Making money at just about anything means you have to live and breathe it. It should be a part of your innate desire and curiosity to learn new things about it and be just daydreaming about the topic. Now, there must be a balance and reasonableness of course, but that’s one of the necessary but not sufficient factors for success in a field.
You also have to be sure you haven’t overshot or undershot your potential now, and five year from now. Sometimes being really, really successful at something means you’re undershooting. Is there potential for you to expand? Will it take too long to do so, is the company structure too rigid? Yes, sometimes being too good at something is a problem–do you see market forces going the right direction to open your own business and carve out a niche, would you want to?
Maturing wireless market
Here we come to the question of wireless communications. I suppose we could lump broadcasting on the edge since I’ve done some of that too. With regard to carrying a pager and driving long distances across state in the middle of the night, broadcasting is certainly similar to two-way radio voice/data communications work. Wireless internet is a vital part of business infrastructure too. Even though most businesses keep dialup as a backup, that trend is going away and also most don’t want to pay for full redundant backup.
Mature fields commoditize
The universal problem in wireless is that when things become common they become commoditized, fungible, replaceable with the lowest bidder. Either you have to offer white glove service, or someone in the next city will. As a sole proprietor, people call me when the chips are down, and I hop and skip across the state. People that are at this level of innate ability are not common in this field. The ones that are, are the business owners. Yes, guys very successful but ever at the whim of the pager.
When to make your exit
I’m going to keep a toe in both worlds–I can’t turn away from this amount of money, particularly when I can maintain a little control over how many clients I take on. But I feel there are more dignified, more challenging positions that will make me actually grow a lot more. Right now I am challenged, but it is once again the lonely life of the youngest one in the room by 20 years, which implies a few things.
- the field is commoditizing (not dying, because everyone has internet)
- I will have yet again more clients than I can handle, but will be fighting for lowest price
- Given #2, hard to attract talented employees that are internet/computer savvy along with full electronics savvy
- Re #2, incumbents in the field may move, providing a “good-enough” solution that beats out the best solution
Good enough always wins, but will leave me undifferentiated in a practical sense. As a licensed engineer, I would have that voice of authority differentiating from the crowd. I could follow my life-long love of complex, one-off or few-off solutions that aren’t fungible talent. The problems I’ve seen, where people will just throw money at me are the ones where even big equipment vendors don’t have the flexibility to offer them. I would be the “middleware” understanding how the big parts can flow together in new ways. Or, I would provide a complete novel solution, eliminating complex analog/hardware solutions using ever more powerful embedded computing systems.
Giving back via education
These cash cows I have now will not last forever. The real underlying fear is yes I can foresee “retiring” at thirty, but I don’t think that would transfer as well to a major city’s standards. Certainly not NYC. I think it would be highly risky to unplug here and plop down on the East Coast to try this same field–with the far larger population, chances are good there are more unicorns there who will make me un-unique. That’s why I just have to get the degree–have the ability to continue forward into a doctorate and teaching, or a master’s/doctorate and consulting. Something to ensure I would have the cash flow to ensure the cash pile doesn’t get drained down too fast. And I want to find a way to reach out students, help them find their way. Help them realize, if they love what they do and have the aptitude, nothing need stand in their way, particularly in the internet age.