The Latest

Lisette Wilson

Permission to Fail… and to Succeed

As small business owners, we must have some self-confidence to strike out on our own. If not, we would still be working for someone else. But, that does not mean we do not lack confidence in some situations or that we do not suffer from imposter syndrome. How do we get past this? If you are still in-house and wanting to make that leap, how can you develop the confidence to jump? In early years, I had the confidence I could learn what I needed to know but lacked confidence in both my technical and business skills. I knew I had a lot to learn, but also had the good fortune of a safety net. My boss at the time was willing to let me keep scaling down my hours as I developed my business, and I do not have children to support. Over time, I gained confidence in my technical skills, yet shied away from opportunities to grow beyond a solo shop because I lacked the confidence in my business skills. I knew I would rather code than manage other coders. I knew I had systems that work for me, but these systems would need to be formalized for a […]

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Mindfire Solutions

How You Can Utilize Off-Shore Talent to Grow Your Business

One of the ways I’ve been able to grow my business over the last 12 years is by leveraging off-shore talent for company programming needs. My team of offshore developers has worked closely with my American developers and project managers to enable me to expand my business and help me satisfy many more clients. The key to making this off-shore working relationship successful is to have clear communication and accountability. Our project managers send the project requirements and the tasks to work on with their deadlines thru emails and an online project tracking program that they helped me build. Each day I receive daily email reports on each project with details on each field, relationship, layout, and script that they worked on. We meet weekly in a video conference to review all projects, discuss any pressing issues and learn from our work together. Recently, I visited their corporate headquarters in India, and one of their senior developers who has worked closely for our company for over 4 years came to DevCon to help out in our booth. Over the years, as developers have changed, the transition to a new developer has been smooth, as the knowledge transfer of all our […]

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Roger Jacques

Managing Remote Employees

At Tek-Connect, we’ve fully embraced the trend to hire remote workers. In fact, we don’t have any more than two people in any given location. In this post, we’ll explore various aspects of making remote working relationships work well. In software development, communication is equally important to coding. Misses on communication at any point in the process virtually guarantee issues down the line. Our first criteria for successful remote workers, therefore, is high availability and responsiveness. A remote worker must be at her desk during our regular business hours, and be willing and able to respond to ad hoc communications promptly. Our project managers do try to limit ad hoc pings by following our workflow process and by following project management procedures. However, a remote worker that is difficult to reach is a nonstarter for us, given the nature of what we do. The other qualifying issue for remote employees is the time zone that they live and work in. We find that it simply doesn’t work well to use people in far away time zones. Promises to work on our schedule by folks that live in very different time zones don’t ever seem to turn out very well. A […]

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Jonathan Stark

Are you running your business at cost?

A few months ago, a solo software developer told me that he had decided to “grow his business”. Toward that end, he decided to hire two full-time developers. A few months later, he excitedly reported to me that was already on track to double his annual sales numbers. Then I asked: “Okay, but… didn’t you nearly triple your costs?” His reply: “Oh, crap.” What is growth? Let’s talk about what it means to grow a software development business: Hiring more employees is not growth. Renting a bigger office is not growth. Landing a gigantic client is not growth. Increasing your annual revenue is not growth. So what is growth? In my opinion, there’s only one true measure of growth for self-employed software developers: Growth is increasing your profits. Profit is the only meaningful measure of business growth. Everything else is at best a leading indicator, and at worst a vanity metric. Think about it…. If you don’t increase your profits, how will you ever make more money and/or work less than you do now? What is profit? In the simplest terms, profit is the amount of money left over after you subtract your costs from your revenue. If you bill […]

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Josh Smith

Architecture vs. Urban Planning

Custom applications used to be like houses. You’d get a call about an application someone wanted to have written and you would spend some time architecting it. Like a house builder, you’d quiz your client about the size, the number of bathrooms, the number of garages, etc. You would go about the construction of the Spreadsheet Of Needs (or however you named it) and produce an estimate of costs and fees. Then, with the numbers gathered you would architect the solution to accommodate that menu of things the customer wanted. We would architect that house on the hill to match the customers needs and all would be well (assuming they paid on time). Custom applications aren’t really like building a house on a hill anymore. Now we build houses in existing neighborhoods, with many other applications already in place and doing things in a certain way. If we keep building our own houses, without regard for the others we’ll quickly run into trouble. You can avoid some trouble by considering modern application development in a larger context. Lucky for us, such a context already exists: Urban Planning. A pioneering urban planner, Jane Jacobs, came onto the scene in the 20th […]

