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Career Current Events Editorial Entrepreneur

Reasons for startups to be optimistic (My guest editorial for Startup Digest Tampa Bay’s newsletter)

I was the guest author of this week’s Startup Digest Tampa Bay newsletter, which was sent out on Monday. I was free to write about any topic that I thought subscribers to the newsletter might find interesting or useful, and I chose to write about reasons startup founders and members have to be optimistic even though we’re in a global pandemic and corresponding economic crisis.

I’d like to thank Techstars Tampa Bay, Startup Digest Tampa Bay curator Murewa Olubela, and Startup Digest Tampa Bay curator manager Alex Abell for inviting me to write for the newsletter!

Here’s “director’s cut” of my guest editorial, which has some additional information and ideas…

Reasons for startups to be optimistic

Rather than bore you with a long preamble, I’ll give your week a good start by getting straight to my point: The global pandemic comes with a global business crisis, and crises are where startups shine. Here are three reasons — each with a litany of sub-reasons — why startup founders and team members should be at least a little optimistic about the current situation.

1. Sometimes you don’t know that you’re living in a golden age

The first reason to be optimistic is that recessions have been known to hide golden ages. As far as the last recession is concerned, Thomas Friedman has a theory: That 2007 was “one of the single greatest technological inflection points since Gutenberg…and we all completely missed it.”

He made his point very compelling by listing what happened then in What the hell happened in 2007?, the second chapter of his 2016 book, Thank You for Being Late. I’ve compiled his list in the table below, expanded the scope to cover the years 2006 through 2008, and threw in some additional notes.

Looking at that time through the lens of the leaps in technology shown below, it seems like a golden age:

The leap Notes
Airbnb

In October 2007, as a way to offset the high cost of rent in San Francisco, roommates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia came up with the idea of putting an air mattress in their living room and turning it into a bed and breakfast. They called their venture AirBedandBreakfast.com, which later got shortened to its current name.

This marks the start of the modern web- and app-driven gig economy.

Android

The first version of Android as we know it was announced on September 23, 2008 on the HTC Dream (also sold as the T-Mobile G1).

Originally started in 2003 and bought by Google in 2005, Android was at first a mobile operating system in the same spirit as Symbian or more importantly, Windows Mobile — Google was worried about competition from Microsoft. The original spec was for a more BlackBerry-like device with a keyboard, and did not account for a touchscreen. This all changed after the iPhone keynote.

App Store

Apple’s App Store launched on July 10, 2008 with an initial 500 apps. At the time of writing (March 2020), there should be close to 2 million.

In case you don’t remember, Steve Jobs’ original plan was to not allow third-party developers to create native apps for the iPhone. Developers were directed to create web apps. The backlash prompted Apple to allow developers to create apps, and in March 2008, the first iPhone SDK was released.

Bitcoin

The person (or persons) going by the name “Satoshi Nakamoto” started working on the Bitcoin project in 2007.

It would eventually lead to cryptocurrency mania, crypto bros, HODL and other additions to the lexicon, one of the best Last Week Tonight news pieces, and give the Winklevoss twins their second shot at technology stardom after their failed first attempt with a guy named Mark Zuckerberg.

Chrome

By 2008, the browser wars were long done, and Internet Explorer owned the market. Then, on September 2, Google released Chrome, announcing it with a comic illustrated by Scott “Understanding Comics” McCloud, and starting the Second Browser War.

When Chrome was launched, Internet Explorer had about 70% of the browser market. In less than 5 years, Chrome would overtake IE.

Data: bandwidth costs and speed In 2007, bandwidth costs dropped dramatically, while transmission speeds grew in the opposite direction.
Dell returns After stepping down from the position of CEO in 2004 (but staying on as Chairman of the Board), Michael Dell returned to the role on January 31, 2007 at the board’s request.
DNA sequencing costs drop dramatically The end of the year 2007 marks the first time that the cost of genome sequencing dropped dramatically — from the order of tens of millions to single-digit millions. Today, that cost is about $1,000.
DVD formats: Blu-Ray and HD-DVD In 2008, two high-definition optical disc formats were announced. You probably know which one won.
Facebook In September 2006, Facebook expanded beyond universities and became available to anyone over 13 with an email address, making it available to the general public and forever altering its course, along with the course of history.
Energy technologies: Fracking and solar Growth in these two industries helped turn the US into a serious net energy provider, which would help drive the tech boom of the 2010s.
GitHub Originally founded as Logical Awesome in February 2008, GitHub’s website launched that April. It would grow to become an indispensable software development tool, and a key part of many developer resumes (mine included). It would first displace SourceForge, which used to be the place to go for open source code, and eventually become part of Microsoft’s apparent change of heart about open source when they purchased the company in 2018.
Hadoop

In 2006, developer Doug Cutting of Apache’s Nutch project, took used GFS (Google File System, written up by Google in 2003) and the MapReduce algorithm (written up by Google in 2004) and combined it with the dataset tech from Nutch to create the Hadoop project. He gave his project the name that his son gave to his yellow toy elephant, hence the logo.

