brandontreb.com Tips And Resources For Software Developers

Programming Languages Are Only Tools

Some young punks overheard me talking about JavaScript at lunch today. They felt it necessary to come to my table and tell me “typescript is waybetter”. They don’t realize that this sort of thing screams “I’m a junior developer! I know very little about the tech industry!”

If you are a newer developer, learn early that you are greatly limiting your potential by marrying a subset of programming languages. You will greatly increase your value by being open to learning and building in any language that is best suited for the project.

I try to convey this to the students of our boot camps all of the time as boot camp students are the most likely to call themselves “PHP/JS/WordPress/etc developers” and not understand that there is a whole world out there beyond what was taught in camp.

Ok, rant over. Get off my lawn.

We Instead Of I

When I first started consulting, I had everything tied to my name. My company name was Treb Studios, my email was brandon@brandontreb.com, and my whole business was tied to me.

This was fine for a while…until I started growing. I hired contractors with the intention of replacing myself on my existing projects. This proved to be very challenging.

Clients didn’t want other developers, they wanted Brandon, because that’s what they were promised.

It wasn’t until I started using “we” language instead of “I” language that clients fully accepted my other team members. Changing the language also had a profound effect on how I perceived the company. I began looking at everything as a real company rather than just me hacking on the side.

So, if you are building a company (even if it’s just you), start using the term “we” instead of “I” from day one. It will make the transition much easier when you start growing, and it will make you feel like you are actually building something beyond yourself.

Signals

Tonight, I'm going to a party for local entrepreneurs.

I was getting ready for the party and thinking about the signals I am sending with every detail I put into my appearance. How do I want to be perceived? Should I go combover or faux-hawk, slacks or jeans, watch or Fitbit, leather or suit jacket? All of these decisions don't necessarily paint the picture of Brandon, so much as they paint the picture of who Brandon wants you to believe he is.

While it may seem vain to contemplate on what signals I'm sending, people do the same thing ALL THE TIME without even being conscious of it. We do this not only in real life, but especially on Social Media.

Seth Godin will often write on sending signals.

He has a great quote from the post:

Empathy helps us understand what will be received, and intent dramatically improves our effectiveness.

Understanding that you are always sending signals AND having empathy will not only get you further in business (since you can understand the signals you need to send on an individual basis), it will also get you further as a human being.

This also has me wondering. What signals do I send to myself?

Darknet Diaries 🎙

I have really been enjoying listening to Darknet Diaries lately. It’s a Podcast about hacks and software security vulnerabilities.

The show really makes me realize how crappy and insecure most software is. Most importantly, it has gotten me much more security-minded in the software that I build.

If you aren’t already listening to it, I’d suggest you check it out. You will soon put on your tin foil hat like me and start to believe everybody is trying to hack you.

How I Stay Organized

My wife and I are hard core “type-a” people. I mean, so planned that we send each other calendar invites for date night (don’t judge what we consider romantic ;)).

I didn’t used to be like this. When I was younger and in college, I was a total scatter brain, a C student by choice.

This all changed the day I was laid off and had to start my own company. Owning a business requires me to pay attention to every detail, every invoice, dev rate, hours budget,etc… Its exhausting and college Brandon would have been out years ago.

Fortunately (and I can already feel this sounding like a sales pitch), I use Bullet Journal. It’s basically a system using only a notebook and pen to organize your life. Think 90’s style leather day planner.

While I don’t use every “module” that it offers, I use the system to manage todos, notes, long and short term goals, and lists (this blog post title just came from one such list).

So, if you are like I was, I highly recommend bullet journaling. It will change your life for the better (worse?).

Weird Tasks That I Have To Do Because We Live on a Converted Schoolbus

Many of you might not know this, but my family and I live in a converted schoolbus.

Today, I had quite a few “bus chores” and I figured that I would share them here because together, they do seem a bit odd.

  • Change composting toilet
  • Fill up propane tanks
  • Add heat tape to fresh water lines
  • Replace RV vent in roof because it started leaking

Sometimes I wonder if I have more chores on the bus than in a traditional home.

Whatever, off to chop wood for my tiny wood stove

Dev Blinders - Failing To See Things From A User Perspective

The other day, I was having a conversation over Slack with my development team. They were working on a client project (and doing a killer job), and there was a particular UX pattern that seemed very unintuitive to me. This app was designed by the client, so there was little the dev team could do beyond making suggestions, so they went ahead and implemented it per the spec.

