052: Starting Your Own Business, with Steve Rittler

On this week's show, Adam interviews his long-time friend and boss Steve Rittler, founder and CEO of AlumnIQ. Once a software engineer himself, Steve discusses his journey from individual contributor (IC) to business leader; and, how he sees his role as the boss from both a practical and a philosophical standpoint. For Steve, it's always been about changing the world using whichever tools he had at his disposal. And, when those tools were no longer effective, that's when he started to grow a team, a business, and a collection of trusted advisors - so that he could continue to take on and solve larger, more complex problems.

"What starts us as software developers in the first place is wanting to fix the world with whatever lever we have that we can put our hands on." — Steve Rittler

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With audio editing and engineering by ZCross Media.


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[00:00:00] Adam: I think the thing probably common amongst most of the people that do make this transition from coder to business owner is confidence that they can do anything that's going to come at them. And so then to have that confidence shaken sounds, or not so much shaken, just know that you there's not enough hours in the day.

[00:00:20] Steve: Yup.

[00:00:21] Adam: It's a good problem to have.

[00:00:23] Steve: I treasure the rare days where I get to be in the zone. the coders high, there's a, an equivalent, not equivalent, but parallel business owners high. When you feel like you're really getting all that businessy stuff done, and you feel like, yes, I did it today and it feels satisfying. Yeah, you have your own little yay celebration moment, because again, you're the one who's sitting there by yourself, appreciating what that actually means.

[00:01:07] Intro

[00:01:07] Adam: Okay. Here we go. It is show number 52. Uh, Hey, a year. Can you guys believe it?

[00:01:12] Carol: Happy anniversary you guys.

[00:01:15] Tim: Little long, strange trip.

[00:01:18] Carol: yeah.

[00:01:18] Adam: can you believe it was only a year ago that we started doing this? It feels in some ways it feels like the time has flown in some ways it feels like it has dragged by.

[00:01:27] Carol: it just feels like normal to me. Yeah. It feels like we've been doing it a lot longer.

[00:01:34] Adam: Well, on today's show, it's a little bit of a special show since it is episode 52. Since we are recording this, the week of Thanksgiving here in the United States, we are going to take it a little easy on ourselves. And the main body of today's show is, an interview that I did with my boss. Steve Ritler, we'll play that here for you shortly.

[00:01:50] Adam: and then we'll do an after show. And maybe since this is episode 52, let's just include the after show for everybody as our gift to you. Our way of saying thanks for listening for a full year. I think that sounds fun.

[00:02:01] Carol: That's great.

[00:02:02] Adam: Cool.

[00:02:02] Carol: Great, good,

[00:02:03] Adam: So we'll have to keep it PG since it's going on the main

[00:02:05] Tim: it's always, it's always PG.

[00:02:07] Carol: It's never a PG Tim

[00:02:10] Adam: Thanks to Tim. okay. So without further ado here is the interview that I recorded with my boss and my friend, Steve Hitler.


[00:02:19] Steve Rittler Interview

[00:02:19] Adam: I've known Steve Ritler for a long time. Now, when I took over as the manager of the Philadelphia ColdFusion user group in 2009, he was the person that handed over the box of branded pens and stickers that he couldn't give him. We eventually figured out that we had both previously worked at the same consulting firm and that a few years before I was hired, he had quit to start working for himself. He was on that adventure for more than 15 years, and he now has four full-time employees, some seasonal helpers and several alumni.

[00:02:45] Adam: During that same time, he also got married, had two children and moved to another state. I consider myself fortunate to call him my boss. since he started out as a coder and ended up a small business CEO, he has an interesting vantage point. And if I'm being perfectly honest, I don't think I've ever met anyone as thoughtful and insightful.

[00:03:02] Adam: I feel really lucky to be able to share this conversation with you today. So podcast friends allow me to introduce you to my boss and my friend, Steve ruler.

[00:03:11] Steve: I think if I had won a Christmas gift in my stocking this year, it would probably be that very generous introduction, Adam. Thank you. That's it way to throw me off balance right from the get-go.

[00:03:22] Adam: You're welcome.

[00:03:23] Steve's Triumph

[00:03:23] Adam: something that we do here on the show is, we call it triumphs and fails and it's sort of the whole point of this show is which is just celebrating the everyday life of being a developer.

[00:03:33] Adam: and sometimes you can celebrate a failure, right? And so we talk about things that have happened recently. I'm, want to give you an opportunity here to voice a recent triumph or failure and have that celebrate.

[00:03:44] Steve: Oh, okay. yeah. actually really neat triumph, in the. existing customers continue to evangelize on our behalf. I even when I don't know that we can necessarily take any more work on right now, my calendar has been filling up with more and more demos the last two weeks. And every single one of those gets a little bit smoother than the one before.

