DaedTech

Stories about Software

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Software Consulting: What This Really Means and How to Start

On this blog, I’ve talked at length about both software development and consulting.  In fact, I have an entire posting tag devoted to transitioning from being a developer to being a consultant.  This includes a take on why everyone should want to.  So I’ve got the subject of software consulting surrounded.  But now, I’d like to get into the nitty-gritty.

I’ll link off to plenty of opinions for further reading as I go, but this is all about defining what software consulting is, how to start doing it, and how to make a living.

What is Software Consulting? For That Matter, What is Consulting?

Let’s start as simply as possible.  In order to know what software consulting is, we need to define consulting itself.  The business dictionary has a pretty serviceable definition (emphasis mine):

The providing of expert knowledge to a third party for a fee.  Consulting is most often used when a company needs an outside, expert opinion regarding a business decision.

Simple enough, right?  As a consultant, businesses hire you, an outsider, to furnish an opinion.  You’re selling your own hard-won knowledge.  And what you’re not selling is your labor.

So software consulting is just doing this same thing, but with a narrow focus on software.  Right?  Still pretty simple?  Case closed?

Well, the case should close there, but, sadly, it doesn’t.

Why Most Definitions of Software Consulting Aren’t Helpful

We in the software industry have managed to take a simple definition and… complicate it… to the point where it means something totally different.  Think of the way the definition of “literally” also includes “not literally.”

Go do a google search on software consultant, and look at the definitions you find.  Seriously, go look.  You’ll find various definitions, but they generally add up to the same idea.

Software consultants are software developers that work for companies that sell software development labor.

How did this come to pass?  Why does the definition of “software consultant” include “software developer that does not consult for a living?”  Why do we literally need a whole taxonomy to determine if a software consultant is a software developer, or literally a lost soul in some professional purgatory?

Well, the backstory there is complicated.  But the short version is that it comes from a time before today’s ubiquitous computer programmer.  When few people “did IT” for a living, the folks engaging them valued both their expertise/advice and their labor.  But these days, it’s mostly just labor.

I’ve got an idea for an app!  Now I just need you grunts to build it.

Way back when, companies engaged tech vendors for expertise and labor and called them consultants.  Today, they still call them consultants, but just engage them for labor.

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DaedTech Digest: Goodbye, Frozen North, and Hello, Texas

Happy New Year, everyone!  I’ve gone quiet since post the last digest, a couple of weeks ago.  We managed to take some real time off, getting much needed R&R.

But that’s all over now, following New Years.  Not only are we back to work full time, but we’re also spending our evenings prepping to leave for the winter.  As I mentioned last time, we’re headed to Austin.  More specifically, we’re going to be staying on Lake Travis, at a nice, secluded property (at least, it looks that way from pictures).

As always, packing is an adventure.  But, unlike the first time I started journaling these trips, we’re not going somewhere for a month, and we’re not going somewhere that has predictable, chilly-ish weather.  Here’s what we’re doing instead:

  • Going away for 3-4 months instead of 1.
  • Not entirely sure where we’ll be after the first month.
  • Packing for weather that, over the course of 4 months, could range from “chilly at night” to “deathly hot desert.”

This means that we’ll probably pack more.  But, counter-intuitively, probably not that much more.

In terms of hauling the cats around or our work setups and electronics 1 vs. 3-4 months really doesn’t matter.  And, clothing-wise, we’re only ever really looking for 1-2 weeks’ worth of stuff before doing laundry.  It’s just that in this case, we need 1-2 weeks worth of pants and long sleeve shirts as well as shorts and t-shirts.  And that doesn’t account for a ton of variability in our approach.

So, wish us luck on our travels.  It’s been fun, after a fashion, here in frozen Michigan, but I’m ready to put scenes like this in the rearview mirror.

Picks

  • Here’s a simple pick for you, and one that those of you with New Years resolutions about productivity might appreciate.  This site, tomato-timer.com, is a dead simple way to implement the pomodoro technique.
  • Amanda and I have been watching this show called Black Mirror lately, which is a series about the near-ish term future.  It’s sort of Twighlight Zone meets sci-fi, and it’s as compelling as it is dark.  (I also suggest watching beyond the pilot, which isn’t really representative of the rest of the show.)
  • And, finally, speaking of Amanda, she got me this activity/fitness tracker for Christmas: the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music.  I’d found Fitbit to be increasingly annoying (especially the mobile app and the fact that you needed a data connection to see how many steps you had), and this is an awesome replacement.  The app is a nice user experience, and it provides an immense amount of data, which I find very cool.

The Digest

The digest is a little light this week, since I was on vacation and not producing content the last couple of weeks.

  • Here’s our last video from Vermont, in which we talked about how we, as small business owners, handle things that employers usually take care of, like sick days and health insurance.
  • And, here’s a Q&A mailbag that we filmed upon returning home from Vermont.

