Anybody can send away to city hall for a business license, but you never feel like you are your own company until you have to go on the road for it.
There is no sales team to gather orders. You can’t depend on your website’s contact form to gather leads. You know that an ad in the local paper can’t pay for itself.
There is just you, yourself, numero uno, picking up those business cards, establishing that rapport, and making those connections. The people you meet might be your friends for decades to come. Meeting people in the flesh says that you are willing to put in the time and effort to solve your customers problem. You are present and at their service. It might be all you have right now, but it also might be all you need.
Do you know what you are doing with your life? How about your kids? Are they going to have your job? Or will they be replaced by a small script in some soulless automaton? Where is the economy going? Where are we going? If you feel those questions echoing in your head and forming a cold sweat down your back, I have one thing to say to you, one idea that will keep you sane: Remember What You Are Building.
Everyone is building something. From the minimum wage slave at Wal-mart building a low-cost commodity empire to Richard Branson building his submarines or space-ships. Even demolition workers are building space for something new. In our concrete jungles of edifice, we often forget that everything we see had to be built first. They have to be maintained. Our cities would not last the first 50 years without us.
Try to see what your world will be like in 5 to 10 years and make that vision a reality. Some companies already do this. They want to see a world where more people than ever use their products. That’s why we have things like free e-mail and cell phone operating systems. Those companies know if they build a future where they can survive as a company, that future will belong to them. The same goes for all of us. If you are trying to find your place in the world, if you can’t see your next paycheck, always, always, always, Remember what you are building.
Try this if you want to see something interesting. Go to the Vancouver Craigslist page, and go to the search page. Enter “Re:” in the search bar, select “search in post only” and select the “jobs” option. What you’ll find, among a few Remax ads, are vitriolic, profanity laden replies to some of the Help Wanted ads. I’ve subscribed to the search via RSS, and it’s like I’m getting the Weekly World news of the BC business world. There are stories of employers paying sub-standard wages or not paying at all, treating employees poorly, or bilking customers out of their money. All the dirt that’s fit to print.
I thought that this was just the usual grousing that came out of any big city. This is not so. I tried the same search in New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles, and they did not have nearly the volume of complaints that Vancouver did. Toronto and Montreal were more like Vancouver, but Calgary and Edmonton were curiously silent. It wasn’t an exhaustive survey by any means, but this raises some fascinating questions about Canada and its economy. Does this mean there are more poor and disgruntled people in Canada? Are employers cheaper on average here? Do we just have a better grip on how to use a computer? Is this a cultural thing?
Whatever the answer is, this trend is a mystery too big to ignore. Does anyone out there know what this means?
This video caught my eye over at Hacker News. It’s a clip from an interview with Steve Blank, one of Silicon Valley’s premier entrepreneurs.
According to the clip, the reason Silicon Valley produces such a high volume of innovative companies is not the people, nor the universities, nor the weather. It is the attitude to failure. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs view failure as experience. It is not the financial death sentence that it is in other parts of the world. A little while ago, Bob Ell sent me another one of Steve Blank’s article about taking a tour of Silicon Valley, so that I could gain inspiration for my next big idea. Not a bad idea for a road trip, but I do have a little problem with the last line of the post which is “NEVER LEAVE”.
I look at these love letters to California, and I think to myself, what is a Fraser Valley company? What do we do in the Lower Mainland of BC that defines our business culture? Do we have that attitude to failure? Or do we have beliefs here that hold us back, like the way we pay our workers, or the way we look at the responsibility of the government? Silicon Valley is a great place to do business, but I hardly believe that there’s some sort of magic totem there spewing forth Venture Capitalists and Computer Science PhDs. There must be some way to import that culture here. We could improve it, leave out aspects that don’t work, maybe add some of our own ideas and export them. Basically, I want to know what we are capable of right here in British Columbia. I want to know what this place is going to look like when we’re done with it.
If you are a programmer, designer, tester, or in any way tangentially related to the software industry in your job, you must read The Passionate Programmer by Chad Fowler. Don’t fooled by its bad bodice ripper title. It is the first real career management book I’ve seen for programmers, and it is absolutely essential.
The problem with programming is that it’s a really young vocation. The first large-scale generation or programmers is only just retiring. You can find volumes upon volumes of heuristic wisdom for other professions like lawyers, teachers, and even blue collar trades like carpentry. We need our own philosophies to deal with the unique challenges of our industry, like the constant threat of obsolescence and the off-shoring of our jobs. The Passionate Programmer teaches you how to deal with all these issues and more. The chapters are short, but each of them ends in a concrete action plan. You’ll learn when to be a generalist, when to specialize, how to network, why it’s a good idea to automate IN to a job and how to search for your next indispensable skill.
I’m glad for books like The Passionate Programmer, and not necessarily for the strategies inside. Uncertainty and change are a way of life in the software industry. Every decision you make affects your future. Sometimes though, it’s just enough to know other people have faced that kind of uncertainty before. You need confidence as well intelligence to properly make your mark in the world.