Monday, November 4, 2013

Get off your duff tomorrow!

   It's been a looooong time since my last post here.  Sorry 'bout that!  Been kinda busy working.  But an important thought occurred to me about tomorrow.

   No, I don't mean the generic tomorrow, as in the near future.  I mean specifically November 5, 2013.  Or rather, the day after the first Monday (which, mind you, isn't necessarily the first Tuesday!) of every November.

   Those of you in the USA might have already guessed what I mean.  Even if you're not here, keep reading, because this probably applies to you too, albeit with different timing!

   Some of you are eager to go to the polls.  (If that's you, great, thank you, you can stop reading now.  You might want to keep reading, though, to see what I have to say to the rest.  I'd sure appreciate your passing it along to those who need to hear it.)

   Some of you reading this might not be able to vote for one reason or another; that's a different story altogether.

   The rest of you, though, LISTEN UP!  You might be thinking, "why bother, the major parties never put up anybody worth voting for, and the minor parties don't stand a chance."

   If that's your attitude, then:

YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM!

   You probably say your refusal to vote is an act of protest, right?  That's baloney and you know it.  You're just being lazy, not doing squat to earn your right to complain.  (I am trying to keep this blog family-friendly, but at times like this it gets a mite difficult.)

   Offended?  Good!  Maybe you'll get off your duff now!  Oh, you still wonder why you should?

   The Powers that Be, much as they might be spying on us, can't tell whether you're refusing to vote because you're protesting, or you're just too lazy, or you forgot, or you had some emergency and couldn't get to the polls (like happened to me last year).  (Lesson: vote absentee/early if you can!)

   So long as turnout is as abysmally low as usual, they have every right to assume you're being lazy.  And you know what?  The vast majority of the time, they'll be right.

   Now, if you're too lazy to vote, why should they give half a damn about you? Do they really think that you're going to suddenly find a burst of energy when it's time to grab guns and head to the makeshift barricades?  Or when it's time to go to the protest rally, or Occupy Whatever?  Riiiiiiight.  I don't think so, neither do they, and deep down, admit it, neither do you.  You probably won't even sign a petition, let alone work for a campaign.  Your own history indicates you probably won't do the easiest thing they fear most -- vote for the other candidate.

   There's an old saying: "The world is run by those who show up."  If you won't bother to show up, okay, fine, I'd probably rather you personally not be involved in running the world.  But then... don't come griping to me.

   You know those silly little "I Voted" stickers?  I call mine my "griping license".  I don't listen to unlicensed griping.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Follow Up... WAY Up!

   Everybody has had the experience: "D'oh!  I forgot to follow up on that, and now the opportunity is gone!"  Whether the opportunity is for a job, a client, a lover, or whatever, you need to get back to them.  And yet, being merely human, we forget.

  This is one of those areas where being an absolute geek can really help.  No, it won't help you figure out what to say to them, but it can help you remember to do it at all.  How?

   The basic concept is very much like a "tickler file".  (I'll wait while you go look at that article, if you're not familiar with them already.)  The geeky twist I add, is that I don't file an actual physical document, just a reference in a spreadsheet.

   Yes, a spreadsheet.  They're not just for suits and green-eyeshades.  They're a great way to organize any kind of information that you just need to record a few brief pieces of information about, and may need to sort in various ways.

   Let's look at a small simulated excerpt from my client-hunting spreadsheet, which originally started as a job-hunting spreadsheet.  (The company names have of course been changed.  The dates are in YYYY-MM-DD format, aka ISO 8601, so that even if they're not in a "real" spreadsheet program, but rather a plain text file, they'll still sort in the right order.)


Company Status Last Contact Followup On
Fubar Heavy Industries Inc. CALL THEM ASAP 2012-10-04 2012-10-08
Conceptual Concepts Ltd. waiting for NDA 2012-10-03 2012-10-10
Widgets R Us I emailed them 2012-09-28 2012-10-12


   So tomorrow morning, I should call Fubar Heavy Industries, as we arranged on Friday.  Suppose the result of that call is, "we'll give you a decision within two weeks".  Then the 10-08 becomes 10-22... and I sort the sheet on the "Followup On" column again.

