Tag Archives: software

Wordcamp Seattle 2011: The Beautiful, Ugly World of Open Source

Hagget Hall during Wordcamp Seattle 2011

Seeing actual Automattic employees at Wordcamp Seattle gave the event a different vibe than the ones I had been to before. When you watch Scott Berkun or Andrew Nacin talk about the software and the open source community that created it, you get the feeling that they’re not just making money from this neat little serve-side toy. They are making a TON of money and changing the face of publishing on the web  while they are at it.

Whether I was learning about plug-in development best practices or the trials of the theme marketplace, every presentation I went to stressed the importance of the open source community in moving the industry forward. However, I found the most interesting talks of the day were at the lunch tables. It turns out all is not well in the worker’s paradise of open source.

Automattic is the company that runs the WordPress project. It decides which features are included by default in the next release of WordPress. This could be a bad thing for the community. As Trevor Green from Azure Creative pointed out, while the software is open source, the WordPress brand is not.

For instance, their plug-in called jetpack installs a slew of features that some say could be handled more competently by other plugins. Because Automattic has such a strong hold over the WordPress.com brand, a plugin like jetpack could discourage further development.

I have no delusions that Automattic is secretly planning to turn WordPress into a closed-source gulag. That would be spaying their golden goose. However, their momentum as a corporation and within the community makes it impossible for them to make a move without affecting the software ecosystem. Could the same thing happen to other open source projects, like Ruby on Rails? Rails 3.0 already includes its own test suite by default. Could edge out “competitors” like cucumber or rspec?

It’s fascinating that even in the game of open source, there are still winners and losers. For smaller developers, it’s just another chapter in the constant battle against commoditization and obsolescence. If we want to eat, we’ll just have to move on to some other more open framework.

Much thanks goes to Trevor Green and Torey Azure from Azure Creative, Curtis Mchale from SFN Design, Srinivas Penumaka of ReadyPulse , Christine Rondeau of Bluelime Media, Jacie Landeros, and all the other attendees at WCSEA for providing such scintillating conversation.

Courting the Passionate Programmer

The Passionate Programmer

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.

The Search for Accounting Software Part 2: LessAccounting

After my experience with Kashoo, LessAccounting seemed like my only logical option for an online accounting program. It was the more expensive of the two apps, but unlike Kashoo it offered complete integration with paypal as well as the same capacity to upload transactions from other banks. Perhaps that $20 extra dollars I would pay for it would mean $20 extra dollars of functionality, so I signed up for their week long free trial.

I started off by uploading my Envision transactions. The process was a lot more automatic than Kashoo’s. Each transaction did not need to be checked. In addition LessAccounting offered a few options to help in case the balances didn’t match up. It allows you to enter starting and ending balances from your bank statement so it would make it easier for you to find copied or missing transactions.

I decided to test the auto-import feature with Paypal. The system accepted my authentication, but I had to wait until the next day to see my data posted. That morning, my balance was all there, just like it was on the account. I thought, this was great, this was perfect, it served all my needs! Then I started to mess with it.

I ran into what I thought was a duplicate set of transactions. I deleted them, and the balance started deviating. I tried to re-import my data, but the balance wouldn’t go back to normal. I’m still working with their technical support on the issue.

There were other issues as well with the system. For instance, it did not allow me to account for sales tax on my expenses or the transaction fee imposed by paypal. It also didn’t allow me to import my invoices from Freshbooks. An Accountant might say this app was nerfed to appeal to the non-accountant.

Even though I’m still trying to get the balance sorted out on my accounts, LessAccounting seems like the most stable option for my accounting software so far. It’s been a bumpy ride, but the competition for accounting software is pretty sparse. It’s not like the games industry where you have software for every level, taste, and talent. You would think things would be different. We are a generation raised games like Final Fantasy, which are practically spreadsheets to begin with. Why can’t business software inherit at least some of that artistry, robustness and fun?

Kashoo: A New Challenger Appears!

Aaaaand that was my attempt to make accounting software sound exciting. Let’s face it, nobody likes bookkeeping, but if you’re the one stamping your own paycheck, there’s no avoiding it. After continually filling the wrong cells in my spreadsheet template, I decided it was time to spring for an online accounting solution. I was about to turn the key on a membership with LessAccounting, when I found Kashoo, an online accounting app that was only $10 a month, accepted downloaded transactions from banks, and integrated with my invoicing system at Freshbooks.

Kashoo came with the 30 day trial, so compared with Lessaccounting’s 7 day trial, I had nothing to lose by signing up. Sure, it didn’t have the automatic transaction download that lessaccounting had, but I decided I was adept enough to import my own banking. I downloaded my statement from envision from quickbooks, pressed upload on the import sheet, and voila! All of my transactions made it in. It had me verify them all, but I figured that was only fair. It even accounted for the HST I spent on my expenses! The Freshbook integration was also superlative. Once the API key was entered, it was tracking all of my invoices, providing sales tax reports and even accounting for aging invoices! The next step was to import my Paypal transactions. Unfortunately, trouble set in.

Since paypal doesn’t let you download transactions in quickbooks, you are relegated to downloading them in qif and csv formats. The app didn’t recognize the qif format (though it said it would) and when I uploaded the csv, it had some real problems decoding the date format. I set the format to be month/day/year, but November the 1st still came out as January 11th. I wrote an e-mail to their support team asking about the best way to input Paypal. They replied that at this time the only way to enter paypal transactions was to enter them manually. They are planning to integrate paypal, but they have no timeline on when that would happen.

Kashoo is a nice webapp, but the Paypal thing was an absolute dealbreaker for me. Paypal the main pay gateway for my business. I’m spending money on accounting software because I don’t want to spend time entering each and every transaction from my bank accounts. Freshbooks allows you to accept payments through Paypal, so it strikes me as a little screwy that they would support Freshbooks but not Paypal. In the end, I had no choice except to sign up with LessAccounting. However, as you’ll see in tomorrow’s post, LessAccounting has quirks of its own.

To Spend Or Not To Spend

I spent most of yesterday hunched over a spreadsheet trying to get my bookkeeping done. I like seeing all my money in charts, balance columns, and totals. I must’ve spent years on strategy games like civilization and Railroad tycoon where your next move came from studying a balance sheet as much as a battlefield. However, I’m still trying to find a decent accounting software for my computer. There are plenty of options for PC, but I don’t fancy firing up bootcamp every time I want to do some accounting. Right now I’m working out of a spreadsheet I got from the Self Employment program. The gentleman who made it was instrumental in explaining how it worked, but it’s still rooted in the old days of landscape paper ledgers. You enter the debit over heeere and then you scroll way over heeeeere and enter the credit. It’s second nature to accountants, but as a programmer I find myself envisioning something better. Something database based, something that I can keep online, out of my hard drive, something where I can upload the files that I download from my paypal, my credit card, and bank accounts. There’s LessAccounting, but do I really need to spend another $30 a month for another webapp?

It’s an annoying dilemma. On one hand, you want to show off your programming prowess by solving your own problem, on the other you need to free up more time for you to make actual money. I must have spent 5 hours tracking down and entering all the transactions to get my monthly P& L Report. LessAccounting’s $30 a month, and with the account integration services, I could probably reduce that time to about an hour. So, for $30, I save 4 hours of my time. That’s 4 hours of my time bought back for a fraction of my hourly rate. As the old saying goes, time is money, but unlike money, you can never make time back.