Finding Work as a Freelance Software Developer

The recent downturn in the economy has turned many more developers who were full-time employees into consultants to help pay the bills.  This increased competition has led freelancers and contractors to find business in new ways we have not seen in many years, since the bubble in 2000, to be exact.

Get-Clients-Now-2ed I was introduced to a book a short time ago called Get Clients Now!(TM): A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals, Consultants, and Coaches by C. J. Hayden.  My original thought was this was a bit of a gimmick but since it came recommended, I would give it a try.

In the past several months I had been trying both Google Adwords and Facebook Ads with miserable results.  The ads are shown a lot but gave little or no results.  I used different types of ads with different copy targeted at various markets with little difference.  I wasn’t really sure why until I read this book and it made a lot of sense.

The program outlined in this book offers much flexibility to the person taking on the marketing program based on their comfort level and their expected rate of return (new leads and new clients).

Referring to the worksheet provided by the Get Clients Now! website and referred to in the book, you can see 6 ways of finding new clients:

ActionWorksheetThe worksheet defines these 6 different strategies by order of effectiveness, with Direct Contact and Follow-Up being the most effective and Advertising being the least effective.   So my new approach to finding clients was the least effect of the 6 and likely explains my lack of lead generation. 

My best source of clients up until this point had been referrals from existing clients and repeat business from clients.  Both are certainly great ways to get business but as spending cuts occur there comes a time to bring in new leads.

The Audience

If you look at each of the 6 strategies there is something interesting to note; as the effectiveness of each decreases from left-to-right, the size of the potential audience goes up.

  1. Direct Contact and Follow-Up – is a one-on-one contact, you and a potential client.
  2. Networking and Referral Building – you in a small group at an event, likely one-on-one or you and 5-6 people talking.
  3. Public Speaking – you talking to a group of 20-100 people.
  4. Writing and Publicity – you addressing an audience with an article and 1000-2000 people, maybe more.
  5. Promotional Events – could be a trade show with 10000 people seeing your message as they walk by looking for freebies.
  6. Advertising – like Google AdWords you are flashing your brand to 100,000+ people.

As we move down the list the message gets lost among others and it becomes colder.  I have always had a very good network and as I said, referrals are great and bring in new business.  The place I tried and failed was attempting #6, Advertising, where I thought if more people saw my message that the hit rate of return would increase.  I could not have been further from the truth, so don’t waste dollars on advertising yourself.

What’s Been Working

I don’t do all of the 6 steps but only 3 of them but they all are working for me very well.  I need to work harder in some areas but things improve over time.

What works for me may not work for you and free time may play a role in some aspects.  My plan consists of:

  1. Writing – I write for InfoQ.com about Ruby technologies and on this blog, of course, about anything technology-related that interests me at the time.  This gets my name out there and recognized.
  2. Networking – I attend conferences and user groups and “work the room” by meeting and talking to as many fellow developers and entrepreneurs as I can.  I need to attend more local user groups, it is important to get out of your office and meet people.  I also think virtually meeting people is a great way as well, using Twitter and Facebook to network works very well for me and I know other too.
  3. Direct Contact – this is what I have focused on over the past couple months and is making the most impact. 

Getting Started

All of these take time to develop but doing a little of each can move things forward. 

Writing – start a blog and write on a regular basis with things that interest you.  Comment on other peoples blogs and link back to your blog if the topic is relevant.  I know people are on the Twitter bandwagon and say blogging has died and Twitter is the king, I don’t agree and think writing is a great way to tell your potential audience you know your stuff.

Network – attend a conference and bring plenty of business cards, meet people and hand them out.  Go to the after hours parties and mingle, don’t just stand in the corner.  Pick some local user groups and attend, could be a developer-related one or a business luncheon, but get out and chat with people and get the name out.

Direct Contact – this sort of stands on its own but also piggybacks Networking.  How? Well, those contacts you meet are great for follow-up later, emailing with a note about meeting them goes a long way.  I am not talking about emailing everyone but those that seemed interested, said to give them a call or you feel has a problem to be solved with which you can help.  I like email versus a phone call, it is less intrusive and you can easily say it was nice to meet them in an email where a phone call to say so might be inappropriate.

