I Design and Build Software that Powers Businesses

January 17th, 2013 4 comments

I’ve been a programmer for hire for a number of years now, and in such a broad field as software development, it’s taken me some time to converge on a succinct description of what it is I do, especially one suitable for non-technical folks.  But I think this sums it up:

I design and build software that powers businesses.

This line contains a lot ambiguous connotations in my field, so in the interest of clarity let’s break this down one key word at a time.

I.  I do the work that I am hired to do.  I don’t sub-contract my part out, I don’t manage the projects for others to  execute.  The projects I am hired for are executed by me, made with the love of a craftsman who values being able to hand over completed work that is a proud expression of what I am capable of.

Design.  Design is often taken to mean the pretty pixels: color schemes, imagery, graphics, styles.  That is not me: I take my aesthetic cues from the established brands that hire me, or the designer my clients are using, or one of the graphic designers that I recommend.  I’m talking about design of user experience, functionality, solutions to the real needs.  This means my clients don’t have to feed me a lengthy spec doc brewed up at great effort & expense, their mere knowing they have a need is enough to get the conversation rolling.  I play the role of collaborator responsible for designing an effective solution.

Build.  I build the software that I am hired to create.  That means I’m intimately familiar with how it’s going to go in terms of time and money.  It also means I can intelligently contribute to the design process, attuned to what will be low hanging fruit and what will be more hassle or expense than it’s worth.

Software.  Interactive stuff that runs on a computer or other smart device.  Generally complicated, usually custom tailored, and always web-based.

Powers.  The software that I design in build plays a vital role in the functioning of businesses that hire me.  Real results depend on it, either as internal tools for operations or public facing software that customers need to use and love.  Clunky or hated or hacked together work is not an option.

Businesses.  Organizations rely on the software I build, my fee is worth every penny and priced well compared to less nimble firms, and with projects starting at $5000 I am generally not suitable for individuals to hire.  I work for businesses where the stakes of successful execution are high.

That’s what I mean when I say I design and build software that powers businesses.

Categories: About Me Tags:

CoachAccountable: My Personal Project

January 16th, 2013 No comments

Yesterday I wrote about personal projects, and I would be remiss not to mention my own.  It’s called CoachAccountable.

It’s a SaaS business, cloud-based software for managing and structuring professional coaching relationships.  Reborn from the ashes of version 1 which was built nearly 4 years ago by me and my partners, it carries forth the pretty pixels created by my fab design partners Lee Robinson and Rob Fieldhouse.  Otherwise, like I detailed about personal projects yesterday, I’m fully responsible for however it’s great and however it’s not.

My work on CoachAccountable is the reason I haven’t posted here in over 7 months1, as that writing bandwidth has been essentially redirected to the CoachAccountable blog.  So if you’re curious what I’ve been up to, there you have it.

If you’re reading this chances are good that the content of online coaching software might not be interesting to you, but the craftsmanship of it might be.  I’m proud to have my signature all over it.

You can see my baby here:  https://www.coachaccountable.com/

Note:

  1. Lordy, has it been that long?  Goodness, how time flies when you’re having fun!
Categories: Projects Tags:

Personal Projects as a Programmer for Hire

January 15th, 2013 No comments

Sometimes the greatest thing about being a programmer for hire is you have virtually unlimited access to a very useful class of service provider.

The employee discount is pretty nice, too.

The notion that software is eating the world is fast becoming a commonplace quotation and is well on it’s way to Cliché Town.

Correspondingly, it’s not that hard to think up any number of sexy and interesting (if not downright useful and/or profitable) projects that might be pursued.  This holds doubly true for those of us well immersed in the craft: we dabble in this stuff all the time, seeing countless examples of what the other smart monkeys are dreaming up this week which affords limitless opportunities for ideas to cross-pollinate.

If you love the programming craft, I think personal projects are pretty natural to pursue, bounded primarily by bandwidth1.  Conversely if you’re only in it for a paycheck, personal projects are never going to be a priority because when free time comes about, well, fuck this programming stuff–I’m on break.

