Ambitious people have ideas. And when ambitious people find out that I’m a programmer they often ask if I want to help them build their ideas. The answer is almost always “No” but not for the reasons you think.
A lot of people in the startup scene around here are multi-taskers. They work for a startup (or three), and bootstrap their own startup in their free time. I’m not sure if this is just the personality of entrepreneurs or if these people are trying to throw out as many ideas as possible on the chance that one will be a hit and net them millions. But in general, people in startups work really hard.
I don’t mind helping people build their ideas (especially at market rate.) But most of the time the idea involves some variation on a web app. Maybe there’s a mobile component thrown in there. That’s fine. The problem is that I’ve been making web apps my entire professional life. I learned to program so that I could make my website more dynamic. Web apps are not particularly interesting to me anymore. Any desire I have to work on them is fulfilled by my day job.
It’s not a good idea
Don’t take it personally, but I don’t think anything is a good idea. The caveat here is that I mean anything. Twitter? Dumb. Foursquare? Idiotic. If you had approached me with the idea for Facebook, I would have said “that’s stupid, people can already do that with Myspace” and walked away. I am a terrible judge of ideas.
The few ideas that I do consider good are insanely ambitious. Take SpaceX for example. Here is a company doing things that only First World governments with paranoid defense budgets have done before. That’s brilliant. So if you come up with the next SpaceX, give me a call.
I’m not sure if this is strictly America, or more capitalism in general, but a lot of people seem to think working and being busy are ends unto themselves. We think that if you’re not working, you’re being lazy. I think there is a difference between being busy and being productive. I solve a surprising number of problems in the shower. It’s the nature of thought work. Sometimes the quickest way to figure out a problem is to stop thinking about it - you can’t go HAM all of the time otherwise you burn out. So I put in my hours, but I’m not afraid to call it a day.
That doesn’t mean I don’t program in my free time. I love learning and am always trying out new programs/languages. At this moment in time I’m working through Learn C the Hard Way, The Elements of Computing Systems and Learn You a Haskell for Great Good. Learning for me means trying out things I’ve never done before. That’s exciting. Making yet another web app…not so much.