Fog Creek Software
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Software development for innovative ideas

I have an innovative idea for a software program, but I've been having trouble looking for a developer--not because I dont' know where to look exactly (although any recommendations will be appreciated), but because I'm not exactly sure HOW MUCH information they need or want. 

I think that my explanation will be around 25 pages long, utilizing research, technical data, and personal experience as to what the software should do.  I might even create a very basic visual demo using html and video editing software to get the main points across.

Right now, i'm a poor college student with no capital to pay software developers, but the idea is excellent, and I'm very determined.  Besides writing down my idea in great detail, where should I start?

Here's the idea for the software in the most basic form:
(bare with the supporting explanations please)

Electrical Schematic software (from what I've researched, seen, and used) is developed mainly for people who are already experts in reading schematics--which is fine, except that there are thousands of technicians out there who are just not that good at reading, understanding, and utilizing electrical/electronic schematics/blueprints for maintenance and troubleshooting.

In fact, it has been my experience that often times, unseasoned technicians when left unchecked with new equipment--will actually cause more damage than good, when trying to make repairs for the first time.  This is also a result of poor/non-existant training programs at manufacturing plants/pharmaceutical companies, etc.

The unrelenting advances in new technology and equipment and the amount of new equipment would seem to create an eventual need for more efficient and more educated technicians and not just equipment developers (hence the growing need for more engineers to assume more line supervisory roles for these technicians and equipment). 

The idea is to make troubleshooting/maintenance/repairs more efficient and effective.  There are a few ways to do this, one very small portion of the overall program i have in mind would be to develop completely interactive electronic/electical schematic software. 

Now, you may think that these already exist, but they don't (As far as I know).  I will not accept scanned centralized electronic formats as "interactive."  When I say interactive, I mean a program that holds true the properties of electricity so that when say a technician needs to isolate a component--he/she simply clicks on the component (say a controller) which then executes a trace program that will provide all of the electrical isolations for that particular component.  This would reduce errors from the technician in tracing all possible isolations himself, which in my experience--can be a very deadly safety hazard when dealing with extremely complex systems that have integrated circuitry, backup systems, and so forth. 

I know trace programs are nothing new, but how they would be utilized in this fashion would be.  Here's where it may get tricky for the programmer.  I would like to import already scanned schematics that are in raster, intelligent raster, or ASCII formats, then have the new program convert these pictures into the new interactive format that I have spoken about.     

These details are somewhat general, but overall, I would like a completely interactive technician system that integrates all aspects of their job (this may sound as though it needs to be very specific for each particular company, but technician work can be broken down into a few general categories).  However, this is the big kicker---the integration i seek, along with the interactive system I desire, would require the 3-d modeling system used to actually design each component (like the ones you see in most tech manuals with component layouts for assembly and disassembly).  This in turn provides a much better visual representation that is often lacking when comparing paper AND electronic formatted tech manuals to the actual component.  Now, imagine that a click of the 3-D model brings up the part list---far more efficient than the system in place for almost all companies.  The whole idea is based on linking the creator with the repairer, essentially opening communication barriers between the two and removing a mile high stack of beauracracy and red tape.  This of course would require an entire change of industry standards which will not change with talk of software, but with the actual development of software to perform such actions.  In fact, I believe that I could create an entire company based on this idea to develop numerous programs to bring such industry changes about.  (ok, so i'm an idealist---but the opportunity is definitely there--go be a joe schmo technician for a week somewhere---you'll understand what i'm sayin)     

Anyways, this is a start to my idea.  If you think that this is interesting and would like to help me out---please drop a line.  If you just want to bash my idea...that's great too--i'm always looking for new perspectives on what might and might not work---especially if you have any ideas on the format conversions i spoke of. 

If your just wondering, I have plenty of experience as a technician; I'm in school for business; I just no experience with software development. 

Thanks for taking the time to read all of this and for sending a response. 

Jeff M
Monday, November 17, 2003


I'll rain on your parade:

Ideas are free or at best a dime a dozen.

Your idea is too vaugely specified to have any value, and without having a prototype or other working demo has no economic value whatsoever.

If you believe this is a great idea, learn to program and implement it.

Alternatively, you can raise some money and hire a team to develop it.

But no one is going to develop some vaguely specified idea for free, or for a percentage of some possible future profits.

At least once a month someone approaches me with the proposal that I develop their idea for a share of future profits. I turn them down. I would prefer that they not even tell me their ideas because some of them tell me obvious things that I am already working on in my own products and then later accuse me of stealing their idea: "I was the own who suggested that you add spell checking to the text fields and thus you pay me money or I am going to sue!"

Here's one idea a guy recently tried to sell me on: harnessing the body's electrical field in order to solve the world's energy crisis. If I developed a generator based on his amazing idea (which I just described in its entirity), he was willing to share with me 5% of the first year's revenue's!

Dennis Atkins
Monday, November 17, 2003

I've noticed that it helps to generate interest in the topic if there's not a big fat 0 responses next to the post.  So, let me explain why this software is important. 

First, the creation of this software would not solve a problem, it would create a solution--i.e--innovation which creates change; therefore, generate market change.

Second, this software would be a leap forward toward removing the diseconomies of scale that exist due to the labor pool needed to repair equipment.  I know it's hokey---machines troubleshooting machines---but someday-- think about it---most components/machines are created by engineers and worked on/repaired by blue collar technicians (not meant as an insult)---software is the solution to fix this continually growing gap.

Jeff M
Monday, November 17, 2003


I appreciate your very deep and thought provoking insight---I noticed that you inferred that I can either learn to program and create the software myself OR I can pay someone to do it for me...interesting proposal--I would've never dreamed that up in a million years. 

