Sometimes Developers Just Need To Be Licked
The following post originally appeared on http://developerjobresource.com.
I’ve been reading a book lately called The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz, and I totally recommend it. It’s very motivational. While there are newer editions, I suggest searching amazon zShops or ebay to get one of the old versions from 1959. It’s like stepping into a time machine.
Dr. Schwartz uses a lot of terminology that was probably hip with the youngsters of that time, and it makes for a very amusing read. He talks about the top salesman at the company making a whopping $25,000/year, while the other salesmen are only making $5,000. There is a lot of stuff like that in there.
The title of this post is referring to a quote from the book:
“Being licked is valuable if we learn from it.”
I know you probably came here thinking this was going to be a post about a programmer getting a good ol’ fashioned tongue bath (but really — why would you want to read about that?), but I urge you to stick around anyway.
Dr. Schwartz is using the term “licked” to mean “beaten up” or “defeated.” And I agree that there truly is value in being beaten, as long as you learn why you were beaten and keep trying your best.
One of my favorite quotes is by Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, who said:
“If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.”
I like that quote because I’ve at least tripled mine. Now let me pull back the curtain on my personal projects…
I wrote and self-published a book called Shove It FizzBuzz! How to Find and Land a .NET Development Job. I originally tried to sell it as part of a resource kit that included the ebook, a resume template, and interview preparation software for Windows.
Let me tell you — it was not a success.
I had no idea how much to charge for something like that. I tried $49, then $39, then $29, then $199 (as an experiment — raising the price to raise perceived value at a friend’s suggestion). I dropped the price to $19, then finally $9. I think I sold around 12 of them in a year at those various prices. (None at $199.) My only marketing was the occasional blog post and google ads, and most of the time I paid more out in google ads than I made in that month.
It was an extremely humbling experience for me. I had assumed that what I had created was great stuff, and that everyone would want it. (I still believe it’s great, but I know now that not everyone wants it.)
So, for a time, I gave up. I was discouraged. Then I started reading The Magic of Thinking Big, and a few other motivational books – Crush It by Gary Vee, The Traveller’s Gift by Andy Andrews, and I don’t know what happened, but a switch flipped inside me, and suddenly that fire in my belly was back, and now I can’t put it out.
I edited and rewrote portions of my book, added some new content, then self-published it through Createspace.com so that people could buy a physical paperback copy of the book if they wanted (it had been requested). I took the time to format it for the Kindle and used kdp.amazon.com to put it up for sale on amazon.com. I formatted it for the Nook (ePub) and used Smashwords to put it up on barnes & noble and some other sites.
I created a mobile version of my Interview Preparation software using PhoneGap and Sencha Touch, leveraging my existing web development skills so I could get it out more quickly.
And now I sit back and relax as the UPS guy delivers boxes full of money to my door.
Oh wait — that hasn’t happened.
Here’s the reality of what has happened though. I sold 12 resource kits the first year. I’ve sold 24 paperback books since May 29th of this year through Createspace alone. It’s still not great, but that’s twice as many as I sold the entire first year! I’ve sold 33 copies of the Kindle edition in the same time frame, and 4 copies through Smashwords (which means it might have come from barnes & noble or one of the other stores that offer it in ePub format).
My .NET Interview Prep app is only on the Android Market right now (it is finally “Waiting for Review” in the App store). It’s been in the Android Market since approximately August 1st, so it’s been about a month and a half, and it’s been purchased 55 times already. The free “lite” version with fewer questions was released on August 20th, and it’s been downloaded over 700 times.
Those are the facts. If you add all that up, factoring in the low cost of the Kindle version of the book and the mobile app, it’s not a lot of money, but I’m fine with that. It’s still a lot better than it was last year, and I’ve learned a lot from the licking I got. More importantly, I know there is still more to learn.
If you’re not failing regularly, you probably aren’t pushing yourself to experiment with new things. You don’t need to make big mistakes to learn from them; you can learn something from a simple syntax error in a line of code. I don’t know how often I’ve run into what seemed like a minor bug that turned into a much larger issue requiring a ton of research to figure out. I may have felt like my ass was kicked, but I also learned something; probably about regular expressions, as they quite often crane kick me into oblivion.