One of the highly instructive things about doing a personal project is that it allows a programmer to experience being completely at the source of a project.  By that I mean: completely in tune with the purpose and vision of why do the project at all, and thus able to effectively navigate the countless micro-decisions about how to create a fits-like-a-glove solution.  It is the complete absence of a Creator/User Gap, and, put into crude terms: it’s a matter of being keenly aware of when something sucks and when it is great.

Why is this instructive?  Because one of the key ways for a programmer for hire to be fantastic is to fully own whatever vision and purpose of the project they are hired for.  If you do, and then you create something you think is great, your client will likely agree.  Dabbling in personal projects gives you the experience of fully owning the vision, and cultivates your ability to do that with other people’s projects.

It’s also a unique opportunity to create and showcase something that you’re really proud of.  Assuming you can muster the whole “doing a substantial chunk of work without a tidy paycheck as reward”, a personal project can be the shining beacon of your ability, with nothing external to detract from it.  Often as servants to the vision of others, our proud work is sometimes blended into projects based on problems which are uninteresting, design which is unflattering, or direction which is lackluster.

By contrast, a personal project need not be compromised any such excuse.  It’s the ultimate act of putting your money where your mouth is insomuch as “Well, if it were up to me…” speak is concerned: it’s all up to you.

All of these properties of personal projects suggest they’re a really good predictor of talent that is worth hiring.  Though this approach may suffer from the occasional false negative (even the greats now and again bang out quick-and-dirty personal projects don’t necessarily impress), a false positive probably never does: you’ll probably never find someone with a great personal project who also turns out to be rubbish.

There’s something great about the notion of personal projects serving as resume pieces: as far as credentials go, they have a much stronger connection to reality than more abstract indicators like, say, certifications or a 4-year degree.  I don’t mean to imply some need to create personal projects as yet another barrier to entry of the field, but when trying to discern talent they make a really nice basis on which to differentiate.

Note:

  1. To be clear, I’m not saying that this is not a trivial bounding by any means: some months the time for personal projects feels strictly like a luxury.  I would never take the absence of personal projects to imply the absence of love of programming.  The presence of personal projects, however, I take always to be an indication of that love.
Categories: Essays Tags:

Advice to a CS Grad: Ego vs. Pride in Programming

June 1st, 2012 1 comment

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to have a spirited discussion via email with a fellow just about to graduate with a CS degree, centered around a few themes here on Programmer for Hire.  Here are excerpts from the email that got us started:

Hey John

I’ve read nine or ten of your essays in about an hour or so time frame, and I find myself wondering “Hmm.. I’m about to graduate college, and this fellow’s got it in his pocket. Seems to do well for himself, et cetera…” but then after I finished reading the last two, “The Free Day” and “What Happens if I Get Hit by a Bus?“, something bothers me, and I can’t really put it into the most perfect set of words, but I’ll try to communicate/ask-about my thought(s). It may read like an “attack” on you… and that might be a fair assessment, but that is not the intention. My goal was to show how your actions perpetuate a mentality that would be difficult to break out of, not to mention degrade the field as it is already.

I’ve noticed that in the field, there are what appears to be hidden .. guidelines (rules, codes, mores?, not sure what word to put here).. that revolve around the ego. Is this true, or is it more an attribute most seen in the “lone programmer” types? I recall reading you “walked out on air” [The Free Day] as though you ‘saved the day’ or something, as if you were the man of the hour, or day, as it were. Then, in the second essay discussing ideas for your hypothetical replacement, the new person should be able to understand your work, because “my code is quite beautiful and well organized, with perfectly uniform indentation and formatting, completely consistent conventions, and immaculately well factored” in the space of just one day.

First off, from my perspective, I don’t even need to synthesize anything from the preceding paragraph. I think it speaks with enough volume to make its own point. Maybe I missed a day in class that covered ego and “why it’s important to have to succeed in this field” because if so, man, a) I’m fucked, but more importantly b) the industry is fucked. If you can think about it [don't want your ego to get in the way here], consider this: you are a tool. It sucks not being on top. Even Zuckerburg isn’t on top. Sure, he’s got numbers to play with and spout around, but in reality. he is a tool. His job is to make other people richer. Sure, you’re probably not at his level in the field, but the idea of you make other people richer still applies. A tool has to be bought, so there is the initial investment [see that key word here?], but its price is paid off [usually] by using it to create things that cost more for those the tool’s services are required, in order for it to be sold for a profit. [hammer -> house -> homeowner]. Your job as a tool is no different. Maybe that’s why you and others in similar environments look to other ways of measuring success, ie: “I had 40 clients last year!” or “My app was downloaded 3400 times last night!”, et cetera.

