DaedTech

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Businesses Should Have 3 Months of Savings? It’s Not as Simple As You Think

The COVID-19 outbreak has given rise to memes the way you’d expect from the year in its name. Most of them probably die quickly on the vine, but some have shaped up to make their way into my feed over and over.

And of those a lot are poignant and hilarious.  Some on the other hand, induce a lot of facepalm in me when I read them:

  • The Venice canals have magically healed themselves, so maybe there’s a silver lining to this whole thing.
  • Grocery workers should have higher salaries because we’re collectively grateful to them at the moment.
  • The virus severity is a left-wing conspiracy to make Trump look bad (though I think that one seems to be subsiding).

But perhaps nothing brings palm to face harder than this one:

They tell us that families should save at least three months worth of expenses to cover for emergencies, but businesses lay people off and need bailouts after a week.

The relationship between meme and trope is often a tight one.  And this meme walks hand-in-hand with the “corporate fat cats vs honest folks” trope.

Remember this trope, and I’ll return to it to explain why I brought it up a little later.

My wife and I own a small business. It employs 4 salaried full timers and somewhere around 100 contractors who do varying amounts of part time work.

And, counter to the meme, we have banked enough expenses to survive (without layoffs) for three months.  But, if anything, this “of course you should have” attitude actually makes me hate the meme more, and, in this post, I want to explain why.

Painting with a Broad Brush: Not All Businesses are GiagntiCorp

I want to elaborate a little about my business in particular, because the story of building this business is going to underscore a number of points I’ll make.

The business, Hit Subscribe, is a bootstrapped company. (Briefly: we’ve never taken investment capital or loans, and instead built the business exclusively on cash from sales.)  My wife and I founded it together, about three years ago, and did all of the work in it, initially.

Over the last three years, we’ve grown steadily, backfilling ourselves with contractor help and, eventually, full time employees. That brings us to the current state, with the worker situation that I’ve mentioned.

Remember the “corporate fat cat” trope? I mentioned that because the skeptics reading this are gearing up to object, “you’re not who I’m talking about — I mean Giganticorp!”

Well, fine, but two things.

  • First, in that case, you should probably qualify exactly who you’re shaming in your meme.
  • And second, the road to war chest doesn’t magically get easier as you grow.

To underscore why that is, I’m going to tell the story of growing the business and the fight to build a war chest.

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The Laboring Strategist, A Free-Agent Anti-Pattern (And How to Fix)

I’ve got what might well be a new term for you. You’re probably going to love it, assuming you haven’t heard it before.

It’s the sort of poorly-named Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, so maybe just call it frequency bias. This is the term for when you learn a new word, and then you immediately start hearing it all the time.

Naturally, this is just another instance of the many ways that our brains constantly tricks us.  It’s not that you’re suddenly seeing this thing everywhere.

Rather you’re seeing it the same amount you always have. But you now know what it is and are flush with having just learned something, so you’re actually paying attention.

I mention this, obviously, because the point of this blog is to expand your vocabulary.  That goes almost without saying.

But frequency bias is also going to serve here as a great hook and segue to talking about a freelancer role as a “certified content marketer.”

Introducing The Solo Content Marketer

I got this email the other day:

I get a lot of emails like this, actually. They ask me to link to things or they ask me to publish their articles on my blog.

Mostly, I just send them to spam.

But this one made me curious, so I clicked on the portfolio link and looked at the guy’s website a little before sending it to spam.

And, ooh, weird!

He was another certified content marketer.  And this was weird because I’ve suddenly, in the last 3 weeks or so, started seeing this term everywhere.  Basically ever since we started a new division of Hit Subscribe and needed to find writers en masse in a different discipline.

And I’ve since realized something.

This guy, a self-proclaimed strategist, doing his own spammy outreach labor, is another discipline’s analog for an anti-pattern that I see all the time in the software world.  My hope is that seeing it happen in a different discipline might jog some of you out of your reveries of slinging code and calling yourself a “consultant,” to the detriment of your own prospects and business.

