Startups in ‘new places’

May 24, 2011

In my last post about how companies don’t seem to be on the ‘Remote Work’ bandwagon lately, I mentioned all these startups that are buying office space to get started.

An interesting, if small aspect of that:  They aren’t “In the Valley”.

It used to be that all the startups were in Silicon Valley, with some smaller startup zones in other cities.  New York, Seattle, maybe DC.

And perhaps that’s one reason why the idea of remote work was so popular.  Lots of people didn’t want to move to these very populated and very expensive areas to work & live.   However companies wouldn’t get funded unless they were in these ‘hubs’ of activity.  The assumption being that they wouldn’t be as effective a company if they weren’t based in these brain hubs.

But here’s the interesting thing, I think perhaps one of the reasons why remote work, at least in the startup world isn’t as attractive as I’d expected at this moment, is that companies are appearing in non-traditional locations.

I’m not sure how much this is an indicator of VCs & Angels being more willing to fund people regardless of location, or just people trying desperately to break away from needing to move to the Valley.

But as I’ve been searching for jobs, I’ve consistently stumbled across numerous web startups looking to hire, that aren’t in the traditional locations.  They are spread across the map (speaking US-centric here).  These range from bigger cities: DC, Baltimore, Austin, Denver … down to places like the middle of Wisconsin, Michigan, Tennessee, Florida, etc.

It’s just interesting, that instead of keeping the ‘core’ of the company in the hubs and allowing remote work.  They are moving to smaller/cheaper places and then wanting everyone to move to them.  (Interestingly enough, which plays more into the assumption that all web types, are young, single, and able to relocate on will)


Where has all the remote work gone?

May 23, 2011

To continue my series chronicling my current job search, I come to this interesting observation:  “What happened to remote work?”

Back 2-5 years ago, Remote Work was the upcoming ‘killer feature’ of job listings.  The nature of ‘programming’ leads itself really well to remote work and that’s why I’ve worked remotely for the last 4 companies/positions that I’ve had.

Programming (and related tasks) tends to focus around semi-regular checkpoints (weekly, daily) where everyone needs to understand the tasks at hand and what they personally need to do.  But then those people need solitude to sit down and crank on actually producing the code.   It leads to the funny situations where in actual offices, everyone drives in, sits down in front of their computer, types for hours, all get up together in concert to head to lunch (organized by IM), then come back, sit in their cubes again for 4 more hours then go home.

Remote work was the perfect solution.  Not only does it VASTLY increase the pool of employees you can draw from.  But it allows you to save costs, you need far less (if any) office space which always comes at a premium.

But I digress, the main issue here is that back in 2008 when I was looking for a position, 80% of the positions I was running into were immediately OK with Remote Work.  Perhaps in many of those cases I’d be the only (or close to it) remote employee.  But they were perfectly OK with that, and had been talking about doing more of that to get the ‘right employees’.

Fast forward to today however, remote work has completely dried up.  Very few companies are open to it.  Even brand new startups, are immediately rushing out to buy office space and prepare themselves for an office full a people.  A massive outlay of money.   Suddenly for some reason, no one wants remote anymore.

The interesting twist is that more and more companies now are pushing ‘Telecommuting’.  But not remote.  That is to say, they are fine with the idea of someone who is only in the office a couple days a week, but that lives close enough to drive in for those days, and just works from home the other days.

The ones that are willing to discuss remote often end up wanting to treat it like a telecommute situation, where they want you to fly in on a very aggressive schedule, every other week perhaps for a couple days.  Or for a full week every 3-4 weeks.  And honestly that’s not being remote.  That’s an attempt to get the feeling of someone local and/or telecommuting.  That’s not embracing the benefits that remote employees can bring to your team.

Anyway, I don’t guess I have a witty end to this post.  I’m just surprised that we’ve moved backwards in these regards in the last 5 years.   5 years ago remote work was the future.  Today, it’s in the past.

There are so many tools & technologies that make working remote so easy and effective.  Yet for some reason, all the companies have decided that they need local people only now.


“The Web is New” syndrome

May 20, 2011

Following up to my last post about my job search, I’d like to touch on another interesting point I ran into during this round of job discussions.