There are other ways I have been using Direct Contact to find leads other than follow-up to a networking event.  It requires some ingenuity to find ways to make direct contact.  I use newspapers and magazines to find out what is going on with companies, maybe they are expanding or have a new product.  This might be an opportunity for a new web site or chance to come in as a consultant to help write some new software to support some new business.  You never know until you ask.

I am always listening to my fellow consultants, maybe they need help on a new project or an old project they are behind on.  Maybe they have leads they just can’t follow-up on or are not their expertise.  Taking a lead from them is a really easy way to get direct contact.  I have even offered to pay a finders fee for leads if I get the job, maybe a flat-fee or some amount per hour for
each hour I bill.  This is a great incentive for them to give you the lead over someone else.

One of the single best ways I have found new direct contact leads is using Twitter, Twitter Search to be exact.   People are talking and finding the topic you are interested in is a search away.  If you were looking for ASP.NET work, you could search to see who is talking about ASP.NET and their projects.  You can reply to them or possibly get an email address from their Twitter profile and send them an email.  This works great!

It is surprising to me to see people publicizing they need some help with their project.  They are asking to be contacted…perfect.

Finally

I have been a consultant for many years and finding work is enjoyable to me.  I like the challenge of finding leads and building a rapport with someone well enough for them to give you their money.  Think about it, convincing people to exchange their hard-earned money for your service is a great feat and not to be taken lightly.

If you do a good job that client will tell others and getting new business will be easier.  Starting out is not easy and no magic bullet but I do recommend C.J. Hayden’s book.  Finding leads takes time and even the smallest effort can pay off but the right effort.

Disclaimer: I am not a marketing expert, just someone honing their skills after many years of consulting.  I wanted to write up a bit about what works for me, not a recipe for everyone.

Interesting and Painful First Contest Experience with 99Designs

I am not a designer and I never pretend to be. The projects I have worked on over the years has had a designer involved at some level so the pain of trying to make a user interface pleasant to look at was never a concern of mine. I have a few personal projects I have been working on lately and needed some design work. A bit of searching around the web led me to 99Designs. 99Designs is a web site which will put designers in touch with people who need services. The folks looking for design work create "Contests" with a fixed price for designers to submit an initial design, hoping to get the work.

I created a contest for a web site design for a small utility application I have been creating. The contest started about February 21, 2009 and after only a few days had some entries. The cost of the contest was $45 dollars to setup and I put a fixed amount of $400 dollars as what I thought was a fair price. I received a total of about 25 entries over the life of the contest, which was 7 days. Overall the process of viewing the contest entries was good but, the quality of the entries varied a lot and were less than top-notch design work. It was about what I expected for the amount I was willing to pay.

I found what I determined to be the winning design and informed the designer. Over the next couple weeks the designer was very gracious and work with me on several iteration of the pages he agreed to create. Once he was done it came time to pay him and this is where the issues started. I do a fair amount of transactions using Paypal, love them or hate them, they work. I planned on paying this designer via Paypal, except Paypal does not transfer money to Egypt. After talking with the designer I found out Western Union is the accepted way to send money from the U.S. to Egypt. A quick trip to the Western Union web site revealed they do send money to Egypt but the fee for the transaction was $42 to send $400, what the heck? The $42 fee did not include credit card fees for "withdrawing cash", but not much I could do at this point.

The story gets a bit more interesting when I submitted the request to transfer money to my new designer friend, when I received a message from Western Union who could not complete my request. I then needed to call Western Union to give them additional information about the transfer. A call, and fairly long hold time, put me in touch with a very nice customer service woman who assured me she would take care of this right away and I would be on my way. Well, I was on my way alright. I was told by the customer service representative that Western Union refused to send money to this person and suggests highly that I do not do business with him or attempt to send funds to them. She told me to read between the lines, whatever that meant. I was completely baffled by this response and thought I had triggered some terrorist alarm or something. How could this be? Western Union is in the business of sending my money where I say and how can they determine not to send it.

