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How To Become A Successful Software Engineer

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When it comes being great at what you do in life, there’s no real formula. Some people have that natural talent for something, and others just love it enough to dedicate the time to get better at it.

Regardless of how you ended up where you are, there is always room for improvement. I’m going to talk about some of the things that have helped me along the way become better at what I do: write kickass software. Realistically, you can substitute “Software Engineer” with your field and most things should still apply.

Now, in no particular order…

Don’t stop believing learning

Just because your schooling stops, it doesn’t mean you stop learning. You should be constantly learning. New technologies come out, new ways of thinking take hold, and new problems need to be solved. You can’t stagnate and keep solving new problems with old ways of thinking. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does end up being the best way to do it. Many times you have to explore new spaces and examine the problem from a different point of view to find a truly excellent solution.

Learning happens a number of different ways:

Read

Blogs, magazines, professional publications and journals, books, code, schematics, experiments, studies, whatever. Read as much as you reasonably can. Don’t limit yourself to one or two formats either. Don’t just read blogs. Grab a subscription to an ACM publication (Transactions on Software Engineering maybe), or whatever your field has for professional publications. Read actual books too. There is a lot of fiction being read these days, and with the explosion of blogs and online reading, physical non-fiction books aren’t as popular.1 Find the good ones in your field, and buy actual books (or Kindle ebooks) and read those too.

Conferences

Go to conferences if you can. It’s sometimes a big deal and can cost a good chunk of money to fly places and get hotel rooms, but it’s worth it. I haven’t even been to a software related conference yet, but I can already tell it’s worth it judging from the tweets, slides, videos, and simply all the people that attend. I always learn things checking out slideshare and vimeo after the fact, so it makes sense you’d learn even more (and have more fun) actually attending.

Professional development seminars

These are designed to help make you better at your job, and improve your career. In my world, they are usually a day or two, but can be multi-week things that cost lots of money. Check if your employer can help you out, because in the end, it benefits them too.

Learn from others

I sort of break this into a couple main parts:

Listen to criticism and feedback

If somebody rips on your code, design, solution, whatever, it is in your best interest to listen to them. It doesn’t mean you have to do what they say, but you at least listen to and analyze what they are saying. Their concerns might be completely legitimate, since they are looking at the problem and your solution through a different lens. They have their own view and are thinking about different things, and might see problems you didn’t.

Examine solutions to similar problems

Let’s say you decide you’re going to write a new source control system. You probably already have a lot of good reasons if you are doing this, but you’d be stupid if you didn’t examine how existing software solved the problem. Go read about git, mercurial and svn. See how they deal with merge conflicts, serving repositories, and keeping things fast. You can learn a lot by examining existing solutions.

Teach

I can’t find the quote, but it’s something relating to how you don’t truly understand something until you can teach it to somebody else. So teach!

If you love something, help other people learn about it. Convey what knowledge you have so that others can help solve problems and apply new technology to new problems. Teaching can take the form of giving talks at user groups, meetups and conferences, running formal classes at a site like codelesson, doing corporate training (like what Github offers), or even just walking a coworker through a piece of code you wrote.

Whatever format you choose, get out there and teach.

Love your job and work on stuff you care about

These two work in tandem. If you hate tax software, don’t work at Intuit. Pretty straight forward. You might say “but there’s no good software companies in my area!”

Move.

If you don’t like your job, don’t rule out relocating to get a job you will enjoy. If you can’t go to work and enjoy what you do, you might not have the motivation to work on your own stuff, since your day will be so depressing.

Think about it: if you hated MIPS assembly programming, and would never do it at home, why would it be acceptable to go to work every day and do it there?

Do what you love, and love what you do. No excuses!

Be consistent

I think consistency in how you carry and present yourself, online and off, is a big thing. It can encompass a bunch of things, from your dress (Steve Jobs is the ultimate in clothing consistency) to your coding and writing style.

As an example, I ensure that my avatar and bio is the same everywhere. Pretty much any site I’m on, you’ll be able to see my cartoonified self and that I’m (at the time of writing) a “Software engineer (EIT) in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.” I might leave the location out if there is another place to put location, but it’s there somewhere.

Writing style, dress, bio, attitude, and contact information are all things to keep in mind when it comes to being consistent. If you start giving out an email to be contacted at, keep using that email. If you are consistently a nice person on the net, don’t randomly jump out and be a dick somewhere.

