In my last update, I wrote about hiring a consultant to help with product development and marketing. We've spoken a couple times, and he's been helpful in providing clarity around next steps.
One thing has become abundantly clear: I have a lot of work to do.
The first phase of this project has been exploring and solidifying my approach. Is it really about making a little extra money on the side, or is it about building a sustainable business? Given my larger 1-year revenue goal of $1 million, I think it has to be the latter.
But I also want the work to be solidly in line with my long-term personal and professional goals. As the great philosopher Kanye once said, "I'm not a businessman, I'm a business, man!"
Practically speaking, this slightly narrows and focuses the shape of the work that I'll consider doing. Specifically, I need to ensure a nonlinear scale between my time investment and the resulting income.
This means selling a product. I sort of assumed it would, since the contents of my previous post clearly outlined what kind product I didn't want to sell, but I hadn't considered product sales (in general) as an invariant.
For now, I'm also staying as far away from software product development (i.e., writing and selling software or a software-driven service) as possible, for two reasons:
- It's hard for me to focus on two large software projects at once, and I have reasonably large responsibilities at work. When a project/problem is sufficiently large, I can only hold one in my head at a time, since I spend a lot of time outside of work thinking about the problem.
- Two largely orthogonal problem spaces means I can switch from A to B when A becomes boring or overwhelming, and vice versa. This is very similar to the practice of "strategic procrastination", where you work on A when you should be working on B, and B when you should be working on A—something I do regularly to great effect.
At the same time, I don't want it to be too completely outside my wheelhouse. I want to take advantage of what I know now, so I don't have to learn an entirely new thing before I get started.
Where I'm Focusing
So... I've decided to focus on the area of career development for software developers. Quite specifically, I'm focusing on developers who:
- Came to software via a nontraditional path (coding school or self-taught), and/or potentially have no degree, or a degree in an unrelated field
- Are 1-2 years into their new career as a software developer
- Previously worked 2-3 years outside of their current industry (e.g., didn't simply make a role change within an existing company/industry)
This strongly reflects my own path. Coming to the industry without a degree (let alone a degree in Computer Science), there have been five very specific obstacles I faced establishing myself in this field so far:
- Learning the skills necessary to start.
- Getting that first job after learning enough of those skills.
- Overcoming the perception and pay gap between myself and others who came in via the traditional route. Concretely, I suppose this meant climbing from the 25th percentile to the 50th percentile in terms of skill and income.
- Learning how to align my strengths (technical and nontechnical) and efforts with market demands, leading to further growth. In terms of income, this meant climbing from the 50th percentile to the 90th percentile.
- Where I feel I'm at now: learning how to climb to the top of the 90th percentile, and establishing myself as an outlier within my field.
I can't teach something I don't know (#5). I want to work with people who have already acknowledged the power of self-investment (#1), and who have experienced the benefits of that self-investment first-hand, in a palpable way (#2).
So... I'm going to help people with #3 and #4.
The market demands more software developers, and coding schools are rushing to fill that demand with mixed success. Many pass through the program. Many get placements or find work after graduating. However, these graduates are (often rightly) seen as junior developers, and in some parts of the industry their nontraditional background and schooling carries a slight stigma. Additionally, many of these graduates worked previously outside of the software industry (which has a high earning potential relative to others).
Combined, this means many of these fresh coding school grads are offered less money, and happily accept it. And while I don't condone baseless demands for more money, I do think income should be based on more than where you came from, and the problem is that these initial conditions can be a setback if not corrected early in their careers.
This is a trap I very nearly fell into with one of my previous employers. Because of my background, I entered making at least $30,000 less than anyone around me. I know (or, at the very least, suspect with a high degree of confidence) that I was the least-paid engineer in my entire organization. It was only because of several very blunt conversations with an extremely understanding manager, and the combined support of my team—over the course of a year—that I was able to avoid that trap.
Designing a Business
But this still doesn't answer the question of "What are you actually building and selling?"
I vaguely know who my market is. I vaguely know which problem I want to solve. But the exact shape of the product will be defined by what I want out of this business, and whether or not the market can support what I want. Everything else is pathfinding and optimization.
So. That's my homework: concretely defining what I want in terms of time/energy input to narrow the solution space, and adding constraints (both my own and those the market defines) until I single in on a specific thing to build.
The Challenge Continues
By soft goal by the end of January is to have a narrow set of products I can test, spend two weeks testing (bringing us to mid-February), then spend 3-4 weeks building it out before launching (mid-March).
Here we go...
How is your #GoalWorkshop goal coming along? I know it's sometimes hard to keep it at the front of your mind, but time is slipping by! If there's anything I can do to help you meet your goals (even if it's just a friendly text once in a while), let me know. :)