by J.D. Mullin
Posted on Sept 30th, 2015
Our tech community craves staying connected, yet we've never been able to make something stick.
Anyone who has spent time with me knows I'm passionate about Idaho and software. After every local event I attend, I get the vibe that the community wants to stay connected, but we struggle to figure out how. Twitter tends to be the default answer, but it just isn't the right medium to continue the great conversations we have when we meet in person.
You know how it goes; log on to twitter, ready to hear from your tech friends, but that guy who posts brillant SaaS metrics links every now and again also rants about the BSU game ALL THE TIME and your feed is dilluted. Jess Flyn posts something amazing, but she posts at 11pm and you miss it. Jess doesn't want to be presumptious, so she resists the obvious urge to post again at 9am even though she knows more people will notice if she does.
We are a team. Slack is a fantastic tool for teams to collaborate. Tonight I'm launching a Slack team for Idaho Technology. I've seeded it with a handful of channels to give people a push in the right direction, but please add as many as you want.
To sign up, enter your email address here and you will receive an invitation.
Install the desktop and mobile apps, point them to the "IdahoTech" team domain, talk amongst yourselves and make cool things happen, Idaho. I know you can do it.
At a number of events there have been people who have said they would love to offer up their business expertise, technical expertise, etc and be a mentor. Right now it's hard for those in need to connect with them. With this new community, mentors can subscribe to the #mentors channel, and those in need can ask questions and quickly get connected. One of the cool things about Slack is you don't have to be online to know someone has asked for help, you will get an automatic email letting you know (and if you don't want that email, there are notifications settings letting you configure how you are notified).
You are a tech entrepenuer and want to find someone who has "been there, done that" to bounce a couple of ideas off of.
You are new to the area and want to be quickly connected to the Idaho tech community. Or counter that, if you live here and want to make yourself available as a resource to those moving here.
You live outside of the Boise area and want to be directly connected to things happening in Boise. Or counter that, if you live in Boise and want to connect more with your peers in the rest of the state.
You are an engineer working through a problem, and want to quickly find out if the engineers at another local company have experienced something similar and can quickly help.
You want to grab coffee or a beer with a colleague to ask about a technology solution, modification to your scrum process, ask how they solve problem X, anything!
A way to have a conversation with your peers at an event that will persist and not be lost in the noise. Imaging creating a channel at the next Hackfort, and weeks later having the conversation still available for reference, plus links and now direct connections and the ability to message those participants.
A place for high school and college students to connect with industry professionals for advice and to make connections as they work towards entering the job force.
by J.D. Mullin
Posted on April 15th, 2015
I'll never forget the very first discussions about what would eventually become the dev.idaho conference. It was 2010 or 2011, and we were just putting together the ITC software alliance.
Matt Rissell was the president of the software alliance, and I was the chair of the education committee (I didn't work for Matt at the time. I was still at SAP and had a trip to WhiteCloud in my future). Matt kept saying we needed a "big event". I thought it was a terrible idea. We were a group of volunteers giving everything we had to just make a difference with our small community initiatives. Typical short-sighted engineer response on my part, but I felt we were spread thin already and an event would be an absolute waste of time.
I chose to focus on my committee and abstained from all planning and discussions about the event. This was my first experience with Matt's persuasive personality and his ability to get people around him to step up to a challenge. It was also my first experience with Martin Hambalek's project management and planning capabilities. I would learn over the years that both are incredibly capable and this single event was not an anomaly.
I attended the first dev.idaho event, which was paired with Tech Cocktail, and I was blown away. The community showed up, the startup showcase was a blast, the speakers were great with awesome stories to tell, Mark Solon dropped some F-bombs and after the event a number of attendees shut down The Modern. It was an experience to say the least!
Over the years, Martin's team has organized multiple events that fill the gap between a developer conference like Boise CodeCamp, and an entrepreneur or business conference.
This year's agenda is a departure from the format used the last couple of years and promises to entertain, educate and motivate like never before. A fantastic keynote from Hadi Partovi of code.org combined with numerous panel discussions from local software peers and a new networking format should make this a brand new experience even for those who have attended the event in the past.
I encourage everyone to attend the redesigned dev.idaho event, contribute to the discussions, network with your peers, and remember why we loved the first event so much.
by J.D. Mullin
Posted on March 26th, 2015
When push comes to shove, I despise attending Hackfort and dev.idaho. But I will go EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.
I’m a sucker for people who have an idea, a vision, and execute on it. I love people who DO THINGS versus talk about things. I love people passionate about Boise and software, and even if only a small group of them assemble at these events, I want to be around them and talk to them.
I have no affiliation with Hackfort, but nothing but respect for volunteers who can get four to five hundred software engineers to assemble in a single place at a specific time.
Three themes emerged during discussions at Hackfort today that come up every single time Boise developers and entrepreneurs assemble, and they all drive me freaking crazy:
Topic number one is BS. If you have a great idea, you can find funding anywhere and develop your product from Idaho. Better yet, bootstrap with a few angel investors (even if they aren’t from Boise) and build something cool. The reality is rather than being short on funding, we are short on innovative ideas. It’s hard to stomach and say out loud, but money is easy to find if your idea is sound. It’s too easy to blame a lack of funding when the reality is we are short on awesome ideas and teams that can execute on them.
