Thursday, January 19. 2012
It's hard for a web consultancy to be exciting. It really is. 9 days out of every 10 are spent working hard on some project that most of the web doesn't care about nor should they. A hotel website, some internal analysis tool for a big company you don't know, a cool start-up that never made it; the centre of your world is the edge of everyone else's.
Eoghan named the company Contrast, because he wanted it to stand out. To be different. The hint is in the name. We tried our best to make it one of the few companies that make people sit up and take notice.
From time to time we achieved it. Exceptional is, today, a hell of a product. Qwitter was represented the best and worst of a halloween firework, amazing for brief moments, and over too soon. I still believe that TaskFive was genuinely ahead of its time, the popularity of apps like Trello and TeuxDeux prove this, to me anyways. I'm particularly fond of the blog itself. We saw it grow slowly but strongly over the years, as more and more of our heroes seemed to read and link up our writing. I still smile today when strangers tell me they read our writing.
Like every consultancy we spent 9 days from every day 10 with heads down, stressing over day to day stuff like like open projects, clients, accounting, etc. What made it rewarding for us was day 10. We always made that one count.
Enjoy the journey, because it doesn't end
If I was to offer some advice in the midst of this nostalgic stream of consciousness, it would be this. No one gives you free time in a consultancy. There will always be some drama, some open bug, some angry client, some sale call to make. If you want free time you have to take it yourself. Start with one day a month where the only project is "Let's do something cool that other people can't do". Make it a Saturday if you have to.
Give your employees an invested interest in the success of the company, it'll be the best money you'll ever spend. Never keep a "hopes and dreams" whiteboard, it'll only remind you what you can't do right now. Above all, have fun or go home. There is rarely an 'exit' in a consultancy. There's no "just two more years and we're there". You'll never be there. There is no "there". Don't fool yourself with lies like "we're just going through a busy period" or "it'll be easier next year". It won't. Of all the things I've learned from Eoghan through the years, this one resonated most:
How you do anything is how you do everything.
If today sucks, change today. Don't wait for the mythical "break in-between projects". Things are the way they are, because you let them get that way. If you're not going to change, then it'll only get worse. It's easy to write this in retrospect, in reality it took us a while to grasp it. Never be afraid that you'll go out of business, be afraid that you'll stay in business and never enjoy a second of it.
As many wise folks noted in one way or another, success isn't a destination, it's just a way of travel.
Roam, if you want to
Contrast took us around the world, Berlin, Munich, London, Brighton, Edinburgh, Atlanta, San Francisco, Jacksonville, New York, and others I'm forgetting. People handed us microphones and sat back to hear what we had to say. Exciting times. Through Contrast we've made many great friends in Dublin and around the world, and I've personally had the pleasure of working with lots of great people, Eoghan, David, Ciaran, Darragh, Walter, Paul, David, Ben, and Kevin.
As the saying goes, Starting a business is like jumping out of a plane and then working out how to parachute on the way down. I like to think that we worked it out eventually, and landed successfully.
Contrast has been the best preparation I could have asked for. It's like an MBA except I'm not in debt and I had great fun doing it. I fully agree with what Eoghan wrote in the letter on contrast.ie. Consulting is tough going, it's not for everyone, but it's an amazing education.
Now we're doing it all over again with a new company. Intercom. And this time it's going to be different.
Different like last time.
Thanks for reading, and for all your continued support over the years. Here's to the next ten.
Thursday, August 25. 2005
Alright, time for another book review. This post will be discussing Pauls Grahams book, Hackers and Painters. Paul Graham is a rich man, famous for an impressive start up company (Viaweb) and some outrageous and offensive quotes such as...
Continue reading "Hackers and Painters"
Tuesday, July 26. 2005
I still frequently get emails from people who I don't know saying "Thanks for your Latex template", which is always nice to hear. It also reminds me that I should probably post the materials here, so that google will find them a bit easier. (Currently the only way to find them is through the Minds events page)
I've always found it funny how in our CSSE degree your final year thesis accounts for 25% percent of your final mark, but it evaluates students on material that the course simply doesn't cover, namely
Code Quality, and System Design always seem to play second fiddle to a thesis jam packed with internet quotes, often I have seen good projects score poorly, and weak projects score average. It just doesn't seem right to me. That said, I think the whole thing should be done away with. If I had my way your "thesis" should result in a 6-8 paper in the following manner...
