190k+ subs on YouTube and Data Science Consulting
How Keith Galli turned burnout into a portfolio career
👋 Hey all. It's the 10th edition of Part-Time Profiles in Tech.
Keith is a friend from school who’s been successful in building a portfolio career. Similar to Sid Palas, he’s built a nice flywheel between a very popular YouTube channel, and consulting. He gives a peek behind the curtain on the ups and downs of this lifestyle and how he’s built it up over time.
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Keith Galli is a software engineer and a popular content creator on YouTube with over 190k subscribers.
Keith’s primary focus is teaching programming and data science using the Python language. Outside of the teaching domain, Keith has held multiple part-time positions ranging from project management to data engineering. Keith has his bachelors and masters from MIT in computer science.
What’s your experience with part-time work?
Towards the end of 2021, I was feeling super burnt out in a leadership role at a startup. Long work hours paired with isolation due to working remotely was a terrible combo for me. I knew that I needed to get leave, but did not have a concrete plan other than to focus on a YouTube channel that I had been building on the side over the past few years. By the time I finally left, I was so depressed, anxious, and mentally fatigued that I stopped doing anything even remotely intellectually rigorous for several months.
I eventually got back into work and started focusing on the YouTube channel. One thing that I quickly realized was that this as my only source of income was challenging, and part-time work could fill this gap. I created a profile on Upwork and looked for opportunities that I could spend 10-20 hours per week on. I had to apply to a bunch, but slowly things started landing.
Some opportunities were short-term, quick projects. For example, I worked with a social media company and built a Python program that scanned through thousands of YouTube channels and pulled out ones that could be a good fit for the company’s products. This was done by extracting text from recent video descriptions and using various NLP techniques to see if it matched a given set of criteria. This helped the company focus their marketing & outreach efforts.
Other opportunities have developed into long-term partnerships. I helped a small technology start-up save costs by building a model that could backfill data with a high-degree of accuracy. While this was a short-term task, we both enjoyed working together and they found other opportunities for me to help out on. For example, I’ve done video tutorial work for them overviewing their API capabilities. In addition, I’m currently acting as a project manager for a non-profit branch of the company on an NLP research project where we are analyzing hundreds of thousands of historical documents and trying to extract as many insights as possible.
I have noticed that landing opportunities has gotten easier with time. As I built my reputation on Upwork, people were more likely to invite me to a new project. I have also noticed that when you are not working in a full-time position, opportunities can arise more naturally. When I talk to connections about how their work is going, they often bring up challenges they are stuck on. I can now bring up having some extra time on my hands and see if there is a fit for me to help out on the project.
This is the way I landed a part-time data scientist position at the Virtue Foundation. One goal of the Virtue Foundation is to build the most comprehensive dataset of hospitals around the world as they can. My contribution to the project was building a tool that could identify regions that could benefit from additional hospitals by overlaying our hospital data with population density data.
Why is working part-time important to you?
I love having the ability to say yes to exciting opportunities as they pop up. If a massive snow-storm rolls in, I want to take advantage and go snowboarding. If it’s a beautiful day out and a friend wants to go for a mid-week hike, I want to join them. Basically it comes down to prioritizing the spontaneity of life first.
This past year I’ve made two trips to Hawaii, spent a month in LA, and done week-long trips at both Park City, Utah & Keystone, Colorado.
I take the roles that I work on very seriously, but I make sure to not let work control my life. Working in a part-time fashion helps me do this.
What does your compensation look like?
Compensation can vary fairly significantly on a month to month basis. One month I may make between $15K-20K and then the next I might make only $3K. It depends on how much I’m traveling & what projects I’m focusing on. I try to hold at least one position at all times that has consistent payments that I know I count on to cover my bills (rent, food, & gas). Usually this is an hourly position.
What are the tradeoffs to working part-time vs one traditional full-time job for you?
Part-time work has been great due to the flexibility of hours, ability to work on many different projects in a short time span, and the ability to set my own rates.
One thing that is both a blessing and a curse about part-time work is that I have 100% control of how much I earn each month. This is a blessing because for my hourly contracts if I work double the hours, I make double the money. For my milestone based contracts, the better my portfolio & past performance, the more that I can charge for future projects. It is a curse because if I get sick one week and can’t work productively, I don’t get paid.
What I miss most about a traditional full-time role is the team aspect. I miss working hard with a like-minded group of people towards a common objective. I think this is a mix of missing in office work as it is being on a dedicated team of full-time employees.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to work part-time like you?
Find ways to add structure to your part-time routine. While you have more-time on your hands to explore new opportunities, you have to be focused to take advantage of it. For me, this is taking some time before the start of the week to map out how I’ll spend each day.
When am I going to the gym? When am I working on freelance projects? When am I working on YouTube content? These are the types of questions I ask myself and start explicitly filling in slots on my calendar.
From a monetary standpoint, don’t be afraid to take projects below your pay grade when you’re getting started. If you are working off of a platform like Upwork, reputation is everything. I recommend finding a few projects that you can tackle quickly and not getting discouraged if their budget is well below what you’d normally charge. View it as part of the process. If you get a few good reviews, prospective clients are more likely to trust you and it will help you land more lucrative projects.
Any tools or services you'd recommend for people who want to go part-time?
As I mentioned previously, the community aspect is what I’ve missed most about leaving the world of full-time work and moving to various part-time roles. To help fill that gap, I started renting a private office at a local coworking space. This has been great because I’ve gotten to know a lot of the people in the space. There are engineers, marketers, lawyers, and other professionals who share the space. When I bump into people in the common areas, there is a lot of “water cooler” talk. We discuss projects we’re working on, current events, what’s bothering us, etc. We come from different backgrounds and can offer unique perspectives on things. This has made me feel a part of something bigger and made me more motivated for my work.
On the software side of things, Upwork has been very helpful for finding opportunities and has made the payment process straightforward. Another software tool that I use every day is toggl.com to track my hours. I also use a Chrome extension called Strict Workflow that blocks distracting websites on a Pomodoro schedule (25 mins block, 5 mins availability).
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