Task Timer 6

We are pleased to announce the newest version of Task Timer. It has been four years since our last update to Task Timer, so we’ve started from the ground up. Task Timer 6 is faster than ever before and ready for the future!

Never lose money again! Track your time accurately with Task Timer. Get back lost time by knowing how much time was spent on any project. Use historical time tracking data to improve your estimates. Never again find yourself guessing at billing.

Projects and timers are now easier to manage, start, and stop. Managing time sessions is now faster and easier to do. The events manager no longer blocks the main window, and we fixed a couple bugs along the way.

Version 6 will automatically import and convert all existing Task Timer 5 data. You won’t miss a beat. Stop all timers in Task Timer 5 and close Task Timer 5. Then simply open Task Timer 6 and import.

Task Timer 6 is a crucial update. Unfortunately, the previous version is near it’s lifecycle end by more than one cause. We regret that we will be unable to support Task Timer 5 in any way due to the final closure of the commercial licensing server we were using.

To encourage everyone to upgrade, the Task Timer 6 software will automatically offer an upgrade discount. If there are any troubles with the automatic process, please don’t hesitate to contact us at support@bkeeney.com!

Download Task Timer 6 today! https://bkeeney.com/tasktimer

Evaluating Prospective Xojo Clients

A couple of weeks ago I did a blog post about evaluating Xojo consultants.  I think if you’re hiring a Xojo developer the consultant should clearly be an expert in Xojo and should be able to publicly show why they deserve your hard earned money.  But, there are two sides to the equation and I didn’t talk about evaluating the prospective client.  Here are some of the things that are red flags to us and maybe why we should steer clear of them.

Does the prospective client have a clear idea of what they want?  We’ve had clients that had a mere paragraph of content but could clearly articulate what they wanted.  Other clients have written an 80 page document full of meaningless gibberish that required a three hour face-to-face meeting to understand it.  

This is hard to evaluate but I’ve learned that if I can’t understand what the client wants and needs within a reasonable amount of time we’re not a good fit.  Either they can’t articulate what they want or it means that we’re just having communications issues.  It’s also possible they don’t know what they want and they want us to figure it out for them (which is a completely different project).

Has the prospective client worked with other Xojo developers before and been unhappy with the work?  Don’t get me wrong, we’ve picked up a lot of happy long-term clients and projects this way.  The client worked with another Xojo developer that couldn’t finish the project for a variety of reasons (like going back to a corporate job, or they bid too low and couldn’t live on the resulting income).

This is hard to evaluate too and you have to take it on a case by case basis.  Listen for the reasons why they were unhappy with the consultant.  Do their reasons seem petty or legitimate?  Do they accept at least some of the responsibility or do they put it all on the consultant?  Reasonable clients will accept partial responsibility.  The unreasonable clients, and the ones to stay away from, blame everything on the consultant.

The prospective client thinks they can do some of the work.  They have experience in <x> language and want to implement some of the work in Xojo on their own.  Or they feel their proof of concept project written in <x> language should give you a huge leg up on the overall project.

As with the previous points this is hard to evaluate.  Xojo is an easy to learn language but it’s been my experience that making Xojo work like <x> language is a recipe for disaster.  Xojo is Xojo and not like java or FileMaker or anything other language or environment.  Maybe their work helps but mostly it probably won’t.  It’s just easier to assume it’s going to be a complete rewrite.

The flip side to this is there are some clients that really are competent developers – just not in Xojo.  We’ve done a number of projects where we start the project for them.  We complete the basic infrastructure and give them some example List and Edit forms whatever else they want help with and then turn it over to them to complete the rest of the project.  They usually come back with some questions but for the most part they finish it themselves.  I consider this as part consulting and part training and we put more comments into code so they can understand the code better (since they’re learning).

The prospective client is always fighting with you about money.  We’ve had clients that want estimates on features so they can get their project done as cheap as possible.  I don’t begrudge any client that wants estimates on features to save money, but there are those clients that always complain about every penny and fight you on estimates and change orders and demand proof for every little thing.  They also tend to hold you to the dollar on any estimate you give them.

