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Programming with Reason: The Startup

For as long as I can remember, I've had a goal of starting and running my own software company. While I was in college, I had some trouble waiting for that day to arrive and began doing custom application development for small businesses in my area. I built specialized invoice applications, fancy database applications, and scheduling applications, all tailored for the specific needs of the businesses I was working for. It was both wonderful, and difficult.

The difficulties arose because I was splitting my time between application development, driving to the customer site for installation and troubleshooting, my college classes during the school year, and a summer job that actually paid for college. The programming I did never paid well enough to cover tuition, so I was forced to work during the day. And even during the school year, I often found myself splitting time between bug fixes and enhancements, and homework and studying. Running a startup is difficult at any age, never mind while you're attending college. Sure, there have been others who started their companies successfully while in college, but something usually has to give. For Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates, it was the college degree that they gave up. I wasn't willing to do that.

A Real Job

Fresh out of college, someone I barely knew stuck his neck out and gave me my first chance at a programming job. Although I was probably more confident than capable at first, I worked hard, learned fast, and was successful at launching my career. Considering how much I love technology and writing code, landing a full-time programming job was thrilling enough to make me (temporarily) forget about my goal of running a software company. But, over time, something often happens to those who have the entrepreneurial spirit within them: their eyes open to the greater potential around them.

Entrepreneurs see opportunities missed, chances to make an even greater impact, and greater potential all around them. This is where they often grow dissatisfied in having a "job" and greater motivation in creating a job for themselves and others. For me, it was the even-greater creative potential that has driven the entrepreneurial spirit within me. For instance, the chance to build products beyond the design-by-committee trade-offs I was seeing around me at the time; the chance to create a small-company work environment free from corporate politics as much as possible; and the chance to make an even greater amount of money and good will for myself and those I hired, were all leading motivating factors. I wanted to do three things: build great software; build a great company; build wealth for everyone involved in the company. All three things are about creativity and growth, which I believe are key. You need to love what you do, and not just do it for the money. But if you're good at what you do, you deserve more than to do it for free, or to struggle through it.

A Second Chance

In 2003, I had a chance to start a company once again. This time, I incorporated as Allure Technology, and began consulting with some good friends I knew. It was a fantastically exciting time, as I read and learned more about business and did more on the software architecture front. I helped redesign a system that was to be grown beyond its current audience, the size of which was greater than it was built to serve. It was challenging, exciting, a little frustrating at times, but a huge success with lots of learning involved, all at the same time. Overall, it was a positive experience for all parties involved. But I was often splitting my time between running the business-side of the business, and actually doing my work as a consultant which was what the business was really about. Again, this left little time to grow the business into one that sold software products.

But two interesting things happened along the way. First, my career as a writer began to take off, as I was writing articles and my first book. In many ways, I like writing about software just as much as I like writing actual software. So when I had an opportunity to take a full-time job at Sun Microsystems I jumped on it for many reasons. Obviously it was a chance to work with the people who created Java and Solaris and other products that I had grown to love over the years, but it freed me to focus on non-business related activities for a while.

During this time period, I found myself learning more about software sales, giving presentations to people at the executive-level, diving deeper into areas of technology I never would have before, and getting involved with companies, conferences, and developers all around the world. In the meantime, my side-business was still active, as I fielded requests to write white papers, and worked on other small publishing projects while still writing articles and blogs on software development. Overall the experience was once again exciting and challenging, but when rumors of a Sun acquisition by IBM and then Oracle arose, those feelings were replaced by ones of anxiety. As a result, I found my entrepreneurial spirit rekindled.

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