Software and the Genius of Edison
"Genius," says Thomas Edison, "is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration." David Deutsch says this is a misleading description of how progress happens. Deutsch presents a convincing argument in "The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World." I agree wholeheartedly with his observation that much of the perspiration phase can be automated. Most of my software engineering career was dedicated to automating the kinds of repetitive and mundane chores computers are good at so human beings would have the time to focus on what human beings are good at - solving problems and creating knowledge. I think, on balance, the software industry has been successful in that objective. Or was right up until Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al. got in people's faces.
When I shifted from coder to manager to coach, I kept my hand in the software development game by writing tools and programs to make my personal and, to a lesser extent, professional life easier. Project Phoenix, in part, represents my re-entry into writing software for production environments. As I've begun to speak more openly about this to friends and associates, there has been a mixed bag of reactions.
Mostly surprise, given how vocal I've been about having been burned by and burned out with writing code. But writing software solely for my own needs has always been enjoyable. It's a completely different experience from coding to someone else's plan and design. Coding for my own business is just a small extension past what I've been doing for myself. I'm rediscovering the enjoyment I lost many years ago.
This wasn't my original plan. It became my plan after determining nothing on the market does everything I need. Worse, most everything on the market does a thousand things I don't need. And all that stuff I don't need is quite expensive. Why would a master woodworker spend $50,000 for a table he could make for himself at a fraction of the cost? I'll acknowledge I've slipped from the ranks of master coder, but for what I'm creating, craftsman is more than sufficient. Plus, partnering with freelancers who are masters at the bits I'm not is just good business.
The other common response is to ask "To whom am I going to sell my software." The answer is "no one." I'm creating tools that aren't available on the market but which I need for my business to succeed. I'll be providing, fundamentally, a service. The software is ancillary. For me to sell my software would be like a chef selling restaurant patrons the plates and silverware along with the entrée. The software is just one of the things I need to deliver a service. It doesn't need to do much, but it has to do it well, reliably, and invisibly. Just like the plate on which your restaurant meal is served - a small part of the experience but you’d sure miss it if it wasn’t there.
This past weekend, I released an alpha version to a very small audience. A soft launch is planned for end of July and an official launch in early October. The plan is to include newsletter subscribers in on the soft launch. When everything is in place and working, there will be less effort on my part to support my clients and customers. This means more time to focus on delivering value. That's how progress happens.