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Technical Self-Employment Is A Fat Paycheck Waitin

Interesting article I found over on Slashdot:

http://homepage.mac.com/monickels/techjob.html

Matthew Lock
Friday, July 25, 2003

If he's as busy as he says he is, he wouldn't have had time to write such a wordy document.  I got about ten paragraphs into it and quit.

Less is more.  Time is money.

.
Friday, July 25, 2003

Articles like this aren't for everyone. You have to have an attention span > 10 words, for starters.

I read it. I'm glad that this guy is making the point that he is. The "lose the ego" material is priceless and is probably the one lesson most needing repeating to everyone in technology who is jobless due to "the economy".

This guy is totally right. The stupid money days of the 90's aren't coming back. Big companies are outsourcing to God knows where and are aggressively screwing over anyone who wants that "good job".  Meanwhile, there *are* needs out there that the established service providers are too egotistical and stupid themselves to grasp.

This guy is saying - forget the "good job". Your professional ego and your desire for the "good job" in development or architecture or other technology origination is really your Achille's Heel.

Bored Bystander
Friday, July 25, 2003

He sounds like an unpleasant person. I find it hard to see how he would have the business skills he claims to have for building and keeping such business.

You know what I reckon he would be - some 19 year old working at Daddy's company and /or getting lots of work from suppliers wanting to stay in Daddy's good books. Seen it before.


Friday, July 25, 2003

Maybe it works for this guy, but my experience is that repairs and support are a thankless job.  When I was an undergrad, I used to do stuff like this - not computers, but small electronic work.  Nobody ever paid.

Always reasons not to pay, and I'll admit I was a rather weak-willed boy who pretty much did whatever anybody asked.  Fix this stereo because I'm the head of this dorm floor and I could have you written up, fix this guitar amp because you must have blown it during your set earlier... we're not paying you $20 for this intercom system because it sounds like a cheap walkie-talkie, but we'll use it anyway for the next two years ... three bucks to fix this multitap?  it only cost twenty new!  ... I spilled beer in my roommates TV and she'll kill me when she gets home ... did a lot of neat stuff, but never got paid for it.  Didn't really mind, but I knew it wasn't a career option or anything.  Sometimes you just shouldn't let anyone know that you have a soldering gun and a meter.

The last time I ended up doing this was when I went to help a friend fix his "computer", only to find out that the problem was that his Dad needed Cat-5 strung through the walls and hooked up to jacks for home Ethernet.... I didn't mind, but geez they didn't have to trick me like that. 

Fun stuff, but certainly not a growth industry.

Trollumination
Friday, July 25, 2003

Trollumination your problem had nothing to do with technical support and everything to do with your weak will!

Matthew Lock
Saturday, July 26, 2003

There's no doubt in my mind that Mr Barrett is right on the money. It's always been the case that those who are willing to swallow their pride and actually *work* land on their feet.

I'm fortunate enough to be employed, but then, I'd be employed no matter what. When one thing goes away, you find another. It might suck to not be working, but it's not India's fault, and it's not Carlie Fiorina's.

Zahid
Saturday, July 26, 2003

Me thinks the author needs to read Strunk and White's "Elements of Style." Omit needless words!

runtime
Saturday, July 26, 2003

...and needless sentences and paragraphs, as well.

.
Saturday, July 26, 2003

Good for him.  As for me, I'd rather go to cooking school if I wasn't able to find a job as a programmer. 


Saturday, July 26, 2003

Perhaps the article is a bit bloated but it makes good points that anyone who is having career difficulties should consider...

To everyone who is saying that this type of work isn't worth it, here are counterpoints:

*Anyone* who is happy being salaried and on someone else's payroll will never be comfortable considering any business opportunity.

Entrepreneurial opportunities are *never* obvious.  They are 'opportunities' because nobody else has figured out how to price and profitably sell the concept ... *yet*. My observation is that *every* good concept looks like small time stupid chickenshit when you're starting out. I was into microcomputers back in 1978. I knew of Microsoft BASIC at the time, but I thought the idea that someone was selling a BASIC language for $200 was totally stupid....

