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120 Programmers
Questions & Answers

209 Pages


Reviews
Table of Contents
Introduction
Samples



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Reviews for
"Letters to the Eddietor:
120 Programmers
Questions & Answers"

"I cannot relate to much of the letter writer's story, but nonetheless Ed just got me so fired up. This is all such damn good advice! Thank you!"
Sean Linehan, Director of Product, Flexport

"Very smart advice. I wish I'd read it a few months ago."
Daniel Tenner, Founder of GrantTree, Woobius and Swombat.com

"Ed's advice works because he presents himself for his customer to clearly see the value he creates. He spells it out. Its less about talking about yourself and more about talking about them."
Bruce Saunders, Director, Web Application Development, Maximus

"Thank you very much for the golden words, Ed. I wanted to complain about something, but your words let me be confident again."
Vince Yuan, iOS/Android/Web/Desktop Developer, Singapore/Hong Kong/Shanghai

"Ed's advice should be pinned up on the wall, great summary. Once this person gets focussed on solving problems for customers, they will be very successful."
Chuck McManis, VP Software Architecture, Spectranetix, Inc.

"Ed always has a kind heart :)"
Dzung Nguyen, Independent Consultant, Southern Region, Funen, Denmark

"I think Ed's points are good complement in terms of actually building your product and managing your time."
Josh Sharp, Cofounder, Hello Code

"And do not underestimate how important this piece is: '...and keep me posted.' Now go, and to great things worthy of honor."
Barry Welch, Software developer, Bootstrapper, and Freelancer, Kansas

"Reading Edís words from a positive perspective, I find them inspiring and reflective of my own experience."
Reg Braithwaite, Author, JavaScript Allonge, CoffeeScript Ristretto and raganwald.com

"Really, really motivating. I relate to the letter writer in a lot of ways. Thanks for sharing this, Ed."
Kyro Beshay, Cofounder & CPO, Zipdrug

"Wow, excellent answer."
Pauli Olavi Ojala, Editor, Neonto Studio, Helsinki, Finland

"Ed pretty much covers it. Stuff happens. Good project managers will adjust and move on."
Alistair Hastings, Software Architect and Project Manager, Washington, DC

"When I asked famous spiritual teacher a while ago about 'being depressed and how to solve it' - Ed's advice was exactly the answer I was given."
Gleb Esman, Sr. Product Manager, Anti-Fraud Products, Splunk

"Thanks Ed! That's all I can say at the moment."
Adnan Siddiqi, Solution Provider / Consultant, Karachi, Pakistan

"Great advice, Ed. Not in a similar situation myself, but your reply is quite a motivational treasure."
- billN (on-line persona)

"Damn, what can I say? Thanks Ed! Will take your advise to heart. Will make sure that I deliver stuff from now on, rather than empty talk."
- qisine, (on-line persona)

"A lot of stuff Ed says is sound advice. :-)"
- jdefr89 (on-line persona)

"That Ed, is very good advice. Thank you!"
- abind (on-line persona)

"Superb advice Ed, very superb. Thanks a lot."
- 2emtu96 (on-line persona)

"Thank you, Ed. This advice is very valuable for me at least."
- justplay (on-line persona)

"Ed's advice is very well put. Concise and constructive."
- jborden13 (on-line persona)

"Great advice; rings true."
- vdm (on-line handle)

Table of Contents

Introduction

Chapter 1 - Adversity

I Quit my Job and it was a Bad Idea
My Track Record is Mostly Negative
My Startup Failed. I'm Broke & Unemployed. How Do I Fix This?
When Do You Know Your Startup Has Failed?
What Should I Do When I've Lost All Motivation?
I'm a Loser and I Want to Change That Now
Why Have I Failed as an Entrepreneur?
What Should I Do if I Feel Burnt Out?
What's Wrong, Me or Them?
So I'm Being Let Go
I'm a Cargo Cult Programmer. Help Me.
How Do You Avoid Burnout and Getting Taken Advantage Of?
I'm Burning Out and I Can't Tell Anyone
Terrible Stammer: What Should I Do?
I Feel My Dream Slipping Away
What Should I Do About a Boring Job?
How Do You Maintain Your Passion While Making Others Rich?
I'm Tired of Hacking. What Should I Do?
How Do I Get My Mojo Back?
When Does Taking Risk = Stupidity?
How Can I Self-Evaluate my Programming Skills?
Losing Faith: The Startup Killer
A Programmer I Know Went Completely Insane

Chapter 2 - Principles

What Programming Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self?
What Programming Principles Can I Use to Drive My Work?
What Should I Be Looking for During Design Review?
How Should We Do Code Review?
How Can I Get Better Writing Something from Scratch?
What are the 20% Tips That Will Get My Code to Perform 80% Faster?
What are Your "Top Ten Tips" for Programmers?
Biggest Mistakes Beginners Make When Working with Databases
Where Should I Start Learning About Databases?
What is the Best Thing You Did to Improve Your Programming?
How Can a Computer Science Graduate Get Better at Programming?
What Non-Technical Skills Do I Need to Be a Senior Dev?
What Do You Wish You'd Learned About Programming in College?
Are Self-Taught Developers Missing Their Foundation?
What Set Your Hair on Fire this Year?
Good OS X Data Modeling Software?
What Do You Do When You Can't Stand PHP Anymore?

Chapter 3 - Work Habits

How Can I Achieve Intense Focus?
What Do Really Successful Programmers Do Differently?
How Do I Break My Cycle of Chronic Procrastination?
How Can I Stay Focused on My Project?
How are Some People Exceptionally Productive?
Do You Prefer Learning by Watching Videos or by Reading?
I Know How to Program but I Don't Know What to Program
How Can I Increase Self-Discipline as a Self-Employed Person?
How Do You Motivate Yourself?
How Can I Be More Productive?
What is Your Typical Day Like?
What are Your Productivity Hacks?
How do You "Get Into the Zone"?
How Can I Be More Productive?
How Do You Motivate Yourself to Do Un-Motivating Work?
How Fast Do You Code?
Do You Spend More Time Coding or Debugging?
How Can I Stop Forgetting Things?
What is Your Nightstand Code?
What Productivity Tools Do You Use to Get Things Done?
How Can I Stay Sharp?
What is the "Must Have" Feature of Your IDE?

