On Managing IT Professionals

Bucky Schwarz, TACFUG Member, CFinNC Conference planner, Model-Glue contributor, posted a link on twitter today called The Unspoken Truth To Managing Geeks. I read this with my morning coffee and felt compelled to share it with the rest of you, since the article was so well done and happened to hit many fastening devices on their apexes. (Bonus points if you can translate that sentence).

Go read the article for yourself, I'm not going to delve into any insightful commentary, heck, it is 8:00 in the morning! I will, however, share two of the passages that prompted me to put this post in tubes for you all to enjoy.

...IT pros are sensitive to logic -- that's what you pay them for. When things don't add up, they are prone to express their opinions on the matter, and the level of response will be proportional to the absurdity of the event. The more things that occur that make no sense, the more cynical IT pros will become. Standard organizational politics often run afoul of this, so IT pros can come to be seen as whiny or as having a victim mentality. Presuming this is a trait that must be disciplined out of them is a huge management mistake. IT pros complain primarily about logic, and primarily to people they respect. If you are dismissive of complaints, fail to recognize an illogical event or behave in deceptive ways, IT pros will likely stop complaining to you. You might mistake this as a behavioral improvement, when it's actually a show of disrespect. It means you are no longer worth talking to, which leads to insubordination.

...later on in the article...

Most IT pros support an organization that is not involved with IT. The primary task of any IT group is to teach people how to work. That's may sound authoritarian, but it's not. IT's job at the most fundamental level is to build, maintain and improve frameworks within which to accomplish tasks. You may not view a Web server as a framework to accomplish tasks, but it does automate the processes of advertising, sales, informing and entertaining, all of which would otherwise be done in other ways. IT groups literally teach and reteach the world how to work. That's the job.

So if you haven't yet read the article, The Unspoken Truth To Managing Geeks yet, go for it. It is illuminating and will help us all to be personally productive as well as more useful to those we impact and manage.

On Start Ups, Developers and Equity

I skimmed a post on FlexCoders today that posed the question "If you had the chance to start up a RIA development company, How would you go about acquiring amazing developers without start up capital?". Being an entrepreneur and also being a developer, I wanted to put some thoughts out there. Keep in mind these thoughts are not directed at the original poster, but to the community at large who is constantly offered interesting and creatively worded business propositions by the non-development community.

On Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs are an interesting breed. They function much like a proud parent of a reasonably untalented child. I don't mean this to offend anyone, but I do want to draw a metaphor. Have you ever been forced to sit through a child singing a very clumsy, off-key, screeching song, only to have the proud parents and prouder grandparents beam at the end and ask you what you thought? Parents are often blinded by their love and their involvement in their children and often value the allure of the child (and the metaphorical singing) much more than others with less involvement. This is a natural phenomenon, and I believe vital to the continuance of the human race.

Entrepreneurs often have the same blinded fascination and love for their own business ideas. They categorically believe in the success of their idea and will move heaven and earth to see the idea come to fruition. This often means sacrificing all else, family, social relationships, outside hobbies, etc, to further the idea of the business.

Entrepreneurs often consider their business to also be their principle hobby, effortlessly spending nights and weekends developing the idea and the business around the idea. Business is fun, for them.

Another noteworthy thing about entrepreneurs is they are perpetually short of funds, time and talent to carry out these ideas. See, ideas are cheap and any visionary can have several really good ideas per day. Ideas are easy to think of, and internal optimism and intuition can cover any potentially glaring holes.

On Ideas

Reality is, ideas actually do not matter. What matters is execution of those ideas. Actually, execution takes a back seat to getting paid for the use of the idea. Getting a check from a customer or a client is the highest form of flattery for an idea and often requires a series of efforts from a multi-disciplinary team all working in the same direction. The end reward for the entrepreneur is successful fruition of their idea.

Let's look at software for a moment. Software requires development. Selling software requires marketing, sales and legal expertise. Running a software business requires people skills, management expertise and financial acumen. Oh, and it requires an idea, but we already discussed the worthiness of ideas, didn't we.

In a start up company, the entrepreneur will probably fulfill a number of those roles. This is key as it helps the entrepreneur marshal the scant resources available to bring the idea through the phases leading to a customer writing a check. Often, the entrepreneur is not a developer, but knows he/she needs developers and developers are somewhat costly in the grand scheme of things. So the wily entrepreneur seeks to procure developers for as little expense as possible. An economy of resources is a good thing.

However, I submit to you that the original question prompting this article is near a impossibility. The question was "If you had the chance to start up a RIA development company, How would you go about acquiring amazing developers without start up capital?"

Software developers have ideas too. Many of them are creative problem solvers and gain tremendous business experience by writing software that solves real problems in business. Most of them enjoy their work and often put in extra hours working on side projects to entertain themselves. So wouldn't it seem logical to procure a few good software developers that will work for free while the business got started?

