Is Judgement the Number One Trait for a Great Developer?

Great blog post from Tammer Saleh on the number one trait for a developer: http://www.engineyard.com/blog/2011/the-number-one-trait-of-a-great-developer/

The only thing I would wonder about here is that the definition of a rock star is usually their experience + their ability. Without judgement I doubt you would have a rock star as experience comes from having good judgement and making the right decision. Ability uses judgment to figure out really what should be learned and focused on.

Here are some of the traits that I always look for in a developer to define them as a rock star:

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It’s the Polish that Makes Something Special

When you look at applications today it is very easy to tell which ones have the “polish” — and because of that, are exceptional. Many times it is just the simple way of taking a complex three step workflow to one or no steps at all.

At Tier 3 one of the simple examples of adding polish was adding a “Maintenance Mode” button for virtual machines and groups. This feature was built to help simplify the maintenance mode process that a administrator has done many times in the past.

When a system administrator needs to do patching, updating, or just needs to put a system in maintenance mode they usually do the following steps during this time:

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Keep Your Hands Dirty

Throughout my career, I have seen many different management styles. Some were more effective than others but, as a founder, there is one management style that must be avoided at all costs.

I like to call this style the “clean hands founder”.

Many founders are told that they need to step away from the day-to-day business and focus on raising money and promoting the company. While that is important, you should never remove yourself from understanding how your product and company work.

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Moving On from CenturyLink…

Today is my last day at CenturyLink. It has been an absolute honor to work for and contribute to such an amazing company in the midst of a major transformation. The people at CenturyLink are some of the brightest and most talented individuals I have ever worked with.

I will truly miss working with CenturyLink’s employees on a daily basis. They work hard and are passionate about what they do — they are the backbone and reason why CenturyLink is such an amazing company to be part of. Passionate, transparent, honest and striving to delight the customer everyday — it’s a great team to be part of.

So, while many people may talk about what they achieved during their tenure at a company, I believe the credit goes to the team that goes beyond the call of duty every single day. The team launched 20+ services per year and also evolved the culture at CenturyLink, bringing innovation not just to what they do, but how they do it.

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My Greatest Successes Have All Come From Small Failures

My father-in-law recently sent me an article from the NY Times (http://nyti.ms/nLBqp4) asking the question “What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?.” This really hits home on many fronts as I was somebody that did not take the path most taken. I never went to college and even though I don’t have regrets, I do see the value in a higher education. By simply marking a success in my life and then back tracking how it was achieved every time I say small failures that really became the stepping stones to create that success.

Back in 2000 a company I worked for was running a very large web environment which served millions of images. The company negotiated a deal with Yahoo! (one of the internet greats at the time) to have them serve those images from their portal as a new feature. Everybody was jazzed about this but the day we went live it was an utter disaster. So much of a disaster that we had to urgently call the engineers at Yahoo and ask them to please turn it off asap. From there we began debugging what was going on and why this traffic was killing our web application. After some digging in to a legacy system we found out that the developers decided it would be REALLY cool to stick all images into the blob column of the database. Then we also found out that they were trying to be even more cool and removed the static images on the web servers and setup a 404 redirect handler that would pull the image from the database EVERY TIME.

In the end all we had to do is get it back to static image paths and then we were able to get the site live with Yahoo. What is amazing about this are the failures and learning points that the company had when this happened:

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Mythical Evaluations and Reality

The current marketplace is in a state of flux. Some people claim there’s a bubble, others reject this statement. Whatever the real state of today’s markets, it’s wise to reflect on the “evaluation vs opportunity” of costing items. I recently tried to buy a domain name from a squatter. They claimed they were building a startup but the startup’s domain had been registered for some years. I have worked in the startup community for a while and long term startups aren’t that common, in my experience.

I contacted the person and offered them a couple of thousand dollars for the domain. What happened next is pretty mind blowing. They claimed the domain is worth 250,000.00 US. With no negotiation. WOW.

First off, if this person has an idea that they are passionate about it, then that’s fantastic. But let’s evaluate what that domain is really worth by treating his idea like a real business and using this crazy concept called “data” to understand what it could actually be worth.