This left me with little choice other than to tell the designer what had happened and my apparent lack of ability to pay him for his work. It goes without saying he was not very happy and accused me of trying to back out of doing business with him. I couldn’t blame him for being upset.

I then contacted the good folks at 99Designs who assured me they have dealt with sending funds all over the world and could do this for me for the contest cost plus 10%, which equates to about the same as Western Union. After some manual intervention by the 99Designs team I was able to send 99Designs the necessary funds to complete the agreement I had with the designer. The designer later uploaded the artwork and it is now in the hands of 99Designs to forward the funds.

In hindsight I should had found out where this designer lived and possibly taken his location into consideration. I probably should have created a guaranteed contest instead of the type I created, this way 99Designs takes care of paying the designer and then accepts the design which is then delivered to me. 99Designs’ Customer Service was top-notch and salvaged what I thought was a project gone wrong.

I hope my experience saves a fellow developer the hassle of dealing directly with foreign designers.

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Fear of the Start

war_art_pb I attended Nathaniel Talbott’s talk titled Fear of Programming at acts_as_conference 2009 in Orlando a few weeks ago. Nathaniel’s talk was about how we may have good ideas for a product or project but for some reason we rationalize why we can’t do them. I think we all have this type of behavior in one aspect or another in our daily lives. We tend to procrastinate about fixing the roof, writing that article, or working on that software idea.

During the talk Nathaniel mentioned a book he recommended called War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which is about inspiration and getting beyond those things that stop us from doing the things we really want to accomplish. I picked up a copy of this book from a used book seller associated with Amazon. The book is an easy read at only 165 pages.

 

The Book

From the author’s web site, the book is described as:

What keeps so many of us from doing what we long to do? Why is there a naysayer within? How can we avoid the roadblocks of any creative endeavor—be it starting up a dream business venture, writing a novel, or painting a masterpiece?

Bestselling novelist Steven Pressfield identifies the enemy that every one of us must face, outlines a battle plan to conquer this internal foe, then pinpoints just how to achieve the greatest success.

The War of Art emphasizes the resolve needed to recognize and overcome the obstacles of ambition and then effectively shows how to reach the highest level of creative discipline. Think of it as tough love . . . for yourself.

The book is really made up of three mini-books:

  • Book One – Resistance, Defining the Enemy
  • Book Two – Combating Resistance, Turning Pro
  • Book Three – Beyond Resistance, Higher Realm

The pages of the book are not always filled with text but sometimes very short paragraphs with powerful ideas. The subject or character of the book is a force referred to as Resistance and the book defines what it is, how to recognize it and finally how to deal with it. I can’t clearly define what resistance is here, that is up to the book to convey. I can say in my mind resistance is more than one force but actually many forces which consist of one or more of the follow:

  • Procrastination – can be a result of resistance
  • Rationalization – giving ourselves reasons why we can’t or won’t do something
  • Too hard – we thrive on instant gratification. If we think something is too hard to do or will take too long, we reason why we can’t do it.

I am guilty of these things myself. I have had software product ideas in my head for years and always seem to reason why NOW is not the time to start them. I often feel this way and this book hit the nail on the head, as they say, and touched upon many points that felt like Steven wrote just for me. The book also points outs various things that happen in life as key things to think about that I may not have thought very much about until now or until it effected me or my family.

 

Thoughts Raised

One of the most interesting points made in the book, is when someone is diagnosed with a disease such as cancer

The moment a person learns he’s got terminal cancer, a profound shift takes place in his psyche. At one stroke in the doctor’s office he becomes aware of what really matters to him. Things that sixty seconds earlier had seemed all-important suddenly appear meaningless, while people and concerns that he had till then dismissed at once take on supreme importance.

I think we often asks ourselves what we would do if we only had 3 months to live but we never really consider the answer because it is not happening to us. So why shouldn’t we actually treat every day like it is our last and do the things that are important to us, to live out the dreams we have?

