DaedTech

Stories about Software

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Positioning Yourself to Coworkers as a Stealth Consultant

In a nod to yesterday’s announcement, I’m going to demonstrate how just unaltered the DaedTech blog might be, content-wise.  To wit, here’s a both that qualifies in both my reader questions series and my “developer to consultant” series.  This makes sense, since it’s a question about the developer to consultant series.

Today I’ll talk about positioning yourself as if you were an independent consultant, but with the caveat that you’re trying this out on your coworkers.

Positioning Revisited, But Internal to a Company

When it comes to posting on this blog, I love not having to make the caveat that my opinions aren’t my employer’s, or whatever.  The more used to that I’ve become over the years, the fewer punches I’ve bothered to pull.  And so it went with my first developer to consultant post.  In that post, I unapologetic declared that every developer should become a consultant.

If I were writing a book, that post would have been the prologue.  Chapter one, then, would have been this post about positioning.  It’s a long read, but I recommend it for understanding the nuance of positioning.  At the 10,000 foot-iest of 10,000 foot views, your positioning is your plan to ace the question, “why should I hire you, specifically?”

The reader question came in the comments of that post.  And here it is.

For an employed software engineer, what are some of the ways to “signal” your positioning strategy? In other words, how do you let the org/team/manager know what your unique value prop is? I’d love to get your thoughts on this.

This is an interesting thought exercise, because to participate in the standard hiring process is to have the worst possible positioning strategy.  When you do this, you’re saying, “I’m slightly better than dozens of otherwise interchangeable resources whose resumes you’re holding, so hire me.”  To have a good positioning statement as a consultant is to say “I’m the only person that can deliver X for you in exactly the way you need.”

So today’s topic is about how to develop the latter flavor of positioning strategy in the former world.  But who am I to shy away from nuanced topics?

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Software Jobs for Social Anxiety Sufferers

It’s been a while since my last reader question post.  It’s hard to feel too bad, though.  I was combining a cross-country relocation with a two week vacation.  So I suppose the internet just had to do without my wisdom for a few weeks.

But I’m back in the saddle, so that changes today.

For this week’s reader question post, recall a post I wrote about how to find remote programming jobs (and why you should find them).  Anyone who follows my digest posts knows that I’m location independent and nomadic.  Naturally, this means that I work remotely.

I’ve actually worked either partially or completely remotely for years, since before I ever started to vagabond.  And the longer I do it, the more I advocate for it.

Companies love to mass the troops inside of four walls for the kind of camaraderie and collaboration you just can’t achieve remotely.  And, while I understand the draw from a management perspective, from a quality of life perspective, I find life too short for commutes, khakis and birthday cake in the break room.

Remote Work for When the Office is Actually Torture

But what about a different situation?  I’ve gradually evolved to remote work because I prefer it.  In contrast, today’s reader question concerns someone for whom going into the office is actual, acute torture rather than the vague, existential angst embodied by Peter Gibbons.

Here’s the question:

I was reading your article about finding a remote programming job, and I was wondering if you have any advice for someone who has very bad social anxiety, to the point where they have not been able to get any type of programming job, outside of an internship for school. I’m asking for my brother, who has a degree in computer science and is incredibly smart and gifted.

He just has an extremely hard time forcing himself to interact with people. He’s really interested in finding a remote programming job, but doesn’t know where to start. If you have any suggestions for him I would really appreciate it!

The One-Two Punch of Social Torture and the Entry Level

Looking at this question, the social anxiety element certainly pops out at you.  I mean, after all, it’s the meat of the question. But it’s not the only challenge here.

We’re also talking about someone without significant previous work experience to draw on.

I’ve spoken to challenges at the entry level before, in a post about finding an entry level job without a degree.  The person in question has a degree here, which is certainly a help.  But the desire for a specifically remote position mitigates that.  The corporate world doesn’t trust entry level people to work “unsupervised.”

Now, one quick note here.  As someone who is an introvert and has embraced that, what I’m not going to do is offer any advice about dealing with or “conquering” the social anxiety.  That’s really not my forte and, even if it were, I see nothing wrong with a quiet, introspective life.

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How to Avoid the Standard Corporate Hiring Process

Every Tuesday, for the most part, I do reader question Tuesday.  Because I’ve been answering reader questions for an astounding amount of time now (more than 4 years, apparently almost as long ago as I started Pluralsight), sometimes those questions build on prior posts.  This is one of those.  This reader question builds on a post I wrote (in response to reader interaction).

That post was one I wrote after a lot of people shared a post with me about someone quitting Google and wondering what I thought.   What I thought was that I’d write a long piece of advice about how to avoid Enterprise Silicon Valley whiteboard interviews.  Don’t feed the beast, as it were.

The Reader Question: How to Shrug Off the Crushing Weight of the Pyramid

I mention that post because the reader quotes something I said in it.  “If you develop a specialty with business value, nobody will bother to interview you. They’ll just call you and offer you a contract.  That’s how my life has worked for years now.  No reason you can’t do this too.”

The reader quotes this, and then asks the following:

How does one get enough public recognition of their ‘speciality with business value’ for this to start happening?

How do you circumvent the dev hiring layers to reach the person making the hiring decisions?

For example, if I put ‘saved my company 300k p/a by identifying and fixing wasteful processes’ on my CV, it won’t help me get past the keyword filtering internal recruiter, or the dev interviewers who are more concerned with your knowledge of how generics are implemented in java or how the GIL works in python.