[00:04:06] Steve: and I feel like I'm. In those demo conversations because we have built such a thorough product and service around it, that anything that they ask about, yes, we do that and it's not salesman's bluster. It's the confidence and true, zero versus one declaration of a. it's either true or it's not, and I wouldn't say it if it wasn't and those feel like wins every time I can say yes, we do that.

[00:04:34] Steve: And here's why, or no, we don't do that. And here is definitely why we do not. and even when I'm able to say no and back it up, it's still accepted as oh yeah. that's right. Okay, cool. So my triumphs, the last two weeks have been a lot of those conversations with new prospects that have been going incredibly well.

[00:04:51] Adam: Yeah, it definitely feels good to have a know, be validated like that.

[00:04:56] Steve: Sometimes, I think it might develop her background. Doesn't help me in those moments. I have to tamp that down a little bit and make it a little bit more friendly, help it go down a little bit smoother. we know a lot of the details that most would typically glossy. Our definition of integration, as one example is radically different from what a customer's definition of integration is,

[00:05:17] Adam: Yeah. They just think it's

[00:05:18] Steve: or for them, if they can get a spreadsheet that's integration. for us, it's having machine,

[00:05:22] Steve: talk to machine, we're talking radically different perceptions of what that actually means.

[00:05:26] Adam: Right. is there anything that I didn't mention there by way of introduction that you would want to open with?

[00:05:33] Steve: no, I don't think so. if I could venture right out of the gate that I think what starts us as software developers in the first place is wanting to fix the world with whatever lever we have that we can put our hand on and. When that lever was no longer long enough, that's when I started to pull people together and grow the business so that we could do more and solve more problems or solve them quicker.

[00:05:58] Steve: Sometimes both at the same time and some days it sure feels like we're getting nowhere on them, but that's kind of the gist of it. I think you've had me thinking quite a bit about this evolution of software developer to leader, I suppose. And, I think it's always in search of a better. something I'm sure you can relate to down here, what shop

[00:06:16] Adam: Yeah, absolutely. so here's a question for you. Do you want me to start with a softball or a hard ball?

[00:06:22] Steve: let's take this in whatever direction you want. I had a feeling it was going to take on a life of its own. Not too much time.

[00:06:29] Keeping Employees

[00:06:29] Adam: Yeah. And I know you said you had a lot of thoughts running through your head that you wanted to talk about too. So feel free to lead me wherever you want to go. Let's start with a hard ball. So we just, the other night recorded an episode about coming to terms with the idea that you're replaceable in the eyes of your employer, especially when you joined a startup early on and the company eventually grows large enough that the differences, become clear, even if you don't see it happening in real time.

[00:06:55] Adam: And, in that we also looked at it from the perspective of employees and talked about how we should view our employers as replacing. and also, the role that side projects can play in that little side hustles. I'm curious to get your perspective on that topic.

[00:07:08] Steve: I'm actually kind of astonished because it was things like thatthat have been running through my mind for the last week about reading stories about the great resignation and what leads people to feel like it's time for a change of scenery and what the impacts are of that. We, as employers and, and managers, I suppose, in, in that role to you think about.

[00:07:29] Steve: The team that you're trying to create and the team vibe and the team atmosphere that you're trying to establish with the players that you have on the field, and looking for new ones to compliment and enhance that team. but talking about the flip side of that, the departures, the exits, the changes of scenery that we all need from time to time,it's as much of a loss as it would be the ending of a friendship.

[00:07:50] Steve: Remember, really good things that came of your time together and the adventures that you went on and the side quests that you might've decided to conquer. and it's hard to let go of that. and part of why this is leaving me so astonished is that, one of the things that I have always.

[00:08:05] Steve: Difficulty with, as a person,not as my professional role, but as a person, is letting go of people in places and things that have meant an awful lot to me. so definitely one of the things that probably, escalates my anxiety in probably the top five things, is the thought of losing really great people that I enjoy working with.

[00:08:28] Steve: Knowing that, the good part of this country's workers are all, re-evaluating their professional situations at the same time leads to a lot of open shares in places. And, as much as a person to person standpoint, I would hate to lose people. But on the flip side of that, it's, what should I be anticipating thinking?

[00:08:47] Steve: And is there anything I could really do to keep the workplace and the work fresh enough? Maybe the idea of jumping ship isn't quite as attractive as it would otherwise be. so, wow. Yeah, you definitely came hard on that first one. That's a tough one. I'm not even sure that I totally answered it. I just thought it a whole lot more of my own thoughts.

