When Should I Quit My Business Idea?

Running a side business while working can be grueling, especially when it comes to long-term growth. We start with big dreams and aspirations, and at first, put lots of time and energy into building our side business. We hope that someday we can support ourselves and work on our own terms. We want to improve our lives, be independent, and have quality time with our family.

But success usually doesn’t come instantaneously. And when reality doesn’t match our expectations, the first impulse is to quit. Knowing when to quit and knowing when to stand and fight is difficult to discern. So, we ask ourselves silently more often than we care to admit:

Continue reading “When Should I Quit My Business Idea?”

I’ve Got So Much Trouble On My Mind

I’m going to say some things that will make some of you angry. But you know what? I don’t give a fuck.

A few days ago, a Missouri police officer was told he didn’t have to go on trial for shooting an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown. This was hardly surprising, but greatly disappointing.

The reaction from the black community nationwide was predictable. Many white people understood exactly why Ferguson, Missouri once again erupted into riots, but some white people did not.

Some of these people were respected members of the web community.

These white web professionals pointed at the looting and burning of local businesses with a sneer. See, those awful people are burning down storefronts. How dare they do this to their neighborhood?

Meanwhile, not a word of sympathy about the teenager who had been shot dead. Not a word of condolence about the family who just lost their son.

Not a word of sympathy at all about the actual human being who lost his life. Just concern about property and of course, the white officer who shot an unarmed 18 year old dead.

Author Tim Wise says it much better than I can.

If your concerns about violence are limited to property damage and looting, and you have never shed two tears for the history of institutional violence, murder, colonialism, segregation, lynching, genocide and police brutality against peoples of color, your words mean nothing; they mean less than nothing. Your outrage, in such a case is grotesque, an inversion of morality so putrescent as to call into question your capacity for real feeling at all. So long as violence from below is condemned while violence from above is ignored, you can bet that the former will continue — and however unfortunate that may be, it is surely predictable. If you’d like the former to cease, put an end to the latter, and then I promise you, it will.

And from the Tressiemc blog:

When the accusation is that looting and riots constitute unacceptable violence, the rest of the statement goes thusly: every life has a price and these lives are cheaper than any property damaged.

Let’s be honest, no matter what you believe about the Mike Brown killing, I’m not going to change your mind. You’re not going to change mine. We’ve each drawn our own conclusions.

But what bothers me is when these intelligent people have this utter lack of emotional intelligence for anyone outside of their comfort zone.

It’s troublesome that we treat a three month occupation of an American city as completely justified. Even though the cops shot first in each case.

It’s sickening that it is so normal that another unarmed black man loses his life to a white officer, that we make jokes about it.

It’s repulsive when people hijack hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and twist them into derivative, offensive hashtags — as if to say that black lives don’t matter to them. Like it’s all some sort of fucking joke. Or worse, justification for stacking up black corpses like cordwood across the country.

It’s indicitive of us when we worry more about the officer with a boo-boo on his cheek than the unarmed black men being killed without fair trial or consequence.

It’s dehumanizing to point at “the evidence given” by the prosecutor with family members on the police force and a officer whose story is full of holes big enough to drive an aircraft carrier through.

And these things are worrisome, because with all the game we talk about our industry and our profession becomes this big freaking lie.

We talk big, about how we have to “have empathy for the user”, but we can’t even muster empathy for human beings right in front of us, who have to worry about getting shot for the color of their skin.

We talk about how our industry and technology is “changing the world” and “empowering other people”, but it’s becoming clear to me that isn’t really what we mean at all. What too many people mean is, “empower the people we feel comfortable empowering.”

We think it’s hilarious to post statements about like “don’t burn my house down” or “I’m going to go teach my family to make the world a better place. Hashtag, Ferguson.”

What these posts make clear is that you look at people who aren’t like you as threats and criminals, not people who have their own sets of problems to overcome. So, you snark about it from the safety of distance, both in location and culture. You sneer from a place of judgement, not understanding.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t better than anyone else. You’re not better than the people who have been putting up with harassment for their entire lives. You’re just a person who got lucky in the birth lottery with a middle class family living in the the right neighborhood, the right skin pigment, and you had the good fortune to have access to computers and lots of free time.

But too few of us ever take the time to ponder, What if?

What if I had been born in another part of the country, with a different set of parents? In a different set of circumstances? Would I be the same person I am today?

I’ve had multiple chances to get things right. Many people aren’t that lucky. Some people have to worry each day about not getting shot. I’ll bet you never worried about that. But did you ever stop to wonder why?

When I was eighteen, I had run-ins with the law. Did I ever once think I was going to get shot? Hell no. And I was much worse than Michael Brown.

I have a son who is sixteen and a half. Not much younger than Mike Brown. Not much smaller in stature than Mike Brown. If he has a run-in with a police officer, do I fear he will get shot? Again, the answer is No.

Why? The answer is obvious.