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Picking a Co-Founder is Hard

I had a great opportunity at this year’s Interop Las Vegas IT Conference and Expo to talk with some amazing entrepreneurs at Work In Progress. I focussed on the many lessons I have learnt as an Entrepreneur but one of the unexpected talking points that came up was picking a great co-founder and sourcing the right team for your fledgling business.

Let’s just start off by saying this process is really HARD. Picking the right co-founder is arguably one of the most important decisions involved in your startup and it can impact your business hugely. That’s why you may have heard so many horror stories about the Entrepreneur who settled on the wrong set of people to grow their business. Imagine Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty trying to build a nuclear reactor together with nothing but a roll of duct tape and a Death Star Lego set. It isn’t going to end well.

I’ve been really lucky with some great co-founders and initial employees who I still count as friends and work with today. I’ve also had some extreme experiences that could have stopped the company in its tracks. But every experience, whether good or bad, has been a learning experience. It’s taught me what works — and what really does not work.

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Polish Your Company

Transforming your incubated idea into a full-blown business is no easy task. Many of the founders I advise and work with need help tackling this mighty metamorphosis. Founders are faced with funding rounds where the venture community weighs up your startup based on many aspects. What your company does, its market and reach, customers, revenue, growth, intellectual property and your team are all examined. These points are key considerations that every founder must give equal emphasis to.

However, the main focus as a founder is running your company. And here’s a little secret I’ve learnt. You need to polish and run your startup like a business from day one.

There are many advantages to this approach. It increases your professionalism with investors, giving them confidence in your business skills Because your venture is run like a real company, its evaluations will improve, and your startup will run that little bit smoother.

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Roadmaps and the Tooth Fairy

If you still believe in the tooth fairy, please stop reading now.

I once thought like you: for a product team, the path to enlightenment is to generate a lengthy one to three year roadmap. This roadmap would start with a fantastic offsite meeting with some of the brightest people on the team. It would culminate with a presentation that is shared across your company, customers, and partners.

An executive once told me that long range roadmaps are a contract between the product and the business. Over the last five years, I have realized how wrong this process is. It is the equivalent of trying to convince your company, customers, and partners that the tooth fairy exists.

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So, You Want to be a Founder…

That is amazing and I congratulate you. I congratulate your drive to create something from nothing, nurture it like a child and work harder than you can ever begin to imagine. Take your worst week at work and times all of that stress and heartache by 10. And you’ll still be nowhere near the reality of day-to-day life as a founder..

I congratulate you for emotionally investing in a concept and enduring the constant emotional roller coaster of success and failure, all while living under the dark cloud of reality — 9 out of 10 of all startups fail.

I also appreciate that you are going be too busy to read a very long blog post and will be bombarded with advice, both good and bad. So, here is some simple advice from a fellow founder:

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Time Management for Founders

Time management and task prioritization are ongoing struggles for many of the founders and entrepreneurs I know. Sure, there are many great articles and books out there to help you with these issues, but they tend to focus on corporate living and not the struggles of founding a company and working as an entrepreneur.

You will experience extreme highs and extreme lows as a founder. It’s an immensely difficult time and there are never enough hours in the day. Task prioritization takes on a whole new meaning and so many founders seem to parrot the same phrase: “every task is a top priority”.

That, quite simply, is not the case. Prioritization is a must for any founder or entrepreneur to succeed and survive without burning out. Here are some basic concepts that actually work:

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Work / Life Balance for Founders

I read an article recently about a high powered CEO who quit his job in light of a letter from his daughter that highlighted 22 milestones he had missed.

This brought a few thoughts to the foreground for me. How can you balance the ambition and drive of being a founder and still have a fulfilling work/life balance? I still remember the long hours I spent building Tier 3 and, even worse, the heated moments when I snapped at my wife saying: “I’m building a company here!” trying to justify the crazy schedules and missed family engagements.

A founder’s job is a constant juggling act and, to be perfectly honest, the workload and pressures of setting up a company are recurring themes throughout my working life. I am a very driven individual and often push everything out of the way to focus on the end goal.

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