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Posted on: Saturday, February 5, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Getting Started And Getting Over The First Hump - Part 1.

Most engineers who are passionate about what they do love programming and yet only a few venture out of ship anything outside of their work life.

Extrinsic Motivation is probably not a problem here.

The bigger problem is developing a critical mass where you can see something take shape.

Fitness experts will tell you that there are really two states in which a human being can exist. Sedentary and moving. The biggest challenge you face when working on fitness is moving from sedentary state to the moving state.

Once there, you will probably get addicted to working out and you will not need extrinsic motivation to hit the workout room.

Most of what you do at work, is driven by deadlines, fear, consequences and pats on your back.

Unless you have tasted the joy of owning and working on a small side project, you are in, what I call the sedentary state of the software development world. If you really want to experience the state where you are moving and loving every bit of it, get out of that couch and push yourself to build something.

You don't need years to build something huge. Just ship the first sprint.

Build just enough to have a critical mass of something which has a life of its own and an ability to morph into something gorgeous. What I can tell you, is that you wont need this blog or any extrinsic motivation to keep you working on to it.

You will look forward to your weekends, fantasize about working on your project, squeeze out hours during late night, tweak and optimize your life and even get more productive at your real job.

Shipping the first build, publishing the first few blog posts, doing the first few workout sessions, reading the first few books. The first few attempts at anything that is worth doing, are going to be pathetic, tiresome, depressing and sometimes even downright frustrating.

All I can say is, Keep jabbing.

You might not become the best boxer out there, but you might find out what you truly and genuinely love doing.

posted on Saturday, February 5, 2011 9:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Friday, February 4, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Surviving As A Guerilla Entrepreneur - Part 1.

You have the venture funding covered.

You have an exit strategy.

You don't mind getting sold to a Google or an Amazon. In fact you have already thought about it.

Here is the bad news: Your venture is going to fail.

You are going to wait for your first million users to show up, and they wont.

You are going to wait for your first five, million dollar clients to show up, and they won't either.

You are going to wait there hoping a Google or an Amazon buys you and Google or Amazon is not going to give a shit about your product.

And that is not because you are a looser who could not start an organization or take it to a successful completion. That is just because you are playing a game where you are the rules are designed to help you loose.

When your organization is lean enough to survive on just ten hours a weekend, a tiny desk in a tiny corner of your home and less than three digit dollar amounts for hosting charges, you are on to something.

That is when you suddenly, you don't need your first million users to show up within a year or your first five million dollar clients to show up, or Google and Amazon to drool over your product and buy it.

Now suddenly, you are working on something that is gorgeous and has a life of it's own.

And the most amazing part of it, is the realization that you don't want an Amazon or a Google to buy you.

You have an organization, that can survive without a whole lot of users, without a lot of clients and without any venture capitalist and that my friend, is a gorgeous thing.

You are what I call, a Guerilla Entrepreneur, working for an organization that does not need a whole lot of capital or external confirmation to stay afloat.

I cannot tell you if you will be sold to a Google or not, I cannot tell you if a million users will show up or not, I cannot tell you if you will bump into the first five of your million dollar clients.

I don't know enough about that part. I haven't played that game yet and I have no intentions of playing it in my life because it is designed to make you lose. I can't tell you anything about that game. I'm sorry.

What I can tell you however, is that you will be happy, because every weekend, month after month, you will get to work on something you really love working on. And that in itself it a gorgeous feeling to have. Anyone who has experienced that feeling hardly ever talks about an exit strategy.

If you do, chances are, that you just don't get it.

posted on Friday, February 4, 2011 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, January 30, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

The Sex And Cash Theory For Anyone In A Creative Field.

Most programmers who love the craft of building software and are deeply passionate about it seem to find strange avenues or third places to channel their creativity.

Most of them are also faced with a life long contradiction Hugh MacLeod explains rather articulately through a cartoon drawn behind a business card.

He refers to the contradiction between shipping genuine art and paying the bills as the Sex and Cash theory in his book Ignore Everybody. Hugh explains:

The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task at hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.

A good example is Phil, a New York photographer friend of mine. He does really wild stuff for the small, hipster magazines— it pays virtually nothing, but it allows him to build his portfolio. Then he’ll leverage that to go off and shoot some retail catalogues for a while. Nothing too exciting, but it pays the bills.

Another example is somebody like Martin Amis, the bestselling British author. He writes "serious" novels, but also supplements his income by writing the occasional newspaper article for the London papers, or making the occasional television appearance (novel royalties are generally pathetic—even rock stars like Amis aren't immune).