We had one prospective client that came with a project written by another developer.  It was referred to us by a Xojo consultant leaving the industry and couldn’t help them.  The project had a silly design where the SQL query was a staggering 200 pages when copied into a text editor.  It literally took minutes just to create the query and many minutes for the database to return results.  The only way to really clean it up and make it work properly was to break it up into smaller queries.  It would have given them more flexibility and it would actually speed up their entire process rather than locking the app up for minutes at a time.

Regardless, we came up with the estimate to fix it.  They said it was too much money and we parted ways.  They came back again in six months when the Xojo developer they found to ‘fix’ the query couldn’t do it (because it really needed to be broken up into smaller queries) and we gave them the same estimate.  It was still too high for them.  Six months later they came back yet again and asked if the price was the same.  It was not because we had raised our base rates.  We’ve never heard back from them and I wonder if they’re still in business.

Many clients are a delight to work with.  Not all of them will be long term clients but some will.  If you don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling after communicating with the client a few times you should really figure out why.  You’re going to know their project better than they do so you’d better figure it out before starting a big project.

Ironically some of our longest term clients were hard to work with at first.  See, they had bad experiences with other developers and were wary of being burned again.  Keep that in mind too. They’re being hard on you because they weren’t with their last developer.

These are just a few of the red flags that should concern you when talking with prospective clients.  What red flags do you look for?

Evaluating A Xojo Consultant

We had an interesting conversation with a prospective client last week.  Well, I should back up and say this isn’t the first time we talked to them as we were a finalist for a project of theirs two years ago.  Turns out their Xojo consultant is having a hard time completing the work and not giving them deliverables in a timely manner.  This is for a project we estimated at less than six months worth of work.

The client is looking for someone that could come in and complete the project for them.  They were hoping that a large majority of the work could be reused.  My response was that this was unlikely for several reasons.  The first being that they used their own kit which means a set of classes, subclasses, and libraries that we are unfamiliar with and for me to use them without serious investigation (i.e. time and money) would be less than ideal.  Plus, if I’m the developer for the project I’m now responsible for it working and I’m taking a gamble on code that I don’t know and haven’t vetted.  

My second thought was wondering if their overall design had been the cause for some of the delay.  Perhaps they coded themselves into a corner.  It’s an awkward conversation to have with a client – especially after they’ve spent a boatload of money.

Regardless, I’m sure our conversation was not what the client was looking for.  They wanted a project savior because their consultants had deceived them in their capabilities and in their ability to deliver.  

We politely asked who their consultant was and they told us.  A brief internet search pulled up the company website and their *one* Xojo related post.  Everything else on their website is hardware and .NET related.  If I was evaluating a Xojo consultant that would give me some pause for concern.  You really want a consultant that does a lot of Xojo projects.  Xojo is not like .NET or Java or any other language.  It has its own set of strengths and weaknesses (just like every other language) and I’ve seen it all too often where a developer tries to make Xojo do what <insert language here> does.  It’s almost always a disaster.

We’ve been using Xojo for over 16 years.  If I’m not friends with most of the Xojo consultants out there I at least know of them and their reputation.  I have lost bids to my competitors and if the prospective client will tell us who they chose I can at least give a thumbs up to those that I know and trust since I know the client will be in good hands.  For those that I don’t know I don’t give any opinion.  But it’s also been my experience that those consultants that stick around are good and are active in the community.

If you’re hiring a Xojo consultant you should always ask for references.  If you’re going to spend tens of thousands of dollars (or more) with them you should do a little homework.  Don’t buy their assurances.  If they are really reliable then they will find references for you to check out.  This will let you know if they do good work, are on time, and on budget.  Are they reliable?  Are they hard to work with?

If you’re new to Xojo consulting that’s okay too – we were all new once.  Be honest with the client and do your best to prove to them that you’re up to the challenge.  

