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Managing

Growing Pains: Transitioning from Developer to Technical Lead

Of all the hats I have worn in my technical career (developer, technician, accountant, therapist…), “leader” is the most uncomfortable one. It is a word that is loaded with a responsibility that I do not always want, but it has also proven to be the most rewarding. I just looked up and realized that over the last few years, I have transitioned from being a solo coder to managing a team of six full-time developers. Learning how to juggle all of the responsibilities, increase productivity, and maintain sanity have been an interesting journey of growth. I started as a software developer right out of college. I was a passable developer when I started, but I was lacking in discipline. Working with experienced and patient colleagues and mentors throughout my early career helped me gain that basic discipline and learn how to communicate effectively with customers and team members. I was given the freedom to make mistakes, and I learned from those mistakes and got better. I didn’t see it at the time, but I was also learning how to lead a team by being a member of several highly productive teams. Prioritize Team Goals My team grew organically, along with […]

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Doing

Cybersecurity for Small Business

Going to work for yourself can be a hugely liberating experience. When I first made the shift, I came to fully appreciate the empowering distinction between the question, “Is it OK if I take Friday off”, and the statement, “I’m not available Friday”. But for every question that boosted my confidence, there was at least one causing a new worry. As a programmer, one of the biggest was, “What if I’m the victim of a data breach?” A recent report sponsored by IBM indicates that the typical breach can cost companies as much as $4 million per incident. Even worse, they estimate that 1 out of every 4 companies worldwide is likely to experience some kind of breach in 2017. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a lot of work or money to improve your odds. At Anchor-Buoy Software, I’ve found spending a little time setting up good security practices buys a huge amount of peace-of-mind. What kind of data breaches should I worry about? There were two main types of security breaches that we were concerned with: Someone stealing data from a system and sharing or selling it. Someone stopping me from accessing my own (or a client’s) data. Although the […]

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Illustration by Sam Falconer
Improving

Learn More by Doing Less

Two years ago, my daughter was gearing up for a move across the country to enroll in the Ada Academy, a Washington-state program geared towards improving the participation of women and non-binary people who want to become software developers. She was concerned about her ability to absorb, integrate and apply the new information at the accelerated rate that the program expected. She found a method that resonated with her, and she shared it with me. She gave me a book by Professor Barbara Oakley called A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra). After reading the book, we both took advantage of a companion online course at coursera.org, titled Learning How to Learn. Dr. Oakley’s approach focuses on understanding the mind’s limited capacity for retaining and integrating new information. Over-learning (trying to retain too much information, over too little time) is often counterproductive. For my daughter, limiting her conscious focus to shorter bursts, she was able to retain more information, understand key concepts, and – most importantly – better understand the relationships between the concepts to know how and when they complement each other. With some adaptations, this has worked well for […]

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Adam Aronson
Improving

Expect Change, Be Prepared to Adapt

Because they’re up against similar challenges to us custom software developers, I’ve grown a soft place in my heart for general contractors. Recently we had to replace the roofs on the front and rear porches of our 1926 Sears home. My wife Rebekah and I met with a contractor to survey the work and come up with an estimate. After some measuring and requisite scratching of a pad with a pencil, he tossed out a number. Prior to his arrival, Rebekah and I had played our own numbers game. We came up with a range that we thought would be needed to get the work done. It turns out we were close! After the initial elation that we had prepared ourselves well, I asked the roofer a question that demonstrated that we – homeowners and GC – were in it together. “What kind of things might you uncover that would impact that estimate?”After some back and forth about rot and flashing and decking materials, I put a bow around our collaboration, “Surprises suck, eh?” I thought he was going to hug me. In my 25 years of consulting, I’ve never met a business owner who loved surprises, and custom software […]

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Adam Aronson
Selling

3 Sales Tips You Can Use (especially if you don’t consider yourself a salesperson)

Recently a friend’s son and I were elbow-rubbing with the Hipsters at Roberta’s – one of Brooklyn’s busiest and most delectable pizza restaurants. I was encouraging him to break down the barriers and pursue his passion. In this case, lutherie – the building of acoustic guitars. His resistance was one I’ve heard people lament before – “I’m not good at sales.” Without skipping the proverbial beat I shot back “Do you love building guitars?” “Yep.” “Do you love talking about building guitars?” “Yes!” First tip– “Talk about what you love and the money will follow” All too often I hear people imply that a prerequisite of being a good salesperson that they need to convince people to give them money for their product – whether it be guitars or custom software. Bah! Convincing is not part of being a salesperson. Instead, focus on why you are talking about what you do or offer. The important part isn’t the transaction – it is the love of what you do. Tell people what you do, why you do it, and the rest of the pieces (including the money) will follow. “Two Ears, One Mouth” Maybe it’s my Eastern European heritage but I […]