After fiddling around with it for a few minutes, I literally couldn't understand how to complete the particular task and had to ask the team lead for some help. He assured me that it made sense and offered to walk me through the architecture and data models to help me better understand the flow.

Sometimes, as developers, we understand these super complex systems solely because we architected them. They seem intuitive to us because we know the underlying data structures and algorithms involved. When we are speaking to other developers about those systems, they usually get it too, because they understand things at a software level.

This doesn't always translate well when it comes to UX design for the end-user. I believe developers have a bias when looking over the product in which they are creating. It makes sense to us, so it must to everyone else. I opted to not learn about the underlying code, so that I could better QA the product by removing some of this bias.

The Moral

Next time you are testing your software, have as many people not involved in the project test it as possible. Given them very little context. Watch them use your product. Find out what is intuitive to them and what isn't. You will be pleasantly surprised and your software will be better for it.

How to Retire Forever on a Fixed Chunk of Money - Mr. Money Mustache

How to Retire Forever on a Fixed Chunk of Money - Mr. Money Mustache

Another solid post from mmm. His blog was one of the first I read that set us on the path of financial freedom and minimalism.

If you don’t already know about him, I’d suggest starting at the beginning and reading through all of his posts.

I promise it will be worth it.

Tips For Starting Your CS Career

My little brother was recently in town for the holidays. He’s about to graduate from college with a CS degree, so naturally we talked about searching for a job.

I figured I would share the advice I gave to him here in hopes that it might help others.

  • Don’t be discouraged when you get turned down. Having hired many employees over the years, I have learned that there are so many reasons to not hire a candidate. Much of the time they don’t even have to do with qualifications. In the past, we would just interview with no intention of hiring to test the waters.
  • Work with recruiters there is little downside in working with recruiters as a job seeker. Give them tight parameters about what you are looking for (position, location, etc…) and tell them not to bother you unless there is a match. Often, recruiters will have better “ins” with hiring managers, so your resume won’t get filtered as often by some algorithm.
  • Network I almost wrote that in all caps. Attend local meetups, take people out to coffee, and get connected in the local tech scene. Don’t give me that “I don’t live close to tech” nonsense . I live in a suburb of ABQ (not a big tech town) and still managed to build a killer network of tech locals.
  • Always be searching for a job (especially if you already have one). Part of your job, is to find a job/a better job (or at least leverage to get paid more in your current) (longer post on this later).
  • Shoot for the stars, but be ok landing on the moon This is more for new grads. Landing a job will give you that confidence boost you need to begin your life outside college. So, don’t stress about landing the dream job at Google on day one (by all means apply though). Just take a job and then see the previous bullet point.

Happy job hunting!

No One Cares About Your Clever Code

As developers, we spend so much time perfecting our craft. We are always on the hunt for hacks, tips, and tweaks.

We always set out to write the most clever and reusable code possible. This is all great…until it’s time to ship.

I have seen it time after time. Developers over-optimizing their code, writing protocol after protocol. All the while, they slip further and further behind schedule.

When the client asks the dev about the delay on feature X, the dev proceeds to explain the super cool reusable, component-driven,state managed, highly available, future proof, buzzword, buzzword system they are creating. The client literally doesn’t care about all that. They just wants to see feature X working.

I love clever code as much as the next developer, but sometimes you’ve got to table your inner CS geek and just ship something that works. Then, refactor later.

The Diet Starts Monday

In our house, we often joke that “the diet starts Monday”. Usually, this is in response to some conclusion that we are not currently on the healthiest path.

Procrastination is in our DNA. We put everything off until the absolute last minute. For me, it’s usually side projects. Projects that I know will make some revenue to supplement some of my consulting income. It’s my goal to eventually move on from consulting, however that has been on my “resolution list” for years, with little progress.

I’m committed to finishing one such project before the years up. I should get hacking on it…on Monday.

Gratitude

It’s often much easier to have a sense of gratitude when things are going well. As humans, we are prone to focusing on the one bad thing that’s going wrong rather than the multitude of good things going right. This traces way back to a time where we needed this sense to stay away from danger.

My father-in-law was just admitted to the hospital with lukeumia. Although this is one of the harder times in our family’s lives, it’s really been a sobering experience giving me a stronger sense of gratitude for my wife and kids.

I appreciate them more now than ever and am grateful for their health and spirit.