The Xojo community is very accepting and the forum is filled with developers that have provided answers to newbies, provided source code examples, and even established public repositories to share their code.  Have they spoke at any Xojo developers conferences?  Written for Xojo Developer magazine?  This public work can, and should be, part of the reference list.  This shows the prospective client that you really know and work with Xojo.

Hiring a Xojo consultant isn’t that difficult.  There are a number of qualified consultants that will create a great project for you.  The first step is to fill out the form at Find a Developer page on the Xojo website at https://www.xojo.com/resources/consultants.php.  This will get your project in front of everyone looking for work.  Then it’s up to you.

Ask about their Xojo work they’ve done in the public.  Ask for their references.  Heck, ask them what they love and hate about Xojo (that might be a long conversation).  If you don’t do your homework you might be wasting an opportunity in not getting your project to market, or waste tends of thousands of dollars for work that doesn’t get delivered.

BKS Report Studio

Connect to a Myriad of Databases without writing SQL: BKeeney Software Launches New, Cross-Platform Reporting Tool

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LENEXA, KS, 20 September 2018 – BKeeney Software launches BKS Report Studio, a simple database reporting tool that features a visual interface, templates, and editing features that allow users to create reports without writing SQL.

Designed for every skill level, BKS Report Studio operates like a layout editor by allowing users to drag and drop data sources, labels, images, and even barcodes to build powerful reports, quickly.

Reports can be printed directly, or can be exported in several file formats. Created by a need to simplify and extend the database reporting process, BKS Report Studio focuses on making the report design phase easier.

BKS Report Studio features several functions:
– Drag & Drop layout design for report templates
– Export as PDF documents or print directly
– SQL engine generates the necessary query and gathers data
– Filter data beforehand, or live at runtime with dynamic runtime filtering
– Boolean display is fully customizable, and supports Emoji
– Format numbers, and perform scripts on bands as they are generated

Connect to the most popular database engines, or connect to any database engine that provides an ODBC driver. BKS Report Studio supports these database engines: CubeSQL, MySQL, ODBC, PostgreSQL, and SQLite

BKS Report Studio is available now for Mac and Windows. Download it from the website for free today. Demo reports will be watermarked. Purchase a license for $175 to permanently remove the watermark and unlock the export-to-file functions.

Website: https://bksreportstudio.com
Download: https://bksreportstudio.com/download/auto
Purchase: https://bksreportstudio.com/buy

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BKeeney Software is software consulting firm specializing in cross-platform, web, and mobile applications, developer tools, and training using the Xojo development platform.

support@bkeeney.com

 

Good Bug Reports

Bugs happen.  It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, or how much you test your code, a user will do something that you didn’t expect and your application behaves improperly.  Perhaps it throws an exception and reports it to the user and continues working.  Maybe your application quits on exceptions.  Either way, you have an unhappy customer that is reporting back to you.

“It’s crashing,” is a common phrase I hear in the Xojo forums and from our own users.  So the first question I usually have is “is it really crashing or is the application reporting an exception?”  The difference being, of course, one is controlled by me and the other is the application goes *poof* and there’s nothing controlled about it.  With the former I usually have some data that can help me figure out what’s going on and the second is a bad sign that it might be a plugin or library issue that I’ll have to track down.

What is their operating system and version?  

It’s important to know if they are running on Mac, Windows, or Linux and what version it is.  For Windows and Linux it’s important to know if it’s 32-bit or 64-bit.  You may end up having to send them instructions to determine what version they’re running depending on the end-users skill level.

What version of the Application/Library/Control are they using?

Applications are relatively easy to get version numbers from since the user can get this from multiple locations (usually).  Controls and libraries are a different matter and you, as the developer, should make this easy to find with documentation and constants in the code.

We’ve all had an email where a disgruntled customer says, “It doesn’t work!”  If you have multiple products this makes for an awkward return email asking which product they’re actually talking about.

Can they replicate the problem?  If so, what are the steps?

