DaedTech

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Does Niching Make You Less Consultative?

Today I’m going to answer a reader question, what with it being reader question Tuesday.  Last time, I talked about how not to let negative feedback get you down.

That seems like child’s play compared to today’s question.  That’s because today’s reader question comes from a reader who is politely asking, “Erik, haven’t you contradicted yourself?”

Don’t get me wrong.  He didn’t put it to me in such direct fashion, as you’ll see shortly.  In fact, he didn’t even suggest contradiction — he was a consummate diplomat about it.  It’s just that his question caused 2018 Erik’s ideas to bang up against 2016 Erik’s.  And it took me a while to reconcile the two.

The Reader Question: Is Niching-Down Counter Productive?

Let’s get to it.  Here’s the question, with a reference to the 2016 post inline.

Thank you Erik for another great article. In “A Taxonomy of Software Consultants”, you say: “[Consultants] are hired in a more general problem-solving capacity. They advance their practice by being known for listening to their clients, tailoring solutions to them specifically, and notching glowing referrals”.

To achieve this, it looks to me that you would have to be sort of a generalist (as opposed to a specialist) in the sense of having to know (a little?) about many things. If so, it would be counterproductive to niche down. Correct?

Often you guys email me (erik at daedtech, and please, send me questions!) with questions or fill out a form on this site.  But this particular question comes in the form of a blog comment on this post, about avoiding the corporate hiring process, written just a couple of months ago.

MrJP has apparently read this blog recently, and also read it back when I made that post in 2016.  He understandably wants coherence in my overall narrative, or at least some kind of explanation.

I’m hoping to offer both today.

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DaedTech Digest: I’m a Perpetual and Proud Gawking Tourist

In last week’s digest post, I addressed a question about whether or life of slow travel is one of constant vacation.  (BTW, the digest posts in general chronicle our life of slow travel).  I said that in some ways it is and in other ways, not so much.

This, then, begs the question of whether I not I view myself as a tourist.  Or, a slow tourist, I guess.  People ask questions in this vein at times.

So do you, like, become a local, or are you always kind of a tourist?

I think the reason people ask me questions like this is, perhaps, because of the general uncoolness associated with tourists.  If you go to Paris, there are the locals who flutter between hip, bohemian spots, and then there are the people who don fanny packs and head for the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.

So which am I?

I am a fanny-pack, Louvre/Eiffel Tower type.  Full stop.

First of all, I’ve never much in my life pretended at any sort of coolness (though I’ve also never actually worn a fanny pack, so there’s that).  It wouldn’t occur to me to head somewhere and then skip the main attractions because I’d look like a yokel.  I am a yokel, and I want to see those main attractions.

But doesn’t the novelty wear off, and you turn into a pseudo-local?

I imagine that you’re thinking this must ease up after a week or two.  But keep something in mind.  You’re imagining the sorts of vacations that you probably take.  You plunk down a bunch of money, wrangle some time off of work, and then manically cram as much sightseeing and experiencing as you can possibly fit into two weeks.

But remember, I don’t travel that way.

I get in on a weekend, see some sights, and then work for a few days.  Then maybe another sight or two, and a few more days.  Rinse, repeat.

So when I’d been in, say, Bay St. Louis on the Gulf Coast for 3 weeks, I’d spent probably three quarters of my time working and a quarter of the time touristing.  Even after a month or two in a place, I have the same capacity for seeing more tourist stuff that you might after 5 days somewhere.

The end result is that we tend to pack our weekends with stuff, even after months.  We spent something like 4 months in San Diego in the past year, and we were still doing excursions to the zoo, various beaches, tours museums, etc.

For us, the tourism never stops.  We live the lives of locals during the weeks, so to speak.  And then we hit all of the surrounding sites in full tourist mode the rest of the time.  I mean, look at this.

It doesn’t get much more touristy than drinking some kind of hurricane out of a grenade-themed yard glass on Bourbon Street.  And we do this kind of stuff readily and without regrets.