Be consistent. It helps people remember who you are.

Be contactable

Living in a box sucks. If you want to move up in your career (this doesn’t mean climbing the corporate ladder), you are going to want to communicate with people in your field. Have an email and maybe a phone number on your business card. Use Skype for web calls. Use a contact form from Wufoo if you don’t want your email out in the open. But why not? Use Gmail and benefit from their spam filtering!

By being contactable, you’re making yourself available for teaching (“hey, how did you do this?”), job opportunities, and criticism, which as we talked about are all good things.2

Participate in the community

This is Why the Lucky Stiff.  He’s awesome. He did so much for the ruby community that when he dropped off the internet, people stopped what they were doing to pick up where he left off, and take over maintenance of the the things he was involved in.

If he just sat at home and kept his stuff to himself, he wouldn’t be nearly as awesome.

If you’ve got cool code, show it to people. If you did something cool in your field of work, show it off and teach others how you made it.

Participate in forums, user groups, IRC channels, webinars, and Twitter discussions. Get out there and start talking to people, on and off the web. Go to conferences and get in on hack nights, and find people to go to lunch with.

Crazy and interesting things can come out during lunch.

Practice your trade (code) for fun

If you’re not coding at home, for fun, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t give me crap about I-don’t-have-time. You do, you’re just not managing it properly. Scott Hanselman has two kids and he still programs the crap out of things. If all the programming you do is at work, and you legitimately don’t want to program when you get home, see the section “Love your job and work on stuff you care about”?5

This goes past programming too. If you’re an electrical engineer and a guitar player, make a guitar amp. If you’re a carpenter, make a badass swingset for your kids.

Just work on something that you want to do at home. If what you want to work on is what you’re doing at work, then make like The Eagles and take it easy.

Get shit done

This is from Joel Spolsky. If you’ve ever seen a job posting for Fog Creek Software you’ll see they really only care about two things: smart and gets things done. If you are those two things, it doesn’t really matter if you are a python/django guy or gal, and they need somebody to work on their Wasabi based application; you’ll pick it up pretty quick. It’s sort of like going to work for a different carpentry shop and they say “hey, I know you’re used to red hammers with leather grips, but here’s a blue hammer with a badminton style grip.” The language is basically just a tool, and if you’re a smart cookie that doesn’t screw around, the tool doesn’t really matter.

Stay organized

Use a todo list or go farther and subscribe to the GTD philosophy. I tried the GTDthing, and I still sort of use parts of it, but I cram things into Remember The Milk to keep track of things I need to do, or want to do at some point. This gets things out of your head, and into something where you don’t have to think about them all the time. I also use bug trackers to keep track of specific things on specific software projects I’m working on.

Cut your losses

I know you might want to push through on something, but some things just aren’t worth doing or finishing. I had wanted to do a Gravatar clone using Rails 3 as an example application for when it first came out. It wasn’t set in stone, just something I thought would be cool. But then Rails 3 was out, and I got sidetracked doing other things, and now it’s taken a bit more hold. Me spending time on that application would kind of be a waste, considering Rails 3 has been out for a while, and my blog is also Rails 3 already. If an item has been in your todo list for a long time (maybe it was just a random thought), consider whether or not it still needs to be in there instead of just doing it. This also applies to things you’ve started, but have fizzled out. If it’s not exciting or relevant anymore, scrap it and work on something fresh and awesome.

Be asynchronous

This one is weird, but I wanted to talk about it anyway.

Actually use todo lists and RSS feeds. Like email, these are asynchronous systems. You send an email, subscribe to a feed, or write down a todo item, and you don’t worry about it too much anymore. Sure, you check your email the next day or read your feeds before bed, but you don’t have to keep checking a website for new content or be sitting staring at the “John is typing…” text on Skype. You can dedicate time to dealing with things, write them down when you think of them, and deal with them in the time you’ve set aside. The more you can get out of your brain into some other system the better. This allows you to focus on the task at hand. Later, when the time comes to deal with email, or read feeds, you can focus on that.

These are some things that apply more to computer related fields , but I list them because they’ve really helped me out.

Get a Kindle

Seriously. This thing is awesome. It’s beautiful to read, you can send other documents to it and have them converted (professional journal style papers in PDF form convert very nicely) for easy reading. The battery lasts forever, and Amazon’s book selection is great. If you do a lot of reading, you need a Kindle. It’s only $139!