In my company, the individuals above have veto power over hires that involve programming, regardless of how much you appeal to the PM or business owner.

There’s a lot of ground to cover here, so let me say a few things up front.

The resume bot 9000 is the only one that cares about your resume skills section.

You Have to Change the Rules of the Game from What You’re Used To

Let me first say that there are a lot of concepts in here that go away when you have a specialty with business value.  I suspect the reader/commenter understand this, but I want to make sure that everyone does.  When you have such a specialty and appeal directly to buyers, here are the things that stop being part of your world.

  • Recruiters
  • Resumes/CVs.
  • Keyword filtering (or keywords) and concern about tech stacks
  • Non-business-focused dev managers (and the idea of a layer or layers of “veto-ing techies”).

These things don’t matter or affect you because you don’t deal with them.

I could tell you about how my life has shaped up this way and about how I tend to deal with companies.  But I’ve been contracting and consulting for a long time.  I think it’d be more interesting here if I told a story about employment.

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Explaining The Pyramid Corporate Opt-Out to Others

If you haven’t read my book, Developer Hegemony, let me briefly describe one of the main themes from it.  In it, I say that the standard corporate model is horribly ill-suited for knowledge work and thus represents a bad deal for knowledge workers.  Or, software developers should (and probably will) look to start an exodus from large companies — especially ones that aren’t software companies.

I lead with this because the context is necessary for this week’s reader question to make sense.  This one came from the Developer Hegemony Facebook group (feel free to join, if you’d like!), and I bumped it ahead of the usual FIFO model I have for reader questions.  It’s just been rattling around in my head a bit since I saw it.

The Reader Question: Convincing People Corporate Unsuitability

So, here’s the actual question.

Hey, does anyone have any tips for trying to explain this stuff to friends and family?

I’ve found that former coworkers tended to be skeptical at best or furious at worst when I explained what I’d managed to figure out about the whole corporate pyramid. And of course, I just sound like a huge greedy jerk when I try to explain to non-tech people why I walked away from a guaranteed $200-$250k a year.

Maybe I should just throw in the towel on bothering to try and lift the veil for anyone else, haha. Once I get up and running, I’ll just point anyone who asks to Mr. Dietrich and John Sonmez’s books.

Hopefully, you can now see why I mentioned this core theme from my book about the standard, pyramid-shaped corporation.  He’s asking how he might persuade others, presumably without doing what I did and writing a book on the subject.  So let’s look at that.

There are two main modes of persuasion here, if you will:

  • Convincing personally interested friends, family, and acquaintances that you did the right thing (for you).  These are the people asking, “hey, I see you quit your job to do something else — what’s the deal?”
  • Convincing colleagues and former coworkers that they should do something different (for their sake).  This is you saying, “I’ve figured some things out and you should listen to them.”

Let’s treat these separately.

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When To Pull the Fire Alarm and Run out of the Building?

How about that for a blog post title?  Of course, I can’t claim credit for it.  It’s reader question Tuesday and it was actually the reader who phased it this way.

Here’s the question:

I made a mistake.

Took on some side work that I thought would be a simple way to make money but it turned out to be a mess. I have stayed up nights and worked weekends to get it out the door but it is a failure.

I knew it would be from the beginning and stated my concerns to the team and project manager but they did not listen. Even though I should have stopped working on it at that point, I tried to power through it.

Now the project has truly blown up for all the reasons I said it would. And now I am extremely tired and have to catch up on all of the other work I neglected. I guess I was not assertive enough and should have set boundaries. I was supposed to work 20 hours per week but management did not tell the team that so they were confused when I would say the customizations they wanted would break the budget.

My business partner told me to be more assertive but I guess pride made me think I could pull it off. When do you pull the fire alarm and run out of the building?

When Do You Run out of the Building?

Let’s dive in and answer the question as quickly as possible.  When should you pull the fire alarm and run out of the building, presumably never to return?

Never.

Professionally speaking, this won’t ever go well, and it will burn bridges.  By “pulling the fire alarm,” I’m assuming that you’re referring to a relatively perfunctory bit of notice and a quitting of the project.  Doing that on a contract, especially one going poorly, will strain and break professional relationships.

That said, if we’re talking about personal sanity or burn-out, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.  Side work shouldn’t ever threaten your mail line of work, let alone something like your health.  So understand that when I say not to pull the rip cord, I’m speaking strictly from a professional perspective.

If Not Pulling the Fire Alarm, Then How to Get Out of It?

When I do work for clients or even have sales discussions with prospects, I tend to operate in perpetual consultant mode.  What I mean is that I’m always looking for a way to help them, even when I decline taking the work.

In the event that I ever do what we’re discussing about here, “breaking up” with a client, I still maintain this attitude.  And that’s what I’d recommend here.  There are two main ways, off the top, that you can be helpful with a break-up in this situation.

  1. Find someone else that can help them or that they should call instead of you.  Ideally, you’d tee this up as recommending someone more equipped for the situation.
  2. Have the hard conversation: this project is going to fail.  Tell them that you don’t feel good continuing to accept money because it would constitute malpractice.  And then (and yes, I know, this sucks) offer to write some of your revenue off for your role in this.

In both cases, you’re getting out of the situation.  But, unlike just phoning it in one day (or giving a couple of weeks of notice), you’re making this about their best interests rather than yours.

I’d say beyond getting out of the immediate situation here, there are some broader lessons for free agents to take away here.  For the rest of this post, I’ll speak to these.  How can you keep things favorable and avoid nightmarish client engagements?

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