“You never know unless you ask,” says Jim Nelson, President and Executive Director of an open source software non-profit organization called Yorba. I laugh because I am asking him a LOT of questions. The sun is shining. We’re drinking delicious New Orleans-inspired iced coffees. Also, I can’t help asking him a lot of questions—Jim is a genuinely interesting guy. He’s the member at NextSpace Union Square who rolls into the space mid-morning with his fedora in-hand, like a character out of Mad Men, who (per the part) attends happy hour religiously and always has an interesting story to share—whether its his adventures road tripping through New Mexico or the years he spent bar tending as an undergrad in North Beach.
Today, life feels good, but in all other respects, and to other people, life may not actually appear that good. Jim’s non-profit is dissolving, and he’s faced now with a major life change. But instead of dwelling on his woes, Jim is focusing on the positive and he has advice for others who may be experiencing similar career upheaval:
- “Dig up all your expertise,” he says. Be creative (and vigilant!) about exploring other career options. For Jim, who studied English as an undergrad and who has an MFA in Creative Writing, this means returning to publishing his work. An author of short stories and a small novel, Jim is no stranger to this field; though this skill may have been lost for a bit in all the programming, and work in open-source software he had been doing at Yorba. Capitalizing on the e-book revolution, Jim found that it was pretty easy to self-publish, as long as you could manage independently promoting your product. So last July, long before the announcement of the end of his company, Jim built a website. He published and sold his e-books on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Nobles, and iTunes. Refining a craft you love isn’t easy, especially when you’re managing a non-profit organization at the same time. Nonetheless, Jim advises everyone to “follow your passion and make it a priority.” “You have to approach your craft with the same seriousness and intention as full-time work,” says Jim. “In terms of writing, it doesn’t just happen; it’s a different process.” Jim took days off and spent his weekends at NextSpace dedicated to his writing. In the long run, this dedication has paid off for him, because now Jim is exploring the idea of authoring more technical computer books (and he’s currently in the talks with potential publishers).
- “Open yourself up to unlikely possibilities.” Jim has two life experiences to testify. The first is bartending as an undergrad in the great city of San Francisco. Jim didn’t have experience behind the bar (except drinking, he laughs), but that first job opened all sorts of opportunities for him – financial and otherwise. The other and more recent example is with Yorba, a company that Jim found randomly on Craigslist. He didn’t have the Linux qualifications that were asked for in the ad, but the company took a chance on him. “Because sometimes,” Jim says, “you don’t need all the hard skills. You just need to be on board with the vision… and that might be enough to land the job.”
- “Think about the people you know and network, network, network.” This is where coworking plays an integral part in career transitions. “At a coworking space like NextSpace,” says Jim, “everyone is a professional. Members have the option to engage or disengage with the community, and people who work at NextSpace understand the norms.” Other spaces, like incubators, can be exclusive to start-ups only, or “filled with venture capitalists who are disinterested in open-source.” Jim complains that coffee shops are “a crapshoot for writing, because you never know what you’re gonna get.” It can get loud, he says, or you’re battling for tables, or it can get really disruptive, especially with writing. Jim doesn’t want to leave NextSpace (he says this genuinely, and not because he’s being willed to say so)—and we don’t want to see him go either. He swears that he’ll return if he goes the remote/contract work route. “I like the quiet space,” he says, “and the separation of home and work… also, the people and atmosphere.” Well, we like you too Jim – and we’ll certainly miss your words of wisdom. – Interview by Charity Yoro, Community Builder @ NextSpace Coworking Union Square You can learn more about Jim and his current projects on his website: http://j-nelson.net/.