One of my favorite motivators is Gary Vaynerchuk who runs Wine Library TV and is an entrepreneur who is constantly telling everyone to get out there and hustle and do the things you really love, quit that crappy job and do something you want to get up and do everyday. He is right, as is Steven. Checkout Gary’s talk from Future of Web Apps – Miami for a 13 minute sample of exactly what I am talking about.

 

Answers Given

I found this book to be full of answers to some of the questions I looked inside myself to find but never could quite understand enough to find an answer. I am not suggesting this book should be followed blindly without first thinking about the implications but more as an explanation of the behavior you may have exhibited over the years, yet could not explain. The term Resistance is used throughout the book and explains so many thing with regard to explaining the why.

Remember, Resistance does not have a single definition or a single trait but comes from may angles and takes many forms. It really comes down to what we are afraid of; whether it be rejection, fear of failure at a job or something other unknown.

As I read this book I kept getting a recurring image in my mind, the Nike logo with the slogan of “Just do it”. This book can easily be summed up in those three little words. So if there is an idea you have to start a business, software project of something else you have been putting off, there is never a better time then now.

 

Finally

This book was an incredible read for me, well beyond most books I read. I get tips and techniques from books but not the sort of life changing guidance I got from this book. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone, go out and buy it now.

2009 will be a life changing year for me. I am going to make positive changes in my work and the things I am going to get out of it. Stay tuned and thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read what I have to say.

 

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Reminder: Write For Those Who You Want to Influence

A recent post by Dave Winer over on Scripting News about how he made $2 Million Dollars with his blog has really gotten me thinking.  Dave has always stood his ground that he does not put advertising on his blog, so how could he possibly make that sort of money? 

Dave’s post was really a response to what Dan Lyons of Newsweek reported as saying:

I learned the hard way: while blogs can do many wonderful things, making huge amounts of money isn’t one of them.

Dan reveals he tried to get rich with his blog, often post 10-20 items a day but barely made anything from his use of the Google Adsense program:

My first epiphany occurred in August 2007, when The New York Times ran a story revealing my identity, which until then I’d kept secret. On that day more than 500,000 people hit my site—by far the biggest day I’d ever had—and through Google’s AdSense program I earned about a hundred bucks. Over the course of that entire month, in which my site was visited by 1.5 million people, I earned a whopping total of $1,039.81. Soon after this I struck an advertising deal that paid better wages. But I never made enough to quit my day job. Eventually I shut down—not for financial reasons, but because Steve Jobs appeared to be in poor health.

Dave tells the tale of how he made $2 million dollars with his blog, not by advertising, but by using the brand that he has and to speak about what interests him.  He audience is THE people he is trying to influence and he is not writing about what he THINKS people want to read about, but what is important to him.  This post by Dave has probably got me thinking more about my blogging, which has been sporadic at best, and how I can best effect and enlighten my audience:

If I had any advice to offer it’s this — get in the habit of communicating directly with the people you want to influence. Don’t charge them to read it and don’t let others interfere with your communication.

I have been posting here for the past 3 years with things I think my readers (thank you by the way) want to hear and not necessarily what I want to write about.  This hasn’t always been the case but more times than not, it HAS been the case.  I should have been more aware of this before now, when I look at my server logs and realize what people are reading they are reading what was important to me at the moment.  Maybe my writing reflects the passion I have at that moment, about that topic?  I don’t know, maybe my writing and communication skills are better when I am passionate about the topic.

I commented to Dave’s post on his blog to thank him for the thoughtful post and to ask about my concern for losing readers if I didn’t necessarily talk about what I perceive my audience wanting to read about and Dave replied:

I think you should talk about whatever you want to talk about. Why be scared of "losing" subscribers — it’s not like you owned them. Everyone is free to choose, if someone doesn’t want to listen to you, would you change what you say to make them want to listen to you? Would you teach your kids to do that? Please, I hope not, not if you want them to be healthy and happy and to like themselves.

