Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Overwhelmed and Underpaid

So you want to become a micro ISV (independent software vendor)? I've got a really good suggestion for you: don't do it. It's a real struggle. Herding cats is much easier. You can thank me later for the 10 years that I've added onto your life expectancy.

Hmmm... You're still not convinced eh? You're one of those people who love the uber-difficult challenges in life. Well, that's a start at least. Because in the wide world of independent software development where so many smart, creative, and well-educated people end up becoming overwhelmed and underpaid, you've got to possess the will to soldier on at a bare minimum.

I came across an old blog-post that I wrote in 2005 for my now defunct Mad Rhinoceros blog. I wanted to re-post it here for two reasons. First, it does a nice job of capturing the essence of the "overwhelmed" feeling that we software entrepreneurs often experience on a regular basis. And secondly, it clearly shows that sometimes the best laid plans fail to work out. In this particular case, the failure was simply due to lack-of-time, the arch nemesis of all micro businesses.

Read on...

[From the Mad Rhinoceros, Sep 1, 2005]

The life of a small, independent software developer is one where you wear many hats. So many hats in fact, that I ought to open my own damn hat store. By the way, if anyone knows where you can buy one of those cool hats the Pope wears, let me know.

The most enjoyable part of my job is brainstorming ideas for cool software products, creating the functional specs for them, and then actually creating the database and programming & testing the software. For those of you who don't know, creating quality software is a long and arduous process. Even with rapid application development tools, there are scads of steps in the process and zillions of places to screw up. But there's nothing quite like the feeling of spending your time doing mental gymnastics and communing with the spirit of Einstein, and to then see your creation come to life. It's a Frankenstein moment of utter excitement.

Unfortunately, just like Dr. Frankenstein, there's a monster to deal with. And that monster rears its ugly head in the shape of all the things you DON'T really prefer spending your time on. There's business planning and marketing. There's web site maintenance to tend to. There's pre-sales inquiries to address, and after-sale customer service and technical support to provide. And there are business dealings to consider and consultants to manage. All of these things are vital to running a successful company and can't be ignored. But let's face it, most software entrepreneurs would rather be creating their next digital golem and nurturing it to life.

So what's the point of all this? The point is that there are just too many things vying for your attention. The trick of not going completely insane is to periodically figure out how you can eliminate the loser tasks and how to streamline your operation. It occurred to me shortly after starting this blog that it could help me streamline Rhino Software's web site.

For a long time I've wanted to find a reasonable way to stay in touch with faithful customers and site surfers that didn't require too much of hit on my time (which there is never enough of). I've thought about writing a periodic newsletter to share tips about Rhino Baseball, Rhino Hockey, and other software applications. I wanted to share comments & insights on fantasy sports, games, and the software business for small/micro companies. Basically, I just wanted to do a better job of reaching out to people and providing a deeper sense of community between us all.

So far, that reaching out has been mostly limited to helping folks with their customer support issues. And while customers always praise me for the excellent help that I provide them, I only really get to talk to a small percentage of you guys. So I thought, why not incorporate news, tips, commentary, and surveys into various pages of the site? Wouldn't that be cool?

Well... Okay maybe it didn't turn out to be so cool after all. Despite my best intentions, I haven't made the time to write software tips articles for the Ask Reggie Rhino page, provide ongoing commentary on the Sports Buzz page, or squeeze in ideas about software development on the Tech Talk page. About the only thing I do stay current with is the What's New stuff on the front page. So here's what I've decided. All of those things (except for the news on the front page) are going away. They will be put out to pasture to frolic in the Land of What Might Have Been. This blog is going to take their place. I am going to divide & conquer. Reggie Rhino will bring his bat, stick, and technical sports brain right here. Everything that needs or wants to be talked about, will be talked about in the blog and combined into one place. Isn't streamlining wonderful?

The real beauty of a blog is that by its very nature, it's great for posting snippets and short commentary on a regular basis. I can write down what's on my mind without worrying that I need to compile a volume of writing that rivals War & Peace in sheer size. So I'm optimistic that this will work out in the long run. BLOGGER comes to the rescue again!


That post was written 2 years ago. Obviously, I had good intentions and had the foresight to realize that blogging was a good way to reach the audience that I wanted to communicate with.
But too many other work-tasks got in the way.

Between the continued development of Rhino Baseball, running 2 stats services, and jumping into the development of a new wargame project with both feet and trying to muster assistance & input from a part-time group of consultants who needed lots of prodding, my plate was full. Not to mention that I had to make a painful decision to suspend work on a product (Rhino Hockey) that was very nearly complete after several years of work, but which wasn't generating enough pre-release buzz.

As you can see, it's easy for a micro ISV to become overwhelmed since every little thing falls on your shoulders. "Lifers" who have spent their entire careers in Corporate America have absolutely no concept of what this is like. They're insulated in their own little worlds, with very specific tasks to work on, and a steady paycheck that mitigates the frustration an independent developer feels of working his/her ass off only to see a small amount of revenue dribbling in.

The desire to blow everything up, quit, and move on to another job (perhaps getting out of the software development field altogether) is a personal demon that I wrestle with quite frequently. It's counter-balanced by my love of the "software creation process" which feeds my innermost desire to be challenged and express my personal creativity. Plus, once you've put 10+ years of your blood, sweat, and tears into something, it's extremely difficult to just walk away from it. It becomes part of you. Some people might say it's like being married. You put up with lots of crap only because the things you love about it are so special.

Anyway... At least I've committed myself to blogging on a regular basis now. I suppose that once this becomes a habit, I won't have to think twice about firing up Blogger or my email program and jotting down passing thoughts, observations, or sharing interesting information with everyone. In some perverse sort of way, it's good to get things off your chest and write about them. It really is cathartic, and helps with the sense of being overwhelmed. Now if I can just find a good way to solve the underpaid problem!

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