DaedTech

Stories about Software

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Growing the Ideas from the Developer Hegemony Book

Happy reader question Friday, everyone.  Today, I’ll field a question about the Developer Hegemony book.  For any newer readers, I wrote this book over the last couple of years and published it to Amazon in early May.  For a briefer synopsis of its purpose and message, you can check out this announcement post.

The question was a lot longer than this (and contained some much appreciated kind words).  But I’ll leave out any personal details and the backstory and leave just the question (paraphrased).

Aside from joining the Facebook group on the “What Now” page and spreading the word via social media, is there anything else I could do to help you get these ideas to more developers?

For some quick housekeeping, here’s the page in question and the Facebook group, too (feel free to join!).  I appreciate the question, and I also understand it.  I mean, of course I literally understand the English language.  But I mean that I understand the necessity of the asking.

The book release coincided with my “retirement” from IT management consulting.  I went home, published a book, and dedicated my time to three simultaneous pursuits: a dev tools content marketing business, a specialized codebase analysis practice, and selling my primary residence in favor of what I think of as “cosmopolitan homelessness” (and moving).  I offer this not as an excuse, but as an explanation.  I’ve been distracted.

Me going cosmopolitan homeless following the release of the developer hegemony book.

The Developer Hegemony Book’s Promise and the What Now

The upshot of my flurry of activity has included not doing a lot to pursue or facilitate the book’s vision.  I’ve made occasional posts to the Facebook group and I’ve added some content to my Youtube channel about how to get a Tax ID and start a corporation.  But I haven’t exactly kept the pedal to the floor and started a movement in earnest.

So I’ll take on this question and the rest of the post from the perspective of “what would I do to advance the cause if days were 32 hours long and I had more time?”  After all, no one has more interest in advancing the cause than me.

I should also mention that the book contains my thoughts on how individuals and organizations can move toward Developer Hegemony.  I won’t rehash that here, opting instead to address the specifics of how to spread the ideas.

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Freelance Programming without a Marketing Presence

Happy Friday, everyone.  I’ve had no shortage of questions about freelance programming and consulting since I started reader question Fridays.  I’ve talked about speaking to buyers and about moonlighting, among other things.  And in all of these posts, I bang the drum for building a marketing presence over the course of time.  But today’s reader question concerns freelance programming when you don’t have time to play the long game.

In that first post, I encouraged people to start building a marketing presence and brand immediately.  I invoked a saying about trees.  The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best time is now.  In response to that, a reader asked the following.

How about making it a little quick?
I like the example of sowing the plant now and I do understand its strength but not everyone has that much time cushion in his/her life to keep doing his/her thing continuously…

Fair enough.  What do you do when you want to get going as a freelance programmer immediately, but haven’t had time to specialize or build a brand?  Well, to answer that, I’m going to take a small detour through the concepts of marketing and sales.

Marketing and Sales

Plenty of sites will tell you about the nuts and bolts difference between marketing and sales.  Generally they’ll advise you that marketing involves brand awareness while sales involves closing the deal.  And, that’s true.  But I’m going to draw a different distinction.

Simply put, marketing is “here’s a sense of the value we provide” and sales is “let’s talk about you giving me money.”  So, if you’re anything like me, personality-wise, marketing is okay, and sales is distasteful.

In fact, I’ve actually come to like marketing.  I’ve even created a business where we help tech tools and training companies with content marketing.  Basically this involves leading with value — creating content that prospective customers find interesting, but without trying to take money from them.  You attract their interest, offer them information or entertainment, and then hope that builds goodwill for the brand, eventually resulting in sales.  But you also hope that, by the time a sale becomes relevant, you’ve already given them something of value and made them an enthusiastic buyer.

“Here’s the thing we’re selling, and we think it speaks for itself — let us know if you’re interested.”

Imagine a sales process like that.  Software developers are cynical, savvy, and sales-averse, so a pitch like that is a way to our hearts (and wallets).

Software Developers as Salespeople

Ironically, in spite of our leeriness toward sales, we, as software developers are sales people.  And, we’re not even the easygoing, friendly type.  We’re the sharkskin suit, slicked back hair, high-pressure type.  We want you to hurry in for these great deals while supplies last!

Is this guy doing freelance programming or selling cleaning supplies?

Okay, I can almost see your skeptical look through the information ether of the internet.  But, seriously.  We do this when we sell our labor.  It’s called a job interview.

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Competing with Software Consulting Companies

Thanks, everyone, for sending in your reader questions!  I’m flattered by how many folks have submitted and definitely have a healthy backlog from which to choose.  Today, I’m going to answer one about competing with software consulting companies.

I believe this question came from a post I wrote two weeks ago, about speaking to your buyers, rather than to peers.  We as software developers seem to love to speak to our peers.  We speak at conferences and write blog posts for the love of the game, without realizing that impressing peers is unlikely ever to pay the bills.  So in that post I talked about how to speak instead to buyers through your blog.

