The care and feeding of successful crowdfunding backers

I have run several successful Kickstarters, and this list applies to all crowdfunding campaigns after they’ve succeeded and before you’ve fulfilled the rewards.

LadyCoders 2012
Volney’s Ruins 2014
Women In Tech: The Book

I have completely fulfilled the rewards for the LadyCoders Kickstarter, but the other two are still in process. It’s tough to think of what to send to people after the Kickstarter has succeeded. The Volney audiobook and the Women In Tech book tend to be “Yup, still working” kinds of updates, and I’m never sure what will be a good way to continue to communicate gratitude and inclusiveness.

I try to show people what it looks like to work on these projects. Recently, I did an update that showed me and one of my co-authors working on writing the Women In Tech book with a selfie of the two of us. On the Volney audiobook, I shared some tutorials and audiobook processing tips I’d learned, as well as the somewhat frustrating knowledge that some of the work I’d done needed to be re-done to fix some of the sound issues.

Here’s some ideas for what to share with your backers when all you can think to say is “Yup, still working.”

  1. 60-second selfie video talking about something that has frustrated you in the process, or something you just recently learned about the process.
  2. 3-5 minute video tutorial on something you just did that might be interesting to your backers. If you just learned something about the process, talk about it.
  3. If you have people working on the project with you, interview one of them on video for a minute to talk about what their portion of the process is like.
  4. A photo of you working on the project, and the funnier and more lifelike the better.
  5. Reposting some of the resources you have used to create something. I repost some links on audiobook production and talk about the best resources I found.
  6. A picture or quick video of you using, playing with, or trying out the incomplete product or prototype, along with a rapid update on how the process is working.
  7. A Buzzfeed-style list of the top ten things you didn’t know before doing this project.
  8. A guest backer update from a new person. I may ask for some of the people involved in the publishing process for my book to write a paragraph or two on what it’s like working on book publishing.
  9. I’ll keep adding ideas to this, because I’ll want them myself again! Please offer suggestions and new backer update ideas!

    Cross-posted to Medium.

Tell your Women In Tech story in our Medium channel!

I had a stunning number of women volunteer to write chapters for Women In Techthe book we just kickstarted. I think somewhere around 150 women volunteered at last count, and I keep getting emails! I was honored and thrilled that so many women wanted me to help them tell their story, and I’m so proud to announce now that we’re launching a Medium channel to provide a platform for women to tell their stories in the same way that Brianna, Keren, Kristin, Angie, Kamilah, Miah, Katie, and I are. If you write a great story, you may get an email from me about future work 😉

We’re also looking for a publication editor on an ongoing basis, so please let me know if you’re interested in helping women tell their stories!

HOW TO SUBMIT:

If you’re interested in telling your story, I have to make you a writer for the publication. Send me an email with your Medium username so I can add you, and then I’ll have you submit your essay to https://medium.com/stories-from-women-in-tech/submissions! I’m a little new at this Medium thing, so if you have any issues submitting your essay, just email or tweet me and I’ll get you fixed up.

If you follow this structure, more or less, you’ll get to the heart of your life and experiences. Vary or change this any way you see fit; this outline is just intended to give you a place to start.

  1. Growing up
    1. Where were you born?
    2. What was it like growing up as you?
    3. What is your family like?
    4. When did you start to have an interest in tech?
    5. Did you go to college? What did you major in?
  2. Early career
    1. Did you start out in technology? 
    2. How did your career start to grow more and more aligned with what you’re doing now—or did it?
    3. What early lessons did you learn as you started working in all your different jobs that helped teach you what you needed to know to get where you are?
  3. Now
    1. What are some of the times that you felt that you couldn’t keep going on?
    2. What made you push through?
    3. Are you happy doing what you do?
    4. Why?
    5. What will some of your next goals be?
    6. What do you do to help others succeed and what are your passions involving mentoring and volunteering?
  4. Reflections
    1. Is it possible for others to do what you did?
    2. If you could go back and change anything, would you—and why?
    3. What do you wish people knew about you that they don’t?
    4. What do you hope telling your story will accomplish?

