This article was originally published on .cult by Syk Houdeib. .cult is a media platform for untold developer stories, where developers can read content around the softer side of development and watch documentaries about the tech they love. You can read this original piece here.
The worst thing about the imposter syndrome is that it manages to convince you it’s real even when you know it’s not. Here’s how the imposter syndrome affected me in my first month as a developer.
I want to share this with juniors in the same situation, as well as seniors who have to work with them.
But it’s also for people of every level because the imposter syndrome affects everyone. Bringing this to light allows all of us to deal better with this ugly imposter monster.
When I walked into the small office with a creaky wooden floor in the center of Madrid for my first day as a front-end developer I was very excited and very nervous.
It was the culmination of a lot of hard work and lots of hopes and dreams. But I had no idea what to expect. I was 40 years old. I had spent the last decade teaching English and had no real qualifications in computer science. These were the perfect ingredients to feel like an imposter.
Yet over the previous 10 months, since I took up coding, I had come to be aware and understand the imposter syndrome. And I thought I was ready for it once I started working. But I wasn’t.
In this article, I would like to share with you how the imposter syndrome manifested itself, and some of the tips I learned to deal with it.
The first days
My first day as a front-end developer was easy. Warm welcomes. Handbook reading. Meetings about the company and its objectives. All easy to understand and handle.
The next couple of days is when the reality of it came crashing down and left me dizzy.
I started to struggle as I got set up and had the codebase explained to me. There were so many new and unrecognizable terms and technologies. Nothing that I had done in my courses had prepared me for that level of complexity. It was easy to get overwhelmed.
After that, it was on with the real work. I got assigned my first task. I had to build an internal tool from scratch. I got a hand to get it started. But pretty much was left to it.
Monster in your head
Throughout these first few days and over the following weeks, the imposter syndrome made itself very present.
At some points, I felt that I didn’t belong there, that I was way in over my head, and that I knew nothing.
There were moments of calm, and moments of excitement when things worked and I advanced. But there were other moments of total fear
Here are some of those things that would trigger the imposter feeling:
Needing help for everything
I couldn’t work autonomously. I couldn’t advance on my own. I needed help to know how to do most things. I didn’t even have enough skills to debug my own mistakes sometimes.
Annoying others with questions, wasting their time
To get answers I depended on the help of more senior members of the team. And it always felt like I’m wasting their time. Like I’m a chore to them. It wasn’t anything they said. It’s just the feeling you get.
Not being able to advance
By far the biggest trigger was getting stuck while doing a task and not having any idea how to advance. At that moment you feel useless and the imposter’s voice becomes a thundering roar.
All this lead me to develop an unhealthy feeling. At times I believed that the rest of the team thinks that I don’t belong there. That I’m bad at this. Even, my supervisors were wondering why they hired me.
All of which are the classic symptoms of the imposter syndrome. I knew this, and still, I felt it. No amount of knowledge about the imposter syndrome helped me stop it.
That’s because that voice is so cunning, it knows your fears and plays on them. It tells you that in your case you are actually a real imposter.
Slayer of monsters
Let’s start from the end. I’ve been working with this same team for almost two years and I couldn’t be happier and more satisfied.
So the monster wasn’t real. That first month had plenty of good moments too.
And another thing, I did not become immune to the imposter syndrome. It doesn’t simply disappear with time and experience. It still shows up every now and then.
You can have a bad day or two, then you deal with it, pick yourself up and carry on. It’s part of life in this field. It’s a mentally taxing job. It’s very easy to feel that the reason you can’t do something is because of your own brain’s limitations. And that can start a cascade of negative thoughts that lead to imposter feelings.
So here are some of the tips I learned from that first month to deal with this monster.
Remember the imposter monster exists
This might be obvious, but we need to remember it. In the moments of sheer panic, I felt in the first days, what calmed me down was often remembering that this is the imposter syndrome talking. Being aware of it doesn’t protect us from it. But gives us a weapon to use against it.