As a software developer, my time is money. If I am going to divert my attention from a steady paying job, and away from my side interests, money is going to be involved.

I don't mean future money, like "Instead of paying you, we'll give you a trainload of stock options" but today money. Today money is money that I can go to the bank today and receive the rectangular green yuppie food stamps I'm accustomed to using for groceries and gas.

On Working With No Pay and Open Source

I often work on open source software for which I receive no pay. Is this the same as working in a start up for no pay? I submit there is at least one vital difference. In open source software, there is no money. Thus there is no schedule. We may publish a schedule of our intent, and are free to move that schedule as priorities change.

In a start-up business, the prospective client or customer controls the schedule. If you tell a prospect a demo version will be ready on Friday, you must meet your deadline. Missed deadlines communicate untrustworthiness and unreliability to your prospects. This is anti-cool and usually means less checks. So while I'm perfectly happy to spend inordinate amounts of unpaid time writing software, I'm not willing to have my schedule controlled by those not paying for the right to set my priorities. I'd bet most competent developers feel similarly.

On Evil Investors and Entrepreneurs

Most successful entrepreneurs have been through a money-raising event, like a bank loan or venture capital. These events are usually painful for the entrepreneur because the entrepreneur is not in control and has to listen to the unvarnished opinion of sophisticated investors who deal with hundreds of business ideas all the time and aren't blinded by the vision or the visionary.

I learned everything I know about entrepreneurship from my Dad, a serial entrepreneur. His last business was a contracting company. I would never be able to imagine my Dad offering stock options or deferred payments to his workforce, in lieu of payment. If he did, none of them would show up for work, and I wouldn't blame them for it.

As an entrepreneur, I want to instill the highest confidence in my prospective clients and customers, thus, I demand the right to set priorities and schedules of any team member in my group. For that right, I pay them. Since I pay them, they consistently deliver over and above expectations. This makes us look good to our prospects and gives me confidence to reach across the desk and shake hands to close the deal.

On Bootstrapping Thoughts

So, is it possible to assemble a team without start up money? I'd say there are some ways to make it work, but only for a little while.

1) Cult of Personality. If you have a very strong community reputation as a smart person who gets things done, you can probably get some reasonably talented people to drink your kool-aid for a little while. Make sure to deliver on your promises. Missed promises=diminishing team.

2) Project Work. If your business is service related, land a big project as the way to start up the company. Developers might accept a lower rate on the first contract if promised a higher rate on future contracts. This is certainly preferable to no pay at all.

3) Get funding. Why is it you have no funding? Financial Investors are trained professionals and want to invest in businesses to earn a profit. They MUST earn a profit so if your idea has appeal and your team is competant, you can usually get some funding.

4) Grants. There are a multitude of Entrepreneurial grants and programs available. Many of these have a simple application consisting of a few pages. Working on the application will likely help you refine your idea so even if you don't get the grant, you'll get something out of it.

5) Business groups. Find business groups, like Business Networking International or the Council for Entrepreneurial Development. They can often help you find interns which might help you get over the hump.

To the entrepreneurs out there, good luck to all of you. I know the road is interesting, challenging and rewarding like no other.

-Dan Wilson

P.S. To the reader: What sorts of opportunities have you been presented with? I invite you to share your stories and ideas in the comments.

Hello, Me again. - A Mid-Year Letter from Dan Wilson

CFUnited is right around the corner. I can close my eyes and clearly remember last year's CFUnited like it was a month ago. "Where does the time go?", they say?

I remember in High School watching the second hand slow dance across the dial. Each minute broken up into 60 equally agonizing seconds each in turn taking it's own eternity.

One way I mark time is by looking at my blogging habits. My blogging habits have been abysmal. I partially blame twitter, the ultra-time-suck-in-140-characters or less, since twitter serves as an outlet to the world for me. I also blame Facebook to a lesser degree, though I've long since removed any vestige of twitter or facebook from my work computers in an attempt to control my distractions.

I can also say that Model-Glue has taken it's share of time as well. Thankfully there is a large community of active contributors willing to put in time to keep the framework moving so it is certainly a manageable workload. ( though depending on who you ask, manageable might be debatable). Shepherding Model-Glue to the final 3.0 release is one of my recent professional accomplishments I'm most proud of.

I've also recently gotten married. June 6th to be exact. As proof, I stuck a picture in this post. Don't worry, I won't bore you with more.

We've also combined houses, and bought a new house, and are in the process of closing on the new house and selling the old house. This is a tremendous amount of work and I never thought I'd ever spend 14 hours spreading mulch, but I can chalk it off to one of my professional accomplishments I'd like not to repeat too often :).