[00:09:07] Adam: I had the benefit of knowing you for a long time now. And so I think something that is probably true that you didn't really represent in your answer. There is that, I think you, the feeling that I get is that you value our personal development too. Right. You know,

[00:09:23] Steve: I mean, I know that there are chunks of our work that all of us are tasked with doing every day, every week that maybe aren't the most exciting thing in the world, but it's what keeps the lights on and the bills paid. But within that space, we've always got our noses sniffing around, trying to find something interesting, something novel, something clever or something new and unique to keep it fresh.


[00:09:45] Steve: I can't think of too many occasions where I've had to call for a timeout or a slowdown on something that's new or novel or fresh, because those projects and those tasks and those learning experiences have always resulted in something that's been truly helpful, to either make our day-to-day work a little bit easier, or more interesting.

[00:10:03] Steve: But yes, I truly value that and, just the explosion of things. that hit this market in this space. I wish I had more mental bandwidth to take some on myself, but I take a special pride and joy in seeing what you guys are learning and what you bring back to the table to say, Hey guys, check this out.

[00:10:22] Steve: This is really cool. Especially when you get so into it, that there's nothing that can distract you from it. That's when I know you're really onto something.


[00:10:30] Steve's Start In Business

[00:10:30] Adam: Okay. well, I guess let's start with some of the more obvious questions then. So, as I mentioned in the beginning, you came from a consulting firm and I don't know the specific projects that you worked on there, but at some point you decided to leave and you, to the best of my understanding started to do some consulting of your own freelance.

[00:10:48] Adam: And you were working with, maybe just your Alma mater or maybe additional schools.

[00:10:53] Steve: Actually the first top. our common employer was to, another consulting company that I started with two other guys, and we had one full-time person working for us there. and because that was so, consulting based, there was a lot of hand to mouth in a feast or famine that went along with that.

[00:11:12] Steve: And knowing what I know now, looking back on it, that operation was doing from the get-go, simply because. Three chiefs, unclear roles and, no real power center that could have swayed that conclusively one way or the other, led to a complete lack of real sustainable mutually agreed upon direction.

[00:11:31] Steve: So when that collapsed, yeah, it was a lack of consent and consensus at the leadership level, that ultimately led to, first one, one of the partners saying, Hey, I'm out. I want to do this. and then within a matter of hours, we just decided we're shutting the whole thing down. And that was it. It was a tense meeting at first.

[00:11:49] Steve: I can't say that we parted as best of friends, but we certainly parted on decently civil terms. it was a good effort and a very key moment in my professional development. So I learned a lot by that. I can't call it a failure. the company failed, but the experience sure. Wasn't failure.

[00:12:06] Steve: but then after the out of the ashes of that one guy took most of the pot of money that was left. one guy took the biggest client that was left and that left me with no house, no spouse, no huge bills. And the rest of the client. And obviously a desire to be my own boss. So, we signed the termination of the partnership agreement on a Friday afternoon.

[00:12:27] Steve: I got in the car, picked up my then girlfriend. We drove down to the outer banks and went on vacation for a week. and when I came back, it was time to get to work. The vacation had been planned in advance. You know me, I'm not that spontaneous. You also know I'm not good at vacation. So none of that made sense to you right there.

[00:12:43] Steve: but it just worked out really well that I had a big old reset moment that could happen before I settled in and tried to figure it out without having to work through partners. and, all three of us benefited on the flip side of that arrangement. So it was good. , and it's only grown.

[00:12:59] Adam: So, yeah, you were working with your Alma mater Lehigh university, and I think that's kind of how you got your foot in the door with focusing almost entirely on higher education as a, like, as a vertical as your market.

[00:13:13] Steve: It was a space that I had a lot of interest in. there was a very personally relevant and personally meaningful quest. I, as a software guy, saw the need for better tools, better technologies to be introduced to a business that was a bit high. And the way it went about doing it. And I figured if I could get a customer that was willing to take a few risks and try some new things out that, the profession as a whole would benefit from it.

[00:13:37] Adam: So I imagine if you could do it all over again, maybe you wouldn't, go into the partnership with such a, maybe naivete, or maybe skip it altogether. What do, what do you think you would do differently?

[00:13:51] Steve: Oh, my God. that document of things I would do differently professionally grows by the hour. but in that one, particularly, I don't necessarily think that , it was a bad experience. I think I would have been far worse off if I had jumped into it all by myself from the get-go. I didn't know what I did.

[00:14:07] Steve: and while ultimately the three partners couldn't come to terms on who was going to do what we each brought slightly different strengths to the table. and that helped, I think there were mutual blind spots though, even among the three of us that we just didn't see coming until it was too late.