…  I am not saying you will cause a war to occur… but then again, aren’t you already in one? You purport yourself to be a one-man army, capable of reducing the vision into reality. You may very well be able to do such things [it seems so], but does that mean everyone should then become a one-man army?  …

Alas, I think soon it won’t matter. As I wrap up my studies, I keep finding evidence that I don’t like the field I’ve chosen, even though I’ve been told I’m pretty good. I subsequently tell those who tell me that, that they are incorrect; they are comparing me to their skill in the art, not the greats. Of course the greats don’t become great by staying behind the scenes. They need their name out there, in front of people, part of some discussion or controversy, et cetera. As the days go by, the counter measuring my disgust increments too.

PS: I don’t want you to stop cold-turkey. In fact, continue what you do. This is just some new guy to the real-world trying to understand it [even if from a more... aggressive and accusatory standpoint]. If you read it all, and want to kill me.. or whatever… I do apologize. I am a new-born programmer… but that doesn’t mean I don’t have convictions.

This gave me real pause for thought.  If my tales of programming are leaving members of the next generation of programmers with misgivings and distaste about the field, I’m both surprised and keen to make amends.

Here was my reply:

Hey ____!

First off to be clear: I don’t want to kill you.  On the contrary, I give you serious props and respect for thinking deep on all this enough to question my words and raise some real valid points of contention.  I appreciate your earnest curiosity and willingness to call (what I would label) tentative bullshit on some of the ideas I share on the blog.

So what I’m hearing in your words is a healthy concern that programming (or at least the freelance market of it) is being purported as a massive bout of egos: with both constructive elements (e.g. how bolstered sense of self importance fosters serious productivity) and destructive elements (e.g. if you’re not good enough to follow MY code, you’re fired).

If you’re open to it, I’d like to offer you a different perspective which may help to decrement your disgust counter about your contemplated field as you round out the current phase of your education.

Consider programming as a craft, and you and I as craftsmen.

As craftsmen we may choose to take serious pride in our art and commit ourselves to deepening our practice and grow, learn, and improve in an ongoing basis.  We may also choose to resist our craft while staying in it: complain about it, insist that the other guy’s code is shit, and maintain a tendency to make excuses for difficulties encountered, lack of results, broken promises, etc.  (Since it is pretty well agreed upon that programming is a rich, complicated, and on the whole difficult practice, we have a lot to draw from when making excuses.)

My ethos in my craft is to be the best darn programmer for hire I can be, and to hold myself to a very high standard so that I’m worth every penny to the people who hire me (that entails making big promises, following through with high integrity, and completely owning my fuck ups when the occur).  My aim in blogging is to spread that sort of pride (and the attendant benefit, i.e. charging a lot and doing folks a lot of good for it) to my fellow programmer, and at the same time advise the hiring world that you don’t have to settle for shitty development talent, which the business world by and large seems to think it must (just ask a typical project manager about the frequency of excuses, lack of results, and broken promises they’ve encountered).

Where ego gets nasty (and is apt to rightly increment your disgust) is when it is applied with hypocrisy: when I’m a bumbler but should be tolerated ‘cuz I’ve got lots of really great excuses, while everyone else who missteps is shit and should be fired.

That, I agree, just fucks the industry with a warped terrain of self-deluded talent and hapless hire-ers who don’t know who to trust.

The world in general works better when people (meaning ourselves and the folks around us) take responsibility for results happening, pursue excellence, have pride in doing great work, honor promises, and decline to indulge in excuses, blaming others, and complaints.  (Please look for yourself to see if the preceding sentence sounds about right to you.)  Consider that our craft is no exception.

Side note about being a tool: no one needs to be bummed about being one.  With a deliberate choice of language you can flip the notion of “being a tool” into “being of service to something or someone, which gives purpose”.  Most everyone who earns a living is a tool by the definition you invoke.  Consider that it’s actually not a problem, especially if you enjoy and have pride in what you’re doing.  Success is in the eye of the beholder, and what works well for me in gauging success is the quality of life that my craft affords me to live.