Picks

  • For those of you free agents out there, check out the Freelancers Show podcast.  I’m a regular panelist now, so you can hear my unscripted thoughts on all things hustling.
  • I’ve come to love Prime Photos (and video) over the last year or so.  It solves a lot of problems I’ve historically had with photo organization.
  • I haven’t actually tried this one myself, but apparently you can turn Slack into an RSS reader.

The Digest

  • For the NDepend blog, I wrote a post about NLog vs Log4Net.  But instead of comparing their features, I compared how they affect (or seem to affect) codebases that use them.  This was part of my series on code research.
  • For the Rollout blog, I wrote a post on how their recent integration with JIRA takes a step toward bringing a product-focused (startup) mentality to enterprises.
  • And, finally, here’s another in the CodeIt.Right rules explained series.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy your weekend.

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Value Proposition Guidance for Recovering Programming Generalists

I saw something awesome earlier this week.  Because I’m in the content business, I was trying to explain the concept of “pain, dream, fix” to a client.  It’s a way to write landing pages that focuses on customers and their pain points rather than on product features.  Anyway, in looking for a good explanatory link, I found this gem from Anton Sten.  It’s great advice for landing pages, full stop.  But I’m going to build on it to offer you advice about your value proposition.

Getting a value proposition right is hard enough.  But when you’re used to being a software developer, it’s almost impossible because of how badly everyone teaches us to get this wrong.  So let’s look at the bad advice we get so that we can then start with first principles.

Here’s the picture from the gem of a post I found.  Let’s start there.

The Basics of Pain Dream Fix and the Value Proposition

About a year ago, I wrote about how to start freelancing/consulting as a software developer.  In that post, I emphasized the idea of a “who and do what” statement.  This is a mad lib that takes the form of “I help {who} do {what}.”  This is a value proposition — a way to convince prospective buyers to buy from you.

In the software world, we constantly get this wrong.  And this image illustrates perfectly how we get it wrong.

We tend to talk about our products in giant lists of features.  Or we sell ourselves as an alphabet soup of skills and tech stacks.  And, in doing this, we completely neglect to mention who should care and why.

“Pain, dream, fix” (and this picture of Mario) is a way to jolt ourselves out of our professional solipsism and to start thinking of others.

  1. Pain: Poor Mario is too small and weak to survive in a world of Goombas and Koopas.
  2. Dream: But he could be twice the size he currently is and able to slay his enemies with flamethrower arms.
  3. Fix: All he has to do is eat this flower.

Flower provider value proposition:  We help undersized plumbers kill their foes by giving them super powers.

Seems simple.  But we really manage to get this comically wrong.

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DaedTech Digest: Is My Life a Never-Ending Vacation?

Another Friday, and the digest rolls on.  Last week, I talked about getting a home ready to leave saying that it’s not so hard, and it’s actually like leaving for a long vacation.  And that reminded me of something that people ask me a lot in conversation:

Your Life Seems like a Never-Ending Vacation.  Is That True?

I’m going to answer that in a way that seems to have become a pattern here.  Yes… and no.

Let’s start with the no.

Adopt This Mental Model: Is Business Travel Vacation?

To understand why I would say my life isn’t constant vacation, let’s start with something to which most of you can probably relate.  You’ve done some business travel, haven’t you?  So start there when you wonder what it’s like to be an entrepreneurial slow traveler.

Personally, I put business travel into two conceptual buckets: ad hoc business travel and commuter business travel.  Ad hoc business travel is what most of you can relate to, I’d imagine.  Every now and then, Mr Spacely comes in and says, “Jetson!!!  I need you to fly to Atlanta next month for mandatory compliance training!”  The company travel agent then sets you up, and off you go in a middle seat with one stopover on your way to Hartsfield–Jackson and then a Hilton, or whatever.

Is that a vacation?

Kinda, sorta-ish, if you don’t travel a lot, I imagine.  You work all day, and then you frantically try to go out at night and experience a little local or tourist life.  Maybe you even extend the trip for the weekend and bring the family.  But to call it vacation would be a stretch.