By enabling applications and data to be run and stored on clusters of commodity hardware, Hadoop played a key role in creating today’s cloud computing world.

Intel introduces non-silicon materials into its chips January 2007: Intel’s PR department called it “the biggest change to computer chips in 40 years,” and they may have had a point. The new materials that they introduced into the chip-making process allowed for smaller, faster circuits, which in turn led to smaller and faster chips, which are needed for mobile and IoT technologies.
Internet crosses a billion users This one’s a little earlier than our timeframe, but I’m including it because it helps set the stage for all the other innovations. At some point in 2005, the internet crossed the billion-user line, a key milestone in its reach and other effects, such as the Long Tail.
iPhone

On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs said the following at this keynote: “Today, we’re introducing three revolutionary new products…an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator…Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device!”

The iPhone has changed everyone’s lives, including mine. Thanks to this device, I landed my (current until recently) job, and right now, I’m working on revising this book.

iTunes sells its billionth song On February 22, 2006, Alex Ostrovsky from West Bloomfield, Michigan purchased ColdPlay’s Speed of Sound on iTunes, and it turned out to be the billionth song purchased on that platform. This milestone proves to the music industry that it was possible to actually sell music online, forever changing an industry that had been thrashing since the Napster era.
Kindle

Before tablets or large smartphone came Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, which came out on November 19, 2007. It was dubbed “the iPod of reading” at the time.

You might not remember this, but the first version didn’t have a touch-sensitive screen. Instead, it had a full-size keyboard below its screen, in a manner similar to phones of that era.

Macs switch to Intel

The first Intel-based Macs were announced on January 10, 2006: The 15″ MacBook Pro and iMac Core Duo. Both were based on the Intel Core Duo.

Motorola’s consistent failure to produce chips with the kind of performance that Apple needed on schedule caused Apple to enact their secret “Plan B”: switch to Intel-based chips. At the 2005 WWDC, Steve Jobs revealed that every version of Mac OS X had been secretly developed and compiled for both Motorola and Intel processors — just in case.

We may soon see another such transition: from Intel to Apple’s own A-series chips.

Netflix In 2007, Netflix — then a company that mailed rental DVDs to you — started its streaming service. This would eventually give rise to binge-watching as well as one of my favorite technological innovations: Netflix and chill (and yes, there is a Wikipedia entry for it!), as well as Tiger King, which is keeping us entertained as we stay home.
Python 3

The release of Python 3 — a.k.a. Python 3000 — in December 2008 was the beginning of the Second Beginning! While Python had been eclipsed by Ruby in the 2000s thanks to Rails and the rise of MVC web frameworks and the supermodel developer, it made its comeback in the 2010s as the language of choice for data science and machine learning thanks to a plethora of libraries (NumPy, SciPy, Pandas) and support applications (including Jupyter Notebooks).

I will always have an affection for Python. I cut my web development teeth in 1999 helping build Givex.com’s site in Python and PostgreSQL. I learned Python by reading O’Reilly’s Learning Python while at Burning Man 1999.

Shopify In 2004, frustrated with existing ecommerce platforms, programmer Tobias Lütke built his own platform to sell snowboards online. He and his partners realize that they should be selling ecommerce services instead, and in June 2006, launch Shopify.
Spotify The streaming service was founded in April 2006, launched in October 2008, and along with Apple and Amazon, changed the music industry.
Surface (as in Microsoft’s big-ass table computer)

Announced on May 29, 2007, the original Surface was a large coffee table-sized multitouch-sensitive computer aimed at commercial customers who wanted to provide next generation kiosk computer entertainment, information, or services to the public.

Do you remember SarcasticGamer’s parody video of the Surface?