Customers often think that simply telling you about a problem is good enough.  Sometimes it is but usually I need more information.  The more detail the better.  If it’s a sequence issue I will sometimes ask for a video showing it in action.

Can they send you the error log?

If you create error logs it is helpful to get those.  To get the error Stack of an exception is useful and can sometimes tell you exactly what to fix if you’re lucky (especially with small/short methods!).

You may have to tell the user not only where they are but how to get the location.  Getting to the Application Support folder on Mac and Windows isn’t hard but it’s also not easy.  On MacOS the users Library folder is invisible by default.  On Windows this location is buried multiple layers deep.

Can they send you an example project or file?

With developer products it’s handy to get a small example project demonstrating the issue.  I can’t tell you how often simply asking for this solves the problem because they find their own mistake.  Even if it doesn’t you now have a good example project demonstrating an issue you didn’t know about!

With applications and utilities getting their data file is good.  There is nothing like working with real data to discover issues.

Users aren’t often helpful when it comes to asking for help with your products.  What other things do you ask customers when dealing with bugs?

Chrono-Optimism

At the XDC Keynote a few weeks ago Geoff Perlman said they’d no longer give target dates for new features.  Instead they’re going to say what’s a ‘priority’ and what’s ‘important’.  Software projects are often big and complex and it’s very hard to estimate the amount of work involved with a new feature.  “Happiness is all about having expectations met,” said Geoff and I think it’s fair to say that Xojo has typically been overly optimistic on when a feature is going to ship (much less when it’s going to be usable).  So instead they’re going to stop predicting when a feature will be released.

If you hear them say it’s ‘Important’, it’s something they’re seriously looking into.  It will be in the product in the not too distant future.  A ‘priority’ means it’s either in active development or will be shortly.  The Rapid Release Model is still in play which means we will still get releases three or four times a year.

In one sense I’m disappointed that they’re not going to give us any timeframe for new features.  I really want to know when Web 2.0 is going to ready for testing as we have a number of projects in development or about ready to start development that it would be really nice to know if it’s a 90 day, 120 day, or longer window.  Android is a nice to have feature, but since I’m not doing much mobile development it’s not that important to us, but I can see how for some it is a huge need.

In another sense I understand why they’re not going to give us target dates any more.  They’ve missed every projected release date that I can think of and I’m going back a lot of years.  It was about a year ago this week, in Berlin, that Geoff said that Android would be out by the end of 2017 when the reality is that we’ll be lucky if we see it by the end of 2018 (that’s just a guess on my part and having having been around a long time).  I would love to be wrong on that guess but it’s a new target that involves a ton of compiler, framework, and IDE work not to mention the need for Interops (a dependency) to work well.

Estimating a project is not a science.  You’re asking software developers to take a wild guess at how long a big feature is going to take.  When you make that initial guess you don’t know that replacing this small piece of code will affect this much larger piece of code over here.  Or cause this other piece to not work right thus forcing you to redo that other piece too.

In some respects creating a new project is considerably easier than replacing code.  In new projects you’re touching everything anyway but subconsciously you’re holding most, if not all, of the work in your mind and you shape it as you go.  Big, existing projects, or OPC (Other Peoples Code) projects, are considerably harder since not only do you have to read the code but also figure out the intent of the code and second guess what the original developer was attempting – not always an easy task.  I’ve never seen the code for the IDE but I’d imagine dozens of people have worked on it over the years with varying degrees of competency and coding styles.  So whatever work you do you have to read, interpret, change, and test to make sure it doesn’t break something somewhere else.  Tack on multiple environments and targets and it’s a herculean task.

I’ve spent the last four years working with my son’s FRC robotics team (team 1982) as the programming mentor.  They have six weeks to design and build a robot to a very demanding set of specifications before they crate it for competition.  These 120 pound robots are relatively complex and I’ve seen it time and time again where the kids have ‘Chrono-Optimism’ in what they believe they can get done in after-school meetings (some with mentors present and some without) and on Saturdays.  Granted, they spend a LOT of time working on the robot, but they’re just kids and most of them have never done anything like this before.  They don’t know what they don’t know and most years they’re scrambling just to get a working robot.