So you’ve got the opportunity to play in this craft.  If you focus your attention on all the prick waving and caustic competitiveness, I reckon it doesn’t look that appealing, especially since you’re apt to fall into that game by the mere act of focusing on it.  (It’s analogous to “keeping up with the Jones’s”: obsess over whatever’s parked in their driveway and you’ve got a problem, ignore the Jones’s and you’re free to do your own thing.)

There is an alternative, and that is to transcend the whole darn thing.  I’m actually not at war with anyone, and you don’t need to be either.  I learn a lot from the greats (my heroes who contribute massively to our craft), pay it forward by contributing to others, and otherwise just do my own thing in a personal pursuit of what to me is excellence.

There’s one last thing I want to leave you with about the field you’ve chosen but are having second thoughts about: it’s actually pretty sweet.  My wife and I are–no joke–moving out of our apartment in two weeks to go on a roughly 15 month world tour.  Everyone says how lucky we are, and though I resist that a little because it’s more a deliberate choice and creation (we didn’t win the lottery), there is truth in how blessed I am to have a job where I can work anywhere in the world with just a laptop and wi-fi.  To me that’s awesome, that’s that quality of life thing I mentioned.  No one’s stats are a threat to that.

I hope at least some of the above is useful to you, and know that I appreciate you sharing your perspective.  As you might guess from the tagline of my blog I’m fascinated by the culture of programmers and how we view and act in the field–the good, bad, and ugly.  So if you’d like I’d be happy to continue this spirited conversation with you on the phone some time–my number is (720) 621-0600.  In any event, all the best as you finish your undergrad studies, and in whatever path you pick for your career.

He and I had one more email volley, and to his follow up remark,

“…you do bring up some food for thought. I’ve thought about the craftsmanship aspect, but I can see a little ego in there still — however, I think with good practice, it can be useful, but held in check.”

I had this to say, which I think sums it up for all of us programmers:

When it comes to ego: it’s up to you to manage it in whatever manner works well for you.  At the end of the day you’ll either come of as an insufferable cock-jockey, a complete delight to work with, or somewhere in between.  Since that reality holds true for you and everyone else, there’s a lot of great incentive and room for folks keeping their egos in check and having our craft be more of a peaceful playground.  It’s the notion that I get to control my part of the equation which makes me pretty optimistic about the state of our field–your mileage may vary, but try that on.

 

Categories: Communication, Essays Tags:

Fun With Vlogging: the “John Larson Speaks” Series

May 27th, 2012 No comments

Last month a good friend of mine, Chris Kissner of ProCntr, invited me to give video blogging a whirl.

Chris has all the stuff for a video session: lights, cameras, backdrops, reflectors, you name it.  He even gave me a little foundation makeup to look my best on camera.

We riffed for about 2 hours on camera about freelancing, web development, client relations, coaching, projects, nerd culture, my craft, and more.  Chris played the interviewer and efficiently probed my brain on the very kinds of thoughts usually featured in written form here on Programmer for Hire, and for the first time ever captured them on video.

The end result is quite nice.  Chris has done a good job of tidying up, editing down, and slicing the footage up into self-contained nuggets.

The first clip is below, in which we talk about transcending the role of web technician and getting into the realm of massive gains realized by strong communication between contractor and client.

Enjoy!

Categories: Business, Communication Tags:

Re. No NDAs: What SHOULD Idea People Do?

April 20th, 2012 13 comments

The other day I got this email:

Hi John,

I just finished reading your post regarding not signing NDAs and I was wondering if you might be willing to share your insight as to how I might want to proceed in something similar (in other words, what is the appropriate way to develop an idea when one does not have the programming skills)?  Everyone wants to protect their ideas, but how do we do so and see them through to fruition rather than be a simple pipe dream?