Here’s the follow up question.  (He actually provided more context, which I’ve elided)

What motivates buyers to buy? In my experience, the big companies buy from other big companies — ones with infrastructure and support in place. Starting off, lest we share the fate of Ahab, we NEED to chase the smaller fish to cut our teeth in business. So, for the beginner chasing smaller fish, isn’t it more important to compete on price, given small fish don’t have the capital of big firms?

There’s a lot to unpack here, in terms of explanations.  So let me start out by drawing a meaningful distinction.  In that previous post, I talked specifically about freelance software developers.  But here we seem to be talking instead about consulting.  Or, at least, we’re talking about someone with a defined specialty.

Generalist Freelancers Don’t Compete with Firms… or Really Anyone

Why do I infer that we’re talking about someone already specialized?  Well, first of all, that was the whole point of my previous post.  But, beyond that, getting work as a generalist freelance software developer is too generic for the question to make much sense.  You might as well talk about how every maker of bottled drinks in the world could compete for a guy named Steve who’s in a gas station right now and thirsty.  It’s too generic a transaction to bother considering it as appropos of anything beyond the moment.

If you’re a software developer that does web apps using ASP MVC, Javascript, and C#, you’re conceptually competing with hundreds of thousands of people for every gig that you get.  And, worse, you’re competing with all of them via the interview process.  And job interviews basically just amount to picking people randomly and retroactively convincing yourself that there was a method to the madness.  So, as a freelance supplicant to the interview process, you’re kind of just playing game after game of roulette until your number comes up.  Or, you’re one of a hundred soft drinks and iced teas, hoping that Steve feels like something grape flavored and carbonated.

When you're a random soda, you're not competing with software consulting companies

To put a more emphatic point on it, think of it this way.  As a generalist freelance software developer, you needn’t bother thinking about your competition.  Your competition is too nebulous, and low leverage opportunities too plentiful to bother.  Just play a numbers game.  Throw your resume at contract matchmakers and recruiters, and line up regular interviews for yourself.  That gets enough people into the gas station that one of them feels like grape soda.

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Moonlighting as a Software Developer: Getting Started

I think I’m now on enough of a roll to stop lavishing praise on myself for sticking to reader question Fridays.  So I’ll just get right to business.  Today’s question is about moonlighting as a software developer.  It’s short but sweet.

Any tips for finding moonlighting opportunities?

Sure!  Let’s do that.

Defining Moonlighting

First, though, I want to make it very clear what we’re talking about here.  Moonlighting isn’t a synonym for freelancing or contracting.  Instead, it has a very specific connotation.  You can look to the dictionary for the technical specifics.  Emphasis mine.

Paid work that you do in addition to your normal job, especially without telling your employer.

To unpack, we have a core component and a second, common one.  You do work in addition to a salaried job, and usually without informing your primary employer.

For the rest of this post, I’m going to assume that you don’t want your primary employer to know that you’re doing this.  I’m also going to assume that we’re talking about moonlighting related to your software development work and not you getting a cashier’s job at the local bodega.  You make a living as a techie and want to earn some additional cash, also as a techie.

A programmer moonlighting... literally.

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Starting a Software Company from Scratch

When I reflect back on my free agent career, it strikes me that I more or less did everything wrong.  I mean, I don’t actually believe that when I look at it analytically.  But it does feel that way, knowing what I know now.  Starting a software company from scratch invites plenty of missteps.

In the lead into last Friday’s reader question post, I talked about starting this blog as a journal of sorts.  That’s a good example of what I’m talking about.  In the end, I built an audience, established a brand, and wound up in a good place.  But if I could go back in time 7 years and give myself advice, my path would have been more direct.

It goes beyond blogging, of course.  That was one example, but it applies generally to my entire approach to starting my software development/consulting company.  I did things that worked out, but it hardly seems optimized in retrospect.

You’re probably thinking that this applies to everyone.  Hindsight is 20/20 and all that.  And you’re right, which is exactly my point.  I dove in with severely imperfect knowledge, made a lot of mistakes, and it still worked out pretty well.

If you pursue the free agent life, you’ll flail, make mistakes, and have some false starts.  But you’ll recover, figure it out, and do fine, even if it sometimes seems like you’re drowning in the moment.

Flat Squirrels and Driving Directions

Perhaps you’ve heard an expression.  “Be decisive. The road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t make a decision.”  Don’t blame me for the macabre nature —  I didn’t make it up.

I like part of the sentiment, but I think it misses the mark slightly.  If you picture a terrified squirrel in the road, its biggest problem is thousands of tons of steel and plastic death bearing down on it.  It starts left, then moves right, then freezes and then… well, you get it.  Indecision costs it dearly, but only once it has a large problem already.

When starting a software company from scratch, indecision won't flatten you, but it will impede your progress.

This probably doesn’t describe you in most situations that call for more decisiveness.  We face paralysis by analysis, rather than paralysis by mortal terror.  Have you ever sat in your car, debating whether to take the highway or side roads during rush hour?  Have you ever sat there debating this for so long that you get to your destination later than if you had simply picked either option and started immediately?  (Come on, I bet you have.)

This makes for a better analogy for our lives, especially when it comes to starting something new.  We put off action out of fear of taking a sub-optimal path.  But, at some point, even a sub-optimal path beats sitting in your car fretting.

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