I wish you and your family blessings today, and pray that you too can always find gratitude, even in tribulation.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Prototypes Usually End Up In Production

“Just hack a quick proof of concept, we’ll rebuild it when we get more funding.” These are some words I often hear from clients who have minimal budgets.

They generally want my team to build something small/quick/cheap to get their concept across in hopes of securing more funds down the road.

What I have learned by saying “yes” to these types of requests in the past is, those quickly hacked prototypes often end up in production.

While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s sometimes problematic if we viewed the code as disposable up front. Normally, a client will have you ship a prototype and then will want to quickly iterate. If you are not careful, you will soon accrue technical debt and eventually sour your relationship with the client due to underperforming.

So, if you are ever asked to do a quick prototype, do yourself a favor and treat it as if it will be production-ready from day one. You never know how long you will be supporting it.

Cold Emailing Locals

I always receive cold emails. Some of them are personalized, and some of them are robotic. Sometimes, I’ll ignore and sometimes I’ll respond with something snarky (this is my spiritual gift). I get it. These are just part of the internet.

Whenever I get a cold email from someone local, it’s a different story. I always feel sorry for them. They have totally missed an opportunity to connect with someone in real life and possibly a sale.

These are the emails in which I’ll generally reply with some practical advice.

If you are desiring to cold email people in your area

Rather than emailing “Dear Brandon, I really think your business could benefit from our website services.”, you should always do at least 5 seconds of research.

Start by saying “Brandon, I really loved your post on Staying Fit With 3 Kids, I’d love to buy you coffee and pick your brain”. This shows you are interested and care about them at a human level (which you should anyway) and greatly increases the chances of them buying the services you are selling.

At worst, you will have connected with a likeminded individual who could/would potentially refer others to you in the future. At best, you could get all of the above plus a new customer and friend.

So, the next time you are cold emailing someone who’s within driving distance from you, give this post another read and consider a more personal approach.

Blogging Builds Community

It's been around 3 weeks since I started blogging every weekday. This experience has been nothing short of delightful.

While I have seen many improvements in my communication (written and verbal), I believe the best benefit is around the community.

When I started blogging in 2008, my posts used to have upwards of 100 comments. Granted I was a renegade blogging about iOS in a time of Apple's dreaded NDA. I absolutely loved the feedback and the community that was forming around my writing. I have been blogging on and off since then and have never felt that same spark.

This all changed, when I made a commitment to writing daily short-form blog posts and posting them to micro.blog and twitter. I began to receive comments, and these comments turned into real discussions.

This has been a blast as I'm now able to connect with so many wonderful people in the community. We are sharing thoughts and ideas and challenging each other’s beliefs on tech, business, etc…

So, I challenge you. If you are on the fence, just stop worrying about the quality/frequency/etc… of your writing and just write. And once you have written, share it with others. I promise you, the community you will build is worth it!

One Thing

I was recently listening to Episode 344- 10 Strategies To Be Happier Through Gratitude on the Tim Ferris Show. Oddly enough, I much prefer episodes where Tim is absent. I do love him, but sometimes feels he steals the conversation.

Anyway, the episode was hosted by a guy named A.J. Jacobs. Jacobs wrote a book on gratitude and is known for traveling the world to thank over 1,000 people involved in his morning coffee (think farmer, roaster, truck driver, etc…).

While I loved the episode, there was something super interesting that I took from it. Jacobs keeps a notebook where he writes down just one thing that he takes away from every book, podcast, and blog.

I love this idea. Often, I will read something, get super inspired, only to forget about it and never apply it.

I feel that this is a great strategy and think it will make for an interesting post on this blog every so often. Think of it as mini book/podcast/blog reviews that highlight what I found to be important.

So my “one thing” from that episode is to start writing down the “one things” from other pieces of media.

Starting New Projects

I had the amazing opportunity today to hit File -> New Project today. There are few feelings in the world as great as the optimism that comes from starting a brand new project.

“This one will be different”, I murmur to myself. “I will keep it clean, organized, and free from hacks. “, I cheerfully gloat.

Why is it that it’s so hard to follow through on this philosophy? I said it yesterday, coding is hard. Requirements change, clients change, and most notibly, we change.

“End of the project Brandon” is usually cursing “Beginning of the project Brandon” for using some library, not commenting his code, or lazily failing to follow best practices.

But not this time, oh no. This time WILL BE different…

(follow up post to come in 3 months making fun of this one)

Client Deliveries Are Hard

I have been building software for clients for over a decade now and have come to one solid conclusion: deliveries suck.

