Productive Jealousy – Is There is Enough Sun for Everyone to Tan?

One of my all-time favorite articles is Productive Jealousy on Signal vs. Noise.  David Heinemeier Hansson insists that jealousy need not be an angry or destructive emotion.  I tend to agree with him – in fact, negative emotions are my primary motivation.  I suspect that there is a conception out there that in order to be productive and successful you have to be all sunshine & rainbows, hoping to make the world a better place.  In truth, just as much productivity is fueled by “I’ll show you!” as it is by “Gee, guys, isn’t this spiffy?” Keep Reading…

Monday Consulting Questions: The Bus Test and “I Could Do This Myself, But…”

Q.  How do you handle your workload when your key man is out/unavailable?

A. Cogeian Systems is basically my vision of how software development ought to be done, implemented by my team.  In some ways, I am the key man.  In other ways, my team members – every one of them – are the key men.  In a small firm, you don’t have the ability to pull in an anonymous dev from another department to cover a staffing shortfall in your own.  We are a small team; we thrive together and we suffer together.

That said, in any firm there’s always at least one project going on that is significantly more vital to the firm than any other project.  Keep Reading…

Withdrawing From the Echo Chamber and Clearing Mental Clutter

Updated 14 April 2016

I think I read too many blogs, follow too many people on social media, and get news from too many sources.  Perhaps you do, too

I know that Scoble is legendary for keeping up on umpteen jillion blogs, but even with the aid of feedreaders (are those still a thing?), it’s daunting.  And there’s just no payoff.  In fact, I am beginning to believe that being too connected to too many inputs actually is a negative.

There is a limited amount of overhead that the human brain can sustain and still be highly productive
I believe that every feed I follow, every blog I read regularly, every bit of connected-ness I currently have to various destinations in the tech echo chamber is like a lead weight, slowing down my brain.  Furthermore, I’m not convinced that being this highly connected to the industry is even healthy.

There’s too much focus on what the other guy is doing. Which designer has a clever CSS hack this week? Which company is launching what web app with no revenue model this week? Which Microsoft/Google/Apple technology (which obsoletes some other Microsoft/Google/Apple technology) is on the drawing board this week? Who’s making a billion? Who’s losing a billion? Who has mind share? Who’s leveraging the Long Tail? Who’s reached the Tipping Point…ugh.  It’s as though everyone who writes or reads a tech blog have all actually agreed to bullshit one another, and act like it’s all perfectly normal.

Guess what?  I don’t care about your web app.  I don’t care about the latest developer technology MS is working on.  I don’t care about the 19-year old whiz kid who just sold to Yahoo for a billion.  But by being so plugged in, I have sometimes managed to fool myself into thinking I care about these things.

What I do care about – passionately – is profitably solving problems for my clients.  Being overly connected distracts me from that. So, I’m going to opt out for a while.  Clear out the awareness baggage.  De-program.  And, thankfully, focus my mental bandwidth on how to continue effectively and profitably solving client problems.

I’ll continue updating my blog, of course.  And I’ll still be (somewhat less) active on Twitter; in fact, if you haven’t noticed, I recently reduced my following count by almost half. Being less connected will probably mean that what I write will be more informed by what’s happening out in the real world where software is used to keep real businesses running than by the online chatterbox where the focus is on who’s doing what.

Are you feeling like it is time to clear out the attention clutter and cut back on your connected-ness to the blogosphere too?

The same goes for the hundreds of items in my bookmarks.  All that takes up mental bandwidth, keeping the idea in the back of my head that all those bookmarks are there for a reason and that I have this hovering obligation to go back and look at them again and possibly DO something.  But really, those bookmarks just sit.  So I deleted every single one.  Now, I’m going to have to re-create a few, because they were for things like client websites and such, but the point is that if it doesn’t get re-created during the course of my work, then I didn’t really need it.

I’m also deactivating my accounts with online forums and 2nd-tier social networking sites (Snapchat is a good example; I tried it & it didn’t have anything I want, so now it’s gone).  Again, just having those accounts forms a sort of mental commitment to visit them, keep up with people, keep abreast of the latest, and feel obligated to DO something that doesn’t necessarily help my productivity.

Basically, if it’s not helping me to secure or complete projects for my company, if it’s not helping me to make money, if it’s not improving my life in some way, it’s mental clutter and it’s out.

So You Want To Be A Software Consultant?