 

Just like in your post, I have an idea which I can not implement and it is rooted in a couple of ideas/websites.  I do not necessarily consider it original, but I do see an opportunity for it as it has not been executed yet.  I actually want to approach a specific website with this idea as I believe they would be the best fit for this project/expansion.  I believe I fit into your A category; I know they would blow me out of the water if I were to develop my idea independently of them.  My problem is that I am not really sure how to get my foot in the door and be taken seriously, while at the same time protect myself from them just saying “thanks for the idea, the door is over there.”

 

I did appreciate your point on the “90/10″ split.  I have always thought that I would love to get 10% for my idea, but my assumption has been even that would be extremely high considering the web site would be putting up the money and doing all the work (and “the door is over there”).

 

I would greatly appreciate it if you might be able to give me some feedback and pointers as to what I should actually do.

 

Thank you for your time,

After meticulously detailing the ins and outs of NDAs for developers, it’s super interesting to consider things from the other side of the table.  What is a good way for someone in that position to see their idea become something?

I mulled it over a while, and this was my reply:

Hi ______,

Your situation is a tricky one to make work in the way that I think I’m hearing you want it to: getting 10% for putting up the idea and little else.  To folks like me and people running already off-the-ground companies, there is virtually zero appeal to what you are describing, and as you surmise they are apt to indicate to you where the door is.

 

Why?  It’s not that a good idea might not be a net win to execute fully for 90% of the market reward, that could happen.  Though a long shot, it conceivably might make economic sense to do.  The thing is that that premise is predicated upon “they’re all out of ideas, and would love to jump on the chance to do something new”.  That is almost NEVER the case: most businesses, (especially in the web world with its ever evolving and innovating nature), have no shortage whatsoever of ideas and initiatives that they could be pursuing to further and better their business.  Everything they do is a trade off against other conceivably great things they could do, which makes picking something that entails a dormant idea partner highly unattractive.

 

I think the thing is for you then that you’ve gotta bring something more to the table than the idea.  Something about how you are the best person in the world to lead its execution and willing to come on board as part of the team to make you baby fly, or how much secret sauce and tangible development you’ve already done and our willing to share, or the resources or connections you can bring to the party.  Any of these constitute a tremendous boost to the desirability of your offer.

 

If you’re not prepared to do so, there may be to confront the bitter truth that the idea, though great, might not fetch by itself what you think it should fetch in the market.  At which point you can either offer it up gratis and see what happens (and perhaps see what credit and esteem as an innovator it fetches you), or keep it to yourself (either forever and let it die with you, or until the someone else thinks of it independently, or until things shift where you have an stronger opportunity to get it going either solo or in partnership).

 

Whew, I think I just wrote out a flow chart in that last paragraph!  I hope this, while probably not an ideal assessment of your situation, is useful food for thought, and of course it’s just my opinion–certainly not the final say on how things will necessarily go in the real world.

 

Thanks for the shout out, and good luck!
John

Like I said to her, this probably isn’t an ideal assessment: it’s kind of a downer, and I’m stumped to offer up a more constructive take1.

I’m also completely open to being wrong on this one: I’m just one dude, and come from a vantage point that is certainly sensitive to and biased against overvaluation of ideas.

Can anyone help me with this?  What would you offer up as advice to this situation?

Notes:

  1. There is though one facet of my reply that I goofed on: I wrote as though she was hoping for 10%, but to her credit I see now she already knew that was probably too high.  My overall response would be the same for 2%.
Categories: Business Tags:

Why I Won’t Sign Your NDA

April 11th, 2012 51 comments

The other day I got to chatting with a lovely woman who reached out after reading my blog.  She was interested in talking about an idea she had, how she might get it off the ground, and if I might be a good fit into the process in some capacity or another.

“I saw what you did with Spotlight Denver, and I’ve got an idea that could revolutionize the whole deal-of-the-day industry.” is how she broached the subject.

It’s always a treat to chat with folks who have taken a shine to me from my online persona alone, and taking 20 minutes to offer up whatever perspective and insight I can is a welcome break from programming.  I was happy to lend an ear and wax entrepreneurial.

It wasn’t long into the conversation when she mentioned she would soon have a lawyer draw up a Non-Disclosure Agreement regarding the project, at which point I had to interject.

“Ah, let me stop you right there for a sec and let you know this up front: I will almost never sign an NDA.”