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Roger Jacques
Doing

Building Quality into Software Development

Software quality assurance is often thought of as QA testers finding bugs, and coders then fixing those bugs. This is very much part of our work at Tek-Connect, but we take the involvement of QA staff further than that. One of the cornerstones of our process to is to involve QA very early in the process of developing an app or a feature. There are multiple benefits to this approach. The first benefit of bringing QA into the process at the beginning is the avoidance of surprises during development. We’re talking specifically about surprises or gaps in requirements. For a seasoned software developer, bugs that are caused by typos are neither surprising nor difficult to manage. However, gaps or problems with requirements can wreak havoc on the process, resulting in budget or schedule overruns, and/or unhappy clients. At Tek-Connect, we have QA review feature tickets before the coders estimate the work. Having an extra pair of detail-oriented eyes on the requirements surfaces gaps in use cases, and helps to identify possible side effects with other functionality. Under normal conditions, QA will also write the test plan in advance of coders coding the feature. The second benefit of having QA involved […]

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Scott Love
Doing

Marketing Isn’t Yelling

I love baseball and my wife and I live quite near Coors Field in Denver. Go Rockies! We’ve been to a number of games and, among other things, have acquainted ourselves with some of the regulars who frequent the park. There’s one guy in particular who sparked a thought… I don’t know his name, we’ve never talked, but he wears a cardboard REPENT sandwich board and yells at the top of his lungs that we’re all sinners and are going to Hell. Presumably, he’d like to either facilitate the process or mitigate it, but I’ll admit to not having investigated further. Which, really, gets to my point. Regardless of one’s particular beliefs, I found myself musing on the marketing strategy in evidence. Here he is trolling a crowd on their way into a baseball game – arguably a competing religion unto itself – and simply broadcasting his message without regard to buyer interest. I wonder what sort of success rate he enjoys. His impressions are no doubt in the thousands – impressive, given his ad budget! – but I wonder about bounce rate. Based on an admittedly poor sampling of data, my hunch is that he likely lands one customer […]

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Scott Love
Doing

Marketing Isn’t Pretty

I’ve been doing marketing for technology firms for years now and one of the things that always surprises me is that people don’t seem to understand what marketing is, or really what the point behind it is. Marketing isn’t about how a home page looks or how clever an ad can be. And it’s really not about “finding your voice”, “picking your corporate color palette” or naming a new product. Don’t get me wrong – those are all things you do want your marketing people involved with and ultimately guiding decisions for. How your home page looks matters and presenting a consistent sense of design does say something about your company. The creative stuff is critical, and I don’t mean to downplay the contribution great artists and designers make to representing ideas in the world. But the suit doesn’t make the person. Marketing is ultimately about building an engine that can take your business somewhere (and look good doing it). It’s about a system, and it’s about the destination. You put dollars and time – fuel – in one end of the engine and get interested, prospective customers out the other end. And like all systems, you can build good […]

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Improving

Creating Space

I was recently sitting down with a young colleague who was seeking some mentoring.  He is also a singer, and, like myself, was very curious to know what advice I could share about all topics as large as career arcs and as small as specific vocal technique. Because of the nature of our work, we talked about roles, scores, music, opera houses…. But the particulars aren’t as important as the truth around repeatedly making great art without becoming boringly predictable or faking excitement. And as we discussed, I realized that what we were talking about did not only pertain to the performing arts, but also to our work. Sometimes at work, there seem to be two warring factions: process and creativity. The process team thinks that you can eliminate risk and establish expectations simply by following the same tools and path that have been followed before. The creative team thinks that working outside of the box, beyond the rules, in ways that aren’t expected, is where the most fruitful work can be found. I’m sure you’ve worked in organizations both large and small with this type of tension between individuals and/or teams. This tension doesn’t need to be at odds with […]

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Project Management Process Tools
Doing

Project Management Process Tools

There are a lot of software tools available that you can build your project management process around. Many choices exist other than the ones I’m mentioning in this post. I have actually used these in various capacities, so my input is from my experiences using the software. No matter what you choose, remember that the software doesn’t manage projects for you. You still have to actually use the software. You will have to build schedules, assign people, and communicate clearly. It’s a tool, not magic. So, be prepared to develop a project management process no matter what you go with, and to use that process. The key is to pick one and go for it. And don’t look back. Embrace the one you choose with all of its strengths and weaknesses and build your project management process around your choice to customize it a little into being your own. Basecamp 2 You got me. This one is my favorite by far. It is simple, and that’s what I like about it. Building your project management strategies around Basecamp 2 is straight-forward. It isn’t “scary” to a client and you can get them to interact with it, in most cases, which lightens […]

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