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DaedTech Digest: How to Start Vagabonding

We’ve been on the move for the last couple of weeks.  Two digests ago we were packing to head from Michigan to Austin for an indefinite period of time.  And last digest, we’d just arrived in Austin.

When we are on the move, I like to chronicle that.  But once we settle, I like to answer questions that people ask me about slow travel/vagabonding.  So let’s do that today.

How Do I Start Vagabonding?

This is a fun one.  I enjoy our nomadic lifestyle so much that I get excited when people ask me, “hey, how can I do that?”  So I’ll lay out how to start vagabonding, at least in broad strokes.

First of All, Let’s Clear the Biggest Hurdles

Before I get into more logistical concerns, you need to understand two important, sort of immutable, things.

  1. You and your spouse would need to figure out remote work arrangements, and I don’t know what to tell you if you have school age children.
  2. You’ll also need to come up with a way to finance the added cost of “road rent,” assuming you own property and want to keep it.  This can be expensive or not terribly expensive.

Regarding number (2), I will say that this is not as big a barrier as you might think.  If you’re a renter, you might just not have a permanent residence for a while, opting to bounce around to AirBNBs between leases.  If you do more than a month at a time on AirBNB, many places cut the nightly rate more or less in half, giving you a relatively reasonable monthly rate.

Another thing to consider is that most people pop for some kind of annual or semi-annual vacation to Cancun or whatever.  All expenses paid, all inclusive, $2,500 per person, or whatever that costs these days.  Now imagine that, instead of taking this trip, you hold those thousands back and use them to rent a place somewhere warm for the winter.  That week in Cancun would get you at least 2 months in our place in Austin.

Hurdles Aside, How Do You Start?

Alright.  Let’s assume that you’ve convinced your employer to convert your jobs to remote ones, dropped the kids off at Grandma’s (kidding, relax), and decided to spend your vacation money on rent for an entire season.  You’re in.

What do I recommend?  Here goes.

  1. Start with not-fun logistics, like mail. Get a digital mail service, such as the one we use, PostScanMail.  Nomadic lifestyle and the permanence of an “official address” don’t mix.  So have your mail forwarded to a service that scans it and sends you emails containing images of your mail.  This lets you decide what to throw out, what to act on, and what to have forwarded.  (You’ll need to open something like a PO Box in each location)  Once you leave, you can just have the USPS forward your mail to the digital service.
  2. Prep for being away from your house.  Amanda and I actually don’t worry that much about being away, due to practice.  But prep yourself.  Line up a friend or family member to check on things.  Install a camera to let you monitor, or home automation stuff to make it look like someone’s around.  Whatever you decide, think about this up-front.
  3. Go domestic, and drive the first time.  If you’ve read The Four Hour Work Week, you’ll find this advice at odds with what he says.  But I stand by it.  Ease your toe in the water by going somewhere within reasonable driving distance.  This means that (1) you can always bail out and go home if anything goes wrong, which offers a lot of peace of mind, and (2) you don’t have to do a crash course in learning to fit your life into a checked back and a carry on.  Also a great option when you have pets.
  4. Start with a month if you’re nervous.  A month is the minimum amount of time to book for a significantly discounted AirBNB rate.  If you’re nervous about this whole thing, try it for a month and take it from there the next time.  Amanda and I threw ourselves into a 3 month commitment the first time, and we loved it.  In fact, we booked an extra month.  And that’s the point.  You can always book more months when you arrive.

I could probably go into a lot more detail, but that would start to get increasingly specific to our situation.  The most important things are to start thinking well ahead of time about what it would mean to leave your place for longer than you ever have before, to plan and pack well, and then just to dive in.  Because, like diving into a chilly body of water, you’re never really going to be ready.  Psych yourself up, and then just say, “screw it” and go for it.”

I can’t tell you how happy we’ve been over the last several years for having taken the plunge.  And a never-ending set of new experiences, like downtown Austin viewed from across the Colorado river, keep reinforcing the wisdom of plunging.

Picks

  • I’m going to throw a pick this week to the aforementioned PostScanMail.  I love their service, because it actually turns your physical mail into an Outlook-like inbox.
  • Last weekend, Amanda and I embarked on an epic walking tour of Austin, which included going to a place called La Barbecue.  They have the best brisket I’ve ever had in my life.
  • I’ve used Hubspot for CRM for a long time.  But only this week did I discover that Hubspot makes a Chrome plugin that integrates your Hubspot CRM with your gmail inbox.  I can, without any effort, log every email exchange into the CRM, leverage email open tracking, add new contacts to CRM, and see information about the person I’m talking to.  As the de facto head of Hit Subscribe sales, this is amazing.

