Racking Up the Hours

Racking Up the Hours


computer work

Article written for Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) Schoolguides website, January 14, 2009

In Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book,¬†Outliers, he talks about the 10,000-Hour Rule. The rule estimates that it takes 10,000 hours of studying and working at a certain skill before someone becomes really good at it. After 10,000 hours learning and writing software, Bill Gates had enough knowledge, experience and confidence to start Microsoft. After 10,000 hours of practicing and writing music, Mozart began to compose his most famous work. After 10,000 hours of playing gigs, the Beatles conquered America.

10,000 hours is about 4 hours a day, for ten years. It may seem like a lot of time, but I thought about how many hours I watch TV every day. Or talk on the phone. Or do research on Google and Wikipedia. Or actively participate on Facebook, MySpace, Yelp, and Twitter. All those hours spent that I’m not even aware of. All those hours spent, and in ten years, I will have had enough experience and knowledge to maybe make some serious money from any of these things that I do, not even thinking about it.

I got hooked on the Internet in 1994, making my first web site after spending two straight weeks, 10-16 hours a day, learning HTML. Web sites fascinated me so much that I didn’t mind putting in the hours back then. Two weeks of this adds up to more than 200 hours. And it went by like a blur. After a month of absolutely geeking out and creating and tweaking web pages, I got an e-mail from a company that saw my web site. Within a week, they hired me to create their web site, working out of my house. I’ve been self-employed ever since.

It’s now more than fourteen years later, and I’m still making web sites. Somewhere along the way during those fourteen years, a company asked me to research and write words for their web site, and another company did the same, and another, to the point where I was spending half my time writing original content and the other half making web sites. Also along the way, a company asked me to write little slogans to advertise their product, and another company asked me to make business cards. Another company asked me to sit down with their employees and teach them how the Internet works, and yet another asked me to sketch some logos for them. It seems every day gave me another opportunity to learn something new, to geek out and get my hands dirty in another aspect of the business world.

And it went by like a blur.

I sometimes ask myself, How did I get here? I think the answer is I rarely turned down an opportunity to do something besides what I originally set out to do. I never limited myself to just making web sites. If other things were asked of me, I usually checked them out to see if they were things that I might like doing, that I might eventually get really good at doing. I made sure to enjoy the experience, not thinking about it so much as “I gotta do this because of money,” but more as “Heck, this might be really fun to try.”

And things keep going by like a blur. And I am able, knock on wood, to stay in business. By now, I figure I’ve spent 10,000 hours honing at least three, maybe four different skills. That’s three or four different jobs that I can be really good at.

Looking back, I wonder if I would be in this position if I hadn’t put in those crazy hours at the very beginning. But I’m glad I did.