I try to respect the differences between people, I might read a blog written by a Yankees fan even though I despise the Yankees. I know that there are Yankees fans. If I ran the world I would probably try to encourage them not to root for the Yankees, but even so I know that as long as there was free choice there probably would be some misguided souls who don’t see the light. :-)

It’s very easy for people to tune out. They’re mostly tuned out most of the time anyway. I wouldn’t worry about it. Be yourself man!

It is really just commonsense and great advice but it rings true and many of us may not understand the importance of doing your own thing and publishing what is important to you.  Be sure to read the comments on Dave’s post, a lot of good content in there as well.  I think the overall moral here is that Dave did what came natural and through good writing and good communication he established relationships with readers and because well-known.  This exposure lead to some success that he may not have had otherwise, he company may not have been bought otherwise.  Blogging for Dave has been part of the overall marketing of oneself and has worked quite well.  It’s obvious that advertising did not work in Dan’s case as this method is much more like buying a lottery ticket, some win and most don’t.

So, dear reader, I thank you for reading my blog all this time, it is truly appreciated.  I promise to write about things that of of interest to me from now on and I hope you will become engaged and interact here.   All the talk about blogs going away is bogus, how could I write all of this in 140 characters on Twitter?  This blog and Twitter go hand-in-hand as a way to develop my identity.

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I Need to Stop Volunteering

I have a really bad habit, I have friends and organizations who need help and I volunteer to help but hardly ever follow through.  As a web developer I have friends or acquaintances who are in need of a web site or a “little bit” of web work and they come to me for some help, which is of course free.  I, in turn, happily volunteer because the deadline is months off but as the deadline approaches I start to get a stressed feeling about the deadline, I continue with paying work and never have time to do the volunteer work. 

I have done this more times than I care to admit to but I keep doing it.  I need to stop agreeing to do free work when I know I will never do it.  I don’t knowingly take the work, aware that I won’t do it, but I should realize I am way too busy to even try.  In the end, I have to tell the person I am letting down the news and they have to scramble to get the work done.  It seems like a low-life thing to do.  I think I have a problem saying no.

I know others take on volunteer work, how do you do it?  Do you just commit to it and the heck with the work that pays the bills?  I work a lot and the free time I have ends up being spent with the family.  I don’t want to give up time with them.

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Figuring Out What’s Important

I have had this post in my head and partially written on this blog for quite sometime, I updated it but never finished it.   I decided I needed to get my thoughts out, especially after the recent post by Tim O’Reilly titled, Work on Stuff that Matters: First Principles.  The text from my original draft post captured what I was trying to convey but I could not get my thoughts out quite as well as how Tim conveyed his.  I encourage you to read Tim’s post first if you have not already as it is well worth it and will make my works mean more.

As developers, we spend most of our waking day either writing software or planning for it. I follow a lot of fellow developers on Twitter and through their blogs, and often hear people complaining about the work they do. Either the job is lousy because of a bad manager, the company is dysfunctional or the work is uninteresting.  My opinion is that we have our whole lives to put in time on a daily basis to our job.  Given this job is 8 hrs per day, that is 1/3 or 33% of our week which we spend doing something which helps us pay the bills and gives us the things we have.  If we figure in the 8 hrs of sleep we are supposed to get then that leaves very little left over for the rest of our day.  I know when I spend the last 8 hrs with my family either help my daughter with her homework, listening to her or my Wife I know I am doing important things, things I would not trade for anything, these are the things I will recall when I am much older.

I feel our work should be nearly as rewarding as other parts of our lives because we spend so much of our time doing our work.  I know many people love the work that they do and are fulfilled by a sense of accomplishment, but these people are much fewer than the rest of us.  So, when reading Tim’s post it really hit home and really conveyed the way I feel all too often, that I am not doing important work.

I hear it so many times to love the work you do or else it is just a job and I agree with this wholeheartedly but it seems like an elusive goal.  Tim’s words make so much sense yet locating the work that would make me personally feel like I am doing something important has yet been unobtainable.  The career I have so far has led me many places, I have met many good folks and I have to say I love writing software.

