Dusting off the cobwebs

Well, it’s been a while. The fact that the last time I blogged was in May reaffirms how quickly this year (especially the 2nd half) has gone for me.

At the start of the year I had the goal of writing a blog post a week, and I did pretty well at sticking to that until April. Looking back, that April period was where the habit started to go off the rails. I had a period of what I guess was writer’s block, where I was attempting to turn my thoughts on another blog post into a post of my own. It turned into a struggle and took me over a month.

I think failing the goal during that period took away some of the pressure I had created to blog weekly. After that when I was busy I wasn’t worried about blogging, since I had already missed some weekly posts.
I’m thinking about this not to try and make excuses, but to analyse what happened and how I can regain a habit of blogging more regularly again.

I think another big factor was that I stopped walking to and from work. It was on these walks that I would think about what I would write, and I would even start to draft posts in my head. Due to an achilles injury I started to catch the ferry instead of walking. I don’t find the ferry as good an environment for organising my thoughts as the walk. Maybe it is the stops with people getting on and off. Maybe it is the fact that I am sitting down and can read. At least I have been reading productively, and not just scrolling through Facebook/Instagram/Imgur.

Even though I haven’t been walking I have been thinking about blogging and have been writing ideas and notes into my draft document for when I get back into the habit, but that has proven a little difficult. My wife and I had our first baby and our priorities, routines, and lifestyle have been changed fairly dramatically. It is no coincidence that I am writing this on a rare night home alone.

With that I think I will leave it there for tonight. This objective for this post was to update the blog and take the first step towards regular blogging again. I hope to write more posts covering some of the other things that have happened throughout the year soon.

Dusting off the cobwebs

Why you should start blogging early

This is a quick post that I was inspired to write by looking at my blog’s stats and follows on from my previous advice to blog.

You should start blogging early because the results compound over time. Here are the stats from my site (out of WordPress).

blog stats

What I am seeing is that the popular posts from previous years still continue to attract views, even ones like Setting up LESS compilation to CSS with Gulp in Visual Studio 2013 which refer to a version of Visual Studio two generations old now. While that post should have a fairly limited lifetime, I expect others posts such as Avoiding numeric overflows in Redshift decimal multiplication to be useful and attract views for a lot longer. I posted Avoiding numeric overflows in Redshift decimal multiplication in August 2016 and it got 90 views before the end of the year. This year it has had 363 views and is my 2nd most popular post viewed this year.

I hope this highlights the benefits of starting blogging and producing content earlier. The earlier you start blogging, the more content you will have available in the future. This is more content that people could find your blog through or more overall views you could receive.

Why you should start blogging early

Lightning Talk at Brisbane Software Developers Startup Community

Last week I did a lightning talk at the Brisbane Software Developers Startup Community meetup drawing on my experience from Techstars and One Model. I came up with 4 areas I wanted to cover and the following is the script I prepared.

Shared experiences

I think something that gets underestimated is the importance of being in a motivating environment with people you can relate to. I got a real boost when we started working out of the Techstars office, compared to before that when I was working from home by myself. The camaraderie we had in the Techstars cohort is something I missed when it finished and I came back to Brisbane. When I started to hire developers here, we worked out of the Gravity co-working space and that provided a similar environment.

Taking part in Techstars was a great experience. If you get the chance to take part in a startup accelerator I’d highly recommend it. On top of the advice and the kick start it will give your business, there is a benefit to being alongside other motivated founders who are on the same journey of starting a company. If you’re not interested in being in an accelerator I’d at least look at working out of a coworking space like Fishburners or RiverCityLabs. And hopefully this meetup can become a community.

Mentor Whiplash

Techstars is all about its network. Each company met with about 90 different mentors, within the first week and a half! There was a lot of back to back, speed dating style meetings. On top of that, and one of my favourite parts of the experience, every Wednesday night they’d have a founder story, and not just from other Techstars founders. I found it motivating to hear other’s journeys, and I enjoyed listening to the different approaches taken.

You end up getting a lot of ideas and advice, often quite conflicting. This can result indecision, and gets referred to as mentor whiplash.

I think this is pretty common, even without getting a lot of advice. All that needs to happen is someone suggests an approach different to you current path. There’s no real way to deal with this, ultimately you just have to internalise the advice and decide for yourself is it right or wrong for you.

Always be selling

Yeah, it’s a cliche, but it’s true. If you’re a solo founder, it’s going to seem obvious that you need to be selling your company. Where it is not so obvious is if you are part of a team. In that case you might think you can get away with focusing on building the product, probably a bit like I did originally. However you won’t.