Having a mentor who understands and is willing to help is by far the most important factor in dealing with it. This is especially true for a junior.
I cannot stress the importance of this. If you are a junior looking for your first job, make that your number one criteria for taking a job if you can.
And if it’s you who is hiring juniors, make sure you have someone who is patient and helpful to be there for them.
Mentors become the safety net that allows juniors to hone their skills without fear of breaking everything and wiping the entire internet out!
Ask questions. Ask for help
You are a junior. It’s ok to ask lots of questions. Even if you aren’t a junior, you need to ask lots of questions. You might feel that you are interrupting your coworkers, but it is inevitable.
Hopefully, you’ll be lucky and find people who are accommodating. Because it is totally normal to need guidance and help.
The important thing is not to become stuck for hours because you are too embarrassed to say that you don’t know something.
One thing that helped me in my first month was when I realized that all the seniors were regularly asking each other for help. And that they were comfortable saying “I don’t know”. Knowing everything is not a requirement in this field. Being open to learning is.
Break down problems
You get a new task, you look at the sheer scale of it and the massive number of things that need to be done to accomplish it. And you get terribly overwhelmed!
That’s not how this works. No code is born perfect and complete in its final form and no one can envision tons of lines of code in their head.
Spend time, in the beginning, understanding the totality of the task. Think about it in general terms. But when you get started, break it down to the smallest pieces possible.
This helped me out at times when I felt frozen and couldn’t advance. What is the smallest tiniest thing that I know I can do? I would start there, and that would help put me on the right track and in the right frame of mind.
Get started, it’s better to have to go back and fix something than not moving forward at all.
You can’t learn everything at once
Any typical project will have many layers of complexity. It will use a myriad of different technologies and tools. There’s no course that prepares you for that.
It’s not just understanding the code, but how the project is set up, it’s architecture, and the different tools and environments you need to develop. And plenty of other things like the strategies and tools used for deployment, pull requests, and code reviews to mention a few.
You simply can’t learn all this at once. There is so much of it. So accept that this is a process, and it will take time. You can’t expect to know how to do something if you ‘ve never done it before.
A great strategy is to find your favorite way to document and use it.
I use the humble Keep notes to create checklists of step by step instructions and useful commands. Others use more detailed documentation tools. But whatever it is, take the time to write down complex things that you will need to do again. You’ll be glad the next time you have to do it. It’ll be one less thing you’ll need help with.
Eat well. Exercise. Sleep
This is just good advice in any context. But in this case, it can make a big difference. Our job is sedentary and mentally challenging. You need to move to release stress and have clearer thoughts. You need to eat well to have the right energy. And you need to rest and sleep to disconnect and come back at your problems with a fresh mind.
This is easier said than done especially when starting a new job, or facing a new challenge. Whether you are experienced or a junior, the temptation in the first months is to think that you don’t have time for this. That you had better use your time to learn as much as possible.
That’s what I did too in my first month, but I wish I knew better. The truth is, if you are not eating well, and not exercising, you are less productive and less efficient. Even if you dedicate half an hour to exercise, it will relieve stress, and fill you with energy. This will make you more productive and facilitate learning.
Eating, exercising, and sleeping well is not a nice extra to have when things are better organized, they should be the base on which you build a good day and better learning.
Understand that they hired you
The people who hired you know your level. They have made the decision that you are a suitable fit for their team. They believe that you can learn the skills they expect. Remind yourself of this as the doubt kicks in.
The nastiest manifestation of the imposter syndrome was the paranoid voice in my head that told me my managers were thinking they made a mistake in hiring me.
Usually, they know exactly what they hired and they are fine with it. It was their decision all along. All you need to do is be honest in the hiring process. don’t pretend you know what you don’t.
Feedback is as important as mentorship.
If you are working with juniors or new members of the team, find the time to give them honest feedback. If you are a new member, with some luck you’ll have scheduled feedback meetings with your supervisors. If not, ask for it.
It might be the scariest thing to do when you are already feeling like an imposter. But it might be the best thing you can do to defeat the monster.
