Working for your self

So today, I’m filling in my self-employed tax return for the last tax year. I’ve never used the website for doing this before, and in general I’m quite impressed. However, it had two simple but major usability flaws, both of which nearly stopped me using the service at all.

  • The address doesn’t work at all, it gives an error. You have to remember to type in the www, as in Luckily, a friend figured this out for me.
  • When you’ve registered with the gateway, it doesn’t tell you what to do next to get to the form. There is no link from the gateway, even though it lists that you are enrolled for self-assessment online. You have to go to and log in using the gateway user id and password. I had to ring a customer support helpline to find this out.

There are lessons here in both attention to detail, and in how large corporate bodies can make fatal mistakes. Apparently there used to be a link from the gateway to the HMRC form, but someone got rid of it. The only reason I can imagine for this is some internal bureaucracy failure caused because the gateway is run by different people to the tax office. But who knows.

Meanwhile, you might like to read about Freesteel. This is important software, the stuff that turns virtual products designed in the memory of a computer into detailed movements for a drill to cut moulds and stamps out of metal blocks. Nearly everything you use, from car bodywork and mobile phone cases to wheelbarrows and plastic telephones, is now made like this.

When I first moved to Cambridge, I used to code Machining Stategist at a company called NC Graphics. Since then there is a dramatic international story of love, betrayal, hope, tragedy and triply forking software. You can read Julian’s turbulant account of Machining Strategist history (scroll down to History) over at the Freesteel site. It’s also on the topic of being self employed.

OK, maybe I lied about the tragedy. But there’s definitely love, hope and betrayal in there.

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