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Employment Teaches You How Not to be a Free Agent: You Have Stuff to Unlearn

Recently, I was doing something that occupies a surprising amount of my time these days: using LinkedIn for lead gen.  This involves researching companies, connecting with people, and, occasionally, consuming LinkedIn.

It was in that latter capacity that I stumbled across this post, from Jonathan Stark.  I nearly spit out my coffee.

It’s funny, right?  But the thing is, it’s also true.

Seriously.  I could probably write an entire post about why telling prospects that you’re “passionate” is a bad idea, both from a positioning and a realpolitik perspective.  But that’s not what I want to talk about today.  At least, not entirely.

When I read this, an idea for a blog post snapped home in my mind.  It had been kind of rolling around, not fully formed.  But then I read this and the basic thesis struck me.

Learning to be a good employee is tantamount to learning to suck at being freelancer/business owner.

Of course, this isn’t exhaustively true.  Very basic qualities like competence, diligence, and “EQ” will serve you well anywhere you go.  But in many important ways, the instincts you develop while advancing as a corporate employee serve you absolutely terribly if you decide to go off on your own.

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Learning in a World Where Programming Skills Aren’t That Important

After a couple of weeks doing Reader Question Monday on a Tuesday, I’m back on track.  I’ll briefly congratulate myself before moving on to the potentially pot-stirring topic of programming skills.

Today’s question is one I’ve gotten a LOT, but have struggled to answer.  I didn’t want to write on the subject until I had what I considered to be a coherent, defensible position.  So I’ve pondered and stewed.  And I think I’m finally ready to answer.  Be warned, though.  This post will probably be lengthy and, at times a bitter pill.  But I think it’s important.

Here’s the question, as a composite from all of you who have written me about it.

How will experience work, especially at the entry level, in the efficiencer world?

What on Earth is an Efficiencer?

A little background, for anyone who isn’t up on secret language of the DaedTech blog.  Efficiencer is a neologism that I used to describe what I perceive as the more business-savvy, more autonomous software developer of tomorrow.  I’ve written a number of posts about it, but I actually defined the term in my book, Developer Hegemony.

Briefly, efficiencers are different — more — than programmers.  Programmers ingest specs and spit out source code.  Efficiencers solve problems.  To illustrate, consider the following.

  • You go to a programmer and say, “I need an ASP MVC website that uses Entity Framework, .NET Core, and SQL Server on the backend.”  The programmer says, “sure, boss, give me the wireframes and I’ll code it right up for you.”
  • You go to an efficiencer and say, “Right now our company takes all of our orders over the phone, and our website is purely ornamental.  I don’t know how this will work, but I know that we need the ability to take orders over a website, 24 hours a day to keep up with our competition.”  The efficiencer says, “I help businesses like yours automate their ordering process, so don’t worry, I’ll make sure your site not only competes with, but outperforms, those of your competitors.”

Can you spot the difference?  Can you tell which professional needs six layers of management and bosses in order to do anything useful, and which one IS the boss?

The Conundrum of Entry Level Efficiencers

The programming world of tomorrow is one in which we, as software developers, stop being the least important people in the software development industry.  In my book and in general, I propose a future in which efficiencer firms, structured like law firms, consist of efficiencers (professional automaters) who call the shots and delegate things like project management (status reporting and schedule coordinating) to subordinates, instead of superiors.

That has resonated with a lot of people.  People like the vision in general, but it leaves a lot of folks wondering about the question that is the subject of this post.

What does entry level efficiencer-hood look like?

The Efficiencer Career Plan in the Short to Medium Term

I won’t bury the lede any further.  I’ll answer the reader question here, in this section.  What will follow for probably thousands of words after that is an explanation and the pot-stirring controversy that I mentioned.  You’ll see why I need to explain further after reading the efficiencer career path.