Switches 2007 was the year that networking switches jumped in speed and capacity dramatically, helping to pave the way for the modern internet.
Twitter

In 2006, Twittr (it had no e then, which was the style at the time, thanks to Flickr) was formed. From then, it had a wild ride, including South by Southwest 2007, when its attendees — influential techies — used it as a means of catching up and finding each other at the conference. @replies appeared in May 2007, followers were added that July, hashtag support in September, and trending topics came a year later.

Twitter also got featured on an episode of CSI in November 2007, when it was used to solve a case.

VMWare After performing poorly financially, the husband and wife cofounders of VMWare — Diane Greene, president and CEO, and Mendel Rosenbaum, Chief Scientist — left. Greene was fired by the board in July, and Rosenbaum resigned two months later. VMWare would go on to experience record growth, and its Hypervisors would become a key part of making cloud computing what it is today.
Watson IBM’s Watson underwent initial testing in 2006, when Watson was given 500 clues from prior Jeopardy! programs. Wikipedia will explain the rest:

While the best real-life competitors buzzed in half the time and responded correctly to as many as 95% of clues, Watson’s first pass could get only about 15% correct. During 2007, the IBM team was given three to five years and a staff of 15 people to solve the problems. By 2008, the developers had advanced Watson such that it could compete with Jeopardy! champions.

Wii The Wii was released in December 2006, marking Nintendo’s comeback in a time when the console market belonged solely to the PlayStation and Xbox.
XO computer You probably know this device better as the “One Laptop Per Child” computer — the laptop that was going to change the world, but didn’t quite do that. Still, its form factor lives on in today’s Chromebooks, which are powered by Chrome (which also debuted during this time), and the concept of open source hardware continues today in the form of Arduino and Raspberry Pi.
YouTube

YouTube was purchased by Google in October 2006. In 2007, it exploded in popularity, consuming as much bandwidth as the entire internet did 7 years before. In the summer and fall of 2007, CNN and YouTube produced televised presidential debates, where Democratic and Republican US presidential hopefuls answered YouTube viewer questions.

You probably winced at this infamous YouTube video, which was posted on August 24, 2007: Miss Teen USA 2007 – South Carolina answers a question, which has amassed almost 70 million views to date.

How did most of us miss all this? Friedman says that it’s because our collective attention was directed toward the credit crunch of 2008, which he calls “the deepest recession since the crash of 1929.”

Back then, everybody compared the financial collapse of that time to the stock market crash of ’29. Now that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, 2008 has become the new benchmark for economic catastrophe. As founders, entrepreneurs, and technologists, there’s a good chance that you’re already asking this question: Is there a chance that the current situation is also hiding a golden age for technology and startups?

In case you think that the golden age of 2006 – 2008 was just an outlier, here are a few examples from previous crises:

  • Thomas Edison founded the company that would eventually become General Electric during an economic slump brought about by the Baring Crisis and “the world’s first bailout”, whose effects were felt worldwide, and it took an international consortium and a number of Rothschilds to prevent an economic catastrophe. In the 1960s, one of the few companies in the 1960s making computers and operating systems whose influence extends to this very day (GE, along with Bell Labs and MIT, made Multics, which would inspire the creation of Unix).
  • The Tabulating Machine Company, which would evolve into IBM was born during The Panic of 1896, a sequel to the Panic of 1893. This was a time when the unemployment rate climbed as high at 15%. IBM is still a big player in mainframes, which are in the news again, thanks in part to the pandemic. 
  • Apple and Microsoft came about in the mid-1970s, just after the 1973 – 1975 recession, the oil crisis of 1973, the Nixon shock, and the end of the gold standard and Bretton Woods, and the start of the U.S. dollar being a fiat currency (a term that you’re probably familiar with with you even just dabble in cryptocurrencies). You’re probably quite familiar with what these companies went on to do.

2. Startups that last get founded during downturns

Putting aside the chance that I might be a victim of survivorship bias, there are a number of reasons why a recession or economic downturn is the optimal time to create or join a startup:

  • New situations create new needs: Just look at Zoom’s fortunes right now. What other needs has the “New Normal” created, in both the short and long term?
  • Available brainpower: With an economic downturn comes increased unemployment, which means that the talent you need for your startup is more likely to be available (this pool of people includes myself). This brainpower can be key to a startup’s success.
  • Available startups: If you’re not looking to be a founder and are looking for a place to work, you may find a number of founders looking to create their own company, often because they can’t find employment themselves.
  • Recession pricing: The price of goods and services tends to drop during downturns, which is an advantage to a company that’s trying to operate “lean and mean.” There may also be some savings opportunities in other developments, including the drop in interest rates and other economic stimuli, as well as companies selling off assets that startups may find useful. You may even find it easier to get coverage, as the media will be looking for some “good news” stories to tell.
  • Chaos: Your likely competition — large, established players — are probably in disarray or too focused on survival or reorganizing to take notice of you. A business that’s lean and nimble is better-positioned to navigate the changes that a downturn brings about, and better able to take advantage of the eventual turn-around.
  • Pressure makes diamonds: There’s no comfort zone in a downturn! A company that starts during one has a culture of resilience and grit baked into its DNA, and the lessons that risk and non-terminal failure during difficult times teaches makes for a powerful team. The “war stories” that come about from shared challenges also make for a loyal team.

A downturn doesn’t guarantee success for a startup, but it’s a crucible that can strengthen one.

3. We’re in the middle of a number of natural experiments

The final item in this least of reasons to be optimistic is that we’re in a set of unprecedented natural experiments — that is, we’re witnessing “what if” scenarios that are no longer hypothetical. In these scenarios, there are object lessons, opportunities, and problems that the right startup idea could solve or ameliorate.

  • Internet bandwidth: One of the major arguments that telcos have given us for bandwidth caps was that without this sort of control (they never mention the associated cash-grab), the internet would become so congested as to be unusable. With the pandemic, telcos have lifted bandwidth caps, and the internet still works, even with the additional usage from being home-bound as well as Tiger King.
  • Remote work: In recent years, Yahoo! and IBM famously ended their remote work policies, which led other, smaller organizations to consider doing the same. With “safer at home” measures, we’re all global participants in a remote work experiment, and to the surprise of doubters, it seems to be working. Remote work is likely to be a fixture of office life even after this crisis, and this change will create a need for new and expanded services and technologies.
  • Remote school: Just as working people are being subjected to a natural experiment, so are students and teachers, who are being thrown into the deep end with distance-learning tools and technologies. There are a number of challenges to overcome, such as  usability, adjusting teaching and learning styles, bringing it to students who can’t afford internet access or the right technology at home, to the disruption that this brings to students’ and teachers’ lives, and to the school curriculum in general.
  • Unemployment: I’m in this category, as one of at least 10 million people in the U.S. who’ve suddenly found themselves without work. What happens when this many people are jobless, in a world with ubiquitous connectivity and computing? Remember, the smartphone as we know it was in the hands of a small number of people in 2008, while 4 out of 5 adults in the U.S. has a smartphone today. How can a startup help them get back to work?
  • Additional online learning: You may have seen the advice in news stories or online: If you’ve been laid off, this is the perfect time to take an online course and “upskill.” With record numbers of people applying for unemployment assistance, we’re seeing a strong uptick in online course enrollments.
  • Business and government systems under strain: While the internet seems to be handling the increase in use, other systems have been put under strain by the pandemic. The hospitality industry has largely been shut down. Supply chains are being stressed. Our pandemic response infrastructure was already gutted before the pandemic struck. Our governments are unprepared in all sorts of ways, from a piecemeal response to the pandemic, to aging, COBOL-powered systems unprepared (and in Florida’s case, unprepared by design) to process the massive influx of requests for unemployment assistance. This sounds like a job for a startup!
  • Healthcare: The United States remains the only industrialized nation without universal healthcare. To my Canadian-raised mind, this is baffling; to many Americans, universal healthcare is an unaffordable luxury. The U.S. government’s ability to “magic up” trillions of dollars to stimulate the economy (or at least Ruth’s Chris Steak House) on incredibly short notice proves that if the political will existed, it could choose to bankroll universal healthcare. With 1 in 4 Americans expected to be unemployed and healthcare insurance generally being tied to employment, universal healthcare is no longer as “unthinkable” an idea as it once was.
  • 3D printing’s first mass test: We’ve seen 3D printing useful in one-off situations (including a time when they needed a specific kind of wrench on the International Space Station), but with volunteers creating large numbers of face shields, masks, and even ventilator parts and adapters, this is 3D printing’s first at-scale test. The lessons from this effort have yet to be learned, and what we learn could launch printing into its next phase.
  • Media and communications: This is the first worldwide crisis where publishers, from the largest media empire to individual vloggers, have become much relied-on sources of both information and misinformation. We’re not done seeing the full extent of their effects yet.
  • Social systems put to the test: The disruption of normal life, including staying at home to social distancing, has resulted in widely different responses, from science-based to conspiracy theory-based. The major social media players have put in some measures to fight the spread of accidentally or deliberately incorrect information. I have no doubt that even nation-states are playing the misinformation game; after all, the saying is “never let a good crisis go to waste.”
  • New political movements: The economic downturn of 2008 left a lot of people dislocated and in dire situations from which they still haven’t recovered, giving birth to a new populism, a willingness to follow brutish, xenophobic, and nationalistic leaders, and movements like Brexit and MAGA. What will this new situation — one brought about at least partially by the movements that arose after 2008 — bring?
  • Emerging cultures of control: I’m going to end this list on a slightly darker note, in spite of my general optimism. We’re already seeing signs of an emerging hygiene culture and an awareness of the importance of hand-washing, which is good. Perhaps there are startup opportunities that might come about from people being more aware of the power of microorganisms and viruses (viruses are technically “not alive”, and exist in their own category). More worrisome are other cultures of control, namely those of surveillance and authoritarianism, which are also rearing their heads during this crisis. Let’s take care so that the things we create don’t turn the world into another Black Mirror episode.
Categories
Career Editorial Programming