You should always be thinking about selling. Even if you aren’t selling directly to customers you need to think about selling to investors and potential employees. This is an area I feel that we could do better in at One Model.

A couple of easy ways I think you can do this are:

  • Blogging about the company and the software being developed and challenges you’re overcoming.
  • Putting out open source software and building a community around that.

Another benefit to this is that if your startup doesn’t work out, you have created some collateral to help you get another job if required.

Also on the topic of sales, something else I think that makes developers uncomfortable is selling features that don’t exist yet. Unfortunately this is something has to be done, even just for the simple reason of getting market validation. You don’t want to build something and then start to try and sell it and find out it is entirely wrong. A way of phrasing this that resonated with me was “sell the future”.

Hire Slow Fire Fast

Finally the part I think I’ve found the hardest has been hiring. I do regret not having put effort into creating a company blog and presence so that we have a pipeline of candidates. I’m also a bit jealous of people that have consulted, or worked in a consulting firm and have a good network of fellow developers they can reach out to for candidates.

Without that, we’ve been relying on recruiters and it’s been a slow process to scale up the team. For the most part the developers I’ve hired have been excellent, but early on I did have to let one developer go. It was pretty obvious early on that they weren’t working out, not from a skills perspective, but from an attitude and work ethic. Unfortunately in startups I think you have to be a bit ruthless, you’re trying to be as effective as possible and as a founder you have enough to do without having to manage someone to get them to perform. I hadn’t fired anyone before and I was pretty nervous about doing it, but I feel it was the right move for the company and the the replacement we hired has been awesome.

Lightning Talk at Brisbane Software Developers Startup Community

Thoughts on “Turning Tech Hobbies into Side Hustle”

Last week month I read Turning Tech Hobbies into Side Hustle by Erik Dietrich and it led to me to analyse what I am doing and whether it is productive or a hobby.

Initially I thought the message of the post was extreme, but after consideration changed my mind. The message I initially got was aim for a direct reward from hobbies, Erik’s example being book sales from writing a book on F#. After further consideration I found a better takeaway was be honest with how you are spending your time. If you are learning something to satisfy your curiosity, don’t count that as productive time/career development. Later if you find that you are not happy with your career progress, you can evaluate whether that time is unproductive and could be better spent. From this perspective learning a new language is no different to other hobbies, you just need to be honest that it is a hobby.

With that, I decided to take a look at myself and ensure I was being honest.

Coincidentally, and maybe why I found the post extreme initially, something I have wanted to do is learn a functional language. Being honest with myself I do want to do this to improve my software development, not for my own vanity. Functional programming concepts are making their way into a lot of languages. Tuples and pattern matching are some of the features in the latest C# release. Erik is correct, that just learning a language does not have quantifiable value. When I do learn a functional language following his suggestion, or at least blogging about it, will produce more value. Learning a functional language is not high in my priorities, which I’ll come back to later.

Speaking at a meetup is something that is partly motivated by vanity, but not entirely so. I think it would be beneficial, for myself and for One Model, to get a bit of awareness from me presenting. It may also be possible to quantify the value of speaking. The main outcome I’m after is more candidates for recruitment, which is measurable. So while there is some vanity behind the motivation, there are valid reasons too. If I wait until I have something worth presenting, instead of just getting up there for the sake of speaking, I think I am approaching it correctly.

I don’t have a quantifiable outcome in mind for blogging. I wonder if Erik did when he started? I doubt he envisioned that he’d be getting paid to write blog posts for other sites/companies. I think I could get more out of this blog if I target a more specific audience. This blog promotes me, but I could be promoting One Model more with it.

This brings me to the last point I want to write about. I don’t think I’m the target audience for Erik’s post. I am a founder and partial owner of One Model and by working to increase the value of the company, I increase the value of the shares I own. I actually get maximum value from my personal time by spending it in ways that benefit both myself and One Model, and most of the time that is what I do. When I was researching Selenium, I was doing it so that I could create automated UI tests for One Model.


Well, this took me a lot longer to complete than it should have. April was a busy month for me, but that’s not the real reason this took so long. Writing up the analysis of the post and myself ended up being more difficult than I anticipated and I let this take away my motivation. I’m disappointed I broke my weekly post streak, and that I have let a month pass without adding value to my blog. On the positive side I have finished this now and feel recharged. Time to get back into regular blogging.

Thoughts on “Turning Tech Hobbies into Side Hustle”

Prelude to Thoughts on “Turning Tech Hobbies into Side Hustle”

This is a bit of inception. A post on a post on a post.