I do understand, however, that you make a very reasonable point about ideas being a dime a dozen, and them being offered daily by somewhat incompetent morons who've seen the Matrix too many times.  Thanks for the comparison, but I've done my research, and there is a need for such software.  All my facts are based on market research.  You are referring to people with ideas who have not performed market research, and what sounds to be who's ideas are very broad and unrealistic. 

Now, the overall idea of a core central program is based on true idealism, but the idea of importing raster, intelligent raster, or ASCII formats of electrical & electronic schematics/blueprints and converting them into an interactive format does not sound very vague to me.  All I really want to know is if that's even feasible???

By the way, vaguely specific is an oxymoron, just in case you didn't know. (Hopefully, you don't program the way that you write---with contradiction as a means to an end)

Your response may very well be typical from a programmer's viewpoint (let's hope not, because I honestly gained nothing from it), but that's why we leave business to the business experts, and programming to the programming experts.  So, if your response has no substance, and even more speculation to the operation aspects of business--maybe you should do what i'm doing now--go back to school and learn about business.

Thanks again!

Jeff M
Monday, November 17, 2003

See guys,

This is exactly why I never work with these folks.

Best of luck to you and hope to see your product at the shows!

Dennis Atkins
Monday, November 17, 2003

By the way, as an expert in the domain you purport to be active in, I can say that it has been decades since I've seen a hand drawn schematic for a production circuit. Work nowadays is done in CAD programs. There's a schematic view for editing, and then you can generate images of the various layers for your board or ASIC. You can also export your net list to other programs and run simulators on them that will mimic the behavior of youl device to any level you like depending on the cell libraries you link to -- down to the quantum physics level if you're up to it.

I think if this was really your field you'd know that and I call you on your obviously false claim to have performed market research.

Dennis Atkins
Monday, November 17, 2003


Your need to rely on support from the "guys" only enforces my now current belief that you truly have nothing important to say; however, I would only hope that you would actually say yes, this is feasible, or no, transferring this format to anything else would be nearly impossible.  I ask for pretty much a simple answer, and you continue to "bash" me, and not the idea.  I can see why only fools with outworldlish ideas only seem to find you...

However, in this case, you seemed to have found me--so, if you're only interested in making snide comments and baseless remarks, you should very well be prepared for a defensive reply.  I would expect no less from any other entrepreneur who seeks out advice on an idea in this site from experts in the field of programming such as yourself.  Your cynical comment about "folks like me" shares with me and others like me who are only seeking CONSTRUCTIVE feedback, the type of help a person like you can really provide---absolutely none. 


It is very ironic that I sit here in this very entertaining dispute of words because there are 3 types of people in this world:

People who make things happen,
People who watch things happen,
And people who wonder what the hell just happened.   

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm the person described in the first line (because i'm interested in making some progress with my idea--may it be as absurd as it sounds to you and others), and you, my friend--you're on the bottom, probably still wondering what an oxymoron is.

Thanks again...
(it is the effort that counts in some forums, I guess) 

Jeff M
Monday, November 17, 2003


My first reply to you was quite helpful -- I told you if you want something to happen you'll have to make it happen yourself. I know this for a fact. That's why I am an entrepreneur with dozens of successful engineering projects under my belt.

In my second reply, I told you that, based on my limited understanding of your vague explanation of what you are looking for (don't blame me if I didn't understand your explanation; instead make your explanation more clear), what you are proposing is unnecesary since people do not use hand drawn schematics anymore. If you are talking about CAD drawn schematics, then the entire step where the schematic is scanned in is nonsensical.

As it is, based on your personality, I would not assist you in putting this system together no matter waht you offered to pay me because I do not care for your attitude. I have dealt with your type many times and you do not have what it takes, believe me. Go home to mama. You'll be better off in her safe arms.

Dennis Atkins
Monday, November 17, 2003


Even more speculation, when only advice is sought.  What's the deal, buddy.  I really dont' want to get into an arguement based on your assumptions.  My research is valid, but yes still in progress, as it should be--

Also, I didn't think that I had made a claim as to being an expert in any particular field within this thread (If i did, i apologize).  I do appreciate you equating experience to expertise---maybe that's how you benchmark yourself, but for me to do that would be in contradiction to me having any reason for asking questions within this forum (i.e. if I'm such an expert, why would I come here in the first place?).

And in fact, I also appreciate your assumption that since you haven't seen paper schematics in such a long time, that they simply don't exist anymore; however, if you've recently worked on any US nuclear powered submarines (excluding the newest built), or have worked at every pharmaceutical company in the world (I've only worked at one myself), then even you must concede to the possibility that paper schematics are indeed still being used intensively by maintenance TECHNICIANS (I really do understand your point about CAD--but you're thinking engineers....engineers...engineers...yes i'm sure there are many technicians out there who can indeed use CAD, but that is not typical training for general technician work, and often times, they do not have the necessary access that this software I speak of would actually give them; hence, the problem that you circumnavigate with your assumptions).  Of course, if you've taken any basic statistics in your lifetime, then you would understand how ridiculous your assumptions sound.  And, I would like to know, what your experience being a technician is?  How many times have you had to troubleshoot components without the aid of CAD? 

Ok, I call a truce.  I no longer will reply  to your incoherent bashing of me, because, quite honestly, I don't understand your reason for doing so in the first place.  I still wish you luck, and at least you took the time to respond--it is appreciated.  I think that others who read, will at least be entertained. 

Thanks again!   

Jeff M
Monday, November 17, 2003

Regarding the paper, yes schematics are printed out in paper. But before that, they are stored on the computer unless you are talking about schematics that are very very old. (Are you?) It does not make sense to scan the printed version out and try to reconstruct its connections using OCR. Such a process would have errors in it anyway and it would be more cost effective (if it was such an old schematic) to simply have someone go from handdrawn to CAD manually. The logical, faster and more accurate way to go about this would be to read the original CAD specification files into your program directly to do whatever it is you are planning to do.