Maybe I'm just the worst developer in the world and have worked with the worst teams and have had the worst clients… but I doubt it.

I have delivered early, on time, late, with more functionality, exactly the same, and in some cases less functionality (usually due to lack of funding) and still…rough deliveries.

When I say “rough deliveries”, I usually mean angry clients and stressed out developers. Maybe not angry like the hulk (though I have seen it), but at the very least, passive aggressive comments, notes of disappointment, etc…

The reason deliveries are hard is because of a misalignment of expectations. When a client has an idea in their head of how their product should look/feel/function and it's been burning in their mind forever, us developers are doomed from the get go. We can never deliver perfectly to match this magic piece of software that only exists in our client's mind.

Also, software is hard. It's especially hard to get exactly right on the very first pass. Software is a living and breathing entity that needs lots of care and feeding. It's very tricky to articulate this to someone who doesn't understand that and is paying you 10's of thousands of dollars to build their dream.

We follow a pretty strict agile process, so the client usually sees their build at every…single…stage. They also have full control to report issues, make changes, etc… during the build cycle. Still, for some reason, they are always dumbfounded when it comes time to ship.

So, if you are building for clients, cut yourself some slack. Know that deliveries will be tough and most of the time, there is nothing you can do to prevent that.

Free Business Idea: RV Storage & Rental

I was having a conversation with my dad the other day and sharing some of my current business ideas with him. I also mentioned that I often discuss new product/business ideas in public with other people.

His response was obviously “Why would you just give away your ideas?”. I then proceeded to give him the "Your Ideas Are Worthless Without Proper Execution” spiel.

So, to put my money where my mouth is, I will be sharing my business ideas here; putting them out there in hopes that either a. I get valuable feedback/encouragement or b. someone else builds it and I get to use it.

Business idea

So many people have RVs that are in use roughly 5% on the year. The other 95% of the time, they sit in disrepair and usually cost the owner money to store them.

While many sites like RVShare exist that allow you to essentially "rent out" your RV, they still pose a huge challenge in that the RV must be physically located on the owner's property.

I propose to build an RV storage facility where owners receive the following:

  1. Free Storage
  2. Free basic upkeep
  3. Free cleaning
  4. Profit Sharing
  5. Insurance

In exchange for this, they allow us to rent their RV out at a price we set. It would function much like RVShare in that would-be RVers reserve one of the RVs we have in our fleet and come pick it up. The RV would be ready to go with a full tank of water, full propane tanks, and a generator.

Once they return the RV, it gets cleaned and prepped for the next renter. Profits from the rental would be shared with the RV owner.

There you have it. I'd love to hear your thoughts and I hope to be sharing more of these in the future.

My First App

When I was in high school, I used to think computers were for nerds. I was a skater obsessed with chasing girls with no time for computers.

It wasn’t until a buddy of mine convinced me to take a Visual Basic 6 class with him, that I realized that I was one of those “nerds”.

Quickly, I fell in love. The first “app” that I ever completed was a game that raced various animal sprites found online using a random number generator. We all placed actual bets on the outcomes of the races. Even the instructor got involved.

That was almost 16 years ago. It’s hard to believe how much has changed. Now I just build gambling apps on the blockchain instead of VB (I’m kidding, sort of).

No real point to this story other than that I’m reflecting today on my career in computing. I’m so grateful for that friend who introduced me to coding and I’m so grateful that this career path exists.

I hope you know how lucky you are too.

Rates

Rates are a weird thing and chances are, yours are too low.

I spent years stressing about rates. I would always start strong and but then eventually get talked down (usually by myself).

I think rates go hand in hand with impostor sybdrom. “Why would anyone pay me that much”. It took me quite some time to over come this, however after many years, and multiple rate hikes, we are doing more business than ever.

Raise your rates, now. You are worth it.

The Grass Is Always Greener

People often tell me things like "it must be nice to work for yourself”, or “I'm working hard to make someone else rich".

Having spent many years working for a company prior to starting my own, I can honestly say I would never want a boss again. However, I that doesn't stop me from frequently daydreaming about just how nice that would be.

The idea that having someone tell you what to do, give you a set schedule, allow you to clock out at the end of the day all sound so liberating. Contrast this with potentially long (unpaid hours), angry clients, flakey employees, and surprise tax bills, working for "the man" doesn't seem all that bad.