For a while, I have been thinking that it might be worthwhile to try writing some shorter posts inspired by other blog articles I have read. During the week I read Erik Dietrich’s post Turning Tech Hobbies into Side Hustle and later sat down to write some thoughts it had inspired. I wrote 403 words, but they didn’t come very easily, lacked purpose and in the end I didn’t think they were worth sharing.

I think I’m still finding a balance between planning and writing off the cuff. Hopefully, as I go, I am reducing the amount of planning required for a good post. Eventually I realised that what might be worth writing about is analysing whether what I have done recently has been productive or a hobby.

So I am sitting down again to try and write something based on that. Fingers crossed it goes better than my last attempt. I am not sure that I will post that article tonight, which is disappointing as I was hoping to post something earlier than Sunday night this week and maybe even get two posts out.

Prelude to Thoughts on “Turning Tech Hobbies into Side Hustle”

Some reflection

I don’t have a specific topic to blog about this week, but I wanted to continue with publishing a post weekly, so this week I am writing a reflective piece.

When I set myself the goal of posting weekly I was aiming to

  • increase the quality of my writing
  • reduce the time it takes for me to write a post
  • share more information

Weekly blogging has been enjoyable, but when I think about what I am aiming to achieve I am not sure that I am progressing as well as I could be. Maybe that is because I didn’t specifically articulate the three points.

Personally judging whether my writing has improved is difficult. To improve the quality I think I should start getting regular review and feedback on my posts and I think there is two types of feedback I should look to get. The first is just general feedback on my writing e.g. spelling and grammar. The second, and probably more important, is whether my posts are clear and easy to understand and follow.

I haven’t been tracking the time it takes me to blog accurately, but I do think I have gotten faster at writing posts. The slow parts have been the researching and learning when I am writing about something new, and I learnt during the Selenium series that I should not try and preempt the posts, but instead learn and then write about what I learnt.

The last point is a bit vague and while it seems that I am sharing more information by blogging weekly, that is not how I was thinking about it. So far most of my blog posts have been technically orientated and describe the solution to a problem. What I want to get better at sharing are the things that do not have a solution or a right answer e.g. how I’ve hired developers, how I manage my team and building the product. I have been working on posts for those topics alongside other things and have found it harder to write about them. I am finding that it takes more thought on how to write about them to ensure those posts are clear and not just some ramblings. So while the aim is vague, once I get some of those topics on the blog I will be happier about progressing towards it.

Overall, while this has turned out to be a bit of a critical post (when is reflection not critical), I am happy with how it has been going. There is satisfaction in seeing the number of views my blog gets daily steadily increasing over time as I add more and more content to it. That said if I was just after views, I’d be blogging entirely about JavaScript probably specifically React and Webpack. My most popular post is far and away TypeScript to ES2015 (ES6) to ES5 via Babel 6 which I realise now I wrote a whole year ago. It must be extremely out of date by now!

Some reflection

Excluding node_modules folder from ASP.NET compilation

We started to make use of using Github URLs as npm dependencies (make sure to reference specific commits to ensure repeatable builds) to replace some JavaScript files that we had manually added to the project. Unfortunately one of the repositories we added contains an invalid razor view file (.cshtml), which causes razor view compilation to fail with the following error.

/temp/node_modules/ace-builds/demo/kitchen-sink/docs/razor.cshtml(6): error ASPPARSE: Encountered end tag "a" with no matching start tag.  Are your start/end tags properly balanced?

Razor view compilation failure caused by the node_modules folder is a bit of a recurring issue I have had. In the past I had been able to solve the problem by upgrading npm, but that was not going to work this time. What I needed to do was to get the ASP.NET compiler to ignore the node_modules folder.

The view compilation was configured in the .csproj file using the AspNetCompiler task e.g.

This results in a command like the following being executed during the build process.

C:\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v4.0.30319\aspnet_compiler.exe -v temp -p D:\repos\onemodel\webapp

If you run aspnet_compiler.exe with the help toggle you will see that there is a flag (-x) that can be used to exclude directories. Frustratingly there is no way to provide values to this flag using the provided AspNetCompiler task. Instead you need to use the Exec task to call aspnet_compiler.exe so you can pass in a value for node_modules. Replacing the AspNetCompiler task with Exec ends up like the following example.

The downside of this solution is that it is reliant on the aspnet_compiler executable always being in the same location, however that could probably be dynamically determined with some more MSBuild configuration.

Excluding node_modules folder from ASP.NET compilation