Founders’ Chat with Joe Chang – Turning a hobby into a career

 In General

Founders’ Chat is a series where we share the entrepreneurial journey of founders from the GridAKL start-up hub.  

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  

Or so the, somewhat controversial, saying goes.     

Although many entrepreneurs would argue that even working on your life’s passion has its ups and downs, most would agree that working on something you love gives you a true sense of accomplishment. Many of us still make career decisions based on location, status, opportunity, or profit. Although these are perfectly good reasons to stay in a position you like, it may leave you feeling less fulfilled than doing something you really enjoy.   

For this month’s Founders’ Chat, I spoke to Joe Chang, who left his career in corporate IT after 15 years to pursue what he enjoyed and try his hand at entrepreneurship. Now, Joe’s programme “Kids Game Dev” works with children across Auckland to turn their hobbies and passion into the skills needed in the future workplace.

Here’s Joe’s advice on how you can do the same.   

 

Think about how you spend your time    

For Joe, the first question was simply “What do I really like to do?”. After reaching the height of his corporate IT career, being headhunted, promoted and rewarded generously, Joe realised that he’d reached a point where he was no longer fully enjoying his work.    

“I had been promoted so many times that I wasn’t doing the stuff I enjoyed,” says Joe. That was when he realised what he truly enjoyed doing. “I love playing video games. It was all I loved doing. So I realised, I must come up with a business that lets me play, or make, video games.”     

Turning your hobby into your career can seem daunting at first – but the chances are someone else has already done it, so look to others for inspiration. At GridAKL alone, our entrepreneurs have taken their passion for the environment, for film and TV, or for understanding what makes us tick, and turned their passion into successful business ideas.   

 

Start innovating or “YOLOing” it    

Once you’re clear on what it is you love to do, the next step is to start doing it, or doing more of it.    

“I learned how to make games, and I started posting my work to Facebook.” Joe’s first paid work in video games came as a result of a friend who saw his work on social media and invited him to work on a project. “I just YOLO’d it,” says Joe, a popular term in the game developer community, referring to giving something a go and working it out as you go along.     

Creating a career from what you love to do requires inventiveness and adapting as you learn what works and what doesn’t. Even Joe admits it can be hard to know where to start, “That first week I realised I’d been institutionalised… I had to learn how to become self-sufficient and get started.” The sooner you start doing something, the closer you will be to mastering the skills you need to be successful.   

 

Find out what the world needs  

Although Joe’s journey started with focusing on what he enjoyed doing, he soon began to realise that his skills could help ready kids for working with emerging technologies.     

Joe volunteered to set up a game development session for kids at his son’s school and was overwhelmed by the positive feedback. He spoke to more and more schools and became an established partner of MOTAT where he runs after-school game development classes. He also used the GridAKL space to run holiday classes and trial out new programmes.    

The key for Joe was shifting the perception which many people (especially parents) might have about gaming from something that wastes time to something useful. “People see all this technology around them…and may not know there’s a massive industry out there. There are huge opportunities in emerging technologies that didn’t exist even 5 years ago.”    

When thinking about professionalising your hobby, think about what needs you could address and the impact that could have on people.    

“No one could have imagined the jobs that exist today. It’s important to give kids the skills they will need for the jobs of today. Don’t wait till they get to university. Why not let them learn and grow up with the technologies?”  

  

Stay accountable   

Your peers, role models, friends, and family, will play a vital role in helping you to successfully professionalise your hobby. Listening to their feedback can ground your ideas and keep you focused on your work.     

“Without accountability, it’s easy to drift away. But if you’re reporting back to someone, you’re held accountable.” Joe advises, having had a mentor throughout his experience in setting up 2 businesses.     

Seeking advice from successful entrepreneurs can also reveal golden nuggets of advice, as Joe has found from chatting with his coworkers at GridAKL. He encourages early-stage entrepreneurs not to be intimidated by what others have achieved and finds that people are generally very generous with their time.  

  

This post is part of the Founders’ Chat series at our start-up hub. This post was written by Laura Briggs, part of our Community Team at GridAKL / John Lysaght.