Chapter 4 - Business

Tell Me About Your Failed Startup
How Do I Escape CRUD Jobs?
What Kind of Code Sample Should I Provide an Interviewer?
What Would You Say to a New Entrepreneur?
How Can an Employee Become Prepared to Start a Business?
Who Would You Hire, Candidate A or Candidate B?
Should Coding Challenges Be Part of Interviews?
How Did You Market your App Against Tough Competition?
How Can I Become More Employable?
What Do Employers Do to Lose Their Best Employees?
How Can Company Blow a Job Interview?
Best Business Book you Read this Year and Why
Any Tips for Good Cover Letters?
Surprised by Your Revenue? Easier than You Thought?
Are Interview Thank You Emails Necessary?
How Do I Sell my Niche Software with No Sales Background?
What Should I Do When My Company Misses Payroll?
How Do We Close a Sale?
Can I Make Money with Shareware?
What are Problems that Need to be Solved?
What are Your Important Startup Failure Lessons?
How Did You Make Your First $10,000?
How Should We Enter a Market Full of Low Quality Competition?
Should I Go Around a Tech Recruiter?
Is it Improper to Invite Ex-Coworkers to Join Your Startup?
What Do You Want to Know About a Company to Work There?
Why Can't I Make More?
How Should I Buy a Domain Name from a Squatter?

Chapter 5 - Management

How Can I Be a Good Technical Lead?
How Should I Manage Developers Who Aren't Very Good?
How Do I Get My Team to Write Better Code?
Are Your Programmers Working Hard or Are They Lazy?
How Do You Communicate if You Won't Hit an Estimate?
How Does One Work with Software Engineers?
Why Can't Programmers Get Along with Business Type People?
What Do You Do to Keep Meetings Manageable and Sane?
How Do You Convince Your Bosses to Use the Right Tools?
What Question Would Tell You Where Someone's Heart Is?

Chapter 6 - Lifestyle

How Do I Do a Startup in My Spare Time?
What's it Like to Still be Hacking after 60?
How Can I Do More Meaningful Work?
Myth: Programmers Get to Write Code All Day
Computer Science Major Who Doesn't Want to Code. Wrong Major?
Ever Drop Everything & Leave Software Dev Behind?
Where Do Old Devs Go?
How Can We Achieve Age Diversity in Silicon Valley?
What is the Most Useful Thing a Programmer Can Learn?
What are Your Primary Motivations for Doing Side Projects?
Job or School. Which Should I Do?
Where Do You Get Your Inspiration?
What Should I Do Next?
Is 36 Too Late to Start into Programming?
Do You "Dumb Yourself Down" Around Your Peers?
Startup vs Girlfriend?
What Books Have Changed Your Perspective of Life?
Inspirational Books on Computer Science Personalities?
Should I Quit Programming?
Has Your Startup Affected your Relationship with your Girlfriend?
Do You Really Want to be Doing This When You're 50?

Introduction

I get a lot of emails these days from fellow programmers with [ distress | concern | depression ]. They're not looking for technical solutions or advice (which is good because I have neither), they're just not where they thought they'd be and are reaching out for something.

I try to make a point to answer all of them because, frankly, they're my most important emails. To me, the ones and zeroes inside my fellow humans' heads are far more important than those on any computer.

If I built a Venn diagram of all of my responses, the intersection is significant. There are some things I end up telling almost everyone, regardless of their situation.

This is just a bunch of observations from a fellow programmer who has also suffered and learned...

1. You don't have a time machine.

So many fellow programmers say, "If only I hadn't..." with "quit my job" being the top instance.

You can't "should have". You can only "do". You don't have to forget what happened in the past, but you don't have to overemphasize the importance of its input into your future.

My favorite example:

2 people are traveling from New York to San Francisco. One drives directly from New York to Chicago. The other drives to Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and then Chicago. They are now both in Chicago, well fed, rested, and ready to go. How should their plans differ? (Hint: Except for rare exceptions, they shouldn't.)

It doesn't matter how you got where you're at. It only matters where you're at, who you are, and what you've got.

2. You can't read others' minds.

I often hear things like, "If I only knew what she wanted, I would do it." You don't know. So ask. We humans are not connected via USB 3.0 (yet). Until then, we must talk to each other without fear. That usually improves our chances of success significantly.

3. There are no rewards or punishments, only consequences.

Life's not fair. with software, unknown input + known process = predictable result. In life, known input + unknown process = consequences. We spend a lifetime learning the processes, so we should get better predicting the consequences. When you were 16 are wrote that cool software that nobody wanted, you were disappointed. Now you should either adjust the input or stop being disappointed. You'll never be perfect, but with continuous learning, you should get pretty good knowing what will work and what won't.

It's not about luck. It's about adjusting the controls to maximize the possibility of desirable consequences. You didn't do that as well as you would have liked this last time. You'll do better next time.

4. Don't order a taco at a Chinese restaurant.

Many programmers are disappointed in the responses of others in their lives. "If only more people clicked that button." "If only my co-founder worked harder." "If only that angel got it."

Sometimes we expect things from others that they are incapable of giving. It's hard for us programmers to believe that it's so difficult (or impossible) for (Person A) to do (Task B) or understand (Concept C). We might as well order a taco at a Chinese restaurant. (Hint: They don't have any.)

When others don't respond the way you expected, maybe it's because they couldn't or didn't know how. Don't blame them. Just order what they've got.

5. You are a Chinese restaurant that doesn't serve tacos.

Sometimes a friend or loved one says something like, "You had it all! You made more money than anyone I know and you threw it away for a silly dream. You could have had and done anything you wanted with a salary like that."

Whenever they do, they're ordering a taco from your Chinese restaurant. They think you're something you're not and they want something from you that you don't have to give them.

In general, most normals get a greater percentage of their satisfaction from mainstream thinking, good times, and "stuff". They don't understand the programmer mindset of getting satisfaction from building and achieving.

That's OK. Being different isn't the problem. Forgetting that we are is.

6. They love you. They want to help. They're always right.
Pick two out of three. (Hint: It's the first two.)

I often hear things like, "My father criticizes me for (x) and I feel awful." You can only feel awful if you believe him. You only believe him if you think he's right. But as hard as it is to believe, sometimes he's actually wrong. This is probably one of those times. Get used to it.