Here’s a bragging right that no other techie has

Now that I’m looking for my next gig (my last one was a victim of COVID-19), it’s time to revive this video that New Relic released a few years back to promote their application monitoring service.

Titled We Love Developers, it features some of the brightest lights in the industry:

  • Matz: Yukihiro Matsumoto, creator of the Ruby programming language
  • Guido van Rossum: Creator of the Python programming language
  • Linus Torvalds: Creator of the Linux operating system and the Git version control system
  • DHH: David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of the Ruby on Rails framework
  • Bill Joy: Co-founder of Sun Microsystems and creator of the vi text editor
  • James Gosling: Lead designer of the Java programming language
  • Sir Tim: Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web
  • Marc Andreesen: Co-creator of Mosaic, the first widely-used web browser, co-founder of Netscape, co-founder of Andreesen Horowitz
  • Woz: Steve Wozniak, creator of Apple
  • Rasmus Lerdorf: Creator of the PHP programming language
  • The Gu: Scott Guthrie, creator of ASP.NET, Executive VP of Microsoft’s Cloud and AI group
  • Sergey Brin: Co-founder of Google
  • Dries Buytaert: Creator of Drupal

At the end of the video, they wanted to use the image of a more “everyman” developer to represent you, their customer. Guessed who they picked:

My photographer friend Adam P. W. Smith (my old business partner; together, we were datapanik software systems and we worked on some pretty interesting projects back in the late ‘90s) took the picture back in August when I was visiting him in Vancouver. I’d arrived a day early for the HackVAN hackathon and was sitting in his kitchen getting some work done when he decided to get a couple of shots. He poured me a glass of scotch, set it on my accordion, which I’d set down on the chair beside me, and staring taking pictures.

Are you looking for someone with both strong development and “soft” skills? Someone who’s comfortable either being in a team of developers or leading one? Someone who can handle code, coders, and customers? Someone who can clearly communicate with both humans and technology? The first step in finding this person is to check out my LinkedIn profile.

Categories
Career Current Events Programming Tampa Bay

What skills and subjects are you betting your development career on? Let’s meet up about it!

Sure things, maybes, and longshots

Back in November, in an article promoting the Tampa Bay Full Stack Meetup, I wrote about the concept of balancing my skills in the same way some financial people balance their stock portfolio: 70 percent “sure thing” programming languages and technologies, and 30 percent gambles — 20% “maybes” and 10% “longshots”.

Here’s what I wrote about my portfolio:

  • I invest the majority — about 70% — in “sure thing” skills, such as mainstream platforms, programming languages, and technologies. In my case, this is…
    • C#,
    • JavaScript,
    • Kotlin,
    • Mobile operating systems, namely Android and iOS,
    • Python, and
    • Swift.
  • I spent about 20% on “maybe” technologies, and one of these is Flutter, which also involves the Dart programming language.
  • The remaining 10% of my time on sharpening my skills is spent on longshots. For me, this is blockchain technology.

For the most part, with the notable exception of Flutter and Dart, my portfolio’s been pretty stable for the past few years. I’m probably due for a review.

A 70-30 technology skills map for Tampa Bay techies

Here’s a 70-30 tech skills map, which takes a bunch of technologies that Tampa Bay companies are currently hiring for, and divides them into two categories:

  • The 70% category, which consists of things for which local companies are generally hiring for at the moment, and
  • the 30% category, which comprises things for which local companies might hire for in the future, or which might qualify you for an interesting remote job.