She was curious as to why.  This is the explanation I gave her, spread over a couple of distinct but interrelated concepts.

There’s Nothing New Under the Sun

Between a first-time web entrepreneur and one who’s been for years working on many ventures, there is a huge gap in perspective regarding the importance, rarity, and uniqueness of ideas.  Namely if you have this one great idea and that’s your ticket into entrepreneurship, you’re apt to overlook (or simply be unaware of) how interconnected and overlapping innovations are, and correspondingly unable (or unwilling) to see traces of your idea in and around stuff that’s already out there.

This perspective gap is most easy to recognize when someone alludes to their confidential idea as being like [existing web thing] for [some other niche].

“It’s like twitter, but for construction field workers”, “It’s like Yelp, but you only see reviews of people you know, like your Facebook friends”1, “It’s like AirBNB, but for wife-swapping.”

Even a revolutionary take on the deal-of-the-day industry as alluded to by my new friend has, by virtue of being rooted in an established business model, an upper bound on its originality (to say nothing of the likelihood that the million-dollar marketing or biz-dev teams of Groupon, Living Social, etc. have already had and/or explored similar ones).

Ideas are Plentiful, Good Execution is Scarce

It’s a well documented phenomenon how idea-havin’ first timers just need a programmer to bring their vision to life, as though the idea is somehow half the battle (or 90%, as folks like me often get offered sweat equity deals–10% seems to be a popular number).  But if you’ve ever tried to bring even one venture to market, you know perhaps all too well that ideas are just the starting point, and take by far the least work, time, and capital.

Gary Vaynerchuk said it perhaps best in his talk at the 2011 Big Omaha: “ideas are shit, execution’s the game”.  Watch it2.

It’s Not a Good Sign

Say I’m just first meeting you to discuss your idea.  If you prize your idea so much (in relation to everything else it will take in order to make it succeed) that you feel the need to put in legal protections from me, it’s a tell that you don’t have much going for you in this endeavor.

How do I know this?  Because if confidentiality matters to you when talking high-level particulars (meaning anything shy of at least a 10 page business plan), either one of two scenarios apply.

Either (A) you’ll be blown out of the water in the open market soon after you release (this is the case in which the idea really is all it takes, which implies stronger incumbents will easily be able to catch up), or (B) you are vastly underestimating what it takes to execute successfully.

Scenario A rarely ever happens (if ever), but is understandably often feared by those with the newcomer’s perspective described above.  Scenario B is much more common, and should make the thought of tethering oneself to broad and vague legal obligations even less desirable.

Your NDA Treads Heavily Upon My Right to Work

Overlap in innovations and concepts found among disparate parts of the web is ubiquitous.  Any agreement that I sign to not disclose or use information shared with me in a casual engagement opens up a whole world of potentially contentious confusion about what is or isn’t okay for me to do in the future.

In an ecosystem where ideas are borrowed and remixed constantly, an NDA is a poor man’s patent that can be levied only against the signer.  Never mind the existence of clear competitors: the confusion of whether or not any “secret sauce” information was shared is enough to entertain lengthy and costly litigation.

I had a fellow make a bid to buy my CoachAccountable business not long ago.  Great guy, but when I ultimately decided to decline his offer he resorted to legal threats that I better not use any of the ideas we talked about, and expressed regret that he hadn’t had me sign an NDA.

In reality, if had he offered one up I simply would’ve declined.3  Signing one could have compromised my ability to build upon my business or sell it to the next suitor, and by corollary, compromised my negotiating position in the sale.  It would have been the poor man’s patent in action.

NDAs Have Their Place

Are there some situations where NDAs are appropriate?  You betcha.  They are appropriate when there exists something both significant and tangible to disclose, representing more than just whatever popped into your head in the shower.  The 10 page business plan alluded to above makes a reasonable cutoff, necessary but probably not sufficient.

The importance of having something significant and tangible is that it’s something you can point to and say “there, THAT’S what is confidential”.  Without it, the reach of an NDA is too vague and undefinable. An NDA that is not highly specific nor describes boundaries to what it applies is not worth signing: sloppy legalese at best, a malicious trap at worst.