[00:14:27] Steve: So what I do a partnership again, I think it was a very essential and necessary learning experience. I think I would know an awful lot more about what to find in a partner next time around it wouldn't have been just falling over backwards into it. I know that a lot of the startup accelerators really lean hard on the idea of going into it with a partner because it is an emotionally trying experience.

[00:14:50] Steve: not just at the beginning, but every day, to do this job and, having somebody who's right there in the trenches. Sees it from the same perspective and you can kind of look at each other and be like shrug. Yep. One of those days, it takes a while to get to the shrug level, though. A lot of it's a ridiculous roller coaster with some very next snapping turns.

[00:15:10] Adam: So I imagine you've had some different perspectives here. What's bad in, but also different between, being the boss versus being a partner versus being a.

[00:15:25] Steve: I think I don't mind the responsibility. I think that was something that I've always hungered for. there's fewer people to be. When it's all on your shoulders to, to execute and carry it out. I think in a partnerships scenario, or even being an, a, an employee, there's always somebody that you look to for an answer when you're a little bit jammed up or stuck.

[00:15:46] Steve: but once you become the guy, you gotta be the decider, to borrow a term, It takes a while to practice and exercise that muscle. You may want the responsibility. That sounds great. But then to actually make the call, weighing not entirely complete information, to make the best decision possible at that moment in time, reading the field, as you see it, you could see that same sort of advice coming.

[00:16:13] Steve: Far better leaders than I, in their writings. They're always saying if you can get 70% certainty on the information that you're making a decision based on you're way ahead of the game, and sometimes you don't even have that to play with. So as a consultant, you're always following the client's lead.

[00:16:27] Steve: They theoretically know what they want. You may be guiding them in a certain direction. You might've hired you for the execution or the determination of the path, or in some very rare situations, both. as a partner in a business, you're trying to balance those client driven needs and wants against your business's viability, which is usually hourly.

[00:16:48] Steve: and all of that leads to where we are now, And that it's a different kind of balancing act, but it certainly leads to quite a bit more financial sustainability to.

[00:16:58] Things That Keep You Up At Night

[00:16:58] Adam: So, as the guy who has it all riding on your shoulders, I have to imagine that occasionally there's some things that keep you up at night. And what I want to know is, what would surprise you 10 years ago about the things that keep you up at night?


[00:17:12] Steve: I had never thought of that question. that's a good one.

[00:17:16] Steve: I think I would be shocked to discover that there's just not enough of me to do everything I've committed to do. And that's what keeps me up at night. I'm not enough on my own anymore. And this kind of goes back to your original ask for this, the transition from individual contributor and developer to manager and leader.

[00:17:36] Steve: It's you're so used to. Popping open a coded or getting it done, that eventually if you stumble into success, there's too many things that are bottling up behind that gate of your editor that you just can't do it yourself anymore. And, between the direct client facing work and product facing work that needs to be done and just the normal business maintenance tasks.

[00:17:58] Steve: what keeps me up at night is that there's just not enough of me to do all the things that I want to do.

[00:18:04] Adam: I think the thing probably common amongst most of the people that do make this transition from coder to business owner is confidence that they can do anything that's going to come at them. And so then to have that confidence shaken sounds, or not so much shaken, just know that you there's not enough hours in the day.

[00:18:25] Steve: Yup.

[00:18:25] Adam: It's a good problem to have.

[00:18:27] Steve: I treasure the rare days where I get to be in the zone. the coders high, there's a, an equivalent, not equivalent, but parallel business owners high. When you feel like you're really getting all that businessy stuff done, and you feel like, yes, I did it today and it feels satisfying. Yeah, you have your own little yay celebration moment, because again, you're the one who's sitting there by yourself, appreciating what that actually means.

[00:18:52] Steve: I've I do feel though, and I want to make sure that this is said, having come from and still have a software background, I can appreciate and understand the work that the developers in my business do. and how hard it is to get into that flow state of getting really awesome things done without distraction in an environment that seems to only trend toward more distracting they everyday, I know that miracles can happen if you end up in the flow, but it's really hard to conjure a miracle in the midst of chaos.

[00:19:26] Steve: so it's always a bit of a treat to see what's been accomplished in. and see what kind of safe space for that to happen. We've been able to create,

[00:19:34] High Level Perspective

[00:19:34] Adam: Okay. something that has, never been a strong suit of mine. So I've always been impressed when you pull this out of your back pocket, but I feel like you have this ability or you don't, you haven't heard the thing yet. You're laughing.

[00:19:45] Steve: enough.

[00:19:46] Adam: it's not a backhanded compliment. It's a front hand and compliment, you have this ability to see sort of a large and, but at the same time, nuanced picture of the industry, but at a really high resolution, right?