Use Google Docs

All the little PDF whitepapers, ebooks, PDF manuals, everything I find on the net (reading or reference wise), goes into Google Docs. It’s a great office suite of tools that works the same on all systems, so you don’t have to deal with “oh I saved it on my Mac and now I’m on Windows” crap. It just works. Files are safe on Google’s servers (I feel great about that, but you might have other opinions about keeping things in Google’s system), and it’s completely searchable. It’s not only limited to the office suite things either. I store PDFs, important archives, or really anything that I want to be safe and accessible.

It might not be the most useful thing in the world for you initially, but definitely check it out.

Boom

That’s it. Those are all the secrets. Well they’re not really secrets, but I think they’re going to help me do great things in the software world. Maybe they can help you too.

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About the Author

This article was written by Daniel Huckstep of Verbose Logging. Daniel is a software problem solver in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He enjoys all kinds of programming, even assembly. see more.

Entrepreneurship

Why Angel Investors are Shaking Up the Global Startup Scene

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Candace Johnson is someone who has made a global impact on our modern international telecom and broadcast business. She co-initiated the foundation of SES-Astra and SES Global, which today owns a fleet of 54 satellites and broadcasts 6500 TV channels. And she founded the world’s first Internet-based online service, Europe Online, making it into one of the first broadband Internet services.

But it was in her role as president of EBAN, the European trade association of several hundred business angels, which brought her to Eindhoven’s High Tech Campus recently. She explains why angel investors are making a difference to the global start-up scene and explodes several myths that surrounds the way they do business. She spoke with StartupDelta’s Jonathan Marks.

Building the match between angel investors and hardware startups

“People often think that angel investors are people who do investments around the corner, locally, or in services like e-commerce. To be frank, when the HTCE management told me that they were focussing on the hardware side of things, I was thrilled.”

“What I’m trying to do as President of EBAN, and having incubated MBAN (MENA Business Angels Network) and ABAN (African Business Angels Network) under my presidency, is to extend the scope of angel investments. The vast majority of angels are already tech savvy. But we need to educate our successful angel investors to invest more in hardware and infrastructure. We also need to help start-ups develop a pitch that speaks to the interests of angels, so they can get funding for their initiative.”

“We run the EBAN Training Institute with the goal of raising standards. We’re seeing more and more that the best angel investors are serial entrepreneurs. They bring their trusted network, expertise and experience to the table.”

“Money is important too, but it is not at the top of the list. Business angel investors are high net worth individuals who usually provide smaller amounts of finance (€25,000 to €500,000) at an earlier stage than many venture capital funds are able to invest. They are increasingly investing alongside seed venture capital funds.”

Angels are more important than most people know

“We follow the guidelines and standards developed by the European Venture Capital Association. For over seven years, during the depths of the financial crisis in 2008 until the recent recovery started, it was the angel investors who took over the role of early stage financing. More than €7.5 billion are being invested annually in Europe, with a sustained growth in recent years. Of that €5.5 billion comes from angels. In fact we have had to professionalize our profession to meet the demand of the growth in this early stage ecosystem.”

We always have an exit strategy

“Angel investors can only continue to invest if they have exits. I hear many people talk about investing. Only a few discuss exits. I want to change that. I also stress that proven entrepreneurial success is essential in order to become a member of our association. We need to ensure that useful “lessons learned” are shared with the start-ups. They are always based on hands-on real-world experience. We have no time for people who are using new blood to try and correct mistakes they made in their own failed companies.”

“EBAN was started in 1999 together with the European commission. For the first ten years, I think people were too focussed on the investing part. Now we need to focus on exits and returns on investment. Without returns, business angels are out of business. And remember there is only a short window of opportunity during which start-ups can scale-up to becoming global success stories”.

“Our feeling is that you should not make an investment in a company unless you can see the path for the exit. The exit may be a trade sale, an IPO, etc. The exit also does not have to be 100 %. It does, however, have to bring you a return on your investment so that you can continue to invest. This approach helps you focus on building great companies. There’s always competition in healthy markets, so no-one can afford to waste time. We’re not a charity; we’re doing this because we love building and financing global success stories. We’re therefore looking for companies with a real marketable product, not a prototype or a collection of well-presented ideas.”