Now, in your first post you said you had no money to hire developers but its a great idea so will someone help. To that I responded helpfully that no one is going to do the work for free, you'll have to do it yourself or find money to pay someone. This really is useful advice even though you seem not to think so.

Then, you seemed to change what you were asking for and said you merely wanted a feasibility study based on a very vague description.

Here's my go at it: Sure, it's feasible. I can do it for you exactly like you want it for $17 billion dollars and deliver it to you in 2073. That's the fesibility study you get for free. A real feasibility study, you'll want to hire someone to put together for you based on a much more comprehensive description than you've put together so far.

Good luck. Truce accepted.

Dennis Atkins
Monday, November 17, 2003 we are getting somewhere...

By the way, let's make clear the obvious.  I obviously understand that changing an idea into action requires one of your two proposals--you've stated the obvious.  Also, i believe you obviously understand that when i say, can anyone help me?--that this is a general question as to the very first question i propose---how much and what type of information do i need to get this idea up and running??  Obviously, i wouldn't expect someone to, i'll do it for free---do what anyway?  I simply asked how much and what type of information i will need to send to a programmer---like an outline of specs and requirements that you guys expect, or whatever.  Ok, i got it, so here's a more clear question:  Is there any formal paperwork that list the specific requirements needed by programmers such as yourself to begin software development as such that I seek?  If there is not, then why not?  I think you make a very valid complaint about people sending you general information expecting development--well, how would a person like me find out exactly what a person like you expects when sending software design requirements?   

As you said and i agree with,asking someone to develop my idea further as to actually programming for free--well that would be dumb! 

When you read through my first statement, I beleive that you will realize that I make it VERY clear that I am only providing a glimpse of my idea, and nothing more.   

Yes, what i'm referring to is somewhat old--this project is primarily a brainchild of mine and formulated towards my experience in the US Navy as an electrical submarine nuclear propulsion plant operator and with my surprising and shocking experience as a technician at a well-known pharmaceutical company.   

It has taken them (the Navy) over 10 year to start to implement Interactive Tech Manuals--and tech manuals only provide basic circuit schematics, so all they've done is centralize the location of the information--the technician must still sit there and isolate components using printed out copies---that may sound strange, but that's how it's done. 

At the pharmaceutical company---tech manuals...laughable, most technicians didn't even know how to use a computer!
Using voltmeters and schematics---a joke--most of them couldn't read schematics!  I was somewhat terrified!  Once, i was taking readings on a controller, I asked the other "expert" technician that was "training" me to open the breaker---the guy kept doing the opposite (he was around the corner and i couldn't see him, but thank god i had a fluke with me!)  At the same place, I saw this technician dismantle a large electronic board and spray gun apart (used to spray the ink for labels onto suringe labels).  He took apart about 35 wires as I questioned his ability to remember the placement of all the wires without any type of wire-replacement form or schematic.  Three days later, this guy tries to reassemble the circuit board, controller, and gun---BOOOM---fries everything. 

Cost $20,000. 

Look on his face: Priceless.

When machines such as small ac motor broke--maybe needing simple slip ring preventive maintenance performed--they'd simple send it out to some shop in town---yes...i was scared, and i quit.  Are other places like this and the way their can't be.  Sure, you and I know that systems like CAD exist.  But who do they benefit?--Some engineer sitting at a desk whose not gonna come out of his layer just to help technicians do some lowly maintenance and troubleshooting--believe me, they don't have time, and often, won't make time.  So, the goal is to get the information directly to the technicians via laptops through developed software. 

Believe it or not, ALL the maintenance performed onboard submarines relies on paper schematics that have been scanned into a system called ATIS--

It is nearly impossible to trace these schematics without printing them out due to the pure size and complexity.
If you've ever worked with Newport News (shipbuilding company), you would find that this format of schematic data base library may have seemed great 2 decades ago (or however long it's been in place)...but today, and to me, and many others like me, it is seeminly reaching the edges of it usable life (most technicians on my ship didn't even know ATIS existed, and few were trained to use it.  They just used the paper schematics)

So, hopefully, now you better understand where I'm coming from, and where I'm heading. 

Thanks again.

Jeff M
Monday, November 17, 2003

Ah ok - I didn't follow your original motivation in asking for help. I apologize.

Here's one approach: Get together an example device and an example old schematic printout. Put together a storyboard of stuff you've put together with some drawing tools or Photoshop of what the interface of thins thing is going to look like and exactly how it will work. Show step by step in these storyboards how a unskilled technician would use the system to diagnose a few likely problems he might encounter.

There's two major components here:
1. Converting all these old schematics.
2. Writing a program to use that new database to do your interactive fixit program.

For #1, figure out if it's cheaper to write a program to scan the schematic library and recreate them automatically or reconstruct them manually. Likely it will be the latter, especially if you outsource it to a data conversion house. The reason for this is I think you are going to find certain elements of it intractable and will require a lot of human intervention. Though it sounds like you have a database with digital scans already done. It will depend on how many of these there are to be converted. No matter what though I think an EE is going to have to proofread it and certainly the OCR process is not going to be perfect.

For #2, shop your storyboards and details specs around and get a ballpark estimate on cost. Then, armed with that estimate and your storyboards/descriptions/business plan, see if you can get financing. Which might be quite likely if your client is the government.

Dennis Atkins
Monday, November 17, 2003 i'm forced to take back all those witty comments I've made about you...ok--done.

Wow, this IS very helpful information to know.  I'm sure that out there somewhere are many others like me who just have no idea how to APPROACH programmers.  In fact, i searched the web all day long, and really couldn't find any real explanation of what to send to program development companies---they just say "Send your information." 

This is good information and advice that I will heed.  I think that programmers should get together and setup some sort of standard required format for a software development idea "pitch."  I would assume guidelines for pitching ideas would be posted somewhere---maybe they are, but i've yet to find it--and people think google is soooo goood.  That would make sense to me--maybe they would create a format for us "folk"/entrepreneurs to abide that way we wouldn't invade this forum and take this long to clarify what we're really asking, we could just click on a link and walla....

