Your website is not a project … and your project is not a startup

March 19th, 2011 § 0

It seems like in recent weeks there has been quite a bit of debate on one of my favorite sites (Hacker News) about what comprises a “startup” and what is a “project”.

This topic is increasingly popular as of late because it seems like everyone who has ever built a website in the past few months wants to call it a “startup”

Let’s lay a few things to rest right now. Your website that you threw together in a couple of hours, that is NOT a project, and it certainly is not a startup.

A project is something that is ongoing and takes time and goals to complete. You may launch the project in a short amount of time, but it will be something you continue to work on as time progresses. A project will never be something you simply throw up on the web and rarely tinker with, I am honestly not sure what you should classify that as besides a waste of server space, but it should never be thought of as a project.

In the same sense just because you are working on something on an ongoing basis and trying to release or already have released an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) that does not mean you are running a startup, in fact most startups would probably consider that an insult. A startup is a small up-start (hence the startup name) company who’s founders very likely are still working themselves into the ground and are living and breathing their work on a daily basis. They have probably released an MVP already and work on it continually. The founders do not have day jobs typically. They have dedicated their lives for better or worse to this business and are drawing their paychecks (or in many cases, lack thereof) directly out of this new company.

As someone who has worked on all three phases of this spectrum I think I am uniquely qualified to make these comparisons. I have sold one company that I would’ve considered a startup, I have had several websites past and present, and I am almost always working on multiple projects.

If someone asks me what I am doing for a living I typically answer “just playing” although that is much to my Dad’s dismay since I do own a local small business with him as well. If you were to go to my Linkedin you would see that I mostly identify myself as being a tech and/or database consultant. Since I have spent the better part of my adult life in and around databases i will be the first person to tell you there is almost nothing you cannot equate to a database and likewise there is very little you can build without them.

Currently I am working on a “project” which I have slowly began to devote my time to however until I am fully committed and have additional funding secured for it I will still consider it just a project.

Please use caution when throwing around these words in the real world. People get offended. Some even become violent, often times its not because they are onerous so much as they know what it means to dedicate their life to something and when another person compares that level of dedication with something they threw together on a friday night after a few beers, I hope we can all see why that could be a bit frustrating.

So when you are done reading this article I hope you re-consider what it is that you are actually doing the next time you launch a website, start a project, or even build a startup. For your sake and all of ours, please know the difference, because chances are if you don’t then more than likely you will fail to accomplish what you want from that endeavor.

What are you working on? what do you consider it? l’d love to hear your thoughts on this article

Why a Hacker without work is like a Lion without food

February 10th, 2011 § 0

First of all let me start by apologizing to all 13 of my readers (I kid, I kid) for this post taking so long, I have been doing a lot of … well, not working lately and so the blogging sort of fell to the wayside as well. But with the holidays over and real life back in full swing I expect I will be doing much more blogging in the weeks and months to come.

For those of you who clicked on this title looking for an insightful post I certainly hope not to disappoint. This is one that has been a long time coming.

All too often as a computer programmer (hacker,techie,or whatever else you’d like to call me) I run into people who claim to be developers, video game programmers and all around tech gurus yet when i ask them where they are working I seem to hear one answer way too often. “I’m looking for a job right now”, or “I can’t really find anything in the field I want to be in”.

Why is this a problem some might ask? That’s where the title of the post comes back into play. The answer really is simple.

If you are a hacker, you should be HACKING … End of Story!

I don’t care if you are still in school, have been out of work for two or three years or just got laid off yesterday. You have one of the most valuable skills man is capable of possessing simply because you do not NEED to have a “job” to create cool and useful things, you do not need high powered super computers or overly expensive equipment, all you need is the desire to create something useful and the ability to sit still long enough to make it happen.

Probably my least favorite phrase among the friends I have made that work for the larger tech companies are statements like “I am still a very junior programmer”. If you are the person making those statements you may want to stop reading now since I very likely won’t sugar coat this enough for your tastes. If you continue to feel that way and you continue to only work on the very junior tasks given to you at the office you will ALWAYS be very junior.

However some of the best programmers I know have not even graduated college yet and many probably never will. They didn’t become senior engineers or rockstars because they are mad geniuses (though some really are). They did it because they knew one thing above all else. They were capable of creating things greater than themselves.

The Lion is the king of the jungle for one reason, It is capable of nearly anything it puts its mind to. As a hacker you should see yourself the same way. If you want something added to your favorite program don’t write the company an email, figure out how to do it yourself!

