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Readers Often Ask Me, “Should I Write a Book?” Here’s My Take

“Should I write a book?”  Someone asked me this today, and I rattled off an answer.

But as I was doing so, it occurred to me that I get this question frequently.  Probably a few times per month, at least.  And this makes sense, since I’ve written a few myself and I’m in the content business.  Heck, one of those books has even enjoyed more success, commercially, than I ever anticipated.

So, no-brainer, right?  Get out the digital quill, put on your frilly Shakespeare-style writing shirt, and let the art flow through your keyboard?

Answering the Reader Question, Should I Write a Book?

I’ll spend the post answering the question, but I can give you a pretty short answer and then let you read on below the lede, if you’d like.  The answer is, “ehh… maybe.”

I think writing a book can be a great exercise in personal growth.  I also happen to agree, at least anecdotally, with the wisdom that “everyone has at least one book in them.”  But that doesn’t mean that you should just sit down and start typing.

Should you write a book?  The short answer is this:

Yes, but only if you can articulate exactly who will read it, how, and why, and then you form a plan to make sure that happens.  If you do that articulation and that planning, and still want to write a book, then go to town.

So there you have it — the short answer.  The longer answer, and the remainder of this blog post, is going to by the justification of my thesis.  And, by way of support, I’m going to explain how I lumbered into writing a book in exactly the wrong way.

Think of this, then, as not just advice I’m giving to the various readers who ask about this, but also advice I’d give to myself 5+ years ago.

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DaedTech Digest: Going Places and Breaking Things

This might be my favorite question yet.  Every week, I post one of these slow travel digests, and a lot of them involve answering questions that people ask Amanda and me about our slow travel lifestyle.

Some of these questions are straightforward:

But this one… this one isn’t straightforward.  It’s not relevant to most people that travel for a few days or a week… at least, not for the most part.  But for those of us who are starting to number their time spent in AirBNBs in years, it’s surprisingly relevant.

The Question: How Do You Handle It When You Break Stuff in a Host’s House?

You remember this concern from your days renting.  You’re in a place for 6 months or a year or something, and you mostly try to take care of it.  But then you break something.

And I don’t mean that something breaks on you.  This isn’t the porch light going out or the oven mysteriously not working one morning, where you call the super.

This is you tripping and putting your hand through a screen, or you having hands wet from rinsing dishes and dropping some glass bowl that shatters.  The only call you can make is to the host, to say “hey, sorry, I broke stuff.”

This is a uniquely large danger, given what Amanda and I do.  When you lease an apartment, the landlord leaves you only appliances, carpet and drywall.  When you stay in a hotel, you have things, but you’re not there long enough for them to break.  But now imagine Amanda and me, vagabonding.

Our hosts leave us furniture, dishes, appliances… everything.  And we stay for months.

This is why, even though I rarely receive the question, I love it.  Of course we’re going to break things.  Just as surely as you’re going to break things in your own house in the next 4 months.  So how do we handle it?

So What Do We Do?

1. Try Not to Break Stuff.  Really.

Well, of course, the first thing we try to do is be considerate.  We’ve spent something like a year of our lives in AirBNBs, and, yet, to this day, we’re still way more careful in them, by far, than our own places.

2. Hide the Nice Things that Don’t Matter to Us

Let’s say that we arrived in a place and found a lovely Ming Vase.  We’d look at it, appreciate it, and then carefully put it away somewhere.  Much as we enjoy aesthetics, we try to minimize our exposure to stuff that the owner might prize.

For Amanda and me, this involves putting away a lot of stuff, particularly since we’re always bringing pets with us.  Any of you cat owners will know that vases are a non-starter.  But we have a routine for identifying and hiding anything that we think the cats might mess up and that either of us might mess up.

In fact, we’ve got this down to such a science that one of our arrival tasks is to scan the place for things to put away. We take a lot of pictures immediately upon arrival, noting where everything is.  Then, we start shoving expensive-looking or cat-mischief-attracting things into closets.

When it doubt, hide it until departure.

3. Honestly, Don’t Sweat It

Every now and then, in spite of our best efforts, things happen.  We forget to use a coaster on a table or Amanda slaughters a towel with mascara, or whatever women slaughter towels with.  I could go on, but why bother?  It’s the same kind of thing that happens regularly in all of our houses.

Amanda and I have stayed in people’s houses for months at a time.  We’ve befriended our landlords.  I mean, literally.  We’ve gone out to dinner and thrown back drinks with the folks that rent us their places.  (Good business on their part, since we become de facto big customers, given our arrangement.)

And what we’ve learned is that AirBnB/VRBO/landlord types build minor mishaps into their business model.  They’d rather you use coasters and not slaughter towels, but they account for these things as part of the cost of doing business.  Booking for 3 months instead of 3 days at at time is worth losing a few towels.

Don’t use this as a carte blanche, by any means.  But don’t freak out if you mess up the non-stick coating on a random frying pan in the place.

