This week I started some part-time contacting for Judy’s Book.
Judy’s is a local startup funded by Ignition
among others and Rich Tong put me in touch with them. Their
site is a cool place to share tips about great local shops, restauarants, ask questions to the local
community and all that kind of thing. It’s got all the usual modern cool things
like friend lists and a trust system that helps the community rate who provides
helpful advice and keep out the trolls.
So far I couldn’t be more happy with the experience. Ok, its only been two
days (+ a little extra) but it has really been one of those experiences where it
feels like I’m understanding much better what I’m really good at (and enjoy the
most) at work. Plus its always great to meet a bunch of smart enthusiastic
people working on an interesting project.
At Judy’s I’m working with a small team of people to come up with some
totally brand new stuff. Of course I can’t say anything about what it is yet,
but the whole combination is really cool. Part of what I’m enjoying is that with
this small team I can be really fast at
pulling together prototypes, concept pages, etc. We can do a
combination of conceptual discussions (who are the customers?, how do we compare
to the competition?) with concrete “wouldn’t it be cool if it worked like this”,
“let’s try it this way” development.
I feel like its important for me to acknowledge at this point that I
recognize that the “deliver the product over successive years” part of the job
in the software industry is really important. I’m even slightly defensive on
this topic since I get concerned that people think I’m not good at finishing a
longer project. In reality I’ve shipped dozens of versions of the Resnova
products, stuck through a 3 year Exchange 2000 product cycle and spent more than
3 years working on Avalon.
What I’ve realized is that I can do those projects. I spent years thinking that was what I had to do to be on
track for a successful career. More recently I’ve been thinking that since my skill-set seems especially well suited for that first
6-12 months of a project, I should focus on how to deliver the most
value with that. Right now I’m actually doing that with three
projects simultaneously and while that is probably a bit much, it still helps
every day feel different and gives me plenty of outlets for creativity.
Working on projects like these can have some unique challenges. For example, you
want to build things so that as much as possible of what you build can be
carried forward, especially the architecture. The last thing anyone wants is to
inherit a piece of junk that is held together (barely!) with bailing wire and
needs to get scrapped in a big, expensive, from-the-ground-up rewrite. At the
same time, realistically anything you create in the early phases is going to get
rewritten over the next 6-24 months. Hopefully several times. So build things
with an elegant architecture, but with rapid development techniques and plan on
everything getting rewritten one chunk at a time as the needs change.
other set of issues and revolve around your team. I’ve often noticed lots of
uncertainty in dealing with other people. Is it a prototype? Is it production
code? How much does it represent a statement about the future product direction?
The simple answer is that in a startup, everything is an experiment, but that level of ambiguity can be a really
difficult thing. I’ve met many people who thought startups would be great for
them but they wound up miserable with the level of change and uncertainty. I’m
probably confusing some people who have worked with me since I’ve been in a role
where I’ve been trying to lock down a plan and reduce churn before. To deliver
polished products to customers you do need to lock down at some point. Part of
the fun thing about this current role is that those type’s of issues aren’t
something that I need to deal with.