Gant Software Systems

Career Advice

Book Review: Start Small, Stay Small

A Developer's Guide To Launching A Startup

Every so often, a book comes along that exceeds my expectations (not going to bury the lede here, this book absolutely gets a 5 star review). This one is certainly in that category. Start Small, Stay Small is an excellent guide to getting a product-based business going as a software developer. From the outset, Rob Walling doesn’t make the assumption that you have a large amount of money from investors or that you are playing the start-up lottery. This book is about building a sustainable business one step at a time, usually while working a full time job.

Instability Is The Default Plan For It

As a few of you know, I was briefly employed from the tail end of February until late last Thursday, when I got downsized. It was an excellent group to work with and I plan to stay in contact with those guys. While I can’t get into too many of the details, it wasn’t due to performance or anything like that. It’s just that the sort of clients I work with sometimes have things change out from under them and things go in different directions. It stinks, but life is full of surprises. If I wanted a boring, perfectly safe job, I’d get that tomorrow (and some HR algorithm would probably reject me, but let’s just go with the optimistic case for now). That’s not what I do though. I’ll go back and work for them again in a heartbeat if the opportunity presents itself.

Your Value Is Not Your Profession

One thing that separates successful career programmers from those with a bit…less success (we won’t call it failure, because it usually doesn’t manifest as abject failure, but rather as stunted potential) is their ability to figure out their value to the people who are retaining their services. Regardless of what that job posting says, what the recruiters tell you (more on this in a minute), or what you’d like to hear, you are NOT ever hired into a position simply to write code. You are hired to solve a problem that someone has, with the expectation that your solving of said problem presents an advantage greater than that provided by simply keeping (or using elsewhere) the money required to hire you. It’s a simple thing that is missed fairly frequently when discussions of programmer salaries come up, as well as when programmers sit and complain about the messes they deal with at their jobs. It also happens in just about every other industry. I’ve had similar discussions with people in other industries. The fitness industry, for instance, is loaded with people who live under the belief that the fitness program they are selling is actually the reason they have clients, instead of what the clients are actually there for, such as losing weight, gaining muscle, just the feeling of accomplishment and pushing past obstacles, etc. The dividing line between the successful ones in that industry and those who are unsuccessful is also remarkably similar, in that the latter fail to line up their offerings with what their customers are actually buying, versus what they think they are selling.

Advice for Green Developers

Someone pointed out to me the other day that I am a bit of “an old fart” in the .NET development space. At first, I was about to protest and insist that I wasn’t that old. Then it occurred to me that I have been using .NET since the first public beta, which came out in 2001 (if I recall correctly, which I may not, because I’m old). That said, as I think back over my career and the loads of developers who eventually got out of the industry, I wistfully contemplated giving some advice to the folks just getting started. The reasons for it are many. First, I want to see more people succeed. Second, I’ve watched loads of people fail (or worse, not rise to the full level of their potential), including screwing up via self-sabotage. Here, then, are some things that I’ve noticed that might serve as “lifehacks” for making your climb through your career a little easier as well as making your survival more likely.