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Stories about Software

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Hustle or Work-Life Balance: What’s the Right Answer?

I have a rich annual tradition that I only just became aware of this year.

Every year, around this time, Apple has some kind of conference or announcement or something.  It’s the time of year when, for a day or two, an iThing getting smaller or losing a USB port makes everyone absolutely lose it and flood my news feed with opinions for a few days.

And I’ve only this year realized that this seems to happen annually and that it’s probably a pattern.  But every year, including this one, I’ve mustered a strong, festive sense of complete apathy.  I think.

The Nights and Weekends Platitude Heard ’round the World

This year, the event rocketed into my awareness not because of some new product or service, but because half of my Twitter feed started retweeting things like this:

Whoah, okay.  Curious, I spent some time looking for the transcript of wherever he said this, but to no avail.  I couldn’t even find a video of it.  (Though I did learn that this annual apple thing is called “WWDC.”)

The closest I could find was this Tweet with a quote, from someone who, presumably, had listened.

So, from what I gather, Tim Cook, during the course of the obligatory shout-out to the little people, gave them thanks for working their little tails off during their little nights and their little weekends.  And the world subsequently had opinions.

I Have Deep Ambivalence about Hustle Culture

Long time readers of the blog might remember this viral post about “sucker culture.”  I let a CEO, “Victoria,” have it for bemoaning her employees’ lack of desire to work extra hours for no pay.

In fact, I’ve written at length about the standard corporate hierarchy and how it involves a cultural tricking of many people into over-performance in exchange for no value.  Obviously, in the posts and in my book on the subject, I don’t treat this as a positive.

And, perhaps most compelling of all, I own a business with employees.  And, along with my wife and partner, hold work-life balance as a non-negotiable governing principle.  We view this as humanistic and simple, good business.

If we’re building a company that requires heroic efforts to exist or scale, we’re building something unsustainable and with artificially inflated value.  It’s the corporate equivalent of wrestlers cutting weight just before a weigh-in.

And yet, I work a lot.  Last week was a 4 day week, following Memorial Day weekend, and I managed to work a 49 hour week from Tuesday to Friday.  In my management consulting life, I used to put in 40 hour weeks, run the business that would become Hit Subscribe in the evenings from my hotel, and still do things like write a book.  And sandwiched between Sunday night and Friday night flights home.

So what’s my deal?  Am I a hypocrite?  Some kind of would-be martyr?  I’m honestly asking myself these questions non-rhetorically, and this blog post is my attempt to figure out the answer.

Because I think it’s none of the above.  I think, instead, that I’m fortunate enough to have continually hacked my career into situations where I both enjoy and benefit from work, thus rendering it all a sort of work/hobby mish-mash.

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The Renaissance of the Problem Domain as a First-Class Concern

Hey, look at that — I’m writing a blog post again!  Seriously, apologies for the lull, but, hey, life happens.

Enough of that, though.  Let’s dive into some realio-trulio, software related content.

I Read an Interesting (Horrifying) Tale This Morning

Lately, instead of starting my day blearily looking at my phone and the emails that have trickled in while I slept, I’ve been starting each day with unstructured reading and chatting.  I randomly read my feed, talk to people on Slack, watch a Youtube video, or take some research flight of fancy.

Anything goes as long as it’s:

  1. Not completely mindless
  2. Not directly related to work I’ll do

I can’t recommend this practice enough, especially for the self-employed set.  It stimulates creativity and sort of gets all of the things that normally distract me out of the way.

But I digress.  The real point of this mini-anecdote is to say that I read a blog post from Uncle Bob Martin this morning.  It’s a compelling read, as his posts generally are, and it talks about the recent Boeing crashes.

Here’s something that jumped out at me, though, somewhat oblique to the narrative, and relatively mundane in an otherwise pretty grim tale.

Rather, programmers must [have] intimate knowledge of the domain they are programming in. If you are writing code for aviation, you’d better know a lot about the culture, disciplines, and practices of aviation.

And then, this, at the end:

We have to know the business domains we are coding for.

Huh.

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Staff Augmentation is as Staff Augmentation Does

I’m in the process of drafting a post entitled “What Do You Know That People Would Pay You For?”  But what I’ll put here in this post, combined with the material for that one, are shaping up to be long.  So I think I can carve off an initial, coherent point here about staff augmentation.