Many people on /. and a few here are fixating on the home user aspect w/o acknowledging the rest of the message:

>> After finding your sea legs with the home users, small businesses--by my definition, companies which have from five to 25 employees--are those which you should be targeting. The money is better. There's more work. The clients aren't quite so money-conscious. And they're more likely to be technically adept.

Material I've read elsewhere on this topic says to avoid home users at all costs, even as a starting point, and concentrate on finding a niche with businesses. This guy is saying something different. To each their own.

The goal is always to find a base of prospects to whom your work represents cost savings and the ability to keep on running their businesses. The problem with home users is that computers are almost always an option, not a necessity.

About the blaming and the dickering: any service business is all about "client control" - setting the client's expectations, and clearly defining criteria that trigger payment. That is also true with programming.  Yeah, all computer work is intangible and it's hard to prove performance to a dumbass who can't understand what you've done. The solution is to tell the "dumbass" what to expect when it works and that you expect to be paid if it *does* work.  It's not the support work itself that is the problem, because I have run into this several times when I've done programming for end user types who conveniently get stupid when they open their checkbook.

One last thing... to everyone saying "there is no market" and "look at your established competition" ... most existing end user technical support is VERY badly done.  I believe that it's wide open because the most qualified people to do this type of work - real, working, experienced technologists - refuse to consider make it a paying business.

So instead, *everyone* else gets into it - MBA whiz kid company owners looking to exploit technical flunkies at low pay; large companies with fleets of vans who can offer no continuity of support; free lancers who don't budget their time and set expectations in a professional way; people who can barely do the work who got into it because they know that there is a need; etc.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, July 26, 2003

in my home town of minneapolis, the guys who started the geek squad have been very successful doing outsourced tech support for large, medium, small, and home users.

http://www.geeksquad.com

...
Saturday, July 26, 2003

Geeksquad is a lame, obvious ripoff of http://www.nerdsonsite.com

Anonymizer
Saturday, July 26, 2003

http://www.nerdsonsite.com/index2.asp

Anonymizer
Saturday, July 26, 2003

the geek squad has been in business since 1994.

...
Saturday, July 26, 2003

I thought the author perfectly nailed the attitudes of many techies I know...

"I don't do *that*" says the chucklehead who has been unemployed for 6 months when asked if he can run cable for a small company.

Get over yourself. Really. You're not gonna make $75,000 a year anymore for watching the pretty lights in the computer room.

I don't think starting a successful tech-support business is as easy as the author makes it sound, but he does have two solid points.

1. The free ride is over.
2. Do good work and treat your customers fairly and you've got a decent chance of making a good living wage.

Of course, this message will be lost on the unemployed techies hanging out at Starbucks drinking their latte's telling each other how smart they are.

Mark Hoffman
Saturday, July 26, 2003

Mark, one thing I'd add.

Niches like this are mostly vacant for good  reasons. You've got to deal with oddball unique situations, clients who are small minded and cheap and needing everything to be proven concretely to them, and you have to work around the small minded cheap clients to combine competent technology services with personability.

All, of course, in addition to being a good business person in general: keeping your books, paying taxes and other fees, and marketing. Especially marketing.

A VERY tall order to combine all this stuff in one package...  which is why I think that the niche will be wide open as long as computers "cause" problems.

There will always be tons of people who dabble in it, the laid off and kids especially, but likely VERY few who can commit to making it their fulltime business in addition to delivering the services that small clients will accept and pay for.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, July 26, 2003

"2. Do good work and treat your customers fairly and you've got a decent chance of making a good living wage."

I don't know about you, but I'm not going to get out of bed each day and trudge off to work just to make a good living wage.  I am out to make *money*.  Serious money.

Now, if that means it's time to leave the world of software development and do something else, so be it.  But don't throw out that "good living wage" crap as though it's the only option people have. 

Norrick
Saturday, July 26, 2003

His story doesn't ring true, especially with the attitude he displays. It's a cocky and a pompous attitude, typical of unearned privilege.

There are two realites of doing support for small business and home users. First, they are naive so it's easy to rip them off blind. Second, if real problems arise, they are intolerant of the time need to fix them.

The business model of successful operators seems to be continual confidence, overcharge for everything, identify all 10 minute or more problems as equipment failures that need new $1000 components, for which you charge 100 percent markups.

