The face behind a name … and a title.

My girlfriend dislikes being called doctor.

A quick survey of the large stack of mail that typically resides on her coffee table reveals that none is addressed to “Dr.”, and if asked, she would show you that the cards in her wallet would indicate no such intitials. Furthermore, when asked by a stranger what she does, she responds by saying “I work at the hospital.” Her next response is typically, “Actually I’m a physician.” Of course, this response is required to correct a typical “oh, you’re a nurse” declaration by the stranger. I admire this modesty in her; perhaps even more than I admire the determination, intellect, talent, sacrifice, and grueling hard work that has entitled her to these initials. I reflect upon my own level of humbleness and the real face behind the “founder of a startup company” title I often mention.

After listening to a “White coat, Black artpodcast on CBC radio one exploring how MDs haul out their credentials to get perks; I reflected upon my own behavior. It seems as though in our software industry, to many, “founder in a startup company”, is viewed as a glamorous position. This was certainly reflected at Seattle Startup Weekend at Adobe. In contrast to obscuring these credentials, I take every opportunity to make them known. From my blog, business cards, collabomatic t-shirts, to conversations with my hairdresser, I far from hide my occupation.

Perhaps I just realize that the life as a founder of a startup is fundamentally fleeting …. subject to a ticking clock and the maturity of the company. Unlike a lifetime with a “Dr.” title, I am simply making the most of the small window of time. Furthermore, core to the success of your company is exposure of both the company and its founders, so on occasion self promotion is required.

Without a doubt, the effort and sacrifices in founding a startup are something to very much be proud of. However, I think there’s a line between enjoying the moment, being proud, gaining exposure …. and … bragging. I’ve probably stepped over this line on occasion.

Computer Science Is Dead

I just finished reading Short history of Progress. A great read, and falls nicely into this pseudo hippie/midlife crisis I find myself in.

My extremely limited literary genius tells me that one of the core themes of the book is that throughout the history of man, science has advanced, in occasions too fast for the good of society. Ronald Wright does a nice job of showing this through examples of “progress traps” ie. Babylon fell as a result of their very own success through sophisticated wet agriculture practices leading to increased food yeilds, cities and wealth, but also, eventually salination and death of the soil.

I’ll take a gigantic leap and compare the death of a culture … with advances in programming tools leading to the death of computer scientists, as I recently heard a peer boast.

Ok, that’s a bit extreme … a lot extreme actually … and even more naive. While the likes of auto-generated code, garbage collectors, intellisense, .net and rails frameworks have in many ways, allowed pragmatic and scientific skills to be optional when writing code; much like any other science, advances in the tools allows the scientist to focus on other areas of their domain.

Stating that computer science was dead because of an advanced compiler would be like claiming mechanical engineering was toast because of the invention of the wheel. To me, computer science ultimately comes down to mathematical logic, category theory, domain theory, and algebra. Having an IDE doesn’t help me out in any of these areas.

Why I’ll no show for Seattle Startup Weekend on Sunday

The only person in complete control of what they get out of an event like Seattle Startup weekend is … themselves. For this reason it’s largely my own failure for not getting more from the weekend.

In addition, Andrew Hyde has done a good job coordinating such a phenomenal weekend full of energy, creativity, and excitement. I really do think he’s onto something with Startup weekend, and the likes of Nathan Kaiser from NPost ,and the Jott crew did Seattle proud.

However, I am simply not embracing the experience and won’t be heading back Sunday for the final day to see the product called SkillBit launch. Despite plenty of talented and technical people, lots of product brainstorming, marketing, bizdev discussion and a general *I’ll do anything* attitude shown by many, this in so many ways feels more like the large company atmosphere, than that of a startup.

Dev waiting for requirements, designers waiting for a product name and url, business developers drafting page long business plans, project managers scurrying around asking what they can do to help, and an odd vibe of bitterness when egos and consensus collide.

I suppose when combining 130 some odd people, this process and division of labor is both inevitable and needed. However, to me, the most appealing part of being a founder in a startup has been the lack of role definition and the abundance of overall responsibility of all the founders performing tasks spanning from bizdev to sales, to product development.

Or maybe the real reason is simpler. I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to invest my energy and time working on my own startup that I’m passionate about, and will see the rewards of instead.

If I were to do it again, I’d take the advice of Andrew and treat it more as a community building exercise. I’d pick a role to latch onto Friday night and learn as much as possible from one of the experts in the subject area much more experienced than I … perhaps SEO …. Perhaps learning Django …. But as it was, I couldn’t tear myself away from thoughts of our own product .. and a Ruby interpreter.

The "Ultimate" in startups

Ok … so I’m beating the whole “Startups are like X” thing to death … and then maybe death again. Quite the opposite of original, this is a rebuttal to my fellow Attassa co founder Rod Frey’s blog “The top five reasons entrepreneurs love hockey”
I present to thee …
If startups most resembled of a sport, it’d be ….
Ultimate Frisbee; and not just because both are dominated on the west coast!

4. Ultimate Frisbee is a sport without any financial compensation. As a matter of fact one scrimps and saves to just play the damn sport. In the same way I remember spending the night on the floor of my cousin’s apartment in Lethbridge Alberta I remember spending the night sleeping on an air mattress in Seattle apt.
3. Ultimate Frisbee is self officiated. No ref’s to enforce the rules, no coach to layout a game plan, no trainer to motivate you to work harder. In ulti, and in startups, you, you’re team-mates, are the sole stakeholders.
2. Plays and game plans go out the window! Much like design docs and business plans, ultimate Frisbee plays serve as the required starting point to a dynamic and ever changing game. They pretty much get thrown out the window once you start playing.
1. And much like hockey, ulty is a game of time and space. Unlike any other sport, ultimate Frisbee relies on you reading the competition, getting into the right position at the right time, and reacting swiftly when opportunity arrises.

#1 lesson learned in 2007

Perception and happiness is governed 10% by facts and 90% selection and presentation of these facts.

I was reminded of this by my godmother Millie in a late night phone call while feeling overworked and alone. Millie, always good for a picker upper, reminded me that you …. and only you … are in control of your happiness. While this is tough to believe for anyone who has been dealt life’s equivalent of a 2-7 off-suit ; I believe this to be true within reason.

Along this line of thought I’ve realized that life, happiness, and perception really is all about the projection of facts.

On one hand I could have written a Christmas card spinning a glamorous tale about my year in 2007 – how I bought a nice home and flipped a profit in under 6 months, was a founder in starting up a software company which achieved funding, moved into a hip and funky apartment in one of Seattle’s trendiest neighborhoods, traveled to Texas for consulting opportunities.

While on the other, I could focus on how I sold too late in the Edmonton housing market, how I miss family friends and loved ones in Edmonton and Canada, and how the kitchen sink in my apartment in Seattle continually gives me electrical shocks, how the bathtub continually backs up leaving me standing in a pool of my own filth when finishing a shower, and how the neighbors … F#$((# you Jennifer!!! …. Are incredibly loud.

Focusing on the positive, while at the same time neither remaining ignorant or improving on weakness … make it my resolution.