Is there specific advice you can share with high-tech startups?

“In the last few years we’ve seen the rise of the accelerators alongside incubators. They have helped raise standards because a good idea needs to be validated by the market before it is the basis for a high-growth company.”

“As investors, we always need to see a start-up demonstrate that they have first clients and initial revenues. We’re not saying that they have had to scale or show market traction. But if we are going to put in our personal money, then we expect the founder to be resourceful enough to work out the first product, to have found the first clients and show us evidence of the first revenues.”

“The incubators who help get an idea into reality and the accelerators have been good at making startups better prepared for angel investment, offering the right coaching to turn an idea into a validated business. That means angel investors are better able to select the growth companies and focus on making a good return on their investment.”

Hanneke Stegweg

“We recognise that young companies need to present their business proposition to the angels attending our annual conference. So we’ve created ways that teams get immediate, honest feedback on the quality of their business presentation. We have one full day of preparation and coaching followed by a Global Investment Forum. The best go on to pitch to the entire network. This year, the “company to watch” category was won by Hanneke Stegweg, who is the Dutch CEO of the iLost company. Together with Neelie Kroes, I am keen to see more women founders lead entrepreneurial teams.”

What needs to change for things to move faster?

“We held this year’s EBAN congress in Eindhoven at the recommendation of several members. They all work in the innovation and financing of innovation field. But this region also came up in our discussions with StartupDelta. We have worked closely with Neelie Kroes when she was with the European Commission.”

“We were tipped off to the High Tech Campus specifically by our Russian members: the Russian Business Angels and the Skolkovo Foundation who are building the Skolkovo science park just outside Moscow.”

“And last, but not least, I know Eindhoven from my work in telecommunications and broadcasting hardware field. We often came here to work with Philips on the establishment of the DVD and MPEG-4 standards.”

“During our visit to the Brainport area it was clear that there is more than enough money in the region and a healthy appetite to invest in innovation. But there are some caveats that we feel need to be addressed.”

“Frankly, I think we are rather tired of the “nice-to-have” e-commerce companies. We would prefer to reinvest in world-class companies who are building something tangible, solving a real-world challenge. They need to demonstrate they can scale and become global.”

“We can see that the efforts by many have helped to raise the bar in the Netherlands and that’s good news for everyone. But remember there is a difference between entrepreneurs and SME’s. Entrepreneurs are the only ones to change our world. They create large companies, worthwhile employment, and that grows into large revenues.”

Failure is not an option

“We should get rid of this talk of failure being an option. If you’re taking angel money, it is NOT OK to fail.”

“If you take third party money, you have a responsibility as an entrepreneur to do everything you can to make a return on the investment of your business angel. The media keeps talking about friends, family and fools. But that’s nonsense! Founders, families and friends build great companies!”

“I have always been a free marketer at heart. Europe and The Netherlands need to create nations of investors. I believe in the power of private sector-led investment. Government needs to follow the leads set by business angels, not the other way round. We are investing our own money and using our years of experience to scale up these companies. An entrepreneur who is not willing to work and dedicate her or his lives 24/7 to achieve the goal should look elsewhere for money!”

“We’re fortunate that the EBAN network acts as a magnet for excellence. We were honoured to have the President of the European Research Council and the Head of Technology Transfer of the European Space Agency address our Congress to show us where the technology trends are going and where we should invest.”

“From a venture and entrepreneurial financing perspective, we were most grateful to our colleagues from the United States who joined with our European, MENA, and African colleagues to set the bar high in creating, building and financing global success stories. Amongst those joining us in Eindhoven from the United States were the president of the Global Accelerator Network from the USA, the president emeritus of the Angel Capital Association of the USA, the President of Start-Up Angels and Board Member of Up Global from the USA. We also welcomed the President Emeritus of the Crowd funding association of the US as well as the chairman of New York Angels. And we were delighted with the presence of David S. Rose, the president of GUST.com. These are some of the world’s best experts in angel investing.”

“They all said they were pleasantly surprised by the high standard of the startups that came to Eindhoven from all over the world. It was well above what they had expected. Start-ups from Africa, Middle East and Europe traditionally explain what they do, rather than explaining to investors why their idea is important. But that’s changing rapidly for the better. Entrepreneurs are also getting better at defining what they need in order to scale-up.”