Thanks for your time, and I REALLY do appreciate your help, guidance, and direction. 

Jeff M
Monday, November 17, 2003

Jeff, I agree with what Dennis has said: You'll need to either pay someone, or convince them to partner with you.  Your best bet is to go find another poor college student, who completes the other half of the equation.  I'm sure there are still bright, hungry, self-motivated college programmers.  Since you don't have money, and you don't have skills to actually build the product, you'll need to bring leadership and direction.  If we were meeting about a partnership, you'd need to convince me that this thing is going to take off, make millions, and i'd be lucky to get a 50/50 cut.  If your going to take the business side of things up, you need to write a *Solid* business plan.  I don't mean a one page summary, I"m talking a real business plan.  Competetive comparisons, market analysis & summary, an executive summary, and financial projections. 

Monday, November 17, 2003

hi Jeff,

<g> Ive been reading your discussion with interest.

I think dennis basically nailed the components, I just thought Id suggest you do them in reverse order to the way hes listed them.

First create the program that will let you use the information, this will allow you to work out the exact database design before you begin converting all the old data.
While you are creating the program you wil need to get a list of a set of 'definitive' old data sheets, comprised of as many varied types as possible, that will let you ensure that your program (and more importantly your data conversion technique) takes into account all the possibilities.

Once you have your program and its working with your test set you will be able to begin the data conversion for dennis said thats gonna be a pita with a lot of human intervention and judgment calls required.  (worse type of conversion, you cant even hire cheap workers to do it.)

Monday, November 17, 2003

I second vinces advice. The only coders willing to work for future profits would be those in a simmilar situation to yourself. The big problem with teaming up with fellow students is that while you may get a lot of interest initially, not many will have the stamina to see the project through.

When there is no finacial or other external motivator, deadlines tend to drift alot.

Eric DeBois
Monday, November 17, 2003

Dennis and Jeff,

Could you guys please stop being helpful and go back to trashing each other? That was a lot funnier.


Mr Obnoxious Man
Monday, November 17, 2003

I walked into this a little late. The fur is no longer flying, but the room seems to be in disarray :-) Anyways, as a r/e/p/e/a/t/ o/f/f/e/n/d/e/r/ serial entrepreneur, I have an opinion to share (natch).

In every business there is a 'scarce resource'. Just one. It's parallel to Eliyahu Goldratt's "Constraint." Standing between the business idea and truckloads of money there's just one thing  that can't obviously be solved. The scarce resource is never money. Furthermore, the scarce resource cannot be bought with money.

In this example, Dennis suggests that the business should start with a prototype. I agree if (and only if) the scarce resource is developing a feasible program. If that's the case, then there should be an existing pent-up demand, but nobody can figure out how to build a program that solves the problem.

Quite frankly, if it is fairly obvious that the program is feasible, then development isn't the constraint. Marketing is probably the constraint. There's nothing wrong with that, 99/100 successful businesses solved a marketing problem, not a technical problem.

If marketing is the constraint, I think it's a waste of time to spend any money or time on development, even if isn't your money. The most important thing is marketing. You solve the problem by going out and getting commitments from customers to buy the product.

With those commitments in place, you can then decide how to fund development. In one case many years ago my first customer funded development of the prototype. Why take on partners if you don't have to?

Many people argue you can't get commitments without the working software, but hey, the number one job of a company founder is to convince people to do things that seem to defy the laws of business. If you doubt this, please pick a business autobiography at random and read how the hero started his business (exception: Donald Trump, who started in real estate with a measly $30 million).

FWIW, I suspect that it'll be easier to convince a customer to buy something that they need than to convince a developer to invest in your business. Why? What is the market for partners? Every developer who is competent, a risk-taker, yet strangely "between ideas".

Every developer I know who is able to work on stuff without cash up front is either running their own business or developing fun stuff nights and weekends. Your competition for their time is extremely stiff.

Anyways, Jeff, best of luck. If this one's a dud idea (as Dennis says it is), don't worry too much: move on to idea number two. Every programmer reading this discussion group has written stuff that simply didn't work. We grow by learning from that and trying again. Don't give up.

Reginald Braithwaite-Lee
Monday, November 17, 2003

I thought Evgeny was back!

Not to be, just another basement inventor.  To Jeff's credit, he did gain a clue eventually, unlike Evgeny.

Lessons learned:

Ideas are a dime a dozen - ie worthless.
It's probably already been thought of - and discarded.
Do your research.
Then do it again.
Become an expert in the field.  (Yes, more research)
Do it yourself.  No-one wants in on wild schemes.
Only amateurs work for free.
Only amateurs work for % of future profits (0% usually!)
When working with amateurs, you get what you pay for.
Unless you have a prototype, with 2 years of beta testing, investors aren't interested.

Negative?  No, realistic.  The odds are against you.

Monday, November 17, 2003


A few constructive (I hope) thoughts on your premise here. (Sorry, I don't have time for an entertaining flame war. ;-) )

One deal killer is sheer scope - immensity.

The program(s) you envision apparently combine a super intelligent electronic schematic graphical layout and simulation capability with a 3D CAD modeling/rendering/viewing system. 

Each type of system, not even integrated intelligently with anything else, would represent a few man years of labor apiece.

You are describing a simply VAST amount of software functionality.  Case study: A few years ago I developed a desktop publishing package for a niche that combined the ability to create template layouts for documents with the ability to pipe database data through the templates in order to create the printable documents. It was just me, so there was no team management or organizational friction. The development took over two man-years of my time. This was for a flat 2D layout system with no capability to integrate with anything but a database.

The scope problem is important for you to understand because it implies that a sweat equity development deal would amount to several people taking an unpaid sabbatical for several *years* in order to do the development work.