  • Skip a CS program, because that’s not worth the investment anymore.
  • Do whatever is necessary to get yourself an entry level programming job.  (Boot camp, lateral transition, self-taught, whatever.)
  • Spend 2-4 years as a corporate programmer in a few jobs, where you get paid to learn programming.  This is kind of like a doctor’s residency: you’re an actual programmer in the wild, but also a student.
  • Quit your job and become an actual efficiencer because 2-4 years is plenty of time to become as good at the general skill of “programming” as anyone needs to be.  After your employed residency, you should start to focus on your particular specialty and on growing your brand/career/business.

Alright, deep breaths.  To channel emperor Palpatine, “I can feel your anger.  It makes you stronger, gives you focus.”

Like Anakin here, I can feel your anger at the idea that programming skills aren't as valuable as you think.

How can I possibly make this claim?  2-4 years of programming is barely enough not to make a mess, let alone to perfect this elusive craft.  Am I out of my mind?  Or maybe just an idiot?

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Be a Freelance Web Developer? You’re Asking the Wrong Question

I get a lot of reader questions about freelancing.  People interested in freelance web development or freelance mobile development or what have you.  I applaud the desire to go free agent, and I think you should do it.

But I think you get a lot of bad advice about how to do it.  Bad advice at a philosophical level, that is.

Today I’m not answering a specific reader question, though.  Instead, I’m just going to talk about going freelance.

I did this years ago and have had a good run.  But I really wish I knew then what I know now.  Hopefully I can help you get to joy a lot quicker and in less roundabout fashion than I did.

And don’t worry.  I’ve stated that you’re asking the wrong question, so I will, eventually, get to what you’re probably wondering — what is the right question?

Freelance Web Development?  Here Are Some Tips (That Help Us Make Money Off You)!

If you google advice about freelancing as a developer and about freelance web development, specifically, you’ll probably find a lot of advice from a certain kind of site.  Fiverr, Upwork, and Toptal are all happy to help.  They’ll tell you how great it is, saying things like:

  • Be your own boss!
  • Have work-life balance.
  • Choose your projects.

And they’ll offer you advice, like:

  • Beef up your breadth and depth of tech stack knowledge to have the most opportunities.
  • Build up your portfolio so that you can show it off.
  • Create and promote your personal brand through a website, user groups, conferences, etc.
  • Get your business affairs in order.

All of this is actually good advice for your immediate future.  Full stop.  This stuff will help you blast out of your salaried job and into the world of self employment — they’re right about that.

But here’s the rub.  All of these sites are providing advice to you on how to be a good product for them to sell.  Think of these the way you’d think of recruiters giving you job search advice.

They want you to do an excellent job with the next stage of your career and go exactly no further.  This makes sense, since they earn their revenue pairing freelancers with companies in need of short term labor.

Freelance Development is Basically Just Job Hopping

If this whole thing sounds familiar, it should.  It looks an awful like recruiters helping you from job to job as soon as you’re willing to jump.

The difference?

The world expects you to jump as a freelancer, but feigns shock when you do it as a salaried employee.  Freelancers jump — it’s what they do.

But make no mistake — the difference is only that you jump perhaps a little more often and that people expect it.

Do you want to know what I thought freelancing would be like when I started?  I’m actually chuckling a little as I type this.

I’d had some moonlighting gigs in the past where I did 5-10 hours per week of work in my spare time for someone.  So I just assumed that I’d find 4 app dev clients that wanted about 10 hours per week of work.

I’m not chuckling because this was or is a stupid thing to assume.  I’m chuckling in irony because of how much the world turns out not to work that way.

You get into freelancing assuming that you’ll have a bunch of clients and diversity of work, handling multiple projects at once.  But what you’ll wind up doing is taking sequential gigs with periods resembling job searches in between.

This is a Hamster Wheel

You’re going to need something more than this, eventually.

Becoming just a freelance web developer can feel like this hamster running on its wheel.

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