Technology is everything these days, and your skills as a developer are in high demand. How can you leverage your unique skill set and understanding of technology to climb the ranks in your company beyond “just a developer?” Ann will tell her story of going from underpaid full-time developer, to broke freelancer, to entrepreneur, and finally to partner and CTO. More importantly, she’ll tell you what she learned along the way about the art of persuasion, transparency as a trojan horse, indispensability, confidence, standing your ground, and ultimately how to be treated and respected as a leader and not an employee. Disclaimer: I cannot confirm or deny that I have a problem with authority and a thirst for power. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
- I’m Ann Gaffigan, CTO at National Land Realty, a nationwide real estate brokerage specializing in the buying and selling of farmland, hunting land, timber land, waterfront acreages and so on. - I’ve been doing PHP for about 15 years.
How you got into programming
Why you liked it: Introverted Perfectionist Unique Powerful Felt like a solid career option (I’m pretty practical)
- I studied Computer Science at the University of Nebraska. Any Huskers in here?! My 1st Internship was the summer after my sophomore year. One of the owners, the one who hired me, tasked me with deciding which language to use to build a management system for them. I chose PHP.- Good boss. I learned a lot. I worked hard.
The other owner was a pathetic person. Inappropriate comments about my appearance Came in late hungover asking why I wasn’t working (I was eating lunch at my desk) I clapped back and the other owner chuckled and said “I think he thought we hired some girl he could just boss around”
PHP again. $10 an hour. They had a client that wanted…(explain) This was a huge project. It was usually just me and the client in meetings… When I graduated, I didn’t even look for other jobs. Not because I was happy, but because I felt obligated to continue building this system for the client. If I didn’t, who would? I figured my boss would have to give me a raise. The starting salary was insulting. I settled and didn’t negotiate at all. Timesheet program - no one was working! I was working 35 out of my 40 hours a week for this single client, and they were getting billed for that many hours.
I started to get mad. I started thinking about how much money I could make if I was getting that money from the client directly. I knew how much it was. Story about quitting FT job and becoming a freelancer
- Overview (using outline above)
- Overview based on outline above (will tell more about the story later)
“Now let’s talk a little bit about Job Satisfaction” I read this article the other day about the decline of job satisfaction in software engineers. https://hackernoon.com/mcsoftware-b33888f5f7c A lot of the points had to do with the lack of OWNERSHIP engineers feel with their code these days because they’re being treated like robots. The management is being done by non coders or former coders. The engineers are supposed to just engineer. They get moved from one thing to another. They’re told what to do in specific terms. And they’re making OK money with an incremental pay raise each year. Is that enough? Is this all there is?
- Read them & define each. Is this you? Is this the culture at your job? Are you in a position where you could potentially change it for the better? Do you need to get out? If this is you, do you love programming anymore?
Read them and talk about each. For me, I was missing that connection between effort and reward at my FT job. It was enough to make me make a move. “Now let’s talk about how you can make your move.”
Baby Steps: Let’s get noticed. Let’s lay a foundation for your reputation among your colleagues. You want to be known as a DOER. My soccer coach used to say “I want the player that volunteers to take the penalty kick” (explain) Take ownership of your code even if you feel anonymous at work. It’s good practice for when you actually own it. Be the one to seek out a solution even if it’s not technically your job. If there is a hole no one else is filling, step up. It’s so easy to go with the crowd. Stand OUT. Brain switch: Story about standing on the start line at Roy Griak and thinking “I could be the only one to decide not let this overwhelm me”
There is a major caveat to being a Doer – the more you do, the more people will expect. You don’t want to become the person everyone dumps things on without respecting your time You don’t want to become the Doer of unimportant things, like making the coffee or organizing the birthday celebrations at work. Be competent and step up in the Important stuff. You’ll still get work dumped on you, but we are going to talk later about standing up for yourself, so just wait.
Network and go to Events when you can. I know it’s not for everyone, but it’s important to challenge yourself and get out of your shell. Meetup Groups, Talks and Panels, Conferences Set up coffee or lunch appointments with people you meet there just to stay in touch You will be more likely to hear about opportunities – whether it’s a job or a speaking opp You will be more likely to be up on the latest news and innovations, giving you stuff to talk about with your colleagues You will learn stuff you didn’t know you didn’t know. This is good BUSINESS.