I’m dubbing it: “The Web is New”

It’s hard to exactly put a finger on it, but basically, when looking for web work nowadays, there is this mentality that the Web is a new thing.  Invented just a few years ago.   Almost like the DotCom doom never happened and the web was invented since then.

This mentality doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a startup, or a big company.  The ‘Web Division’ has the same concept.

Not only is this somewhat shown in the topic of my previous post, where people are only looking to hire people with at most 5 years experience in the field.  But it goes deeper than that.  There’s essentially an assumption that everyone working on the web is a ‘young pup’, single, and always on the cutting edge of this ‘new thing’.

It can manifest in many ways, but often includes the idea of long hours, weekend work, low compensation, relocation not being a problem, etc.

It actually starts to make me feel out of place in this field almost.  I’ve been writing ‘Web Applications’ for 16 years, and people almost blink in disbelief when I mention that when discussion a job opportunity.   It seems to be, interestingly enough, that the ‘web’ industry never matured as it’s employees did the same.

I have to assume that most other ‘new industries’ had similar growing pains when they first existed, people just clamoring to be a part of it, and no one having experience in it, so everyone was on equal grounds.  But the industries then, 2 decades later, became more settled, more structured, more stable.

For some reason, this doesn’t seem to have happened on the Web.  Which leaves an interesting question.  Where are all the rest of the 16 year experience folks?  What are they doing?  Where have they vanished to, leaving all the young 20-somethings to fill the Web positions?

Why is, the Web still new?


Current State of PHP & Web Economy

May 18, 2011

So I’ve been on the job hunt since November when I got laid off from my previous position.  It’s been taking me a while, primarily because after having a number of jobs ‘in a row’, I’m really this time trying to find the ‘perfect’ fit.  A position that I’m going to stay in for the next 5+ years.   My next career, not just the next job position that sounds interesting enough to work on for a while.

The job hunt has come (essentially) to a close, and I’ll share more on that in the future.  But in the meantime I’m writing a series of blog posts here about this experience, and how the job landscape, for PHP specifically, has changed.

One thing that has surprised me, is how this particular job hunt situation is different from others that I’ve been on (unfortunately) over the last 5 years or so.   When Digg and I parted ways in July 2008, it seemed that the entire world was trying to hire experienced PHP Professionals.  There was no end to the number of positions that existed.  Everyone was hiring.

Fast forward to when Zend and I parted ways in the December 2009 / January 2010 timeframe.  The world had changed in those few years.  Suddenly noone was hiring.  Money was tight all over, hiring freezes were in effect.  Literally only a handful of positions were available to me (locally or remote).

Now, at the end of 2010/beginning of 2011, I’ve realized that things have changed again.

Actually numerous companies are hiring again.  It’s a glorious thing to see all the PHP jobs out there again.  But there’s an interesting catch now that didn’t exist before.  It seems that every single company, is hiring for the exact same position:  “PHP Programmer with 3-5 years experience”.  It’s uncanny how all these positions list exactly those same requirements.

Companies aren’t looking for more junior/entry level positions (not that this fact affects my job search).  But in talking to the companies, it’s that they just don’t see the ‘bang for the buck’.  They are hiring, but operating lean.  In that, they are seeing the 3-5 year experience person as the sweet spot.  Someone with enough experience that they won’t detract from the effectiveness of those around them needing to manage them.  Someone who can work independently.

But this leads into the other problem.  They also aren’t hiring for people that have more experience.  I walk in with 16 years of experience, looking for leadership positions, and they simply don’t exist.  Again this comes down to running lean.  They aren’t wanting multiple ‘cooks in the kitchen’ if you will, and they already have their Lead/Architect/Director/CTO/etc positions filled.   The words “Overqualified” have been stated quite often to me.

Even if I wanted to take the position at (much lower) salary than I’ve been making, the companies aren’t willing.  Because, perhaps validly, they assume that someone with 16 years experience isn’t going to be happy in a position with responsibilities designed for a 3-5 year person.


Baby Boomers & Millennials – What about Gen X?

