Pi of Life : Stepping Out of the Cubicle

cubicle

The ladder goes something like this : Software Engineer -> Senior Software Engineer -> Tech Lead -> Project Manager -> Development Manager -> Senior Development Manager -> Group Manager -> ok you get the idea, don’t you? Some even do the startup thing and get funky tags instead (this ‘whiz’, or that ‘guru’), or jump to being CTO!

But once in a while (and  more and more often these days) a techie decides to check out something else to do in life. Perhaps a sales role, or at least a marketing one (and perhaps even discovering in the process how they differ!). Possibly entrepreneurship. Maybe start a restaurant! Or get into design and creative avenues such as T Shirt design. Or organize events, start a travel portal, help create courseware, start a social enterprise, smarter stock trading, training people…there’s just so many things to do these days!

And of course, an engineer can do anything 🙂

Then comes the shock – otherwise known as the real world. What does that look like?

The world doesn’t just fall madly in love with a great product. There’s human Behaviour. Yes, it exists independent of technology, is often irrational – deal with it!

So you are a top coder. And built this fundamentally different to do list or social engagement analytics tool or mobile app to help optimize one’s commute/finances/whatever or distributed ERP on the mobile phone that will surely help small companies cut costs or a knowledge management tool with the best UI the world has ever seen. Why isn’t the world falling at your feet? Why aren’t people adopting what should be a no brainer?

The world will not adopt it because its good/awesome/logical/rational/cool/new.

You learn the hard way that technology is a tool for most people, and using one isn’t at the top of the list of things that occupies their lives and minds – there’s payments to collect, legal notices to handle, staffing issues, rentals, grocery lists, kids to be dropped at tennis classes, health checkups to be done – you get the idea. On top of that, you are one of many trying to catch their attention to use something that promises to improve or optimize their lives, finances, effectiveness, profits.

Just a good product isn’t enough at all. And nobody owes you “at least a trial” of yours.

Marketing/Sales is easy for “smart people”.

“Our company failed because of bad marketing”

How many times have you said that, or heard that, truly believing that if the folks over at marketing and sales were as smart as the engineers, they’d do a much better chance?

The rejection hits you the first time you try! “No” with no rational reason, not even a fair hearing is not something you’re used to. Impressing people with the tech awesomeness of your product still doesn’t get converts. Even media coverage that gets a nice happy spike in traffic does nothing to the topline, and certainly not to the bottom line. You had it all figured out when you planned the 1-2-3s of marketing, and had a focused approach to sales, but there are so many variables that are not under your control and the results and goals are still your responsibility. And slippage on the numbers or deadlines hurts much much more than it did when you were developing a product. That’s unfair!

And if you do not have the weight of a big brand, it gets only tougher. You cannot even find an audience most times, and people seem to be pointlessly rude!

There’s a whole new world of “smart” to discover.

Coding Solves Things? There’s more.

In my last startup, our approach to every problem was algorithms. Drop in traffic, upcoming alliance hopes with a big brand, and subsequent disappointment, monetization – each of these kicked off an all new feature/product/idea that would surely be accepted by all – how could it not?

We were just rushing right back into our comfort zone – especially post funding – when faced with any sort of a problem instead of actually figuring out what wasn’t working in the real world!

As you step out, staying away from your own comfort zone will be key cause it very easily blinds you. Many many problems need solutions other than what your earlier skillset could solve, so train yourself to keep an open mind.

If someone pays, they OWN you.

That’s how the real world works. “Its just Rs.49/-” is not enough reason for someone to not expect the world from your product. Hell, even consumers of free services expect service, support, quality as a birthright.

No, its not worth THAT much just because your last salary was $n per hour.

Angel investors are NOT keen on funding you so you can continue with your salary.

I’ve had folks discuss their business plans even as they’re just starting out, and factor in salaries close to their last CTC when figuring out how much money to raise!

Yes, your “market salary” was that high. But hey – the market just changed, and you got to first figure out how much this one can make you and support! Neither the customers, nor investors “owe” you that last number, and salaries are outcomes of businesses. That’s a big learning especially if you’re on your own.

If they don’t use it, they’re NOT dumb/stupid. Its YOUR fault.

Prospects who don’t “get it”. Resellers who mis-sell. Customers who download the app but never use it. Folks who would “be much better off” if they used your product or service but don’t seem to want to try it out. Life is full of them. Don’t get frustrated and even more so, irritated.

Its YOUR job to give them a reason to try it out, tools to do things better. This is getting repetitive, but seriously, nobody owes you anything 🙂

Yes its obvious to you. Not yet to the whole world.

Ah, jargon. Engineers practically live off it!

How can someone NOT understand how to upload their picture using that funky gesture driven uploader you just added? Its soooo obvious! How can they NOT see how semantic search improves their results for the less precise queries by an order of magnitude – and why do they insist on trying out the usual searches on this?

Your presentations, explanations, marketing, discussions, emails MUST keep in mind the audience they’re targeted at. People have different skills, understand the same solution at different levels for different needs. Talk to them about those needs, and then frame the detail around that without making assumptions about what is logical and left as an exercise to the reader. Its NOT obvious to everyone else.

Many people don’t know of or have to know of xkcd jokes.

Just like for jargon, be vary of popular references in communication that your audience might or might not be aware of. Nope, not everyone watches Start Trek, reads tech blogs. And apart from it being a pointless reference, you certainly do not want to be responsible for making anyone – especially customers – feel stupid.

Most users will never care about what language you coded it on.

Well, ‘nuff said 🙂

Entrepreneurship

This is the mother of them all.

All of the above, and a gazillion more reasons that bring uncertainty, doubt and fuzziness on a daily basis very quickly destroy the romance around “going independent” and “charting your own destiny”.

Like I tell many people, when you step into something you’re doing for the first time, two things are important.

1. Not to trust yourself too much on any point of view

2. Taking a call and backing yourself on it really hard

If that sounds conflicted, it is. And its surely a fine art.

Chew on it.

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