Saturday, May 29, 2004

Time to go

At the moment I'm busy trying to finish up the project I'm working on at my day job. In a few days it will be deployed to a some users in the field for live trials. No doubt there will be changes required from feedback from those trials and there are some new requirements from last week that need to be implemented.

There's also some maintenance work on a past project plus a few other smaller non-related tasks.

It looks as though there's about 1-2 weeks of fulltime work left but that might easily blow out to become 3-4 weeks with all these smaller tasks that keep popping up. An extra few weeks of fulltime wages would be a nice bonus to my emergency cash reserves.

Enough is enough though.

I'll probably work most of next week at my day job to finish off the most important tasks. After that though I think I'll make myself available to them for maybe a maximum of 20 hours per week (preferably less). Hopefully by cutting my hours right down it should start to force others to make do without me.

A gradual phase-out of my day job will also keep some money coming in and give me time to make arrangements for my yet to be organised casual job and/or hobby business (see Beer and movie money).

Of course this might backfire with those in charge at my day job deciding that they don't want to give me anymore work at all. If that happens it shouldn't be a big problem, I'll just have to get that alternate income source happening quickly. It would leave me plenty of time to work on Sydney though.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

News feed not working for some

I've received word that my XML news feed isn't working for those using the latest FeedReader 2.5 (Alpha Build 610).

The feed is a FeedBurner Smart Feed and automatically converts itself to RSS or Atom depending on what sort of client you're using.

I know it's working fine with FeedDemon, Bloglines and Opera 7.5. I've put in a query with FeedBurner, hopefully I'll hear back from them soon.

If you're having a problem with another aggregator please post a comment and let me know.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Balancing your new venture with your day job - Part 3

I need more hours in the day

Quite simply there aren't enough hours in the day to do a full 8 hours on both your day job and your new venture. And unless you're really fortunate (i.e. wealthy) you'll be forced to devote the majority of your attentions towards your day job.

That means that if you're working 8 hours on your day job and sleeping for 8 hours, then there's a maximum of 8 hours available for your new venture. That's a maximum of 8 hours. If you can approach anything near that level you're doing extremely well. All sorts of distractions from the necessary to the frivolous will whittle it away until it seems like you're struggling to get 2 hours a day on your new venture.

The technique that's worked best for me has been to not so much to deliberately cut out those distractions but instead to make sure they don't steal my most productive hours away from me.

I started trying to work on Sydney at night after a full days work. Progress was slow. After I came home, cooked myself some dinner, maybe did some cleaning/shopping, watched the news, and made a call or two I had only an hour or two left before I was too tired to do any significant amount of work on Sydney.

My weekday schedule was something like this.

TimeActivity
06:30 - 08:30Get up, eat breakfast, prepare for day
08:30 - 09:30Catch train to day job
09:30 - 18:30Working (day job)
18:30 - 19:30Catch train home
19:30 - 20:15Nothing much (winding down)
20:15 - 21:00Cooking dinner
21:00 - 22:00Nothing much (digesting dinner)
22:00 - 23:30Working on Sydney
23:30 - 06:30Sleeping

Which in order of time spent on each activity put working on Sydney dead last.

ActivityDuration (hours)
Working at day job9
Sleeping7
Domestic duties2.75
Traveling2
Nothing much1.75
Working on Sydney 1.5

So that's about 1.5 hours at the very end of the day to work on my new venture and that was on a good day. If I was especially motivated I could have made that 2.5 or 3.5 hours by cutting out those 2 idle hours at the end of the day but I was rarely successful in doing that.

I knew I needed to find more time to work on Sydney if I was going to make any progress but I wasn't sure how to accomplish it. During those last few hours of the day I was just too tired to work properly and sleeping less would only make the problem worse.

I stumbled onto the answer when for other reasons I started going to bed much earlier and waking very early in the morning. Suddenly I found that I had several of my best working hours spare before I had to go off to my day job.

I started to work to a new weekday schedule.

TimeActivity
04:00 - 04:45Get up, eat breakfast
04:45 - 08:30Working on Sydney
08:30 - 09:30Catch train to day job
09:30 - 18:30Working (day job)
18:30 - 19:30Catch train home
19:30 - 20:15Cooking dinner
20:15 - 20:45Nothing much (digesting dinner)
20:45 - 21:00Prepare for next day
21:00 - 04:00Sleeping

With this schedule work on Sydney moved up to number 3 in the list.