4.  Follow the Boy-Scout Principle When You Notice: Leave it Better than You Found It

This last bit of advice seems to contradict the last.  But that’s unavoidable, because the back-and-forth between them is really a judgement call.  The last piece of advice is that you should replace stuff, when you think it’s fair (and when you notice).

To make things more tangible, here’s an example.  At our current place, in Austin, our host has a nice, lofted space that I claimed for my office.  Whereas a lot of places we go don’t have a desk setup, this one not only had a desk… it also had a nice desk chair, a side desk, and a shelving unit.  I was in work-heaven.

But, after settling in for a couple of days, I realized that the desk chair wasn’t exactly perfect.  Most of its wheels didn’t slide any longer and one of its arm rests wouldn’t stay fixed in place.  In spite of these imperfections, it did the job.  Well, at least, until it didn’t.  I was on a call one morning and I happened to lean back, which prompted one of its wheels to… implode.  I can’t think of a better way to describe it.

The chair just crumpled, I fell over, and the folks on the call were asking loudly if I was okay while I laughed.  I was fine and the chair was even mostly fine, with the exception of a wheel that just no longer existed.  C’est la vie.

So I did some mental math. Landlord’s old crappy chair.  Didn’t owe him anything, and could probably have sued or something.  But, instead of any of that, I realized that I had another 5 weeks to spend here and that I wanted an office chair.  So, we went to Target, spent $50, replaced it, and sent him a note saying, “your chair broke, but we bought you a new one.”

I recommend this approach when it makes sense.  It builds pennies in heaven for when you deploy the strategy in (3).  It also makes you feel a little better about yourself.  And, finally, it keeps your place looking beautiful, like this.

 

Picks

  • I’m going to throw a nod to someone I respect a lot: Jonathan Stark.  He’s recently launched his pricing seminar, which I highly recommend for anyone looking to go freelance and to figure out how to have a profitable freelance career.
  • I don’t exactly love this, but it’s useful.  The days of being able to use curl to scrape Google’s results are over (I guess they were 10 years ago, but that was the last time I’d tried this).  So, endless curl-scraping would be better, but since that’s not possible, this is the next best things: Google custom search engines.  You can programtically get SERP results for free for up to 100 per day, and for $5 for up to 1,000 per day.
  • For those of you who are Developer Hegemony fans, I’ve had a Developer Hegemony Facebook group for a while.  But I’m now adding a Slack to give people a more private discussion forum, and I’m looking for help with community management (response has been great so far!)  So, if you’ve wanted to participate, but aren’t a Facebook person, you now have a Slack option (email/Twitter/whatever-me for the Slack link if you don’t have a Facebook)

The Digest

This is another week where my internet contributions have been, “meh.”  I won’t bother to promise better things, but I will say that it’s likely I’ll have more videos and posts soon-ish.

And, as always, have yourselves a great weekend.

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How to Pick a Niche: Start Listening to Other People

Last week, I wrote a post in which I answered a reader question about who writes the code in a world of empowered software developers.  In that post, I continued my thematic assault on the concept of generalizing, which prompted a question about another topic I’ve tackled before: niching.

The question was pretty simple (and kind of more of a statement).

I’m having trouble picking a niche.

I Know. It’s Hard to Pick a Niche

The commenter there isn’t alone.  People say this to me all the time.  I have conversations with folks in the Hit Subscribe author group, field DaedTech reader questions, and generally talk to a lot of people.

They tell me it’s hard to pick a niche.  They also ask me how to do so.  And so today, I’ll do my best to offer some guidance on how to pick a niche.

It really is a tough subject, both in terms of execution and in terms of advice.  And, while a lot of the reason for that is that it’s difficult to talk about a very specific thing in the abstract, some of it comes from nebulousness around terminology.

Let’s Define Some Key Terms

So let’s start by removing the nebulousness.  I’m going to establish some definitions for the sake of the rest of this post.  I’m doing this both for the sake of a working vernacular here, but also to underscore a fundamental misalignment in thinking that people tend to have.

Here, then, are the terms in question.  These are not the dictionary definitions of such terms, should you look them up, but rather a framework for progressing as you pick a niche.

  • Generalist.  As a generalist, you optimize your career for “employability.”  This means that you make yourself as deployable as possible as a human resource, ensuring that an arbitrary employer with arbitrary needs can find a way yo use you.
  • Specialist.  As a specialist, you optimize your career to do only the thing(s) you most like to do.  This means that you fuse your hobby and your job, manufacturing leverage out of high demand for a narrow skill set.
  • Niche-filler.  As someone with a niche, you optimize your career to deliver value to others.  This means that you look for gaps in people’s needs and wants, and fill them.

Now, there’s a fair bit to unpack here.  In the first place, it defines a bit of a continuum of agency.  The further toward the generalist end, the more you say “I’ll flail around until a boss tells me when I’m doing it right.”  And, as you get toward the niche end, you say “I’m going to flail around until money starts rolling in and I am the boss.”

But of more interest in terms of your career, it defines whose value you’re optimizing for.  And that is, employer’s, your own, and a customer’s, respectively.

And only one of those makes for good, free agent business.

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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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