Hearing honest feedback from the people you are working with will give you a clear idea of what you need to improve, and what you are doing well. And in all actuality, what they tell you will turn out to be much milder and more pleasant than the imposter voice in your head.
The turning point for me in my battle with the imposter syndrome was my first-month review with my manager.
We went for a walk around the block. I was dreading it, I had a list of negative things that I believed about my performance over the past month. I was expecting the worst.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I already gave you a spoiler at the beginning of this section. He wasn’t simply happy with my performance, he thought I exceeded expectations for someone who had only been coding for a few months!! The exact opposite of what the imposter syndrome had me believe.
That day I went back home feeling over the moon. My confidence shot up. That was the moment I started paying less attention to this nasty voice. I started believing in my capacity to learn all the many complexities I had to deal with.
If you are in a position to help newcomers, remember that your generosity with your time and meaningful feedback can have a real effect on them and their wellbeing. And boost their progress.
And if it’s you in this situation remember the imposter syndrome is real, and everyone at every level suffers from it. But also know that we can all find strategies to deal with it and not let it get the better of us.
We find programming difficult not because there’s something wrong with us, but because it’s complex.
Securing €3M investment and thriving during a pandemic — here’s how we did it
Like many other companies, with the onset of the pandemic, Growth Tribe faced the sudden challenge to either innovate or become irrelevant. This is the story about how we not only survived, but were able to develop a new business model and secure €3 million in funding.
I hope that, by sharing our learnings, we can help other companies facing a similar situation to weather the storm and come out stronger.
Around February 2020 we saw our revenue going down. People started to postpone their courses because they weren’t sure if they’d be allowed to fly anymore or be in a classroom together. It was clear pretty early on that social distancing was going to be a big problem for us because 95% of our learning journeys were based on in-person training.
On top of that, we had been in the process of closing a significant funding round. The final checks were being made when rumblings of COVID-19 potentially coming to Europe started coming in.
About 80% of funding rounds were being canceled at the time and we thought to ourselves, “Are we going to be in that 80% or 20%?”
At the same time a key senior employee decided to leave the company.
That was really when I felt we had hit our low point.
Every day we had new curveballs coming at us. “What if we don’t get the investment? Can we keep growing? What kind of government support will there be? Do we even get government support? What’s going to happen to everyone at Growth Tribe?”
In hard times, I firmly believe you need to make sure your team stays together. There are two books by Nassim Nicholas Taleb which I find really describe what we’re living through now:
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable which says that if you can’t predict the future, the crisis will always come from an unexpected event. And the second book is Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder about how only companies that are adaptable to rapid change will survive and thrive in uncertainty.
And that’s what we did.
Crisis management time
During a crisis, one of the first steps companies take is to make cuts, but startups rarely cut their way to success. They need to grow, especially early stage startups.
So we decided to take a more opportunistic-optimistic view of the situation and start experimenting with product iterations to identify and double down on big bets.
We got our directors team of six to seven people together and built a war room to tackle the question: how can we embrace this next crisis as an opportunity rather than a threat? We came up with a list of 25 ideas and ranked them based on:
- The likeliness of it working
- Ease of execution
- How big of an impact it would have
Luckily we had already begun creating a digital hybrid of our classes before the crisis to give us more flexibility. Having all our trainers centralized in Amsterdam meant they were flying abroad to different locations for trainings. But this limited us and wasn’t sustainable from an environmental perspective.
When some of our classes across Asia started being canceled, we decided to accelerate our transition. What was supposed to happen over 12 months happened in 12 days.
I find it interesting that most corporations are killing innovation and training budgets at the moment, because that’s actually what they need most right now. If you look at some of the articles coming from publications like McKinsey and HBR, they’re all saying now is the time to experiment as fast as possible and spend more money on innovation projects.
Getting clients onboard
To make this work, we would have to show our audience something different. We would have to make it really hands on, practical, and interactive.