7. It's all in your head.

It may sound like some enlightened Zen kind of thing, but it really is true. But knowing it and living it are two entirely different things.

It's easy to say things like, "I will manifest (y) in my life," especially for us programmers because we are used to making something seemingly out of nothing. But when we appear to not succeed at building something right out of our head, it's easy to dismiss our responsibility and blame something external (time, money, support, luck, etc.)

It really is all in your head. You may not be ready right now, but eventually you will be. Then you'll try again.

8. I care. And I have a feeling I'm not the only one.

The single biggest response I ever get is something like, "Thank you. It's not what you said, but the fact that you responded that means so much to me."

Feel free to email me any time. And feel free to engage others, too. But don't get concerned if they don't respond. Their Chinese restaurant doesn't serve tacos yet.

The chapters that follow include 120 instances within 6 classes of questions from programmers writing "Letters to the Eddietor". I believe many of them got something out of our interaction. I hope you do too./p>

Samples

I Quit my Job and it was a Bad Idea

Dear Eddietor,

I quit my full-time job. I wish I could say it was 'the best single thing I've ever done' or 'why haven't I done it earlier' but I'm not going to say it. Just to offer the other side of the perspective. And because it wouldn't be honest and I don't care nearly enough to be dishonest. Yeah, seriously, what do I have to lose?

It was a bad idea. I moved back with my parents, my freelancing thing barely works, I'm constantly broke, on the verge of poverty, I'm deeply depressed and contemplating suicide. I have to constantly hear my father shout what an idiot I am for quitting a high-paying job. My friends make fun of me for making a retarded life decision. I can't really do anything else, since apparently finding a new job, is kind of hard and I have to go through the whole step where I admit my failure and start over and I don't even know what I want anymore.

I thought I would become free, but I've actually become less free as a result of it.

Essentially, this is very hard and I barely have any idea on how to get out of this mess. What doesn't make it any easier is that I'm 20, I have no college diploma, no high school diploma, no idea what's going on.

I'm an idiot, essentially. This letter serves mainly as a warning for those who could be in the same position, contemplating quitting. It's not as much fun as you think. It's not like Office Space. I'm not saying you shouldn't quit, but you should really put more thought into it.

And I even had enough savings for four months after quitting. I thought a lot of things through, includes finances, etc. I even managed to live by myself for the entire four months until I finally gave in and couldn't pay the rent.

It just didn't work out and it feels very painful.

-I Quit

Dear I Quit,

"I did quit my full-time job."

So did I. Many times. About half the time it worked out great. The other half, it sucked, just like yours does now. You are not alone.

"I'm constantly broke, on the verge of poverty..."

Then get a job, any job. It doesn't have to be programming. It'll get you out of the house, get you with other people, and put a few bucks in your pocket. If you love programming enough, you'll find time to keep it going on the side.

"I'm deeply depressed and contemplating suicide"

Don't. Contact me anytime. When things are going well, they're never as good as they seem. When they are going poorly, they're never as bad as they seem.

"I have to constantly hear my father shout what an idiot I am for quitting a high-paying job"

Fathers are sometimes wrong. Yours is now. Don't listen to him.

"My friends make fun of me for making a retarded life decision."

When things get tough, you find out who your friends really are. I know it's not much consolation, but you just did. Be glad you saved a lot of time and energy. Anyone who makes fun of you was never your friend, just an acquaintance.

"I can't really do anything else, since apparently finding a new job, is kind of hard and I have to go through the whole step where I admit my failure and start over and I don't even know what I want anymore."

Don't ever say "can't" because it's not true. You can. Just find any job and go from there. First you crawl, then you walk, then you run. Many of us have already been there. You can do it too.

"I thought I would become free, but I've actually become less free as a result of it."

So far. What you don't see now since you are in the midst of this is that this was just one backward (or sideways) step in a long journey forward. I don't know anyone who is successful that had only forward steps. We've all had these backward steps. It sounds like this may have been your first big one. That might be why it hurts so much.

"I'm 20, I have no college diploma, no high school diploma, ..."

None of that matters. All that really matters is what's inside your head and your heart. Once you decide to start taking positive steps, you'll see.

"I'm an idiot, essentially."

Please don't ever say that. You're not, and I have proof: If you were really an idiot, then you wouldn't have written this.

"It just didn't work out and it feels very painful."

Thanks for the warning. You may have just saved a lot of people a lot of pain with this letter.

And thanks for your story. I've been there (several times) as I imagine many others have as well. It gets better. I promise. But you have to stop feeling miserable and take a positive step. Writing this letter was your first step. Talking off-line may be another. And getting out of the house and finding a job, any job, is probably your next best step.

Please give it a shot a keep me posted. I'm not going anywhere and I care. Really.

Eddietor

My Track Record is Mostly Negative

Dear Eddietor,

I'm trying to re-enter the working world, but I face the problem that my track record is mostly negative...

On the positive side there are a finished apprenticeship and a bachelor in CS.

On the negative side, I got fired from two successful companies within a year of joining them because of conflicts with my bosses (in one case I refused to work on a project, in the other case I was obviously too critical when completing the assessment questionnaire about my boss). Furthermore, I left a startup after about three months because I didn't get along with one of the other co-founders. Followed by a long time with psychic and health issues.

Another obstacle is that I'm an introvert loner and hence just the opposite of the "communicative team player" companies seem to be looking for.

So far all responses to my CV/resume were negative.

Any ideas on how to get back into the working world with such a track record?

Thanks,

Negative Track Record

Dear Negative Track Record,

Thanks for writing this. It takes a lot of guts to ask something like this and, hopefully, only good will come out of it. If things go the way they usually do, I have no doubt you will have helped quite a few others with this. And hopefully, you'll get help too. But it won't be easy. Here's why...

When I starting reading your letter, the first thing I thought was, "OK, someone to help and encourage. Good." After I finished reading it, I didn't feel quite the same way.

I normally try to be upbeat and positive, but in your case, it won't sound that way. I'm going to give it to you straight and I hope that you don't get offended or upset. You need feedback from my point of view.

It's perfectly normal for someone to be weak technically or with other people. It's perfectly normal for someone to struggle with work habits, project management, or personal issues. It's also perfectly normal for excellent people to have been fired. Many of us have been on both sides of these issues.