[00:19:57] Adam: So you, you can see all the players making all the moves from my perspective,and understand how they interact and what maybe the subtext. And I'm wondering how much of that is just something you tripped into and didn't necessarily have to work at, right. it's just an ability you found yourself with, or is this something that you had to like train yourself to do and.

[00:20:20] Steve: I think 100% of it is just having a natural curiosity. the players that were competing against. What are the forces that are acting on or against them? How did they end up where they are and where are they struggling to move with their product?

[00:20:36] Steve: One of our biggest competitors, which is always fun when you're the, the David in the David and Goliath story,they had a very old product, that had been glommed onto over time. They had a very mature sales organization that kept. Piling more and more on, and it was very profitable to just keep levering up on what you had already offered.

[00:20:58] Steve: Even though from my perspective, as a downstream consumer of that same service, it's far from great. And it kind of drove me nuts that this inferior product had so much of the market. And I felt that they were right for us to go after. And, we have found success in that. But as our own product and platform have matured, I stifle a laugh in all too many moments where I think, ah, that's how they ended up there because we're heading down the same exact path.

[00:21:29] Steve: you, every line of code we write is our own next legacy. And the more of that we oversee, the more of that we maintain, the more I see. How brittle it gets over time and which pieces of that interface and that experience get neglected out of sheer necessity due to the breadth of what you're trying to accomplish.

[00:21:50] Steve: And our competitors make a whole lot more sense to me now than they used to. and the moves that the bigger players, the next level up the chain from there, that they're making also make a whole lot more sense to me now than they used to. you think old and stodgy, but, There's a reason that they were able to survive as long as they did by knowing or accidentally discovering what they could sacrifice in pursuit of some other bigger overarching goal.

[00:22:17] Steve: But to back to your question on that, I have a natural interest in imagining what our role is longer term, bigger picture, where do we fit in? Who's going to be the upstart that comes up from our six and tries to take us out. how do we create that moat, I guess, around what it is we do and what are the things that we can do that really truly differentiate ourselves from other players in the space you can't differentiate.

[00:22:44] Steve: If you don't know where everybody's going, the market never stays still.

[00:22:48] Adam: So that awareness of what's going on. That's why do I want to say that? Like, it's a necessary part of the job of becoming the boss and

[00:22:56] Steve: Yeah, and I want to be able to not waste your life. I ask you to do things seriously. I ask you to do things and build things that will move us in the right direction towards or away from something that, that's very intentional and deliberate, or firms up the ground under our feet a little bit. I don't want you to just spinning wheels, building things and spending your life building things that are ultimately disposable.

[00:23:21] Steve: I mean in the longterm. Sure. Long run, all this stuff gets wiped off of a hard drive that gets crushed. But today, however, those bits and bytes are what keeps ruse over our heads and food on the table. So let's do the best job we possibly can to sustain that as long as possible. And that comes with quite a bit of situational awareness because.

[00:23:44] Steve: I don't know that they train you in any of that. And in software engineering classes, you may think about how a program may fit into a particular business flow. but if you pull back and zoom up zoom outs or gained some altitude or whatever metaphor you want to use similar, we're our own cog in a bigger machine or providing a vital service at a certain spot.

[00:24:06] Steve: And we want that car. Reliable and efficient and not squeaky here.

[00:24:13] Standout Moments

[00:24:13] Adam: Okay. let's see. I keep, thinking about the past here. you have, I don't want to, I'm trying not to call you old here, but,you've been doing this for a long time and I'm curious, what stands out in your memory? what are the most memorable things of that say like the first 10 years of running a car?

[00:24:29] Steve: The hardest part of growing into my role was absolutely learning how to direct someone else's efforts day to day, week to week without micromanaging the heck out of it.

[00:24:45] Steve: Even if I had the time to micromanage the heck out of your days, I don't really want to, I've got enough floating through my own, but understanding where the skills and strengths lie, but more than that, where the interests are, what parts of your job, your role of the things that we need done are of interest to you, that would create a natural affinity toward, um, You're a really sick person who loves dealing with IAM in AWS.

[00:25:11] Steve: So cool. Here you go. You can take over that. not that any such person ever existed on the planet, but that's the thing that, you have to slow down and take the time and listen to hard between the lines. cause even if you asked somebody straight out, what are the things you're interested in?

[00:25:26] Steve: Great. We'll get a baseline. but there are always these seams between projects and tasks that still need to be accomplished. And where can I find the adjacent things that I can safely assign and delegate to you and know that they'll get done. And I use you in a general sense. They're not lobbing at you, specifically managing people is by far the most tricky thing for a software person.

[00:25:50] Steve: I know that I got into doing software because I wanted to do things with a keyboard that made the world change somehow without collapsing the economy. But, people don't work the same way. You can order a machine and the faults in how the machine behaves are entirely around, the faults in your team and your business, how that's perceived in the outside world are far more complex in.

