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Lee Kelleher
Lee Kelleher

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Lee joined Umbraco HQ

TL;DR, I joined Umbraco HQ, to work on the Bellissima team. Yes, I'm being paid to work on an open-source project. No, Umbraco did not acquire my Contentment package.

Now, the longer story, with plenty of nuance...

At the start of 2022, after 10 years I left my agency, Umbrella. I'd gotten weary with the grind of agency-land, a lack of fulfilment with the quality of work. I wanted to explore a path down a product development route. I'd been developing Umbraco packages for a long time, I enjoyed that type of work and people valued using those packages.

My initial thought was to follow the path that my peers had paved, and go down a commercial Umbraco package route; Matt with Vendr, Kevin with uSync, Richard Soeteman, et al.

Initially, I explored what I could do with my Contentment package. There didn't feel like much I could explore, it was already open-source after all. Some advised that I could close-source it and charge a nominal fee, (e.g. under $50), but looking at the stats (from my own telemetry data), this wouldn't be sustainable for me - especially when compared to a freelance Umbraco developer's day rate.

I gave myself 6 months to come up with an alternative idea (whether it'd be Umbraco related or not). I'd already planned for this when leaving Umbrella, so made sure I was financially stable during this time.

During the 6 months, I'd had many conversations with people within the community, lots of ideas, all with potential, but all suffered from a similar concern - was the Umbraco ecosystem large enough to sustain these ideas. Most of the ideas would require heavy marketing to gain any momentum... and let's face it, I'm hardly a "sales guy".

I had lots of "what ifs", envisaging what a successful commercial Umbraco package look like, and what would be the end goal. I kept come to one of two outcomes, either a decent lifestyle business or being acquired by Umbraco HQ. (Spoiler alert, Vendr was acquired by Umbraco in April 2023.)

Towards the end of my 6 month idea exploration, I'd been chatting a lot with Steve at Gibe about helping them to productise their sports portal solution. I joined Gibe on a freelance contract to build Playmaker. If you attended the Umbraco Spark conference 2023, we did a talk about it; Playmaker: Dances with Wolves.

I felt happier building a product that had long term visions.

After finishing up with Gibe, around end of the summer 2023, I went back to the drawing board, had a few ideas, but nothing I wanted to pursue. The lure of the freelancer day rate was more appealing than bootstrapping a new venture. I slowly resigned myself to going back to agency-land, it wasn't exciting, but gotta feed the kids, hey ho!

I tried to put the feelers out on LinkedIn, got a bombarded with recruitment agents, urgh, it didn't feel like the right move.

Mid-December 2023, I was chatting with a close friend (outside the tech world), who asked me what the heck I was up to and when was I going to sort my shit out. Some days you need to a mate to give you a swift kick up the arse.

Next day, I was chatting with Matt, and the topic of "would I consider working for Umbraco?" came up. Okay, subplot...

Now, I had thought about working for Umbraco HQ a couple of years ago. Andy Butland had recently joined and was looking for an Integrations Developer to join the new DXP team and build all those integration/connector packages. I'd chatted with Andy about it, it was all exciting, but then something strange happened at the same time.

This little fella popped his head over the wall...

"Lee was here"

I got a message from Ilham at Umbraco, asking me about the little character in my Contentment package. Turns out that they'd had a complaint from an Umbraco Cloud customer who thought that my Contentment package had hacked their CMS backoffice. Obviously, this wasn't the case, but Ilham wasn't sure so wanted to check with me first. I'd explained it was along the same lines as Umbraco's manifesto 6.13% crazy, "Happy Caturday" and all that nonsense.

All was fine. Except, I couldn't shake the thought that if I took a job with Umbraco, then I may have felt guilty about this and/or been encouraged to remove such tomfoolery from my package.

At the time, I felt I needed my own autonomy to do what I wanted to do, without repercussion, so I let Andy know that I wouldn't be pursuing the position. I felt a bit rubbish about that, as it would have been cool working with Andy on those packages.

Okay, back to chatting with Matt. I said that I'd drop Filip an email, just to put the feelers out there. In my mind, I was thinking I'd hear back in a few weeks, maybe chat in a few months or maybe at CodeGarden, just see where it goes.

Nope! 4 minutes later, Filip replied, saying he'll check internally. Next day Filip emailed back saying there wasn't any open positions for me, but we should have a call the following day. On the Friday, I have a call with Filip and he offers me a job on the Bellissima team... and can I start immediately, and oh, can I fly out to Denmark the following week to meet the team.

Wow, this was quite the whirlwind. I'd never had a job enquiry turnaround so quickly, it was all very exciting.

After a couple of days back and forth of contract discussions, we were all happy. For those interested, there was zero mention of Contentment being acquired or absorbed into the core CMS. The focus of my work is to help the team deliver the new backoffice for Umbraco 14. I'm sure we'll talk about Contentment (or its features) once v14 has launched.

You may be wondering what changed for me. Am I still concerned about giving up autonomy on my own work? I'm less concerned these days. What became apparent to me since leaving Umbrella is that I was looking for a way to get paid to be an open-source developer, and now that's a reality.

Top comments (3)

davidpeckuk profile image
David Peck

Best of luck to you Lee. I hope it works out.

markusjoha profile image
Markus Johansson

Lovely to read about your story! Thanks for sharing and for being so open! Really happy for you and HQ!

protherj_10 profile image
Jason Prothero

Congrats Lee!