So you want to be a software consultant, eh? I hear “how do I get into the business” questions a lot. I suppose I could save this for my next Monday Consulting Questions article, but I think I’d like to finish the month with a bang. So, let’s talk about it today.

There are several things I think you need in order to launch and have some assurance of success. Note that this list is by no means conclusive, it only represents the things that occurred to me in the shower this morning.

Experience. Ideally, you’ve been developing software professionally for at least 5 years, with steadily increasing responsibilities. You want 5 actual years of experience and growth, not 1 year of experience repeated 5 times over. But wait, there’s more. Hopefully you’ve also been able to spend about a year as a Team Lead or in some other position that lets you work at a slightly higher level, learning to manage people and allocate workloads. It would be super super ideal if you managed to get some project management experience too. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that when launching a software consulting business, being a good project manager will be at least as important as being a good coder. If you don’t have any project management skills, be prepared to learn some.

Humility. Just because you’ve been a dev for 5+ years does NOT mean that you know it all. Preferably you’ve made some serious blunders, learned from them, and done better the next time a similar situation presented itself. If you’ve never fallen on your face, odds are you haven’t attempted anything worth a damn.

Wisdom. Read these: Peopleware; The Mythical Man Month; Code Complete; Under Pressure and On Time Project Planning, Scheduling and Control; Slack; The Art of the Start; Book Yourself Solid; Million Dollar Consulting; Influence; The Time Trap; The E-Myth. Don’t argue, just read them. Read them all. Then read them all again. You don’t have to agree with them or even do what they tell you to do. But you do need to read them.

Contacts. When I say contacts, I’m talking not just about people you know, I’m talking about people you know who can be of help to you in launching your firm. People who can hire you for project work. People who can introduce you to other people who can hire you for project work. People who like you. People who want to see you succeed. People who will benefit if you succeed.

Clients. I can hear you already: “Well, DUH, Christopher.” But bear in mind that when I say you need clients, I’m saying that you need clients BEFORE you launch your firm. Don’t form a corporation, rent an office, buy computers with fancy 20" dual LCDs, hire a staff of 5, and then try to find clients. Oh no. Get yourself a few projects first, THEN launch. Deposits for several projects can make for decent start-up money. Work your network of contacts to find your first clients before launching your business.

Money. I’ve heard it said that professional services (like software consulting) are the easiest type of business to bootstrap. This may or may not be true. There’s another saying, though, one that I particularly like: always be prepared. Try to have as much of a financial cushion as possible before you launch.

A Team. Now, this is going to be controversial, since there are plenty of successful one-man operators. In fact, I used to be one, and even argued with Joel Spolsky about it. But the fact of the matter is, the sooner you are able to start delegating work, the sooner you can spend time working ON your business instead of working IN your business (kudos to The E-Myth for that saying). Working ON your business means you are building a system for doing business that will work even if you’re not actually billing. Basically, having a team means that you don’t have to do ALL the billable work. Starting out you will likely not be able to hire employees full time. Find some trustworthy subcontractors (former co-workers seem to work best) to begin with and make actual hires once you’ve fattened up.

Nerves of Steel. Launching a business of any kind is tough. When you’re just starting out, you can’t just code. You need to do your own books, you need to sell, you need to write the proposals, take out the garbage, negotiate the lease on your office, pay the bills, serve as technical support, beg your creditors for extra time to pay bills, and oh yeah, you might even write a little code from time to time. Clients will abuse you, they will slow-pay you, they will change their minds twice daily about what it is they really want you to be building. Cash flow will ebb and flow sharply sometimes. You may experience the rush of feeling like you hit the lottery one month, then the despair of feeling near bankruptcy the next. Of course, all of this can be managed, but you probably won’t know how at first. If uncertainty is emotionally difficult for you to deal with, re-think launching a firm.

I’m sure there is more to launching a software consulting firm than what I’ve laid out here. In fact, I know there is. However, I’m not going to be able to think of it all in one sitting; it’s a strange and varied universe we live in, and there are plenty of things that can make your consulting experience very unique.

If you would like to suggest additional requisites that belong on this list, go ahead and leave a comment.

Do Your Clients Ever Make You Furious?

If so, I offer a free 10-day e-mail course that can help you resolve exactly the kind of conflict that’s outlined in the article above.  Paying late, not responding to emails, arguing about art direction…enough is enough.  Sign up for Conquering Client Conflict today and learn to make more money & get more respect by squashing these conflicts.