There's obviously another side to this coin as well. I even wrote a whole post on this topic.

I guess what I'm getting at is, the grass truly is greener on the other side. Working for yourself has its advantages, but there are also some clear benefits of working for someone else. If you want to work for yourself, do it, if you are happy and fulfilled in your job, great.

The only way to lose is to continue down a path that no longer brings you joy.

Don’t Hire Your Friends - A PSA

A few years back, when the company was growing particularly quickly, I made a decision to hire my friends. Although, I had been warned by many others that this was a bad idea, I was sure that I was going to do things differently.

I was going to have a management layer over my closest friends and then they could have the uncomfortable conversations should they arise.

Needless to say, this strategy worked for a time, however at some point, things got tough and I had to make some serious decisions. I had to lay-off my buddies.

This was one of the toughest few months of my life. There was hurt and heartache all around despite my (and their) best efforts.

Working with your friends is absolutely great, until it’s not. We were all fortunate to make it out on the other side and are closer than ever, however things could have easily swayed in another direction.

So, please don’t ignore the advice that I did. Keep your friends and business separate, you will all be much happier in the end.

It's A Good Time To Be A (Good) Mobile Developer

If you are a mobile developer in 2018, and are not consulting (at least on the side), you are missing out on a huge stream of revenue.

In the early days of mobile app development (2008/2009), it was fairly easy for an iOS or Android developer to get a gig with large companies (Food Network, ESPN, huge list of other names…). At that time, mobile was so new, that none of these companies had internal resources to support this budding vertical.

Throughout the next few years, mobile would sky rocket and all of these companies would hire internal teams to support their products.

This shift caused a huge disruption for mobile agencies who in the previous years were turning down $200+/hour because they simply didn't have the capacity. Many of them had to downsize or close their doors altogether. I was a part of one such company and have seen these shifts during the past 6 years of running mine.

I now believe the cycle is coming back around as there is a need for good mobile developers. The truth is, mobile is hard and there is a lot of competition in the space. Companies are discovering that they can't just hire a "full stack" dev and tell them to build a quality mobile app. It requires a lot of dedication and understanding of the ecosystem. Also, many of the small-medium consultancy in the space have since closed their doors. So supply is down and demand is way up.

I do however feel that the way in which consultants engage with companies has changed a bit. In previous years, most companies were interested in consulting teams / agencies to build their entire solution for them. These days, a "staff augmentation" model seems to make more sense.

In this model, consultants specializing in a vertical of mobile join other teams that lack a particular senior resource. This is a win-win for everyone as a consultant can attain consistent work and a company can hire temporary developers to solve their current problem at hand with no long term commitment. As a mobile developer, if you establish enough of these relationships, you are set on work for the foreseeable future.

We have seen this model play out many times over the past couple years and it has been key (for us) in surviving in this “post-agency” time of mobile app consulting.

So, if you are a mobile app developer (and are particularly good), I'd encourage you to branch out and try your hand at consulting. It's a great time.

On Blogging More Frequently

I have been obsessed with Seth Godin lately. I've been reading his books, listening to his podcasts, and devouring his blog posts.

It's amazing how he can just pump out wisdom day after day and speak so articulately on just about any subject. Some of his posts are incredibly insightful while others might seem like a small thought that just popped into his head. He doesn't seem to differentiate the two and that's incredible.

Recently, I was inspired by a particular post called The First 1,000 Are The Most Difficult. In it, Seth talks about blogging every single day. He even links to other readers/bloggers that took on the same challenge. This particular quote really stood out:

Even if no one reads your blog, the act of writing it is clarifying, motivating and (eventually) fun.

This got me thinking. I often want to create blog content because I absolutely love writing. Not to mention, I really do feel that I can speak more clearly and articulately having blogged consistently. However, I often won't publish posts (or even start them) for fear of people actually reading them. It's usually a worry about what others might think about the post, or fear of peers/clients reading into things that might be tangentially related to the article in which I'm posting.

So, all that being said, I want to try to blog more consistently. Hopefully once per day. That obviously might mean quality of posts might go down for some posts, but hopefully it will increase overall as time goes on. My wife and I have recently been blogging weekly on our site about our School Bus Conversion and it's been a total blast. I'd love to apply some of that here and talk more about consulting, the business of app dev, etc…

Blogging should be for the author first and foremost, as a way to communicate their thoughts and sharpen their own skillset. Not to mention, it should be fun! I am going to try and embrace this and re-discover my love for writing.