As always, have yourselves a great weekend.

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DaedTech Digest: The Results of Our Winter Destination Lottery Are In

Last week, I asked for everyone’s help in picking a refuge from winter cold for Amanda and me.  And that went well!  Thanks, everyone, for your comments through the various media.  It was fun to read and discuss.

This week, we’ve arrived at a decision.

I carefully took all of the input from last week, aggregated it, and thought “wow, I’m insanely busy this week, so I’ll think about this later.”  And, that went well.  The part where I didn’t think about it, I mean.

In the meantime, Amanda went on AirBNB and fell in love with a place near Austin, Texas, on a lake called Travis.  It’s affordable, it’s spacious, it’s got great scenery, and it kind of looks like a tree house.  What’s not to love?

So, by the time I had a few spare minutes, our path was all but chosen.  And, that’s actually perfectly fine with me.

In fact, I’ve historically been the one more likely to feel the allure for a particular locale and pick it.  It was about 3 months ago that I said, “hey, let’s go to Vermont for when the leaves change.”  So, she’s overdue to have the whim and decide our fate, and I was more than happy to ride shotgun on this decision.

This winter will be a bit different, though.  I think we’re going to think about it month by month, rather than laying everything out until Memorial Day.  So, it’s going to be a month near Austin, and then, wherever we feel like heading next.

In honor of that, here’s a picture of Amanda eating Mazapan in El Paso (the last time we were in Texas, which was about a year ago).

Picks

  • I might have mentioned that I’ve been listening to an audiobook called the Pumpkin Plan.  Well, that audiobook has a companion site, and that companion site includes a pretty helpful worksheet for evaluating your book of business in order to 80/20 your client roster.
  • For all of you Diablo 2 players out there, I just stumbled across this recently.  I haven’t actually tried it yet, but if you ever get the nostalgic itch to revisit an old favorite, this might spice things up.
  • And, finally, I don’t have a specific link for this, but Amanda and I received an air fryer as a gift recently.  We did an inaugural run with breaded chicken strips, and it was quite good.  All of the texture, none of the grease.

The Digest

  • I participated in an interview this week, around the general topic of software engineering management.
  • For the make me a programmer blog, I soldiered on with introductory topics, this time addressing what programmers do at work, day to day.
  • Here’s an episode of the freelancers show, where we talk about dealing with contracts.  Should you have your own?  Should you sign clients’ contracts?  How does all of this work?
  • And, finally, here’s a Facebook Live we filmed in Vermont, talking about how our lives had changed since the founding of Hit Subscribe.  (If you view the Thumbnail, you’ll see probably the worst still image of me ever taken.)

One bit of housekeeping here.  Hit Subscribe is officially on company holiday the week between Christmas and New Years, and we’re going to try to do a little R&R.  So there’s a pretty good chance of a quiet DaedTech the next two weeks.

And, with that, as always, have a great weekend.

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The Developer Hegemony Vision for 2019

This evening, I found myself staring at my post topics Trello board, uninspired.  I have a lot of post topic ideas there: rants, screeds, opinion pieces, helpful how-tos.  None of it really inspired tonight.

Usually, when that happens, I can dig into the backlog of reader questions.  You awesome folks ask me more of those than I can possibly answer, but it’s always fun to do as many as I can.  But I wasn’t even feeling that tonight.

Maybe, for the first time in my life, I had something resembling whatever this thing I’ve heard of, called “writer’s block,” is.  I thought about just skipping a week.

My Unfortunate Neglect of the Developer Hegemony Facebook Group

As I contemplated this course of action, I started wasting time on social media.  An errant click here and a cleared notification there, and I found myself staring at the neglected Developer Hegemony Facebook group.  It, in turn, stared back at me, like a dying succulent that only requires water once every 3 months, a meager commitment that I still couldn’t manage.

So I started to think.  What can I do with this group and this idea?  What should I?

And then, it occurred to me.  I should do the things I wanted to do all along.  The only difference is that I need to adjust for my own lack of bandwidth.

The Last 18 Months Have Looked Nothing Like I Thought They Would

It was about a year and a half ago that I published Developer Hegemony.  The launch went better than I could have hoped, and I was pleased by the reception and flattered at the sales.  And, what’s more, is that the sales have increased since then, instead of leveling off.

These concepts resonate with people.  I thought — hoped — they might.

So when I released the book, I had some grand plans.  I was leaving the traveling management consultant’s life, envisioning a future where I pursued a few things in parallel.

  1. A much more focused, lower touch (non-travel) consultative offering around codebase assessments.
  2. Building on the Developer Hegemony momentum, perhaps with info products or by creating some kind of community.
  3. Working with my wife to start a little agency, creating blog content for dev tools companies.

My prime focus at the time was (1), which would represent infrequent work and big paydays.  I viewed (2) and (3) as good ways to supplement that, providing more stable income for us.

