Jaime and Jason Curtis: From Big Tech to Husband and Wife Consulting Duo
How a couple started Option Zero, a software-for-climate consultancy, to make an impact on the world while growing a family and aventuring. Part-Time Profiles in Tech 005
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I love the Curtis’ story and path because they found a way to craft a lifestyle that brings together their personal, professional, and family desires together in great balance. I also resonate personally with being able to make more time and space for your kids while still finding ways to advance your career and hobbies. It’s possible to have it all, but it takes work!
Their story is also a great example putting to practice what guest writer, Aaron, talked about in a previous post on figuring out what you really want out of your work and life.
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Around the web 🌐:
- The Great Betrayal - Lots of data around how workers preferences are changing around full-time work.
- High Earning Men Are Cutting Back on their Work Hours - More interesting trends and data
Jaime and Jason Curtis are a husband and wife team and founders of Option Zero, a software-for-climate consultancy offering software strategy & flexible capacity to climate companies.
Between them they've spent time at Facebook/Meta, Microsoft, Olin, and Convoy, plus a variety of climate tech startups. They have a combined 20+ years of experience as software engineers, with deep spikes in data science, data engineering, project/product management, and technical leadership.
What’s your experience with part-time work?
We first worked together in our freshman year of college, where we built a remotely-controlled orange stingray toy on a four-person team. Since then our relationship has been built around working together. We started working in tech in 2012 and got married in 2020 on a mountaintop.
For the bulk of our careers in tech, we primarily worked full-time, though we took a 6-month break for a vanlife stint and we were occasionally able to wrangle contracts working 80% time for 80% pay.
In mid-2022, we left our Big Tech jobs to take time off and focus on our lil’ one. We took the summer off, got married (again, but that's another story) in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and then sat down to talk about what came next.
Our little family near Red Rocks climbing outside Las Vegas. We escaped the dreary Pacific Northwest winter to spend time climbing in the sunny desert.
What came next was both a bit of a surprise and, in a sense, totally inevitable.
We've always oriented our careers towards climate change, but even working at an energy efficiency company like EnergySavvy, or sustainability-oriented unicorn like Convoy (whose mission is "to transport the world with endless capacity and zero waste"), we had often felt disconnected from the climate mission. Both of us like to keep a sense of the big picture and how it connects to our work at every level. This is a particular strength and allows us to operate effectively on the many levels of a project, but it's also a challenge when our work doesn't ladder up to a real impact. At the same time, we both have a wide skill set and enjoy both flexing our existing skills and learning new ones. Working within a single larger company sometimes cramps that style.
On a different axis, we’d been getting burned out with full-time work. We were paying a full-time nanny to care for and play with our child, and at the end of the work day we were exhausted and barely had energy to cook dinner, let alone enjoy precious moments as a family. We recuperated on the weekends, but it felt like surviving, not thriving. Before becoming parents, we were weekend warriors - working hard during the week and getting out for big adventures on the weekend. This kept us sane though still always wishing for more time to play outside. With childcare in the mix, it felt like the work/play/family equation was impossible to balance.
We decided that at the heart, we wanted our next jobs to be:
- Directly impactful against climate change
Specifically, we wanted work that was more:
- Impact-oriented. We'll always be working on work that is climate-aligned, but we can also provide valuable early guidance across our portfolio of startups
- Widely connected. Dealing with a wide range of climate change reduction and resilience strategies means we're constantly learning and being energized by all of the incredible work happening on climate.
- Flexible and self-directed. We're able to choose what we work on and when
- Varied. We have a wide range of skills, from team building to strategy to architecture to implementation, and we love flexing all of them
- Conducive to working together. We first worked together in college, and built our relationship around our teamwork.
Put together, it was clear that it was time to join forces once more and build our "own thing". Thus was born Option Zero, our consultancy providing software support to climate companies, organizations and projects.
How do you find clients?
The first 3 months of Option Zero were spent "shaking the network tree" - talking to everyone we knew in climate, joining new networks (shoutout to MCJ Collective and Work on Climate ), and having around a hundred conversations. The goal here was to understand how to position ourselves - what are the intersections of need, with our particular skill sets?
In November 2022, at the end of those 3 months, we closed our first contract, and the contracts have kept coming since then. In January 2023 we had to turn down new jobs because we were at capacity.
However, it’s important to note that “at capacity” involves each of us only working about 50% time. Our work schedule frequently revolves around our toddler’s nap timing - which is thankfully regular enough that we can schedule slots on our calendar weeks in advance to coincide with her two 2-hour daily naps, thus saving on childcare costs. Other times, we hire a nanny so that the two of us can spend a morning skiing or climbing, and get back to work feeling refreshed and focused in the afternoon.
Why is working part-time important to you?
Right now we're staying in Lake Tahoe, minutes from a ski resort. We're skiing every morning and working every afternoon. We can work during our toddler’s naps, and take a long lunch break to play outside with her.
There aren’t many full-time jobs that can boast that kind of flexibility.
What does your compensation look like?
Our rates currently range from $175-400/hr depending on the stage of the client and length of the contract. Setting and raising your rates is one of the hardest parts of working independently.
What are the tradeoffs to working part-time vs one traditional full-time job for you?
The hardest thing is we have to find our own clients! We have to keep that flywheel a-turnin'.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to work part-time like you?
Do it 😉!
Read “Your Money or Your Life,” or some other book, article, or blog series on the “Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE)” movement. We spent a decade making big-tech salaries, getting raises and promotions, but lived relatively frugally and didn’t succumb to lifestyle creep. As a result, we had a great financial buffer that made it more comfortable to take the leap into the unknown of self-employment.
Are there any software products, services, or tools you use to help you work part-time?
The level of tooling out there is incredible. Here are a few top tools:
- Starlink internet, for when there's no landline
- Care.com, to find high-quality child care wherever we are
- Calendly, which allowed us to painlessly schedule over 100 networking meetings
- Slack, Discord, and LinkedIn, for communications.
- Particular shout-out to the many incredible climate-focused slack communities: My Climate Journey, Work on Climate, Terra.do, ClimateAction.tech, etc.
- Wave and Gusto, for accounting, invoicing, and payroll
- Toggl, for tracking billable hours
- Figjam, for fun collaborative brainstorming & diagramming with clients
- Airtable & Webflow, for no-code solutions that blow our clients' minds
- VS Code, GitHub, React (Native), Python, Amazon Amplify, Vercel, the list goes on … -- these are the water we swim in. Things that previously required a large organization at your back can be accomplished by a few people in a fraction of the time.
If you know anyone working on climate who could use software guidance or capacity, OR if you're interested in transitioning to a climate career, don't hesitate to drop us a line!