This year, the group of seniors really thought about what they wanted to do.  They knew it would be challenging, but they decided to change their build process and use a more modular hardware design which meant new gear boxes, wheels, framing, etc.  They also decided to build two robots which, for a team that’s never done that before, was …ambitious.  Then they decided that they wanted to go two regional tournaments.  Again, ambitious for a team that’s never done that.  From previous years they also learned something else:  they were attempting to design too much on the robot.  If there were three major tasks that a robot had to accomplish they couldn’t do all three with the resources and experience they had.  They couldn’t change the amount of time to build the robot so they changed the one thing they could – the scope of work – and made the robot simple and sturdy.

The Universe works in mysterious ways and has ways of throwing a monkey wrench into the best of plans.  The last day of build season this year happened to be a day off so the plan was to have a twelve hour work day to finish the robot and test.  Instead, Kansas City had a snow storm which cancelled all school activities.  The robot was not mechanically complete and not functional programming-wise.  The kids were devastated.  But there is a silver lining to their story.

The robot was crated away and couldn’t be worked on for weeks, but the second robot allowed them to work on the programming and driver training.  The modular design allowed them to plan the work they needed to do at the tournament before it started.  The simplicity of the robot meant that the work could actually get done in a short amount of time before taking to the field.

To conclude this story (because I’m bragging now), the team won their first tournament which qualified them for World Championships.  They were the eight seed alliance captain in their second tournament.  At the world championships, they finished 42nd of 67 teams, but were picked as part of the 6th seed alliance.  They won in the quarter finals and ended up getting to the semi-finals where they were defeated by the alliance that went on to be third in the overall tournament (out of 400 teams).  All because they examined their past behavior and decided to change it.  They knew they were bad at estimating and changed their expectations.

I will give credit to Xojo for realizing that, like most of us, they are Chrono-Optimistic in their estimates, and decided to change how they communicate to their customers.  As Geoff said, part of their job is setting expectations and they’ve been really bad at it.  It’s clear that they said ‘estimate’ and we heard it as a ‘promise’ which is partially on us.  So now we have what’s a ‘Priority’ and what’s ‘Important’.  I don’t know if this will help them, or us, in the long run but it will be different and I’m willing to play along for now.

What do you think about this change?  Negative, positive, or neutral about it?

Updates

One of my goals for 2018 is to write more.  So here’s an update on stuff.

We hired a new developer who comes on board in a few weeks.  I’m really excited about his Xojo experience and what he brings to the company.

The planets and stars aligned and I will be going to XDC in Denver next month.  This makes me very happy as XDC is one of my favorite events!  I get to immerse myself in Xojo for a week and see all my friends and meet new ones.  I’m not presenting so that makes life a little easier too.

The week of XDC is going to be hectic as the weekend before as the FRC robotics team my son is on will be attending the World Championships in Houston.  Last weekend they won the Heartland Regional Tournament in Kansas City.  After a pretty disastrous first day where a lot of mechanical issues arose they had a solid last day, got picked by the 3rd seeded alliance, and eventually won the tournament (an alliance is composed of three teams) and advanced, automatically, to the championship tournament in Houston.

If you are geeky and interested in what these kids build, here is the final match where they won the tournament.  https://www.thebluealliance.com/match/2018mokc2_f1m2

Is Xojo the Right Development Tool

Quite often prospective clients, and developers thinking of learning Xojo, ask my opinion of Xojo.  They are about to embark on a journey spending tens of thousands of dollars on a cross-platform tool and they want to know if Xojo is a right for them.  It’s a good question and I’ll share some of what I share with them in no particular order.

