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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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Get Hired without Process or Competition? Its Not as Hard as You Think

Some years back, I was eating lunch in a town-favorite, super casual hot dog place.  Wait, let me zoom out a bit.

I was doing an onsite consulting gig, as I was wont to do back then.  So, I was really busy, and on a brief lunch break.  My main goals, in priority order were:

  1. Zone out for 30 minutes and read random things on my phone.
  2. Eat a hot dog.

But then an email came in.  My phone buzzed, I glanced at it, sighed, and got out my laptop.

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Software Career Anti-Patterns: Career Development by Coincidence

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a hot take.  And, to be fair, this is probably a lukewarm take, at best.  I’m taking a slightly aged tweet, and I’m going to react to it in a slightly oblique way.

Here’s the tweet.

I do have opinions on this tweet, and I’ll get to those momentarily.  But, as I go through this post, I’m actually going to relate it more to a different facet of the programming world.  Specifically, I think this has an tangential-but-important tie-in with how we tend to fetishize skill in the tech world, in spite of it being not that important in the scheme of things.

But let’s put a pin in that.

Conference Speaking is an Content Marketing Activity

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you might have seen me write about this exact topic.  I titled the post, “Conference Speaking Isn’t Good for Your Career Until You Make it Good,” and that title serves nicely as a spoiler for the content.

My premise is somewhat softer than Brianne’s, in that I neither discount speaking outright, nor do I make an ad hominem implication that youth and naivete govern speakers’ decision-making.  My take is less that conference speaking is pointless and more that people tend to do it quite inefficiently.

In a professional context, conference speaking is a marketing activity and, more specifically, a content marketing activity.  You deliver value for free (in most cases) with the idea that investing your time and effort this way will pay off later.  Other activities, including ones that Brianne mention also fall into this bucket.

  • Writing blog posts
  • Building FOSS utilities
  • Starting a Youtube channel
  • Building a social media following

And Conference Speaking is Uniquely Prone to Content Marketing Inefficiency

Now, as someone who spent years creating content inefficiently, I have plenty of perspective here.  I wrote a blog like a journal, instead of an asset, and it led to all kinds of opportunities and new careers.  So, I did it, and it worked, albeit less efficiently than it could have.

So against this backdrop, I’ll offer my own spin on Brianne’s comments, which I think make sense.  When you miss the point with blog posts, software, social media, videos, etc, you can always rework that content into more efficient forms.  You can’t do that with speaking, which is ephemeral.

In other words, while all forms of content marketing activities are prone to these inefficiencies, conference speaking makes it uniquely hard to course correct later.

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Org Chart Types: A Guide for the Aspiring Consultant

Org charts and org chart types.  How companies structure reporting relationships.  The stuff of Dilbert cartoons and tales of disaffected corporate woe, but also the glue that holds most organizations together in some semblance of order.

A Reader Question about Types of Organizational Structure

I’m overdue for answering a reader question, so let’s answer one about org chart types.  This arose out of a post I wrote a while back about how to become a management consultant.  In that, one of the pieces of advice that I offered was to become well versed in different organizational types and structures.

This led to a pretty natural reader question.

After reading your post on becoming a management consultant, I’m wondering if you have useful resources for tackling three of the areas you encourage learning:
1. Business Organization Structures

I’ve elided the second two things he asked about because speaking to all three would make for a pretty disjoint blog post.  So today, it’s all about the org chart.  (Not to be confused with organizational structures like LLC, S-Corp, etc, which I won’t talk about here).

So let’s define the actual purpose of org charts, and then walk through some of the most common examples.  I’ll structure this post by how a company might adopt these structures at different points in its maturity.  But first, I’ll speak to the philosophical why.

And I’ll try to do it all while striking a healthy balance between cynicism and exposition.

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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 to 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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