“You’ve been noticed and you’ve spread your wings a bit. Now let’s take it to the next level” Let’s get R E S P E C T.
Make mistakes. Admit them. Show people how to handle them. Sounds counterintuitive, but making a mistake and handling it well tells people a lot about you. Perfection is impossible. We are programmers, and if we are not perfect, the code won’t work. Therefore, it’s inevitable we will make mistakes. And if you’re committed to being a Doer like we already talked about, you’re making mistakes according to John Wooden. Story about biggest mistake you’ve ever made and how you handled it. Faced the music, explained to the entire staff what happened, took responsibility but also explained how it happened. Once they heard the explanation they understood 1) You weren’t being careless and 2) They didn’t understand what I was talking about and were glad they didn’t have to mess with it Got respect from them that day, worked with them for another decade after that. They appreciated how I handled it.
Tell the story about trying to decide if we should drastically cutting the price of the software and shoot for lots of licensees I asked a simple question my business partner hadn’t thought of – “What’s the size of the market?” (It was maybe 1,000 potential licensees) What do you know? What do you think? What can you ask? I grew up in a house where my opinions were stupid unless they agreed with everyone else’s (youngest sibling joke). It made me very afraid to speak up. But I promise you this is something you can work on and get better at. Start small & non controversial. Work on breaking bad/self-stifling habits.
Read these. “I don’t care” – this is the worst! If you don’t care, why should we even pay attention to you?
Read these. Notice these are “I” and “We” and non-confrontational and non-blaming. But they still allow you to express an opinion or direct the conversation
- “We get away with a lot at techies. They kind of let us be ourselves.” But 1st Impressions mean a lot. It also may make you stand out from the “average dev” Rule: Look like you could be pulled into a meeting with a big client Story about being in a merger meeting and this came up, and you were called out as the only one dressed like a professional Especially when getting to know higher ups, this is a way to gain respect
People respect someone who sticks to a workout routine and makes healthy nutritional choices. It’s the easiest thing you can do to gain respect ….Oh wait, it’s not easy! That’s why people respect it so much. But here’s a little secret: The reason it’s so hard for people is because we attach emotioin to it. It’s very simple: just do it. Make the decision. Schedule it into your day. Change your habits slowly until it just feels like a normal part of your routine and not like a big deal. If you don’t workout at all right now, start walking 3 days a week at lunch or in the morning. If you eat fast food all the time right now, start packing a lunch from home just twice a week. Gradually build new habits. Humans are good at that. It’s really about the first step, which is the DECISION.
Get your way! The Art of Persuasion could be its own masters degree.
I love this quote because it speaks to a programmer’s mind Let me start by saying that I have NEVER regretted speaking up for myself. I have only regretted NOT doing so. If I had signed that Non-Compete instead of partnering with my business partner 9 years ago, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today with this company. If I had not spoken up for myself on that day, I would have signed a non-compete, been paid for my hours of work, and been dropped off the ship instead of being a partner and the CTO right now.
