Why I Quit My Job to Design iPhone Apps

Note from Caleb: This is a cubicle renegade escape story by Nathan Barry, a friend and an accomplished iOS designer who builds beautiful apps that matter. My son Oliver was born September 20th, 2011.

Two weeks later I quit my software design job I’d been working at for almost three years.

Many people told me I was crazy for leaving a salaried position, especially now that I had so much more responsibility at home. But friends who knew me better just smiled, knowing that me working for myself was inevitable.

A desire to be in control is the main reason I wanted to work for myself. Control of my time and control of the projects I worked on.

Requesting time off has always irritated me. Having to fill out a form to ask permission to be away from the office for a few days doesn’t seem right. There were also plenty times I had to implement someone else’s poor design ideas for software that I didn’t have any connection with.

The only way I saw that I could truly own my time was to become self employed.

You see, I like to design and build software. More importantly, I like to design software that improves the life of the person using it. Sounds like a lofty goal, right? Well, let me introduce two of my apps. My first iPad application is called OneVoice and it helps anyone with a speech disability communicate. For example a child with non-verbal autism, who normally doesn’t speak at all, would use OneVoice to communicate with his family.


Discovering a Sense of Humor

OneVoice has a series of categories on the left, which display a grid of words and phrases (each with an icon or image) on the right. When a phrase is tapped the device uses synthesized speech to verbalize the phrase. To give you an idea how powerful this simple concept is I’d like you to hear a story from Shellie.

Shellie’s daughter Leah has Autism and does not speak at all, at least not in the traditional sense. Here’s an email I recently received from Shelly:

“I never knew Leah had any sense of humor at all and the first time I asked her what she wanted for dinner and she ‘said’ crayons and laughed at herself I could have cried!”

Over the years I’ve designed software to make all kinds of tasks easier and more efficient. Often making considerable amounts of money for the companies I worked for. But that seems insignificant when compared with helping a parent to discover their child’s sense of humor.

Staying Committed

The next app I’d like to introduce you to is called Commit and I made it for myself. When I was in school as a kid I remember telling my mom I didn’t need to practice writing any more since I was never going to be a writer. I’m not sure if I could be more wrong.

Commit App

In the last 3 months I have written a book, a chapter for someone else’s book, many posts for my blog, and at least a dozen guest posts for other sites. Commit is the app that kept me motivated and on track.

The idea behind Commit comes from a philosophy called “don’t break the chain.” The idea is that you get a big wall calendar and make a commitment to do something every day. It could be anything from writing to exercise.

Mine is “I will write 1,000 words every day.”

Each day that you complete your commitment you cross off a day with a big red x. After 5 or 6 days in a row you’ve built a chain of Xs, now the motivation is to not break the chain by missing a day. As you continue to be successful your chain gets longer. If you’ve written 1,000 words a day for 39 days in a row, then you will be more likely to continue writing in order to not break the chain.

Commit is that concept, but with an iPhone app instead of a wall calendar. You can set reminders (“Were you going to write 1,000 words today?”) to show up at a certain time if you haven’t completed the task already for the day. Tons of people use it every day.

Many people tell me they have a love/hate relationship with it. On one hand they love that it keeps them on track, but on the other it forces them to keep their commitments when they feel lazy.

Using Commit everyday has changed my approach to writing, helped me to stay focused, and significantly improved my work life. Writing was something I never thought I would do, but now I sit down and write 1,000 words every morning.

Why I Left

I went from designing software for large companies, where I never really got to see results, to being able to hear personal stories and feedback every day from people who’s lives were improved by what I created.

These pursuits haven’t lead to me becoming fabulously wealthy. In fact, I’ve made less money since quitting my job and working on my own. But it allows me to work quickly and build exactly what I want to build.

The other day, after starting to get burnt out on a project, I told my wife I didn’t want to work anymore today (it was 2:00 in the afternoon). She simply replied, “then don’t.”

In the last year I’ve spent at least 10 weeks traveling, including a 5 week trip through Europe. All without having to fill out a time off request. That makes me really happy. I love being in control of my time.

The freedom to work on what I want, when and where I want is a wonderful thing. Work still has to get done and money still needs to be made, but the flexibility to do it on my own terms is a wonderful thing.

Oh, and most importantly I work from home, so I’ve spend so much more time with little Oliver.


Nathan Barry is the author of The App Design Handbook, a complete guide to creating beautiful iOS applications. He also writes about design and business at NathanBarry.com.