And these are the kinds of things that are easily managed and fixed.

Your issues, unfortunately, run deeper. Conflicts with bosses? OK, we've all been there. Not getting along? That happens, too. A negative assessment of your boss? Whoa. That would upset me too. Why didn't you just talk to him? Refusing to work on a project? WTF? That's your job!

These are the kinds of things that are not easily managed and fixed. I don't know why anyone would take a chance on someone with this kind of track performance. I know that I wouldn't. I'd much rather hire a weak performer with good attitude and potential than a strong performer with interpersonal issues you describe. It's just not worth the trouble.

You most telling remark, however, was:

"Another obstacle is that I'm an introvert loner and hence just the opposite of the 'communicative team player' companies seem to be looking for."

As one introvert loner to another, I can confidently tell you that this is just an excuse. Almost all of us are introvert loners and almost all employers want "communicative team players". And most of us just find a way to make it work.

I bet I've been in situations like yours (and worse) far more times than you. I've been abused more ways than I care to remember. I've done the work of 5 people and been passed up for promotion. I've worked overtime for years and got no credit. I've been yelled at, cussed at, and many times, generally treated like crap. But I've learned how to put up with it until it's no longer time to put up with it. It all depends where you draw the line.

I've never had words with a boss or customer. I've never emailed, talked about someone else, or filled out any form about them without talking to them first. And most of all, I've never refused work. That's our reason for being there in the first place.

"Any ideas on how to get back into the working world with such a track record?"

I may sound negative, but believe me, I really want to help. So here are a few thoughts:

1. The root cause of your negative experiences is probably still there. You need to identify that cause, understand your role, and fix it. Get help with that if you think you need it. The good news: you know there's a problem and you're already talking about it. You may be 90% of the way there.

2. Always tell the truth.

3. Don't be afraid to admit that you may have been wrong.

4. Be prepared to describe your experiences (truthfully always!) and what steps you have already taken to grow because of them.

5. Don't volunteer (in writing or in person) anything that you don't have to that can potentially hurt you.

6. Never give references until after you have a job offer (contingent upon those references).

7. Find a way to have a positive attitude and make it show.

8. Understand that there are jerks everywhere and you will surely encounter many more. You can't control them. But you must control yourself. Don't let them screw you up any more.

I hope I haven't been too tough, but I think you needed to hear this. I wish you the best and look forward to hearing about you getting up on your feet again. If you want to refute anything I have said or need any follow-up feedback, please let me know.

Best wishes!

Eddietor

My Startup Failed. I'm Broke & Unemployed. How Do I Fix This?

Dear Eddietor,

TLDR (Too Long Didn't Read) - My startup failed, I'm now broke and unemployed, I have no idea who I am anymore professionally, and had to move back to the middle of nowhere to take care of my aging parents. I don't want to get stuck living this life. How do I fix all this?

I would greatly appreciate some advice and/or suggestions of how you would deal with this situation. I'd like to believe that as an entrepreneur that I can find solutions to problems but at this point I have to admit I'm a bit shaken. What would you do if this were your situation?

1) I'm a failed startup entrepreneur fighting my way back out of depression, spiritless-ness, and massive debt. I've also been unemployed for over 1.5 years now due to a loss of identity and overall purpose. I have no life savings left to try and squeeze my out of this situation.

2) Concurrently, I had to move back home to a relatively inactive area - no tech scene, no innovators, no night life, no forward-thinking, no excitement. People here are content with 9-5 jobs and staying home at night (edit, removed: want their safe, comfortable, 9-5 jobs, and their must-see-TV at night). There is no ecosystem to help drive and create new things. Local city and business "leaders" I talk to about doing something politely nod their head in agreement but it never leads to anything.

3) I had to move back home to manage my aging parents. They're in their mid-70's, and are starting to need assistance. They are in violent denial that anything needs to be changed, planned, or managed. They will never move, won't help plan for the future, and are constantly and consistently negative about every situation. It's becoming harder and harder to stay levelheaded and sane in such an environment.

4) My entire family suffers from social anxiety disorder and have no friends/extended-family/neighbors whatsoever - zero, zip, nada. This makes life planning almost next to impossible as all new ideas are immediately shot down due to stubbornness, ignorance, or fear. This leaves me with no support at any level in trying to plan for their future quality-of-life in terms of finances, insurance, health care, moving, and attempts at basic human interactions.

5) Net effect, I'm trapped, unfocused, and drowning in guilt. If I relocate in an attempt to find work, I leave my troubled family behind and will become the "one who abandoned them." No one is fair enough to comprehend the planning I've done so far (estate, health, day-to-day care, etc). If I stay, I'll lose more and more of my professional momentum and personally run the risk of falling deeper into depression.

I know my objective perspectives are probably a bit skewed at this point, so my goal is to get a clear head as soon as possible, and get back into the ring. Have any of you had similar stories or experiences? How did you go about fixing it?

Thanks,

How Do I Fix This?

Dear How Do I Fix This?,

I have been through something very similar. I'm a long time developer who has made great sacrifices to put my own plans on the back burner and move back to my hometown to care for my mother with Alzheimer's. It is the most important thing I've ever done. We are both doing exactly the right thing. You should be proud.

A few thoughts...

"I have no idea who I am anymore professionally"

You are the same person you've always been. You have lost nothing. It may not seem that way right now because you haven't exercised your work muscles for a while, but what we do, like riding a bike, is NOT forgotten. It just needs to become active again. Once you start working again, you will remember pretty much everything and you will most definitely remember who you are professionally.

In addition, one of the most important qualities for anyone in our field is not just what we know, but how well we can learn new stuff. You have already done this; you will do it again. Your skills may become a little outdated but it doesn't matter. You will learn new stuff just like you've done many times before.

"I had to move back home to a relatively inactive area - no tech scene, no innovators, no night life, no forward-thinking, no excitement."

Ten years ago, this may have been a problem, but now you can let the wonders of modern technology help overcome a lot of these issues. Use Hacker News for your tech scene, innovators, and forward-thinking. Frankly, these things are overrated in real life. Not so sure about night life; you'll have to find a way to solve that one.

If you have too much trouble finding appropriate local work, remote options are wonderful for people like you and me. Use one of the many remote opportunity posts here on Hacker News to find something. Anyone reading this with a remote opportunity for mattman should contact him off-line to explore the possibilities. mattman, you should fill out your profile to help others help you.

