I was working 60 hours a week on my day job and 20 hours on my side gig. Although my wife was supportive of the extra pay, she was getting annoyed with me staying up late and not helping out around the house at all.
I only had time to code and sleep – with an emphasis on the coding. Frankly, I was becoming irritable at work and home.
If I wasn’t snapping at my wife or my coworkers, I was pounding Diet Cokes trying to stay awake. I’m sure the extra caffeine didn’t help with my attitude.
One night I was working late at the office and Stan snuck up behind me. (I really should have had a mirror or something because I never saw people approach me from behind.)
“You are burning the midnight oil tonight. How’s the inventory management subroutine coming along?”
My heart started racing as I quickly switched from my side work code to my day job code and spun around to face Stan.
“Uh, it’s getting there. I’ll have it ready in time.”
Stan looked over my shoulder and said with a questioning expression, “Hey, what is that. Ah, I see what you are up to!”
As I searched in panic for an explanation through my sleep-deprived mind I stammered “I can explain. I’m just helping a friend and…”
Stan cut me off. “What, helping a friend research a Palm Pilot? Come on, I know you want one. No big deal. Just don’t get too distracted – you have a deadline to meet.”
Confused, I spun around to look at my laptop screen. I had not flipped back to code, but accidentally switched to my browser where there was a picture of a Pilot. I had been reading a review and left the page up.
As Stan turned to leave for the night he said “Keep up the good work and thanks for working so late.”
Now I felt guilty – and relieved. Maybe Tyler was right. What if Stan had seen what I was up to?
That night driving home I came very close to falling asleep at the wheel, steering back into my lane just in time to avoid an oncoming semi.
I was, finally, simply exhausted.
Fortunately both coding projects were done by the end of that same week. I collected my moonlighting check that Friday, slept most of the weekend, and thanked my wife with wine and chocolate. The next week we had a project review with Stan and the team.
Oh, I forgot to mention I picked up my Palm Pilot!
Before the meeting started I was showing off the stylus and Graffiti handwriting recognition to Tyler. When Stan walked in and saw my Pilot, he said. “I see you have your new toy. I wish you had as much enthusiasm for testing as you do for that thing because the results from the quality assurance team are in and it isn’t pretty.”
My heart sank. Tyler pushed his chair away from me and looked down, not wanting to be guilty by association. Stan went over all the stupid mistakes I had made.
“I don’t understand it. Your quality is usually top notch. Tyler – please spend time with him to make sure the next version doesn’t suck as much as this one.”
As Stan and the team filed out of the conference room, Tyler lingered behind with me.
I lifted my head from my hands and looked at Tyler. He was smiling.
“Well, not really. But bad enough.” I said.
Tyler said, “That’s alright, let’s get your code fixed and then, how about you and me spend some time trying to figure out how to integrate that toy of yours with inventory management?”
I yawned and said, “Nah, I’m done with side work – especially if I’m not getting paid extra for it. You can borrow my Pilot and code away.”
Tyler went on to write an amazing integrated application and later made big bucks as a PDA software developer.
Is moonlighting worth the risks? It depends. I learned that the short-term gain of moonlighting isn’t always worth it in the long run.
If there are advancement opportunities in your company, then spending more time on R&D, like Tyler did, could result in more pay over time. And it’s important not to be naïve about the risks involved and to understand the consequences, especially working on company time or equipment.
If you do decide to moonlight, then don’t let your work quality suffer and don’t let your productivity slip – and don’t crash into a semi. You’ll reduce your risk of being busted and can buy a truly shiny new iPad 3.