The Digest

Another sparse week on the digest.  I’ve been focused on a lot of business development stuff lately, and the content I’ve been writing for pay has been ghostwritten.  So, I’ve had pitifully little to link up to in the digest.  But don’t worry — more will come soon.  In the meantime, here I am on video.

And, as always, have yourselves a great weekend!

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If We Solve the Software Generalist Anti-Pattern, Who Writes the Code?

I am, strangely, not an expert in my own history.  Chronicling my own exploits through digests and Prime Photos have helped somewhat in this regard, but I nevertheless struggle to remember the sequence of my life.

So I think it was 2015 when I was writing about the tales of Emma in Developer Hegemony.  And I think it was a few months later that I first dreamed up the strange neologism of “efficiencer.”  I think, but I’m not positive.

What I do know, however, is that it was a few years ago now.  And I also know that my thinking has evolved somewhat since then.  So I’m going to answer a couple of reader questions today with the benefit of having acquired additional experience since writing the book.  I’ve moved away from management consulting, started a business, and helped a lot of nascent product companies with marketing and positioning.

I haven’t really made any reversals, so if you bought and enjoyed the book, don’t worry that I’m disavowing any points in it.  Rather, I’ve refined how I think so-called efficiencer firms should market themselves.  And, as you can probably infer from the title, it should categorically not involve any whiff of generalism.

Let’s Look at the Reader Question

Alright, so what have readers asked me?  Well, quite a while back (2017, in fact — yes, I have a long reader question backlog), someone asked me this.

The efficiencer model looks a lot like management consulting except the consultants here can do the automation as well. What has changed to make this path more suitable for developers to follow?

And, more recently, someone asked me a question in response to a post I wrote about how any firms that sell custom app dev are selling staff augmentation.  I see a logical progression for software developers, for the most part, moving from staff to staff augmentation to, well, efficiencers.  This prompted the question.

Say we work for an efficiencer firm, and we avoid writing code for pay. In the end someone needs to write code; who is that? Are we back to architects vs. programmers & UML handoffs? Or is this an interim solution?

So we have a question that is literally about who writes the code, and another that, at its core, really asks how software developers can be taken seriously offering consultative expertise.  All of this feeds into the general theme of the division between expertise and labor, and who should furnish each.

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DaedTech Digest: Here We Are in Austin

In last week’s digest, I chronicled our packing for Austin, and I described how packing for several months is different from packing for one month.  Now, here I am, a week older and wiser, and relocated as planned to Austin, Texas.

Slow travel is always interesting.  There’s a fair bit of prep in selecting the place, packing, and traveling, even when this becomes old hat.  You choose carefully, ask questions of your prospective landlord, spend a lot of time packing and even more time traveling.

And then you arrive.

On arrival, you’re always hoping that the place is, well, good.  Your prep, the description, and the pictures can only show you so much.  Imagine the house buying process, but if you couldn’t ask for a showing and just had to buy based on the pictures.

That’s what it’s like showing up in your new place.  Will it be clean?  Do all of the rooms look like you’d envisioned?  Did the pictures do it justice?  Will it have a certain je ne se quoi?

Luckily for us, the answer to all of that has been positive.  We arrived on Sunday, and made ourselves at home in a spacious home in the woods and on a lake, but still in the city of Austin.

And if the location, the creature comforts, and the warm winter weather weren’t enough, check out this photo we snapped during an evening walk the other day.  This is pretty country.

Picks

  • I recently acquired a Xenvo Squidgrip tripod to help us with our recording of Facebook Lives and Youtube videos.  If you’re looking for a tripod to hold your phone, it’s definitely worth a look.
  • I’ll follow suit with another consumer good in the form of the Roku.  We’ve been hauling this little companion with us on every one of our vagabonding adventures, and it’s nice to have access to Netflix, Prime Movies, TV channels and more, all with a thing that has a remote and fits in a laptop bag.
  • Last up, I’m going to pick work life balance.  Seriously.  I threaten this a lot and often fail.  But I took the holidays off and have been mostly knocking off work in the early evening since then, and I feel much more productive when I am working.

The Digest

Another relatively light week with content, as I haven’t been focused on this of late.

  • Here’s a Facebook live in which I interview Amanda and Angela, Hit Subscribe’s director of finance and operations, about Thanksgiving traditions.
  • And, here’s another Facebook live, where we talk about running the business in the face of various, sometimes weird, forms of adversity.

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Software Consulting: What This Really Means and How to Start

On this blog, I’ve talked at length about both software development and consulting.  In fact, I have an entire posting tag devoted to transitioning from being a developer to being a consultant.  This includes a take on why everyone should want to.  So I’ve got the subject of software consulting surrounded.  But now, I’d like to get into the nitty-gritty.