As far as your parents are concerned, please understand that there are incredible options available to you and your family. Attendants can come to your home. There are wonderful adult day care centers. And most importantly, assisted living and nursing homes are NOT to be avoided; they should be embraced if they are the appropriate option. Moving my mother into a nursing home was the best thing we ever did for all concerned. We just didn't realize it until after we had to make the move.

There must be all kinds of resources in your community, including financial. You just have to go out and find them. Your parents are your new start-up. Your goal is NOT to take care of them; it must be to be an entrepreneur and put people in place to do that for you. I don't know where to start in your community, but get started. Ask anyone and have them point you to the help and the money you are entitled to. We all paid in for this; now is the time for you to use it for what it was intended. Don't let your parents talk you out of what you must do, the roles have been completely reversed. Now is the time for tough love. Do what you must to make this successful for everyone.

Forget about the rest of your family. If they can support you, great. If not, ignore them. They don't matter. Please understand that this advice comes from hard-earned experience. Don't make the same mistakes as me and expect more from others than you're likely to receive.

You are doing the right thing and you will come out of this stronger than ever. Keep your head up, do what you have to do, and eventually get your life back. Contact me off-line if you wish.

Best wishes, How-Do-I-Fix-This!

Eddietor

When Do You Know Your Startup Has Failed?

Dear Eddietor,

I'm currently going through a mini depression. We've gone without salary for the last 4 months, abandoned our business model to do pay for hire work in the hopes of trying to raise money to keep the lights on.

Honestly I feel like I'm going to be evicted from the house. My rent is already up, and as of now I have < $1 :).

My partner is fine actually, he has rich parents and doesn't really depend on the startup for income. Which actually gives my friends and family the illusion that we're both killing it.

We have almost 0 chance of raising more money, it's much harder to get money it seems if you're in a poor country.

So, if you've had a failed startup, how did you know? Did you run out of money and call it quits? If you succeeded, did you have a patch so rough that you were evicted?

I'm 25, I feel like I'm losing at life already. It was okay to be broke earlier, because it's expected. It's not anymore, when almost none of your peers are. Also, I'm not in a developed country, where being broke means living on ~$1k a month. I've been living on ~$200 a month.

Anyway, I just want any input from you. Like anything, I just wanted to get this off my chest. Not even sure I've really expressed what I wanted to express (English isn't my first language).

Thanks,

At Wits End

Dear At Wits End,

"We've gone without salary for the last 4 months"

Been there, done that. 3 times. It sucks. But I never lost hope. Your startup may be on life support, but you most certainly are not.

"Honestly I feel like I'm going to be evicted from the house. My rent is already up, and as of now I have < $1 :)."

Talk to your landlord. You may be surprised at the response.

"My partner is fine actually, he has rich parents and doesn't really depend on the startup for income. Which actually gives my friends and family the illusion that we're both killing it."

Forget what others think and focus on your own future.

"We have almost 0 chance of raising more money, it's much harder to get money it seems if you're in a poor country."

I have NEVER raised money. Every investor I've ever met has said "no" to me. So I bootstrapped. And that has worked out very well. Forget about raising money and instead start thinking about earning money.

"So, if you've had a failed startup, how did you know?"

When I was broke and no one was buying anything. 3 times. All 3 times I got a job, recovered financially, and when the time was right, tried again.

"I'm 25, I feel like I'm losing at life already."

Fuck. That. Shit. You're not old enough to be "losing at life already". I didn't do my first startup until I was 32 (it failed). So you're already 7 years ahead of me and I'm doing just fine, thank you.

"It was okay to be broke earlier, because it's expected."

Forget what's "expected". Just be yourself. Your own expectations are the only ones that matter.

"... when almost none of your peers are."

DO NOT compare yourself to others. You can never win that game.

"Anyway, I just want any input from you."

You have not failed. You have learned. There are 2 things you have that 99% of your peers probably don't: the contents of your brain and the contents of your hard drive. You have already accomplished a lot and no one can ever take it away from you.

Get a job. When the time is right, do it again. It's a marathon, not a sprint. You'll be fine.

Best wishes,

Eddietor

What Should I Do When I've Lost All Motivation?

Dear Eddietor,

I'm desperate. I'm almost 38. Start programming at 10. Spent 7 years in video game industry as programmer, project manager, CTO. I tried during 5 years to create a "startup".

I still have a half time job that pay the bill and give me enough time to create something. During these 5 years I created a game, a tool for geeks, a B2B project and lot of more things. I created some projects alone, with CEO partners, CTO partners. Each time, I have no traction, negative feedback, I demotivating and then I stop the project. I read too much about prototyping, MVP, lean startup, marketing.

Now I don't even know what to do. All ideas I have seems already made by someone else, and often better than I planned to do them. Each partners I meet seems too newbie to work with.

It's horrible because I have time and skills to do lot of things but nothing motivate me anymore. I think all those failures killed me and now I'm lost. What a waste.

If you have any advice, ways to help me, ideas, insult, whatever, shoot.

Thanks,

Now What

Dear Now What,

"I'm desperate."

You may think you're desperate, but you're not. Keep reading...

"I'm almost 38. Start programming at 10. Spent 7 years in video game industry as programmer, project manager, CTO."

None of that matters. Today is Day 0.

"I tried during 5 years to create a startup".

You don't "create a startup". You supply solutions to other people's problems. When you do that properly, a "startup" is often the byproduct. Focus on their needs, not yours, and allow the "startup" to evolve to what it should become instead of pushing some preconceived notion.

"I still have a half time job that pay the bill and give me enough time to create something."

That's great! Fantastic, in fact. You have the best of all worlds: enough income, enough time, and enough connections to other things and people to supply yourself with plenty of demands to supply. You're ahead of 95% of others already. So please stop feeling "desperate" and harness the excellent position you're already in.

"During these 5 years I created a game, a tool for geeks, a B2B project and lot of more things. I created some projects alone, with CEO partners, CTO partners. Each time, I have no traction, negative feedback, I demotivating and then I stop the project."

a. Focus on what someone else needs. b. Limit the number of others and needs to streamline that focus. c. Work alone as long as you can. You may surprise yourself at how much you can accomplish.