Small business are some of the biggest complainers about "IT" and with good reason. They are screwed blind.

.
Saturday, July 26, 2003

There must be a business in home IT support. Washing machine repair companies, plumbers, and electricians all make good livings servicing people's homes.

The difference may be knowing when to say no, and being firm. When I call out a washing machine repair man there is no debating the price or what needs to be done, and regardless of the state of the machine I have to pay a flat call out fee.  Home IT support would need to take a leaf out of their book.

Matthew Lock
Saturday, July 26, 2003

"I don't know about you, but I'm not going to get out of bed each day and trudge off to work just to make a good living wage.  I am out to make *money*.  Serious money." - Norrick

The article I read did not say or imply, "if you have a choice between making 'serious money' and making 'a good living wage', you should choose the latter." It said, "you have a choice between whining about being out of work and making a good living wage, so get over yourself." That doesn't contradict your point.

Zahid
Saturday, July 26, 2003

" But don't throw out that "good living wage" crap as though it's the only option people have.  "

Wow...What an exceptionally obtuse response.

I never said that was anyone's only option. Unless you haven't noticed, a lot of techies are unemployed. That's not a living wage.  Working in the service industry probably won't make them rich, but it will provide them..gasp..a living wage.

I have no desire to make just a living wage either. I'm a bit more ambitious. But there are plenty of people who are happy just working their 40 hours and going home. For these people, the service industry might be the right choice.

Mark Hoffman
Sunday, July 27, 2003

> He sounds like an unpleasant person. I find it hard to see how he would have the business skills he claims to have for building and keeping such business.

His honest, no-nonsense "KISS" style will only keep getting him more work than he can handle.  He sounds like a very good businessman.  You clearly are not, hence your conflict with his style.  In reality, you are probably the unpleasant person.

> You know what I reckon he would be - some 19 year old working at Daddy's company and /or getting lots of work from suppliers wanting to stay in Daddy's good books. Seen it before.

I reckon you're bitter & jealous.  No one could possibly run a successful self-employed business.  It must be a lie.,  The fact that you take such exception to such a no nonsense article shows what an idiot you are.  Go back to your 9-5 running batch jobs for a fortune 500.  That's all you''re capable of. 

> Good for him.  As for me, I'd rather go to cooking school if I wasn't able to find a job as a programmer. 

You would need to work for 3-5 yers for $8 hour, until you developed your craft.  Then, you could make upwards of $50/hr working for a nice upscale caterer.  Like one who does weddings.  That's where the HUGE money is at.  You'd probably clear $100/hr if you targeted that goldmine of a niche.  Recession-proof.  The brainwashing is too inveterated. 

> It's a cocky and a pompous attitude, typical of unearned privilege.

Unearned privilege?  The entire gist of the article is to suck it up, get your hands dirty, and meet a market need, regardless of prestige factor.  Are you for real?

> There are two realites of doing support for small business and home users. First, they are naive so it's easy to rip them off blind.

Can you read, man ?  His other entire point was to run a fair honest business, and the work will back to you 10fold. 

Living wage.  He is telling people how to not starve.  Not everyone will thrive into a bugeoning business like his.  Many of you miss the entire point of the article. 

Bella
Sunday, July 27, 2003

You rock Bella!  For a while I was afraid you had mellowed out.

   
Sunday, July 27, 2003

"Niches like this are mostly vacant for good  reasons. You've got to deal with oddball unique situations, clients who are small minded and cheap and needing everything to be proven concretely to them, and you have to work around the small minded cheap clients to combine competent technology services with personability."

I think BoredB nailed it. A lot of such seeming opportunities are not that exploitable for profit. Reward/hassle ratio has to be high enough to make the whole thing worth it. So one is faced with a need to invest seriously into such a business (time and effort in terms of looking for clients since at first there'll be only few). Yet it won't be possible to make a career out of it. Why would one invest a lot of time into something that will be abandoned at the first opportunity?

Mr Curiousity
Sunday, July 27, 2003

Bella - finally, a constructive board over the head. :-) You tied up some loose ends well.