We quickly began experimenting both online and offline. Here I really saw the power, speed, and brainpower of everyone at Growth Tribe. The team’s reaction was impressive. We ran online smoke tests and high hurdle tests for our bootcamp courses.
For the corporate side, we had discussions with every single one of our corporate clients until we had some sort of letter of intent or quote saying there was buy-in from them to move their learning experiences online. The company became an experiment laboratory.
That took a lot of work. We’re talking: creating marketing collateral, building videos to show what the learning experience would look like, building up the online learning experience, etc. But this gave us the evidence we needed to go forward with this strategy, whether we got the investment or not.
We started creating studios and, in two weeks, we flipped the whole company. So when social distancing measures were announced in Europe, we had all our courses online already.
Since the pandemic started, we’ve trained over 500 students.
Getting investors onboard
When we came back to the investors we were prepared.
We showed them external reports, data, and graphs. But we were also able to reassure them by showing hard proof of what we had achieved in those two weeks. We had already gotten traction by selling online courses and producing letters of intent. We had already made sure that operations, HR, and our marketing materials were all aligned.
We also showed them pictures of our new creative studio. And, most importantly, we showed student feedback proving we’d been able to create the same amazing learning experience.
Ultimately, what we were able to show them was that this was actually a great opportunity and we were prepared to seize it by pivoting and adapting rapidly.
3 tips for surviving and thriving in an uncertain future
It’s really difficult to predict what will come in the future. Will the spike go up again? Will new social distancing measures be put in place? You don’t know what will happen with the economy yet, so making big plans for the future is difficult.
The first thing I’d suggest is to stay close to your customers. Before the government lockdown, a lot of companies already started imposing travel bans, which is what first alerted us. In a crisis, even if you’re not selling to them, just talk to your customers about what’s going to happen and how things are moving.
Second, experiment as fast as possible and trust your teams. We’re constantly experimenting with new products, new delivery channels, and new markets. We’re living in a new reality and when you don’t know what’s coming, the best thing to do is test, try and learn.
So make sure your team has the tools and knowledge they need to run effective experiments. And trust them. The team was 95% of the reason for our rapid pivot.
Third, spend more time re-skilling your people because the market is going to be different and it’s going to change way faster now. The rise and fall of new technology and changing market conditions will also cause a rapid change in the skills that will be needed.
Digital transformation is not about technology, it’s about talent. Prepare your company for what could come by preparing your team with the knowledge they need.
Published July 10, 2020 — 08:00 UTC
How today’s best business software goes viral
Capiche is a secret society for SaaS power users, building a new community of people who care about software to make the SaaS industry more transparent, together. This piece was written by Matthew Guay, Capiche‘s founding editor and former senior writer at Zapier.
When Jiro dreams of sushi, you’d hardly imagine him slicing sashimi with an ordinary, dull knife. Nor would you expect Usain Bolt to cross the finish line in shoes you could pick up at an outlet, the London Symphony Orchestra to grab the cheapest violins at the local music store, or Ford to take on Ferrari and win the Le Mans with any random car.
Experts use expert tools. Rigorously tested, finely tuned, carefully built to perform at the highest levels. They’re crafted, built for the most demanding audiences.
Then those best features trickle down, until yesterday’s best is today’s ordinary. In humanity’s pursuit of the best, we build better things, then mass-market them to fund the next best thing.
Along the way, the best, ideal versions of those tools become icons, symbols of victory. You might not need the absolute best shoe, the fastest car, the sharpest knife for your work. But wouldn’t you like the perfection they represent to rub off on your work? And so the best tools become status symbols. The watch that ticked on the moon makes you think you, too, could shoot for the moon, that you’re someone who needs the most exacting tools.
Now it’s happened to software.
Software was the great equalizer. “All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good,” said Andy Warhol, and the same went for software. Gmail works the same on a $200 Chromebook or $2000 MacBook. Excel can track a $1,000 budget or a $100 million portfolio equally well.