This is the reality. Not everyone is judged fairly. Racism exists. Prejudice exists. Corruption exists. I’m grateful each day that I’ve had opportunities to succeed. But I’m not pretending that those opportunities are equal for everyone. I know better than that.

In the web community, we need to stop believing our own bullshit about how awesome we are. The numbers don’t lie. Our culture is predominantly white. And most of our development heroes are men. But that won’t always be the case. How will you handle it when the web industry workforce is significantly more than 5% Black and Latino? And you have to talk to them at industry events, and work with them as colleagues? I’m sure you won’t be posting some of the ignorant shit I’ve seen this week. I wonder if you’ll still be thinking it? (Rhetorical question).

But hey, it’s a free country. You have the right to say whatever you want. But no one has to pretend they didn’t hear you.

They have the right to not shake your hand at a web conference. They have the right to not share any of your content or help promote you in any way. They have the right to not purchase any of your products or endorse you for any of your services.

See, this is the part that messes with my head. It’s not just no-name douchebags that are saying this racially insensitive crap. If it were just lowlifes from the internet, I𔆍d be mentally prepared for that. But of course it’s not just the usual trolls. It’s people that are notable, that produce quality workmanship. People who have big followings. And when other people see what they say, those people adopt those mindsets as well.

It doesn’t matter where you came from culturally before, today you’re adults with your own reasoning systems. And that means examining your cultural upbringing, your associations, and the media messages you choose to embrace and believe. If the mountain of evidence in the Ferguson case hasn’t swayed you, you’re probably never going to be swayed.

But if you can’t put yourself in the shoes of Mike Brown’s family, or the community under police and military occupation for a hundred days and counting, quit telling us you’re in a people-centric business. Don’t tell us you design for the needs of people. Because there are whole sections of people you won’t even attempt to understand.

If you lack the ability to connect to people —all people— how can you design for them? People that you openly disdain? That you mock when they are dealt blow after blow? It doesn’t make sense to me. It makes all our talk of design being about people seem like bullshit. (Spoiler alert: It is.)

Silence is acceptance. Either we are this people-first industry that we claim to be, or we aren’t. What’s it going to be?

The Great Escape

Once upon a time, many countless eons ago, there was a land populated by beasts. The beasts were more or less happy, but longed for someone to lead them.

No one is sure today why the beasts of the land agreed to this. Perhaps they felt small of stature and simple of mind. Perhaps they didn’t realize that no beast is greater than any other, no matter what they profess. The true answer has been lost to the mists of time.

These prehistorical beasts agreed that they would construct an invisible cage that they and all their descendents would live in for as long as their kind existed. The cage could not be seen, touched, smelt, or heard. But the cage would be ever present in their daily lives.

They appointed some of their number to maintain the cage, and in essence, rule over them.

And as soon as the last of the beasts had entered the cage, they all forgot about the social compact they had agreed to. It became a collective dream that was never spoken of again, for many many years.

Time passed. The cage and the beasts inside continued on as they had for millennia. The descendents of those maintaining the cage had become de facto rulers — even those without titles.

There are even smaller cages inside the master cage. Like Russian nesting dolls, the cages are constructed and reinforced, forever unseen.

The beasts who the rule the cages don’t want anyone escaping. They have maintained the social compacts enacted by their ancestors. The beasts who do try to escape are punished. The ones that attempt to show the other beasts the invisible walls around them are punished with exceptional levels of disdain and even violence.

Some of the beasts have been given power by the cage rulers to punish other beasts.

While they are still prisoners themselves, this makes these elevated beasts feel better about the whole system. It’s now less likely that they will be punished. Instead, they will be the ones doling out the punishment.

Eventually, all the beasts know that escape plans are bad news. Even acknowledging the fact that the cage exists causes all the beasts to get upset. This mindset has been passed down from generation to generation. All the beasts in the present day have forgotten why it is bad to escape.

Anytime a beast starts thinking for themselves and makes plans to escape, the other beasts rush to stop this renegade. They fear punishment, but they are not sure why. They cry out, “You bad beast…you make it hard for all of us!”

The system works exactly as it was designed to work.

This is why it is important to be careful with whom you share your hopes, dreams and plans.

We all enter life born into systems that we did not construct. But everyone around us is part of the same system, and no one sees this. It’s one of those Plato and the Allegory of the Cave sort of things.

When people try to dissuade you, it is their unconscious mind, their lizard brain at work. They don’t even know that they are doing this.

Strangers will certainly oppose any dreams of personal achievement that you have. That’s a given. But be prepared for some initial push-back from your friends, or even family. Irrational fear is indiscriminate.

While it is optional to share your plans with friends or colleagues, getting buy in from your family is mandatory. They have to believe just as much as you do. If they do not, you’re in for a rockier road than you can imagine.

The only thing that is constant is change. The question I pose to you is “How will you change? In what direction will you change?”.

The answer is in your hands, alone.