"I read too much about prototyping, MVP, lean startup, marketing."

Then stop reading and start doing. When you reach the point where you don't know how to do something that you must do, then reach for help, reading or otherwise, but not before then. Allow yourself to be pulled by your customer's demands, not pushed by what you think you should be doing.

"Now I don't even know what to do."

Find a customer.

"All ideas I have seems already made by someone else, and often better than I planned to do them."

That's a good thing! You want other people's great ideas. It's your execution, not their idea, that will be your key to success.

"Each partners I meet seems too newbie to work with."

Then work alone and learn what you have do when you need to.

"It's horrible because I have time and skills to do lot of things but nothing motivate me anymore."

That's because you're too focused on yourself, and not enough on others. Concentrate on satisfying someone else's needs by supplying something excellent. That's almost always enough motivation. You'll see.

"I think all those failures killed me and now I'm lost. What a waste."

They weren't failures, but necessary learning experiences to get where you are now. Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, and Colonel Saunders all "failed" many more times than you have before they succeeded. And each one of them would tell you that those "failures" were necessary but not sufficient for success.

Take a deep breath, get rid of you're stinkin' thinkin', regroup, find a customer, and build something great. We both know you can do it.

Best wishes,

Eddietor

I'm a Loser and I Want to Change That Now

Dear Eddietor,

I have been a dreamer all my life. It took me until last year to figure this out, and only thanks to this community. I hardly ever tried - and when I tried, I didn't persist. It has been my goal to start a business since ever I can remember. And yet I never really tried (until last year, which resulted in abysmal failure). Not even something small, like selling stuff online. I was always good at dreaming up new ideas. But never executed on any one of them.

Likewise, I have been programming on and off since the age of 17. Unfortunately, I started out with C++. As soon as I hit pointers, I made up my mind that programming was only for people smarter than me. Somehow, I did get back into it a few years later, but I never really became proficient at it. Again, I was good at learning the basics, reading code, messing around with code snippets on the command line. But I never built anything of value.

I don't have too much time left. My 20ies are gone. This is my chance to turn the boat around, and realize my goals. So, this is meant as much for the rest of the world as it is meant for myself. Usually, I would have just signed up with yet another anonymous name. Not this time. I want to keep myself honest. I need to break out of my own little word (unfortunately, besides being a loser, I'm also a loner).

So here I am. I'm 30 years old. For better or for worse. This is my last chance to get my life back on track.

Wish me good luck.

Loser

Dear Not a Loser,

"I have been a dreamer all my life. It took me until last year to figure this out, and only thanks to this community."

Great. Dreaming is necessary but not sufficient for great accomplishments. Glad you're one of us.

"I hardly ever tried - and when I tried, I didn't persist. It has been my goal to start a business since ever I can remember. And yet I never really tried (until last year, which resulted in abysmal failure). Not even something small, like selling stuff online. I was always good at dreaming up new ideas. But never executed on any one of them."

I am about to tell you a bunch of stuff, but this is the most important. You have to get this or you will never break out of your rut:

The reason you're stuck is because you're too focused on yourself. Remember, it's not about you. It's about others.

The reason for building great things is to help others achieve their goals. It's not about how rich you'll become, or how famous, or who will like you, or how much fun it will be. (Well maybe a little of that last one.) Until you find someone else who must have something, you will always quit when things get tough. And they always get tough. Having someone else (a customer, a user, someone...) is the key ingredient that many miss on the road to "must build". Find someone, then find something that you have to build. You won't want to disappoint someone who is depending on you. Believe me, in your case, this will probably make all the difference.

"Likewise, I have been programming on and off since the age of 17. Unfortunately, I started out with C++. As soon as I hit pointers, I made up my mind that programming was only for people smarter than me."

There will always be someone smarter than you. DO NOT let that stop that from building what you must build. It's better to be junior than to be weak.

"Somehow, I did get back into it a few years later, but I never really became proficient at it. Again, I was good at learning the basics, reading code, messing around with code snippets on the command line. But I never built anything of value."

Stop reading code. Stop messing around. Find something that needs to be built (preferably by someone other than yourself). Then build it. Trust yourself and trust the process of building. You will learn what you need when you need it. I promise.

"I don't have too much time left. My 20ies are gone."

Baloney! I didn't do my first startup until I was 32. Stop thinking like that. If you're a programmer, your prime is still 20 years ahead of you. (Believe me, I know.)

"This is my chance to turn the boat around, and realize my goals."

Good! It's definitely not your last chance, but glad to see you're prepared to make the most of it.

"So, this is meant as much for the rest of the world as it is meant for myself."

It better be. Until you realize that your work is for others, not yourself, you will continue to spin your wheels. The biggest byproduct of recognizing the needs of others is that you will automatically and subconsciously start solving your

"(unfortunately, besides being a loser, I'm also a loner)."

You're not a loser, so get that disempowering thought out of your head forever. A loser would never have opened up like you just did. And if you are a loner, that's not unfortunate, it's probably normal. Maybe even necessary. You see, despite what people may think, the best software is still written by one person, alone with their thoughts. Embrace your lonerness!

"For better or for worse."

There is no worse. What you think is worse are just speed bumps on the way to better. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you will see these things as what they really are: the feedback you need to get on track to get better.

"This is my last chance to get my life back on track."

No it's not. (See above.)

"Wish me good luck."

Fuck luck. Just quit you're stinkin' thinkin' and get to work. I know you want to and I have proof: you're here.

I have something way better for you: Get to work and keep me posted. Don't get discouraged and write back for motivation and guidance whenever you want. I'll be here.

Best wishes!

Eddietor

Why Have I Failed as an Entrepreneur?

Dear Eddietor,

I thought I knew everything.

made a good sprint, but couldn't finish the run. No more oxygen/energy.

General

- did not take care myself; emotionally and physically

- did not listen people very well. I've heard them but did not actually listen. I kept on talking and talking.

- being an ex pat and entrepreneur is somewhat crazy when you know you're going to have visa problems. Too much instability in one man's life drains too much energy.

- did not use my time wisely

- tried to do too much

- should be less harsh on myself and others

- was(am) stubborn when I should not be

- was inconsistent ( ran ~90km in June '12 then in the last 6 months I only ran 30km )

- did not ask for help

Business

- never did true problem description. Should have write it down

- should have connected with more people. Relationships matter a lot.