But what if software could be better, crafted specifically for the professionals who need it most? How much would the people who email the most benefit from an email app that made them 10% faster? What would investors pay for a chat app specifically for finance? How many researchers would rebuild their libraries in a better notes app?
Thus positional software, an emerging category of software built for expert users with a focus on design and collaboration, adopted bottom-up in organizations, and often priced at a premium compared to existing category leaders. Similar to positional goods, highly valued items that showcase status, positional software are tools people aspire to use, either as experts in their industry or to position themselves as such.
The editor wars
The first best software was built by programmers, for programmers.
One team at MIT wanted a better text editor, and built Emacs. Another at Berkley wanted the same thing, and built Vi. The former was so customizable, it could be anything: An IDE, an email app, even your psychiatrist. The latter was so simple, it looked like nothing at first, with arcane commands required just to edit text.
Yet there was magic in both approaches. Each text editor was powerful enough to give developers superpowers, customizable enough to keep them from reinventing the wheel again, opinionated enough to build a following.
To this day, preferring Vim or Emacs labels you, puts you in a certain class of developers who are picky about their tools, willing to invest time in learning obscure features, and far less willing to consider switching to other tools.
They’re positional software.
The best software for each job
As software ate the world, developers weren’t the only ones demanding the best in software. When everyone’s work is done through software, everyone could use better tools to work at peak performance.
There have always been better tools, software that hit a higher bar. Niche software, things others in the same role and industry might know and tell each other about, but that would be hidden from the wider public. In the grand tradition of Vim and Emacs, they were often cryptic tools with steep learning curves, tools that made sense to invest time to learn if you used them all day, but that wasn’t worth the effort otherwise. Only those who truly need them would aspire to use them.
Then something switched. The best software became the most popular, aspirational tools that people built their identity around and wanted to use. What cooking shows and documentaries did for knives and premium ingredients happened to software.
Today’s Positional Software required a few ingredients of their own to happen:
Used in public
Email software was perhaps the first mass-market tool where you could earn credibility based on the software you used.
Hotmail got the idea right first. Offer free email when few others did, and add a signature to the bottom of every email that suggested you, too, could get free email. That made it one of the first viral software, a trick both the iPhone and Superhuman copied with an email signature that told recipients what sent your message.
Public use is what made software convey mass-market status. You neither gained nor lost credibility by, say, checking email on Outlook Express or Emails or Apple Mail; few knew the difference. Your email address’ domain, on the other hand, announced your software choice to the world, drew a line in the sand, gave you a digital identity.
Positional software uses Hotmail’s trick, letting the world know you use something different, something better. Superhuman indicates it with an email signature; Hey forces you to get a new email address to make sure no one misses it. Figma’s share links, Notion’s public pages, Typeform’s embeds, and Slack’s invites do the same—everyone you work with sees the software you use, and has to use it, too, if they want to collaborate. The Bloomberg terminal was an early example: If you wanted to chat with other traders, you needed Bloomberg. Even less visible software—modern equivalents of Vim and Emacs—can be used in public if you let the world know on social media, something most common with the most opinionated software.
The halo can wear off. You switched to Hotmail to save money, not specifically for a better tool, so with time a Hotmail, Yahoo, Aol, or Juno email address signified you were behind the curve. A Hey email address, today, might say you’re ahead. It’s a delicate balance, one exclusivity helps extend into a moat.
Free email is enticing. Free email only few can get, even more.
Gmail’s launch on April Fools’ Day, 2004, with a better web app and far more storage—leaps over the two things that set Hotmail apart in the first place. Gmail added something to the equation that made it even more desirable: Invitations. Only a thousand people could get in at first, and those could each invite a few friends. That let Google scale the service up over time, and gave a free Gmail account the cachet of an expensive luxury good, enough that people sold Gmail invites on eBay for over $150.
Invite-only bought Google time to perfect Gmail, a trick Google extended by keeping Gmail in beta for the first 5 years it was available. But the real success was in the viral word-of-mouth as everyone wanted an invite to use Google’s latest software.