The second deal killer is that your description sounds like the hand waving visionary descriptions I've gotten from time to time from entrepreneurs who didn't know anything about the reality of software implementation but who assumed that the software developer would read their mind. I am assuming that this negative description does not fit you, since you say that you have some documentation and you express the willingness to create visual demos of some sort to express the workflow clearly. 

However, if someone called me based on my resume and started talking like this, I'd find all kinds of reasons (medical, legal or otherwise) that oh, gee, I had to leave them but I would get back real soon now.

What I'm saying is that while your concept may be well thought out, at the level that you are currently describing it, it will *sound* like absolute bullshit to anyone with serious development experience. And you don't want to deal with anyone to whom it sounds good, because they will lack the experience to know when an insufficient level of detail is being given.

It will also sound like the kind of scope for a project in which a company in denial works a team to death and then blames the stupid, lazy programmers for not courageously carrying through with the grand master scheme.

My recommendation:

Is there any way to scale down the scope of what you're proposing?

Can you be more specific?

Can you create storyboards of scenarios of using a solution like this? Show the actual activities, with absolutely no opaque "clouds" containing captions that say "and the user does some really cool stuff with an AI based integrated system here".

Last thought. A few years ago, a proposal for a system like this might have been funded by angel investors and then VCs. It has some glamour to it and sounds really cool. And lots of money can sometimes be thrown at raw ideas to make them real. LOTS of money. In today's environment, it's tough to see how you could approach it incrementally.

Bored Bystander
Monday, November 17, 2003

Somebody needs a hug...

Monday, November 17, 2003

Just to add to what Bored said, it seems to me that the scanner component will be a big problem.  If the user doesn't know much about scematics in the first place, then how are they going to know if it was scanned incorrectly (i.e. the interpretation the computer came up with is incorrect)?  The printed schematic could also not match the actual circuitry... and I didn't hear anything in the proposed product which will address this discrepancy.

Scot Doyle
Monday, November 17, 2003


You requested advice and when someone (Dennis) didn't hand you a pair of rose-colored glasses you were pretty quick to attack him.

To me, this demonstrates two things: One is that you're passionate about your idea. That's good.

The second is that you are attaching too much of your self-worth or confidence to this idea. So what if someone thinks the idea is DOA?  The right response is to thank them for their input and honestly evaluate it. You did neither. You attacked him and completely ignored the valid advice he gave you.

Any entreprenuer will tell you that you need really thick skin. You also need to make sure that you are being 100% honest with yourself about the merits of your ideas. If you have that, then it won't matter when someone calls you a moron. You will know better.

Mark Hoffman
Monday, November 17, 2003


THANK YOU everyone for sending in your comments.  Dennis was great for stickin in there and helping me out...

The "I'm a poor college student" comment seems to lead some of you astray in your assumptions of what I'm actually asking for.  I HAVE not asked anyone to work for free!!  Hilarious that you make that assumption, but assumptions in this forum seem more common than anything.

This is where this thread is going in the wrong direction--I never once asked for someone to start ACTUALLY developing my idea (i.e. start writing code).  The main question that I posed (somewhat vaguely) is:

How do I prepare my idea so that I CAN send it to software developers.?

I think Dennis did an excellent job of explaining to me what HE looks for.  Also, others in here have provided very useful information and I THANK YOU. 

Also, “The program(s) you envision apparently combine a super intelligent electronic schematic graphical layout and simulation capability with a 3D CAD modeling/rendering/viewing system.” –Bored

Yes! You’ve nailed it.  And YES I can do all of things you asked.  So, I think I need to actually clarify this since it appears to be causing confusion.  I have two completely separate ideas here that I’ve shared in the very first part of the thread.  First, is an interactive electrical schematic software.  Second, a program that acts as a hub that networks all aspects of a technicians daily routines, ex: Maintenance, Troubleshooting, Material History, Training, Calibration, etc. The electrical schematic software would simply plug-in to this software later down the road.  If I can’t make the electrical software, then the rest may seem pointless (from my viewpoint).

No, the explanation of the idea wasn’t in its entirety (I said it will take at least 25 pages).  Hence, me saying that it would be a general description. 

Scott, you make some VERY good points. However, I have not brought up those issues because they would be irrelevant at this point.  Why?  You’re making an assumption that this program wouldn’t be tested and validated.  We’re talking nuclear powered warships here (if you missed that part)---Naval Reactors and Newport News work in the madness of extreme beaucracy…nothing new gets implemented without 100 freaking people looking over it and making sure everything is correct. 

I believe that it would be a better idea to forget the ATIS problem and just work on a program that uses their master copies of blueprints/schematics—I’m not sure what format those are kept in---maybe an older CAD version—who knows, but that’s something I will look into.

I have thought of a lot of barriers to creating this type of program along with other issues that many of you bring up.  That’s why it’s gonna take AT LEAST 25 pages to actually explain.   

YES, as I have stated from the very start (and multiple times throughout this thread), that I DO plan on having a DEMO.  This is where my demo would probably be different.  I think a lot of you would assume the need for an ACTUAL program demo; whereas, once again I have no programming experience.  However, I can do some basic html and I am very creative with video.  I think a moving, dynamic story-board that many of you suggest using “special effects” (as in make it look like it’s doing what I want it to), would be a very helpful visual aid---this Demo is in progress.

If my sarcasm has not translated for some of you, let me state the obvious of the obvious, so that others will not keep stating the obvious:

I KNOW that you can either build something yourself or have someone do it for you!!!  Hopefully, everyone knows this!!!  I can either buy a car or I can build one myself; I can buy soup, or make it myself!  Please stop offering this as some ingenious advice that most of us would never think of….although your time and consideration for reading such a long thread is commended. 