Here are the languages and technologies represented by the logos in the 70% category, listed in alphabetical order…

  • Angular
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Java
  • JavaScript/ECMAScript
  • .NET/.NET Core
  • Node.js
  • PHP
  • React / React Native
  • Ruby on Rails
  • SQL
  • Vue.js

…and here are the languages and technologies represented by the logos in the 30% category, listed in alphabetical order, with some notes for each:

  • Artificial intelligence / machine learning / whatever else you want to call it: The buzzwords of the moment, and the answer to the question “What if we made algorithms that came up with algorithms?”
  • Assembly language and C: Both appear to be making a comeback in the age of IoT devices, where you’re trying to squeeze big performance out of tiny systems.
  • Augmented reality / virtual reality / glasses: Once upon a time, “multimedia” was a specialized subject, now it’s just part of everyday computer interfaces. AR, VR, and glasses may eventually be like this.
  • Dart / Flutter: Dart is an object-oriented, class-based, garbage-collected language with C-style syntax, and Flutter is a cross-platform mobile app development framework.
  • Elixir / Phoenix: Elixir is a functional, concurrent, general-purpose programming language that run on the Erlang virtual machine, and Phoenix is an Elixir-based web development framework.
  • Fuschia: Google’s multi-platform operating system for computing devices of all sizes, from embedded systems, smartphones, tablets, and desktops/laptops.
  • Go: A C-like object-oriented language for systems-level programming
  • “Internet of Things”: Including small systems like the Arduino and Raspberry Pi.
  • Kotlin: An early paper on the language said “Don’t call it ‘Swift for Android’, but that’s pretty much what it is, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s Swift for Android.
  • Python: First eclipsed by Perl in the ’90s and then Ruby in the ’00s, it’s now coming into its own thanks to its math, scientific, and data science libraries and the rise of machine learning, I’m glad to see Python finally being recognized. Out of all the languages in this category, this is the only one I’ve ever been paid to code in.
  • R: A language and environment for statistics. Like Python, it’s become popular because of its applicability to data science and machine learning.
  • Rust: A multiple-paradigm programming language with an emphasis on concurrency. The consistent winner of Stack Overflow’s “Most Loved Programming Language” for the past four years.
  • Scala: The answer to the question “What if Java didn’t suck and had better support for functional programming?”
  • Serverless tech: A refinement of cloud computing that lets you run applications and services on the cloud without thinking about the servers they run on. Amazon’s AWS Lambda, Google’s Cloud Functions, and Microsoft’s Azure Functions are examples of serverless offerings.
  • Smart watches: These are a fantastic platform for what I can “nano-tasks”: little tasks that take ten seconds or less.
  • Swift: Objective-C was getting long in the tooth, so Apple created Swift. It’s a pretty nice language, and pretty much necessary if you’re developing for anything Apple.

This is by no means a complete list — think of it as a starter, and I’m writing it only from a developer point of view.

After viewing this list, you may be asking yourself “So which do I choose?” That’s what I’m doing right now.

Would you like to meet up to discuss your 70/30 plan?

Let me know if you’d like to talk about this at the next Coders, Creatives, and Craft Beer meetup, which I’m looking to schedule for near the end of the month. It’ll still follow the same informal “we’re just here to chat” format, but it might be something to discuss.

Categories
Career Current Events

The EFF is looking for a Technical Projects Director

The EFF — Electronic Frontier Foundation — are always on the front lines in the battle to preserve digital freedom. From their first case, when the Secret Service thought that a Steve Jackson cyberpunk role-playing game manual was a how-to handbook for cybercrimes to the present-day challenges of privacy and security, we are lucky to have them fighting on our side. (I myself owe them for a couple of times when they’ve helped me personally.)

They have an opening for a senior position — Technology Projects Director, who will lead a 16-person team whose goal is to work on projects to create a more secure, private, and censorship-resistant internet. The Technology Projects Director will be a member of the senior leadership team, and help the EFF figure out what their next moves are: what positions to take, what projects to invest resources in, and the strategic direction of the organization.