Mr Curiosity - I'm not so certain in such a business that an effort/reward tradeoff is simply a linear function of effort expended.

My guess is that a person either has the type of personality that can deal with this kind of work and not become totally frustrated, or he/she does not. If one does have the knack, then the money will flow. If not, then you should know pretty quickly too.

As far as the work itself, any experienced programmer who has handled his own PC configuration, set up small servers, installed OSs and patches, upgraded systems, etc, should know a superset of what's required to do the actual work. The much bigger challenge is the customer profile.

Bored Bystander
Sunday, July 27, 2003

Oh, yeah, one other thing... on "glut" of end user support. I'd assume that anyone posting here could do most of this kind of work. But look at the reactions, about 70% or more negative/against.

This implies to me that there is *no* market competition, except lightweight types who are just hanging on, IMO. Those truly qualified won't touch it, going "yuck" instead.

Bored Bystander
Sunday, July 27, 2003

"My guess is that a person either has the type of personality that can deal with this kind of work and not become totally frustrated, or he/she does not. If one does have the knack, then the money will flow."

I'd like to add that if a person has a fitting personality and technical skills for this kind of work he/she is very employable in a more interesting environment often for even more $. What is the reason then to do uninteresting work, skillfully deal with stingy small clients, and get paid relatively little for such a good combination of skills?

Mr Curiousity
Sunday, July 27, 2003

>"What is the reason then to do uninteresting work, skillfully deal with stingy small clients, and get paid relatively little for such a good combination of skills?"

The freedom of working for your own business instead of slaving to fatten the pockets of CxO's who will dump you when the wind changes direction.

T. Norman
Sunday, July 27, 2003

Another issue and another reason for considering this track - the technical and administrative skills necessary to support small offices' IT needs are within the grasp of almost anyone who has experience with PCs, small lans, application installation, etc. Which is just about anyone, anywhere who works with PCs in a technical capacity.

Whereas the skills necessary to break into the big company track often require past "enterprise level" skills supporting dozens if not hundreds of users as well as the political expertise to deal with the politics inherent in a large organization.

Basically, if you've worked only with smaller entrepreneurial companies (as I have) the big companies don't want to even deal with you, and they trivialize all of your experience. Just as smaller companies will treat candidates from larger outfits as too ivory tower and unapplied and lacking practical experience, or other words to that effect.

I don't think anyone is saying that this kind of work is for everyone. It may hardly be for anyone. And the points about working for yourself (even if you're slumming) vs. working in a Dilbert hive for unappreciative political jackasses are so true.

If you want to be *independent* you have to do what it takes and adjust your attitude, not sit around wishing that everyone else was a MENSA candidate. Rather uninformed (OK, dumb) people often have money and demand respect too.

Bored Bystander
Sunday, July 27, 2003

The real thing with this kind of work - which my boyfriend does - is the "nice guy" factor.  You have to be presentable and pleasant enough that someone wants to have you in their home.  Spending days alone with their wife and kids.  If you're doing installs, trusting you with their keys and alarm codes.  It is also being very neat, and always cleaning up after yourself.

Not all techies fit this model.  They don't know enough "not to piss in the bushes and get the dog pregnant."

Contrary Mary
Monday, July 28, 2003

This looks like one of another bestseller 'How To...' books which are certainly in vogue in the market.

The One You Loved (TOYL)
Monday, July 28, 2003

The User Friendly comic strip today is pertinent here...

http://www.userfriendly.org

Mark Hoffman
Monday, July 28, 2003

I think the article is brilliant -- and Barrett's insights seem especially accurate given my experience in Austin, a tech city that is bursting with unemployed techies who turn up their noses at this sort of work.

programmer
Monday, July 28, 2003

One more thing --

I think the author's analysis of why bigger tech support firms can't compete in this market, is right on target.  And it seems to support something that Joel wrote somewhere, about tech consulting not scaling well.

programmer
Monday, July 28, 2003

The article is a little wordy, and maybe a little pompous, though I suspect it's because it's written in pedagogic mode.

His analysis is spot on however. And he comes across as a fairly nice guy.

And no great talent; just honesty, technical knowledge and a realization that people need hand holding.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, July 29, 2003

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