My ideas of work which seems important to me would be:

  • Helping find a cure for cancer or other disease or affliction using technology
  • Helping people who are truly in need to build a better life
  • Helping locate missing children using technology

Specifically in the computer field:

  • Working in research at a University
  • Working for a startup software company, no not another social media site
  • Teaching kids about computers and how to program

Jeremy Zawodny, who now works at Craigslist, left Yahoo to work somewhere doing the work he enjoys.  He writes about it on his blog, A Job that Matters which he wrote after Tim’s post.  I also came across an interview on the O’Reilly site done with Tim on the subject, as well as an interview by Robert Scoble with time in 2 parts, Part 1 and Part 2, which doesn’t seem to be up now.

I was recently involved with a project for a very short time consisting of myself and two other partners.  It was short because the chemistry between me and one member of team was just not there, I work in a certain way and have certain expectations and we had some conflicts.  It appeared he was not going to change and either was I, so I decided it was the right thing to do to leave the project which was the best for all involved.  This is not to say there was anything personal, it was just no clicking.  I bring this up because the chemistry you have with the people you work with has a lot to do with what you find to be important work.  If the team works great together and you fit in to that team and have the same goals, ambitions and work ethic then maybe the actual work is not that important, maybe the values change and you view the work as right even though under other circumstances you might not.

I think we are all told that we should do things we love, do things we are passionate about but we take it for granted and we don’t really take the advice.  We fail to follow what we know is true for various reasons; fear of changing jobs, fear of changing career direction or whatever reason stopping us from reaching our dreams.

I am still in search of that project that excites me to the point I can say, THIS IS IT.  This is the work I have been missing and will make me want to be part of, the passion I know I have.  So many projects have the goal of making money on using the latest buzzwords, like social media, those trying to become the next Facebook or Twitter.

Finally, the key to what Tim is saying is defining what it is we think is important then go do it.  I could not agree more.   Maybe the real problem is finding a hard problem worth solving.   The hard part for me is finding what that “thing” really is, which I suppose is getting out and trying a bunch of things.  Anyway, enough babbling..just some food for thought.   How do you feel about the work that you do, satisfied?  Doing it just to pay the bills and it doesn’t really matter?

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Wanted: Small or Short-Term Rails Gigs

So, the title says it all.  Right now I am finishing up my latest long-term project and I will have some time for some small projects.  I am willing to work direct or possibly with other Rails consultants or consulting shops who want to bring someone in for a couple weeks or up to a couple months.  I really don’t want to take on anything longer but would be willing to entertain a bigger project is it was the right thing to do.

I have been doing Rails applications for the past couple years and working with Ruby about as long.  I don’t have any preference as to the type of application but given a choice I guess I would have to say back-end applications.  I work out of my home office and have my development environment all setup so I need nothing in the way of software or equipment.

I also have a pretty extensive background it working with MySQL, SQLite and Microsoft SQL Server as the data store.

So please send an email to rbazinet at stillriversoftware dot com if you are interested in chatting about your project and working together.  If you know someone in need, please pass along my information to them.

Thank you.

2008 – Another Year Gone By

2008

This is my last post of the year and almost forgot to publish it.

It seems 2008 really sailed by, but I tend to say that every year.  I am not the kind of person who makes New Year’s resolutions, I have enough things going on that I don’t need to add more pressure to myself.  I usually spend part of my last day of the year just looking back at accomplishments, bother personally and professionally and wonder if I should have handled things a bit differently.

This year is no different.  I don’t post on this blog about my personal life and I won’t start now, so that leaves the professional side of my life and looking back and also looking ahead.

Blogging

I have posted more this year than in previous years and the blog has gotten more popular with Google searches finding my blog in many cases.  I also have a lot more followers at this point compared to last year.  My goal is not to gauge success by the number of subscribers but by the number of folks who find my content useful.  I receive a fair number of comments with “Thank you”, so I think I am succeeding at that level.

I plan to post more this year with better articles.  I think more detail articles focused on software engineering and project management which may be more technology agnostic.  Only time will tell.

