Lessons of Failure
Humans + Software Development = Always Interesting

Mar/12

30

Welcome to the newer, faster LoF

I’ve migrated Lessons of Failure to WPEngine and I’m pleased as punch with the results.  Jason Cohen & Co. run a tight ship here and it shows.  Thanks for a great service, guys.

Let me know if you see any glitches or problems with it.

· ·

I made the prediction this year that iPads would dominate over all Android tablets, mainly because of the poor showing early on in the year and the over-hyped releases to come.  Most of that came to pass.  Some things I left out were bigger than I thought (hello Samsung Galaxy and Motorola Xoom), and others everyone missed completely (Kindle Fire).

But even with all that guessing and misstepping, the iPad still kicked butt.  All.  Year.  Long.

From comScore’s report on Digital Omnivores:  How Tablets, Smartphones and Devices are Changing Media Consumption Habits:

OS Market Share by Digital Traffic
Another way of defining platform market share is through the share of Internet traffic measured through browser-based page views. By this definition, iOS held an even stronger position in the market. In August 2011, the iOS platform accounted for more than half (58.5 percent) of the share of total non-computer traffic in the U.S, with the iPad’s dominance in the tablet market playing a key role in its position. In fact, iPads delivered 97.2 percent of all tablet traffic and even edged out iPhones in delivering the highest share of traffic for the iOS platform (46.8 percent vs. 42.6 percent of iOS traffic). Android OS once again ranked second, delivering 31.9 percent of overall non-computer traffic in August. RIM followed with a 5.0 percent market share. Other platforms, including Windows Mobile, combined to account for the remaining 4.6 percent of digital traffic.

And the graph from comScore, which is the clincher (click for full size):

iPad Crushes Android in Market Share

See the light blue section for Apple?  Now compare that with Android.  One word:  ouch.

iPad represents pretty much ALL of the tablet traffic as of August, 2011.  Android isn’t even a dent in the pie.  After dozens of tablet releases.  Android is winning hearts and minds with the mobile game, but they’re being ignored by the tablet crowd.  Maybe the stats will be different by years end, but Android has a lot of catching up to do.

Good luck with that, guys.

· · ·

Oct/11

6

The Legacy of Steve Jobs, A-Z

Words can’t express the collective loss of this man’s contributions to the world, but here’s my feeble attempt at a tribute to his legacy.

Steve Jobs, from A to Z:

  • Apple Computer
  • Bug’s Life
  • Cars
  • Digital Signal Processor Chip
  • “…enthusiastic about what we do”
  • Finding Nemo
  • Glasses, wire-rim
  • Henry Ford of Our Time”
  • The Incredibles
  • Jefferson Award
  • Khakis and Turtleneck
  • LSD
  • Mach Kernel
  • National Medal of Technology
  • One more thing…”
  • Pixar
  • QuickTime
  • Reality Distortion Field”
  • Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”
  • Toy Story
  • Up!
  • Vegetarian (well, technically pescetarian)
  • WebObjects framework
  • NeXT Step
  • Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
  • Zen Buddhist

Thanks for everything Steve.  We’ll miss you.  1955-2011, RIP.

Sources:

http://www.macstories.net/roundups/inspirational-steve-jobs-quotes/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Jobs

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Dear Microsoft,

I can’t tell you how much it pains me to write this letter.  I thought we had a great relationship as developer/software provider.  I left my Apple roots in the mid-90s for your brazen swagger and staggering command of the market.  Lately it seems like you just don’t care.  And by lately, I mean the last 10 years.

Unfair you say?  Well, let’s talk about all the times you’ve let me down in the past decade:

PC vs. Mac

(Credit: Apple)

Windows Vista:  I think it’s fair to say that keeping me as a developer on the same platform for 6 years is pretty bad, but when it makes my customers stay there too and keep me entrenched on old platforms for far longer than I’d like, well that can be downright intolerable.  Your market share for XP on the desktop is a staggering 50%.  That’s like driving my car from high school…when I’m 35.  Your own numbers can’t hide the fact you’re struggling to get people to care.  Your incessant need for complexity in upgrade plans, coupled with astoundingly high prices to upgrade, not to mention the requisite hardware changes as well, pretty much made everyone take stock and sit back on their ancient PCs for another few years.  Writing software for these clients is about as much fun as shoveling a barnyard full of manure.  Wait, the manure pile is at least outside where I can get sunshine and fresh air.  You’re less fun than that.

.NET, Silverlight, and a wide variety of aging platforms:  Developing on your platforms is like building the World Trade Center on the shifting sands of an earthquake zone.  Everyone knows it’s not smart, but we’re stuck with it because of prior commitments.  Speaking of commitments, can you keep a platform alive for more than a few years?  Let’s list the litany of technologies released and then abandoned by you in the past 15 years:  ADO, Silverlight, DNA, BizApp, .NET, J#, XNA.  With Windows 8, we’re now going to write everything in HTML5 and Javascript?  Hello 1999, we were doing that ages ago, and with you leading the way.  But not this time.  Hell, you’re having such a hard time following, you aren’t even on the committees anymore.  (And you just announced that you’re canning Silverlight and ALL plugins for your newest browser)  Are you guys even listening to the conversation anymore or are you just mumbling to yourselves in the corner?

Windows Server:  Windows 7 came after we all gave up on Vista, and that’s worked out pretty well now hasn’t it?  (See my market share remark above).  But on the cusp of Windows 8, you claim you’ve defeated the dragon of Linux?  Seriously?  We stopped taking Windows seriously as a server platform years ago.  The only ones left who care are those stuck with Exchange or Sharepoint in their companies.

Windows 7 Mobile:  I’ll give you props for making a gutsy move here.  Acquiring a dying company, killing their development platform and shoving yours down their throat takes a whole lot of chutzpah.  But Google and Apple aren’t even taking you seriously as competition, and neither are consumers or developers.

Skype:  Picking up a company that doesn’t even use your core technologies ought to be a clear signal you’re not making the right move here.  eBay couldn’t figure out what to do with them, and we all scratched our heads about that one…what makes you smarter this time?  No one else seems to know, the smart money says you don’t either.  Gambling is always a sign of a dysfunctional relationship.

Not looking your best, are you Steve?I’ve grown in the past 10 years.  You’ve floundered.  I’m trying to stay on top of the market trends, meet the needs of my consulting clients, and learn exciting new technologies.  You’re nowhere to be found in any of those places.  I can’t take this anymore.

So Microsoft, I’m breaking up with you.  You used to woo me with a promise of more software, better games, more developer energy.  But that was a long time ago.  You’ve been sitting on the couch, drinking beer and watching too many Windows Media Player videos.  You’re fat, old and tired.  I can’t live with that anymore.  Apple won my heart back.

Apple did everything right the past decade:  a good phone, a good tablet, good operating system and good hardware.  They made it easy for me to work on whatever I want by supporting virtualization of any operating system.  Most things just work right out of the box on my Mac.  I haven’t had that experience with you in years.  And most of my developer friends agree on that point.  Last conference I went to, 80% of the attendees had Macs.  Half of those do Windows development on them.  I run Linux and Windows 7 in the background while I work on the Mac.  Doing that on a Windows machine makes it want to roll up into a ball and cry like a baby.  I can’t take changing your diapers anymore.

I’ve had enough.  We’re through.  And just so we’re clear, it’s not me, it’s you.

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Ever have a launch that went, well, something other than what you planned?Opening Day, July 17th, 1955

You’re in good company.  Consider the story of the Disneyland launch in 1955, and you might feel better about your own personal project issues.

On July 17th, 1955, Walt Disney opened the doors to the Happiest Place on Earth.  Given Walt’s reputation, you’d expect that the whole thing went off without a hitch and everyone slapped each other on the back as the dollars rolled in.

Well, think again.

Disaster Strikes (again and again)

Walt’s disasters were numerous that day, but they hold important lessons for any engineering project, software in particular:

The tickets were presold for the event, but unfortunately someone had counterfeited tickets. More people showed up than were expected.

Lesson:  Piracy is something that can happen anytime and potentially ruin your hard work, be ready for it Day One.

As a result of the counterfeiting, instead of the opening crowd of 20,000 expected, almost 35,000 showed up at the park according to Martin Sklar, vice chairman of Walt Disney Imagineering.  With a near 100% increase over expected volumes, you can imagine the stress on the employees, the infrastructure and the overall experience that day.

Lesson:  Plan for the unexpected on your launch day, be ready for more than you anticipate and be flexible in how you respond.  Have contingency plans for things that might go wrong.

The large crowds lead to other problems in the park, specifically the crowding of rides and attractions.  Some of the rides (there were only 20 at the time) broke down. Filled beyond its capacity, the ferryboat sank.

Lesson:  Engineer for the worst case, and have a contingency plan when you exceed it.  Think about what you will do if your server runs out of memory, disk, database space, sockets, or bandwidth.  These are important questions to ponder before they happen to you, not after the fact.

A plumber’s strike during the final phases of construction meant that the park could have either drinking fountains or toilets working, but not both.  Walt chose the toilets, quipping that folks could buy a soda to quench their thirst instead.  (Some) customers complained that Walt did this to intentionally gouge his customers for more profit.

Lesson:  Always ensure that the critical parts work.  Slip those things that can be worked around in other ways, even if it you might anger the customers in a small way doing so.

On top of all that, it was a treacherously hot day, with the temperature soaring above 100 degrees in Anaheim. Ladies’ heels sank into the black asphalt.  But clearly this wasn’t the end for Walt or the park, and they continued to improve the experience small bits at a time, until the reputation of the park became what we know it to be today.

Lesson:  A disaster doesn’t have to be the end, work to fix the problems, be honest and do good work.  Eventually, your diligence will be rewarded.

·

How many articles have you read lately about the upcoming tech bubble?  Three?  Ten?  Fifty?

Depending on who you talk to, the bubble is either already here, or it’s not coming at all.

I say screw the Tech Bubble, it doesn’t matter if you have a plan.

All Hail the Great Tech Bubble!No, I’m not living in some fantasy world where my life is somehow insulated from the realities of the stock market, Moore’s Law, and the social networking phenomena that now have every VC scrambling to file their S-1 before the public figures it out.  But having lived through the last tech bubble, I realized something incredibly important a number of years ago.

You are the manager of you.

Not the company you work for.  Not the school you’re at.  Not the career you’re stuck in.  You are in control of whatever you want to do.

Your reaction to that statement says a lot about your personality.  If you thought that’s laughingly obvious, then you probably manage your career fairly aggressively already.  That’s awesome.  You can skip a few paragraphs.

For some people, this is a terrifying possibility and they’d rather remain safely in their cubicles, hoping they still have a job in 6 months after the next round of layoffs happens.  The very act of having to make hard choices on a recurring basis really scares folks.  The economic uncertainty of a tech bubble brings these sorts of fears to the surface and you’ll either look at them long and hard, or bury them quickly and get back to your job.

I’m definitely not a cubicle hider.  And after this post, I hope you won’t be either.

My good friend Ted once told me, “[Your current situation/the economy/the company] is what it is.  Control what you can.  Start with yourself.”  And so I ask you this very critical question:

If the tech bubble happened today and you ended up losing your current job, what’s your Plan B?

Do you even have a Plan B?  If not, don’t despair.  I have some tried and true suggestions below you can explore to decide what best fits your personality.  There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.  But you ought to have something in your back pocket, just in case.

Plan B #1:  Join a startup/Create a startup

What it is: Startups are small companies with aggressive product development and marketing timelines attempting to capitalize on new, untapped, or underdeveloped markets quickly using novel technologies or solutions where others have failed previously.  A startup’s main aim is to “go big or go home”, meaning they want to have a major liquidity event that will make the founders and employees very wealthy.

The good: Startups offer really interesting experiences building products from scratch and often bringing them to markets where people didn’t know they needed something this badly.  But if the company is successful, you’re in on the ground floor with shares and probably a very strong role in the company’s decision making process.  Maybe even a three letter acronym after your name.

The bad: High failure rates.  Long hours.  Possible burnout.  Startups are traditionally funded through venture capitalists, although this isn’t a strict requirement.  Eventually, though, VCs become involved before the “big day” and that can lead to friction.

The ugly: The Dot Com Bust.  Smoking craters of companies when the founders didn’t know how to bring a product to a market, or listen to their customers to find out what they really wanted.  People who lose their last paychecks because the company went under.

What you need to prepare: If you’re coming from a “safer job”, you should keep a cash reserve (3-6 months if possible) to either front-load or back-load your landing, depending on the company, the timing and your risk tolerance.

Why it might not be for you: Startups are often heavily populated with young, single folks.  There’s a reason for that.  Make sure your personal situation is a good cultural fit before you start counting those shares up.

Product Opportunity

Plan B #2:  Start a Micro Business (Lifestyle Entrepreneur)

What it is: A Micro Business is a small, one-person enterprise where you are in charge of everything:  development, marketing, customer support and taking out the trash.  The idea of a Micro Business is to grow large enough to support yourself, but not necessarily grow to excessive size for the sake of growth.

The good: Micro Businesses can scratch the itch of wanting to be on your own and make something, but without the need to get large amounts of outside funding from venture capitalists since the end goal is different.  You can start a venture like this “on the side” without having to quit your job outright and possibly continue to manage it while working the “day job”.  Patrick McKenzie is a famous example of how to run a business on 5 hours a week.

The bad: Possible burnout.  Long hours if you have a day job plus a side venture.  If you try to do it all without some kind of plan, like outsourcing some tasks, you can get overwhelmed quickly.

The ugly: If you fail to validate your ideas properly, you can waste tons of time and money on a “pet project” with nothing to show for it.

What you need to prepare: You’ll need three things–an idea (or product), some cash and time to build it, and some very careful vetting of whether that product/idea has any traction with a market.  The third item is the hardest and the most overlooked of the three.  Some resources like the Micropreneur Academy or Bob Walsh’s 47 Hats can help you tremendously.

Why it might not be for you: If you have a hard time motivating yourself to work on things at home or are easily distracted, you may not be successful with it.  If you don’t want to learn all aspects of the business (sales, marketing, support, development), then you’ll have a hard time getting to paid customers.

Plan B #3:  Become a Consultant

What it is: Consulting is basically selling your technical abilities on a per-hour/per-day/per-job basis.  Most people who get into it find their first customer from a previous job who needs their services when they’ve left to work for someone else.  I’ve talked about the challenge in becoming a good consultant in a previous post.

The good: Consulting is very lucrative.  If you want to see an instant jump in your income, research comparable rates for your planned skill set and find some customers willing to pay it.

The bad: The first customer is usually what hooks people into the consulting gig.  But finding that second customer always proves harder than you think it is.  You need to constantly network and be on the lookout for the next gig.  If you leverage headhunters, be prepared to take a cut in your rate.

The ugly: Everything is now in your lap:  estimated taxes, health insurance, business licenses, managing payroll, buying equipment.  That first year can be a big sticker shock for tax penalties if you haven’t planned ahead.

What you need to prepare: A solid marketable skill set, a positive attitude, a potential first and maybe second customer, confidence and a willingness to get things done where no one else succeeds before you.  Have a 3-6 month cash reserve when you start out so you have a runway between paying gigs if you need it.

Why it might not be for you: If you hate to network, market yourself, or constantly stay on the lookout for a new opportunity, consulting might be a difficult nut for you to crack beyond that first gig.  If you lack a solid network, the time between gigs may be long and very unprofitable.  If you don’t like negotiating contracts, you may be taken advantage of at some point.

Those are three suggestions I’d make and clearly I gave them very light treatment here.  But the real question is, what’s YOUR plan now?  What are you going to do to realize that plan?

The tech bubble may be real, but you don’t need to let you future happen to you, make it happen for yourself.

Did I miss something?  Sound out below!

·

I’ve been doing a considerable amount of candidate interviewing lately and after some serious impedance mismatch on what we got over what was advertised, I decided to browse the general software developer job listings to see if there was a better way to ask for resumes.

Turns out this is a hard problem to get right…but there is a host of subtle double-speak and hidden agendas in the job listings that I thought amusing upon analysis.

So without further ado, I present the Lessons of Failure Translation Guide for Software Job Listings (taken from actual phrases of real job listings):

Must be facile in multiple languages“:  You’d better know everything from COBOL to Arc, and we’re gonna test out your knowledge of building encryption from scratch in FORTRAN as a coding test.

Proficiency in at least one modern programming language such as C++, Java, or Perl“:  Our idea of modern involves the band Nirvana, Netscape Browsers, and Bill Clinton as president.  Wait until you hear about our stock option plan!

We offer a fast-paced environment“:  We’re running around in circles so fast, you aren’t going to be able to catch your breath between releases, requirements changes on the night before we push code out to the users, and last-minute-client-demands shoved in before we go to QA.  Sleep?  Life balance?  Conjugal visits on the weekend?  Hahahaha…

Working with a mentor and a team of experienced test and industrial engineers“:  Someone is going to stand over your shoulder and criticize every keystroke until you submit completely to their twisted notion of authority.

To be successful in this role, you must be a motivated and enthusiastic engineer“:  You’d damn well better be cheerful about that looking-over-the-shoulder thing.

be someone who embraces challenges.”:  You have no idea the kind of crap we’re waiting to pile on top of you, sucker!

High energy/self starter with the ability to work independently within the firm’s demanding and highly focused environment.”:  We’re a pressure cooker, so you’d better be like a good pot roast or this isn’t going to last long.

Salary and benefits, commensurate with experience“:  We will do everything in our power to pay you the bare minimum to get you in the door.

Must understand Software analysis, code analysis, requirements analysis, software review, identification of code metrics, system risk analysis, software reliability analysis“: …until we get tired of analysis and demand that you start coding because the release is running late already.

Maintain standards compliance“:  …as long as you deliver the release on time.

We offer flexible schedules“:  How are nights and weekends for you?  They’re open?  Not anymore…

Team player“:  Can you take orders without back mouthing us?

Work for a start up“:  It’s 2 guys, an espresso machine, and a shared Linux server from Craigslist in this other dude’s apartment.  But we’re close to funding…no really!

But really, the crowning joy of this search was the following “Software Programmer Job Description” kept on an HR resource site.  I’ll let the insanity speak for itself, which reads like something simultaneously out of the 1970s and 1990s.  If you ever encounter such a listing, run my friend.  Run away!

And in case you were poised to tear things up in the comment section, maybe this will help:

</humor>

What phrases and translations have YOU found in your tenure as a developer?  Sound out below!

· ·

Somehow, I managed to channel my security hero Bruce Schneier, who manages to find all that is amazingly stupid and insane about security, from the TSA to RSA.  And I accidentally stumbled across some major privacy violations that didn’t appear to be privacy violations on the surface.

We take a lot of things for granted today when it comes to multiple device access and our privacy.  On the one hand, we expect our data to synchronize seamlessly from device to desktop and back again.  But at the same time, we don’t want our private data stored any longer than we need it.  As it turns out, those two tenets are in direct conflict with each other in a sinister and subtle way.

Big Brother is Watching YouSuppose you use Skype and have it on a mobile device and a computer.  Great–You sign into your Skype account from a laptop and see your contacts.  Doing the same from your iPhone and you get the same list.  No surprises there, right?

Now let’s say you had a conversation (IM-based chat) with a business associate about some sensitive account data relating to a current client.  And just in case, because you use your mobile device around the very same client, you want to make sure that conversation isn’t visible at all, ever.  So you delete the conversation from Skype on your laptop.

At this point, you haven’t logged into your Skype on the mobile device.  You’d expect that conversation data to delete in both devices, right?

Turns out, you’d be dead wrong on that one.

Skype saves these conversations on their server and puts them on any device where you have their software installed. “Ah!” you say, “but you forgot about the Privacy options!”

Skype Privacy Options

The Iron Clad Guard of Privacy, right?

True enough, I didn’t mention them–so now suppose you have “Keep History For: No history” set in your Skype options (the Iron Clad Privacy Guard(tm)!).  And you cleared your conversations out from Skype on the laptop.  And you’ve never logged into Skype using your mobile device…you’re good now, right?

Nope.  That conversation is still on Skype’s servers, but gone from your laptop.  Next time you login to the mobile and go back in the history, it’s still there!  And here’s the kicker:  you can’t get rid of it either!

This isn’t unique to Skype.  I was able to reproduce the same thing via Sent Messages in Facebook.  I specifically had deleted a bunch of old conversations I had with friends from my web browser version.  One day, I went in via my iPhone and voila, there they were all staring me in the face!  Facebook is storing your conversations from years ago (mine were 18+ months old), even when you’ve deleted them from your Inbox and Sent folder.

Why oh why would they do it?

Delete means delete, right?  Not really as it turns out.  There might be reasons these companies want to hang on to your data for a bit longer than when you want to…

  1. Legal reasons:  If you did something illegal, and law enforcement wants to come a-knocking, Facebook and Skype are covering their proverbial backsides.
  2. Ad targeting reasons:  Just like GMail searches your inbox for reasons to post an ad to you, Facebook is definitely doing the same.  Skype might be, but since they don’t have ads in their software, that seems less likely.
  3. Oops reasons:  They might want to be able to restore your “accidentally deleted” data if you call customer support in a panic.  This probably makes it easiest to look the customer in the eye if they discover it, but it’s probably the least used reason of the three, sadly.
  4. Other, Secret, More Sinister reasons:  I’m no paranoid conspiracy theorist, but there’s always the outside chance of some other reason they want to keep your data around that I haven’t mentioned, so we’ll leave this catch-all for good measure.

Regardless of the reason, these create huge loopholes for those concerned about actual privacy.  The fact that neither of these is mentioned in the terms of service is not surprised, but definitely problematic.

Developers:  Make sure your apps don’t do bad things like this.  When people find out, the negative publicity isn’t worth the supposed safety margin gained above.

Next time you think that “private” conversation is cleared from Never-Never-Land when you turn on those Privacy Options, you’d better think again.

· ·

Jan/11

5

2011: Year of the iPad

Happy New Year to everyone, first of all.  And second, I hope you managed to get your hands on an iPad in the past 6 months because if you haven’t, you’re going to want one.

Why?  Because 2011 is definitely going to be the Year of the iPad.  Not by an inch, more like a mile.  Let me explain why…

Now that I own an iPad, I finally get the hoopla over these devices.  I wasn’t impressed when they came out and wasn’t really planning on getting one for the holidays.  Thanks to a generous visit from Santa, who despite my best efforts to the contrary with acerbic blog posts considered me worthy of one under the tree, I now own one along with my wife.  And I’m impressed.  Very impressed.

iPad:  The Must-Have Intermediate Computing Device

iPad is King, at least in 2011I’ll coin a new term for tablets: intermediate computing devices, although I’m hoping someone comes up with a better one in the future.  To me, the tablet represents a new class of device that isn’t quite in the same class as netbooks and mobile PCs, although categorically they tend to be lumped together.  These devices fill a gap where a PC is too cumbersome, but a smartphone isn’t powerful enough, or even large enough.  The iPad is clearly king of the tablets right now. I say that, not as an Apple Fanboi, but as a solid convert to the notion this device does actually have a place in your house when you already own a desktop, laptop, media computer (e.g. AppleTV), and smartphone.

Each platform has tremendous utility within its own domain (smartphones are great for keeping in touch on the go, but lousy for typing blog posts, and the laptop is strong where the smartphone is weak, etc).  It wasn’t until I actually owned the iPad that I suddenly found places where I really wanted more than my smartphone but much less than my laptop.

Let’s look at a specific example: my wife and I both love Rummy Tile.  Getting the boxed game out after the kids are in bed is a bit of a hassle, and we can’t play on anything except a very flat and hard surface.  Enter the iPad:  each of us downloaded an iPad version and can play against each other sitting in bed via Bluetooth.  Comfort and convenience, meet marital competition (For the record, my wife continues to beat me overall, even at the electronic version).

Not satisfied with that?  How about this:  I leave my email open on my laptop downstairs all the time.  Doing so prevents my iPhone from getting email, so I find myself having to run down 2 levels at night to shut down Outlook so I can see email in the morning when I get up.  Not with my iPad!  I installed Team Viewer and can now remotely login to my laptop, shut it down, or do anything I need on the computer (like grab an attachment from an old email, which I frequently need as well).

Of course, don’t forget the real estate improvement over the smartphone genre:  web browsing is a treat by comparison.  My wife and I need to lookup things all the time, and the iPad is the perfect device for on-demand, quick-and-easy web surfing.  No waiting for boot time of the laptop, no struggle to read the data displayed on the smartphone.

And…The Competition Sucks

After I got the iPad, I thought I’d check out the competition and see how the lay of the land was looking by comparison.  It’s not good for the Android folks Android Tablets are lacking...right now:

  • The Dell Streak requires a data plan from, yep, you guessed it, AT&T.  It’s cheap if you get the two year data-only plan at $30/month, but as pricey as the iPad otherwise.
  • The Google Android tablet has very mediocre reviews to date on Amazon.  When the “best helpful review” for it says, “For the price it’s not bad…”, you know you’re in trouble.
  • Two of the most promising contenders that generated huge buzz (Notion Ink and the Kno (aimed at college students)) just made the Wired Vaporware 2010 list.  Oops.
  • The Maylong $99 tablet sold at Walgreens got scathing reviews earlier this year, and continues to hold the distinction of “worst gadget ever“.
  • Viewsonic’s G-tablet isn’t exactly burning up sales with comments like “With some sweat equity, you can get it to work…”, and “Next gen hardware, but software needs improvement”.  At it’s current price, you can get a 3G iPad, and save on your Advil bills to offset the pain.
  • And other low-end competitors are getting smacked around too, like the Augen NBA7800ATP.
  • EDIT:  For those wondering why I omitted the Samsung Galaxy, see the comments.

Out of the box, the iPad just works, which isn’t something you can say of most tablets mentioned above.  At the current prices and capabilities, the Android tablets aren’t a clear win as a lower-end device.  The experience is often so poor as to be unusable, and the higher end models are not significantly better than the iPad for nearly the same cash outlay.  Never mind that engineers looking at the Android have discovered major issues with the compositing and view system which are primarily software-based, giving extremely poor responsiveness in the touch interface and the animation rates.  Android has a ways to go here–either due to hubris or lack of experience.

And while Windows 7 mobile at least got that part right, they are still lagging heavily in this market and will likely remain so for the balance of the year.  The market trends clearly favor Apple’s iPad as the hottest “mobile PC device” available, for 3 quarters running.

In short, no one else has a good handle on the market and user experience aside from Apple.

The Golden Last Frontier of Mobile App Development

Apple App Store, the Place We Love to HateLastly, what about the developer community?  Well, you can complain about the App Store all you want, but the Android Marketplace still isn’t a whole lot better than when I last wrote about it.  Furthermore, the app selection for Android is still considerably worse than than for iPad.

But the real reason you want to get in on the action is that iPad apps aren’t cheap, and therefore command higher revenues from the App Store.  The iPad versions of apps are often selling for several multiples (sometimes deserved, sometimes not) over their iPhone counterparts.  Even though the average across all apps is only $1 higher for iPad apps, my experience looking at the top-selling apps is somewhat different.  Here are a few examples that clearly show a difference if you get in the good graces of the world:

App Name
iPhone Price iPad Price
Angry Birds: $0.99 $4.99
Plants vs. Zombies $2.99 $9.99
Fruit Ninja $0.99 $2.99
Cut the Rope $0.99 $1.99
UNO $0.99 $4.99

Some are the same in both (SlingPlayer, LogMeIn) but clearly the experience is vastly different.

In addition to the gaming possibilities of the device, the iPad opens up a whole new world for application development where the increased screen real estate makes a big difference (Netflix avoided the iPhone app for a long time and rightly so until the iPad came along…now it’s one of the top rated iPad apps in the store, and for good reason).  And there are precious few decent iPad utility applications out there, making a rich market for those who have the know-how and willingness to surf the treacherous waters of Jobs & Co.

Unless a miracle happens, it looks like Apple has the tablet world by the tail for at least this year.  In 2012, assuming the Mayan gods don’t come to punish all of us for bad John Cusack movies, the landscape may change dramatically but for now it’s Steve’s world and we’re just computing in it.

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Nov/10

22

Why You Can’t Trust Recruiters

The recruiter's glorious promise...Have you ever tried going through a recruiter to get hired?  Or even worse, have you had to use one to hire other people?  If you did, you’ve been subject to what I call the Lack-Of-Value Middleman*.

Before you write this off as being too harsh on recruiters in general, consider the following math problem about buying real estate.

Suppose you’re trying to sell your house and you hire a real estate agent to broker the transaction.  They tell you they’ll take 3% of the transaction for their efforts and you agree.  After a grueling inspection, the agent tells you your house is worth $100,000 in this market climate.  The agent suggests pricing the house right at the suggested market value for a quick sale.  You, of course, would prefer to price the house at $115,000, because after all, you did that neat stereo upgrade in the basement, your hardwood floors are hand-installed cherry, and your flower garden is the envy of the neighborhood.  And you’d like a little price negotiating room so you can actually get the “market value” out of it, right?

So let’s consider three scenarios, your profit and the relative commission generated for the real estate agent.  For the sake of argument, let’s say you bought the house for $10,000 so we can factor net profit into the (highly oversimplified**) equation.

Scenario 1:  Sell at the Agent’s price

  • Sale Price:  $100,000
  • Agent commission:  $3,000
  • Your Profit:  $87,000 ($100K – $10K -$3K)

Scenario 2:  Sell at your price, minus negotiation

  • Sale Price:  $110,000 (after a $5K negotiation with the buyer)
  • Agent commission:  $3,300
  • Your profit:  $96,700 ($110K – $10K – $3.3K)

Scenario 3:  Price is too high for market

  • Sale Price:  $0
  • Agent commission:  $0
  • Your profit:  $-10,000

The difference between these three scenarios highlights why real estate agents aren’t motivated to get you the best price, but only to sell your house at any price.  If the agent pushes the house out at a “highly desirable price”, they get $3,000.  If they push it at a less desirable price and it never sells, they get $0.  If they push it at a slightly higher price, they get a measly $300 more than if they just got rid of it at a lower price, at the same amount of work.  But your profit margin is HUGELY different, depending on the outcome.

This, my friends, is why you can’t trust real estate agents or recruiters.  Because recruiters are under exactly the same set of motivations as real estate agents, but with far less to add into the deal.

Recruiters never quit...A recruiter’s main job is to put you in front of any employer who will hire you.  Not necessarily the best employer.  Or the best company.  Or even the right job.  Any job will do, as long as the recruiter gets paid.

Your salary negotiation with a recruiter follows the same path as the house pricing scenario–the recruiter wants to make the deal happen at a reasonable price, but without upsetting the potential employer (scenario 3 is bad for everyone, so the recruiter will claim to be “on your side”).  The reality is that anything that seals a deal between you and the employer is “good enough” for the recruiter. But good enough for the recruiter may be not be the best deal for you.  This is why you can’t trust recruiters.

A good real estate agent can actually add some value to the house-buying transaction.  They can suggest ways to help you dress up a house to get the best deal, negotiate tricky points of a contract when issues arise, and generally smooth the transaction over when things get rough.  Bad real estate agents merely shove your house on the market to get it sold and ignore you (I’ve had both).

Recruiters–good or bad, on the other hand, rarely offer more value than the introduction itself.  They play buzzword bingo with your resumes and the employers job description in an attempt to pawn you off quickly.  They will almost never suggest any way to write your resume more “attractively” and will offer few, if any, tips for interviewing.

As a hiring manager, I can’t tell you how much sewage in the form of badly matched resumes crossed my desk (and continue to do so).  As a contractor, I can’t name a single instance of a contract I ever got through a recruiter.  Not for lack of trying, because they hound me and most of my developer friends via LinkedIn contact information or our marketing websites.

My message to recruiters is simple:  The Dot Com days are long gone, so why are you still using the same tired tactics?  Shoving resumes under people’s noses after playing buzzword bingo isn’t working and no one likes it.  Why don’t you try to add some real value to the transaction?  The hiring managers and contractors of the world are not buying it anymore.

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* In all fairness, I get harassed by as many female recruiters as I do male.  But Middleperson sounds like someone who might sell to Hobbits.

** If you’ve ever bought a house, you know my model is gratuitously oversimplified, but it serves as a reasonable example, even if it doesn’t take into account all the useless fees charged by the bank, the agents, and everyone in between.

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