Scary and free? Well the scary part is mine. The free bit is for you. That is if you are a WordPress kind of person and you like to tweet. Pressmonkey is a WordPress plugin for authoring and scheduling tweets. It lets you create tweets from your edit screen or manage them centrally in list or calendar formats. You can read about the plugin (and grab it free for a while yet) over at sister site Inflatable Press, if you’re interested. This post is not about that, though. No, this post is about fear.

Because putting stuff out there is scary. It is, after all, an invitation for rejection. You know that what you produce answers your needs – even those of a few of your peers. But what if, strange flowers that you and your friends are, no-one else needs it?

Programmers tend to fall in love with process – with means over ends. There’s that new language to try or that API to put through its paces. We can end up building beautiful follies – code that’s lovely on the inside but does not really achieve anything truly useful for its users. It’s a good idea to do your market research before you even fire up your text editor.

It’s a cliche that coders are introverts. Mumbling shamblers who’d rather take five flights of stairs than venture into an elevator with a stranger. Of course, now that some of the geeks have inherited some bits of the earth that’s no longer nearly as true as it once was. Still there are enough of us still who love to make stuff far more than they like to talk about it. This can be compounded if you happen to be English. Here’s my favourite piece of English self-deprecation – in spaaaaace:

Did you think of that Earthman?

Well, I did, it was just –

That’s very good thinking, you know that? You’ve just saved our lives.

It was nothing really…

Oh, was it? Oh, well forget it. Ok computer, take us into land…

Well, I say it was nothing… I mean obviously it was something…I was just trying to say it’s not worth making too much of a fuss about… I mean just saving everybody’s life you know?

Another thing that no one made too much fuss about was the fact that against all probability a sperm whale had suddenly been called into existence some miles above the surface of an alien planet …

Many coders create really great and useful things and then fail to put the word out – because really they’d rather spend their time building the next really great and useful thing than talk about the last one.

Am I guilty of that? Well, I have been. I can already feel the pull of code dragging me away from the emails I should send, the documentation I should write, the submissions I should make.

Here’s the thing – you can treat side projects like Lego sets – you get to have all the fun of building stuff with little risk of failure. And that’s fine. After all, you have honed your skills, and you can trade skills and knowledge for real money working in someone else’s crew.

Or you can build something explicitly for other users or readers and risk public failure. It is scary. But then, very occasionally, even for a product that seems objectively to have bombed, you might get one of those emails. A message pops up one morning from someone whose life your work has improved just a little – and that can help you to reframe the concept of success all over again.

To that end, here’s my note-to-self for not wasting time as a writer and developer.

  1. work on something that people need
  2. but also something that I care about
  3. tell people about it
  4. keep it small at first
  5. finish what I start
  6. tell people about it some more
  7. listen to what they say
  8. then make it better

And am I heeding my own advice this time round? Let’s just say it’s a work in progress.