Tag Archives: SPARK

Non-technical sessions at the Java Posse Roundup

I decided to break out my summaries from sessions that I attended at the Java Posse Roundup into technical and non-technical sessions.  Last year, I don't recall going to many non-technical sessions. This year, however, I actually attended several, including:

  • Ten Mistakes Not to Make in a Startup
  • Hiring and Retaining Technical Talent
  • Creating a New Company Structure for Programmers
  • Organizing Community Based Conferences
  • Networking for Geeks

I enjoyed each of these sessions and learned something in each as well.  I hope that others blog about them as well, because I will confess to enjoying myself too much to take good notes in most of them!  And, of course, the Java Posse will release each of these sessions on the podcast, and I definitely think that they will be worth a listen.

In "Ten Mistakes", it became evident that a lot of the attendees have been involved in startups (and were OK about revealing battle scars). I thought that one thing that Joe Nuxoll said really nailed it.  He said something along the lines of each company crashing and burning and what a great experience it was.  I know that I learned a lot from crashing and burning in a startup.  For one thing, I really did learn to reframe risk taking.  When I was younger, startups seemed "risky" and I probably wouldn't have gone out on my own to consult.  But after my startup experience, I recalled that my dad's career job disappeared in the 1980's, and what he thought was stable for life was absolutely not that.  That sort of led me down the path to realization that in consulting, at least, *I* am in charge of my own destiny.  *I* know when there aren't contracts out there and it's *my* responsibility to do something about that.  As an employee, it's easy to become complacent, to think that the company is "stable" and will be there as long as YOU want to work there.  In fact, projects get cancelled all of the time, and departments go away.  As Barry Hawkins said (paraphrasing), "As a consultant, I'm very aware that I could be fired at any moment".  All of the decisions I make relate to that: the work that I take on, my savings, etc.  There's a lot of content in this session, and I definitely would urge people to listen to it when the Java Posse releases the audio for the session.

As a result of the "Ten Mistakes" session, I talked to Sean Landis and convinced him to convene a session on "Hiring and Retaining Technical Talent".  Overstock.com, where Sean works, has been hiring a lot of people, and this was an interesting discussion.  We talked a lot about how they hire (recruiters, online advertising, etc.) and contrasted that with how we hire (mainly word of mouth, user groups).     We also talked a lot about what it takes to keep employees happy, including compensation, training, flexibilty, etc.  Overall it was a great discussion, and at the end we tried to brainstorm a bit about what we COULD do rather than what we ARE doing.

 "Creating a New Business Structure for Programmers" was a brainstorming session convened by Bruce Eckel about how companies might organize to satisfy the needs of programmers.  I listened to "Representing the Socially Responsible Enterrpise (B Labs)" on Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast, while in transit to the conference, and while I don't know enough about it, it's definitely an interesting thought.  A lot of discussions centered around loose organization, for a particular job (akin to the Hollywood model for films). I didn't think of it at the time, but a few things came to mind later, like an organization that an Ann Arbor group put together: http://notanemployee.net/.

 From the time that I learned Stephan Janssen had signed up for the Java Posse Roundup, I started looking forward to talking to him about "Organizing Community Based Conferences".  For the past 7 years, Stephan has organized JavaPolis in Belgium. It has grown to over 3000 attendees, which really turned my head, considering that CodeMash (which I help organize) attracts 300-400 attendees and I find the organization pretty overwhelming.  What Stephan has done with JavaPolis is humbling.  We talked a lot about the different conferences and I asked a million questions about how Stephan accomplishes this feat.  I can't wait to listen to this session on the podcast since Stephan had a lot of great advice.  FYI, his lightning talk on promotional ideas for JavaPolis was amusing (albeit R-rated at times).