Xojo is pronounced “Zo Jo”.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it pronounced “Ex Oh Jay Oh” or something else.  They just don’t know and I think it spooks a lot of people as it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.  Xojo has been around under various names (REALbasic and Real Studio) for twenty years – all with the same company.  At that point it’s easy to name a dozen languages/development environments that were popular twenty years ago that either don’t exist today or been sold so many times that they’re now obscure tools.

This isn’t your fathers BASIC.  Xojo uses the BASIC syntax but this isn’t like the venerable Visual Basic or even older GWBasic or QBasic.  Xojo apps are NOT interpreted at runtime – they compile down into native code for each of the platforms.  The language itself is a modern object-oriented language that happens to use the BASIC syntax.  Xojo is updated three to four times a year and has undergone a lot of upgrades in the past two decades.  It first supported 68000 code, then PowerPC and Fat applications, Carbon, and now finally Cocoa on the Mac side.  They’ve added Windows, Linux, Raspberry Pi (Linux ARM), desktop and console application targets.  In the mobile space they’ve added iOS, and by the end of the year Android.  They’re also in the middle of the transition from 32-bit only applications to 64-bit applications.  For the most part things ‘just work’ and developers don’t experience too many issues (bugs happen but think about how many targets they’re supporting!).

Xojo applications are self-contained.  Take a compiled Xojo application and (with very few exceptions) literally copy the files to another computer and the application will just work.  Even Windows applications don’t need an official installer, however, it is recommended since most Windows users are comfortable and familiar with using them.  Most Mac applications are installed via drag-and-drop from a disk image but an installer can be used on the Mac as well.  This ease-of-installation is huge and it’s rare to have “DLL Hell” issue since all required libraries and resources are bundled together.  This does make the resulting output larger than some other development tools that depend on system libraries but I’ve rarely seen this an issue.

Xojo provides nearly everything you need in one tool (with some caveats).  The Xojo IDE has Code, Form, Menubar, Database, and Report editors (to name some of the big ones) in one tool so you never have to use another tool.  We’ve found the database editor to not be powerful enough so we prefer external database editors.  The built-in reporting tool also isn’t very powerful so we created our own reporting tool (Shorts) which has served us well in our consulting projects.  The nice thing is that all of the built-in tools work seamlessly with each other so the tools that are powerful enough for you ‘just work’ with few hassles.  The editors try really hard to protect your from hurting yourself while other tools are just a big text file that must be in an exact format.

The Xojo community is incredibly helpful.  The Xojo Forums are filled with some of the most helpful people I’ve ever met.  Some of the Xojo engineers respond to questions, but usually the community answers before they get to it.  Many other support forums are rude and condescending to newcomers to their language/tool.  The Xojo forum has even been known to answer questions about other tools.

Xojo is a cross-platform tool and because of this it has some compromises.  Controls are often the lowest- common denominator.  Grids especially aren’t as powerful as some are used to in the Windows world.  This is mainly because complex grids are not common in Linux and Mac environments.  Other controls have similar issues.  Things like automatic spell checking in TextArea’s are platform specific as on the Mac.  At times it is disappointing that there aren’t more control options for Xojo right out of the box (think date and calendar controls) but thankfully there is a third-party market for controls and libraries for Xojo that can often help.  Even though much is provided for you, it’s possible for a developer to use OS API’s using Declares that can significantly modify the appearance and functionality for some applications.

Xojo is a Rapid Application Development (RAD) environment.  Between the all-in-one IDE and the language creating applications in Xojo is fast.  This means that an initial investment can get your app developed faster and cheaper than many other languages.  Obviously some of this depends on the developers doing the work but it can make a huge difference.  We’ve always told clients that if they’re not happy with Xojo performance after the initial release they can use our code as the proof of concept to the developer in whatever language they choose.  There have only been a handful of clients that have ever switched languages after release and that’s usually been switching from desktop apps to web app.

