User Group.
What’s your experience with part-time work?
I got my first part-time roles in college. My very first part-time software consulting contract was with The Nature Conservancy, developing features for a database of endangered species in New York state. Later, I had another part-time software development job for the Civil Engineering department at my university. There, I wrote software to manage experiments that tested different materials under earthquake conditions. Both of these jobs were posted on the CS department listserv, so I really just got lucky in coming across them.
I really enjoyed being able to get work experience and earn money while still studying for my CS degree. Since I was hourly, I liked being able to adjust my schedule when necessary: if I was studying for exams, or visiting family, I could easily cut back on consulting work. Unusually for the mid-2000’s, I was also able to work fully remotely, so I could also work even while I was back home for winter break.
When I graduated in 2008, I got a full-time job working as a programmer/analyst at Goldman Sachs, and then at a Google Ventures-backed startup, both in New York. I assumed part-time jobs were a thing of the past now that I was out of school, but that fortunately turned out not to be the case. After I started working full-time on my app business in 2012, that startup was looking for more staff, and asked me if I’d be interested in coming back. I suggested a part-time schedule, and they accepted. I really enjoyed having the ability to work on two things that mattered to me, without having to pick only one. And it was a great stress reliever to have multiple sources of income when we were trying to get a business off the ground. I did this for about a year before returning to running my business full-time.
About a decade later, I saw a job listing on Stack Overflow for a full-time software engineer at a non-profit in my town. The group was looking to develop software tools to send real-time alerts about how climate change was affecting different areas of the country. I had always wanted to work on climate change, but had never come across an obvious opportunity to do so. Since I still wanted to work on my own company, I negotiated to start the position part-time, working three days a week on climate software, and the rest on my own company. I tried to be as flexible and accommodating as possible: I offered a schedule that would work best for their needs, I agreed to check for urgent emails each morning on my two days “off,” and I even temporarily switched to a full-time schedule when they really needed the extra development resources to finish a large project. If you’re interested in working part-time in technology, I recommend being as flexible as possible when you try to seek a part-time position. And it never hurts to ask if a position advertised as full-time can become part-time.
Today, I still work for the climate non-profit about half the week. I spend the rest of my time working on Stylebook, the iPhone / iPad app my wife and I launched back in 2009.
Why is working part-time important to you?
The main benefit I get from working part-time is that I still get time to work on the app my wife and I created. I’m really proud of that product, and I find it really satisfying to work on it. But working part-time at a non-profit also allows me to spend a significant chunk of my time on climate change.
My business develops an iOS app written in Swift, but my part-time work involves a web application using Python and PostgreSQL. The two jobs are so different that working both of them gives me a good variety of things to work on. It’s harder to get in a rut, and I’m making sure I keep two different skillsets up to date. It’s a good way to diversify your resume. Plus, being forced to switch contexts completely can have benefits: when you stop working on a problem and then come back to it a few days later, you often see it from a new perspective and sometimes a solution becomes obvious.
Another perk is that I have more time to pursue hobbies. My wife and I are both interested in travel and languages. Working part-time, I’ve had time to study Japanese and French (both of which I used successfully on trips, then continued to study as a hobby when I returned). I also have more flexibility to attend local meetups and events. We can more easily take day trips or long weekends. And because my schedule is flexible, when I take trips, I’m often able to go for 2-3 weeks.
What does your compensation look like?
Stylebook is a paid app and my primary revenue stream.
For consulting, I bill an hourly rate, which was calculated using the position's full-time salary as a reference point.
What are the tradeoffs to working part-time vs one traditional full-time job for you?
There are some disadvantages. The first is that you’re likely to be a part-time contractor rather than a part-time employee. This means you may need to set up a business entity and keep records and receipts. You’ll also need to pay for your own health insurance, set up a retirement plan and prepare more complicated tax returns. That can be a lot of tedious work. Mostly, I find this setup work to be a one-time investment: once everything is up and running, it’s worth it, but it’s good to be aware of it before starting.
Also, if your current pay is heavily equity-based, you’re not as likely to get equity as a part-time worker.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to work part-time like you?
If you see a job listing that seems like a perfect fit for you, but it’s listed as a full-time position, ask if the position could be part-time. Especially if you have special experience or training that makes you a uniquely good candidate for the job, some employers may be willing to make a change. It’s never easy to fill software engineering positions, so you may have more leverage than you think.
Another approach is to see if your current full-time position can be converted to part time. If you’re working a full-time job and are performing well, bring up the subject with your manager. If you’re a valuable contributor, it might not be that big of a deal to change your schedule. It’s best to do this only if you’re willing to leave the position if you get no for an answer. I wouldn’t recommend trying this if you absolutely need the position and aren’t sure where you’d find another.
My other piece of advice is to be very flexible, and try to accommodate your employer’s needs. If you have a brief but important morning task that you do every day, you can offer to continue doing that even on your days off. You can also offer to check your email and answer questions during that same morning check-in - this way, no question for you will ever go unanswered for more than 24 hours.
If you want to work half days but that doesn’t work for your employer, see if you can instead take one or two full days off and work eight-hour days the rest of the week. Do your best to meet their needs and anticipate in advance any problems your new schedule could lead to.
Any tools or services you'd recommend for people who want to go part-time?
I rent an office for work. Having a separate workspace that’s outside my home is really helpful for my productivity. I realize this is a matter of personal preference - some people love working at home. But, for me, physically separating my home from my work both (a) keeps me focused on work when I’m at the office and (b) makes it easier to turn off my work brain at the end of the day.
I am also a huge fan of the Pomodoro method. One of the hardest things about working independently is focusing on the right thing for a long enough period of time. The Pomodoro method helps me do that, although I’ve found that for programming tasks, it works better to use a 50-minute work period with a 10-minute break (instead of the standard 25/5 recommendation). I use an iOS app called Flow for this. I keep a really simple spreadsheet tracking the number of pomodoros I complete each day, and it keeps a running monthly total. I try to meet or beat the number of sessions I completed the previous month.
Another great focus aid is noise-canceling headphones with one of Apple Music’s excellent focus playlists.
For planning my work, I really like outlining software. Using an outline makes it really easy to break down any task into any number of subtasks (and sub-subtasks). I like OmniOutliner because it supports columns, and can automatically sum them (great for hourly estimates). And it has incredibly powerful scripting features.
Jason and Jaime Curtis are a husband and wife team with a combined 20+ years of experience as technical leaders at big tech (Microsoft, Meta) and climate startups (EnergySavvy, Osmo Systems, Convoy). They provide fractional software engineering services for climate companies and initiatives. optionzero.co
Tiana is an experienced product manager and tech team builder in the health, education, and climate tech space, available for contract product management, team building / team process workshops, and 1:1 product management coaching. tianav.com
Jori is a seasoned Product Leader (ex Audible, Spotify, SoundCloud, etc.) currently coaching students at Cornell Tech. She's available for product coaching and consulting services. joribell.com
How was this post?
Feedback helps us improve future content.