Why You Should Be At RubyRX

Posted by Nathaniel on Jan 26th, 2009

In his excellent book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about “Turning Pro” as the key to overcoming resistance and consistently spending time on what we truly value:

Aspiring artists defeated by Resistance share one trait. They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro.

The traditional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation.

The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.

That’s what I mean when I say turning pro.

Resistance hates it when we turn pro.

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art, “Professionals and Amateurs”

For myself, a big part of turning pro in software development was committing that I would go to at least one excellent conference every year. It’s a costly commitment at times, but it’s been so incredibly worth the investment. I’ve formed lasting relationships, gotten the jump on important techniques and technology, and found out about tools that I still use on a regular basis. I’ve also seen that a conference serves to get me pumped up to tackle things that I’ve been putting off, and gives me new perspective on problems I’ve been scratching my head over.

I’m a big fan of hobbyist conferences. RubyConf has been my mainstay for years, and I’ll be at the most excellent acts_as_conference in a few weeks. But I also think there’s an important part to be played by professional conferences that have an invite-only speaker list, and are paid for by attendees rather than by sponsors. If you look at the list of speakers and the set of sessions scheduled for RubyRX, you’ll find an A-list of smart folks and a wide set of topics guaranteed to teach you something outside your comfort zone. And if you’re a professional software developer, as I know many of you are, then I believe you’ll find yourself more than paid back in learning and growth by attending. There’ll be talks on Merb and Rails 3, Erlang, Clojure, Sinatra and more – how many of these topics have you wanted to explore but just haven’t had time to yet? Well here’s your chance!

If you’re not a professional yet, still sitting on the sidelines, then this could be a great opportunity to make the jump. A conference like RubyRX is a great kick in the pants, and can give you the confidence to go to the next level. You’ll get lots of hallway time to chat and get inspiration from those who’ve already turned pro, and the sessions will generate all kinds of ideas on how to go from being an amateur to being a professional. I’ll personally be giving two talks that I think every professional should hear – one on the Fear of Programming (with more from the War of Art) and one on the Five Skills Every Freelancer Should Have.

RubyRX is February 19th-21st, 2009 in Raleigh, NC. You have until the end of the week to (January 30th) to get the early bird price, so don’t delay. I can’t guarantee that RubyRX will be one of the excellent conferences this year, but I can guarantee that Jared, myself, the other speakers and all the attendees are going to do our best to make it so. And it’s even more likely to be excellent if you decide to come, so sign up, come out, and let us help you “turn pro”!

Sprint or Marathon?

Posted by Nathaniel on Jan 12th, 2009

Both sprints and marathons have starting lines, and the people lined up behind them are equally pumped up to start running the race. Adrenaline courses through the veins of a marathon runner on the starting line as surely as it does through the runner of a sprint waiting for the gun. And each kind of runner looks towards the finish line for their race, the end goal in sight.

And yet – what happens between the start and finish of a marathon and a sprint couldn’t be more different. In a sprint, the effort is focused in to mere seconds or perhaps minutes, and the runners push hard, giving everything they’ve got with each foot traveled. It doesn’t matter if they collapse after only running a few hundred yards – so long as they got over the finish line first, they’ve won. The start is critical, as it makes up a huge percentage of the race, and as the race is run, a tiny stumble spells doom. It’s a very unforgiving race – everything must be done just right, or there’ll be no trophy.

A marathon is something altogether different. Everyone knows as they leave the starting line that they’re going to be running a long time, and that if they don’t pace themselves they’ll never make it to the end much less have the best time. The start is important, but pales in comparison to sustained progress. Even a large stumble disappears in to the noise of the race so long as it doesn’t result in any physical damage. And the race is as much against the clock as it is against the other runners, with everyone striving towards their personal best.

Now, I’m more of a sitter than a runner, so I know these things not from experiencing them but rather from watching Chariots of Fire and talking to people who have run marathons. But what I do have lots of first hand experience with is building businesses, and I can tell you that there are important, enduring lessons to be had in this comparison for anyone thinking of starting a business. The external view of entrepreneurship, and the view of many just starting out in it, is that it’s a sprint: all the energy focused in to a small period of time for a huge pay-off at the end. Yet once you have a few months of a new business under your belt you’ll discover that it’s really a marathon, with the focus being on endurance and constant progress. Going really fast turns out to be overrated, and envisioning and constantly moving towards a finish line that is well out of sight is what separates the winners from the losers.

Those who approach business as a sprint quickly burn out. They run the first few months, maybe even the first year or two, with a gusto that seems enviable. And yet, as time wears on, they tire and start to get discouraged, and often collapse well before the half way point. Those who realize they’re embarking on a marathon, however, get off to a good start, and yet quickly fall far behind the sprinters. But soon enough they catch up, and then gradually leave those less prepared behind.

As you think about the business you want to start (I know you have one!), are you prepared for it to be a marathon? Are you ready to stick it out for years to make it a success? Big, sudden success stories are usually the product of years of quiet persistence, or as Sam Walton said of Wal-Mart, “Like most other overnight successes, it was about 20 years in the making.”

So which are you planning to run? A sprint, or a marathon?

You can still contact Nathaniel at nathaniel@terralien.com