Thoughts

  • Liberally sprinkle this whole essay with examples that focus in on how you felt at times when you were at decision crossroads and what made you make the choices you did.
  • Do not let your own modesty stop you from talking about yourself. Talk about yourself and your accomplishments instead of doing a general critique of the system.
  • Think of this autobiographical essay as an explanation of how you got where you are now. This is a moment to show what you did, not tell others how to replicate what you did. Huge numbers of women in tech (including me) did not have a computer science degree and came into tech through a side door faced with difficult decisions, self teaching, and life-altering moments. 
  • This is only about you, your story, and how other women can see possibilities for themselves through your story. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. I can’t wait to hear from you!

From Engineer To Executive

I recently did the keynote talk for the Puget Sound Python users group, and while it wasn’t filmed, I had a couple of requests that I post the material somewhere. Here you go!

Going from an engineer to someone who can manage people and execute on the company vision takes a commitment to changing yourself, changing your environment, and changing how you relate to others. There are three key areas that I had to work on and will be striving towards for the rest of my life. They are: (1) your people skills, (2) a will to change, and (3) your support network.

First, let’s take a look at people skills. You need to lose your contempt for interpersonal skills. You may be one badass engineer, but if you cannot communicate your purpose and assign tasks to your subordinates in such a way that they’re enthused about the tasks you set for them, you can’t be an executive. That’s it. Learn to rephrase your requests and statements about situations in a positive way. Many engineers are uncomfortable about dealing with people, and you’ll need to not only lose that discomfort, but actively enjoy employing your people skills. Note that I don’t say that you have to actively enjoy people. I’m a full-bore introvert, and dealing with people takes it out of me if I cannot escape and recharge. However, I can always enjoy that I have a skill, and that I’m getting better at using it every day.

If you don’t like social media, tough cookies. You need fans and connections. These are people that you can transmit ideas to, and from whom you get updates on how the world thinks and works. Make the connections on LinkedIn and open up your Twitter and Facebook profiles. You won’t be able to hide what you say anyway, and you may as well keep your lack of privacy in mind. You no longer get to bury your head in the sand when it comes to social issues. You’ll need to keep updated on meaningful news. There would be no excuse for a leader of people who made a tone deaf crack about protesters the day after the Ferguson grand jury decision because s/he didn’t know what was happening in the world. You can be yourself on social media, but you cannot treat your public pronouncements as if they reflect only on you now. I am communicative on social media, but I don’t complain about individual people anymore, no matter how bad the customer service was. I have the ability to point attention at issues, and as a representative of my company regardless of how many disclaimers I put in bios, I have to respect that I’d be punching down, not up. Remember the same.

The last thing on people skills, and the hardest lesson I’m still working on is this: don’t be the smartest person in the room. That’s a direct quote from a mentor of mine. It was an especially hard lesson for me to learn. As a female engineer, I’ve been screaming for 15 years that I’m right, that my code is good enough, that my solution works, and that I belong in this room with the rest of the engineers. I’ve had to shift my approach a lot. Now, what matters is that the people that I’m talking with feel like they’re heard, not that I’m smart. That is how they’ll build consensus on the right way to solve a problem. If you figure out how to do this, please tell me.

Second, let’s talk about your personal will to change your life and grow. This is a very difficult topic, because it has to do with social class, judgment, and your own goals. There’s a common phenomenon among professional athletes and musicians who succeed dramatically. Those among them who came from less privileged backgrounds often will struggle with negative influences from the people who loved and supported them while they were on the way up. I have friends and dear loved ones who have loved and supported me, but are still fighting to give up drugs, get out of prison, and get their lives together. I can love them and be there for them to the best of my ability without being pulled into problems I have no power to fix. Think very hard about the people you surround yourself with. The motivational speaker Jim Rohn very famously said that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I choose to be around people that I like AND admire. I think of people who I respect for their kindness, entrepreneurial spirit, irrepressible joy, courtesy, intelligence, and strength, and then I figure out if we like the same comic books and TV shows (thee must like Arrow or I will not have to do with thee). Those are the people I try to spend my time with.

