How much of the world will software eat?

I stepped into a fun riff on Twitter where Marc Andreessen published a 15-part tweet-blog on his thoughts on the limits of AI and Robots and their effect on society.

The concept captures my imagination because the media is quick jump to the inevitable end depicted in the Matrix where our machines come alive and Human beings become biological battery power in a post-apocalyptic world.  Once singularity is achieved, humans fall to the dark side of evolution as we slowly welcome the ascension of our new robot overlords.

While that makes for a good Hollywood screenplay, it doesn’t work for two reasons.

First, computers systems will never replace Humans because they lack judgement. Machines can easily distinguish between good and bad options, but they cannot predict taste and style.  Judgement is the result of a lifetime’s experience of constantly making choices, choices where there are multiple positive outcomes. This doesn’t translate to the world of machines where basic rules and logic make up a computers brain.

Second, artificial intelligence falls far short in creativity. They cannot “muster up” the next Mona Lisa or replicate Shakespeare through an digital force of will.  Creativity is the ability to transcend tradition, moving beyond the known into the unknown. If a human programs a machine by transferring its “known” knowledge into instructions, how can the machine ever move beyond it’s own reality into the unknown? The answer? It can’t.

So how much of the world will software eat?

Machines are making a monumental impact in every area of society and as the generations pass by, they will become more and more accepted as a sub-class of steward, albeit more intelligently with each iteration. I believe the impact of this shift won’t be a replacement of what it means to be human, but an amplification of the amount of time we have to focus and spend on the things that truly make us human.

The inevitable end is not the singularity of machines, but the self-actualization of human beings in a beautiful chorus of individual creativity and art.

Optimistic? Maybe. But, that end would be much more interesting then the drab and hopeless background of the Matrix, even if you could learn Kung-Fu in 5 seconds.

Maker Time

My friend Joe McCann was riffing on a busy meeting schedule this upcoming week. I could relate and shot back a response on Twitter. I’ve fought this for years and thought I’d write a quick blog about it.

One of my favorite habits that I’ve followed from time to time is scheduling what I call “Maker Time”. After starting appendTo four years ago, my day to day work is filled with meetings, writing emails and generally solving problems of all shapes and sizes.

The transition to this role from being a full time software developer left me wishing for the days where I could sit and code all day long without interruptions. I loved software development and I loved the challenge creating something new. Even though a long day of coding could be exhausting if I didn’t keep up my caffeine intake levels, it never felt like work because the act of creating something was motivation to keep going.

Paul Graham wrote an amazing essay that describes the differences between managers and makers and the schedules they each keep. I read this early in my career and was influenced by it quite a bit. However, I always thought managers and makers were mutually exclusive roles.

It’s only as I’ve stepped into more full time management that I’ve discovered that building in “Maker Time” has been foundational to keeping my sanity. Rather than choosing between being a “Maker” OR a “Manager”, I realized I needed to choose both to stay balanced.

Maker and Manager

I’ve solved this by forcing myself to make time each day to “Make” something. Anyone who’s in a management role knows that if you don’t make time for it, it won’t happen. So, I generally schedule my own “Maker Time” for the first two hours of my day. This is when our virtual office is most quiet and I can easily focus.

I view this Maker Time as foundational to my role as a Manager, managing people who make stuff. Putting in the effort to make something every day makes me a better manager and helps keep the priority level high for “Maker Time”.

Maker Time Rules

Along the way I’ve developed a short list of rules to keep myself accountable to my “Maker Time”. I’m not a very religious habit person and I view life more like jazz music then a line dance, but guidelines like these help keep me pointed in the right direction.

  1. Schedule “Maker Time” first to keep it a priority. I generally find 2 hours a day works for me.
  2. Shut out all distractions to keep focused.
  3. Ship something by the end of each session. It could be a blog post, piece of code or an update to a contract template, but create something new and SHIP IT.

That’s it, it’s literally that simple. Sometimes, my maker time feels like the most productive part of my day. Other times I feel like I get nothing done. What matters to me is that I am keeping my creative muscles strong and focused. It is a discipline that I feel makes me a better manager, but to really measure that you’d have to ask my team.

If you’re a manager, do you make time to make something? If you’re a maker, what do you think of a manager who prioritizes “Maker time”?

The Third Way

Two roads divide, I took neither. In fact I climbed up in the BullDozer and paved a third.

It didn’t start out this way on purpose. In fact I set out to do things the way I was told.

When appendTo launched the first thing we did was hire a COO. Someone that knew how to do business the way business was supposed to be done.

Jonathan & I were the creative team, and we wanted to focus on delivering great customer experiences, not on processes and management.

But when the going got tough, the person we hired to lead the company didn’t believe in the vision of the company. So he left.

Revenues were tight and we were staring at a second business venture sinking. I knew the opportunity to build a business around jQuery was big, but it hadn’t started out the way I planned.

I sought advice from others who had started similar ventures and they pushed me to go get revenue the way all businesses did.

“Hire a Sales Team” they all said to me almost in perfect harmony. I wasn’t a believer. I didn’t feel that salespeople could properly represent us they way it needed to be done.