So feel free to subscribe, unsubscribe, or drop me a note. I'd love to check out the blogs of others who are blogging near daily. Cheers!

Compromising Out Of Fear

Seth Godin recently discussed in an episode of the Tim Ferris Show a fear many of us have of the future. He used the example of him landing speaking gigs in which he was more apt to compromise and take gigs he didn’t particularly want on months in which no gigs were currently booked.

As someone in the consulting space, I can absolutely identify with this. In the past, I have taken clients in knowing very well that they will mostly be problematic (funding, difficult, or otherwise). This was out of fear that work might dry up any minute. I know this fear is unfounded as work has consistently come in over the past 6 years of running my company, however sometimes it still creeps in.

Do you deal with this kind of fear. If so, how do you overcome it?

I’m A Professional Dream Crusher

I just had a realization that I’m a professional dream crusher. Being in software consulting, I hear multiple pitches every single week for all sorts of different software. While it’s not necessarily my job to tell people what’s good and bad, I feel it’s my responsibility to at least give them all of the information I can.

In my many years of doing this, I have learned a bit about what works and what doesn’t and I have gotten pretty good at saying no to projects that I don’t believe in. This often means crushing the dreams of someone who has a product idea that keeps them up at night. I always try to be encouraging and present them with some solution, however often times after having a discussion with me, folks will not go forward with their product development.

I often wrestle with this and wonder if it’s my role to help protect these folks by sharing my thoughts or adopt a philosophy of “the money is green either way” and accept their project. I’d be curious if others had this same challenge.

C Primer

I have always loved the C programming language. I remember being a young programmer (man that was 15 years ago) when I wrote my first C program. It seemed like absolute magic (and it still does).

Since then, I love (re)discovering the language every chance I get.

I found this post incredibly well done with some great examples. I wish we had resources like this "back in my day”.

C Primer

DApp Development: The Next Gold Rush?

Over the past few months, I have had the pleasure of working on a DApp called thisorthat.io built on the Ethereum network. It has been an absolute blast. I have had so much fun building the smart contracts as well as the React front-end interface.

I truly believe there is a huge future here, and it can be especially lucrative for developers/startup teams. If you look at Dapp Radar, you can see that many of the top DApps have less than 1,000 DAU (daily active users). If you consider how much money is being made, crypto-users end up being much more valuable than users on any other platform.

Take for example, Crypto Kitties. It's basically a mix of Beanie Babies and Tamagatchis. According to DApp Radar, 380 ETH (or $255K USD) has moved through their platform in the past 7 days with only 652 daily active users!!!. This is absolutely insane.

It's not all sunshine and rainbows though. After spending 80+ hours working on a crypto-centric app, I believe I have some insight into some pain points that will need to be solved before these types of apps are to be widely adopted.

In my next post, I will discuss some of the hurdles preventing DApps from going mainstream. There is so much room for improvement and innovation in this space, I feel that all devs should be looking at crypto like we looked at mobile dev in 2008.

To the moon!

Trying Something New

tl;dr: micro.blog is pretty cool.

I have recently been thinking about my process of blogging / tweeting / facebooking / etc.. and have realized that I’m burnt out on all three. I LOVE to write. I started one of the first successful iOS Blogs, published numerous (software development books)[http://manning.com/trebitowski], and have been blogging since 2008. Here are a bit of thoughts about the various platforms and ultimately my solution.

twitter

Having over 4,000 followers on Twitter I used to find tremendous value in the platform. There was a time when I would ask a programming question and get 20+ responses within 10 minutes. I’m not sure if legit people have stopped following me or have stopped using the platform, but I am no longer getting any engagement. I probably have like 20 followers and 3,800 spam bots at this point.

blogging

To me, blogging has always had to be long-form. Maybe it’s just my wannabe Tim Ferris mindset, but this has held me back from writing for quite a long time. I would wait until I had a long (usually 1K words +) post before writing anything. So, it other words, perpetual writers block.

facebook

Don’t even get me started. I jumped on the #deleteFacebook bandwagon months ago.

#deleteFacebook

micro.blog

Recently, I discovered Manton Reece’s new platform called http://micro.blog. I guess the platform isn’t necessarily new as he launched in 2015, but after using it, it still feels like it’s in the new/exciting phase.

Manton describes perfectly why he created the platform here and this captures my thoughts exactly on the content-creation ecosystem.

