Small business tackling big jobs.

Gene BrenimanJanuary 6, 2008

Greetings and a Happy New Year to all!

I have been extremely busy the last few months tackling a small job that turned into a big job. A few months ago, while working on starting my own company and product line, I answered a job posting for a 'part-time engineer'. The posting specified approximately 10 hours a week assisting another engineer in the completion of a new product development cycle. This sounded like an ideal opportunity to generate a little income for my company while continuing to develop my own product.

Like many great plans, this one too, turned in directions I could not have anticipated. Within a week the existing engineer had to bow out due to the schedule pressures of his full-time job. I was asked to help pick up the slack and finish up his part, as I continued to do my assigned tasks. Upon my looking into the progress made on my new tasks, it became clear that not much of what should have been done, had been done. Not only was the hardware unstable, only the bare minimum of the code needed had been written. The code that did exist, while well structured and well commented, did not function as expected and was full of bugs. Now I had a 'full-time' job that was very far behind the expected schedule.

The light at the end of the tunnel is now brightening. Hardware is beginning to function as expected (both the existing parts, and the part that I needed to design). The software is beginning to reach the point where minimal functionality exists and performance of the overall product can finally be evaluated. Hopefully my hours will soon begin to decline towards the 'part-time' level that I signed on for. (Strange how having money coming in is a bad thing)

There is a lot to learn as you undertake any new task. And in this task I have learned quite a bit. The engineering aspects of this job exposed me to new parts and technologies. The scope of the job required me expand my knowledge in some of my weaker skills areas (I ended up sub-contracting some of the work out to friends and former co-workers who had skills that I did not). I also learned more about the business of running a business, i.e. how to charge a client for hours, materials and overhead. Then how account for income, deductions and expenses.

This was also my first attempt as a owner of a company to deal with another company on a services rendered contract. With 20/20 hindsight, there are many things I would have handled differently. I would have asked for greater clarification of the tasks needed to be performed and the schedule requirements. One lesson that I had not expected to learn was that when you are the owner of a small business and taking on a client, your company's reputation is on the line, not just your personal reputation. The work load exceeded my available free time and as opposed to failing on my promise to met my client delivery schedule (possibly reflecting poorly on my company), I ended up working far more hours that I would have wished (weekends, evenings and holidays).

As I draw closer to completion, I must admit that this was also a lot of fun. The client was always helpful and appreciative. The work was interesting and educational. And above all, I enjoyed working here at home, with my cat on my lap and my dog nearby on floor. Who could ask for better work conditions!

Hopefully, soon I will have a little more free time and get back on the topics of interest for this site. Until then, happy designing!


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