Twitter

I have really gotten to like Twitter more and use it more, along with getting value you out of it.  I have built many more relationships on Twitter than I have ever built with my blog.  Twitter has such a personal, interactive level to it that you don’t get by reading a blog.  The interaction is priceless.

I reach a milestone of 2400 updates on Twitter, not sure what that means but a couple hundred updates per month which shows I am active.  I also reached 300 followers and I cut the people I follow down to about 300 as well.  It is hard following so many people as the conversations get lost, in my opinion.  I would like to gain more followers though and widen my audience but this seems like a steep hill to climb and not sure how some people get so many followers.  Maybe they have more interesting things to say.

I have gotten a lot out of Twitter so I will continue to use it, posting things I find interesting and have the occasional dialog with friends.

Please follow me on Twitter.

Consulting

I have been an independent software developer for the past 2-1/2 years and really like the ability to work from home on projects I find interesting.  Consulting is not all glory, you have to look for the next project all the time and even as I write this, my next project is unknown.  Today is the last day of my current main project and I have been bad at finding my next one.

Most of my work even before consulting, has been .NET project writing C# ASP.NET and Windows Forms applications.  I have to admit my interest in .NET has diminished over the past year and I think it is time to move on to other types of projects.  I have been doing a fair amount of Ruby and Ruby on Rails and think this may be the next career stop, to pursue only these type of projects.  C# has grown stale for me and it is time to be packed away.

I can’t really point at any particular reason why .NET has lost its draw for me, I think it is a bunch of different reasons.  My work with C# over the past 5 years shows a pattern, mostly boring business applications with little excitement.  Sure, this is not the fault of C# but bigger companies seem to be chose a language like C# and stick to it.  These bigger companies have business problems to solve, hence the rather boring applications.

I also think the .NET community has really gotten to me as well, it seems to have a lot of complainers as well as a lot of podium folks who think they are better than they really are and it shows.  This is probably not limited to .NET but since I have been so into it in the past years, it is painfully there everyday.  My involvement with Ruby with the community so much smaller doesn’t seem to be evident.

My background in software engineering should lead me to greener pastures, hoping to be able to put .NET behind me and only work with Ruby and Rails as Mike Gunderloy and many other have done.

Projects

I have done some work this year on some open source projects and enjoyed this immensely.  I plan to contribute to some Ruby-related projects this coming year, nothing concrete but plan on helping out.

I am involved with a startup, that at this time I can’t say much about, but have two other folks I am working with on this.  The teaser is at our future home,  UDSLR.com.  Check it out and keep checking back, we are planning to launch in the Spring.  I will be using this blog to write about some of the technical challenges we face once the project is more public.  By the way, this is a Rails project.

I am also working a couple other “side” project which are not worth mentioning now but are also Rails projects.

Writing

I am have been writing for InfoQ for just over a year now, which has been a great experience.  As part of my removal from .NET work I have stepped down as a .NET editor for InfoQ so my daily thoughts are not polluted by .NET writing.  I am a Ruby Editor only at this point and plan to step up with more writing related to Ruby in 2009.

The Professional IronRuby book has dragged on even with a total of 3 authors.  It seems IronRuby has not evolved the way we had originally hoped, it has taken on a very Microsoft-ish feel and appears to be more of a glue language for .NET instead of a really nice Ruby implementation on the CLR.  I could be wrong a year from now but not sure what Microsoft really plans with this language other than mangling it for its own use.  Therefore, I don’t know the status of the book or if it will ever come out with the three of us as writers.  I don’t want to write about yet more .NET.

Finally

It really has been a good year professionally.  I have a much clearer path for myself headed into 2009.  I have a better idea of the types of projects I would like to be part of, the types of people I want to work with and the types of problems I would like to be part of solving.  I don’t have a clear way to get there but good things usually rise to the surface and present themselves at opportune times.  I am looking forward seeing what comes to the top.

I want to keep learning and keep building my network of really smart people.  I will attend more conferences this year to help accomplish both.

