2010 - 2011: A retrospective

One of my main motivators, my youngest son Matisse #PrideAndJoy


I like the concept of retrospectives; it makes you self-reflect and think about the paths you followed and want to follow in the future. As it has been 2 years ago since my latest retrospective, I think doing a post on it right now might be a good idea.

The initial plan in 2010, a.k.a. "Man I feel stupid now" - a few smells

As you might have read in the previous retrospective, in 2010 I started working for a startup which had quite some customers and a lot of work. I got involved in the startup and was promised that within a few months/up to a year I would acquire part of the company, based on the condition that I would take a paycut in the beginning. As this was a person I worked with in the past, I decided to do it; based on the promise of big bucks I accepted the offer of working for a fixed price for about half of my usual rate. That was the first smell.

After a few months I started doing more and more hours, until eventually I probably worked at about one third of my usual hourly rate. When I mentioned this, he convinced me to get started on a side-project which would offer me some recurrent income in the mean time. So I started investing some time in this side-product as well; I built it in about 40 mandays, and it was ready to launch. Every single time I suggested to launch it, there was an excuse not to launch it due to some other priority. That was the second smell.

Since I was not working fulltime for them, he also provided me a lead to a neat sideproject for a client, which was a lot of fun, even though it was rather small (3K-ish). I agreed to pay a commission to him on the projects he provided me. At the same time I provided him a project (in fact it was a sell because the client based his trust on the fact that I worked with them), which he failed to deliver in time, and even then he billed them more then initially planned (10K+). My contact was not amused.

When he asked for the commission on the project I did for him, I suggested him to take in to account the lead I provided him. His reply was: let us just drop both the commissions alltogether. Smell number three.

Finally smell number four. One of the shareholders was doing the payments. In fact, this was someone who I did not trust from the beginning, and unfortunately I was right. It happened twice that he simply refused to pay my work from two months ago based on the fact that they wanted yet another feature implemented in an impossible timeframe. As I was working at about one third of my usual rate I really needed the money. I was not amused, and the second time I just refused to do any further work until they paid it. As he refused to pay, this was a blocking issue.

My initial contact finally offered me to settle, if I dropped 3.5K, otherwise we would have to go to court. Since I had been to court before, and had to wait for 2 years for my money, and invest a couple of K to pay the laywer etc, I decided to cut my losses and take the offer.

There were some other issues here as well (f.e. a side project where they requested some things to be configurable, but they forgot to add that the project was intended to be multi-tennant and configurable "by the client", and demanded I provided those features for the same budget).

Another one of my main motivators, my oldest son, Quinten #PrideAndJoy

Lessons learned

In hindsight, I learned a really important lesson: either a startup is partly yours and you are willing to invest a lot of time, since you will harvest what you invest, or it is not yours, and you simply bill your usual hourly/daily/monthly rate, no exceptions.

Another lesson is that I need to learn to listen to external signals; several people from my neighbourhood warned me about cooperating with that person, from different sources, so I should have at least been a bit more cautious.

The next lesson is: do not ignore your intuition: I did not trust one of the shareholders from the beginning. My intuition proved to be correct, as he was always trying to blame others when he made a mistake (I prefer to look for a way to avoid the mistakes instead of looking for someone to blame, but that might be the subject of another blog post). As he was the one who refused to pay, I should have followed my intuition from the beginning.

Finally, the last lesson on this part: never, ever believe anyone who promises you lots of things but fails to offer hard cash or a contract within a reasonable timeframe. I asked for a contract from the beginning but never received one. Now I know why.


It is not all bad

As there were some other people there working for his other company, it was a joy to talk and chat with these fun collegues. I appreciated the time I spent with them, and we had some fun times and discussions non-work related as well. It is always a joy to expand your personal network.

Working part-time offered me the opportunity to invest quite a lot of time in studying new concepts and OSS software, writing some blog posts and building my internet presence, publishing some new stuff on github, paticipating in newsgroups quite a lot, and learning to know quite a few interesting persons, both in real life as online.

