Embracing Generalism

When people ask what I do for a living I find it difficult to give a clear answer. My replies range from “Tech developer/designer/entrepreneur-type” on a good day to “I fix printers” on a not so good one.

The truth is I’ve been employed professionally in tech for the past seven years or so and my time has been pretty evenly split between server side stuff (Ruby/Java), front end work (Javascript/HTML/CSS/Photoshop), mobile stuff (mostly iOS) and general startup hustling (marketing/sales/branding).

Needless to say, it’s pretty difficult to find a job description that asks for all that and that’s cool because I’m freelance nowadays.

However, on the days when Imposter Syndrome kicks in, this “wide but shallow” approach to career development really bites. I feel like I should know a lot more about, say, scalable server infrastructure for a guy who’s been developing products for seven years.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the basics (if not more than that) for most of the subjects in my field. My problem is that I want to master them.

But I enjoy every aspect of what I do right now. I love writing server side tech as much as I love working with some awesome CSS framework. Or creating mobile experiences. And selling to clients. Or pitching to journalists. And there’s the rub: spreading myself so thin on all these different tasks means becoming an expert on them is impossible within my given timeframe. It’s a tradeoff that I’m just going to have to embrace.

When I came to this conclusion, I tried to imagine what my future might be. If I was an expert in, say, machine learning (which would probably take a lot longer than seven years but whatever) then I could probably get a sweet job at the likes of Facebook and get well paid for it. But Facebook wouldn’t look twice at a generalist like me – in fact, the best tech companies probably wouldn’t.

But there’s an upside. Being able to build, design, market and sell your own product gives you a freedom that a high-profile job or perceived guru-status never could. To be able to identify a market opportunity and take it all the way from “git init’ to selling to over 7,000 paying customers (not recurring but whatever, it’s a start) is pretty neat.

Of course that’s not to say that there’s no company out there who would hire me – when my last startup went bust I had more than a few job offers (and still do because I know a few awesome people around the tech startup scene in Dublin).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that in my line of work there’s a certain liberty in not being “any one thing”.

Interested to hear feedback on this and any stories of people who have been there/done that when it comes to this stuff.

Flappy Bird creator pulls app: some people don’t have the bottle

So, Dong Nguyen – the guy behind the insanely popular mobile game Flappy Bird, pulled the app which was reportedly making him $50,000 a day in advertising revenue.

It’s not totally clear why he took it down, he tweeted simply saying He “can’t take it anymore”. It would seem that the “it” he is referring to is severely negative feedback and even online death threats. For any budding app developer out there, or any creative for that matter, realise one thing:

Once you release something into the public domain, it’s not yours anymore. And people will be vicious.

I can’t claim to have had anywhere near the level of attention Flappy Bird has received but my app Hipster CEO has sold over 7,000 copies and I’ve received many, many angry emails about bugs and general game mechanics. Hell, in pre-launch marketing someone even told me that they “hope I die” when I pretended to give away the finale to Breaking Bad.

The web is a mean place and people generally type before they think. Best advice? Don’t pay attention. I don’t read reviews or news stories about Hipster CEO (and it’s not hugely popular anymore so that’s not difficult) and I like to think I’ve grown a skin thick enough to withstand any email abuse I may get.

If you don’t think you can do the same you need to seriously consider your future as a professional creative.

Quick HTML/CSS tip: cannot set the height on your select dropdown elements?

Right, so I spent several hours yesterday trying to figure out why I couldn’t adjust the height on my HTML form select elements. I was utterly bamboozled after stripping out all inherited CSS and playing around with the web inspector. The problem?

You can’t adjust the height of a select element if it has no border.

There’s probably a very good reason for this but my gripe is that it’s not visibly apparent that the select dropdown is borderless in the first place.

Anyway, hopefully this will save someone a little time further down the road.


What’s your anchor?


After launching a product, you’ll likely be inundated with feature (and support) requests. There will be features that tons of people ask for, others not so much.

The big reactions come when you make an update to your product, though. I get contacted on a daily basis by people who say my latest game is too hard. Others say it’s too easy. Some say it has a good UI, others say its really unintuitive.

It’s super important to have an anchor when faced when all this feedback is trying to pull you in different directions. An anchor in this case is an ideal that gives the good ship Startup the ability to take on the storm of this (sometimes vitrolic!) feedback.

The anchoring ideals for my app, Hipster CEO, are (in priority):

  1. Does this change improve the player’s understanding of how a real startup works?
  2. Does this change improve the overall app experience?

Like most things in life, these two questions are subjective so some expertise needs to be applied.

I’d encourage you, before you even begin building an app, to consider your anchors. Some good ones:

  • Does this change add value that people would pay more money for?
  • Will this feature be used by 80% or more of our customers?
  • Does this change come at the expense of another key feature?
  • Does this affect our main goal or key message?

When your business has a core belief then decision making gets a whole lot easier.

Where Snapchat’s value truly lies

My buddy Ed (@ClearPreso) recently wondered on Twitter what the real draw was on Snapchat and believes it just a flash in a pan technology. I wouldn’t blame him for making this assertion but I think he (like most people) doesn’t see it’s true value.

Some “experts” believe it lies in the push and hold requirement: “If your thumb is pressed against the screen, it’s very likely that you’re staring at what’s in front of you.”. Well, duh. But guess what? Sites like Forbes and JOE.ie put an ad right in front of me at the start too and I just skip it.

If Snapchat users don’t want to see ads then they won’t open them.

I’d probably open the messages I’d get from the likes of Heineken – companies that produce great ads, basically, who have solved the attention-grabbing dilemma by being creative (who’d have thought that would work!?).

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