Or actors. One year John Travolta will be in an ultrahip flick like Pulp Fiction ("Sex"), another he’ll be in some forgettable, big-budget thriller like Broken Arrow ("Cash").

Or painters. You spend one month painting blue pictures because that’s the color the celebrity collectors are buying this season ("Cash"), you spend the next month painting red pictures because secretly you despise the color blue and love the color red ("Sex").

Or geeks. You spend your weekdays writing code for a faceless corporation ("Cash"), then you spend your evenings and weekends writing anarchic, weird computer games to amuse your techie friends ("Sex").

This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.

And nobody is immune. Not the struggling waiter, nor the movie star.

As soon as you accept this, I mean really accept this, for some reason your career starts moving ahead faster. I don't know why this happens. It's the people who refuse to cleave their lives this way—who just want to start Day One by quitting their current crappy day job and moving straight on over to bestselling author—well, they never make it.

Anyway, it's called "The Sex & Cash Theory." Keep it under your pillow.

Sound advice for both young programmers as well as veterans who have spent years depending on their organization for every ounce of creativity that they are allowed to demonstrate. I know you probably know the part of your career that is connected to the cash part, do you really know the sources of the sex part?

If not, now is a time where you start separating the two and focusing on both of them fairly seriously. The sex part of your career needs just as much attention as the cash part. Start giving it the serious attention it deserves.

I wish you good luck.

posted on Sunday, January 30, 2011 11:10:41 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Saturday, January 29, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Avoiding The Addiction Of Endless Moping.

Talking is an art. A long candid talk can clear things up within a team.

Talking is also an addiction.

Like in every art, the trick with talking is knowing when to stop.

Are you talking because you are connecting to someone, clearing confusions, spreading your thoughts, sharing an idea or doing something productive?

Or are you rambling on and on because it feels good and it lets you get away without having to take up scary challenges or take up efforts where you might fail?

If your ideas are compelling they do not require very lengthy conversations. (One of the reasons why TED talks are really short).

If your ideas are not compelling all the talking in the world will not cause them to spread.

And the talking will keep you from working on them and actually making them strong enough.

Keep a casual eye on each conversation you have and when you feel you are dragging on and on merely because you are afraid of ending an conversation.

Every time you find yourself doing this, you are not talking, you are probably moping.

Stop it. Move to some real work and get productive.

You might actually feel better. Seriously.

posted on Saturday, January 29, 2011 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Friday, January 28, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Naming Our Very First Free Product - Part 1.

In one of my earlier posts I talked about not worrying about a name for your product till you ship the first sprint.

Last Saturday we shipped a fully functional private beta for a free online hobby project of ours.

One way to think about what the application does, is think of it as a third place for book lovers and book readers. It's designed to help you share what you are reading, bump into people who are reading similar stuff and then have meaningful conversations with them.

(We believe that discussions around books tend to be much more engaging than using "Social Media" and "Web 3.0" to tell the world when was the last time you used the bathroom).

With the first sprint under a private beta, we have about a month to name the website before it starts boarding more people.

If you are a book lover interested in beta testing the application we would love to hear from you on the email address rajiv AT thousandtyone.com but the primary place where we need your help right now is the naming.

Got any suggestions for an awesome name? Email me at rajiv AT thousandtyone.com or by clicking the Mail image link on the left of this blog post.

Got any links or pointers on naming products? How about an awesome book on naming products? You can use the comment field below.

Naming is a part of the celebration of shipping and I would love it if you can join in this little celebration of ours.

You have been officially invited. Seriously.

Start by helping us name the website.

posted on Friday, January 28, 2011 4:09:00 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, January 23, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Lessons From A Side Project - Part 2.

A couple of months ago we started working on a little project of ours in our free time. It was mostly a weekend thing. Not connected with my professional work or my organization. Just a little fun service you can use for free.

On Saturday this little website of ours went live.

We have decided to keep this site in a private beta for a month and not tell you much about it. Not because it is a secret (I know ideas are a dime a dozen), but because we would rather have you try out the application when it is out rather than us talking about it.

This series of posts is not about the service or what it does. It's about the things I learnt from building this side project and one of our biggest realization as we worked during the weekends was about excuses people (me included) give about why they do not start side projects during weekends.

Honestly, there is no reason not to.

Hosting infrastructure and tools are cheap. They are cheaper than you can think.

Anyone who says that he is not building or implementing an idea because he does not have sufficient resources is bullshitting. It is that simple.

Hosting accounts that are good enough to get a full blown implementation going can be less than fifty dollars a month. Yes, I know. Its ridiculous. Yes I know you probably might not scale with that infrastructure but scaling it is not your biggest problem when you are getting started, getting people to give a shit about your blog or application is.