That one figures to be uplifting.  This one?  Perhaps not so much.  But I think it’s important to establish a premise.

If you write code in exchange for a salary, you’re either staff or staff augmentation, depending on who signs your paychecks.

Now, for those of you that have worked for product/service companies with a software component, you’re probably shrugging and thinking “yeah, no kidding, I’m staff.”  Ditto those of you who have toiled in a cost-center capacity, maintaining some internal software the company would sooner eliminate.

But those of you that work for custom app dev agencies are probably feeling a little huffy, since most places that sell custom app def (i.e. staff augmentation) go out of their way to state righteously that they most certainly DO NOT do staff augmentation.  Bear with me, though, all of you.

I don’t actually think there’s anything wrong with staff augmentation.  In fact, I think it’s a substantially better model, in most cases, than staff.  In accordance with the spirit of Developer Hegemony, I think we, as an industry, should strive to move from staff to staff augmentation, at least as an initial step.

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Good Companies Don’t Ask You to Share. They Make You Want To

“So please, go ahead and share this with your social networks.”

I imagine that your company says stuff like this to you all the time.  So frequently, in fact, that you’re probably sorta numb to it.

  • Hey, we’re hiring!
  • Our company was just nominated for Who’s Who in American High School Students Companies!
  • We’ve got a new product release coming up!
  • Steve is talking at a networking event!

“So please, go ahead and share this with your social networks.”

It’s an Innocuous Request… And It’s Also Okay If This Rubs You Wrong

I can remember the first time I heard this.  Before, I’d spent the first part of my career working in companies that manufactured products, with software as only part of the equation.  Because of the developers’ relative anonymity and the relative newness of social networks, I never encountered any request like this.  It simply wouldn’t have come up.

But this particular year found me working at a shop selling app dev (and calling this “consulting”).  With the people as their product (or at least the people’s labor), the individual contributor software developers had more of a prominent role.  And so the request came.

“So please, go ahead and share this with your social networks.”

I don’t remember what it was that we were supposed to share or tweet or whatever the verb for that on LinkedIn is.  The company may have been asking for help with recruiting, marketing, sales, or something else.  It doesn’t matter.

For our purposes here, what matters to me is that this rubbed me the wrong way.

I didn’t really know why at the time, and it’s taken me years to start to understand why.  I wasn’t embarrassed to work there or anything.  It was… a place that gave me money in exchange for labor. And that’s a thing that most people do.  The request wasn’t onerous and it didn’t compromise my morals and ethics in any way.  Even the fact that it was a request to do something of value for free occurred to me, but didn’t bother me.

Still, though.  I didn’t like the request and didn’t do it.

Years later, this request is probably much more common.  For the rest of the post, I’m going to expand on why this might rub you wrong, why that’s okay, and what should happen instead.

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How to Write Software: 5 Lessons Learned from Running Businesses

I used to write software for a living.  I did that for a lot of years, as a matter of fact. And, in doing so, I learned a lot about how to write software.

But I learned this from the perspective of, well, a wage software developer.  Today, I’d like to reflect on how my view has evolved over the last number of years.

Software as a Software Developer versus Software as a Business Owner

As longtime followers of this blog know, I’ve had a meandering career.  I started this blog as a software developer, new to moonlighting.  Eventually I moved into management and then started doing developer training activities.  From there, it was a number of years of consulting.  And finally, these days, I’m mostly running a business that is growing rapidly.

I say all this not to treat you to an unsolicited autobiography, but rather to set the scene and to help explain what I’ve been doing between my last full time software development gig and now.

These days, for Hit Subscribe, I’ve started writing software again.  I don’t do it full time, by any stretch.  But I am building a line of business app used directly by four of us and indirectly by something like 30 people.  So it’s not my primary living, but it’s not trivial either, in terms of importance or scope.

Dedicating some time to this has caused me to reflect on how my perspective has changed.  Don’t get me wrong.  I never stuck my head in the ground pretended “the business” didn’t exist or didn’t matter.  But then again, I never was the business, either.  It was never my money in play.

Now that it is, here are some musings.  And please bear in mind that I’m not teeing these up as lessons you learn.  They are simply how my perspective is different.

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