AJS—another master of the obvious---thank you for stating that the odds are against me.  Just so you know, here are the odds:

24% of businesses fail within 2 years
51% within 4
63% within 6

Now, as with Dennis’ earlier comments, I’m sure that somewhere in that mug of yours is a marble rolling around with some HELPFUL information….like, maybe, instead of saying:

“Only amateurs work for free.
Only amateurs work for % of future profits (0% usually!)
When working with amateurs, you get what you pay for”

Maybe you could just say instead, “This list of software development companies are a great start, should you ever get this idea off the ground and running”….(List of YOUR recommended companies).  This is the type of help I’m interested in!

Is the idea realistic—of course—is the development and implementation realistic---difficult to say, but that’s why I’m here scavenging for any info that might help.  You never know, until you try….
Reginald—I think you make some of the best points and have given me the best advice so far.  Thank you.  I will probably start contacting large manufacturing companies, since they are in abundant here.  I’m positive that I could convince a company like Eli Lilly (I live in the Midwest) to let me come and perform research on the PROCESS of maintenance.  I have a few things working in my favor to get me in the door—I’m a student at a prestigious business school that THEY recruit heavily from, I’m majoring in business management and entrepreneurship, and I am a military veteran with a tech degree and plenty of experience. 

The process is what I’d actually like to fix.  There are so many ways to do this, but fixing the availability AND usability of schematics would greatly increase efficiency rate.  Process management somehow often overlooks the technician world.  Studying these companies and then using those results as a basis to develop software is an excellent idea that I have been thinking about for quite some time.  I’d prefer just to look up statistics on the web; however, the only statistics I can find are for the US Navy, and those were back in 1989 and I found them here:

14 years later….

Click on Reports, Papers, and Presentations (lower right of screen)

Trust me, the need for innovative ideas for the common worker is there.

So, if you think my idea is crazy…one basic aspect of it was set over 13 years ago, and just recently implemented.  However, electronic tech manuals are just one very small aspect of the overall PROCESS.  Say, you are given a task to perform maintenance on some machine.  Most technicians would first go find the tech man.  Many places require that you have the tech manual with you as you perform the maintenance—makes sense. Ok, so someone’s already thinking about how to fix that part—great.  But the schematics in the tech manuals are only component specific and tell nothing of how it ties into the electrical system at the company that the technician is working for.  I found this to be a problem when I worked at a pharmaceutical company (not Eli) and I was trying to isolate an ac motor controller so that we could perform repairs.  What happens is that there are equipment schematics AND separate BUILDING schematics—which weren’t on any electronic format---I had to search on paper, to no avail—took me and some snotty engineer an hour to figure out that I wasn’t going to be the one dicking around with LIVE circuitry because they couldn’t’ find the right schematics.  Once again…YES these people scared me. 

I’m not looking for a get rich idea—this idea will take plenty of research and development—I know this.

Are electrical schematics that difficult to utilize?  I guess this was ultimately my first question many years ago when I was a NUB on a 688i, but it’s already been answered by some other person’s research 13 years ago, and confirmed with my own experience---YES they are!!  REMEMBER…you must keep the thought of engineers and technicians separate…please.  There is a huge difference in education, training, and comprehension that would changes the need for software development.  Engineers need programs that allow them to do things….technicians need software that does things for them.  In my view, as a technician, and from my conversations and experience from other techs, new software is NEEDED to help them. 

Back to money.  I’m not worried about money.  I completely agree with your viewpoints on money.  Of course I know what Angels and Venture Capitalist are.  I also know that grants from companies and the government are all very possible once an innovative idea takes shape and positive direction is created that will provided definitive result (i.e. Progress or Failure).  I didn’t choose management & entrepreneurship as my majors for nothing… 

Thanks again for everyone’s comments and advice.  And really, thanks for reading all this!!


Jeff M
Monday, November 17, 2003

Jeff, you have all the traits of a manager. Good luck with your idea!

(I’ll stop wasting your precious time now and won’t make any further assumptions)

Monday, November 17, 2003


LOL...i'm not sure how to take that...i always thought managers were assholes.  However, I want to address mark and vince. 


I know all about busines plans and am currently writing one, thank you for at least asking about that--seriously, some people have no idea how much work needs to go into a real no shit plan (i didn't until  i started writing one).
Also, I've never said i wanted some programmers to work for free---NEVER.  That is not even a questioned posed, it is one that many of you are assuming that i am asking, but for both of us to agree on--that really makes no sense, considering the scope of the project i'm speakin of.


Communication is the key to gettin the information desired.  Sure, Dennis and I threw some shit around this forum...happens all time, I'm sure.  But, as you can see, we were still very willing to get to the bottom of the q & a session, and I think we did.  Conflict should be expected and should occur in any type of creative environment.  It's how you ultimately deal with conflict that shows your true character and your determination to find the answers your looking for.  If either of us were to stop communicating, we would've never gone anywhere.  However, i believe through our thread, we realized that ANOTHER problem existed that has nothing to do with my specific IDEA---that is, and I've already posed this question to Dennis, who has already answered--

How does someone like me, reasonably and logically approach programmers such as your self with a new idea?  What steps do I need to take to get the idea from my head to a format that you can understand?? 

Honestly, i think this could be a business plan in itself....a middle man of sorts, to help people with ideas but no programming experience to communicate with programmers and developers...would you agree?

As you'll notice, even with all my attacking comments on Dennis and vice versa, I at least continued to restate the initial question until WE came to some type of agreement.  In the end, continuing through the process even with head-on-conflict ultimately created positive results.  As far as critiquing mine or anyone else's character--not sure how that will help solve any problems, but I agree with everything you've said---just seemed like you didn't read the "getting along" portion of our thread, as someone else called it. 

Now, besides you acting as the Dali Lama of this forum, do you have anything to offer that will actually HELP---i'm sure you do!  Everyone knows something that can be offered...