Develop your own sense of judgment about people to the point that you’ve learned to trust your instincts about someone’s character before you start making final hiring decisions. I screw up sometimes, and I make mistakes all the time. However, we have built a culture at Fizzmint that ultimately reflects my personal decisions about people’s characters, and I have to trust that I make good decisions while always being willing to revisit those choices if needed later. You are going to start learning to consciously harness the judgments you make about people, because if you don’t, you’ll judge unconsciously. That’s how poor hiring decisions get made, like hiring a team of nothing but straight white men and thinking it’s because they’re the only ones tough enough to stand up for their coding choices. Without examining how you judge others, you’ll do so without thought. Don’t not think.

If there’s any one thing I can tell you about being a different person and one that others will respect, it’s this: be on time. People who are habitually punctual have a whole lot of other life skills nailed down. They manage their time well. They’re honest with themselves about how long tasks will take. They have the logistics of their city and transport down. They respect you and your time. They have built time into their day for small tasks, often after they’ve arrived early to meetings. They likely sleep and eat on a healthier schedule. I and everyone else understand that sometimes you cannot help being late. There’s a difference, however, between someone whose definition of ‘on time’ is 5 minutes late, and who arrives more than 15 minutes late half the time, and a person who arrives early or on time 19 out of 20 times. The habitually late person is not honest with themselves about their commitments and how long their day will take to execute on–or they’re pushovers about letting others dictate their schedule. That’s not someone I want managing others. The more time I spend with the people who run companies, the more I realize that this is one of the unstated expectations on people who should be trusted with making decisions. When I set up coffee with a fellow CEO, s/he is nearly never late. That’s even in Seattle, which has a truly terrible transportation system, and which can unexpectedly jam up with hours of traffic and overpacked buses and trains.

Develop your personality and interests outside technology. I have lots and lots of interests, side projects, hobbies, and fun things I do. I have to, or I would be a deadly dull person with a stultifying lack of stories, points of commonality, and conversation openers. I like reading audiobooks, and I’m currently running a Kickstarter to bring Frankenstein’s Creature’s favorite book to audiobook for the first time ever. I helped found and currently am on the board of Hack The People, the world’s largest tech mentorship initiative. I help underrepresented hackers propose to speak through Defcon Unlocked and Infosec Unlocked. I take cat pictures and read and play WoW and do triathlons and cook. If you don’t have a cool hobby and some volunteer commitments, get some, or you’ll be boring. Also, you’ll miss out on personal growth and contributing to your community.

Finally, let’s talk about your support network. There is nothing, NOTHING more important than your mentors and mentees. Your colleagues can come and go, but you MUST develop tight relationships with people who want to teach you, and whom you can teach. You never really learn something until you teach it, and you need to pass on what you learn. This blog is part of how I pass on information to people, after I filter it through my own experience and understanding. I’ve been given truly terrible advice, and truly spectacular advice, but the common thread there is this: someone cared enough to try to help me.

Join your professional association or a group of people who do the job you’re currently doing and the job you want to be doing. Learn from them. Treat your network like a million dollars, because that’s literally what they are to you. Create weak and strong ties to people in your community and in your virtual network. Find a person you admire online that you’ve never met in real life, and tell them that you admire them. You might be surprised at the result. Most of what people face when they’re public-facing is criticism, anger, and second-guessing (unless you’re Taylor Swift, in which case bless your heart, honey). It’s always nice to hear that someone’s picking up what you’re putting down.

Add some comments about your best tricks and tips for how you transitioned from engineering to executive work, and post your questions. I’ll do my best and point you at the right people if I don’t know the answer!

Benedict Cumberbatch Lied To Me And Broke My Heart

Ever wondered how Frankenstein’s Creature learned to speak? He listened to an impoverished professor reading aloud and explaining one of the greatest books of the Enlightenment.

Those of you who recently saw the brilliant Frankenstein/Creature role swap done by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller by the National Theater will remember that De Lacey used Paradise Lost to teach the Creature to read.

113915284_sherlock__342797c

Actually, in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, the Creature learned from a book called The Ruins, or Meditation on the Revolutions of Empires, by Constantin François de Chassebœuf, comte de Volney.

I love audiobooks, and I realized that no one has ever done an audiobook of The Ruins! This rich and magical book, a source for art we love and even our own political freedoms, is in danger of being forgotten.

So over the last several months, I have been recording the audiobook of Volney’s greatest work for the first time ever in human history!

I hope you want to learn about the rise and fall of empires the same way that Frankenstein’s Creature did. I need your support to finish the recording, redo some of the first chapters, and get a sound engineer and editor to turn this from digital recordings into an audiobook! Back my project and spread the word, and together we will bring a lost treasure of the Enlightenment to audiobook and to the world!

HELP ME TELL BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH THAT FRANKENSTEIN IS JUST FINE THE WAY IT IS. AND SO IS HE.

Share this project at http://bit.ly/volney!

Developer at AtlasCamp apologizes to “all getting offended” by his sexist joke

**EDITED 17:44 Pacific 6/4/14** Saha develops for Atlassian, but does not work for them.

Today, Jonathan Doklovic, an Atlassian developer at Atlassian’s AtlasCamp in Berlin, Germany presented a talk that contained this slide:

BpR3N1YCcAAsEz-

Then, Marko Saha (Director, Agile Enterprise Solutions at Ambientia) tweeted it because he thought it was funny.

The tweet has gone viral. Atlassian’s CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes, has already responded with a blog post here:

On failing our values, our team, and our industry

There’s a problem. While the creator of the slide hasn’t responded, Marko Saha has responded by halfheartedly apologizing “to those offended”,

referring to the social media response to his sexist joke as a hassle,

claimed the slide was taken out of context,

And seems to be referring to the lack of consequences anyone faced as bullshit, because

Soooo, Atlassian? You’ve got a mess to clean up there. You might start by letting your dev know that this is inappropriate behavior BEFORE handling the PR in a situation like this. Second, Ambientia has a mess to clean up as well. The last thing Saha tweeted, an hour ago, was a list of literary insults.

Beyonce may be ‘The’ Boss, but she’s not ‘a’ boss. I am.

I appreciate the #BanBossy campaign by Beyonce and Sheryl Sandberg a great deal. We know the stories of how Sandberg was called ‘bossy’ by her schoolmates while she was younger, and Beyonce is definitely on a campaign to popularize feminism.

There’s an issue. It’s in this picture here: banbossy-beyonce

I appreciate the spirit behind this message. However, this image and Beyonce’s campaign is making use of the expression “The Boss” as someone who is awesome, cool, in control, and admirable. What we need to get used to is the notion of a woman as **a** boss, not “The Boss,” as if she was Bruce Springsteen. A boss is someone who has power over people, who is a leader, who directs other peoples’ actions, and who makes decisions about hiring and firing. This isn’t what we mean when we say as a compliment that someone “is a boss!” or “did it like a boss!” Instead we’re simply offering a platitude. This is the same meaning that we attach to Beyonce’s statement that she’s “The Boss!”

I have responsibility for the hiring and management of more than 15 people now. I’m a boss. I tell people what to do, and sometimes I’m not popular. I accepted responsibility as a leader, and that means making tough decisions. It’s the part where I direct other people’s actions that makes so many people uncomfortable. That’s the thing Sandberg and Beyonce are trying to make ok, but they’re not coming at the issue directly. Instead, they’re popularizing the removal of the word “bossy” from our lexicon.

The #BanBossy campaign doesn’t tackle the real issue of why women are uncomfortable being bosses. Beyonce writing a blog post or doing an interview in which she explains how she hires and manages her staff both remotely and in person would be a better explanation of actually being a boss. We know Sandberg can handle management; I’d love to see her explain how to direct people’s actions and take ownership of the fact that people sometimes have issues with direction, rather than worrying about the label being applied.

Labels are important. What we call people matters to them and to us. I had a wonderful professor of social and political philosophy when I was at Carroll College doing my undergraduate. His name was Barry Ferst. He made a very specific point of repeating everyone’s names in his class, and working hard to remember how to pronounce them. If people preferred a nickname, he would write it down and remember to call them by their chosen name. When I asked him why he was so careful to pronounce my name “Tare-ah” instead of “Tah-ra”, and for that matter why he bothered to remember everyone’s preferred names in his class, he said to me “It doesn’t hurt me at all to call people what they want to be called, and it makes them happy.” I took that as one of the more important lessons from my academic career.

If women don’t want to be called ‘bossy’, then I’ll avoid that. When you actually **are** a boss, you find you have little time to care if someone is calling you bossy–you’re too busy taking over the world. Show women that the label ‘bossy’ matters less than the act of taking responsibility and leadership. Mentor them and demonstrate what it’s like to make hard choices, to serve a community and your team, and as women accept and seek out leadership roles, the label of “bossy” will fade into much-deserved obscurity.

PyCon Code Of Conduct Warning Cards

Hey, folks. You all might be seeing the giant mess that is coming out of the firing of several people over two jokes at PyCon 2013 this year. I’m Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack, and I and my colleague Liz Dahlstrom were there. We had a great time this year, and will certainly be at Montreal next year. (Some of you may know that I and Liz are co-founders of LadyCoders; we’re not wearing that hat right now and we’re not writing on that site. We’re just two devs who have some thoughts on this topic)

I’ll try to relate the facts as dryly as possible: Adria Richards, a developer evangelist at SendGrid with more than 10,000 Twitter followers, overheard two PlayHaven devs speaking behind her at a large speaking panel at PyCon in Santa Clara
last weekend, and took offense to their language, which by their later admission was in violation of the PyCon code of conduct. Adria turned around and took pictures of the two men and posted them on Twitter, with a comment about the sexual nature of their conversation. The men (Alex Reid and supposedly Hacker News handle mr-hank) were publicly outed. mr-hank, who says he is a father of three, lost his job. Richards wrote a post explaining her side, and so did the man who lost his job. There’s an excellent post up at Ars Technica that also tells the tale.

As the Internet does upon occasion, it lost its $#1%. Richards was just fired from SendGrid; arguably she can no longer function in her role in developer relations, and
her site has been DDOSed. mr-hank has been fired from his job at PlayHaven, and a petition is now up asking for his reinstatement.

Liz and I were also at Defcon last year, and will be this year. In fact, we’re writing up our speaker proposals now. How many of you remember these?

rugby cards

Liz and I have been talking about the situation. We’re wondering–how can we give people who become uncomfortable at PyCon more options? How much of this problem could have been fixed if Richards had had some way to tell these guys that what they were doing was making her feel uncomfortable without having to confront them? I can tell you now that at Defcon, when I saw a woman pull out a red card and show it to someone,
every single person’s attention instantly fixed on that situation. A quiet apology was issued, the (now) gentleman exited the room, chastened, and having learned not to talk about his manparts loudly and drunkenly, and in front of someone who didn’t want to hear it. 99.9% of the time, we are just socially clueless nerds. I have been known to tell some truly appallingly clueless jokes, and I actually got yellow carded last year at Defcon. I’m serious. If we had a way to make our wishes known while taking most of the confrontation out of the situation, I think that the convention would be a much happier and more comfortable place for everyone.

We don’t want to see PyCon ruined for everyone. It is one of the most overall open and friendly environments in tech that either of us has attended, and we’d like it to stay that way. We don’t want silence to begin as soon as a woman enters the room because everyone there is afraid of public shaming and losing their job. We also don’t want women to be
afraid to speak up because of the nastiness that has ensued over the last few days.

So, Liz and I are going to carry on the work of KC from Defcon. Read more about this amazing woman: The Red/Yellow Card Project.

See these three cards? We just mocked them up. We want to put them in the swag bags next year at PyCon 2014 Montreal. All please note that we will ask for Diana’s ok (Diana is next year’s PyCon chair) on the wording. We think it’s ok, but we’ll check to make sure that it doesn’t give anyone legal hiccups before we send them to the printers.

pycon_coc_warning

pycon_coc_violation

pycon_coc_defender

We want to make this convention better, and without a tool to help us communicate with tact and clarity, we think the confusion will continue. If you’d like to help us out with printing costs, you can donate to the paypal account below. We’d like to put these cards in swag bags for everyone.

[paypal-donation]

Look, we were playing Cards Against Humanity in that exact same game that Adria was playing in. We had a great time. This was in the
hotel, away from the con, and nowhere near where the Code of Conduct applied, but even there we would have respected anyone’s wishes to be quieter, kinder, or chill out if someone had been unhappy. There’s no joy in making other people uncomfortable or unhappy. All most nerds need is to know that what they’re doing is inappropriate, and they’ll stop.

Twitter   tarah   dirnonline  kennethlove ...

We’re all really inappropriate people. Let’s make an easy way to tell each other when it happens.

Why Gossip Girl needs better faux techspeak.

It’s been my experience that when TV shows and movies get software development and web development wrong, they get it REALLY wrong.

A week ago, I rewatched The Dark Knight with two of my gaming buddies, both of whom are skilled developers. While we loved the movie, popcorn was thrown when Christian Bale rasped that a certain database was null-key encrypted. NKE is total fiction. It turns “Hello World” into “Hello World”, in case you were wondering. At least in the movies, they bother to invent some techno-jargon.

Now for the painful admission: I watch Gossip Girl. It is a vapid soap opera that I positively adore, and part of the major season story arc is the loss of control over the Gossip Girl website by the original (anonymous) owner, voiced by Kristen Bell of Veronica Mars fame. [See? I have legitimate geeky reasons for watching GG!] Any developer can see that there’s some sort of CMS that is used to post information; it’s likely the TV equivalent of WordPress. In a moment of brainmeat-deadness, Serena is IMed by Gossip Girl, and asked to return “the password to my site.”

Now, this is totally imbecilic on several fronts. First, if you’re the person who set up the CMS, you have administrator rights on an account that is different than your posting account. All GG would have to do is login using the alternate CMS admin account and change the password herself. Second, if she’s lost the admin account, she can tunnel to the server and change the authentication for any account through either the MySQL (or whatever DB) admin prompt or PHPMyAdmin if you’re as lazy as me. Third, if she’s the one who set up the
site, all she has to do is nuke the site at the server level after copying or exporting the DB and template files, and rebuild it (or talk to the hosting company). Fourth, and the worst-case scenario, if her hosting account or cloud server itself has been hacked, she can simply build another server and redirect the DNS to that location. In none of these cases does she ever lose control of the URL itself.

I am irritated here because I see Gossip Girl as a show that is primarily targeted to women and young people; I know I’m stirring up a tempest in a teapot, but I would like to see the same level of effort put in to creating fake technobabble in shows directed at young women as when they’re pointed towards a male demographic. I guess that may be unreasonable, but the truth is that we all absorb messages from pop culture, and the lack of care taken in shows like these betray a feeling amongst the show writers that no femmes would notice the difference anyway.

Well, I did. So there.

PS:
To Gossip Girl; I can hook a sister up with RSA-encryption and a 4096-bit key. That would keep nosy socialites out of your site. Also, more Bass, please.

XOXO, Cowgirl Coder.

How to recruit a software developer. (Part 3)

As promised, we’ll talk about the traits of successful recruiters.

Good recruiters look for people to fit a position, and pursue them individually. I’ve mentioned before that my name and resume pop on Google search results when a recruiter is looking for a senior web architect or development manager in the Seattle area. The best experiences I have ever had with recruiters come from these approaches, and they are instantly distinguishable from the usual.

One recruiter, Shannon Anderson from NuWest Group out of Bellevue, personifies this approach. She’s professional, spectacular at her job, and rarely presents more than a single candidate for a job. She matches people perfectly, and as a result, she gets a near perfect return on her investment and an ongoing relationship. It’s more like talking to a very friendly and competent matchmaker, and I’d encourage anyone to work with her or someone
like her.

She makes personal connections, and takes her time getting to know her candidates.

Other great recruiters have a large database of positions, and instead of matching a candidate to a job, they match a job to a great candidate. Tara Gowland runs Startup Recroot, a Seattle-based firm, and her approach is to find spectacular and competent people, and try to pair them with positions that she’ll seek out. Her approach to me was diffident, even shy, which was a refreshing change from the normal TRUMPETS BLARING approach.

Now, while I can recommend each of these firms, and most specifically these two recruiters, I can’t tell you about the positions for which I was either hired or interviewed, since that breaks some confidentiality agreements. However, if you find recruiters like these ladies, I heartily recommend that you not only work with them, but that you give them all the social media and blogging help you can. Firms that are
ethical, helpful, and who have recruiters with personal and competent approaches are few and far between.

Find these firms, and work with them. They’re full disclosure, honest, and they’re great at what they do. Please feel free to leave other firms that you’ve been happy to work with in the comments.

What is it like to be a freelance web developer?

I want to take a moment away from my usual howtos and commentary to offer some encouragement and etiquette tips for my fellow web developers, especially the ladies starting out.

Doing freelance work with the occasional longer contract is difficult to break into, requires a thick skin, and demands careful reputation-gardening. Before I reached the point where I was getting contract requests and recruiter emails on a daily basis, work was thin on the ground. I did IC (individual contributor) work, and it’s taken a lot of time and effort to reach the systems architect and senior management positions for which I am now being recruited.

I maintained three principles which I use every day, especially when I have to deal with aggressive recruiters, tight-lipped company reps, and the inevitable professional relationship snafus.

(1) Say something nice about someone every day.

In late 2009, I had a tough personal situation to deal
with, and after it was over, I knew I could react one of two ways. I could be angry and sour to anyone who asked, with the excuse that I was having a tough time, or I could find a way to turn the situation into personal development. I started looking over my friends list on Facebook, and made a point to say something nice about a friend every day. It got me back in contact with people I hadn’t talked to in quite a while, provided encouragement, and sparked memories. Likewise, when I’m dealing with professional issues, I write recommendations for my colleagues on LinkedIn. Many people I know work extremely hard without a great deal of positive reinforcement or top-down encouragement due to the nature of contracting and freelancing. No one ever tells them that they have serious skills, that they’re a pleasure to work with, and that you’re glad to have them on your IM contacts list for sticky coding questions. Nearly every company has a policy of never giving any feedback whatsoever on performance to anyone
who’s not an FTE–this is to avoid legal issues. That’s good for the legal department, but doesn’t provide much in the way of constructive criticism for personal growth and improvement in skills. This is my way of helping others with this problem. Say nice things about your colleagues and professional contacts; it draws you together and provides opportunities to turn sometimes difficult situations into networking goldmines.

(2) Be courteous to recruiters, but do not let them run your life.

I am deluged with emails from recruiters on a daily basis. This is the very definition of a high-class problem; I am quite aware. Still, imagine getting a variant on this email about five times a day:

“Hi! My name is XXXX, and I am from XXXX Consulting, Inc. I came across your resume, and believe that you may be absolutely perfect for this (.NET, C#, Java, OSS, MS, frontend, backend, lead/IC/senior/junior, DBA, FTE/Contract) development position I have. Please send me an updated copy of your
resume as well as current contact information, salary requirements, availability and geographical location, and a point-by-point answer to each of the ten questions below which will determine your suitability for this position.”

Now, these people are overworked, underpaid, and are dealing with a paradox whereby the people most likely to respond to them are not currently employed at high-paying and prestigious positions. However, almost all of my best contracts have come from recruiters. This means that I absolutely do want to talk to them, if they have something I need to know–but answering them all in detail would be more than 10% of my day.

I’ve come up with the perfect solution. I send a Gmail canned response to all recruiters thanking them for their interest in me, giving them a quick rundown on the positions I will accept, my base salary/equity/wage/benefit requirements, a link to my website where my resumes live in pdf and txt format (the pretty version and the text-searchable version),
and my geographical location. I ask them to please send me the job description, geographical location down to the city block of the company for which they’re attempting to recruit (often they cannot give out the name of the company, but I need to know what transportation/commute will be like), and the salary.I let them know (as courteously as possible) that I will not respond to any reply that does not contain that information.

So far, it’s worked like a charm without sucking my time the way recruiting emails used to do.

(3) Maintain your relationships with the people with whom you have worked.

Facebook your friends, and LinkedIn your colleagues. Every nerd hates to hear it, but the people you know and with whom you collaborate are the best resource for gigs, recommendations, inside news, and a heads-up when you need it. THANK THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE HELPED YOU. When people point me to gigs, recommend me, help me out, and provide me with information, I thank them
thoroughly and in written/gift form. Get a case of decent wine and send a bottle and a thank you card to the people who have helped you professionally. This isn’t because you want something from them; it is because you are grateful for their help without expecting that they’ll do so again. I mean it; sincere gratitude is important for its own sake.

Those three principles help me out when I am in contracts and looking for new ones, as well as closing down old contracts. Probably the biggest piece of advice I can give is this: take the time to be courteous to those who are helping you and supporting you, whether you know them or not.