Episode 41 — Going Solo

SophiKravitzGuest Sophi Kravitz helps us understand some of the issues involved with starting a one-person consulting firm.

  • Jeff started out on his own in 1994, but had a rocky beginning before landing on his feet.
  • Carmen fears that, left to his own devices, he would spend his days watching Seinfeld reruns.
  • Our guest, Sophi Kravitz, runs her own business at MIX-E, LLC, where she consults in electrical engineering and product market analysis.
  • One of Sophi’s projects was recently featured on Hack A Day.
  • Both Carmen and Sophi contributed articles to the Engineer Blogs website a few years back.
  • Sophi’s has a blog at SuperGreenDot.com, where she interviews people who have successfully left the corporate life to head out on their own.
  • She also has a work site blog, where she talks about projects she is working on and conferences she has attended.
  • Our guest became frustrated working on projects she wasn’t passionate about, so she struck out on her own in 2012.
  • Before jumping out on her own, Sophi spent two years in a sales engineering job that allowed her to earn some decent money while working three days a week.
  • A freelancer is someone who is not committed to a particular employer on a long-term basis.
  • While scoping out the consulting business, Sophi looked for short-term engineering gigs on craigslist. She found few opportunities that were worth her while.
  • Sophi shows a great deal of compassion in listening to the ideas of others, despite having been pitched on a few “perpetual motion” machines.
  • Because she lost money each time she entered a “fixed cost” bid, our guest now charges on an hourly basis.
  • Jeff suggests breaking projects into smaller phases when possible; Sophi notes that she is now asking for money to perform an initial “research” phase on larger projects.
  • Sophi splits her time between working at clients’ sites, and working out of her own “lab.”
  • When she’s looking for technical support, Sophi often relies on the Toymakers IRC.
  • It’s important to keep current on tools and techniques, and to maintain industry contacts, even while engaged in a long-term consulting job.
  • Although she prefers designing electronic circuits, Sophi is often hired to power up industrial machinery or write PLC (programmable logic controller) programs.
  • While Sophi and Jeff wonder if there is any money to be made bidding on jobs through websites like Elance and Guru, other engineers have found ways to earn a living through online contracts.
  • Our guest notes a website, FlexJobs, that seeks to match job-seekers with part-time and freelance gigs.
  • When trying to determine how much to charge for her consulting services, Sophi turned to advice from Dave Young (prior guest on this podcast) and electronics hobbyist Ben Heckendorn.
  • Jeff suggests that most consultants can bill for only about 1,000 hour annually. So if you want $80K in income, charge $80 per hour. Remember, however, you need to cover expenses out of that amount. So you may need to charge $100 per hour if you wish to maintain an income that is equivalent to a full-time job paying $80K in salary.
  • From the interviews she conducted on her Super Green Dot blog, Sophi was surprised to learn how many people struck out on their own without an emergency fund in place.
  • Jeff notes that employer-paid healthcare in the US results largely because of IRS tax rulings in the 1940s allowing companies to offer increased healthcare benefits even though wages were frozen due to the economic hardships of World War II.
  • Sophi see engineering work moving slowly towards the freelance model, although she believes companies will always need to retain a certain number of engineers who understand the firm’s underlying technology.
  • Electrical engineers Brian, Carmen, and Sophi start musing about electronics design software… and your humble scribe, a mechanical engineer, started to zone out. Something about products from Cadence, Mentor, and Altium were mentioned… I think. If you’re interested, you’ll just have to listen for yourself!
  • It’s our guest’s opinion that gaining experience is more important than making money early in one’s career.
  • Jeff reports participating in a recent Big Beacon twitter chat, and leading a discussion about “why engineers should adopt an artistic mindset.” Since Sophi started as a sculptor, she is able to make an accurate comparison between the work of an engineer, and that of an artist.
  • Sophi’s largest sculpture was a 10 foot diameter fake birthday cake she created in 1998. It was displayed in the gusty winds of Fire Island the following year.
  • Attending a conference in California, Jeff is urged by his roommate to wrap up the podcast so that they can go fetch an In-N-Out burger. (It was quite good!) Carmen started rattling off items from the not-so-secret In-N-Out “secret menu.”
  • You can reach Sophi through her website, or follow her on Twitter.

Thanks to Sophi Kravitz for allowing us to use the photo of her and her HeartBeat Boombox as the image for this episode. Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson

One thought on “Episode 41 — Going Solo”

  1. It was cool hearing about Sophie’s adventures. I’m a freelancer too. I would love to enagage the EC panel on related topics such as going solo in an engineering community where is normal to pay $40-50k per year in software licenses and computational resources. I relied on the open source community to circumvent these problems (and I could talk for hours about this), but I am interested in what others do to get around this.

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