Thanks again,


Jeff M
Monday, November 17, 2003

"I HAVE not asked anyone to work for free!!  Hilarious that you make that assumption, but assumptions in this forum seem more common than anything."

Where did we get that idea? hmmm.  I dunno maybe you said it yourself??

"Right now, i'm a poor college student with no capital to pay software developers,"

Listen JM, you are pissing everyone off with your attitude...

Monday, November 17, 2003

Waaay back in the original post, Jeff wrote:

"Here's where it may get tricky for the programmer.  I would like to import already scanned schematics that are in raster, intelligent raster, or ASCII formats, then have the new program convert these pictures into the new interactive format that I have spoken about."

I don't know about anybody else, but this has happened to me several times: Before starting developing a program or a new feature of an existing program, someone will tell you what the hard part is going to be (that someone may be a non-programmer, or a programmer with no particular experience working on that specific problem, or even the architect of the new program). And what I've found is that ***the person is always wrong about what will be the difficult part***.

Exception guy
Monday, November 17, 2003


I'm sorry that your social inabilities allow you to get so "pissed off" in here, but you just made my point clear--you made an assumption, and I believe that I've at least attempted with the extensive replies that this was a comment i should not of included "being a poor college student", but rather the QUESTION which you openly ignore is:

"Besides writing down my idea in great detail, where should I start?"

(I hate to have to quote myself...but you keep insisting that I'm asking for free programming help, when I'm not)

Now, this question has been changed mulitiple times throughout this thread because I understand with Dennis' help that my question was way too vague.  Yes, i understand this, and this has ALREADY been addressed later in the thread.  I know this is a long thread, but it is really pointless to keep making your assumption when you, I, and everyone else has made it clear that the assumption itself ---to get developers to work for free---is ridiculous.  I apolozie for my inability to make this clear right from the start--really, i DO--I UNDERSTAND THE MISTAKE I MADE, but THE IMPORTANT THING IS THAT i think in the end, people offered really good advice, which i honestly appreciate. 


Jeff M
Monday, November 17, 2003

I'm going to second the comments about marketing...

Market research is to find out what people will *buy*, not to find out what would be a *good idea* for them to have or use.  People very often don't buy things that are good ideas, but go ape over stupid things like pet rocks.

So far, you've explained why it would be a good idea for people to have and use your proposed tool.  But the closest you've come to explaining *why* somebody should buy it is the $20K fried device argument.

However, that's selling "insurance", so for lots of companies that translates to "outsourcing" or service contracts.  A company might also legitimately decide that it's better to have a few $20K mishaps if they save millions by hiring cheap technicians.

In fact, the market research you've presented us with demonstrates that they've made *exactly* that decision.  So, why are they going to part with cold hard cash for your invention?

That's the part you need to figure out.  Or, more precisely, find out what part of your invention sounds similar to something that they'll pay money for.

Or, if you'd rather go after a niche market of companies for whom high quality work is an absolute business requirement, then you're going to be selling them on replacing their trained engineers with wire monkeys or whatever you call them.  :)  Anyway, based on what you described so far, only companies who use *quality* technicians would be interested in your product, as a cost-saving measure.  The other folks are already saving the cost by using cheap people, so if your solution costs more than the failures incurred by using cheap people, they're not going to spend the money.

Anyway, you really don't need to be looking for developers yet.  It's a waste of your time, and the time of the developers.

Phillip J. Eby
Monday, November 17, 2003


I completely agree.  You are exactly why I've posted this idea.  Constructive, to the point, and quite honestly, supports some of my own questions as to the feasibility of this idea. 

Thank you.

Jeff M
Monday, November 17, 2003


As far as how much have i thought of the marketing problem/cheap labor issue.  I did touch on it a bit--but it's burried somewhere in this thread.  The fact is, a company will always maintain an Absense of economies of scale on the ass end of production---repair work/maintenance for equipment.  If a company always has to rely on labor--they well NEVER reach economies of scale.  This is because to produce more, they need more labor (to fix more equipment).  So, instead of getting cheaper when more is produced , the added necessary labor to repair and maintain equipment creates more costs.  This a fact straight out of any economics lecture or book.  Not only do you need more labor, but generally, labor cost increase as time passes.   

This of course MUST be addressed when talking of the desired software.  It is a VERY real problem that may be too inconsequential at the moment and too far off in the future to really be marketable at this moment.

I completely agree with you.


Jeff M
Monday, November 17, 2003


I think it's also great that you directly address the question as to "why" someone would even need something like this.  The simple answer is:  I won't know.  All I'm doing, is utilizing the information i have right now to attempt to predict what companies MAY need in the future---that is the ENTIRE basis of innovation.

If they needed it right now--someone would already be developing it.  This may sound a little off the wall, but let me support this with a very real case study from the 80's:  A executive manager at Sony realized that high quality steroes were increasing rapidly in demand.  He also noticed that, during that time, people were becoming far more health conscious.  He ended up creating the Sony Walkman before people realized that they'd even want such a product, which is now one of Sony's cash cows.  Now, please let me say that I'm not comparing my SPECIFIC idea to any others; however, the PROCESS of innovation is to utilize information from you surroudings and generate ideas  that may or may not work...I completely agree that this may or may not work.  But innovation is the most lacking in almost every industry.  People spend more time fixing problems than creating solutions (and yes this IS cost effective in the short run, but eventually change must occur).  This is even true with programming in general:  Here is an interesting article that I read awhile back:

Although this article was written in 2001, I see that some of the same issues are mentioned on the homepage here. 

Most people are interested in solving individual problems, I am not (from a personal aspect, not a business one). 

Jeff M
Monday, November 17, 2003

JeffM, you originally asked how you would approach software developer(s) about your idea.

Let's roll back a bit. Besides market research (determining whether anyone would grasp and would desire to pay for the solution you have in mind), I think that you need some collaborative interaction with a very senior software developer - I mean the type who has designed and developed complete applications for resale from scratch.