Some of the projects the Director will oversee are:

  • Privacy Badger, EFF’s wildly popular tracker blocker
  • HTTPS Everywhere, used by millions to make their web browsing more secure
  • Certbot, a Let’s Encrypt client helping website owners globally receive and install SSL certificates to secure their sites
  • Panopticlick, a research and education project that sheds light on the seedy underbelly of browser fingerprinting
  • STARTTLS Everywhere, a project to foster STARTTLS adoption and make email delivery more secure
  • EFF’s Threat Lab, which has published blockbuster investigations into abusive practices by technology companies, leading to major policy changes

More details about the position are available here.

The EFF wants to encourage lots of different people to apply for this role, but they won’t achieve that without the help of the community. Please help them by sending a note about this role to folks that you believe might be a good fit, and sharing this announcement on social media.

If you’re thinking of potentially applying but have a few questions, email rainey@eff.org, and someone will get back to you.

I may have to send them an application.

Categories
Career Current Events Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Innovation Center’s Entrepreneur & Investment Challenge is looking for applicants

Tampa Bay Innovation Center’s Spring 2020 Entrepreneurship & Investment Challenge takes place from April 28th through July 15th, and they’re looking for Tampa Bay-based tech startups to join!

The Entrepreneurship & Investment Challenge is a program focused on preparing technology ventures in how to scale a company. It’s not about preparing your pitch, marketing, or raising money. Instead, it takes an “inside-out” approach. It’s about preparing your company not to just look ready but to be ready to take an investment, hit the ground running, and execute your plan.

From their site:

The program helps CEOs develop into leaders that can rapidly execute plans, adjust plans when appropriate, and give them the experience to know how to navigate the obstacles that derail promising startups. While a good pitch will attract investors, the deal is closed based on your response to questions and successful due diligence. Having the confidence that you can handle the next phase of your startup will help close the deal with investors.

Eligible companies are:

  • Scalable B2B tech ventures

  • Are pre-seed, seed, or post-seed to Series A

  • At the post-MVP / proof of concept stage

  • In possession of less that $2 million in capital

  • Made up of two or more team members

  • Able to commit to a 12-week program

The program is free-as-in-beer — you won’t spend anything to attend — and no equity is required. It’s offered in a series of 1= to 2-day workshops over 10 to 12 weeks, and accommodates up to 10 companies per cohort.

Interested? Find out more at the Entrepreneurship & Investment Challenge page at the Tampa Bay Innovation Center site.

Categories
Career Current Events Tampa Bay

How to “work the room” at Synapse Summit 2020

Synapse Summit 2020, Tampa Bay’s annual technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation conference will bring thousands of people to Amalie Arena — and all sorts of opportunities to meet up with them.

It’s been my experience that some of the most important things I’ve learned and all the connections I’ve made at conferences didn’t happen at the presentations. Instead, they happened between presentations — in the hallways, lounges, lunches, and social gatherings, where I had the chance to chat with the speakers, organizers, and the other attendees. This observation is so common that it’s given rise to “unconferences” like BarCamp, whose purpose is to invert the order of things so that the conference is more “hallway” than “lecture theatre”.

It’s especially important to talk to people you don’t know or who are outside your usual circle. Books like The Tipping Point classify acquaintances with such people as “weak ties”. Don’t let the word “weak” make you think they’re unimportant. As people outside your usual circle, they have access to a lot of information, people, and opportunities that you don’t. That’s why most people get jobs through someone they know, and of those cases, most of the references came from a weak tie. The sorts of opportunities that come about because of this sort of relationship led sociologist Mark Granovetter to coin the phrase “the strength of weak ties”.

The best way to make weak ties at a conference is to work the room. If the phrase sounds like sleazy marketing-speak and fills your head with images of popped collars and wearing too much body spray, relax. Working the room means being an active participant in a social event and contributing to it so that it’s better for both you and everyone else. Think of it as good social citizenship.

If you’re unsure of how to work the room, I’ve got some tips that you might find handy…

Have a one-line self-introduction

A one-line self-introduction is simply a single-sentence way of introducing yourself to people you meet at a conference. It’s more than likely that you won’t know more than a handful of attendees and introducing yourself over and over again, during the conference, as well as its post-session party events. It’s a trick that Susan RoAne, room-working expert and author of How to Work a Room: The Ultimate Guide to Making Lasting Connections In-Person and Online teaches, and it works. It’s pretty simple:

  • Keep it short — no longer than 10 seconds, and shorter if possible. It’s not your life story, but a pleasantry that also gives people just a little bit about who you are.
  • Make it fit. It should give people a hint of the cool stuff that you do (or, if you’re slogging it out in the hopes of doing cool stuff someday, the cool stuff that you intend to do.)
  • Show your benefits. Rather than simply give them your job title, tell them about a benefit that your work provides in a way that invites people to find out more. Susan RoAne likes to tell a story about someone she met whose one-liner was “I help rich people sleep at night”. That’s more interesting than “I’m a financial analyst”.