Exclusivity speeds up the process of waiting for influential users to promote the product. Imagine Gmail without an invite system; some might mention using it, far more would use it without talking about it. The invite system made it exciting when you get to start using Gmail, making you more likely to talk about it—and for your colleagues and friends to ask you for an invite.
Add social media to the mix, and exclusive, invite-only software can quickly make a new product seem far more desirable. You just need to get people influential in the niche your software targets to use the software in public, sharing what they like about it, and the invite requests will start to come in.
Invite-only on its own isn’t enough; the initial buzz around Google’s later launch of Google Wave didn’t keep that product afloat. But it does add allure to software. Today, invite-only is a key launch strategy for everything from Superhuman (still invite-only) to Clubhouse (with an even more locked down invite system), Hey (invite-only for the first couple weeks) to Linear (invite-only while in beta).
Invite-only starts the sharing process. The real work-in-public, though, comes from collaborative software.
Built for you, then your team
The best software in the world doesn’t help if you can’t use it.
When IT teams mandated what software you could use, there was no reason to seek out better tools. Better to invest in getting the most out of the software they authorized.
Then two major things changed. Companies started switching to bring-your-own-device policies, giving you more freedom over the computer and thus software you use, making bring-your-own-software possible. Then, web apps freed software from IT constraints, making new software only a new tab away.
You didn’t have to use older desktop software. You could use the new best-in-breed software in your browser.
These web apps weren’t just utilities you’d use on your own. Increasingly, modern software was built to work together with a team. Perhaps you’d try Slack during a hackathon or with a group of people from your industry. You’d enjoy it, think your team would like it too, and so would go to slack.com and make a new team, and invite your colleagues. The exclusivity appeal would take over again, as others in your company would want into the cool new app, and before you knew it, Slack had swept through your company.
Google Docs didn’t need everyone to switch. It just needed influential writers in your team to start using it for collaborative edits, then to share the document links, and it’d grow from there. Airtable did the same to databases, Figma to design tools, Notion to notes. They were enough better to make the most choosy users switch, got them to work in public, and that sparked bottom-up adoption throughout the company.
But first, the product needed to be enough better to get that first tranche of users to switch.
“Here’s to the crazy ones,” said the classic Apple ad. “They see things differently.” That is the defining feature of positional software. They force you to work differently.
Gmail removed folders from email, prioritized an Archive button over delete, forced you to use tags if you wanted to file messages. Typeform showed only one form question at a time. Superhuman hid most buttons, opting to prioritize keyboard shortcuts and the command palette. Figma abstracted away files, blurred the lines between mockups, demos, drafts, and finished work. Hey took away archiving, said inbox zero isn’t important, said 3 folders is enough.
Few are passionate about the differences between PDF editors or domain registrars, say—they either do the job, or they don’t.
Code editors, however, are worth fighting for. Vim and Emacs’ opinionated differences are what make them polarizing. The same goes for modern positional software. They take a stand, say there is a better way of working. That makes them polarizing, which makes them worth talking about, which helps them spread further. It lets them charge a premium for a product built with care.
It’s a virtuous cycle that helps positional software spread to everyone in its niche. They don’t need everyone to use their software, but they do need everyone who cares about the same things they do to use it. You can’t get there by being a jack of all trades. Opinionated features let software be a master of one.
Premium by design
Design, then, ties it those features together.
“Design is how it works,” said Steve Jobs, but better features alone were hardly enough for Apple’s co-founder. The company that taught us what chamfered edges and complications are cares deeply about how their products look and feel. So, too, do positional software.
Vim and Emacs may fall into the design is how it works category, with devotees favoring their raw simplicity. But they’re not turning heads when used in public, not making people wish they had an invite to see what the fuss is about.
Slack was an early leader in the crafted software space. Built from a company that two times had built a game and each time ended up building another product instead, the Slack team surely had great designers in their midst. But they also enlisted an outside design firm to launch the most polished team chat app the world had seen. Team chat wasn’t new; fun team chat was, and design was a key differentiator for Slack, enough that they could charge nearly three times as much per user than their closest competitor.