In fact, the person I work for right now got connected to me via my internet presence as he lives in the USA. My contact is quite a brittle mind with a pragmatic and lean approach,  and I am both delighted and gratefull to work with somebody like him. Once again, we are working without a contract, but as we are working with weekly payments the risk is practically diminished to a few K, which is acceptable to me.

I also got quite a few other leads out of my internet presence, some materialized, others did not. I am currently just starting to grasp the incredible power of online presence and image building, but it seems to me like there is a whole new ballpark out there.

My sons and me exploring some "architectural techniques" on the beach ;)


On the technical part

This has been a real (r)evolution: in my previous retrospective, you could see that my focus was on software architecture, where I would favor a layered approach. My understanding now has evolved quite a bit, and more recently my client has been pointing me out that I sometimes overarchitect things to much. In hindsight, I have to say that this is true.

I now try to focus more on business value and make sure to get the highest efficiency possible.

Past year I also invested quite some time on the whole startup thingy, and got my fingers wet in shipping asap/building a minimum viable product as well, without complicating things to much. While I feel I am just beginning to explore this aspect, this is offering me a lot of insights already, you grasp the biggest insights in the beginning, but mastering the details will take me quite a lot of time...

Here are a few blurbs that have been keeping my busy the last two years:

Just do it - What's up next ?

Getting deeper on the psychological path, studying my personality type helped me to focus on my core competences. I learned that I am at my best in new, unexplored hostile environments, and that I need to be more persistent when doing not-so-challenging things. Due to my personality type, I tend to lose interest when things start to get familiar and easy or boring, so I usually run away from situations where others spend there whole life searching for something similar. By accepting this fact, I can now work on self-improvement on this part.

This insight also provided me with another conclusion: maybe software architecture is only a side track, and maybe I should focus more on other things.

In the past, I was at my best when the environment I worked in was extremely hostile and/or unknown. I was at my best/got the most compliments when I got into an environment where there were unfixable things that needed to be fixed, especially with people conflicts. Due to my personality type, the words "hard" or "impossible" actually motivate me to do it. In case you have problems you consider impossible to solve, I am your man!


On a personal level

Our 2 sons grew older. This is both a challenge and a joy. I think the best graph explaining parenting was the one by CodingHorror/Jeff Atwood I read here:

My oldest son joined a soccer team, which provided us with a whole new group of friends and we sure had a lot of fun in the past year. Once again change is improving our life.

Next to this we finally completed the structural part of the renovation to our house. The only thing to do now is replacing the front door, some windows and then we are in the finishing stage. We spent about five years making our house a home, but we made it. Most people who have seen it from the beginning find it hard to believe it is the same house. Once again a vision and persistence seem to be of utmost importance.

Finally a word for my wonderfull wife: after all those years she still seizes to amaze me, and I love the fact that she now found a job where she can fully develop her self and her work is being both respected and appreciated in every way possible.

My one and only, Liesbeth, 10 years ago when we were getting married

Unfortunately I did not get my saxophone this year, but luckily my guitar playing has improved a little bit due to rehearsing once every week together with two other musicians, where one of them was a former professional musician. We even accompanied a choir with some guitar/banjo/piano and raised a few K for a fund used to cure child cancer doing this. #Win 



Another two years have passed, and once again they were pretty turbulent, but hey, that is the way I like it. In retrospect, I have done quite a few stupid things, but I learned some valuable lessons from it. Next to this, as I am aging, I notice my focus has changed a bit, and that the essence can be found in the smaller everyday things of life. I am gratefull that we are all in good health, have fun with family, friends and acquintances, and that our life is slowly starting to take shape...

In fact, looking back at all this stuff, I do not think I could wish for a better life at this moment (Oh boy, I did not intend to get this mellow, I assume it is due to the fact that I am getting older ;) ).

Best wishes to all of you!

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