[00:26:14] Steve: And knowing that we all have good days, we all have bad days. We're all struggling through a pandemic, a much, much lighter, and an empathetic touch is absolutely necessary. And in none of my engineering classes, do we ever talk about empathy and the role of leadership and management? It's always about commanding the machine to do your will and a very autocratic.

[00:26:40] Steve: And that is not the way the world. And I'm glad it's not,

[00:26:45] Adam: it's hard to learn that kind of on the fly. You try to find some help and some advisers who can coach you through some of the harder decisions. but even that's not really enough. yeah.

[00:26:55] Advisors

[00:26:55] Adam: So you mentioned having advisors, I know you have a little bit of like a brain trust or a. what do they call them? there's a term for it that I'm forgetting something group or I don't know.

[00:27:05] Steve: Maybe it's nothing

[00:27:06] Steve: formal.

[00:27:07] Adam: but,how do you find those people and how do you know who to listen to and who to ignore?

[00:27:12] Steve: the ones that I trust the most are the ones who have tapped me on the shoulder and. Needed me to do something for them. At some point, they saw something in the skills or a perspective that I had that was useful to them. they took that and leveraged it into something really big or great or interesting or awesome that fascinated me.

[00:27:34] Steve: And I have gravitated toward people who know how to see things in other. To compliment that spot of me and that, that area where I'm not as strong as I would be on the tech side. and it's because of the watching them manage so effectively, and empathetically that I feel that I can confidently and safely go to them with the.

[00:27:58] Steve: And get really good advice. not only because they're good at their jobs, but because we also have a long-term relationship and understand how the other one thinks we know how to speak to each other. I think that is a very necessary part.

[00:28:15] Steve: It wasn't like an all in one day where I just picked four people who I thought were going to be really great sounding board to see these have been accumulated over decades. and people that for different situations I go to,to talk to and, and get advice from just like any other professional network, I would imagine.

[00:28:32] Adam: Sure. Okay. Yeah. D formalizes it in my brain. Some.

[00:28:37] Steve: Yeah, there, there's not like this, a committee of people who tell Steve how to think and act, making a puppet out of me. This is more of man. I really, I'm not sure of my decision on this, or I'm not sure how to handle this.

[00:28:51] Steve: Cause man, I am really freaking out and I need to talk to somebody who can talk me back off the ledge. By the end of those multiple paragraphs and pregnant pauses, I've got a much better grasp on what the real problem is.

[00:29:04] Steve: And sometimes just having that sounding board makes a world to do. The rubber duck

[00:29:09] Steve: debugging the business,

[00:29:12] Adam: it sounds more like a mentor relationship than anything

[00:29:15] Steve: I would say so. Yeah. Yeah. Again, not formalized. It's not that there are regular checkpoints or touch points, so I probably wouldn't hurt.

[00:29:24] Steve: one of the things that I talk to students most frequently about when I'm invited into classes to talk about entrepreneurship and what it's like to run a real business, not just to an on-paper or semester-based project.

[00:29:38] Steve: Just how hard that rollercoaster is on a day-to-day basis,to get used to, you don't dampen it out, but you do learn,

[00:29:49] Steve: uh, and it's forced upon you a moderation, or you are going to burn yourself out with getting too high on the high days or crushing yourself on the too low of the low days. And no.

[00:30:01] Steve: Roughly everything is transient excepts, ultimately an end of a business. You got to hope that tomorrow's going to be a little bit better or not as bad as it was today, or that really great that you had. All right. Let's see what we can do to spread that out just a little bit, take some of the energy from Tuesday and get it into Wednesday and get some momentum going around that, managing those emotions in my own mind.

[00:30:26] Steve: and getting them to a place where I can be coherent about it. When I talk to the rest of my team to talk to customers, it's swallowing a lot. And, and it's swallowing probably just as much of the good as it is the bat, to keep things level and stable and predictable and consistent, steady. knowing that a lot of the goals that we have for the business are longer term.

[00:30:46] Steve: we plot out our workdays day to day between standups, but the arc of where we're headed,

[00:30:53] Steve: takes more time to execute. And I don't want to burn too much sugar on a good day, and I don't want to burn too many tears on a bad

[00:30:59] Steve: one.

[00:30:59] Steve: that's not something that you can just get until you're struggling your way through it.

[00:31:04] Steve: More than the work. It's the emotional burden of that responsibility. that tires me out by the end of the day. That's what keeps me from doing my third shift of work some nights. I just don't have it in me. I've managed myself too much and burned a lot there.