   Next up would be Conceptual Concepts Ltd.  I'm waiting for them to send me an NDA.  They said on last Thursday afternoon that they would do it, but as of Sunday I haven't seen it yet.  If they still haven't sent me the NDA by this Thursday, I'll send a reminder... and add another week to the "Followup On" column, and sort again.

   After that would be Widgets R Us.  I emailed them the week before last, in response to an ad on a job board that said they were looking for contractors.  If they don't get back to me within two weeks, I will send a note... and add another two, or maybe three weeks to their followup date.  If that one comes and goes with no response, I'll probably just delete their row.  If they then contact me later, I've still got the other information.

   Other information?  Not in the spreadsheet?  Where am I keeping track of that?  I have another column (not shown) for brief notes, but there's a lot more information than can fit there.

   You're going to get an extra-special bonus on how I keep my stuff organized!  If you are a potential client/employer and call me, I'll probably ask you to wait a moment as I pull up your file.  Yes, I keep a file, or possibly several files, on each potential, current, or past client.  Many have been surprised (pleasantly, I hope!) that I'm so organized.

   In my work directory is a directory with (at least) a text file for each one, such as ~/work/clients/WidgetsRUs.txt.  This contains copies of all correspondence, notes, etc.  If I need to store additional files, such as NDAs, I create a directory for that, such as ~/work/clients/WidgetsRUs_files.  In there I store files like ~/work/clients/WidgetsRUs_files/Aronson-NDA-Signed.pdf.

   As yet another bonus tip for you: note how the filename contains my own name... for the client's convenience.  My own convenience in organizing, is served by the directory structure.

   So now, as always, it's your turn.  How do you keep track of stuff you need to do all the time?  Do you use a to-do list application, something more specialized, reminders on your calendar, a text file, or what?  What problems or unexpected benefits have you encountered?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Freelancing Podcasts

   I can't believe I haven't posted on this before.  Sometimes we humans can't see the forest for the trees.

   Some of us find it difficult to excel in an office setting.  No, I don't just mean the fact that we're indoors, at a desk, staring at a computer.  That may be factors for some people.  More commonly, though, it's that you're slaving away for someone else's goals, to make someone else a profit, fit in with their "corporate culture", fulfill their long-term vision... not yours.

   But they plod along, maybe even climbing the proverbial ladder fairly well... because they don't dare to strike out on their own.  To stretch a metaphor (after all, that's what a meta is phor, badum-pum!), they don't dare try to hit a home run on their own, for fear they'll strike out.

   Do you have some kind of long-term vision?  Make it a reality.  Just Do It.  Get started.  Be an entrepreneur.  Or if you just yearn to breathe free, and maybe come up with some long-term visions, be a freelancer.

   I was reminded of that, not only because I am freelancing these days (got paid for project #1 last month, and am now in the midst of #2, wrapping up #3, waiting for an SOW on #4), but because of some Recommended Resources on that topic.  There are a gazillion web sites out there on being a freelancer or entrepreneur, but not so many podcasts, so I wanted to share some I found recently:

   A while back, a few freelance Ruby developers came up with Ruby Freelancers, at http://rubyfreelancers.com/.  Very little of it is Ruby-centric, and a lot of it is not even specific to software development.  (E.g., "have a contract in place", "ask for a deposit", "you probably need to charge more", "hire an accountant and a virtual assistant", etc.)  The web site is mainly just a place to put information about the podcast, available via iTunes.

   I also recently discovered the much older Life of the Freelancer, at http://lifeofthefreelancer.com/.  (Some of you may now be thinking, "Didn't that shut down last year?"  Well yeah, it did, on April 4, 2011... but as of February 20, 2012, it's back!)  I haven't poked around the web site much (I'm mainly catching up on the podcasts), but it seems to be mostly transcripts and supplements for the podcast.  The host happens to be also a Ruby developer, as is the occasional guest, but the guests are in a wide variety of freelancing positions.  Occasionally the talk is specific to their line of work, but as with Ruby Freelancers, there are almost always a few nuggets of more general wisdom that any kind of freelancer, or even other kinds of entrepreneurs, can benefit from.