- did not plan ahead the business

- do not write a 100-page business plan does not mean don't write it at all

- started working on other ideas and lost focus when business needed the most

- should take the money when a beta user offered to pay

- should have postpone opening company till we have a paying customer base.

- should have asked money from people

- rather than having a $400 Amazon EC2 instance, Ä30 p/m server was enough.

Programming

- scalability problems should be solved when there are scalability problems.

- have stuck in maker's obsession

- wrote too much code. 30% became immediately unnecessary

- did not prioritize what I should be working next

- should have learnt Celery before

- should have learnt Flask before

- more Backbone less spaghetti JS.

- less code, less code, less code.

- my job is not programming. My job is delivering value using programming.

The Product

- should release the app much more earlier

- should have fixed the showstopper bug and email users ASAP to say that we're sorry. ( Some users registered and tried the app when they shouldn't but since I left the Google login open, they've registered and saw a non-working app )

- did not look for a market very well

- did not able to explain the product in simple terms

- did not try to sell the product, I've just build it

- kept 600 people waiting for a demo while having a product

- should have integrated payment gateway much more earlier

- Facebook & Twitter do not have quality content

- I am a fool. A big one.

What do you think?

Big Fool

Dear Big Fool,

Funny, had you been more successful (by any definition), most of these comments would still be true. Successful people make many of the same mistakes you're citing here.

I hate to paraphrase and respond to your entire post, but it was such an interesting one, so here goes...

"did not take care myself; emotionally and physically"

Yes! This must always be #1. As Vince Lombardi said, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all." If you don't have your health, nothing else matters.

"did not listen people very well. I've heard them but did not actually listen. I kept on talking and talking."

Now you know. But you must still beware: don't listen to everyone equally. You must learn to distinguish good feedback from bad.

"being an ex pat and entrepreneur is somewhat crazy when you know you're going to have visa problems. Too much instability in one man's life drains too much energy."

Naaa. If you wait until conditions are better, you'll wait forever. Almost always, the best time to do something is "now".

"did not use my time wisely"

Hardly anyone else does either.

"tried to do too much"

Don't we all?

"should be less harsh on myself and others"

This should always be the case. You must be brutally honest with yourself and others, but "harsh"? I don't think so.

"was(am) stubborn when I should not be"

This works both ways. Many of my biggest successes were the result of my stubbornness, when I was right and conventional wisdom and the feedback of others would have held me back. The secret is knowing when to be stubborn and when to go along.

"was inconsistent ( ran ~90km in June '12 then in the last 6 months I only ran 30km )"

Just about everything follows sinusoidal curves. Nature isn't very consistent. You probably won't be either.

"did not ask for help"

Now you know. But optimizing when, where, and from whom to ask for help is just as important as knowing that you must every once in a while.

"never did true problem description. Should have write it down"

Good idea. But don't forget that it can evolve. You may have to rewrite it every now and then.

"should have connected with more people. Relationships matter a lot."

The right relationships matter a lot. The wrong ones are worse than none at all.

"did not plan ahead the business"

Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes the best journeys are taken one step at a time in what you think is the right direction. Don't kill yourself over a "plan" that you may never have been able to foresee anyway. Even in business, evolution is sometimes more important than driving home the plan.

"do not write a 100-page business plan does not mean don't write it at all"

Nice thought. A one pager may have helped you maintain focus on your true north.

"started working on other ideas and lost focus when business needed the most"

Yea, a common problem. I guess the first step in solving it is recognizing you have it. Good for you.

"should take the money when a beta user offered to pay"

Maybe, maybe not. That could have really jump started the project. It also could have derailed it.

"should have postpone opening company till we have a paying customer base."

Usually a very good idea. A good guideline, but not a rule.

"should have asked money from people"

Maybe, maybe not. Same answer as your beta user.

"rather than having a $400 Amazon EC2 instance, Ä30 p/m server was enough."

Good thought. Keep expenses low! Runway matters.

"scalability problems should be solved when there are scalability problems."

That's easy to say now, but at the time you're building, it's often really hard to tell what the scalability issues might be. Go easy on yourself here.

"have stuck in maker's obsession"

That's a good thing, I think. We need more obsessed makers, not less.

"wrote too much code. 30% became immediately unnecessary"

This is always true. The problem is that while you're building, you rarely know which 30% will become unnecessary. As John Wanamaker said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I donít know which half."

"did not prioritize what I should be working next"

Absolutely! This is the second most important thing you said (after taking better care of yourself). Your To Do List only needs one item. Your most important job is making sure it's the right item.

"should have learnt Celery before"

Naaa. I've always believed that building the right thing will naturally guide you to learning the appropriate tools. A million "should haves" don't make any difference now.

"should have learnt Flask before"

See "Celery" response above.

"more Backbone less spaghetti JS."

You should never write spaghetti in any language! Find a way to solve that problem before you ever write another line of code.

"less code, less code, less code."

Refactoring is necessary but not sufficient. Again, go easy on yourself.

"my job is not programming. My job is delivering value using programming."

Semantics.

"should release the app much more earlier"

Maybe, maybe not. You can release too early and sabotage the entire endeavor. This is another general guideline, never a rule.

"should have fixed the showstopper bug and email users ASAP to say that we're sorry. ( Some users registered and tried the app when they shouldn't but since I left the Google login open, they've registered and saw a non-working app )"

Yes. The customer almost always comes first and deserves their fair share of your service and respect.

"did not look for a market very well"

Are you solving a problem that needs to be solved? You must be.

"did not able to explain the product in simple terms"

Great point. This is usually trickier than it seems and is an absolute must.

"did not try to sell the product, I've just build it"

Another tricky point, but a very good one.

"kept 600 people waiting for a demo while having a product"

Not sure what this means, but it doesn't sound good. Live and learn.

"should have integrated payment gateway much more earlier"

Now you know.

"Facebook & Twitter do not have quality content"

So what? You must learn to focus on issues, not details. Most of your feedback here sounds like issues. This sounds like a meaningless detail.

"I am a fool. A big one."

No, you're not and I have proof: A fool could have never written such an interesting letter. Thanks for sharing. I'm sure this will help others.

Eddietor

What Should I Do if I Feel Burnt Out?