It was value that they were after. A great product and deliverable. Not someone banging on their door begging for the order. That was the way of yesterday and I knew it was wrong for appendTo

I Took the Third Way

The Third way meant doing what I knew was right even when it wasn’t popular.

Whether it be walking away from money when I know that we aren’t the best fit for a project or refusing to hire a sales team for a company that needed to be built through a network from the inside out.

The third way started out by accident when I couldn’t get on board with the way things have always been done and has morphed into a philosophy that I use for growth hacking.

When two roads divide I don’t take the one less traveled nor do I take the one most traveled. I take the one that makes the most sense which sometimes isn’t a road at all.

Understand, this isn’t about one way being right and one way being wrong.

This is about doing business in a way that reflects what we as an organization believe. Something that I aspire to see from more and more companies in the future.

Begging the question.

When 2 roads divide and neither option makes the most sense for your business, what is your approach? Better yet, what is your third way?

The Choice

I was nearing a nervous breakdown.  My business, A Mountain Top, was losing steam despite the extra effort I was putting into it in a vain attempt to gain altitude.  I hadn’t taken a day off in almost two years and the recent arrival of my second daughter was making sleep a precious commodity.

It wasn’t working.

On top of all of that, I was unable to shake a growing realization that I was in the wrong business.  My efforts to build a small consulting company around my favorite web technologies wasn’t producing the results I was aiming for and a new opportunity lay at my feet, the opportunity to start the first company solely focused on the little known (at the time) JavaScript library, jQuery.

I was faced with a choice.

It is a familiar choice, one we all face many times in our life.  Do I act, or do I sit.  Do I accept my current reality or summon the courage to change it.  Do I cling to the status quo or do I dare to dream that it could be different.

I had to choose.

Either decision was a choice.  Inaction is a choice but as you get to know me better, you’ll see that I’m a sucker for adventure.  I took two weeks off over the holidays to clear my head, re-engage with my family and allow myself the mental space to make a decision that I knew I could stand upon.

I chose to jump.

Taking this leap was one of the biggest choices I’ve personally had to make in my life.  However, I am eternally grateful that the foundation of appendTo and that my current circumstances are based off of a conscious choice.  Knowing that fate has not dealt me a short hand nor am I the victim of external forces such as market conditions or bad customers is empowering; it helps me to temper the inevitable peaks and valleys of being an entrepreneur.

We all face choices every day. Choosing to make an intentional choice takes courage, but makes all the difference.  What are you going to choose?

Why does the software community matter?

Since the beginning of appendTo, we’ve constantly said we support the community. I view that supportive posture as one of the keys to the success we’ve seen so far, but we’ve done little to explain why. I was graciously given the opportunity to talk a little bit about this prior to the keynote this week at the devLink Technical Conference and I wanted to re-post the transcript of what I said here on my blog.

This is a subject I am passionate about and see as a key pillar in appendTo fulfilling its purpose as a business.  I’m excited to share more of this perspective publicly.

Are you a fan of supporting community? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!

Good Morning devLink!

As CEO of appendTo, I have the privilege of attending many different tech conferences all over the world. Last year was my first year at devLink and I was completely blown away. Every conference I went to last year spent a lot of time talking about community, but devLink lived it in a way that has no equal. What I realized is that John and the rest of the devLink team do this because they love this community and want to do what they can to make it better. Believe me. It shows. So, when John asked if appendTo wanted to sponsor devLink this year, we jumped at the chance to lend our support.

I’d like to share two quick things with you this morning as we all gather to kick off devLink this year.

The first point I’d like to share is why the software development community is special and why it is so important.

Economically, software developers are quickly becoming a scarce resource. We constantly hear that good developers are hard to find, but the people that say that obviously don’t know about this conference.

Seriously though, the statistics show that 70,000 software developer jobs each year go unfilled as companies transition to rely more and more on the tools and frameworks we build to make their businesses run. That translates into a great opportunity for every single person in this room but presents challenges for the world around us.

These statistics look grim but represent a fundamental misunderstanding of what software developers are capable of. They think the size of the pie is fixed. They don’t realize the power of Open Source and that sharing knowledge is far better than hiding it. They don’t understand that what we call our Developer community is one of the best organized grass-roots organizations in existence today. We spread an incredible amount of knowledge about our craft faster than any other group of people before us.

This ability to organize, to share and improve our craft is our super power. It is how we will face the challenges of the future and win. It is how we can each do our part to make the world a better place. That’s what our community is and why appendTo and I am honored to be a part of it.

As a member of this community, the second thing I’d like to do is challenge each and every one of you this week. I’d like you to join me and everyone else in this room in making our community a little bit better while you’re here at devLink.

If you’re an attendee, thank the speaker of each presentation you attend for the blood sweat and tears they invested to put their presentation together. A simple thank you can make that Speaker’s day and will help show them that the late nights preparing and practicing their talks was worth it.

Speakers, thank the attendees for coming to your talk to listen. They have a lot of choices this week and saw something special in the work you did to prepare your material.

Finally, thank the conference organizers for all of the work that goes into putting on an event like this. The work involved in putting together an event of this size takes an army of people volunteering their time to invest in each and everyone one of you.

Our community will be as strong as we make it. By attending this event, you are joining with thousands of other software developers across the world in helping to create a better world for us all.

Thank you!