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Seth Zurer

Designing Your Own Life

Professionally, I’ve always been ambivalent. Database consulting has provided a bulwark of stability to counteract the shifting winds of my ever changing professional ambitions and a powerful tool for solving problems in every area of my life. When I graduated from college with my high-priced degree in English Literature, I stayed on in Chicago with the idea that I’d be an artist, creating theater with my friends.  But you can’t pay your rent with the earnings of an off-off-off loop theater artist.  So, like many artists, I got a job to finance my passions. It was a lucky break that my network connected me with Wizard Software Solutions, a software consulting company that creates FileMaker solutions for the corporate facility management and project management field.  A friend (OK, it was Molly!) referred me, knowing I was comfortable working with computers and learning on the fly. At Wizards, I laid a solid foundation of FileMaker knowledge – learning about interaction design, relational database structure, basic web application architecture, and most critically, how to communicate with users, eliciting technical requirements from non-technical conversations, observing and analyzing business processes to figure out the right database-driven solutions for tricky organizational problems. I worked directly […]

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SEO-Friendly Blog Post Tips for Better Site Traffic

Writing an SEO-friendly blog post brings a whole new level of marketing to your site than just plain writing a blog. Considering that most of us write blog posts to share information with our audience, shouldn’t we want that audience to be as big as possible? Creating an SEO-friendly blog post will do just that. It will help drive more traffic to your site through SEO (search engine optimization). Not only does it help get your message out, but your site traffic will increase as well. Here’s an important step before we get to the tips, though. If you don’t have the Yoast plugin for your WordPress blog, download and install it now! And now… to the tips…. Plan First I prefer to write directly in WordPress. While it isn’t required, I learned in my freshman journalism class that if you can write where it’s going to end up, you will save yourself a lot of steps. (We were never allowed to write on paper. We had to type our story directly into the old-school word processor at the time. In fact, we even had to pass a typewriter speed test to get into the college!) But, if you don’t (or won’t) write in WordPress, […]

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Technical Leadership: Finding Balance

As leader of a team of six software developers, I get to see a wide variety of experience levels, coding styles, and effectiveness. I also have a multi-year backlog of work for my team to do. My constant challenge is balancing quality, maintainability, and productivity. These are hard enough to juggle as an individual, and they’re incredibly difficult to manage well across a diverse team. The goal of my development team is to deliver value to our customers. This is a superbly straightforward goal, but it’s not hard to lose sight of it as we work through a miles-long list of feature requests and bug reports. We’re under constant pressure to deliver features on tight schedules, and it would be easy to give into the temptation to do the bare minimum to get the work done. There’s a popular term in the startup world for this: minimum viable product (MVP). We actually do practice this to a certain extent, but we’re careful to keep an eye on where the project is headed; if it looks like it’s going to be around for a while, we need to shift gears and start building a higher quality, more maintainable product. We are […]

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Work / Life Balance

When Molly asked me if I would write something for her blog, my first thought was, “What excuse can I come up with to get out of this?!” Then, after about 30 seconds of soul-searching, I knew I had to do it. See, the problem is… I love my work! As a kid, I loved making models. I built model airplanes and hung them from the ceiling in my bedroom, complete with cotton trailing behind them like smoke. Making models was challenging and fun, and I never lost the joy of building things. My first career was as a recording engineer. I recorded music for TV and radio commercials. Again, I was building something, although it was less tangible than physical objects; I was building an audio environment. After 25 years as an engineer, I decided to make a change. I loved engineering, but I missed making something of my own. So I struck out on my own as a FileMaker developer, not even knowing if there was a market for such a thing. Now, over 20 years later, I still wake up every morning eager to work. I have a small stable of loyal clients who I have worked […]

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Quality Assurance: An Overview (pt 2)

Read Part 1 first! Write User Stories You’ve likely heard of user stories or maybe you’re already writing them. Again, there are lots of flavors out there; this is the one that works for me. As a (role), I want to (some function), so that (or because)… These take some practice to write and write well. The key attributes that will make a user story excellent and allow it to serve many purposes are: The role is well-defined and specific (“bookkeeper”) The function is small, precise and its success measurable The “why” clause is correct Technology-agnostic where possible (we’re solving a business problem) So for example, an effective user story might be: As a bookkeeper, I want to easily find invoices open longer than 30 days, so I can avoid incurring late fees. Notice there is nothing technical in the user story, and we know why the bookkeeper is asking for the feature. Knowing why will likely inform your design choices–or you might even scrap this feature once you know why she’s asking (for example, maybe you’ll add in automation so invoices are never late, to begin with). Let’s look all the things this user story does for the project: Documents […]

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