“Five thousand, four hundred and thirty two dollars and twenty three cents”
“Five thousand, four hun…”
“Yes, we will take your home next Tuesday if you don’t pay us five thousand, four hundred and thirty-two dollars and twenty three cents.”
“I’m sorry there’s nothing else we can do for you”
“Yes, you will lose your house next Tuesday if you don’t pay us fi….”
“Yes, thank you.”
This was where I had found myself in the spring of 2004.
For some reason, I thought it was a great idea to accept a developer position at a Law Firm that specialized in foreclosures. In some cosmic twist, they sat me in the cubicle next to the lady who was delivering the bad news to people. All day.
I had to get out of there. But to where? A recruiter had told me about this place that was a real software company that created a POS for restaurants called Aloha. I was done being the IT department. I wanted to be a part of a real software company. So on July 12, 2004, ten years from tomorrow, I started working at Radiant Systems.
I arrived ten years ago a mid-level software engineer whose confidence was shaken by all the foreclosures I had to hear about, and a rough few years of post-Y2K job market crappiness.
Looking back, I’ve grown so much. Here are ten takeaways from the last ten years at Radiant/NCR:
- Speak Up. Early on I developed an opinion on what needed to change about my team’s situation, and I spoke up and did something about it. This fueled even more change, and gave me a reputation for leadership, which opened up so many opportunities.
- Make a List. When I started, I worked with a friend that always made lists, and I thought that was strange at first. But then I realized my colleague always got stuff done quicker than me. So I made a list, and got stuff done as well. People aren’t organized because they are dorks that like inane details; they’re organized because it works.
- Do it Right, But Do it Fast. I’ve been passionate about doing things well for a long time. But I realized early on that the only way to do this is to get fast at developing software. I needed to take advantage of tools that I had available to me and get smart about getting things done, so I could have time to get it right.
- Tools Matter. I don’t need to be a super-genius to be effective. Really I just need to use the right tools, and let my teams and company for that matter use those tools to be more effective. That way I win, everyone wins, and we can be more focused on the problem at hand. That’s why I love tools. It’s a win for everyone.
- Don’t be Religious about Process. Early on I was very religious about being agile, doing test-driven development, whatever. I’ve realized over the years that it’s much more valuable to use those frameworks as starting points to solve the problem in front of you. If you solve problems, you get things done, and create a profit for your company. It seems so elementary that one should make more money for one’s company than they cost, but the honest truth is the degree to which you do that is the degree to which you will have flexibility on everything else: money, what you work on, flexibility.
- Be Patient. I can think over the past ten years of so many times where things weren’t going well, or where I wanted something to change so badly. Eventually it did. Like I say above, if you create value, that value is rewarded. So focus on the value, not on the drama or the desire to change everything overnight.
- You Live with the Past Forever, so get the Present Right. I am at a conference in Huntington Beach this week and was at breakfast overhearing two of our users argue about the proper approach to a weakness in a product…that I created seven years ago. It was a strange feeling that I had so much impact on these people so many years later. What I’ve learned over the years, is that you have to live with the past for a long time, especially when you move projects and can’t influence the product directly, so get it right today because you never know what tomorrow will bring.
- Value is Immune to Change. In the last ten years, I’ve been through the worst recession ever, an acquisition from Radiant to NCR, and numerous other business cycle downturns and upswings. In every one of those, I’ve thrived. Why? Because I’ve focused on bringing value to my employer beyond what they pay me. If one is valuable, change doesn’t matter. Even if the company folds, that value can be transferred elsewhere. So I don’t worry about change; I worry about value.
- Without Sales, Software is Dead. There is a sales guy at this conference who is the center of attention. He’s laughing, drinking, yucking it up with the customers. And they love it. For years, the software engineer in me despised it. “He doesn’t know the first thing about software” I would tell myself. I’ve learned recently though that without sales and marketing, software is only an idea that dies quickly. Software needs to be sold, and that usually happens by people who actually had friends in High School. Sales is a valuable aspect of software and must be rewarded.
- Show Grattitude. I’ve had my share of ups and downs in the past ten years. But when I look back, these ten years have completely changed my life. I couldn’t have gotten there without John Pearson, Vince Severns, Jeff Hughes, Jimmy Fortuna, and Honza Fedak helping me through, and the numerous team members and other leaders who have believed in me. I’ve come a long way since I was grimacing next to the lady explaining the foreclosure to the poor soul on the other line. I’ve been very open with people about how great this journey has been for me.