NEXT STEPS : It’s all about active networking

“I should explain that in expanding our reach in Europe, with have formed alliances with the European Space Agency and the European Research Council. They also have their own accelerators and incubators. I think the onus is on the angel investor community to help bring this scientific community to a higher level of entrepreneurship. They need to think about the market for their inventions from the beginning. I believe we can help these organisations filter out the very best ideas and give those the attention they need to scale ideas into real businesses. There needs to be a validated market need for the technology they are developing.”

“We have two main events. There is the annual EBAN congress, this year in Eindhoven and next year in Porto, Portugal. And we run the EBAN Winter University, this year running from November 17–19th in Copenhagen. We’re doing this with leading organisations active in Europe’s creative industries. And all this is in addition to individual events and competitions organised by EBAN members at a local, regional and national level.

Increasingly we’re assembling cross-border syndicates, both between European countries and increasingly inter-continental networks linking Europe with innovation hubs in Africa, Middle East and North America. As companies scale and go global, it is important they have access to an international shareholder network. It’s a softer landing when they cross continents.

We also believe there is a way in which we can build partnerships with techno-business parks around the globe, led by the flywheel initiatives shown by High Tech Campus Eindhoven over these very fruitful days in the Netherlands.

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About the Author

This article was written by Jonathan Marks, Executive Director at Photon Delta. See more.

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Entrepreneurship

Myths & Facts about Entrepreneurship

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Today, there is a pervasive and nearly deafening mantra insisting that you quit your job and become an entrepreneur. The collective says you should do it today because every day you wait brings you closer to a life of poverty and regret.

A central theme in the entrepreneurial world is challenging the status quo and questioning conventional wisdom in search of new and better ways of doing things. If you’re just going to follow the pack, you may as well just get a real job and call it a day.

Entrepreneurship can be incredibly rewarding. Starting your own business may be the best decision you ever make. But it’s not for everyone. There’s a lot to consider before you take the plunge and a lot of myths to expose, starting with these.

Let’s take a glance at some of the Myths of entrepreneurship:

1. You’ll be Happier

Entrepreneurship can be incredibly rewarding. Starting your own business may be the best decision you ever make. But it’s not for everyone. There’s a lot to consider before you take the plunge and a lot of myths to expose, starting with these.

2. You’ll have more freedom, control and work-life balance

If you’re on your own, chances are you’re going to find yourself wearing all sorts of hats and working 24×7 for a very long time. Work will become your life. There’s nothing wrong with that, but not everyone feels more freedom and control that way.

3.You’ll be more fulfilled

Do we know what just about everyone loves to do? Great work that accomplishes goals they can be proud of. One can do that working for a big company, a small company, or their own company. Fulfillment has nothing to do with business ownership. If one wants to manage, lead, or run a business, it’s better off learning the ropes in a good company before starting your own.

4.There are no jobs; technology and outsourcing killed them all

It is shockingly untrue. If technology destroyed jobs, then which one will you call the most lucrative and fastest-growing industry on the face of the earth.That’s right: technology. If you can’t find a job, chances are you lack in-demand skills or education, in which case, yes, you might want to consider starting a small business which does not require much of exclusive skill sets in particular.

5.Entrepreneurs Live a Glamorous Lifestyle

That’s again untrue. Most entrepreneurs do not live a glamorous lifestyle; if they do, their investors should cringe. Entrepreneurs are notoriously frugal, hard working and opportunity-obsessed with little time for outside activities. These qualities are not hallmarks of the glamorous life.

Now,Let’s look at some of the facts of entrepreneurship.

  1. Most successful entrepreneurs succeed by exceptional execution of ordinary ideas: See Jiffy Lube, Starbucks and Charles Schwab.
  2. Most successful entrepreneurs concentrate on minimizing risk rather than taking huge risk at the time of starting their companies.
  3. Successful entrepreneurs use their innovative passion in many ways, such as buying companies, creating new ventures within larger companies and re-strategising nonprofits.
  4. More than 80 percent of new ventures are boot-strapped from personal savings, credit cards, second mortgages and the like. The median start-up capital is about $10,000. Waste Management began with a single truck; Sam Walton started with $5,000. So, in short access capital is not required to startup.
  5. Being first to execute well and delight customers is not at all important for success. A lot of startups have entered quite late in a particular startup industry and have done well.

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About the Author

This article was written by Utkarsh Sharma.

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