It has to be sexy and have legs

work safe

The point

I just got done with a company startup weekend. We were all coworkers and are all employee owners with no outsiders invited to participate. It was a blast and boy are my arms tiered!

This Friday afternoon before the pitch session, a group of us were talking about our project pitches and I mentioned that I felt the perfect startup weekend project is two things; It’s sexy and it has legs.

By sexy, I mean it appeals to my technical side. I want to play with new and exciting technologies. I want a toy that I’m proud to show off. I want geek-cred!

By having legs, I want to participate in a project I can see our company taking to market. I want a project I can see myself working on for a long time. Not because it is fun, but because I can see us making serious cheddar. Or at least enough to justify my salary.

Let’s take a look at one of the ideas I pitched (it failed to get picked up for the weekend by the way), an email client. It is not sexy, it’s email. I was trying to strip down outlook to its essentials. It doesn’t have legs. There isn’t an easy route to customers. It’s hard to be an indy dev. Especially when dealing with interfacing with exchange servers where your company already pays for Outlook. Besides, who gets excited over email? In my defense, I can rattle off Gmail, Sparrow, Eudora, and Mail.app that people love and the ones they hate like Outlook (express and office). It was gratifying, however, to notice how often people noticed they did hate Outlook over the weekend and say, “I should have voted for Brian’s project.” Though, I know they were just kidding.

The rest of the story

That said, I had a blast. I worked on an interesting project with a wonderful team. I didn’t get to play with the core of the project, but I did get to play with HTML5 and javascript. I didn’t know any of the stuff I did before I started, it just sounded like fun.

What did I learn playing with HTML5, JQuery, and Rx for Javascript? Browsers are way cooler than when I last did web development. DOM manipulation was crash prone in the early ‘naughties. And pretty! Oh, wow. I did some canvas drawing and some file dropping. I finally got around to doing some JQuery. While I’d played with Rx for .NET, I used some of the techniques to handle dragging ant-trails on a canvas using the JavaScript release of the lib. And I realized why people write frameworks like Yesod and WebSharper. Even as an experienced dynamic languages dev, I had to track down more than a few type errors coming from unfamiliarity with the libraries.

More important than the stuff I worked on are the people I worked with. Working with a team is far different than working along side teammates. It may sound like I’m splitting hairs, but that statement resonates. We were holed up in a conference room with most of us working face to face across a table. This type of closeness does bother some, but it speed up the sharing of information. We changed the environment in which we work and it deeply effected how we work.

It was a great experience and I’m glad I did it. It was exhausting. I’ve heard someone mention we should do this every quarter, but I noticed he wasn’t participating. I like the idea of once a year. Otherwise, it’s too much like work.

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