   (Just a caveat, don't quit your day-job until your side-job is doing well enough that it could easily grow into something big enough to support you.  Yes I know I didn't do it that way myself, but believe me, being super-busy while the side-job ramps up, sure beats having no income for several months!)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Letter Phi

   This is the text of a speech I just gave, winning the Area level of the Toastmasters International Speech Competition, which culminates in the World Championship of Public Speaking.  Since that obligates me to go on to the Division level, I'd really like to get your feedback on this -- just remember that it has to fit in five to seven minutes.  :-)  And as usual, I encourage you to comment on the concepts as well.

===8<---cut here----

You may remember assorted Greek letters from school -- mainly from math and physics, or maybe the fraternities and sororities.  But don't worry, Madam Contestmaster, fellow Toastmasters, and honored guests, I'm not going to throw (much) math, physics, or Greek at you.  Let's start with one letter [hold up prop with a phi and "PHI" on it], pronounced either "fie" or "fee".

In math, it stands for the Golden Ratio -- but you don't need to know that, or even what that is.  The only thing you need to know, is that the name, usually rendered in English as P H I, is also an acronym for three things that have been helping me earn golden fees as a freelance web developer, and can help you in many areas of your life.

First, P stands for Perseverance.  I decided to go freelance in October.  Guess how much billable work I got in October?  Zilch.  November?  Nada.  December?  Bupkis.  I said I wouldn't throw Greek at you... but bupkis is Yiddish, meaning almost nothing.  As Toastmasters, we look on the bright side.  At least that was more than nothing, so it was an improvement -- and things have been improving since then.  Had I not stuck to it, I would have had... no freelancing career at all!

But what about you?  Same deal.  Obviously, if you don't pursue your dreams, you'll never catch them.  Often you'll be tempted to give up, to fall back on the tried and true... the comfortable.  But you have to get out of your comfort zone to make progress!  I had to get out from behind the computer, talk to potential clients, and try to convince them to give me a nice fat juicy contract.  For you, if your goal is to be a great public speaker like Cicero, or at least get over your fear of it, you have to get out of the comfortably seated audience, get up here and give speeches.  Whatever your goal is, you have to stick with it, despite the discomfort of leaving your comfort zone.

I'm telling you all this because . . . H stands for Helpfulness.  How does helping others help us?  Zig Ziglar often says, "you can get everything you want out of life, if you just help enough other people get what they want."  Whether you attribute this to supernatural forces, like the Hindu concept of karma, or simply your reputation, it works!

So how am I applying this as a freelance web developer?  Nearly every day, I read several online technical forums... not just to see what I can learn, which is for the next point, but to see if anyone has questions I can answer.  This shows me as not only knowledgeable, but also helpful -- exactly the kind of person you want to give a nice fat juicy contract!

But what about you?  The same concept applies here in Toastmasters, just like it does in the outside world.  We help everybody, all the time, anyway... but we're more likely to cheerfully volunteer to go the extra mile, for those who have done so themselves.  Sure we may do that for the rest too, but it will take a little more convincing.

And Toastmasters leads us to the last letter.  I stands... right here, no, I stands for Improvement.

Of course now I'm preaching to the proverbial choir!  If you didn't want to improve your communication or leadership skills, you wouldn't be here at Toastmasters!  You know how vital it is to sharpen these skills, and others.

But how does it help me as a freelance web developer?  If I hadn't been keeping my skills not only sharp, but current, I wouldn't even have web development skills in the first place!  There may not be all that much salt in my pepper, but I came out of school long before the Web was even invented.  Even after that, most of my work was not on the Web; I had to learn web skills on my own time, expense, and initiative.  Because of doing that, instead of being obsolete, I
now have a viable path to not only continue my career, but become more independent as well.

These are just some examples of how I've been earning my "phi" (fee).  What about you?  What are your dreams, and your skills?  How much help do you need?  No matter your answer, I guarantee that [hold up prop with these words on it] perseverance, helpfulness, and improvement, will help you succeed.