March 24, 2011

Perhaps this revelation that I came to, everyone else realized a long time ago.  But while recently attending SXSW I was in the closing keynote, where the speaker was talking about the future.  Specifically about how the future was in the hand of the Millennial generation (roughly, those born 1982 or later), who are taking up the charge, “owning” Web 2.0, starting all sorts of new companies and overall driving society forward right now (at least technologically, according to this speaker).  He specifically said for the Baby Boomers to step aside, and to follow the lead of the Millennials.

Interestingly enough, I had just seen the documentary “Something Ventured”, talking about the ‘old way’ of doing business, and the first venture capitalists that started changing the rules of the game.

Oh, plus I’d attended some talks throughout the week that constantly spoke, of course being SXSW, of people founding companies, getting out there, taking risks, etc.

The thing that clicked to me, when in the closing keynote, was that at least from my own point-of-view, Generation X (that’s me) has been put in a slightly odd place.  At least in the industry that I’ve become connected with, that of ‘The Web’.

The Baby Boomer (and earlier) generations, were brought up with the mindset of finding a good company to work for, working long, moving slowly up the corporate ladder and eventually retiring.  I know that’s what my parents did, as did everyone else around me during that time.  In the documentary, there was this clear understanding (until it began to change, with the likes of Apple Computing), that people didn’t just go and found companies.  Or at least if they did, they were already well established in their field before they considered doing so.  Most of the people in that film that founded companies, had a lot of experience first, were older therefore and then went off to found a company as the next step for them.

Now, I think it’s safe to say, that almost every kid in college in a technical field (if not in high school), is firmly considering the idea of starting their own company with their friends as soon as they graduate.  It’s the ‘new way’ of doing business.

Which is where Gen X got left in an awkward state.  We had the rug pulled out from under us.  We were brought up with the world preparing us for ‘find a job, work your way up the ladder’.  Now suddenly the tables have turned, and we’ve spent so many years of our life doing that, trying to work our way up.  To realize that all the Millennials are just going out and starting their own companies, short-circuiting the process.

Basically we were born too late, to have lived in the world of ‘stability’.  We were born too early, to have been indoctrinated into a world encouraging risk early in your life/career.  Now we are all middle aged, with kids, families, commitments.  While millennials do exciting things that we wish we’d have had the ability to do when we were that age.  But noone was.

PS.  I wish the Millennials well, Please go out there and make amazing things!  I realize that this post may have sounded like a rant, or jealousy.  It wasn’t meant to be.  It was sadness inspired, I guess, at looking back and realizing at how the timing of life causes interesting side effects on it.


My take on the Mac App Store

January 9, 2011

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the newly released Apple Mac App Store. (Especially with the recent blow up about how GPL licensed apps conflict with the App Store restrictions, and therefore can’t live on the App Store). But that’s another story.

I wanted to give my own thoughts at the moment. Personally, as I started browsing through the store, I realized, that I really loved the idea of this. Primarily for two reasons:

  1. I’ve lost licenses in my day, and hate trying to keep the copies of software I own, in the versions I own, with the licenses I own, all organized, and then upon every new machine install, it’s a painful cycle of physical media swapping, installing, and digging for downloaded software through folders of junk.   The idea of a single place where all my updates are handled, my licenses are always carried/remembered, is a dream come true there.  (See caveats later)  Plus all of my dread of getting a new computer, or doing a fresh wipe/install would disappear.  As it would be a breeze to install a new computer, then go into the App Store and install everything.
  2. Looking in the store, you see tons of Apps that probably wouldn’t have ever existed before.  Having an easy path to create $1 to $5 small apps and games and directly sell them, is going to inspire creativity, just like it did on the iPhone.  For example you couldn’t find $5 games for the Mac in the past, and if you did, it was a painful process buying/installing them, and you always questioned their value anyway.

Now, as I say that, and bask in the glow … I think that the App store has a serious chance of completely flopping.  What?  Yeah, I do.  And it’s a case of the devil being in the details.

As it stands, there are a number of problems with the current setup, that actually could be painful enough to kill it, if Apple doesn’t move fast enough to ‘fix’ these.  And honestly, Apple isn’t known for moving fast in response to feedback.

