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Day Camp 4 Developers

Dear Reader,

I have a new project, Day Camp 4 Developers!

The pitch

My self, the lovely and talented Kathy and 5 of our friends are all getting together on Saturday November 6th, 2010 to talk about skills that developers won’t usually think about but are important to their careers..

Entreprenurial Update

Dear Reader,

I really need a better name for these updates. :)

Ok, so last week was my “stay-cation” Originally, Kathy and I had plans but those had to be put on hold so I had a week here at the house. This should have given me plenty of time to get things done. I really need to look at my interruptions because I accomplished a lot less than I wanted to.

I did knock one concrete thing off my list though, I got PHPLists installed to manage my house list until it grows large enough to move it to a service. If you are curious, my favorite mailing service is right here in Nashville and even thought they passed on hiring the lovely and talented Kathy, I’ll probably still use Emma.

Tales of Entreprenureship

Dear Reader,

I am embarking on a new journey that scares the crap out of me. Those that know me know that I always have a lot of ideas floating around in my head. My problem has never been lack of ideas, my problem has always been execution. I’m an awesome idea man but I really suck at making them happen. Honestly, in all my years, I’ve only successfully executed one business idea. (and it worked pretty dang good)

So today I’m jumping out of my comfort zone and I’m going to drag you along for the ride. Just so you know, this blog post and the others that follow it are not about pimping my idea, they are about the struggles I face trying to make the idea into a reality. If you are not into watching someone inflict pain on themselves, this series is probably not going to be of interest to you. However, if you are an entrepreneur, or like me a “wanna be”, follow along and by all means, comment!

“Ideas are a dime a dozen. The money is in the execution.”

One of my friends I’ve never met, Kyle Chowning posted on his blog back in February a post titled “Quit Being Stingy & Give Your Ideas Away”. In it he talked about Seth Godwin’s “Six Month MBA program. One of the off-shoots of that program was that the participants posted 999 idea that they had for new businesses. The concept was simple, if you like one of the ideas, take it and do it. You don’t make money from ideas, you make money from making ideas into a business.

Kyle took that to heart and has a page on his blog dedicated to his “Free Ideas“. I may have to start me a page like that, but that’s a project for another day. After rolling this around in my head for a month it really started to sink in, nobody cares how great your ideas are, people want to see you do something.

No, seriously—that’s all it takes.

Back in December a friend of mine that I have met, Keith Casey, wrote for the PHP Advent Calendar 2008. His post was titled “Getting Started the Right Way“. It really started me thinking, if it’s so easy to get a project started, why haven’t I been able to do it. I’ve read his post more than 10 times now to reinforce the message, find the first step, one that you can do yourself, without help from anyone else, and do it.

I looking at my history of ideas, doing is not my problem, it’s figuring out what to do.

Ok, so if ideas are cheap and plentiful but action is rare and valuable, I’m going to take the first step. I’ve started a new venture. (No, I’m not leaving Ibuildings till they toss me out) This is not a “part time” venture either though; it’s a serious endeavor to build something that adds value to the lives of others as well as myself.

I can’t talk about the venture without mentioning the name and it’s stupid not to give a link if I do that. The new project is called Box Lunch Training, there is a logo over on the left sidebar. The idea is simple, provide team based training for PHP development teams. The execution is turning out to be a bit more difficult. :)

My First Step

My first step was to write a business plan. Being a “cowboy coder” I usually skip the planning phase of any coding project and just start coding, so writing a business plan kinda went against the grain for me. However, I knew that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to see the next steps. So I wrote my business plan.

Writing it naturally let me to my next step, actually creating a product. Since the training is episodic, I wrote the first two episodes. Originally, my thought was that after an episode, I would know what it will take to write others. Writing the first episode was eye-opening, writing the second was so much more difficult that it almost convinced me the idea wasn’t viable. However, after I finished it and assessed everything, I think I’m back on track.

I have to adjust my expectations a bit; writing training isn’t as easy as sitting down and writing an opinionated blog post. (For some reason, people want training to be accurate) :) So there is a LOT of research that goes into an episode. I was prepared for research but not to the extent I am doing.

The upside is I’m researching PHP so it’s fun. :)

My Next Step

I think my next step will be to get 2 more episodes under my belt. The lovely and talented Kathy is working on building out a web site for the project and we are shooting for a July 1 launch. I want to keep about 4 episodes in the can at all times in case of emergencies. That is a lesson I learned from podcasting, never wait until the week the episode is due to create it.

Future steps

As I see them at the moment these are the things I need to do.

  • Build out website
  • Start contacting likely affiliates
  • Finish the first four episodes
  • Refine and prioritize the list of topics. (I’ve got a list of about 60 episode topics that I need to prioritize.)
  • Find a way to sell the idea to businesses. This is really my weak point, I can code, manage and build but for the life of me, I can’t sell. I’m really hoping that I can attract a few top-notch affiliate sites and outsource the selling to them. (I’m open to other ideas if you have them)

More to come

This blog post and the others that will follow are more for my sake than anything else. I do encourage you to comment if you’ve got something to say that will help. Mainly though, I just need a place to gather my thoughts.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time,


Thoughts on Open Source, Running a Company, and OSBC.

