Geoff Chan

Geoff Chan ·

· 7 min read

A theme that I've noticed in my life lately is the idea of tradeoffs. Saying yes to one thing is saying no to another. We only have a finite amount of time in the span of our life, so what we decide to do with it matters. Here are a few of the tradeoffs I'm currently experiencing:

Development vs. Marketing/Business Development

Today marks 11 years since I started my first job as a front-end developer. For 9 years I was focused on becoming the best developer I could be. My focus changed when I realized that Stack Five needed someone to bring in new projects or we wouldn't survive. I started shifting my focus towards "business development", something I had no experience in previously. Long story short, I managed to get us enough projects to survive 2020, and I have been on the journey of learning my new role at Stack Five ever since. Do I miss being a developer? Definitely. But am I happy with the tradeoffs? 100%. I feel like a newbie again. I'm learning so many new things every day, especially this year as I plan our new marketing initiatives. I'm taking the lessons I learned from being a developer and applying them to my new job. And since I was a developer, I can shape and mold Stack Five so that it is a place where other developers can thrive and hopefully find their dream jobs!

Remote vs. In-person

For years I was the biggest proponent of remote work. I've worked from home about 8 years out of my 11-year career. I won't rehash all of the commonly discussed pros and cons. You can easily Google it and find 77,800,000 articles explaining that. I will say that my current opinion on remote work is that you will have to accept the tradeoffs and the challenges that come with it. It is extra hard to build a team and a culture remotely. It's hard to get people out of their shells when they are new and to find ways to truly connect with them. There were so many great relationships I made over the years that were born out of proximity rather than compatibility, and I am better because of them. Don't get me wrong, I love that our team is fully remote and that I have zero commute. But I am also growing increasingly aware of the tradeoffs that I've had to make as a result of making Stack Five fully remote.

Work Time vs Family Time

I grew up in an immigrant family with a dad whose sole responsibility was to make sure that we didn't starve and had shelter over our heads. The role model that I had of a good husband and father was one that worked all the time, even on the weekends. I had to redefine my understanding of a good husband and father when I got married and had kids. When I first started Stack Five, I had a tremendous amount of guilt and fear because I always thought I wasn't working enough. It felt like the weight of my family's future was on my shoulders and the only thing I could do to give it a better chance was to put more time into my work. But this isn't what my family needed. They needed me, not Stack Five, so we figured it out together. My kids are still relatively young (ages 8, 6, and 4) and I want to be there while they still want to hang out with me.

It was mostly a series of different events, observations, and reflections that shaped the way that I think about my work and life. But there was one singular event that pushed me to think hard about my life. My good friend Andre died when he was only 25 years old. Life is too short.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice.

Steve Jobs

Profit vs. Growth

Your first thoughts might be that I'm referring to money, but I'm usually thinking about this tradeoff in the context of both time and money. The simplest example is with my business Stack Five. Do we make more money for ourselves (profit) or reinvest it in our team, new initiatives, and our culture (growth). Luckily, this one is an easy answer. I will always pick growth because it also means profit for everyone on our team and the company. I've worked at many companies where their leaders pick profit over growth and the result is that usually, the people end up paying for it (think high-stress environments, expected overtime, or dead-end jobs).

Another instance where I struggle with profit and growth is when investing time into learning to do something new (growth) versus taking back time (profit) and paying someone else to do it. This is a really tough one for me because I love to learn, but my time is so limited. My approach has been to treat each decision as a separate and unique case.

In some cases, the tradeoffs are very one-sided, like when I had to learn business development for Stack Five. Paying someone to do that for us would be too high of a cost and learning this skill is a core part of running our business. Another one-sided example is deciding to cut off work at 5pm every day so I can spend time with my kids. In other cases, the tradeoff is neutral, like when I am deciding whether to paint our walls. Painting is something I can do and is a valuable money-saving skill to learn (growth), but I could also take back my time (profit) and pay someone else to do it.

However, most of the time, I run into a situation where the tradeoff is only slightly unequally balanced. This is where I have trouble. For example, when I am planning where to invest my time at work, should I help and get some of the design/development work done for our projects (profit) or should I focus on other parts of the business (growth)? Being partly billable is a common thing for smaller consultancy owners. My dad has owned an exhaust shop for 20 years and he still fills the role of driver, mechanic, or floor manager. But the business couldn't run if he filled these roles all the time. It's about being what your business needs at a given time.

Final Thoughts

Tradeoffs are inevitable for everyone. You make them even when you don't realize it. What's been most important for me is to actively recognize the tradeoffs in my life. That way, I can consider if they are really worth making and fully accept the outcome.

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