- What I mean by this is two-fold: Teach people how to treat you Figure out how to best work with them My mom was a kindergarten teacher. (Discuss this concept of rewarding good behavior and starving bad behavior) Dominating/Demanding Personalities: Don’t sugar coat it, salt it! Use humor to say something difficult. For example: I will jokingly ask for rewards as a way of letting people know how big a task something is: “OK but I get a box of wine delivered to my door if I figure this out by the end of the week.” Of course, I’m not getting any wine (maybe one day) but it tells them that this is a big deal if I’m able to pull it off. It’s more effective than saying “There’s no way that’s going to happen.” It instead says “I’m going to try to do this for you. Please appreciate it.” With others, their ego is too sensitive. So you have to sugar it up a little bit. These people need to be liked. They also need to be needed. Say, “I need your help with something I’m struggling with. I feel like I’m not properly conveying to you the amount of time this project will take and how complex it is. I’m worried that I’m rushing my team through it in order to stick to the timeline, but it’s going to backfire.” Or maybe you’re being micromanaged by your boss. Say “Hey, you don’t need to stress about this, I got it. I can meet with you weekly to discuss progress if you want, but you don’t have to stress about this” (You’re taking the stress off them). If that doesn’t work, ratchet it up: “I really need you to trust me. I can handle this if you let me” When people might feel threatened by you, for no reason –Give compliments & stick up for them in meetings in a genuine way so they will see you as a teammate and not someone new trying to encroach on their territory. Bottom line, get to know people and figure out how to most effectively communicate with them. With some, you have to be direct and firm or they will walk allllll over you. With others, you need to be more gentle and diplomatic. “Here are some rules of Communication that can apply to every situation and are just good habits to form”
“Have we thought about what happens if X?” “What will we need to do if situation Y arises?” “I’m concerned I don’t understand the reasons we are switching from A to B, can you explain it to me again?” “Is there a reason we want to make such a big change in direction? Did something happen to make this so urgent?” Appear genuinely curious and listen like you genuinely care about their reasoning. You do, right?
Cushion the blow: “What I like about this approach is X and Y. What would make me like it more is if Z. Are we able to do Z?”
“I like this a lot because it handles X and Y problems. What would make me love it is if it also covered Z because Z is really important.” “What this does is make A and B easier. If it also didn’t affect C, I’d be on board. How can we ensure it won’t?”
When someone else is talking, try to come to a complete understanding from their perspective, even if you don’t agree. That means you have to ask questions that are actually curious about their perspective instead of challenging it. Often people assume you understand the context of their opinions, and you assume it too, but often you DON’T. Listen so well that you could explain their perspective on your own in a different room of people.
Let’s define what we agree on. This is like cushioning the blow. Then, what do we differ on? Can something be done to come to an agreement? Or is it OK to agree to disagree?
Weather the storm. People get very defensive when challenged, even if you do it diplomatically. This is why we all avoid conflict! But be the one who, after it’s all said and done, everyone looks back and says you were the reasonable one just trying to have a constructive conversation. After the dust settles, who was making sense and who was getting upset and attacking the other person?
Had way too many project and feature requests flying around. I finally did what I’d meant to do for awhile, which was to put every single request and supporting notes on Trello. It was such a big list you could scroll horizontally through it several times. It made them see what was on there that THEY had requested. I said “Listen, we have to set priorities. I’ve labeled my #1 priorities which are the upgrade to PHP 7 and the data standardization. What else is most important to us?” When they had the plain view of it all, they couldn’t argue that some things were going to have to be put on the backburner. Since I hadn’t been complaining, no one knew everything that was on our plate. Story about line on 3D canvas and why it can’t be thickened (WebGL) Sometimes I just send the article explaining a bug or known issue keeping us from doing what we want to do. Usually they can’t understand it, so they back off because they can no longer argue with me about it. Here are the numbers: Here is how it can save you MONEY – is always a good strategy. Lay it out – the facts – in detail. Then it’s not your opinion they’re railing against, it’s the facts. When mistakes happen or timelines get extended, lay it out: Here is what happened – lay it out in the honest terms, even if they won’t understand. They’ll at least back off once they realized things are way more complicated than they thought. They’ll just be glad to have you on their side!
Get Money! Jump that ladder, don’t wait for the 3% raise handout every year. Also, Get $ fits in that little triangle, but this is also about Meaning and not just Money. If we go back to the 3 Characteristics of Meaningful Work, we have them now – Autonomy, Complexity, Reward for Effort. Because you’ve spoken up and obtained more than just a robot job.
Here are some things to watch out for throughout this entire journey
People are going to want you to whip up sites and apps for them for free. THAT is not a business opportunity. Story about asking for $25,000 to build an app, thinking it was smarter than waiting for the app to make money and taking a percentage of the revenue. Still never got paid. Always get paid at least something up front. Be very careful who you pick to work with and what the arrangement is.