If your project was science based then you would do it in an academic style (E.g. 2 column, graphs, Addressing research questions etc). The emphasis would be on data gathered, results, significance etc. There would be little concern about system design, as thats not what you are selling yourself on.
If your project was a Software Engineering one (i.e. one with an end product, either finished or prototype) then you effectively write a whitepaper complete with pretty screenshots, and promoting all the features and also explaining the internal architecture of the system with appropriate diagrams. You would also be expected to supply your source tree/ testing data etc.
But I originally wanted to mention my scientific writing webpage. It can be found here: www.minds.may.ie/~dez/latex/ It contains rough instructions for installing latex, it also contains a sample thesis file, and some handouts on scientific writing. All in all its a pretty good deal I'm not gonna go into why you should use LaTeX. I believe it to be better. I am most certainly not alone. If you're really interested in Why, leave a comment, I don't want to litter the weblog with anti-Microsoft Word sentiments, its a decent enough product.
Monday, July 25. 2005
I have just finished reading a book compiled, edited and introduced by Joel Spolsky and released by Apress. "The Best Software Writing I" is a collection of some of the best articles on software development, and management written on various weblogs over the past few years. Joel expects it to become a frequent enough release, so it should be a series worth looking out for.
Borrowed from brevity.org, here is a list of all the articles you will find in the book. I am presuming that since these originated on the web, and are still available that I amn't infringing anyones rights by linking to them.
There are some very good articles in there, and some very funny ones. If you're not the sort of person who reads books, then at least grab a couple of the titles above that interest you and scroll through them. There really is some good stuff there.
Also, I have realised that some of my non-nerd friends read this blog, so for those I would recommend the two cartoon articles, "Award for the Silliest User Interface ", and "Excel as a database", as the "jokes" there can be understood by anyone.
For the nerds/developers I'd recommend "Great Hackers" by Paul Graham, and "Starbucks Does Not Use 2-Phase Commit". They are both pretty insightful. Also, if you read and enjoyed this book, then Joels other software book "Joel On Software" is a must read.
Finally, for anyone who intends to release software through the web (either commercial, or GPLed) please read "Closing the Gap 2", as it hits the nail on the head. Think about it this way: If getfirefox.com required you to fill out a registration form, or provide an email address before you could download the browser would it still have reached 25 million downloads? Doubtful.
In closing, www.bookpool.com are offering 50% off Apress books, which is well worth looking into. (Thats where I recommend you purchase this book, Click on the image to be taken there) Also, another handy link is The 46 Best Ever Free Utilities for Windows)
Friday, July 22. 2005
Ubuntu is a great desktop operating system. You can learn about it here: http://ubuntu.com/ If you are interested in giving it a whirl, the good people will even post you a CD, visit http://shipit.ubuntu.com if you are interested in that.
However Ubuntu is somewhat restricted in the sense that every single piece of software they ship is 100% free in all senses. So as a result, you can't do certain things such as play mp3s, watch dvds, see flash animations and the like. These are restricted formats. So, I've deduced a couple of commands to install all the necessary plugins/software you'll need. I'll make it easy to copy and paste them.
Part One: Unlock the extra repositories
Read this article. If you are having trouble with this bit, mail me or ask on the ubuntuforums. Its not too tough, just deleting a few # symbols.
Part Two: Run this command
Run the following command, and then sit back and have a cup of tea,
sudo apt-get install flashplayer-mozilla gftp gstreamer0.8-plugins gstreamer0.8-lame gstreamer0.8-ffmpeg w32codecs libdivx4linux lame sox ffmpeg mjpegtools vorbis-tools libdvdcss2 mplayer-386 mplayer-fonts mozilla-mplayer gnomebaker xfonts-intl-european gsfonts-x11 msttcorefonts xfonts-intl-phonetic reaplayer sun-j2re1.5
This will take a while, some of this will be installed from the CD , the majority will come from the net. On a fast conection e.g. not dialup it takes about 10 minutes.
Part Three: Tidy UpRun the following commands and sit back, they just just tell you computer about your new plugins and fonts
And delete the <!-- at the start , and the --> at the end , leaving you with the following...
Part Four Log Out, and Log In
This isn't really necessary , but its the easiest way to tell everything to update itself. You should now be able to play dvds, burn dvds, listen to mp3s, see all the different fonts, watch flash, and watch mpegs etc. All done!
Before the Windows boyz come dissing, let me just point out some things that base windows installs can't do.
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My name is Des, I'm the UX Lead and COO of Intercom, a fantastic CRM & messaging tool for web sites and web software.