For the past week, I have felt a wave of relief that we shipped Kiln Harmony, the first DVCS-agnostic source control system. Kiln Harmony’s translation engine ruled my life for the better part of a year, and, as the technical blog series is revealing, probably took some of my sanity with it. But we’ve received nearly universally positive feedback, and built a product that I myself love to use, so I can’t help but feel the project was an incredible success.
I always travel ready to get stuck and be forced to work remotely. My tool of choice for that varies, but has recently been a third-generation iPad armed with my Nokia 800’s old folding keyboard, PocketCloud, and Prompt. With these four simple tools, plus Azure and AWS in a pinch, I can pretty easily get a good day’s work done anywhere. So when I got stuck in Los Angeles this past Saturday, I wasn’t worried: I knew I’d still be able to help Fog Creek get stuff done.
I remember when I was back in college looking for summer internships. It stank. No one gave me any meaningful guidance (very much including the college employment office). I had no idea how to organize the process. I had no central location to store contact information, or to easily make sure I’d done the next step. I just kind of had a stack of brochures and business cards on my desk that I tried to follow up on, and an Entourage calendar of any upcoming interviews I had.
Business of Software has long stood as a unique conference for me: while nearly every tech conference I attend focuses on the technological side of delivering a solution, Business of Software focuses on actually delivering the goods. How do you reach people? How do you know you’ve reached people? How, if you’ve reached people, do you turn that into profit so that you can keep making people’s lives better? These are insanely important questions, and ones that are far too easily glossed over in the debate of what database software to use, or what language has the easiest hires, and that’s a huge part of why so few start-ups actually manage to get anywhere.
Let’s set the scene. It’s the summer of 2010. Kiln had been launched into the wild for all of six months, after a grueling year-long, no-revenue sprint to turn my dinky prototype that ran only on my personal laptop into a shipping application that worked both in Fog Creek’s hosted environment and in a gazillion ever-so-slightly-different on-site installations. We’d had all of a few months actually charging people, and were only just barely making a month-to-month profit, let alone having a positive ROI.
I think the point of math class is probably to teach people math, but what many of the best developers I know actually learned in math class was how to program. Nearly every high school math class I took was really, really boring. Not through the fault of the teachers; they were actually awesome. But I consistently knew just enough to be bored, yet not enough to actually skip the class.
I should be in the middle of an interview right now. About fifteen minutes into it, in fact. About the part of my interview where we stop talking about awesome stuff the candidate has worked on in the past and start diving into writing some actual code. A stack with O(1) data access that also always knows its maximum, for example. Or perhaps a rudimentary mark-and-sweep garbage collector. It’s usually my favorite part of the interview: I get to see how the candidate thinks, how they process information, how they problem solve, and how they code.
Last fall, Joel came to me and said, “Congratulations! We’re doing another World Tour. Also, we want to teach distributed version control. That’s your job. Make it happen.” This sounded totally awesome. Not only would I get to one-up George Clooney in flight time; I was made for doing something like this. In high school, I was in the NFL, which, sadly, means the National Forensics League, which means the National People Who Talk Good and Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too, and not the National Football League.
One of the things that I love about Fog Creek is that we give back. Kiln can only exist because of the amazing foundation provided by the Mercurial distributed version control system, so we try to help them out whenever we can. In the past, we’ve done that by making Fog Creek one of the top Mercurial sponsors. Given how small Fog Creek is, I can’t tell you how proud I am to see that we’re placing up there amongst Google and Microsoft for supporting open-source software.
Speaking of fascinating user experiences, I had to crack a smile when going through Disqus today and approving a pile of comments that got locked in the queue for some reason. On every single one, after clicking on the Approve button, I was greeted with: While I’m still trying to puzzle out what the engineer who wrote that string had in mind, I really think I’m going to have to order a pile of stickers with that message on them for liberal distribution to our interns this summer.