Fear kept me from expanding my own company even when I had more work than I knew what to do with. I was scared. FEAR: of taking risks, of moving, of learning something new and uncomfortable of spending money of moving of losing your job
Often these are unfounded or exaggerated. Would you really lose your job if you spoke up diplomatically to your boss? If so, is that where you want to keep working for the rest of your life? Developers are in HIGH DEMAND. You have options.
I’ve watched male and female friends waste years of their life in a relationship where they were not growing. I watched them slowly lose their fire as they gave in and sacrificed pieces of themselves for their partner. This happened to me as well. It is part of the reason why I never expanded my own company. A relationship can make or break your career. It can affect your sense of self. I’ve seen a friend turn down 2-3 great job opportunities because she wanted to live in the same city as her boyfriend. They weren’t even engaged. Story about guy friend spending his money on a demanding girlfriend turned wife that he could have been saving to start his own company or even just to not have to work so much. On the flip side, I’ve seen friends flourish because of the support of their partner. A relationship should be life GIVING, not life DRAINING. Your partner should not be threatened by your ambition. They should be your biggest fan. Of course, there are times to consider tough decisions: maybe your partner got a big promotion but it involves moving across the country. What does that mean for your job? It may mean you move for them because it’s their time, and you will make do. But the important part is that your partner and you come to that decision together and you care about each other’s career goals. BOTTOM LINE: You should feel like your relationship makes you BETTER.
It’s easy to stay in a situation because change is hard Fight it. If you’re not feeling fulfilled, start journaling Then start visualizing how you could make a change. Visualize what the change makes your life look like. Take control of your life. You only have one. (I THINK )
My #1 Recommendation! Dealing with People – extreme listening, resolving conflict Being as productive as possible – goes along with being a Doer Capitalizing on your Strengths
To gain a broader understanding of business strategies that work. Many business leaders read this book; it’s good to be able to reference it with them Very interesting read (or Audible listen)
Great case studies about women in leadership positions in companies and how they handled adversity and pressure Great read for men or women; it’s about successful business leaders and how they handled tough situations and conflict
- Handling an executive team or ANY team really, recognizing faults, and the advantages of conflict – how it’s an important part of a team and shouldn’t be avoided
This is where the 3 things that make work miserable come from Heads up a management consulting firm that has worked with Fortune 500’s and a bunch of other entities
Good for anyone balancing a relationship, esp kids Balancing household tasks Deciding what really needs to be done and what can be “dropped” 4 pieces of advice for daily habit/lifestyle: Go Workout (health) Go to Lunch (networking) Go to Events (be seen) Go to Sleep (health and productivity) Great read for anyone, male or female
How to Go from Developer to Stakeholder
How to go from Developer to
Ann Gaffigan @anngaff
October 24, 2017
• My journey from Developer to
• Job Satisfaction
• Your journey from Developer to
• Homework Assignments
2nd Internship => Full Time Gig
• Singlehandedly gathered requirements for and
built a large system from scratch for their
• Accepted an insulting FT salary
• Nobody else seemed to do any work at all
• I knew we were taking advantage of our big
Freelance => Incorporation
• Started with a solid client that had a lot of
• Obtained several more through word of
• Proactively sought out larger clients
• More work than I could handle
Client => Business Partner
• One of my clients saw what I could do for his
company and wanted me to sign a non
• Instead we became business partners
• Went through trial and error process of what
to do with this platform I’d developed
• Ultimately merged with larger company, which
meant ownership for us both
• “I’ll defer to you guys”
• “Sorry if this sounds dumb, but…”
• “Whatever you think is fine”
• “You’re the expert, I don’t know anything
• “I don’t mean to be a pain, but...”
• “I don’t care” .....
• “I’d love to see us try [X] and here’s why”
• “I read that company Y uses this tool. I can
research it to see if it make sense for us.”
• “Here is my concern with that route…”
• At the very least, ask a question:
– “Are there other options we haven’t thought of
– “What are the risks in this case?”
– “Do the numbers add up to a good ROI? Want me
to run them?”
“Finding your voice is not only about
talking. Learning to speak up and
refining your message is a form of
- How Remarkable Women Lead: the Breakthrough
Model for Work and Life. Joanna Barsh, Susie Cranston,