Here are some things that I’m super excited about the micro.blog platform:

  • You post to your own site, keeping all the content controlled by you
  • You can also pay $5 monthly for a hosted blog. This means their business is built on an actual product rather than advertising revenue.
  • It’s built on RSS. I have always been a huge RSS fan and am glad to see a resurgence.
  • It’s full of developers that I already know/admire. Guys like @manton, @collin, and @gruber.
  • It’s incredibly social. The platform really encourages conversation.
  • No follower count. This is arguably the best part. No one (including yourself) can see your follower count. This allows you the feeling to just create and not worry about the vanity of the whole thing.

I still plan on using Twitter to some extent, but my primary source of content publishing will/should be this blog. It will become a mix of my long-form posts and my “tweet-sized” snarky comments.

If this sounds even slightly interesting to you, def check it out and follow me on here or on micro.blog.

Cheers!

How Creating A Call Flow Can Help Your Software Sales Calls

In 2008, I was still in college. I had just landed my first job with a small consultancy as their first iOS developer replacing their outsourced Ukrainian team. Within my first week on the job, the CEO asked me to jump on a sales call as the technical lead. This absolutely terrified me. I remember doing things like ensuring that I had a full glass of water so my throat wouldn’t get so dry (it still did). I also stumbled over my words, almost costing the team many sales. Eventually, I learned.

Since that day, I have taken hundreds of software sales calls. Each time trying to improve my process by testing out what works and what doesn’t. Now that I run my own company, I have found that one of the most beneficial things that I have done is implemented a standard call flow.

There is a reason that call centers require their employees to memorize call flows. When you have a call flow in place, it does a few things.

1. It allows you to practice and refine your pitch over and over again.

Practice makes perfect. Definitely cliche, but it makes a lot of sense here. As you give your pitch over and over again, you will start to pair it down to something that works for you and your team.

2. It builds confidence

Many people are nervous speaking to strangers. Software developers are no exception to this. As I mentioned above, I was terrified on my first few sales calls. This had a lot to do with the fact that I was ‘shooting from the hip’ and just trying to make things up as I went along.

Once I finally got a script in place, I was able to lean on it during future calls. This gave me the confidence that I was gathering all of the right information and representing myself in the best way possible.

Now when someone says “Could I see an example of your work?”, I can quickly shoot them a link or list rather than nervously trying to get the words out “well…uh…I made an app about catz, and I’ll find the link and…uhhh… send it to you later…”.

3. It’s so easy a ‘sales guy’ can do it

This is the part that I’m starting to experiment with. I want my pitch for my company to be so tight, that I could give it to any ‘sales guy’ to deliver and him represent Pixegon in much the same way I would. I have already done this with some of my engineers as I don’t always have time to make every single sales call and it has proven to be a huge success.

4. It removes emotion

This is a big one. When we are nervous, we tend to say dumb things. I remember a few times on sales calls when I was nervous (often because I really wanted/needed the contract), that I would seriously compromise on my rate just because the client suggested it. Had I had a call flow in font of me, I would have been better prepared to field such a request.

I now replace emotion with process and it usually ends up better for both parties.

Sample Flow

Here is a rough outline of my sample call flow:

  • Client Introduction - Ask the client about their background
  • How did you find us? Good to find out what advertising channels are working
  • Give my background - This is to establish credentials so they trust me
  • Ask the client to give a 10,000’ overview of the project - Be careful here, they love to get in the weeds
  • The 3 most important questions
    1. What’s your budget? This will let you know right away if you want to continue much further based on your budget tolerance and rough guess on how much the above will cost.
    2. What’s your timeline? Every single client will say ASAP. But really this is to find out if there are any conferences, holidays, etc… that are hard deadlines for them
    3. How are you funding this project? Self, Company, VC, Family, Startup, etc… This will also help you assess risk.
  • Ask more detailed questions about the project (If timeline / budget are somewhat ok). Determine things like backend requirements, UI/UX, Staff aug vs full solution, etc…
  • Don’t give them a $$$ estimate. They will usually ask you and it will usually cost you in the end if you give them a number here.
  • If all goes well, ask them to send over any assets/wires/requirements and tell them you will follow up with a rough scope and estimate. Again, don’t estimate on this call
  • Thank them for their time and let them know you will be in touch.

This is definitely a good starting point. Sometimes I will copy and paste these flows into a new document and tailor them based on the client that I am about to speak to.