Also, I want to thank everyone who takes the time to listen (read) what I have to say as you have so many other choices.  I am opinionated and probably come across here or on Twitter as brash at times, I am not actually, I am just passionate about doing good things and spending my time well.  We only have so much time in our lives to do things that are important to us and we enjoy doing and we should be doing those things.  If you hate getting up every day and doing the work you do…it is time to look for a change.

 

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Turning Down the Social Noise

goodbye It was about a month ago and I was sitting here in my home office reading some Twitter tweets and catching up on some blog reading and a series of tweets came by the screen from one of the .NET folks with the loudest mouth and the least to say with just another gripefest about Microsoft and other .NET developers not as bright as he.  I bet if you think not-so-hard you can figure out who this person is and I won’t have to tell you.

It was at that very moment that I had a vision or you could say a defining moment in the pattern of blogs and people I follow on Twitter.   I figured it was time to weed out the “dead wood” in my blog roll, the people I follow on Twitter and the podcasts I listen to in order to stop the white noise of my day and become more focused and more productive.

So, my three step process to kill the noise:

  • The process I started with was to go through all the people I follow on Twitter and unfollowed anyone who basically has very little to say that is not worth my time even to give a quick glance.  If I followed you before there is a good chance I don’t follow you now, no offense but there wasn’t much worth reading so I had to bid farewell.  Robert Scoble was one such person who thought they had something to say but in reality they just blew hot air.
  • I then viewed my blog roll to see how many people I subscribed to that I more often than not marked their posts as read when realizing it was a post about nothing.  This takes time to do and is a distraction in my day, so unsubscribing I did and removed over 100 blogs that offered very little.
  • The third thing to remove any podcast that was just rehash of something I could hear about somewhere else and just keep building up in iTunes, making me feel like I was not keeping up.  Actually I am keeping up better without this junk which filled iTunes.  DotNetRocks was one of these such podcasts which used to add to me commute with banter but now, working from home, I don’t need it. 

After a month of much reduced noise I feel better about the time I have to work and more time I have due to removing those things most distracting.  Once I stood back and looked at the changes I made I found something interesting, probably 90% of those people I removed from the list I was following on Twitter or in my blog roll were .NET-related people.  What does this say, .NET people either all say the same things, have very little of value to say or maybe both.  I am not sure but thinking about those removed and what they talked about, it was mostly uninteresting and redundant. 

The folks I continue to follow are mostly Ruby folks or those talking about software engineering related topics which don’t have a focus on a particular platform or are related to running a uISV.  The majority of those removed spewed uninteresting banter about .NET and added little to the MSDN archives on the Microsoft web site.

I have to say I feel great, I feel liberated and I feel like I made some good decisions for my personal well-being.  Sorry to those I don’t follow any longer, nothing personal, but you need to say some more interesting things and make it worth my time.

Attending Conferences

RubyFringeCrowd

Miles Burke has a really great article on the SitePoint web site about attending conferences and the reasons to do so.

Miles points out two great reasons to attend a conference:

Let’s start with education. You’ll learn more from attending one conference than all the books and blog posts you can read in one month. This may sound like a tall order, but seriously, if you are actively listening to the presenter, it’s hard not to learn more than by simply being there.

And:

Then there’s the networking. Some may derisively call it schmoozing, however, this is a very important benefit of conferences that should not be underestimated. The contacts that you can make by grabbing a meal or a coffee during a break can be worth the cost of the conference alone. I’ve won at least $50,000 worth of business just by attending the last two Web Directions South conferences–and that’s without even really trying!

I agree wholeheartedly with these reasons.  I attended only a couple conferences this year, both somewhat regional and single-track, which were fantastic.  My attendance at both of these conferences has opened up a whole world of opportunities from making new friends to getting work from the folks I met and spent some time talking to.

I am a big fan of the smaller conferences which have 150-200 attendees and are single track.  It is often hard to decide between sessions in a multi-session format and somehow you lose.

The two conferences I have left for the year will bring the total for me to 4, which is more than I normally attend.  Since becoming an independent developer I find it more important now to attend conferences and network whenever possible.

Upcoming Conferences I am attending:

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