With the plethora of open source tools out there, the Microsoft Bizspark program and the base installations that most hosting providers are giving out now a days, if you go out looking for a venture capitalist to fund your idea there is something fundamentally wrong with your approach.

If you need venture capitalists, it probably means you are not lean enough or it probably means you are not embracing constraints.  

With the productivity that most development environments and databases provide you now a days, if you cannot build a small implementation of an idea or a hobby, without quitting your day job or making a big deal about it, there is something fundamentally wrong with the way you manage your weekends.

With every passing day, the reasons for not implementing your idea into a concrete working application, are diminishing.

Reasons like No Funding, No Resources, No Time, No Venture Capitalists are probably not the things that are holding you back. Laziness, Fear of Failing (or succeeding), Bad Time management and your lizard brain are.

(Honest confession: At least these were the things that were holding me back from pursuing and completing this project).

Ok, now that I have confessed, I am calling your bluff. Accept it. With lesser and lesser reasons to hide behind, chances are that you are going to get your butt off that couch, fire up that IDE and work on something that fascinates you.

A couple of months ago, we called our own bluff, got our own butt off the couch and if there is one thing I can tell you after launching a private beta for this system, it is that, if you have an idea lingering in your head, you are doing yourself a disservice by not implementing it.

Shipping a hobby feels good.

Go on. Start this weekend. I wish you good luck.

posted on Sunday, January 23, 2011 9:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Saturday, January 22, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Books And Why You Should Be Reading Them.

Besides programming, writing and reading are my life long passions.

Are you having a baby?

I cant wait to plug this book to you.

Trying to become better at software development?

Try starting with this one.

Want to understand how your brain works?

Why not start with this one.

In a whole lot of conversation I have with my colleagues, acquaintances or even friends, I tend to quote from books. That is what book lovers do.

Books are a means to draw inspiration, ideas, fun and above all, they provide a means to glean into another book reader's mind and connect to a real person. I continue to be amused by just how many conversations you can have with random strangers over a book at a local bookstore.

Most of those discussions are way deeper than using "Social Media" and "Web 3.0" to basically announce that you are now going to go to the bathroom.

If you aren't reading books, you should.

If you find reading difficult you should consider listening to audio books.

Either ways, if you aren't reading or listening to a couple of books every months, you are doing yourself a disservice.

Go on.

Take a walk to a local book store or grab a copy of something you would like to read from Amazon or Audible and start reading. Its fun. Seriously.

posted on Saturday, January 22, 2011 9:32:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Friday, January 21, 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Your Sources Of Motivation After Your Warm Up Period

When you are hired on your first job, most of your time is spent on impressing your bosses. A pat on your back ever now and then keeps you going for about a year.

The next couple of years are you start looking for promotions and growth. You are still looking for pats but just pats aren't enough. About three to four years into your career, after chasing pats on your back, promotions and technical growth I usually see pretty much two things happening to most engineers and developers around the world:

  1. They burn out and decide to move on to roles which are not, do not seem like, they are as demanding as development. Another way of putting it is that they become what we otherwise refer to as a managers who want to stay as far away from any real work as possible.
  2. They have their very own personal realization that pats on your back, promotions and salary hikes will keep you going only for so long. Having realized this they find their own creative outlets to look for their very own personal intrinsic motivation which either comes from the fact that thousands of people use something that they have built or from touching hundreds of lives with their work outside of work.

If you are that developer who was reasonably good at what he did and has spent three or four years of your career chasing pats on your back or promotions and are now facing that mid life crisis of your software development life you are pretty much left with one of the above choices.

Choose wisely, because many a times, these choices are not reversible. Once you start working on full time management of teams, going back and writing code is going to be challenging especially if your reason for becoming a manager was that you were sick and tired of development. On the other hand, once you start working on side projects and checking in those kickass changes to your project, sitting in meetings is going to feel hugely irritating when you realize that you have to manage teams in your work life.

I am not saying that you cannot do both. You can be a kick ass programmer who loves leading teams or a kickass manager who loves writing code. That is clearly not the point here. The point here is that the first three to four years of your career are your warm up period. What you choose to do next, pretty much defines how long you are going to stick around and how happy you are going to be.

Choose wisely. Stop listening to what folks around you are telling you and start looking for your very own personal sources of staying motivating. For some, this involves leading and connecting to others. For others it involves building stuff. Either way, three or four years is about time you start realizing what you love doing and start doing that more often.

I wish you good luck.

posted on Friday, January 21, 2011 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]