Clients Deserve Us At Our Best

There’s something that I see in the web industry that bothers me. It’s still a widespread practice, though it should have ended a while ago.

This practice is destructive to both clients and developers, and ultimately helps no one. Hopefully, by talking about it, we can help eradicate it.

What I’m referring to is when developers deceive their clients.

Why Does This Happen?

Web development has been around for at least two generations now. Most of the origin stories that developers have heard from their heroes include one account of telling a new client “Sure I can do that!” and then learning a new framework or language over the weekend.

The web isn’t the same place it was in the late 1990s.

It’s impossible for any one person to know everything there is to know about the web anymore. That’s why no one calls themselves a webmaster anymore — the title is inaccurate when there are new languages being invented every month.

But many developers and studios will still tell prospective clients that they know how to do something, even when they don’t. It’s a very dangerous gambit to make.

The client doesn’t know what they don’t know, so of course they will ask if you can solve their specific problem. But you owe it to them to be honest with them and tell them I’s never solved that problem before, or perhaps, I’m not familiar with that platform/language, but I know someone who is. Then, let the client decide how they want to proceed. But never tell them you’re an expert when you clearly are not. They damn sure shouldn’t foot the bill for you to learn, either.

Is it because some of us are too afraid to specialize that we feel compelled to take on every job, even when we are unfamiliar? Is because we are so immersed in a scarcity mindset that we’re afraid to say No? Perhaps we believe that since others were able to do it years ago, we can as well?

Our integrity is not worth the fallout that deception causes.

Our clients deserve us at our best, not at our mediocrity.

Because here’s the thing.

The web moves fast. Incredibly fast these days. And while it may impress other developers or even clients if you know more programming languages than you have fingers and toes, we don’t need to mark out for that attention. It’s not the target we should be aiming at. Each person in our industry should play to their strengths.

You can be so-so at a whole bunch of things, or you can be really good at just a few. I’d rather sacrifice width and breadth of knowledge in order to have depth of knowledge. I would rather specialize in a few areas and kick ass at those, than be merely adequate at a many.

You only have so many hours in the day, and if your attention is divided in a million directions, it’s hard to focus on anything at all. The things you pile on your plate, the more mediocre you’re going to be at all of them.

So, make your choice. What things do you want to be really good at? Stick to those.

Are there skills that you want to be possess and be good at? Either make time to learn them or refer those inquiries to someone who does.

And don’t ever deceive your clients. Because they deserve better than that.

The Rock Star That Never Was

This story is dedicated to anyone who’s ever played in a band.

I grew up in a small town in Northern California. There wasn’t a lot to do if you were a teenager. Hang out, party, cruise the main strip, and start garage bands.

It was the 1980s at the height of the heavy metal era. For a town of less than 15,000 people there were a fair number of bands, many of them pretty good.

There was a massive park near the high school that extended straight up into the hills. There was an open air auditorium that you could rent for an afternoon for $25 dollars. Tons of bands played here to get their start or build their following.

Some of these musicians never made a huge name outside of the area. A few landed record deals, or went on tours, becoming semi-famous. At least one band from my hometown ended up having a #1 album and were a pretty big deal for a while.

There was a band that existed for a few short months, named Xanthippe. For our small town, this was essentially a supergroup where everyone was extremely talented. One guitarist in particular (we’ll call him Alex) stood out even in this group. To this day, he was one of the most talented guitarists I’ve ever seen in person.

Xanthippe broke up after performing a few concerts, and everyone formed their own bands. While Alex’s old bandmates, and even younger bands with not a quarter of his raw talent went on to varying levels of success, I never heard of anything Alex did after that year.

Performing musicians must possess a fair amount of confidence. When talented people are self-aware of their skills, that confidence can veer into ego and arrogance. Lead guitarists and singers are notorious for this behavior. But bands break up over poor internal morale. This renders the energy put into writing, practicing, performing, and promoting a band obsolete.

There is always a power struggle when a band forms. Who will the leader(s) be? Talent and assertiveness are the main factors in determining whose vision the band will follow. But even if a band is a showcase for one or two individuals, the rest of the band must buy into this direction, or the venture will fail.

I have no personal knowledge of why Alex was never heard of again, when he was more talented than many musicians who left their mark on the world. Did other people tell me he was a pain to work with? Did other people speak of him as being arrogant in those times? Yes.

Is talent necessary to do great work? In music, web development or any other field? Absolutely. But an even greater necessity is the ability to work with others, to listen and communicate, to be a good teammate.

It’s a bit ironic that we will sometimes call a talented developer a rock star. There are numerous similarities. But it’s difficult to be a one-person band, in music, in web development, or anything at all.

We rely on others to build things that are greater than ourselves. Even if we create a project by ourselves, we sure as hell need other people to believe in it and tell others about it, or our project dies in the same isolation in which it was created.

No person is an island unto themselves. We can write the greatest song in the world, but it is meaningless if no one wants to play it alongside us.