The cost of Xojo isn’t very high compared to some tools.  For $699 per year per developer you can create web, console, and desktop apps for Mac, Windows, Linux, and Linux ARM plus iOS apps.  That’s all in the same environment and same language and with the exception of iOS applications (which requires a Mac) you can use Mac, Windows, or Linux to create everything.  Many developers use third party controls and libraries and even those are relatively inexpensive.  Plus, there are no royalty fees for your Xojo made applications.  All-in-All it can be a relatively inexpensive tool.

What considerations have I missed?

Recharging the Battery

One of the ‘joys’ of having my own business is that I’m always on-call and there are times I’m answering emails on a Saturday night.  Most of the time, it’s no big deal but it can become exhausting without a break.  This is why I need to take time off and recharge my batteries.  So should you.

Carol and I did that last week with a vacation in the Caribbean.  We had a lot of fun and got a chance to recharge our batteries and get away from work (and US politics).  And even though we weren’t technically working (I consider coding to be the real work), we did talk about our business and those things we are grateful for.

One thing we are extremely grateful for is the fact that we can take off for a week without feeling guilty.  That got us thinking on why is it so hard for consultants to take time off.  It’s not too hard to figure out but here are a few items from our list (sadly the list got a Bahama Breeze spilled on it and thus couldn’t be saved for posterity, but here’s what we remember).

If you’re not working you’re not making money.  So true for consultants, but my advice is to try to develop multiple income streams so you can make money without doing consulting.  We have our developer products (ARGen and Shorts are our big ones) and without any work on my part we sold some last week.  We also have our Xojo Training videos that are income.

Having that one big all consuming project.  A lot of Xojo consultants I’ve known over the years have that one big client that consumes nearly 100% of their time.  We have multiple Xojo developers and while we can do big projects that involve all team members, it’s pretty rare.  This means that our income (and risk of losing it) are spread across multiple projects/clients.  For us, projects come and go, and that means there are times when one or two of us get to work on internal projects but our income levels stay consistent.

It’s all on you.  Solo consulting stinks because it’s all on you.  I can’t tell you how many solo Xojo consultants I’ve seen come and go in my fifteen years.  Doing it all by yourself is tough and sort of ties into the one, big, all consuming project from above.  You only have so many hours in the week to code and if you don’t have help you still have to take time out for marketing, sales, and developing multiple income streams.  It’s just not possible for solo developers to be spread that thin.

Do you have a job, or do you have a business?  Over the years I’ve had multiple solo consultants chastise me and tell me that I’m just ‘training my competitors’ with my multiple employees.  Sure, that’s always a possibility, but is it probable?  So far, they haven’t and my thinking is that if they really wanted to have their own business they’d probably already be doing it without my training anyway.  Having and running a business is not the same thing as having a job.  Plus, that type of thinking comes from fear and I’m confident enough in my own abilities and experience that it simply isn’t a concern.

Consulting rates are too low.  I’ve talked about this multiple times but too often someone new to consulting will take their last real-world salary and figure out their rate from that.  This is absolutely the worst thing to do because as a consultant you don’t have a job you have a business.  You need to have a rate high enough to pay for health insurance, retirement plans, and to pay yourself during your vacation escapes each year.  It is your responsibility, as a business owner, to calculate what rate that is for you.  If you want to know my rate send me an email and I’ll gladly tell you but I will also say that if I was still a solo developer it would be higher because I can only code so many hours in the week.

You must recharge your batteries every now and then.  Without that you become inefficient and run the risk of burning out and you’ll be sending an unhappy client to me to take care of their project.  Don’t laugh because some of my best long-term clients came from a solo Xojo developer that had to leave consulting for one reason or another.  Some left because they were charging too little to pay for health insurance, retirement, and to recharge their batteries on a consistent basis.

So what do you do to recharge your battery?  And why do you think many people fail as solo developers?

Consulting Red Flags

The one absolute truth about consulting is that if you’re not working you’re not making any money.  The corollary to this truth is that you are either 100% busy or 100% not busy.  This is especially true if you are a solo developer.  It is very hard to turn down projects when they come your way but I’ve found that there are times when you should.