"Networking for Geeks" came out of both the "Ten Mistakes …" session and some work that I have been doing with Ann Arbor SPARK in terms of helping them figure out how to help the local tech community in Ann Arbor.  In "Ten Mistakes", Joe Nuxoll mentioned how he interacts with the venture capitalists in the Bay Area.  I just don't see that happening here in Ann Arbor.  I guess that there are people who do this, but I don't see it.  I elicited some giggles with my (typical) comparison of traditional networking events with speed dating.  Others weren't quite as repulsed by such networking events. Barry Hawkins and Joe Nuxoll reminded us that user group meetings are NOT networking. People go and listen to the speaker and a few people stand around in the back, talking afterward, but it's not networking. Barry has done something interesting with the Atlanta Java User Group, by inviting everyone to dinner across the street before the meeting.  Contrasted with providing pizza AT the meetings, which people pretty much agreed only brings in the "free pizza crowd", the people who show up to pay for their OWN burritoes evidently are interested in talking.  My husband tells me that a meeting at a brew pub is even more effective (he's held meetings at Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti and people tended to stay afterward for long discussions).  Interesting.  I'm going to have to think more about this. The Python User Group usually adjorns to ABC after meetings.  Maybe they're onto something!  Jim White proposed a technology solution for bringing in people who can't attend and also to attract a younger crowd.  I had a really hard time seeing his point, because for ME, it's all about personal connections with people, and I can't see how this can be effectively accomplished without that personal contact.  I'm on some social networking groups, but they generally only enhance my in-person contact rather than replace it.

Anyhow, I think that's it for the non-technical sessions that I attended.

Next up: technical sessions, including "Why is Agile Hard", "Future of Java", and "What's Scala Missing?".  Also, we video'ed all of the lightning talks and the Posse has promised to get them up on YouTube (along with a very amusing Crested Butte cross country skiing experience). 



New Office for SRT!

Big exciting changes for us

For nearly 8 years, Bill and I (and our consultants) have worked in a "virtual" office.  We've worked at client sites and in our home offices, and made extensive use of Skype and IM.  We've used space in coffee shops and at the Ann Arbor ITZone to meet one another and to meet with clients (or just to work in between meetings).  But, that is all coming to an end very soon.  We've leased space in downtown Ann Arbor, enough room for all of us to work.

We have actually been working on this project for a few months, since the ITZone/SPARK merger and new direction was announced (around May).  SPARK's focus is more on startups and venture funded companies.  That leaves small businesses who have a steady growth plan (and no interest in any sort of outside investment) sort of without a home.  It also left the area user groups looking for a new place to meet.  We had also been talking about more face-to-face time and searching for a way to make that happen, for a while meeting at the ITZone.

In a very cool convergence of minds, Bill and I realized simultaneously that we thought an office would be a good idea.  In the past, we have dismissed this idea.  Would either of us REALLY want to go to the office every day?  We're both pretty comfortable in our home offices.  But yes, we decided that we DID want that. We do want to spend time with other developers. We want that interaction and benefit that being able to bounce ideas off of one another can bring.

For years, we had hoped that the ITZone would offer this sort of workplace for small companies like ours.  We talked about how the space at the ITZone could be used as a "Developer Center", a way for people to come and work, maintain focus, pair program, and share insights and ideas. We talked about how this might help us to become "unstuck" when programming problems are vexing.

So, our motivation in getting office space was toward this goal of having this sort of interaction. We're thrilled with the caliber of people we have working with us.  These are people we learn from as well as them learning from us. Providing a space where that interaction can occur naturally and more frequently is really compelling.

And, of course, we strongly support the local user groups. We wanted a space that would provide a place that they could use for meeting space as well. We didn't tour available office space that didn't include a large, open area that could be used for this purpose as well as for our own public events.

Our new location at 206 S. Fifth, Suite 200 (that's just above the Linux Box, for Ann Arbor folks) met all of our needs. We signed the lease yesterday and we hope to move in sometime over the next month or so.  We'll let you know how our plans develop and we look forward to seeing you there!

Wireless Washtenaw on Wednesday

Wednesday, June 6 at 6:00, preceded by SPARK career event

The Ann Arbor Computer Society is presenting "Wireless Washtenaw" this week.  The meeting starts at 6 pm (with pizza) at SPARK Central, 330 E. Liberty (lower level), Ann Arbor, MI.

Preceding that event is a SPARK-sponsored networking and career event for software professionals.  If you're looking for a job, looking for employees, looking for coworkers, or just want to gauge what's up in the area in terms of employment, this is a good place to be.  It's free, and you can simply stay for the AACS meeting afterward (also free).