[00:31:21] Stepping Away From Code

[00:31:21] Adam: So that kind of alludes to the fact that. in addition to being the boss and running the business side of the business, right. Not so much the output of the business, but the management. in addition to that, you do still do some coding. and you kind of have your own little playground in that

[00:31:38] Steve: It's a hard habit to break, but it needs to be broken.

[00:31:41] Adam: is. I can't. I can see exactly why it's hard. Right. I can't imagine walking away from God, even though I'm getting a little older and I can see the appeal of the leaving, the fast paced, changes in the world of development to the youths, as we say,and kind of taking my foot off the gas and maybe considering management sort of thing. I still can't imagine completely stepping away from coding.

[00:32:09] Steve: No, and I don't think you're ever going to purely completely private away from me. There's still that thrill of creation and that's never going to go away. I will lay it right out there. I will never take the same sort of thrill in growing a company, via head count or whatever else as I do out of seeing something, get conjured into existence by the magic of my fingers on a keyboard.

[00:32:31] Steve: That's still awesome to me. but I. To not be quite as much of a bottleneck,advancing it. Fortunately the product that I spent, a disproportionate amount of my time doing that, individual contributor work is a revenue generating product. It's rewarding, both for the business. And, and for me personally, that said, it's now grown to the point where I should not be doing that anymore.

[00:32:53] Steve: So take that for what it is.

[00:32:57] Steve: there is absolutely a parallel between growing up and running a business and being a parent I met, my daughter is sex. but. Well, she may be my first human born, certainly not my first born creation. The business came before that and I learned a lot of don't get too high on the high days. Don't get too low on the low days, everything changes all the time.

[00:33:25] Steve: Try to learn how to go with the flow. And you'll always need to change some diapers along the way that I got with the business long before she was born. so a lot of those early first-time human parent things had some striking parallels to things that I had already been living for quite some time before she, she came around and that, that definitely caught me by surprise.

[00:33:47] Steve: I thought business was business and personal was personal, but. Nope, human patterns emerge on both sides of that fence. And it's been an interesting time.

[00:33:56] Higher Ed

[00:33:56] Adam: Okay. Well, Is there anything else that you wanted to get into

[00:33:59] Steve: Only philosophical stuff.

[00:34:01] Adam: philosophies? Fine, man.

[00:34:03] Steve: one of the things that drew me to higher ed from the get-go was that this is a place where new knowledge is created and. Via education is how humankind has managed to advance itself time. And again, and again and again, and as the world gets more complex and the scope of knowledge that we should, all that we all have access to, whether we take advantage of it or not.

[00:34:27] Steve: And the rate at which new knowledge is being created, it felt really important and meaningful. To put my professional talents to work, to continue to advance that piece of human understanding so that the world that my kids, my grandkids and my great-grandkids all grow up into is hopefully better than the one that I grew up into.

[00:34:48] Steve: Not that it was bad, but humans have a natural affinity toward always getting better.

[00:34:54] Steve: But the last few years have really called into question. What that value proposition is whether the formal dissemination of knowledge that universities and colleges provide is the right way for that to happen. Has it grown too costly for the value that it's delivering is that aggregation of knowledge and smart people in the same space, really delivering on the promise of what higher ed really should be.

[00:35:21] Steve: And. These institutions that were trying to help,to keep that same old business model alive in an economy that started moving a whole lot faster than they ever have. Is that still the right thing? Are we contributing our efforts to the advancement of humankind?

[00:35:38] Steve: has higher ed earned the right to consider itself an institution given that we go back, what three, 400 years at most, which is, but a blip on the radar of human advancement, or is it the, that because they move so slowly, they're able to survive these cycles of up and down.

[00:35:58] Steve: Back and forth and evolution, that it's still the right place to be putting our time and talent toward. And it scares me to know that higher ed, especially the public institutions or the land grant institutions are coming under the thumb of people who don't respect and appreciate the role of education, particularly higher education to the general public, as much as.

[00:36:20] Steve: Traditionally that role had been appreciated and respected and left to govern itself. so I think a lot more now, about power and the corrupting influence of power, when it turns against the same institutions that allowed it to be created in the first place. I don't portray us as superheroes in any of these roles.

[00:36:40] Steve: but I do think. What is it that we're enabling? And is it ultimately good or at least as it more good than bad? And I dunno if I'm just getting a too high up in the atmosphere and I'm losing oxygen, and that's why I'm thinking about this stuff. When you have code to ship and services to support and tickets to respond to.

[00:37:00] Steve: but I think it's also helpful and healthy. To take a step back and think about what is it we're doing here and in the bigger picture, what good are we adding to the world by doing it? we all have talents and I'd like to know that we're dedicating them and our lives to things that are ultimately for more good than evil.

