Jan 102014

I’ve been working with various developer communities for several years, and there’s a common question I encounter regardless of the platform:

Q: “What should I work on?”

This isn’t always easy to answer specifically, because a great deal depends on the skills and interests of the person asking.  But there is an easy general response:

A: “Solve a problem for yourself.”

I’ve found that the developers not asking that question tend to do exactly that.  They have a need, see no available solution, and jump right into solving it for themselves.  Often enough, that tends to work for others as well.

I’ll demonstrate with an example that’s close to home for me.  My youngest son was riding with a friend who got stuck at the edge of a lake in his truck, well away from any paved roads.  He was unable to tell me exactly where he was, so I needed his geocoordinates.  Unfortunately his phone’s battery was low and he was reluctant to do anything else to drain it; calling me was cutting it close.  But eventually I was able to figure out that he was at a park I’d been to, and headed off to get him.

I also checked the Windows Phone store for location-sharing apps, for future use.  Something like that would be handy for teen drivers and their parents.  But while I found several that provided coordinates, I didn’t see any that provided routing.  As I drove to pick my son up, I sketched out in my head how I could address that.  Back at home, I immediately got to work.

When I talked to others about it during development, I kept encountering the same response: “I’d love to have that for my kids!”.  As I got further into the project, I thought of other modalities: meetings, deliveries, even macro gaming.  I incorporated many, but kept the basic functionality simple and focused on emergencies, so that someone needing urgent help need only use a few clicks to get it.

The result is my first published app (after 30 years of coding!), Here You Go.  I’m pretty pleased with the outcome and have several ideas on how to make it even better.

Point is: I had a problem, checked out what was available, and then solved the problem.  That sort of process tends to result in apps that resonate with others.  It works for hackathons too: time and time again I have seen clear, simple, monofunctional solutions take the big prize away from more complicated projects.

So, at least for your first app(s), forget Change The World type solutions.  Look at your own needs, and implement something simple that solves them.  The odds are very good that there are many, many potential customers with the very same needs.

Now go code!

Mar 022012

Ok, so I last wrote about a little venture I am starting called Tribal Method, and already the questions are rolling in (just not here for some reason).  So I’ll explain a bit more.

First, I need a gathering place for my own ideas and projects.  Just to manage them if nothing else.  So I’m going to incorporate as Tribal Method first to start organizing my own efforts.  The initial website will host them and provide links to services that support what I’m about to describe.

As I mentally explored ideas on project organization, I realized the if I could solve MY needs I could solve ANYone’s.   Just… unconventionally.

See, I deal with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  I refuse to say “suffer from” because although the syndrome can be a major pain in the butt, it’s also ironically responsible for my success in many areas.  ADD is a common cause of unboxed creative thinking and I would not trade this curse for any gift.  But– constantly generating countless revolutionary ideas is rather useless if there’s no mechanism for moving them forward.  In my career I have often had to depend on others for that.  I’d rather not.

Project management tools have not helped, because they don’t work the way I do.  Too often they demand too much labor in setup and maintenance, and lack natural connectivity to my other systems and data stores.  This makes project management extremely inefficient.

Everyone with ADD or ADHD right now is nodding in sympathetic horror.  We HATE inefficiencies– even our own.

My idea count has just been mounting with no end or solution in sight.  Pulling together teams has been frustrating because the people I know well enough to trust have their own things going.  Part of the solution has been getting out more and getting involved on the business side, but even that has made me realize there’s still a need out there for herding ideas through the development process and into actual products and services.

So I’m going to bite the bullet and focus foremost on crafting a solution.  I need something immersive.  Where my often-erratic workflow automatically incorporates the actual management part.  Something that Just Works.  Seamlessly.  Invisibly.

As I said last time, technology should be an enabler.  It should support solutions that work the way users want to work rather than forcing us into awkward, counterproductive corners.  And while not everyone has to deal with ADD or ADHD, other constraints impose on them the same problems I experience.

It’s time to create something to address that.