Positional software pairs a deep focus on features for the most exacting users with an equal focus on the design that will appeal to and work best for them. The chef’s knife needs a carefully curved handle and sharper blade to be worth buying—but it also needs to look the part, especially if it’s to cross the chasm from tool to desirable luxury.
Much of the discussion about Superhuman centers on its price, assuming a $30/month email app is a luxury, a Veblen good. Yet even if the status conveyed an exclusive Superhuman invite is worth the first month’s subscription, that alone is hardly enough reason to continue using the software. Subscriptions if anything align developer and users’ interests, as the latter can choose to leave anytime. Superhuman survives solely on how well it helps those who use email the most. If it makes them better at email, they’ll continue to pay, and talk about it.
Democratizing power features
IRC had been around for decades as an early team chat. Slack added design and opinionated tweaks and turned it into a chat app worth paying more for.
Gmail was built around keyboard shortcuts since its inception. Superhuman taught them to you with personalized onboarding and tooltips, making sure you’d learn them.
Vim and Emacs had features tucked away to make you a more efficient text editor if you took the time to learn them. Sublime Text put those features in a command palette where they were easy to discover.
You could always email design files around, track document changes in Word, update an intranet by hand. Figma, Google Docs, and Notion turned those tedious tasks into a single click, freeing you up for your real work.
Positional software makes its name with unique features and better design. But often it’s not entirely reinventing the wheel. Instead, it’s thoughtfully simplifying what previously were power-user features, making you work faster in ways that were only possible in older software if you took hours to study and memorize. Thus the common complaint that positional software is nothing new, that Slack’s just IRC and Superhuman’s only Gmail with a newer design. The detractors have a point—the features often are there in older products if you dig.
Positional software makes everyone a power-user.
Customizable, within limits
Software can’t gain a patina from wear-and-tear, doesn’t show your hard-earned battle scars of day-in-day-out usage the same way a long-loved tool can.
And opinionated software can never be as customizable as their developer-orientated, open-source, handcrafted counterparts. That’d take away the original insights and designs that make them great.
But you can’t have power user tools without some free-for-all, some area to experiment and make yourself at home. If anything, customization keeps the work-in-public going, as power users want to show what they’ve built from tools others might have originally dismissed.
And thus, positional software typically lets you customize something. Maybe just themes and add-ons, with an ecosystem of third-party developers turning the software into a platform. Maybe with emoji and stickers, consumer-style flair that makes you feel at home. Maybe with custom workflows that force you to think through how you work, make you invest in making the tool your own.
That keeps the virtuous cycle going, where the custom tweaks make it a tool you couldn’t imagine living without, which makes you talk about it in public, which makes others want in, which helps the vendors find someone else in your niche and increases their pricing power as that customer wants their software alone, not any random tool.
And that’s positional software.
A new world of premium software
Software started out enigmatic, mysterious, difficult to understand, gate-kept by obscure terminology and hidden features.
Then it went mass market, where everyone used the same tools, where Microsoft Office was standard and seldom was indie software considered.
And then, as software became the primary tool for everyone’s jobs, not just developers, the same principles that helped developer tools become great were brought to prosumer business software. More esoteric software appeared, tools used by only those with the most demanding needs, with details you’d have to be an insider to appreciate. Mass-market software could serve the bulk of the market; these new software focused on those who need them most.
The best tools signify the value a craftsperson places on time and efficiency. They’re emblematic of the role that craftsperson holds, signify their status and skill. And they’re honed over time to be best for that role.
Today’s positional software does the same. It’s best tools, designed for specific roles, carefully designed to make craftspeople better at their digital work. It’s software that positions you as an expert. It’s priced at a premium, and worth paying for—by those who need their features, and by those who want the status those features convey. They’re spread as digital artisans work in public, share their work, talk about their tools.