So what are the biggest issues?  From what I can see, they are:

  1. For my utopia mentioned above to come true, everyone must be in the App Store.  As long as Apple has licensing restrictions that keeps some people out (GPL), then that can never be realized, and it can be a worse situation where some software you’ve downloaded/installed otherwise, and some via the App Store.
  2. There is a pain right now, because software you currently own, can’t be marked as owned in the App Store, and in turn follow it’s free updates path.  Worse, it’s broken, as in many cases it sees that you have the software installed, and it marks it as owned.  But it’s my understanding that updates won’t work, since it wasn’t installed by the App Store.  They need a way to clean this up.  Not only because of the current situation (as that will solve itself over time, as you keep buying newer versions in the App Store).  But also because of future situations.  What if someone gave you software (on a disc) as a present?  If everything you owned was via the App Store, and you couldn’t ‘sync’ that disc to the App Store, that would be a painful situation for you.
  3. Lack of ‘upgrade’ discounts.  In the current model of desktop software, people always go and create new versions of the software, and then offer a discount for people upgrading, versus new purchases, to keep their customer base loyal.   There is no way to do this in the App Store.   So if you have a new Major release, you only have 2 options.  Release it for free as an update, or submit it as a new app in the store (MyWidget v3), and charge a single set price.   There isn’t a mechanism to provide a discount if someone already owned v2.   This breaks the model that’s been used for over a decade in the software industry, and therefore is a major pain point I’ve seen discussed by software developers.   Apple really needs a mechanism to provide these verified discounts.

I’m sure there are more issues, but those are the big ones that I see holding adoption back at the moment.  We’ll see what the future holds, I’m optimistic, but Apple’s got some changes to be a-making.


    West Virginia is ‘Off the Grid’

    November 28, 2010

    I recently spent a week in West Virginia, my birthplace, for Thanksgiving. It’s actually the longest time I’ve spend in a ‘chunk’ like that in a while. At least, when there wasn’t other reasons for being in (IE, a relative in the hospital) that was vying for my time.

    Since I was just there for ‘vacationing’, and since I’m currently on the job hunt with people trying to get ahold of me … Just how deeply WV is ‘Off the Grid’ was driven home. I mean, I know that Internet & Cell access is going to be highly restricted when I go in. In fact I have troubles often explaining it to people, especially those that live in Cities and just can’t fathom the idea of not having signal 🙂

    But I ran into some bigger issues this time. Primarily based around the fact that the ‘world’ at large now, assumes that everyone has a high speed internet connection. So, at my mother’s house, she has dialup only (All that she can get, while she could have satellite internet, she can’t find anyone willing to drive out to her place to install it).

    Her dialup only connects at 26400 (Yes, 26kbps), because that’s all the phone lines there can handle. I’ve often went and browsed from there, and well knew the twiddle-my-thumbs version of browsing.

    But this time, it was worse. Far worse. Because every website in existence has gotten HUGE. I remember back in the days where modems were king, working at Hubble Space Telescope, where we made sure that every webpage we created, in total was under 35k. That included all HTML, Images, CSS, etc.

    Nowadays, well, the homepage of Amazon.com weighs in at 525k when I just checked. Walmart.com is 456k. And loading a gmail screen to check your email came in at 325k. Suddenly any browsing is extremely painful, sometimes downright impossible to do.

    This is made worse by the fact that since so much software assumes you have an internet connection, that it is wasteful with the bandwidth. I found that Firefox, Windows Update, and Java, were all trying to concurrently download updates to my mother’s computer in the background, while I was trying to just hit a few webpages to research something for her.

    It doesn’t help, that this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is no cell phone service at either my father-in-law’s house, nor my mother’s house. In fact, while as you travel to local towns/cities, you start to get cell phone service, and can at least make phone calls. Internet over cell is still lacking. Only in the biggest of cities, there does 3G exist. In even medium sized areas you’ll only have an EVDO connection. And I found the EVDO to be extremely spotty. The phone would often claim to have an EVDO connection. But quite often you’d never get a connection to anything.

    Overall, what’s my point? Not sure I really have one. It’s just that this trip specifically really brought home the point to me, of just how ‘off the grid’ WV has become. It’s so much more painful now, as the world becomes more and more connected, that the ‘gap’ in technology is becoming severe. 10 years ago WV was on ‘equal footing’ with the world when it came to the internet, since everyone was using a modem in the first place. But now with the world assuming high speed …

    WV is getting left behind, and disconnected.