Then, there’s commuter travel.  That was my life for years, wherein you get on the plane every Sunday night and fly home every Friday night.  This often means going to the same place or a rotating sequence of same places.  You burn out seeing the local stuff, and eventually your spare time becomes reading your kindle at the nearby Outback Steakhouse or doing extra work in the hotel bar.

Is that a vacation?

Nope.

My Life Isn’t a Constant Vacation — It’s a Vacation Right Outside Whenever I Have Time

Why do I bring this up, when my brand of slow traveling isn’t business traveling?  Well, because my life combines elements of both of these things when I’m on the road, all orienting around the fact that I do actually work quite a bit.

  1. When you go to a place, the immediate novelty wears off and you become more like an expatriate ‘resident.’
  2. You have a mental push to carpe as much diem as possible, since you’re choosing your locales.  I was a lot more motivated to get out in, say, San Diego than I was in, say, Detroit.

Vacation is sort of an iconic 9-5er concept of blowing off work for a week and worrying about nothing more than packing the car and driving to Sanibel Island where, damnit, you’re going to have fun.  You turn off the work, and make it your job to relax for a week.

That’s not a thing in my life.  I have a few businesses now, one of which is running an agency.  The work never truly lets you unplug for more than maybe 3 days.

I wind up working and spending lots of time in places (similar to commuter business travel).  And I also really like those places, since they have lots of novelty (similar to ad hoc business travel).  But it’s still quite similar to business travel.  So think of my life as a never-ending business trip to fun places.  Fun, but still business.

There is one great additional perk, however.  I can make my schedule — work on a Saturday and blow off a Tuesday morning to go fishing.  And when you layer this on top of everything else, you get something just a bit different from business travel.

My life is an awful lot of work, but done in cool places, affording me the ability to take micro-vacations whenever I feel like it and can shuffle things around.  But you don’t need to be a slow traveler for that to be true — you just need to appreciate your surroundings where you live and make time for enjoyment.

Picks

  • I was looking to explain the sales copy concept of “pain, dream, fix” to someone when I stumbled across this post.  The image in there explaining it is awesome. And it’s also going to be the centerpiece of an upcoming blog post here.
  • I’m going to pick Microsoft Azure as a platform.  It took me about 3 hours to take a little ASP MVC CRUD thing I’d developed and get it up and running in Azure.  This included web server, configuration, and database.  And it also included me knowing next to nothing about Azure when I started.  Oh, and it’s free (at least for a year or so, unless I add things to it).
  • Hit Subscribe authorship!  We’re growing  — a lot.  So if a side hustle writing technical blog posts interest you, get started here to be an author.

The Digest

  • For SubMain, I wrote another in my series explaining the CodeIt.Right rules.  A mix of throwbacks and current web development ideas.
  • What makes a codebase “acquirable”?  I answered that question on the NDepend blog, looking at how you could use some of NDepend’s metrics to tell you whether you’d want to inherit a codebase or not.
  • Here’s a pretty recent one on the Hit Subscribe blog that takes a data-backed look at how you can get an exponential organic traffic curve on a blog.  This includes actionable tips for what we did to make it happen.

As always, have yourself a great weekend.

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Negative Comments and the Art of Not Letting the Bastards Get You Down

Time for yet another reader question post.  This one is going to be all about negative comments.  How do I deal with them?  How should you?

As an aside, any trolls arriving here to read could turn this post into an interesting meta pop-psych exercise by scrolling down immediately and blasting away in the comments section.  “Didn’t read the post, you’re an idiot!”  That’ll turn the post from theoretical reading into an applied lab exercise.

But I digress.

The Reader Question: How Do You Deal with It?

This is another short and sweet reader question.

How do you deal with the inevitable negativity toward /criticism of you or your work, when you put yourself out there (speaking, blogging, making courses, publishing books etc.)?  How do you recommend handling it?

The answer to how I deal with it is pretty simple: not well.

But I think the particulars of my “not well” involve a lot of coping mechanisms and strategies that can help you.  And here’s a hint.  It won’t ever stop bothering you.  So accept that fact because the sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll stop trying futilely to “toughen yourself up” and start doing things that work.

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