Dear Reader,

I had the pleasure of attending OSBC last week. All in all, it was a positive experience. However, my eyes were opened to a whole new side of Open Source.

Most of you know that I work quite closely with the PHP community. It’s my job. It’s a rough life but somebody has to do it. PHP was built by thousands of volunteers across the world. Most contributions are made by people “scratching their own itch” without any real though given to “monetizing their contribution”. (I’m learning a whole new language in this job, we used to call that “getting paid”)

At OSBC, most of the attendees were working on a project that they had labeled Open Source but in several cases, the focus was not on sharing code, sharing rights, or…sharing. Their focus was on project monetization, business models, “Demand Management” and a host of other new buzzwords and concepts that boil down to making money off of open source. Now, to be fair, most of the projects on display were not permutations of other projects, i.e. somebody repackaging Joomla and selling it as a commercial product. These were all project that the companies had created and I presume, owned 100%. I respect any company’s right to license their code any way they want to. It’s their code after all.

There was lots of talk about building community. In many cases, community was equated with “user base” and was mainly something that was to be minded for paying users, not something to be fostered because a healthy community helps ensure a healthy project.

Here are 7 thoughts that I jotted down during the course of the conference. Take them for what they are worth, I don’t pretend that this is anything profound, just the thoughts that hit me while sitting in the sessions. Also, I respect the owner of the project’s right to license the project in any way they feel is appropriate.

  1. Developers seem to be willing to sell out for bucks these days. There were a LOT of ex-JBoss developers who have started new projects. While I don’t pretend to be an expert on JBoss history, my recollection of the project was that, like other early open source projects, it was a community effort, not a grab for the brass ring. Apparently the developers that were involved in the project, now feel that sharing for the sake of sharing is not a valid goal. All the projects I saw that were by ex-JBoss developers were all hybrid OS/Commercial projects. In all the cases I saw, the emphasis was on the commercial.
  2. Free Download!=Open Source. Many of the projects I saw represented were using the term Open Source as a marketing gimmick. Like the “free trial” that Id gave away of the original DOOM, many companies are now treating open source as their free trial version but it’s a crippled version. Projects like Zimbra and SugarCRM get it, they provide full-featured versions of their product and then sell valued-added upgrades. You can use the product as is though without the upgrades. I saw two projects that were egregious violators of this. Giving away what can only be described as crippelware (with full source code) and hoping that people liked enough of what they saw to pony up the bucks. This, in my opinion, violates the spirit of open source.
  3. Business people who work with open source consider it a business model. Even those who have worked on open source projects tend to get a selective amnesia when there is money involved. They forget that open source is about sharing, not about monetizing. I’m all for developers getting paid for their work but let’s not do it under the color of open source. Either your project is open source, in truth and in spirit, or it’s not. If it’s not, that’s no sin, but don’t call it open source.
  4. Hire from your community. This is one of the things the JBoss team and then RedHat did very well. If you’ve got a community, that’s your candidate pool when trying to fill an opening. The hardest thing about filling positions is finding people who you can work with and can do the work. If you’ve built a community around your project then you’ve already overcome the first hurdle and the second one is very easy to judge. Why more projects don’t understand this I’ll never understand.
  5. Transparency is the new black. This applies to all companies but it came to light at the conference so I thought I’d mention it here. Inside your company, you have to be 99.999% transparent. This is especially important in software development companies. If your C-Level is not 100% transparent to your development staff (the talented ones that the C-Level is sponging off of) then I guarantee you that your talent will move to greener pastures. No, most developers don’t want to be involved int he day-to-day business of the company but with very few exceptions (and most of the valid exceptions deal with local privacy laws, not things you want to keep secret) there should be nothing “above the pay grade” of your development staff. And if you are going to treat your developers with that kind of respect, you might as well go all the way and treat everyone like that.
  6. Outsource everything that is not a core competency. This is one that I picked up from several speakers. In this day and age, people are perfectly willing to outsource key components of their business like development but feel it necessary to staff an HR department. That’s just backwards. There are hundreds of solutions for dealing with HR, benefits, payroll, etc. That’s a commodity these days. True development talent is a precious resource. If your company develops software then spend your money on developers, if it consults, spend your money on consultants. Unless you are an HR company, outsource such non-essential jobs.
  7. If you take yourself too seriously, no one else will take you seriously at all. I saw a lot of these companies showing their wares, participating on panels and talking in the halls with very solemn looks. I can’t stress this enough, we develop software, we do not cure cancer. Yes, we feed our families with the work we do but honestly, software development, with very few exceptions, does not rise to the level of practicing medicine. (There are exceptions, I didn’t see a single one at OSBC) Lighten up! Customers can tell if you take yourself too seriously and they won’t.

Like I said, take this rant for what it’s worth. You may not agree with one or more of my points and that’s fine with me. (it doesn’t make them wrong though.) :)

Until next time,