You need to talk over your concepts with someone who actually understands how to translate product concepts into code. What should arise from this is a definition of the deliverables that would constitute your solution.

Then, and only then, you could (with the help of this developer) determine in a VERY rough way what the scope of the project is.

Another good reason to confide in someone who specializes in this industry and reveal your overall plan is that it *may* be possible to make simplifying assumptions, and to use commercial libraries, third party products, and/or open source to implement this thing.

Without someone who understands how to translate concepts into software, you're left waving your hands in the air saying "imagine what if".

I would caution against recruiting programmers straightaway without exploring your requirements in detail with somone very experienced.

How to find someone experienced... attend local programmer's user's groups, etc.  How to know if they're experienced and good enough to help? No idea if you're outside this industry. I do, but I'm me...

Hope that helps.

Bored Bystander
Monday, November 17, 2003

Pretty good discussion. A couple additional points:

1 - I didn't mean to imply I thought the idea was bad. When I said that ideas are worthless, I meant in general, not this particular idea. I meant that an idea has no economic value until its been worked into something more than a free floating idea. 99% perspiration and that sort of thing. The actual idea itself it took me a while to figure out what Jeff was talking about and still I'm not entirely sure -- which is why the story boards showing work flow. The story boards will show an engineer (as well as a vc or bank or potential customer) exactly what it is he has in mind.

2- Part of your inspiration seems to be that you've worked with bad and unhelpful schematics. Sticking a computer into the process might not fix this problem without solving the problem of bad schematics which is the more fundamental problem here. I have worked with (and I hope drawn up) good schematics that were genuinely useful. A good schematic, along with a technical manual by a gifted technical writer, is really the intermediate step here. The reason you don't have that is because the clients who ordered them up didn't value excellant documentation. Let me point to Motorola chip manuals as being a great example of really good technical documentation. Also really good are Yamaha musical instrument technical/repair manuals. Also you want to look into the current set up in the auto industry -- there is heavy AI investment there to produce manuals which any dummy could follow step by step in order to diagnose what is wrong with a car.

Once you really understand what makes good documentation then works, then you are ready to produce an interactive computerized version of it. But you can't skip the step of generating the good paper/written documentation as part of this design. Someone smart is going to have to know a lot about the circuits and what can go wrong with them and program all this into an expert system.

Dennis Atkins
Monday, November 17, 2003


One thing you have to understand about programmers is that given a chance to jump on someone and make them look stupid, many will take it, even if it means not actually paying attention to what the person really wanted.

I think Bored Bystander gave you some excellent advice.  IMO, there's basically two ways to go about it - you can either sit down with a good, experienced developer and explain what you want accomplished (as opposed to HOW you want it accomplished), and come up with a plan, or you can come up with very detailed specs of exactly how you want everything to work and pass it off to some development shop.

One-Armed Bandit
Monday, November 17, 2003

"Now, besides you acting as the Dali Lama of this forum, do you have anything to offer that will actually HELP-"

I did you give you helpful advice, it just didn't sink in.

To put it simply, in deference to you, you are behaving like an insufferable prick. That won't help your case any.

Did that sink in?

Good luck in your venture. You will surely need it.

Mark Hoffman
Monday, November 17, 2003

Dennis, Bored, and One-Armed Bandit,


All this writing, and finally, I get some very in depth answers...
Your advice is EXACTLY what I was hoping to find in this forum!!!  You have all provided excellent analysis of what I SHOULD be doing if I think i have a reasonable idea, (regardless of whether you think my idea sucks or not).  This will provide me with excellent direction to begin with...which, really, was all I was looking for--a nudge here or there.  But, if you don't know where to look, or how to even begin...and now i DO know.

I think it is better for me to have asked now, and taken all criticism that comes with throwing out an idea, than trying to formulate the idea and THEN making the data conform to what programmers need.  Now that I know what to look for right from the start, it should help at least ease some of the bumps I will surely run into later on. 

Thanks again for all your help!



The only facts that you've stated are:

that your name is Mark
tha I'm a prick.

Please, refer to my post about people continually stating the obvious in this thread. 

Thanks again!!


Jeff M
Monday, November 17, 2003


I recommend that you disengage emotionally from this discussion, and I appreciate the implied compliment that you gave me. The problem with playing a visionary role on boards like this is that it reeks of something negative to most experienced SW people.

You know what you need to do now: research, collaborate, and plan. A public board isn't the place to do these things.

Everything else is a waste of mental and communications bandwidth.

Good luck.

Bored Bystander
Monday, November 17, 2003

A late entry.

There's a diagnostic tool (and I don't know enough to give brand names), generically called a bed of nails that you can lay a circuit board on and given impedance testing (or maybe resistance I am hazy on this), it gives a diagnostic on whereabouts the board is failing.  This depends on having a good reference board of course.

There may be something similar for discovering functional specifications from the physical board.  I don't know.

But it strikes me that unless you can generate the schematic from the physical board in front of you any magical software which models it is going to be dependant on having the right revision with the right mods transcribed.  Given the turnaround that happens on electronics where a specific model of a product could have many iterations of board with and without blue wire mods (though screening and reproduction is so fast these days I can't remember the last time I saw a bit of blue wire on a circuit board). 

Schematics provided with products are almost always completely out of date and if you aren't some kind of recognized maintenance engineer you won't get the updates.

So, if this product did combine some magic box that discovered the functional operation of some unknown piece of electronics along with the magic software that let you manipulate it, diagnose and repair it then it might well have a market with independant service repair companies.

But its unlikely that they'd either be able to afford it or that its use would be cheaper than throwing away the offending bit of electronics and replacing it.

At the higher end, the Boeings, Aerospace, NASA and so on I'd imagine they'd have the technicians and the documentation they needed to do the job.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, November 18, 2003

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