ActivityDuration (hours)
Working at day job9
Sleeping7
Working on Sydney 3.75
Traveling2
Domestic duties1.75
Nothing much0.5

So in terms of finding more time to work on Sydney this schedule has been much more successful. I've more than doubled the time I spend on Sydney from 1.5 hours to 3.75 hours. Being so much fresher first thing in the morning than at the end of the day I've been able to greatly improve both the quality and the speed of the work I'm doing.

It took a little bit of trial and error to find the optimal time to wake up. I originally tried waking up a bit earlier than 4am but found myself starting to nod off before the end of the day. As it currently stands I can make it through the working day fairly easily (with the occasional energy drink).

By the time I finish dinner though I'm quite tired so I finish up by preparing a few things for the next day such as ironing clothes, packing my bag etc. It saves me wasting my more productive morning time on them the next day. When I do go to bed at the ridiculously early time of 9pm I don't have any trouble getting to sleep.

Working on this schedule there's no need to make an effort to cut out unnecessary distractions simply because there is no time left for them. It's a hard schedule to maintain but a schedule like this is necessary if you want to make any headway on your new venture. If nothing else it will give you the will to want to leave your day job sooner rather than later.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Balancing your new venture with your day job - Part 2

Is your day job the right one for you?

Your well paying day job may be a great job for a career employee, but it may not be the best job for a would be entrepreneur. My experiences in the day job I had prior to this one taught me to watch out for jobs that demand you

  • work overtime,
  • take work home with you or
  • be on call.

A day job that demands these things will not leave you time to work on your new venture. If this sounds like your day job you need to consider changing to one that won't spill over into the time you allocate to your new venture.

Make sure you don't become indispensable in your day job. Becoming indispensable is great for career employees but for a potential entrepreneur it can make it very hard for you to leave when you're ready to. If you are already an indispensable member of your team, start training your replacement now.

My previous day job demanded all of these things from me. I was working at all times of the day, and even when I wasn't working I would receive numerous phone calls to respond to the crisis of the day. If I didn't take the calls there was nobody else who would have. I spent 3 months trying to start work on Sydney while in that role without making any real progress.

When a chance to move to another section arose I jumped at the it. I was very lucky in that I was able to recommend a replacement for myself who had previously worked in the same role. Because of that I was able to transfer almost straight away rather than having to train somebody up.

In this new section I took on a more junior position with much diminished responsibilities. From that point on though once I left the office I didn't have to think about my day job until the next morning. Not surprisingly I started to make some headway on Sydney to the point where now I'm ready to leave my day job completely and make Sydney my day job.

Next: Finding the time for your new venture

Friday, May 21, 2004

Beer and movie money

With just a few short weeks to go before I'm effectively unemployed I'm trying to decide what I'm going to do to keep some money coming in to pay my weekly living expenses.

I have savings that will last me about 3-4 months but I want to avoid using those except for emergencies. I visit a local business for a few hours each week fixing their computer problems and doing a little MS Access work which pays for about a third of my expenses. Apart from that, since I unwisely dedicated so much time to the major client who I am now leaving, I get only the odd call from older customers to help them out with their IT systems.

I'll keep running my business consultancy in the background but too many business customers and I won't have time to work on Sydney.

The plan has always been to get some casual work, preferably doing something that isn't IT related so there's no danger of it becoming my primary focus. Something that leaves me free during business hours to work on my new venture and to respond to those calls from old customers when they come in.

Bar work is the obvious choice and although I've never done it it could be fun for a year or two.

Recently though I've been considering starting up my home computer help service again. Helping home users with their computer problems was what I did during my Uni years for beer and movie money. It was quite successful, my Dad just took a call last week from someone last week who still had a copy of leaflet I dropped in their letterbox 9 years ago.

That was when I was living with my parents in an area with a lot of families. Now I live in the city and I'm not sure the demographics would be as favourable to that sort of a business. Also I used to charge a paltry amount, I would have to charge a fair bit more to make it worth my while (though less than my current business rate).

Travelling to home jobs would be an important factor too. I sold my car earlier this year, so I could only really service areas that were well serviced by public transport or were close enough to ride my mountain bike to. Excessive travel time could bring my hourly earnings down to the same level as something like bar work, so I'd really have to watch that.