My intro these days is something along the lines of “I’m a rock and roll accordion player, but in my side gig, I’m a mobile/wearable/AR app developer who builds apps for Lilypad, Tampa’s coolest software company.”

How to join a conversation

At Synapse Summit 2020, you’ll probably see a group of people already engaged in a conversation. If this is your nightmare…

Click the photo to read the Onion article.

…here’s how you handle it:

  1. Pick a lively group of people you’d like to join in conversation. As people who are already in a conversation, they’ve already done some of the work for you. They’re lively, which makes it more likely that they’re open to people joining in. They’ve also picked a topic, which saves you the effort of having to come up with one. It also lets you decide whether or not it interests you. If they’re lively and their topic of conversation interests you, proceed to step 2. If not, go find another group!
  2. Stand on the periphery and look interested. Just do it. This is a conference, and one of the attendees’ goals is to meet people. Smile. Pipe in if you have something to contribute; people here are pretty cool about that.
  3. When acknowledged, step into the group. You’re in like Flynn! Step in confidently and introduce yourself. If you’ve got that one-line summary of who you are that I talked about earlier, now’s the time to use it.
  4. Don’t force a change of subject. You’ve just joined the convo, and you’re not campaigning. Contribute, and let the subject changes come naturally.

Feel free to join me in at any conversational circle I’m in! I always keep an eye on the periphery for people who want to join in, and I’ll invite them.

More tips

Here’s more advice on how to work the room:

  1. Be more of a host and less of a guest. No, you don’t have to worry about scheduling or if the coffee urns are full. By “being a host”, I mean doing some of things that hosts do, such as introducing people, saying “hello” to wallflowers and generally making people feel more comfortable. Being graceful to everyone is not only good karma, but it’s a good way to promote yourself. It worked out really well for me; for example, I came to the first DemoCamp (a regular Toronto tech event back in the 2000s) as a guest, but by the third one, I was one of the people officially hosting the event.
  2. Beware of “rock piles”. Rock piles are groups of people huddled together in a closed formation. It sends the signal “go away”. If you find yourself in one, try to position yourself to open up the formation.
  3. Beware of “hotboxing”. I’ve heard this term used in counter-culture settings, but in this case “hotboxing” means to square your shoulders front-and-center to the person you’re talking to. It’s a one-on-one version of the rock pile, and it excludes others from joining in. Once again, the cure for hotboxing is to change where you’re standing to allow more people to join in.
  4. Put your stuff down. Carrying your bag or other stuff is a non-verbal cue that you’re about to leave. If you’re going to stay and chat, put them down. When you’re about to leave, take your stuff and start saying your goodbyes.
  5. Show and tell. Nothing attracts our eyes like shiny, whether it’s an interesting pieces of tech, a new book, a new t-shirt you’re fond of, or even some local knowledge, such a new restaurant, cafe, or bar that just opened. It’s why I carry my accordion around; I think of it as a device that converts curiosity into opportunity (and music as well). Got an interesting thing or idea? Got a neat project that you’ve been working on? Whatever it is, park yourself someplace comfortable in the hallway, show it off and start a conversation!
  6. Save the email, tweets and texts for later, unless they’re important.They’ll draw your attention away from the room and also send the message “go away”.
  7. Mentor. If you’ve got skills in a specific area, share your knowledge. Larry Chiang from GigaOm says that “It transitions nicely from the what-do-you-do-for-work question. It also adds some substance to party conversations and clearly brands you as a person.”
  8. Be mentored. One of the reasons you go to Synapse Summit is to get exposed to new ideas. As I said earlier, learning goes beyond the talks. Try to learn three new things at every event.
  9. Play “conversation bingo”. If there are certain topics that you’d like to learn about or people you’d like to have a conversation with, put them in a list (mental, electronic or paper) of “bingo” words. As you converse at the conference, cross off any of those topics that you cover off the list. This trick forces you to become a more active listener and will help you towards your learning goals. Yelling “BINGO!” when you’ve crossed the last item on the list can be done at your discretion.

The “How to work a room” poster

If you want to learn how to work the room and prefer absorbing your information from graphics, you may find this poster helpful:

Click the poster to see it at full size.