I'm also involved, along with most members of the best CFUG on the face of the planet in planning the CF in NC conference. If you are new to this idea, we are holding a really great Adobe Platform in the Research Triangle Area of North Carolina. Thanks to the dedication and cleverness of the members of the planning committee, and the generosity of our sponsors, we've managed to remove the cost of the registration fee. Our unofficial slogan is "The Economy Sucks, We Don't. Come to CFinNC!"

I've missed a few things along the way. I missed the chance to really get down and dirty with CF9 once it hit public beta. I missed the rescheduling of Flex 4 for 2010. Heck, I even missed the chance to spew my own brand of bullpoop in the last Great OO Is Dead blog war.

I think things will settle down a little after CFUnited. I'll be able to really get into CF9 and learn how to make the best use of the newest, hottest features. I'll have time to work on my SuperSecretAIRApplication. I'll even have time to blog more, which I dearly miss.

If you've stuck around this long, thanks. Sometimes we all need to reflect a little and remember where we've come from, so we know where we're headed. Best wishes to you in the last half of 2009.


Bluetooh Headset: Plantronics Voyager Pro Review

I wrote about wanting the Plantronics Voyager Pro bluetooth headset a few months ago and left the reader with the promise of a review. Well, here it is.

In short, the Plantronics Voyager Pro is well worth the money. I paid $100 when I purchased it from Best Buy (the only place that had it in stock) and the price meant this headset would have to perform in the top 5% of all headsets for me to be pleased. The good news is the headset excelled in all categories. Stop reading this now. Go get one.

Things I like

  • Super long battery life
  • Very quick charging
  • Very comfortable wear
  • Good noise cancelling for constant background noise
  • Seems hard to break

Things I don't like

  • --- editors note: do I have to make up something to put here before I release this article? I want people to think I'm fair and balanced, not in love with this headset, which I actually am.

The headset I'm replacing

I replaced an Aliph Jawbone 2, which I didn't like at all over the Jawbone 1. Both Jawbones have less battery power than the Plantronics Voyager Pro and both Jawbones are likely to break when placed in a pocket, unlike the Plantronics Voyager Pro. Both Jawbones are likely to pop loose from my ear as well, whereas the Plantronics Voyager Pro is much more likely to stay on my ear, even if I shake my head like a dog, or a death metal rocker.

Info On The Plantronics Voyager Pro

If you want, you can watch this simple video demonstration of the Plantronics Voyager Pro Bluetooth Headset.

It looks like the price is holding around $99 dollars, pretty much what I paid for it. See results and reviews at the Google Products page for the Plantronics Voyager Pro so you might as well head to the local Best Buy and pick one up. After 2 months of continual use, I am completely happy with the Plantronics Voyager Pro and don't miss either my Jawbone 1 or my Jawbone 2 in the least.

Why I Don't Have A Gym Membership

While I was at the Velocity conference in San Jose, I spent daily time in the very well equipped gym at the Fairmont Hotel (at the urging of the ultra fit Mike Brunt). In a few short days of daily regular exercise, I could feel the difference. Returning back to Raleigh-Durham, I thought I'd go get a Gym membership and make regular workouts part of my daily life.

I decided one reason I was a faithful attender of the hotel gym was its proximity to my room. I could be in the gym in 2 minutes, so I figured whatever gym I chose back home should have reasonable proximity to my house. Luckily, there were two well equipped gyms within a 3 mile radius. I set out to visit each.

Between the two gyms, there was no real difference. One was 1 mile from the house, but older. The other was 3 miles from the house but newer. In the end, I could have cared less which. Both would work.

The sticking point came to the contract. A Gym contract is a lot like a cell phone contract or like buying a used car. For some reason a gym really really wants you to sign a year long contract, with checking account auto-draft and littered with all sorts of strange clauses compounding the difficulty in fulfilling the terms of the contract. For example, auto-draft. I'd rather not pass over my checking account information to a gym so they can take money out whenever they want. I use credit cards because there is liability protection. A checking account is real money! Secondly, there was a proximity clause stating I could cancel the contract if I moved 30 miles from the gym. The proximity clause was the deal-breaker.

Proximity Clause, you ask?

In the contract is clause stating you can get out of your contract if you move 30 miles from the gym. Frankly, Shannon and I have been actively looking for houses since February and there is a fair percentage we'll actually find something we like and want to live in. This process could take a few more months, or might not happen at all (I hear the economy sucks). I've not wanted to use the 'we are house shopping' as Yet Another Reason To Avoid Going To The Gym, but the fact of the matter is, moving is on the table and our target area is about 20 miles away.

Should we end up moving, we'd be expected to still attend the gym (or at least, keep paying for it). Frankly, I'm very uninterested in driving 20 miles in the wrong direction through traffic for a gym. So what do I do? They did offer me a 'month to month' membership for 3 times the cost, but my health really isn't worth 90$ monthly, now is it? So I'm stuck. Is this a normal gym membership experience? Do I have options?