It could be fun though too, returning to where it all began some 10 odd years ago. I helped a lot of people in those 2-3 years while I was at Uni, and it was the contacts and experience I gained while doing it that helped me move to the next level and launch my software development and technical support consultancy business.

So they're the two options I'm currently considering, bar work or back to home computer help. If anyone has any other suggestions for me let me know.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Balancing your new venture with your day job - Part 1

The blurb at the top of this page isn't entirely correct, at least not yet. I know roughly when I'm leaving my day job, but for another 2-3 weeks I'll still be there.

I probably won't get a chance to work on Sydney during these next few weeks, but I have been balancing the two roles for about the last 6 months. It's a situation I wouldn't recommend but everyone's got to eat.

So I thought I'd post a few tips about what I've been doing to try and maximise my time during this period.

Do you need to balance the two at this stage?

Before you start surrendering all your free time to your new venture, ask yourself if you're at a point where you really need to do that yet. Perhaps you should restrict your efforts to brainstorming and research sessions rather than actual development work for the time being.

If you don't properly understand where you want to be heading with your new venture you might find yourself later redoing your earlier work.

If you have debts or need to build up a modest amount of startup capital then perhaps you're better off devoting all your efforts to your day job for the time being. Make sure you set yourself an aggressive budget or you'll never reach your financial goals that will allow you to start your new venture.

Are you sure you really want to be an entrepreneur? This is a topic for another time but make sure you do your research on this one. Read all you can and talk to as many people as you can to make sure this is the life for you.

Next time: Is your day job compatible with starting a new venture?

Friday, May 14, 2004

So what software am I writing?

I'll tell you later.

No it isn't a state secret. No it isn't anything particularly original. Yes there are already competitors out there. Yes if you ask me in person (but not by email) I'll probably tell you.

I'm just not ready to shout it to the whole internet just yet for a number of reasons.

  • It's currently vapourware, and may not ever come to market.
  • There are competitors but I think I've identified a niche that's not currently being serviced well.
  • I'm not yet working on this full-time and until I am, I don't need to be giving anyone a head start on me.

Besides at this stage what I'm writing about is more the process rather than the product. If you stick with me, don't do it to find out what the product is, I wouldn't want it to be a disappointment. When I've got something to talk about I'll reveal more details and start releasing early beta versions.

So what can you tell me?

I can tell you that it's a distributed system designed to manage large quantities of information. (Yawn)

Yes I know that covers everything from search engines to databases but that's about all I'm willing to say at this point.

So what do you call this thing?

Err... need a cool code name... can't think of anything...

How about Sydney? It's the city where I live, I can mention it in conversation without sounding silly, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the system I'm writing.

Sydney... that'll do. What do you mean it's not cool?

Thursday, May 13, 2004

ADUG OLE Automation presentation notes

I'm a member of the Australian Delphi User Group and like to give the occasional talk at the monthly meetings. I did one last night on automating MSOffice applications from Delphi code.

I've just posted the presentation slides and code. If you have any questions about anything feel free to ask, either via the ADUG mailing list or by personal email (my email address is in the Powerpoint slides).

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Firstly what this isn't

  • It isn't about my cats (I don't have any).
  • It isn't about my girlfriend (None of your business).
  • It isn't about my TV viewing habits (I don't have a TV).
  • It is about writing software as an independent developer.

More specifically it's about me writing a particular piece of software. A piece of software that hopefully I'll be able to sell and make a decent living from for a couple of years at least.

This blog is going to document the process of producing that software from the initial research phases through design, coding and eventually the marketing and hopefully sale of the final product.

Why am I bothering to do this?

A couple of reasons, including

  • to keep myself honest. I'm going to be working primarily on my own here with no-one checking up on me so maybe posting here will hopefully provide me with some sense of accountability however flimsy that may be.
  • to possibly help those who may come after me. Whether it becomes an example of how to build a successful software business or a comedy of errors that run me into the ground hopefully someone will learn from my experiences.
  • to maybe receive some advice from others on the decisions I'm sure to face.
  • to maybe build some outside interest in a vapourware product in the hope that readers may one day purchase, recommend, or develop for the product.
  • Oh and I mustn't forget vanity.

So that's the rational behind this. I'll try to keep the vanity posts to an absolute minimum and instead post only substantive items about my progress, what I've learned along the way, mistakes I've made and the resources I'm using to help me.