But what I didn’t anticipate was that (3) would take off like someone had strapped a rocket to its back.

Far from a side interest, Hit Subscribe, 18 months later, now has 4 full time employees and something like 40 contractors doing a lot of varied work for a lot of clients.  And, as you might imagine, this prompted a re-ordering of my original priorities.

What This Means for Developer Hegemony

This re-ordering has been pronounced and profound.  I still do specialized consulting around codebases, but I do zero outreach for it.  Instead, I work only with a subset of the people that reach out to me for help.

And, regarding info products and a community around Developer Hegemony… well, I haven’t done much of anything.  It’s hard to justify from a purely financial standpoint, even given the success of the book.  Why would I build an info product that might sell, when I have one business exploding and another one that drops occasional, highly lucrative gigs in my lap?

But here’s the thing.  It’s hard to justify financially, but I still want to.  So from time to time, I stare morosely at the beginnings of what could be an awesome community, wishing there were 30 hours in each day.

The Way Forward in 2019

But that really doesn’t solve anything for anyone.  I’d like to keep the cause of developer empowerment moving in the right direction, even if I only have the capacity to give it nudges, rather than shoves.  And this means re-thinking my approach.

I need to enlist help.

Here are some ideas I have for what that might look like.

  • As I’ve mentioned in the Facebook group, I’m contemplating the idea of opening DaedTech up to guest contributions in and around the subject of developer empowerment.  I’d probably look to compile a list of topics that we should cover to help people get going.
  • A lot of you ask me about career coaching and the like, often offering to pay an hourly rate.  I always demur, since, apart from my books, everything I do is B2B.  Unless I know specifically how I might help your financial situation, I don’t really want to charge you consulting rates.  But, that said, I am thinking of having maybe a monthly call/coaching session that amounts to office hours.
  • I could solicit volunteers to help me drive the community and Facebook group.

I’m also open to other suggestions.

So that’s what I’m thinking of implementing at some point in the new year.  I’d love to hear from you about what you’d find valuable.  Please feel free to comment, tweet at me, email me, comment in the Facebook group, or whatever you want.

And wherever we take this, I’d like to thank you all for reading.

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DaedTech Digest: Where To Go This Winter? Seriously, What Do You Think?

Let’s do something a little different today.

With the digest posts, I’ve been answering questions about slow travel and chronicling our adventures.  But today, I’d like to get a little more interactive.

Where Should We Go for the Winter?

It’s that time of year again, and I don’t mean the Christmas holiday.  I mean, it is that time of year as well, but I don’t really care all that much.  I don’t count myself among the people who mark the passage of time by drifting from one themed holiday to the next.  Holidays, for me, are just a chance to see friends and family and have a good meal.

The time of year I’m referring to is when, for people with a highly mobile lifestyle, the US Midwest becomes unacceptably cold and oppressive.  It’s time to go south.

This year, Amanda and I don’t really have any specific destination in mind, though we’re most likely going to remain in the United States.  But still, even with that restriction, the southern/warm part of the United States is pretty large.

Here are some parts that we’re thinking.

  • Coastal Texas.  We could head to South Padre Island or something there along the gulf coast.
  • Inland Texas.  We could base around the Austin or Houston areas, somewhere like Lake Conroe.
  • South Florida.  Places in the keys can get pricey for the whole winter, but whether inland or on the coasts of the mainland, this is a nice, warm place to be.
  • Gulf Coast.  We’ve spent time in and around New Orleans and in Bay Saint Louis in the past, and we find that coast to be really appealing.
  • Southwest Desert.  Maybe we stay totally away from water and do winter in the desert, somewhere in New Mexico or Arizona.

What do you think?  What would you do or recommend in our position?  The only real criteria for us is warmth this year.  Weigh in below in the comments.  What would you do if you had this kind of open road in front of you?

 

Picks

  • This last weekend was Amanda’s birthday, and I got her a weekend getaway that featured a wine tour.  The hotel we stayed at was great, if you’re looking for an atmospheric getaway within a 2 hour radius of Chicago.  It’s on the lakefront town of New Buffalo, in Michigan.
  • I’ll also pick the wine tour company, which showed us a great day on the southwest Michigan wine trail.
  • Finally, something related to tech.  I’m incorporating more and more stuff into our home automation situation at the home base.  And I’m doing it by and large through this, the Wink hub.

The Digest

  • Here was a fun-to-write post that I wrote for Raygun, featured on the New Stack.  The prompt was about how to use APM to guide architectural changes, an interesting premise.
  • Here’s a Facebook live that we did when we first arrived in Vermont.  Don’t worry about the orientation — we fixed that pretty quickly.
  • And, finally, here’s another Facebook live where I interview Amanda (same thing — we fix the orientation).

And, as always, have yourselves a nice weekend.