If you are out of a job build an iPhone or Android app and put it in the app stores, build something for your friends or automate a daily process. It is these things that will ultimately land you that senior role or transform your confidence and help you become the person worthy of envy instead of the envious one.

Confidence is key in programming. Every successful programmer has made mistakes and will continue to, learn from your debugging process and do not be afraid to fail. In the end you may even look back at how naive you were to believe something would work, but the first time it does the only thing you will regret is what took you so become so blinded.

One final thought I will leave you with on this post is one that came from a top tier Angel investor in the recent past directed at me after almost an hour long series of prodding questions in which he was intending to break down my idea and I just would not let him. It is a phrase I will never forget:

“Zach, you know why I like you? You are too arrogant to fail.”

Now while they can certainly be taken in many different ways, The one I preferred to interpret was that while talent is important, persistence and the belief in your idea goes a very long way. You can teach lots of things, but desire is not among them, sometimes just wanting it bad enough can propel you farther than anything else.

So Now I’ll challenge you, are you out of work? go forth and build something, become the king of the jungle and not the Mayor of your couch on your local foursquare.

Curb your television intake – Increase your productivity

October 24th, 2010 § 10

At first glance to many of you the title and contents of this post may be obvious, to others it will probably seem absurd. But I am writing this post for myself as well, almost as a reminder for myself and for my productivity. Television has been ever-present in the lives of my generation. With affordable cable packages offering hundreds of channels there is almost never a time where there is nothing to watch on tv. But with the ability to sit in front of the television comes a slew of problems that affects many of us in a less than desirable way.

The so-called “television trance” has been talked about for decades but very little has been done to prevent younger generations from becoming dependent on it. Parents and Grandparents often use the television as a form of baby sitter for their young ones, unfortunately this has become an accepted practice and the children who have a television habit by the time they reach pre-school is at alarming levels. What we should all do is set a limit for ourselves and for our children (if you have children, obviously I do not) and maintain that limit in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

All too often I have found myself with the TV as background noise while working only for it to catch my full attention and eventually be sitting in the recliner watching it with my undivided attention minutes later. This has led to a devastating drop in my productivity in the past and I had to make a conscious choice to change it. In the weeks since I have spent a considerable amount of times doing other things I enjoy such as running, writing and reading. While running is not the most intellectual thing you can do, for me it creates an escape of sorts from the real world. You should find something that you like to do which can take your mind off of everything for at least 30-45 minutes a day, I feel like this is healthy and some of my clearest thoughts come to me in the shower after a long jog. Writing and reading obviously help me do other things that enrich the mind and fill the void that television sometimes fills if we let it.

I am not like most people you will ever meet (in fact, I am probably the only person like me you will ever meet if you have the opportunity to do so) but I feel that this policy can help people of all types and certainly is not limited to a small group of individuals. You see, almost everyone has bad habits, and simply by acknowledging them as such you are well on your way to fixing the problem (no this is not going to turn into a self help novel lol). it is important to figure out what types of activities you enjoy and make it a priority to do those types of things. Most people won’t like the things I do to curb my tv habit and vice versa, so set your own plan and be prepared to stick with it.

For instance, I am of the belief that you should only read books that teach you something. Being a bit of a pessimist to me that means all fiction books are a waste of time, and while I am almost certain there are thousands of people out there willing to give me examples of how they learned something reading a fiction book however I will not be convinced. When I read a book I do so with a clear purpose, to understand the topic at hand significantly better than I did before reading. This obviously will not apply to all people (maybe not even MOST people) but it works for me and finding that which fits your individual personality is the only way to ensure success.

I found after cutting my tv intake down to just 7 hours a week (with saturday college football being the exception) that my productivity has sky rocketed … it allows me to spend more time at my computer developing and working on my code base, all the while generating all new and enlightening problems for me to fix. Problem solving, at least so far seems to have been the best thing about kicking the tv habit for me, I feel like I get to learn infinitely more than I did even when I was in school by simply generating and learning how to fix the problems generated by my work. The only way you can get to a place where where you are not dependent on the television, and critical thinking will make an entry into your everyday life is by making a conscious effort to make that happen.

I challenge all of you reading this post to cut down what holds you back, and make your life the next success story.

Tell me what keeps you from accomplishing your goals. Is it a different habit? a dead-end job? A dismissive family? what did you do or will you do to overcome it?

Use the comments section below or the Contact page to tell me your story!

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