The Experiment

The Experiment

Ideas, Stress, and Time

I remember someone saying once that ideas were worthless, and only implementation mattered. I disagree. Ideas have power, and depending on who you are, that power can be used to either create, or destroy. Or, in my case, both. When I get an idea, the drive to make that idea become reality can consume me. I may do nothing about it for days, weeks, or even months, and then, seemingly suddenly, put all of my time and energy into it in one big explosion. During the time leading up to the creation phase, I’m thinking. At night while I drift off to sleep, during the day when there is a lull in my work flow, during all the little times that something else is not occupying my cognitive functions, I’m thinking about my idea. I consider the idea, I poke it and prod it from as many different angles as I can until I get to a point where I know how to make it real. Or, at least as real as my limited knowledge base can facilitate.

My problem with the thinking/creating loop is that what I’m thinking about and what I’m creating may not be what’s best for me at the time. The offset between what I should be thinking about and what I actually am thinking about creates unnecessary stress in my life, and makes it harder to concentrate on things that I need to be concentrating on, when I need to be concentrating on them. Having an idea that may lead to the accomplishment of a life-long goal is a wonderful thing, if the idea comes at a time when a person can actually act on it without neglecting other commitments. Unfortunately, that is not the situation that I find myself in now.

Masters

Last Fall I enrolled in the Masters of Human-Computer Interaction program at Iowa State University. When I finish this semester I’m in the middle of right now, I’ll be at the half-way point. The program is entirely online, so I can continue to work at my day job as a systems administrator while I work at night on my assignments. The course load is more than I was expecting, and the course work takes far more time than I thought I would need. I spend several hours on the weekends, and several nights each week studying. Some classes have been a lot of fun, others have felt like pushing a bolder up a hill. I’m lucky enough right now to have two classes that I’m enjoying, one on programming in Python, and another on the fundamentals of design.

My hope for the Masters degree is that it will lead to exciting new opportunities in the future. Something that my experience as a systems administrator alone would not. While I enjoy my work, I feel like I could do more, and I do not feel like it is ultimately going to fulfill that life-long goal I was referring to above.

So, I work during the day, and I go to school at night. In between times I try my best to be a good husband and father to my family. We have four kids, and they all need time with Dad. So, we do stuff, fishing, roller-coasters, bike rides, cooking… lots of stuff. Stuff that, really, is more important than anything else. The kind of stuff that gives me a reason to get up in the morning.

My obligations to my family are clear, as are my obligations to my employer, as well as my obligations to Iowa State. However, grad school was not the only thing I started last Fall. I also started Farmdog Software.

Farmdog

Everyone is busy, everyone has obligations, and no one is going to think that I’ve taken on too much, especially those who have started successful software companies. What I’ve told myself for the past nine months is to just suck it up and keep working. Long after everyone else is asleep, I’ve stayed up to keep working on Go2 and Farmdog. Unfortunately, as Dan Benjamin recently said on Back to Work, you can’t start a successful business part time. It needs your full attention, you need to be committed to it.

Farmdog Software has been my dream for a long time. Since first working with my mentor back in England, and learning how he started a successful consulting business, I’ve wanted to work for myself. I’ve been dreaming of working out of my home for twelve years, and my hope with Farmdog was that it would be the catalyst that would finally help me achieve that dream. It has not. It is entirely my fault. I see where I’ve made mistakes, and how my timing was completely off. Underestimating how much time it would take to run the business, and how much time it would take to go to grad school has left me me stressed, unhappy, and drained. My family, my boss, and I all deserve better than that.

Being stretched this thin caused the quality of my work to go down. The most recent build of Go2, 1.3, has glaring bugs that make it unusable for me. While I love my beta testers, and seriously can not thank them enough for finding the faults in Go2, I can not, in good conscience, release 1.3 as it is. It needs a major reworking, and some serious thought into its direction and what it does. I still use it every day at work to launch SSH sessions, which is what I built it for, but I need to think through what the best direction of it as a product is. It needs the kind of thought that I just don’t have the ability to give it right now.

So, Go2 1.3 is not going to be submitted to the App Store. Farmdog Software is going on hiatus until I finish Grad School next year.

Farmdog has been an experiment of sorts, I wanted to see if I could do it, if I could become an “indie developer”. I accomplished what I set out to do, but not well, and not with the kind of dedication the endeavor deserved. As an experiment, we will call Farmdog a success, and a proof of concept that, given the appropriate time and attention, Farmdog can lead to accomplishing my goal. However, right now is not the time. Right now is the time to concentrate on finishing my Masters degree.

The Future

I have many ideas for apps, many that I’d love to start building right now, but they are going to have to wait. While Farmdog is going on hiatus, it is not being abandoned. When I finish my Masters degree, I am going to return to Cocoa with everything I can muster. I am going to leave Go2 in the App Store, it generates one or two sales a week, and if people find it useful I see no reason not to let them have it. So far support has not been an issue, but if it becomes one I’ll pull it. Farmdog is going to stay alive, simply in a holding pattern until I return.

I want to make clear how much I appreciate everyone who’s helped beta test Go2, and how much I appreciate the (very few) customers I’ve been lucky enough to have. If you are one of the awesome few who’ve purchased Go2, I seriously can not thank you enough. You’ve helped make the experiment a success, and given me a direction for the future. If Go2 had not sold at all, or if it had been given a bunch of negative reviews, I probably would have decided my future lay elsewhere.

For the CocoaHeads in Des Moines (and in Cupertino), thank you as well. It’s great to know that there’s a group of people in the area who are willing to help, and to share what they’ve learned.

As I write this, I feel relieved, but the real burden was lifted as soon as I made the decision two days ago. As much as I like to think that I’m superman, I really have only a limited set of abilities, and something had to go.