Conclusion

Sales is something that I am constantly working on and refining. I hope to continue to share my findings with you as I learn along the way.

Lower Your Rates (Sometimes) - Investing In Building Your Portfolio

As developers, we hear the echo chamber on Hacker News and others shouting at us to raise our rates. We are worth it. In theory they are right, we are worth it and we should be charging an industry standard rate. However, there are some instances when it’s OK to lower your rates.

Here are 3 times when you should consider lowering your rates:

1. Building Your Portfolio

This is definitely the case when you are first starting out. If you don’t have a solid portfolio, why should a client trust you to build their project at full rate. You have no credibility and they would be better off using a large shop that charges the same rate, but has hundreds of apps under their belts.

Even if you are not just starting out, this can be a great strategy to employ if you are wanting to land a client that will “look good” in your portfolio. We have done this in the past when we have wanted to break into certain markets. We found some of the leaders in those markets, given them a killer deal (or built small projects for them) so that we were able to put their logo on our website.

This strategy has proven to be incredibly successful for Pixegon

2. Longer Term Engagements

Our overall goal is to make money and provide sustainability as indie software developers. If you get an opportunity for a longer engagement on a project you enjoy working on, this often times can be much more valuable than trying to get your full rate.

Example:

3 month gig at $125/hour VS 6 month gig at $100/hour

  • 3 months * 172 hours * $125 = $64,500
  • 6 months * 172 hours * $100 = $103,200

In my opinion, I would MUCH rather be working on a larger contract at a lower price than a shorter one at a higher price. At the end of the day, it’s all about the contract value and sustainabilty.

3. On The Job Training

As students of computer science, we should be able to build anything right? Well, sort of. In the past, there have been instances when clients have asked me to work in unfamiliar territory. Whether that is using a programming language I have never written in, or working in a field that I don’t know much about.

Rather than just declining these types of contracts and pigeon holing yourself into one area of practice, try giving the client a discount while you come up to speed. This benefits both you and the client. You, get on the job paid training to learn new concepts and expand your area of expertise, and the client gets their product built for a significantly lower cost.

Final Thoughts

Rates are a weird thing. I would encourage you to constantly experiment. Raise them, lower them, exchange some for equity. Find out what works for you and your clients.

Side Projects

Over at Pixegon, I really try to encourage my developers to have their own side projects. Often times, employers look at side projects as competition and try to own the works that their developers produce. Some will even go as far as to include this in their employee handbooks.

In my opinion, this stifles creativity and creates a feeling of contention between the employee and company.

People start side projects all of the time for a variety of reasons:

  • To make some extra cash
  • To learn a new technology
  • To sharpen one’s skills
  • Just for fun

From an employer’s standpoint, these are all great. It allows my developers the freedom to learn new things, make mistakes, and even earn extra cash. All without me fronting the cost.

While this might now sound selfish, it’s obviously a two-way street. Developers greatly benefit from this type of arrangement.

Getting started with a side project

This is one I struggle with all of the time. Sometimes it’s a motivation issue, sometimes I lack an idea, and sometimes I’m just feeling lazy and end up reading Hacker News instead due to my analysis paralysis.

The best bet is to just start. Whether your idea is big or small, stupid or world changing, just start writing some code. I try to utilize this tactic in all areas of my life from code, to writing, to working out, to minimizing, and even saving money. Once you get some momentum going, you will quickly find out what’s working and what’s not.

Here are a few Hacker News Posts that I found particularly inspiring to get you started:

Dont’ have any idea to start on? Try cloning something in one of the above posts. There are tons of ideas in here large and small and there’s plenty of room on the web for variances of differenct products. I probably stole most of this post from somewhere…

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Trying Something New

Every single year since the beginning of time (at least since the beginning of this blog), I have resolved to “blog more”. And every single year, I have absolutely failed at that.

So, in favor of systems over resolutions, I am attempting to do something different this year. Over the holiday, I blogged 12 posts related to my experiences as an independent software developer as well as business owner that I feel could benefit the community. These share everything from selling contracts to hiring friends, mistakes made, and more.

I plan on releasing one post a month on the first Monday of every month. Given that I already have these posts written, it should be a no-brainer to blog consistently. I also intend on writing in-between posts, but at this point that’s probably wishful thinking.

If you have any interest in this sort of thing (software development consulting), then be sure to add yourself to the mailing list.

Wishing you a successful and exciting 2017.

Cheers!