And that halo effect can, over time, make positional software the new leader in its field. It still may not overtake the market leader in sales. But it will absolutely influence its entire industry as it occupies the mindshare of the most influential segment of that industry’s professionals.
Published July 10, 2020 — 06:30 UTC
Work perks are changing — and that’s a good thing
Catered lunches. Gym memberships. Meditation rooms. Work from home Fridays.
These are a few of the perks tech companies commonly dangle in front of current and prospective employees. In a COVID-19 world, however, budgets are being cut, people are being laid off and these shiny office perks are no longer within reach.
Shelter-in-place orders have accelerated the adoption of remote work by years but it also leveled the playing field to eliminate the work perks that are costly and unimpactful.
So instead, here are some steps I feel companies‘ leadership should take to ensure their employees are taken care of in an impactful way.
Evaluate current perks, go back to the basics and build from there
Companies like Twitter and Shopify have already provided a stipend or have reimbursed employees for home office equipment, which as career coach Julie Kratz described to CNBC, doing so helps build loyalty among employees.
As a CEO, I believe this as well so at TravelBank we implemented a work from home expense policy where all employees are allowed to expense up to $150 each month. The allowance can be used for home office setups, or for those that already have one they can expense groceries, meal deliveries, their internet bill, or other expenses described within the policy.
In the first month of this new policy, employees have used 100% of their funds which has contributed to employee happiness and further enabled a level of transparency and appreciation within the company.
Furthermore, costly perks that are nice-to-haves but aren’t being maximized should be reevaluated. For example, gym memberships to physical locations. This is the perfect time to scale back and offer access to digital fitness apps.
The Peloton app is very popular among our employees and there are other alternatives Fitbod, which uses a training algorithm to build a personalized workout plan, or Aaptiv, which provides unlimited access to thousands of workouts, that can be used on a trial basis.
By using this time to test out more affordable alternatives companies can get a better view into their spend and analyze the use of perks like these and their impact on culture.
Perks have always been a way to invest in employee retention and happiness. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are typically spent on such efforts but it doesn’t always work out. With budgets being tight and hiring at a freeze at most companies, this is also the perfect time for HR and culture leaders to survey employees about what’s missing and how the company can improve.
Work-life balance is going to become even more important — listen to your team
Fortune 500 companies like Google and Facebook have already expressed that they’re expecting to work from home the rest of the year and per a recent IBM survey more than 75%, of the 25,000 US participants, indicate they would “like to continue to work remotely at least occasionally, while more than half would like this to be their primary way of working.”
A significant portion of small-to-mid-sized businesses won’t be able to transform into a completely remote operation but there will be a more truthful and open discussion about what work-life balance can look like moving forward. Some companies, for example, might adopt WFH Mondays and Fridays while others test out core work hours, like 9am to 3pm to give employees the flexibility they’re looking for.
At TravelBank we’ve already taken a step forward by eliminating our physical office space and allowing our employees to take home their desks and monitors.
Another way companies can invest in work-life balance for their employees is by offering digital mental health resources. Employees are not exempt from burning out, even if they are working from home. Offering meditation apps like Calm as a perk shows your team that you care. A small gesture, like sending a plant, also goes a long way.
According to our own data, startups are using services like Urbanstems to send their employees succulents, which are popular in office spaces and can positively contribute to an employee’s working environment — from simply brightening up their at home offices and improving their focus to enhancing memory.
More changes are on the horizon
Companies are not rushing back to setup offices anytime soon; physical office spaces, company culture and on-site benefits are going to look drastically different. Right now, the future of work is being completely reenvisioned. Companies relied on office perks to attract and keep employees happy and productive. Now, with a permanent shift to working from home, employees are going to be looking at companies that provide that level of flexibility.
According to the previously noted IBM study, more than 40% feel that their employer should provide opt-in remote work options when returning to normal operations, and it’s very likely that a significant number of more companies will jump on board. With these new shifts, expect a boom in more remote indie work tools and others that focus on the employee life at home.
Published July 9, 2020 — 08:00 UTC
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