My belief in picking a niche for yourself becomes obvious to anyone who reads more than a post or two here. I’ve written too many posts about it to list, and I talk about it on my Youtube channel these days.
But today, I’d like to reference a couple of specific posts where I talk about this in order to flesh out a concept. Here are those posts.
Earlier this year, I wrote a post about picking a niche. And, in that post, I distinguished between generalizing, specializing, and niching. Specializing involves looking at your own skill set, picking something you like, and hoping people want to pay for it. Niching involves looking at needs that others have and filling those needs.
Here’s the gist of what I want to talk about today. 2 years ago, I gave advice that would indeed help you pick a specialty.
But, I actually think that it’s, at best, locally maximizing advice to help you pick a niche. So I’d like to course correct a bit with my advice to the countless people that ask me for help finding a niche.
As you may recall, a few weeks back, I offered the hypothesis that software is a business tactic, rather than a profession. My main purpose in writing that post was to level set a bit with my desired direction for the blog, leaning toward an increase emphasis on reader questions. And, you all immediately obliged, so thanks for that!
So, I’ll start by responding to people’s questions/reactions to that post, both in comments and through other media. The follow-up questions/thoughts that I’ll address fall largely into 2 buckets:
How do you reconcile “software as a business tactic” with “software as an end,” particularly an aesthetic one, such as with video games?
Maybe software is a business tactic and isn’t currently a profession, but why shouldn’t it be?
Number (1) is easier and chronologically first, so let’s do that.
I have a vision for what I want DaedTech (and myself) never to be. I never want to have the “I made it, and so can you by following these [N] easy steps!” vibe, in any way. If you ever catch me doing that, please gather with your pitchforks and storm my gate.
Here’s the thing. Success is hard, specific, and custom to your own context. But a lot of people don’t let that stop them from hawking it in $99 info products.
Fake It ’til You Make It… as an Expert?
I’m about to describe what I think of as an anti-pattern in the knowledge economy. You’ve probably experienced this at least subconsciously, if you haven’t yet learned to actively recognize it.
This crystallized in my head recently when I signed up for something called “The Dynamite Circle” (it’s a community for established digital nomad-leaning entrepreneurs). I was poking around and noticed this blog post, with a couple of great turns of phrase.
In describing a pre-quit-your-job, would-be lifestyle designer, they said:
You are buying products from blogs that make a little money on how to make a little money with your blog.
That produced almost a spit take from me, because I can picture this exact thing. And so, probably, can you. It has:
An oversize photo of the site proprietor smiling maniacally
Some polished-but-somehow-budget graphics
The typical “hero journey” landing page layout
And assurances that you, too, can make money through affiliate marketing, quit your job, and earn passively on a beach in Bali.
But, if you dig into any of the public metrics around the site, you see that it’s getting very little traffic. What you’ve really got here is someone writing blog posts from a cubicle on their lunch break about how you can follow their lead to a beach in Bali.
Any regular followers of DaedTech may have noticed that I’ve dropped off the map of late with new content. Now, before I go any further, please understand that I’m not petering out with content, holistically.
I think you’ll pry my (metaphorical) pen from my cold dead hands. I can’t not write.
But the break here is semi-intentional. I say “semi”, because it started with me not having time to post one week, and then realizing that I wasn’t overly excited about any of the content I was queuing up. This led to an unannounced decision to take some time off and gather my thoughts about what I want to address on this blog.
I’ll get to a justification of my premise that software development isn’t a profession. But that operating thesis is fundamentally inextricable from my background and my current wrestling with topics.
A Brief History of DaedTech
I won’t make this section a long, self-indulgent tour of my life. Rather, here’s a quick-hitter history of how the subject matter here has evolved on this blog over the last decade.
Early-DaedTech: I was a line level programmer (mostly .NET). So I wrote about .NET programming topics, office politics, and general programmer life.
Mid-DaedTech: I was in leadership and starting to side hustle. Here, I trained .NET/Java devs, so those topics remained, but topics about business/leadership/hustle started to displace them.
Recent-DaedTech: I was an IT Management Consultant. At this point, granular tech topics dropped off the map, and everything started to be about free agency, career, and hustling.
Whether I’ve written with some broader purpose in mind, or just written about whatever strikes my fancy, I’ve always drawn topic inspiration from my day-to-day work. And this made for relevant content in the tech world, since my journey was IC software developer –> IT leader –> (software) strategy consultant.
But as what I’m doing is increasingly about running a growing business and marketing, a gulf is emerging. Certainly, readership of this blog has evolved over the years, with those most interested in my early .NET unit testing how-tos dropping off, and more folks interested in freelancing stopping by. But I now face an interesting conundrum.
I could start to write about the trials and travails of being an executive at a growing, tech-facing marketing business. But this would probably create a complete audience overhaul, and, l like writing about the software world.
Or, I could keep writing about the things I wrote about as a software developer/leader/trainer. But the day to day of that recedes further in my rearview mirror all the time.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I still write code and have opinions about software. I still occasionally consult on codebase assessments. I’m not worried that I’ll become technically illiterate or something.
What I’m worried about is writing about the industry more as an antiseptic observer than as a participant. I’m worried that an increasing number of posts I might write would invite declarations of “easy for you to say!”
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:
Tim Cook just said thank you to all the Apple employees “who gave up their nights and weekends from their families” to build all the shit they just showed.
It’s heart-warming how many people are noting @tim_cook’s celebration of working nights’n’weekends and refusing to applaud extractive sacrifices. Overwork isn’t cool, especially not on a regular, expected, and self-imposed schedule. Deal with a crisis, sure. A release ain’t that.
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.
Tim Cook’s closing words: Thanks to all the people “giving up nights and weekends”. If this is Apple’s work ethic that’s really a shame ☹️😣
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.
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.