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June 2013

Why I started programming

A friend of mine asked me this week about how I started out as a developer.  Did I go to school for it?

The short answer is no.  I taught myself initially because it helped me do my job better.  In the early 80's I worked at US Gypsum building plants.  Curing drywall takes a lot of energy and some plants were coal fired.  Depending on where the coal was mined it had different BTU's, sulfur pollution and cost.  ThWe had to calculate how many tons of coals from which sources to meet minimum BTU, maximum sulfur and at the least cost.  This was an optimization model with 18 variables.  A lot of paper, calculus and a slide rule.

Then came the TRS-80 Radio Shack computer.  We could write a program in Basic that would do all the calculations in 2 seconds.  Around the same time the NASA project manager for Skylab Images came to work for us and taught me how to do project management using a computer.  I was hooked and went back to school for an MBA with a focus on computer systems. 

Since then I've always believed that whatever you wanted to do, you could figure out a way to make it easier with software.  I have not been disappointed.


Jump Starting to Double your Sales in a Tech Company

Twice this year I've talked to two companies who have the same challenge: After a decade of getting to $20-$50M in sales , senior management has been tasked by the board to "GET BIG NOW".

I have noticed the same strategy by both companies:

  1. Hire a lot of people
  2. Use the word "Cloud" or "Mobile" in their new strategy
  3. Move to a larger building

After a decade in business they both have a lot of creaky Microsoft based legacy software and a decent sized installed base.  In reality, they have two paths to growth:

  1. Suck up the existing market through acquisition and consolidation.
  2. Leverage their knowledge base to create new products / services to accelerate growth.

Acquisition may get you through the first couple of years, but you need to be planning for the long view after that. Once you own 60% of the market, then what?

Even if you do that you eventually end up at option 2: Leverage your knowledge and customer base.  Doc Searls called it "the because effect":

The because effect is a kind of jujitsu. While other people look to make money with something, you're finding ways of making money because of something.

Kathy Sierra has this great video: "Building the minimum Badass User".  While you may be a fan of techniques such as Pragmatic Marketing, that only improves what you are already doing.  By focusing on how to make users be really great at their jobs will give you new ways to refocus your products and services to new uses.