An NDA should also be dependent upon the signer being compensated in some non-trivial way, as in a condition of being hired or part of terms of a sale.  Requiring one prior to that is highly suspect, and signing one, I say, is highly inappropriate.


So that’s why I won’t sign your NDA.  It’s not because I don’t like you, it’s not because I want to steal your ideas, it’s not because what you’re up to isn’t important.

It’s because the ideas you are likely to share with me over coffee or in a phone conversation are otherwise plentiful, worthless in isolation, and, to some degree, completely unoriginal and already known to the world.

View the discussion on Hacker News

Notes:

  1. Actually had this one come up.  Even though their idea had roots in TWO existing websites, they were surprised I wasn’t willing sign an NDA.
  2. His riff about ideas starts at 25:24 in.  Vimeo has problems jumping to the middle of a video until it’s loaded, but it’s worth the wait for the download, or just watch from the beginning–the whole talk is great.
  3. After all, it would be weird to presume that in his several months of thinking about it he would have more ideas that my partners and I had come up with during the 18 months we were actually building it.
Categories: Essays Tags:

The (Sometimes Instant) Good Karma of Open Source Contribution

March 18th, 2012 3 comments

I’m tickled by the good that can come of the noble act of releasing an open source project.

Two months ago I released trueDAT, a web-based GUI for MySQL databases and the first real project I’ve ever taken the time to open source.  While I always figured good things eventually came to open source contributors1, I didn’t have expectations for myself while showing off trueDAT for the first time at a Meetup group back in mid-January.

While demoing my baby, I made the acquaintance of two folks eagerly looking to birth their web vision: a user generated content site focused on promoting the best with prize-laden contests.  They were then working on learning PHP and MySQL, and so trueDAT, a tool which makes a really novice-friendly way to interact with databases, made a nice topic of conversation.  (They were also a bit displeased with the progress on their site with their current provider, so we had plenty to talk about.)

The instant good karma of open sourcing trueDAT is summed up in the following 2 snippets from emails from them to me over the two days that followed:

…  I’d like to talk over potentially hiring you to build Masspire. I’m not that enthused about my current menu of options, and I’d like to explore a bit more. …

and

… Basically, if we can think up a mutually agreeable version of the site that you’d be willing to build for $… I’d be happy to work with you. I’ve got a bit more faith in someone who makes something like trueDAT for fun than an Indian firm.  …

These words simply tickle me:

I’ve got a bit more faith in someone who makes something like trueDAT for fun than an Indian firm.

I share them not to brag on what a great open source guy I am (I’m not, I’m new to this game–trueDAT hasn’t even been downloaded 100 times since I released it two months ago), nor to revive the notion that I’m anti-India (I’m just anti-cheap slop).  Rather I wish to share that experience with my fellow programmer: that open sourcing can make such a powerful and immediate impression on the type of person who could/would/should hire you.

In hindsight?  Makes total sense.

Beforehand, I only knew open sourcing as more of an ideologically good thing.

Today, about 2 months later, we have high fived over the successful build of their site, which can be seen now at www.masspire.com.  I had a solid February as a contractor, and they’re pleased with the value and end result of their work.

Our connecting professionally was a tidy win-win, and a direct result of chops effectively demonstrated through an open source project.

Doing well by doing good, illustrated.  Viva open source.

Notes:

  1. E.g. I’ve donated a few bucks here and there to some of my heroes for creating modules I’ve found useful
Categories: Essays, Projects Tags:

Drive-Thru Programming

March 14th, 2012 1 comment

There’s a delightful phenomenon that happens with clients after the first contract is executed and fulfilled on, and that I call “Drive-Thru Programming”.

The way I am most often engaged professionally is like this: a client needs me to build a web application, we sketch out the relevant particulars, I write up the resultant scope of work contact (which details features, price, and payment schedule).  It’s signed and we’re off to the races.

Once that contact has been fulfilled, all the money has been paid and everything outlined has been built and delivered to my client’s satisfaction (and I’m not done until they love it).  By this point we’ve invariably established a really good rapport: we know how we work together, trust is there, quality, value and workability have been demonstrated.

This situation makes possible Drive-Thru Programming.

What is it?  It’s a style of handling requests for development work on a rolling basis that is tuned for speed and ease.