===8<---cut here----

Note: The Cicero bit was an impromptu addition because the prior speaker was talking about Cicero.  I probably won't include that in further versions.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stop SOPA and PIPA!

   This post is black in protest of SOPA and PIPA, the House and Senate bills that will strangle freedom and innovation on the Internet, while doing next to nothing about "piracy", the alleged reason for the bills.  Take action!

* Go sign Google's petition against them, at https://www.google.com/landing/takeaction/, and any others you can find.

* Contact your Senator and Representatives. If you don't know who they are, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page, enter your zip code, and follow the links.

* Spread the word, on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and any other services you use.

* Put a message like this on your web site and blog.

   Do it now!

-Dave

Saturday, December 10, 2011

FOCUS!

   As I mentioned last time, I'm now mainly chasing Ruby on Rails (RoR) work.

   (Don't worry, I'm not going to get too geeky on this blog.  If you want geekitude, though, see my coding blog, Attack of the Codosaurus, at http://www.codosaur.us/.  Here on Dare2XL, I'll throw out the names of some technologies, but won't expect you to know what they mean, other than what I'll explain.  Bear with me.)

   I've come to the decision that, while I'll do pretty much anything on a contract, I'll only actively hunt those in RoR, and a "permanent" position must be using RoR, or something equivalently modern, or have a very good reason to be using something older.

   "But Dave," many of you are wondering, "you've got decades of C experience, some C++, and so on, much more than you've got in Ruby at all, never mind Rails!  Why eliminate options like that?!"

   You say "eliminate options", I say "focus".  To-may-to, to-mah-to.  It may look counterproductive, and in the short term perhaps it is.  But it's absolutely vital long-term, and if you've been reading this blog long, you know I always try to think long-term.

   Sure I could chase C work, and probably land some.  But then my career would be right back at Square One, or maybe Two (C++).  Meanwhile, most of the industry (and its job market) is already at Square Three (Java/.NET) and moving onward.  I've at least got a toehold in Square Four (Ruby/Scala/etc.).  I am not giving that up without very good reason... such as maybe going to Square Five (mobile).  The time and energy I might spend on chasing C/C++ jobs, could be better spent on chasing RoR jobs, or at the very least leveling-up my RoR-fu.

   So now, dear readers, as usual, it's your turn.  How have you decided to eliminate options, focus, cut your losses, break the bonds that drag you down, whatever you want to call it, sacrificing short-term opportunities for long-term progress?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Making BIDs (Blessings in Disguise)

   As some of you already know, I am no longer with Rosetta Stone.  Long story short, I've been "let go".  Tragedy, you might think?  Comedy, in some ways, perhaps.  But I'm hoping to making it a turning point of my history.  How?  By making it a BID -- a Blessing In Disguise.

   Those of you who have seen my code blog, codosaur.us, know I like the Ruby programming language.  (I'll try not to make the rest of you get eye-glazed from geeky details.)  But I just spent the past almost-year working in ActionScript.  Getting let go, frees me up to pursue Ruby, before it starts requiring five years of prior experience like most Java jobs.  You could say I missed the Java boat, and don't want to miss, if you'll pardon the expression, the Ruby yacht.  :-)

   It's not just me, either.  When you were a child, your mama probably read you many stories in which events that looked bad, turned out to be good, and sometimes vice-versa.  But unlike in this book, or this blog post, sometimes it takes an active effort to make it so.  That's where the daring, subject of this blog, comes into it.

   How so, you may ask?  Well, I have a lot more experience in some other programming languages -- literally decades in C.  So, it would probably be a lot easier for me to find work there, right?  Yes, for now... but let's look a few years down the road.  Suppose Ruby takes off like Java took off (and I think it will).  Then I'd be locked out of another language, going obsoleter and obsoleter.  A little more daring now, by pushing harder to land Ruby work now than I did for landing Java work while Java was getting hot, rather than falling back on C, can set me up for a much better career later.

   As usual, it's now your turn!  What disasters have you turned into blessings?  What disasters do you think you could have turned into blessings, had you dared?