[00:37:20] Adam: Hm, it's funny. I think the answer that you just. Gave me was the answer to the, my last question. So I like, I don't even have to ask it,

[00:37:29] Steve: I need

[00:37:29] Steve: to know.

[00:37:30] Adam: what I was going to ask you was, yeah, so I was going to ask you like, okay, so the context of the question is the question, was it worth it? But the real question is what goes onto the scales when you're balancing That out, what are you considering? And then, like I said, I think that

[00:37:47] Steve: That was a really good

[00:37:48] Adam: I think you got.

[00:37:48] Steve: I was. And I think you're right. I think I probably went a little deeper on one side of that than you anticipated, but yeah, I answered it before you asked it.

[00:37:58] Adam: Good job.

[00:38:00] Insecurity

[00:38:00] Adam: so a last chance to start a thread to pull on a thread here, is there something that you wanted to talk about that.

[00:38:08] Steve: I'll put one out there. yeah, I think there's also an insecurity factor and think you might've caught that word come out of my mouth, a week or two ago. And I could tell by the pause that it kind of gave you a moment, like what, as a small business owner, you can never really consider yourself truly secure, especially if you're still in.

[00:38:29] Steve: All day, every day. my hours are put toward this business and trying to keep it moving and keep it growing and sustainably. So there's a whole different class of people who buy a business, hire people to run it, to operate it, to do the things that the business do, but they're not there day to day. And for some reason, they get to feel more secure day-to-day in their existence.

[00:38:50] Steve: I don't know how you get a company that delivers on its promise without having people in it day to day, who care about what it is that they're doing there and the product and service that they're delivering. I think the owner owes that to their customers, to be there and to really beat sleeves rolled up sweating right alongside the folks that are getting the work done.

[00:39:12] Steve: It may not make me a rich man, but it will make me a much more fulfilled person by being a part of that. so I might've classed it as insecurity cause you never know when some big organization can make a hard pivot to the right and away from what it is we do for reasons that are far beyond my ability to influence.

[00:39:30] Steve: But I also like to think that I can tamp down some of that by being more present.

[00:39:36] Steve: I hope that level of commitment inspires the kind of loyalty to the cause to the company, to each other, that keeps us working together for a good long period of time. I think that thread was kind of wound around my leg a little bit. And it's been bugging me ever since that. Yes, of course.

[00:39:51] Steve: I'm insecure. There are no guarantees in life, but I try to make this one thing just a little bit more certain than.

[00:39:58] Adam: Makes sense.

[00:39:59] Adam: okay. Well, Steve, thanks for taking the

[00:40:02] Steve: me on appreciate it.

[00:40:03] Tim: Wow. That was really good.

[00:40:05] Carol: Yeah. Dang. That was a great conversation there.

[00:40:09] Adam: what was your favorite question that I

[00:40:11] Tim: so, so, so

[00:40:12] Carol: I think the color of his socks were blue, right?

[00:40:16] Tim: so much insight there. I mean, it's hard to back out of. I'll have to get back to you on that

[00:40:20] Carol: Yeah. Yeah. Next week.

[00:40:22] Tim: and next week, really good. Good. Good to hear from Stevie and I missed that guy. I haven't seen him in a while.

[00:40:30] Adam: it keeps really busy with business stuff.

[00:40:33] Tim: Sure.

[00:40:33] Carol: just heard, I think probably.

[00:40:39] Patreon

[00:40:39] Adam: All right. well I guess then let's, bring the show to a close. Thank you everybody for listening. as usual, this episode of Working Code is brought to you by taking a week off and working less hard because it's a holiday,and listeners like you. If you like what we're doing here, you might want to support us on Patreon, and you could do that by going to patreon.com/working code.

[00:40:57] Adam: you can support us there for as little as $4 a month. And all of our patrons had every level get access to our after show and they get early access, which is a special RSS feed where we publish the new episodes as soon as they have been edited and show notes already, which is usually about a week, sometimes as much as two weeks early.

[00:41:16] Adam: and, of course we have to as always thank our top patrons, Monte and Peter. And thank you guys so much for your.

[00:41:23] Thanks For Listening!

[00:41:23] Adam: if you are not interested in supporting us on Patreon, that's totally cool with us. We just appreciate that you take the time to listen. If you maybe were looking for a freeway that you could help us out, you could do that by posting about this episode or any of our episodes or the whole podcast on your social media and tell your friends and your coworkers about it.

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[00:42:02] Adam: And you can join our Discord by going to workingcode.dev/discord. And I guess that's it. So we'll catch you next week and until then,

[00:42:10] Tim: Remember your heart matters, particularly if you work as hard as Steve.

next episode: 053: Product Management with Adam Lehman

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