Dear Eddietor,

I'm a 23-year-old developer working for a medium size startup. I made the switch to my current employer about four months ago from a corporate job. While I enjoyed the move for the first three months or so, I do not feel the same now.

The reason is that recently one of "star" developers at my current employer was poached by another company. As a result, most of his work (which I had no clue of) came on my shoulders. The code that I inherited is unidiomatic and written in a way that only the author could understand. And now, since I "own" the code, I've been putting extra hours and working on it as much as 15 hours a day to understand it and make fixes (which has become my day job). Despite of all this, I've failed to deliver on most deadlines (as the managers had higher expectations from me). To add to all of this, I've been diagnosed with hypertension, that gets worse with stress.

Given this, should I risk being labeled incompetent, by telling my stakeholders about my problems or should I put in the long hours needed to get stuff done (as that's what people in startups do)?

Burnt Out

Dear Burnt Out,

"should I risk being labeled incompetent, by telling my stakeholders about my problems or should I put in the long hours needed to get stuff done"

Neither.

You should out the "star" and give your management the opportunity to solve their problem.

What's the problem with the "star"? "Getting stuff done" is only half our job. The other half is "keeping things done". You're probably the first one to discover his charade. (Yes it's a charade if you're hitting deadlines while creating technical debt for everyone else!)

What's management's problem? They understand "getting stuff done" but obviously don't understand "keeping stuff done". They have failed by allowing all this technical debt to be accumulated. Where's the due diligence? The peer review? The code review vs. standards? The regression testing? They need to get their house in order and you're just the person with just the right ammunition to help them get started.

Your best option is also the right thing to do: fix the problem long term and give everyone else (management) the best opportunity to do their jobs properly. Anything less is bad for everyone, especially yourself. Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint.

What you see as lemons is actually a rare enterprise opportunity (at age 23!) to make lemonade. Take advantage and become the real "star".

Eddietor

What's Wrong, Me or Them?

Dear Eddietor,

I am a developer and I have worked at a few startups which I have subsequently quit.

Every time I get hired by a company, I am 100% motivated and committed. I specifically choose companies whose business I find appealing. I am not an executant who can simply code anything for anyone. I like to work for projects I support. I care more about the project than about the salary and benefits. I suppose that's the case for most of us.

However, it seems after a year or two in the company, the honeymoon period ends and the only thing I can see is the B.S. coming out of management's mouth. Bogus business plans, inability to close deals, short-sighted decisions, petty management techniques, overly frequent pivots, you name it...

Am I 1/ Bad at choosing my jobs, 2/ Too demanding towards the companies that hire me, 3/ Mentally unstable, 4/ Unrealistic, 5/ Just a normal B.S. intolerant guy?

Is there any way I can find a boss I respect beyond a couple of years?

Tell me about your experiences.

Thank you,

Me or Them?

Dear Me or Them?,

"I care more about the project than about the salary and benefits."

Great!

"I suppose that's the case for most of us."

I don't suppose that. Others may say that, but they really prefer what's in it for them. You are in the minority. (That's a good thing.)

"...the only thing I can see is the B.S. coming out of management's mouth..."

That's the unmistakable signal from your inner self that it's time to move on.

"Am I 1/ Bad at choosing my jobs"

No. It's hard to choose the best jobs because, for the most part, they're already taken. Good bosses don't lose their people nearly as much so those jobs simply aren't as available.

"2/ Too demanding towards the companies that hire me"

No. Don't lower your standards.

"3/ Mentally unstable"

Maybe, but I can't tell from anything you've written here.

"4/ Unrealistic"

No. The day you lower your expectations to the mediocrity you've encountered is the day you've sold your soul and forfeited your real potential dreams.

"5/ Just a normal B.S. intolerant guy"

Probably.

"Is there any way I can find a boss I respect beyond a couple of years?"

Yes. You already have: yourself.

Tell me about your experiences.

37 years & 88 companies:

WorkingForSomeoneElse = WisdomAccumulation

DoingMyOwnThing = WisdomExpenditure // and much more fun!

I think that everyone needs a little of both. You've just had a little too much of the former and no enough of the latter. That's all.

Eddietor

So I'm Being Let Go

Dear Eddietor,

After 10 years at my local newspaper (I'm 30 now) I think I will be facing the chopping block in the coming months. I'm nervous, scared, and somewhat excited.

Nervous because my whole adult life has been spent in between these walls. Scared because I don't have a degree and at 30 I'm competing with younger, new grads. Somewhat excited because it will force me out of my comfort zone.

I got married in June of this year so that adds extra pressure since I am now a provider. Luckily, I don't have any kids, yet, to have to worry about.

I've spend the last decade working with HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP and a suite of other tools. I've built banner ads for advertisers, booked online campaigns in various platforms Google DFP, Yahoo APT. I'm a jack of all trades master of none. I've always taken that as an insult rather than a compliment. I hear it as "your mediocre at a bunch of things...not really good at anything."

What advice do you have for a 30-year-old who's about to embark on a new adventure?

Thanks,

Being Let Go

Dear Being Let Go,

Disclaimer: Twice your age and just getting warmed up.

"So I'm being let go"

Congratulations. Being let go can sometimes be a badge of honor. Anyone who has never been let go has never pushed the envelope enough.

"After 10 years at my local newspaper"

Wow, that's way too long for anyone, anywhere. Be glad that this is working out that way for you. It's not the 10 years at one place that's the problem, it's all the other stuff you missed by being in that shelter. Now's your chance to discover cool things you may have missed.

"I'm nervous, scared, and somewhat excited."

Change "somewhat" to "very". You should be.

"I'm competing with younger, new grads."

No, you're not and you shouldn't think of it that way. There's plenty to go around for everyone.

"it will force me out of my comfort zone"

Good! That's the best way to grow.

"I'm a jack of all trades master of none."

So am I. And it's worked very, very well for me. We have too many specialists and not nearly enough people who can visualize the forest and the trees at the same time. They are the ones who make big things happen.

"I've always taken that as an insult rather than a compliment."

Wrong. See above.

"So, what advice do you have for a 30-year-old who's about to embark on a new adventure?"

Have fun. Stop worrying. Find something you love and give it a shot. At 30, you're still a baby and you have opportunities that you may not have in 5 or 10 years. This is a blessing in disguise. Treat it that way.

Hope this helps,

Eddietor