How To Use Gmail to Tame Runaway Mailing List Messages

I am on a lot of mailing lists. "How many?" You ask? I'm on 27 mailing lists as of right now. Most are low traffic so I can quickly scan the headlines and decide whether to read or remove. Some mailing lists are higher traffic and prone to extremely long (100 message) threads. These threads are rarely useful to me mostly because this exceptionally long thread count is pretty much only reached when 2 strong, anti-social personalities engage in a meaningless form of combat called Message of Attrition. Message of Attrition is like the arm-punch game you played as a kid. You know, the one where you punch someone in the arm, then they punch you in the arm. The cycle continues until one person realizes the sheer stupidity of the exercise and quits. The quitter walks away feeling intellectually superior. The 'winner' walks away feeling physically superior.

Is this the first you've heard of Message of Attrition? Can't say I blame you, I made up the term a few moments ago, mostly because I had a sentence that needed a clever ending.

So anyways, I used to get really annoyed by these long pointless message exchanges, mostly because I'm afflicted by a form of neurosis called InboxMustBeAtZeroitis. This condition affects countless numbers of our society and causes them to occasionally trigger a compulsion to unread/delete/read all email the second it comes in. We're doing a fund raiser right now to help those poor souls with the condition. To donate, please hold your credit card up to the screen...

Thankfully, the GMail folks have provides a calming balm for InboxMustBeAtZeroitis in the form of Mute. Have you ever wished your remote control worked in real life? Have you fantasized at pointing your remote control at a stubborn red light when no one is using the green side? If so, then Mute is for you. Here's how it works:

  1. Simply open a message (or use the checkboxes to select several messages)
  2. Drop down the More Actions control
  3. Select Mute
  4. Say "serenity now" three times, and feel the calming peace return to your body...

There, wasn't that easy?

New Bluetooth Headset On Order

I live and die by bluetooth headsets. Holding the phone up to my ear during a long conversation is as annoying as being covered in sugar water and buried in a Fire Ant hill. I'm just not very happy doing it.

I loved the Aliph Jawbone Headset. Apart from some issues with the charger, that was the most perfect headset ever invented. The Aliph Jawbone 2 was demonstrably worse in all ways, including call quality. I've been on the hunt for a new headset ever since.

Today I found the Plantronics Voyager Pro and am ordering it right now. Rather than bore you with the details of how the Plantronics Voyager Pro deals with a barrage of noise, a cacophony of wind and other call quality reducers, I'll leave it to you to watch this simple video demonstration of the Plantronics Voyager Pro Bluetooth Headset.

Want one?

It seems Best Buy is the exclusive source right now. Amazon shows a month back order. I'm going to get mine from Best Buy today. If there is enough interest from the readers of this blog, I'll post periodic reviews of the Plantronics Voyager Pro Bluetooth Headset. Whaddya say? Do you guys/girls care about what I think of this product?

I Am An Adobe Community Expert

I'm super stoked to announce I've been nominated as an Adobe Community Expert for ColdFusion. I really appreciate the recognition from the mother ship (Adobe) and will continue to contribute for the development of the community.

As you know, the Adobe Community Experts Program is a community based program made up of Adobe customers who share their product expertise with the world-wide Adobe community. The end goal is to help reward and enable those who share and contribute to the Adobe community at large.

The Adobe Community Expert group is chock full of excellent, talented folks. I'm humbled and pleased to be counted among them. I'd like to thank my mom and dad who helped me be the person I am today. I'd like to thank my 7th grade history teacher....

A Vote For FreeCycle

If you have not yet heard of FreeCycle, you might be missing out. FreeCycle is a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills.

This worked out perfectly for me because I had some items that were too valuable to throw away, and too annoying to keep around. I spent a few minutes posting the requisite OFFER: emails and sent them to freecycle.

In a matter of hours, I was able to get rid of a Working Oven, Working dishwasher, Working Refrigerator, 2 Dell servers, 1 21" monitor, an old Laser Printer, a Keyboard and a Scanner. The folks who showed up were punctual, appreciative and very nice. Not only is my garage now perfectly in order, but some unwanted items have found a welcome new home.

I'd originally wanted to give the Appliances to a charity, but they wouldn't take them because the appliances were more than 10 years old. The FreeCycle people weren't so choosy, so we all win! FreeCycle FTW!!!

Where Willl The Next RIAAdventure Cruise Be?

Woo Hoo!

The inaugural RIA Adventure cruise was a smashing success. It was fun hanging out with a lively entertaining crew and getting to know each other better, all while drinking in Perfect Weather, Frosty Beverages and Island Sun.

The next cruise could be in a lot of locations, Shannon and I are voting for Alaska. We've never been to Alaska and really think the scenery is something special. So if you would like to see Alaska and hang out with some fun people while doing it, vote for Alaska on the RIA Adventure Poll.