I get it.  Really, I do.  If you’ve been idle for longer than you’d like and money is starting to get tight ALL projects start to look good.  Don’t take the project because you need the money.  Take the project because it’s a good fit, it’s interesting work, and you think the client will be a good partner.

In the world of make-believe this is the way it should be.  In the real-world you don’t always have those options.  Plus, it’s really hard to figure out if a project is going to be a good one or not.  Here are some of the red flags I’ve come to recognize in fifteen years of being a Xojo consultant.

Other Peoples Code (OPC).  Code written by someone else is always a red flag.  We write code a certain way and if any of our team work on it we can rest assured that certain things will be done (naming conventions, comments, etc.).  No such guaranty with OPC.  It’s way easier to start from scratch but with most OPC projects you don’t have that option.  So you start with a level of uncertainty and having to decipher not only the coding style but often times the intent of another developer.  Learning someone elses code stinks.

Project complexity.  When I’m asked to join an existing project I try to look at how complex it is.  If it’s really complex I hesitate because I know it will never get less complex.  In many cases the original developer tried to be clever to solve some (real or imaginary) problem and while solving it completely overlooked a much simpler way of doing things.  Plus, if it’s not one of your core competencies it might not be a good fit anyway.

Another item under the project complexity red flag is excessive amounts of documentation.  From experience, most projects can be summed up with a page or two of high level description and then a dozen pages of important detail.  When the client sends you a very long document with high levels of detail you might be getting yourself in other your head.

Of course the flip side of that is clients that send you a paragraph or two of their idea.  In those cases we have to draw more information out of them, and depending upon the size of the project, we might actually charge them to write their specifications for them and let them get some competitive bids from other developers.  I think the lack of detail says they haven’t done enough homework on what they want and need.

Toxic teams.  Another issue with joining an existing project is trying to figure out if the team is toxic or not.  The existing developers will always have their own habits and you, as the consultant, need to try and match theirs.  What if those habits are silly?  I’ve seen teams that require a comment for every line of code.  I’ve seen some teams that disdain any comments under the guise that code should be ‘self commenting’.  Is there a team member who’s the ‘smartest person in the room’ and everyone else has to put up with it?

Project savior.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to look at a project started by other developers and the project owner is desperate for it to get done.  In these cases they’ve spent a LOT of money with a developer and gotten poor, or no, results.  You have to ask yourself a few questions.  Was it the developer being incompetent, the owner being unreasonable, or both?  If you take one of these projects you can either be the hero by completing the project, or you can be the goat for being just as incompetent as the original developer.

Project owner/developers.  I’ve found that working with project owners who are also part-time developers also can be a pain to work with, but not always.  The ones that come to me realizing that creating an application isn’t easy and requires time they don’t have and knowledge they don’t have time to acquire tend to be okay.  Those that say it should be ‘fast’ and ‘easy’ for someone with your skills have their expectations set too high.  Software development, in many respects, is more art than science.

Always complains about cost.  Every client wants their custom software done cheap, quick, and on time.  The industry joke is to pick two of those qualities.  Software development of custom software isn’t cheap, nor is it quick in most cases.  If they balk at the initial estimate it probably won’t get any better.  They certainly won’t like any change orders.  We had one prospective client ask us three times, over the course of a year and a half, what the price was going to be to complete their project.  I don’t know if they expected our price to go down, or what, but eventually they found a developer to do their project at the price they wanted.  And then had the audacity to come back six months later then that developer couldn’t deliver.

Been through many developers.  Perhaps my biggest red flag of them all is when someone comes to us after going through several other developers.  Listen to their complaints about the other developers.  Were they too slow, did they charge too much?  I’ve even asked for permission to contact the previous developer to get the news from the developer perspective.  The community is small so there’s a good chance I know them and I know I’ll get the developers perspective.  Use those connections if you can because you might discover some useful information about the client and the project.

Just because you need the work doesn’t mean you should take every project that comes your way.  Be selective because you’ll avoid some heartache and probably enjoy your work more.  What red flags have you developed over the years?