I’ll link off to plenty of opinions for further reading as I go, but this is all about defining what software consulting is, how to start doing it, and how to make a living.

What is Software Consulting? For That Matter, What is Consulting?

Let’s start as simply as possible.  In order to know what software consulting is, we need to define consulting itself.  The business dictionary has a pretty serviceable definition (emphasis mine):

The providing of expert knowledge to a third party for a fee.  Consulting is most often used when a company needs an outside, expert opinion regarding a business decision.

Simple enough, right?  As a consultant, businesses hire you, an outsider, to furnish an opinion.  You’re selling your own hard-won knowledge.  And what you’re not selling is your labor.

So software consulting is just doing this same thing, but with a narrow focus on software.  Right?  Still pretty simple?  Case closed?

Well, the case should close there, but, sadly, it doesn’t.

Why Most Definitions of Software Consulting Aren’t Helpful

We in the software industry have managed to take a simple definition and… complicate it… to the point where it means something totally different.  Think of the way the definition of “literally” also includes “not literally.”

Go do a google search on software consultant, and look at the definitions you find.  Seriously, go look.  You’ll find various definitions, but they generally add up to the same idea.

Software consultants are software developers that work for companies that sell software development labor.

How did this come to pass?  Why does the definition of “software consultant” include “software developer that does not consult for a living?”  Why do we literally need a whole taxonomy to determine if a software consultant is a software developer, or literally a lost soul in some professional purgatory?

Well, the backstory there is complicated.  But the short version is that it comes from a time before today’s ubiquitous computer programmer.  When few people “did IT” for a living, the folks engaging them valued both their expertise/advice and their labor.  But these days, it’s mostly just labor.

I’ve got an idea for an app!  Now I just need you grunts to build it.

Way back when, companies engaged tech vendors for expertise and labor and called them consultants.  Today, they still call them consultants, but just engage them for labor.

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DaedTech Digest: Goodbye, Frozen North, and Hello, Texas

Happy New Year, everyone!  I’ve gone quiet since post the last digest, a couple of weeks ago.  We managed to take some real time off, getting much needed R&R.

But that’s all over now, following New Years.  Not only are we back to work full time, but we’re also spending our evenings prepping to leave for the winter.  As I mentioned last time, we’re headed to Austin.  More specifically, we’re going to be staying on Lake Travis, at a nice, secluded property (at least, it looks that way from pictures).

As always, packing is an adventure.  But, unlike the first time I started journaling these trips, we’re not going somewhere for a month, and we’re not going somewhere that has predictable, chilly-ish weather.  Here’s what we’re doing instead:

  • Going away for 3-4 months instead of 1.
  • Not entirely sure where we’ll be after the first month.
  • Packing for weather that, over the course of 4 months, could range from “chilly at night” to “deathly hot desert.”

This means that we’ll probably pack more.  But, counter-intuitively, probably not that much more.

In terms of hauling the cats around or our work setups and electronics 1 vs. 3-4 months really doesn’t matter.  And, clothing-wise, we’re only ever really looking for 1-2 weeks’ worth of stuff before doing laundry.  It’s just that in this case, we need 1-2 weeks worth of pants and long sleeve shirts as well as shorts and t-shirts.  And that doesn’t account for a ton of variability in our approach.

So, wish us luck on our travels.  It’s been fun, after a fashion, here in frozen Michigan, but I’m ready to put scenes like this in the rearview mirror.

Picks

  • Here’s a simple pick for you, and one that those of you with New Years resolutions about productivity might appreciate.  This site, tomato-timer.com, is a dead simple way to implement the pomodoro technique.
  • Amanda and I have been watching this show called Black Mirror lately, which is a series about the near-ish term future.  It’s sort of Twighlight Zone meets sci-fi, and it’s as compelling as it is dark.  (I also suggest watching beyond the pilot, which isn’t really representative of the rest of the show.)
  • And, finally, speaking of Amanda, she got me this activity/fitness tracker for Christmas: the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music.  I’d found Fitbit to be increasingly annoying (especially the mobile app and the fact that you needed a data connection to see how many steps you had), and this is an awesome replacement.  The app is a nice user experience, and it provides an immense amount of data, which I find very cool.

The Digest

The digest is a little light this week, since I was on vacation and not producing content the last couple of weeks.

  • Here’s our last video from Vermont, in which we talked about how we, as small business owners, handle things that employers usually take care of, like sick days and health insurance.
  • And, here’s a Q&A mailbag that we filmed upon returning home from Vermont.

As always, have yourselves a great weekend.