It’s quite common for clients to want to evolve and expand upon the applications I have built them.  After the first contract, the formalities of said contract are far less important.  So I’m free to operate as a fluid, on-demand programmer for needs as they arise.  So we get to have email volleys that look like this:

9:41am, Client: Hey John, can you add to the system this, that, and the other thing, and how much would it cost?
9:48am, Me:  Sure thing, can do this for $A, that for $B, and the other thing for $C, so $X total.  Can have it done by then end of tomorrow if you want me to proceed.
9:57am, Client:  Sounds good, please proceed.
9:59am, Me:  On it, will drop you an email when it’s done.  Please pull through!

The analogy is crude, but the feeling is dead on: I get the experience of being a drive-thru coding house, ready to take your order and deliver ultra-quick turnaround times.  Of course I request a phone call to clarify in case this, that, or the other thing aren’t entirely clear, and I maintain my promise that I’m not done until they love it.  These two practices ensure that with speed we are not sacrificing clarity and quality of the end result.

For clients with whom I’ve completed a major contract, I have no problem putting on-demand programming tasks and mini-projects on a tab, and billing whenever it makes sense to do so.  My trust is their convenience.  In return, my clients get ultra-responsive service which helps them mold and evolve the application that runs critical (or all) aspects of their business without the hassle of formalities.

I wrote about programming at the speed of trust over a year ago, and Drive-Thru Programming is yet another gem that arises from it.

Categories: Business, Essays Tags:

Seeking Well-Rounded PHP Developer for Maintenence and Support

February 29th, 2012 No comments

As posted on Craigslist:

I’m an independent web application developer (see www.jpl-consulting.com plus my blog to learn everything about me).

Bottom line: I want someone able to handle my client’s typical 0-10 maintenance issues for $300+/month.

Here’s the setup: I have several active web application projects out there which I built and am responsible for supporting and maintaining. Starting in May my wife and I are going on World Tour: three months road tripping about in the US, and then we leave the country for about a year. From experience I know how much it sucks to land in another country with a technical problem to fix, having to frantically search for an internet cafe, and hop online to save the day.

What I’m looking for is an apprentice: someone reliable whom I can trust, get up to speed on the projects I am responsible for, and have them be able and competent to handle any issues as they arise when I’m offline and unreachable. For all the projects I have out there with clients, I generally see between 0 to 3 issues that crop up in a given week. Questions, general tweaks, bugs to fix.

If you are able to handle that sort of thing and be my first line of support while I’m off in the world it’s a huge win for me: my clients get great service and support, and I don’t have to stress over things trying to fix a problem on some internet cafe machine which only has IE6 installed.

Paying someone $300 a month to handle something between 0-3 hours of work/0-12 brain farts is so very worth it to me. If more things come up than the norm in a given month, I’ll pay you more. If less things come up, awesome: enjoy the $300 and I thank you for the peace of mind.

My preference is a fellow freelancer, someone who can respond to the occasional email or phone call that comes up quickly. The applications are in PHP (vanilla, no heavy framework), MySQL, CSS, HTML, and MooTools JavaScript (if you know JQuery, you should be fine). Ah, and a few fringe projects are in WordPress.

Other perk: I don’t know how much you care to learn and grow as a freelancer, but if it’s important/interesting to you, this will entail learning how I do large scale/highly paid projects as a one man team, and I’ll be happy to teach you whatever I know to get you up to snuff to support my projects.

To determine if you’re experienced enough to be fit what I’m looking for, check out www.truedat.us, it’s an open source project of mine. If you can comfortably read through and follow that code base, you should be fine. (If you want to make a bang up impression, add a feature to it that you think is cool and show it to me!)

I’m excited to meet whomever I’ll meet who replies to this ad, fellow hackers are so cool. If you feel good about your understanding of the trueDAT code and would like to be my support apprentice and earn some extra cash for the next year, please give me a shout out!

Update

Talk about “ask and ye shall receive”: the day I posted this I had lunch with a friend with whom I’ve done some work before. I told him of the ad and he, to my surprise and delight, said casually “I’ll take on your people for you.” Though I am bummed to have the opportunity to meet other hackers, how nice to have this handled!

Categories: Business Tags: