Pimpin’ Our Brand

Posted by amy on April 29, 2007

One reason Max is not so sure that we should ever go into business ourselves is that it obviously requires sales (“You had your own corporation back in the day, sweetie,” I say to him. “Yeah, but I didn’t have to sell myself much.” says Max. Or, as another friend of ours says, you can just barnacle yourself to some other business that takes care of the sales and farms work out to you.)

People who are good at sales seem to be from some alternate universe, and the idea of having to spend a lot of time selling ourselves is just ick. We resent the idea that not only are we forced to work for a living (and do all the stuff that actually accomplishing stuff at work entails, not to mention sitting through ugly slideshows with fancy and useless ‘effects’, eating Trader Joe’s cookies that someone left by the water cooler just because they’re there, and waiting for three days for the helpdesk to finish setting up a login that you know takes exactly two minutes of effort to accomplish) — not only are we forced to work for a living, but in our free time we must work on working. See my thoughts on the meaning of “career” (is it cheating if I add a link to something later, when I’ve actually written it?) We have a bunch of other stuff we’d like to do besides sell ourselves. For example, here I am, writing this blog entry for our “professional presence” blog, which, as noted previously, everyone says we have to have these days. But we have an unprofessional blog too (no, I’m not telling you where it is, go find it yourself if you’re so damn nosy. Or just click here to read all the deep dark secrets about us that you’d discover on it. ) And maybe I’d rather be spending this time working on the other blog, or studying my French verbs, or weeding my garden, or playing with my kids. But noooo, we have to have a brand.

How will we come up with a brand when we resent and distrust the whole notion of brands?

Why should I even be writing about this? Because I’m sure we’re not the only shy marketing-averse techie people who are hung up on the whole “creating a brand” thing everyone’s always telling us to do, and are thus holding ourselves back from being able to make money in the simplest, most pleasant, most efficient way possible.

First we have to get past all these marketing types telling us we need to have a brand. Brands are fine for those people, obviously, from some other universe, but why should we have to have one? We don’t want to do marketing. We just want to interview our users to see what their ridiculous desires (uh, I mean requirements) are, draw some screen mockups and non-UML-compliant app diagrams, write some code, configure some stuff, make some useful docs, and be done. (See how sneaky I am: Reqs. Code. Docs. Done.)

Once again, Amy Hoy comes to the rescue. (She gave me my first Ruby pep-talk, on the first day I started learning Ruby, oh, a month ago. Not that she knows me or anything.) Amy Hoy tells me all about pimpin’:

Oh blech, I can hear you thinking, an article on marketing. But wait a moment. Among geeky types, the word “marketing” has an evil reputation, I know. But pimpin’ ain’t marketing.

Pimpin’ goes oh-so-much further.

The act of marketing products is often taken to mean creating desire where there isn’t any, creating dissatisfaction in the viewer/reader/whatever, manufacturing needs and generally trying to create a false image of a product that will convince a viewer he just haaaas to have that thing. Archetypes: misleading beauty ads, “lifestyle” soda ads, and Ronco.

Now, I disagree with the above definition, but that’s the reputation the word has and I’m going to just let that one lie.

The act of pimpin’ products, on the other hand, never involves any kind of questionable tactics. Pimpin’ means putting your product’s best foot forward. Accen-tuate the pos-it-ive. It means not shirking from self-promotion, and shouting your product’s position, features and benefits loud and clear. It means making the acquisition (download, purchase, whatever) process as simple as possible. It also means having a very non-murky message. Archetype: any time when you can get in, download the product/information you want, and get out in under 60 seconds.

And, unlike marketing, pimpin’ has no “g” in it. You have to know that’s a point in its favor.

Of course, we don’t have an actual product to sell. Just us. But we need to sell Us, or at least one or the other of Us. So the advice applies. We need to have a brand, and we need to pimp it. There’s no use complaining about how we don’t wanna, cuz we have to. Even if we never go into business for ourselves full-time, people don’t stay in jobs anymore like they used to (so we hear). We’re gonna have to keep finding other jobs, and keep coming up with new ways to get people to pay us.

So there it is. We must have a brand. Ideally, of course, we end up with too much business to keep up with, and we don’t spend much of our time selling ourselves. People just email us to ask if they can hire us. But if we want that to happen, they have to find us, they have to read us, they have to know us, and they have to know what’s great about us. And they won’t find us, read us, know us, and know what’s great about us unless we tell them.

As long as we’ve got bills to pay, and as long as we don’t want simply to be cogs in a corporate machine, over-working ourselves in our cubicles, we’ve got a brand to build. Or rather, some pimpin’ to do. Sorry Max, but that’s just the way it is, and it doesn’t have to be as painful as all that. We know we’re awesome, and we just have to be able to tell a good story to everyone else about why that is.

Popularity: 6% [?]

Deep Dark Secrets from our other blog

Posted by amy on April 29, 2007

Max and I have another blog. It’s lightly anonymous, and we’re trying to maintain some semblance of separation between that online life and this one. We refuse to have only a professional online existence, because our lives are not just about work. Not that there’s any way we’ll keep all personal references out of this one. But, you know, in general, we’re gonna try not to talk about politics, sex, mental illness, cute things our kids do, etc., here on three bits.

But I can’t stand the idea of feeling like we’re ‘hiding’ something, or always worrying about covering our tracks between the blogs, or that someone will discover our other blog and feel shocked and betrayed by the information that is on it. So I’d like to take this opportunity to give you the highlights of our other blog:

We think George Bush should be impeached. We’re members of Amnesty International and the ACLU. Our kids are brilliant and beautiful, and say really funny things all the time. They are most certainly geniuses. When I was pregnant with my older kid, Ari, I got suddenly suicidally depressed and had to go on sick leave. Those darn hormones, what kidders they are! With Aya I puked the whole time and was so anemic I had to get a blood transfusion. Again, those crazy female hormones. Love ‘em. I don’t plan to get pregnant again, ever. We’re concerned about global warming and peak oil, and we worship Al Gore, and while we wish he would run for President, we’re not actually sure he should, for his own sake, not because he’d be a bad president, because he wouldn’t be, he’d be an amazing one. We’re into local, organic, small-farm foods. We insist on continuing to call Whole Foods Bread and Circus, and think it was the stupidest marketing decision ever for them to change the name. I mean, where would you rather shop? Obviously at a circus. Um, what else? Oh, we swear. We hate Hummers. We are sometimes intemperate. In our other online life, I still write more than Max. Not such a blabbermouth as his wife, he’s not. Or, as Willow once said “I too know the love of a taciturn man.” That’s a Buffy reference.

Okay then, that’s pretty much it. Hope you’re satisfied now.

Popularity: 5% [?]

Why We’re Learning Ruby on Rails

Posted by amy on April 28, 2007

Why are we learning Ruby on Rails? Let’s ask _why.

_why: his very existence, his poignant guide, his utter bizzare-itude. His hackety-hack project. Having come across _why, how could we turn down his invitation to learn ruby?

Now, apparently, some people have a very different reaction to _why. Some people think _why is what’s wrong with Ruby. _why thinks that is funny:

The problem here is: the author of the article is trying to do academics, to gain knowledge, to build a career. And my cartoons and stories have patronized him, belittled him, by treating him as if he wasn’t a real professional. This is a terrible breach of conduct. He has accolades innumerable. He has done no small deed. His peers are all gathered around him, wishing him the best and swelling with nothing but respect and esteem for him. NOW WHAT IS THIS CARTOON BOOK DOING HERE??Programming is for world commerce. It is like agriculture or fossil fuels. It is lot a like baling hay. I’ll give you an example: You wouldn’t write a cartoon book with a plot and running narrative just to show a guy how to bale hay! That would frustrate the guy! He would throw that book in the pig’s pen! He just wants to get straight to the nitty-gritty and, for once in his life, just bale hay, straightway!

It’s not just _why, of course. We’d be pretty pathetic if we decided to devote lots of time and effort to a new programming language just because of a cartoon book. I mean, we have to have serious, professional, career-oriented reasons for learning ruby. And Rails, of course. Not that ruby doesn’t exist without rails. Ruby doesn’t need rails to justify its existence. Matz is not DHH, after all. Matz came first. And then, presumably, came _why. 37signals was later.

Learning a new language takes a lot of effort. I’m trying, lackadaisically, to learn french, since Max speaks French and Ari is learning it, primarily by having Barbapapa books read to him over and over again. And we have a bunch of french friends, and it’s really depressing at dinner parties how I’m never quite sure what people are saying. It’s hard, though, and what would make it even harder is if I didn’t like french culture.

Learning a new programming language is a lot like learning a new human language. It comes with a culture. You have to like the culture to want to put in the effort.

So, you know, we have a friend who’s making fistfuls of money because he’s a crack ActionScript 3 developer. Every time we turn around he gets another promotion, and another raise, and he says the world is desperate for ActionScript 3 programmers. We hear this from other people we know, people with jobs. We don’t have jobs right now. Well, Max consults. And I consult to Max on his consulting. But not a 401(k) plan between us. So I keep thinking “fine, let’s learn actionscript”. Except that it’s like trying to have sex with someone you’re just not attracted to. close your eyes and think of Ruby. Oh wait, I swore I wasn’t going to mention sex on this blog. Note to self: blog is for professional presence. Sex: not professional. Well, except for sex workers, for whom sex is professional. But I’m not a sex worker. Am I calling my actionscript friend a sex worker? Not sure. We love you, actionscript friend! And I will be quiet now.

What I’m trying to say here is that we like the Ruby culture. No doubt we’ve come to it too late, and in about two weeks it won’t be cool anymore and people will be all ‘ewww, you’re a ruby person? Rails is soooo 2006. Didn’t you know that Twitter proved it wasn’t scalable? And it’s s…l….o….w.” But that’s okay. When I first started programming, it was because I fell in love with a heapsort. Heapsort had been around for a pretty long time then, but I felt like I was the first person who’d discovered how cool it was. (Kind of like teenagers and sex. Oh wait, there I go again. Shut. Up. Amy.)

Anyway, here we are, immersing ourselves in Ruby culture. We’re gonna go to a Boston Ruby Meeting, where Hackety Hack will be demo-d. I’m subscribed to all these Ruby blogs. We’re studying the idioms and learning about the people and the projects in the Ruby world. And, of course, learning the language. We’d like to contribute to the conversation at the Ruby table.

As for Rails, we’re learning it because we need to write our own web-based to-do list. I’m joking, I promise. Rails comes along with Ruby because most of our experience in IT has been web-related. So we’re leveraging our experience with web technologies and increasing our skillset with Rails, an agile Ruby-based framework that dramatically increases the speed and ease of web app development. See: serious and professional. Ignore the cartoon foxes and sex workers.

Popularity: 6% [?]

what is thirdbIT?

Posted by amy on April 28, 2007

thirdbIT is the “professional internet presence” of Max and Amy Newell. Or, if you will, Max and Amy’s Interweb job-pimping self-marketing, social-web 2.0 thingy. Eventually we’ll put up code, to show we know how to code. We’ll have posts showing that we read all the important technology news and have interesting things to say about it. We’ll talk about our contributions to cool open-source projects, and provide cheatsheets and other useful stuff. We’ll talk about why people would want to hire a husband-wife software development team, as opposed to just one person, or some other kind of team. We’ll have our resumes and a “contact us” form. We’ll be doing all the stuff the careers people say to do, even if we’re pretty conflicted about the whole notion of “careers” (look for a future post on this subject).

Right now, we’ve just got a blog that only I, Amy, am likely to post to with any regularity (being as I’m the loquacious one), and a name, which I’ve been nursing for a few years now, along with my dream of starting a consulting business with Max, and a tagline, which I came up with a couple weeks ago while driving back from Target. We’ve got some pictures I drew for a logo/template, which Max then took some photos of, and some alterna-cards we made from the photos, which are somewhere in the mail between the UK and here. We’ve got some ideas. We have some goals. But we don’t have much else. If we’re going to actually hand out the alterna-cards, we should put something up here.

Still, the customer (being us) is pretty happy with this iteration. We don’t know where things are going. We’re not sure this is the time to start consulting as a team; it wasn’t really our plan; there’s so much we want to learn, still; we’d like to say we’re experts at something, but our career paths have been too unconventional, too general, to say that. In a lot of ways, we like being what we are, jacks-of-all-trades, IT-wise. But we’d like to be master of one too. So it’s time for us to settle down and get great at something.

What we’ve chosen, right now, to settle down and get great with, is Ruby on Rails (future post to do on why RoR).

So that’s what the focus of this blog will be right now: our journey to getting great with RoR.

Popularity: 4% [?]

Grok-a-thon

Posted by amy on April 26, 2007

the ybab just got a bunch of shots today, so she’s squalling at me right now. But why should I let that stop my ruby-on-rails/web technology grok-a-thon? I’ve been cheerfully ignoring the evolution of web technology for three years, and now I’m cheerfully cramming its current state into my brain. I’ve got a bunch of scraps of paper around me, with a bunch of little lists and inscrutable notations about things I better learn about, read about, think about, and try out. Blogs, presentations, projects, newsgroups, feeds, GACK! I feel like one of the hybrids in battlestar. Perhaps I can navigate a ship now, using only my mind?

I hope to spend a few days in the grok-a-thon and then to sit on the back patio in the sun and let it sink in. I will close my eyes and see ruby code as I am falling asleep.

I don’t know where this all is going, exactly. I’m not ready to work full-time right now. I’d rather Max not work full-time either. I want us to find a way to work together, and not all the time. I want everything — the perfect setup! I am not sure how we’ll get to our dream work from where we are right now. Will we find a job to share, or will we be laughed out of any company we tried to convince to hire us for one? Will we do some consulting, or will it turn out that we can’t stand all the self-promotion required to consult? Will blog.thirdbit.net end up going to that great bloggie graveyard in the sky? Will I work for pay again, or spend my days sitting in the park snickering at the bugaboo strollers? Is the final cylon really who we think it is, or was this year’s season finale a red herring? Is that a spoiler? Why isn’t my life a battlestar episode?

Back to grokking now. This has been a test of the thirdbit broadcasting system.

Popularity: 3% [?]

hah!

Posted by amy on April 25, 2007

One thing I like to do when I am learning a new thing is to immerse myself in its world. This is easy to do in these interweb days, although it can also be overwhelming. Right now I have maybe twenty tabs open in Firefox, with a bunch of Ruby blogs, slideshows, resource sites, and other stuff in them. I am racing through them quickly, writing down everything I don’t know. So there’s a slide from a slideshow that Matz gave at RubyConf 2003. Matz is the guy who invented Ruby, I’ve learned, and RubyConf is the place to be, although what with the infant I’ve got attached to me much of the time these days, I won’t. I wonder if they provide a pumping room at the conference for all those nursing Ruby moms…

Anyway, the slide makes me laugh, and that’s a good thing, because it’s kind of overwhelming cramming this much new stuff into my brain this quickly.

Popularity: 2% [?]

The Web, 2007: Why does javascript still exist?

Posted by amy on April 25, 2007

Oh, man. AJAX.

So I’m working through the canonical rails text, Agile Development in Rails, and I’m breezing along, thinking “this rocks!” The last web app that I wrote, back in 2002-ish, was a Java/JSP thing, with some web services thrown in, toward the end. I had some exposure to Ant, JUnit, and the other open-source tools people were starting to use then, but not a lot. STRUTS was still bleeding-edge.

Anyway, so that web app I wrote at Millennium, for the Mol Path department, was an enormous undertaking, at least for one not-very-experienced developer. Legacy code, legacy database, ties to 5 or 6 other systems, disgruntled and demanding users, the works. I worked my ass off on that app, and most of the functionality of most of the code I wrote is now provided, from the start, in Rails. I’ve been breezing through the rails tutorial, excited as all get-out to think how much more quickly one can develop web apps with rails. It’s all awesomeness.

And then I get to AJAX. And I cringe. Because ye gods, I hate javascript with a fiery passion. I hate the DOM. And yet, if I want to write code, and I do, desperately (I’ve done doc-only gigs, and it’s not my favorite thing), then I’ve got to know the DOM. I have to fiddle with the CSS, make the shopping cart update on the fly, zoom the links, and all the rest.

Why is javascript still around? Why doesn’t someone, you know, standardize it? Why can’t it work the same way in all browsers? Why does IE have a “quirks mode”? I have long been convinced that javascript was invented to drive programmers insane. It looks sort of like a programming language, but actually it’s voodoo. I know with Rails I get to stay pretty far away from the actual javascript , thank goodness for small mercies, but still, not as far away as I’d like to be. And again, why is javascript still around? Still around, and used more now than EVER?? Grrr.

Still and all, Rails is damn cool.

Popularity: 3% [?]

Agile Logos

Posted by amy on April 22, 2007

Yesterday afternoon I drew and painted some thirdbIT logo ideas. This afternoon Max took some photos of the pictures:

Really we should use a flatbed scanner for these, says Max.
We don’t have a flatbed scanner, says Amy.

Right. We should use a tripod for the camera, though.

Take the pictures.

Later…

The lighting was bad.

I don’t care, upload them to picasa.

The idea is, we are going to be agile, and not wait until things are perfect. In an alternate universe where we get an actual designer to come up with a logo for us, and make us business cards, and have a flatbed scanner and, I don’t know, any time at all, we would make logos and cards and blog designs all match-y and carefully branded and present a perfectly poised business front to the world.

But I’m going to my old company’s ex-employee party next week, and since it’s part ex-employee party and part job-fair (the party invitation mentioned that companies were welcome to buy tables at the party to display their wares or try to hire people…), I need business cards. Or something cards, anyway. I’m working on moo cards, with a bunch of different photos of the logo pictures. I read about them on Web Worker Daily, and they seem less intimidating than business cards. For 20 bucks we can get a hundred of these very cool-looking things to hand out to people we know whenever it happens to come up that we happen to be software geeks.

Anyway, the whole idea is that we’re not making a big commitment to a particular logo. We’re just… fooling around. We’re trying things out, seeing what fits.

Now I’m gonna see if I can convince Max to do the dirty work of munging some of the logo pictures into the blog’s design. Max?

Popularity: 3% [?]