Topic number two is also BS, but I understand the frustration. If your idea is compelling, and developers think it will work, they will help you build it. The problem is software engineers today are in high demand, often very well compensated, and they are very likely happily employed. When you offer no salary and limited equity in something that is simply an idea, you shouldn’t be frustrated when they are not chomping at the bit to drop everything and join your new venture. Believe it or not, they are people too, and have families to support. They are by definition risk-averse and analytical type-A personalities. I’m sorry your super-popular and personable high school quarterback friend can’t build out the infrastructure for your new product idea, but that’s the way things go. Offer developers an awesome salary and equity, or expect to be shot down. I’m sorry, but that is reality.
Topic number three should be so simple, but even I struggled today with a simple answer to the question of “how do I get involved or connect with the Boise dev community." The reality is, there are a LOT of software user groups, and a lot of entrepreneur groups meeting regularly in Boise. The Idaho Technology Council has a page listing a ton of meet-up groups (http://www.idahotechcouncil.org/local-places-techies-network). Myself and some friends agree there should be an easy to remember URL to find a list of active groups, and next week we will start something up so in the future we as a community can answer this question with a simple URL. Update: We're starting with a easy URL that redirects to the ITC page for now, and we'll build out a better (and more dynamic) site as we can: gemstate.io
What do we need to do to build Boise’s tech startup community? Simple:
Build cool products and services, and if you have a liquidity event, please stay in Boise and build something else. That’s it. We should all be striving for this. It isn’t easy and it won't happen overnight, but until we reach critical mass, nothing is going to change and we will continue to attend events where all we do is fantasize about being the next big “tech hub."
Update: Most of the conversation around this post happened when Jess posted it on Facebook. You can read those comments here.
by J.D. Mullin
Posted on November 4th, 2011
Last month we hosted a CS Extras event at Keynetics, inviting all CS students, but focusing on freshman and sophomore students. The Keynetics team put on a great presentation.
They focused on describing what kinds of things students can expect in the workplace, what a typical work day/week/month is like, why they love their jobs and the industry, what tools they use, etc.
The November presentation itself was a success, but I wanted to focus on how small events like this can indirectly result in long lasting returns.
To someone on the outside an event like this might seem like a waste of time or a futile effort. "How will talking to 20-60 students for 2 hours increase the number and quality of software professionals in Idaho?". This is a great question, and one I constantly ask myself as it can often feel like we are fighting an uphill battle.
This presentation, and the events following it helped solidify my motivation and confidence in our program.
At the BBQ after the presentation, two students told me they had been considering switching to an Electrical Engineering degree, but now they were motivated to stick with Computer Science and excited about the opportunities. That provided a warm fuzzy feeling and I was more than happy to take that as ample justification for the event. But that isn't why I'm writing this.
It wasn't until two weeks later that I realized the full impact of the event. This is a circumstance of one small act of giving turning into something much bigger than itself.
Amit, a professor at BSU, told me that the students came back to class and asked him about automated testing (which was mentioned in the presentation). As Amit uses tests to verify the students programming assignments, he was able to expose an interface the students could use to run his tests against their programs before submitting them.
If you work in the software industry, you understand the significance of that last paragraph. We now have first year CS students that understand the value of automated testing and how it can be applied to almost any program. This is a fundamental career skill that will not only help them with programming tasks in college, but that they will take with them into the work force.
We have a situation where one event, that was easy to coordinate, and took only a few hours of each volunteers time, instilled a process that will likely stick with these students (and possibly the curriculum) for years and years to come. In addition, the benefit of the presentation has now filtered to all students in that class, not just those who attended CS Extras.
Perhaps I'm being too optimistic, but these are the kinds of positive side effects that you just can't plan for but that can make the entire endeavor worthwhile.
To keep up with CS Extras events; like our Facebook page, subscribe to my blog, or watch the ITC website for event updates. To volunteer, post on the ITC LinkedIn discussion group and I will contact you.
Comment from Amit:"What is even more significant about this story is that those students were freshmen in my CS 1 class. Literally, two months into their first Computer Science class."
Comment from Conrad:"Another thing that came from this presentation is the Boise State University Computer Science department will have a new elective course on web development next Fall. Amit and I discussed it after the presentation and barring administrative officialism, I will be teaching an evening class as adjunct faculty. This adds to the already great CS program. There are many companies in the valley (including Keynetics) which primarily do web development, so this serves to benefit the students and local software companies."
by J.D. Mullin
Posted on August 2nd, 2011
I started at Extended Systems in the fall of 1995 during my second year of college.
I was immediately placed on a team with incredibly smart people working on fun products. That trend has continued for the past 16 years and I have had a wonderful time. Great coworkers, cool customers and constantly changing technologies have kept things interesting for a very long time.
I’m also excited to take on some new challenges and with that in mind I have accepted a position at a local startup and will be saying goodbye to my friends at ESI/Sybase soon.
While the last few years I have been the public face of Advantage via blog posts and screencasts, this product is much bigger than one person and is in great hands. The development team is strong and works with an equally experienced sales, support and marketing team. I know Advantage will continue to thrive.
I still plan to continue writing, however the content will likely shift a bit towards different software technologies. I look forward to continuing our conversations and friendships.
by J.D. Mullin
Posted on October 6th, 2010
Our goal is to increase the number and quality of software professionals in Idaho.
Idaho’s software industry is vibrant and expanding. Yet, many are not aware of its growing importance. Today there are many silos of professionals and user groups in Idaho exposing high school students to software, teaching guest lectures at universities, and training their own employees valuable skills. These efforts are inspirational, but can often fade when volunteers don’t feel like they are making the impact originally envisioned. We would like to pool these existing resources, strengthen them with renewed interest from Industry partners in the Idaho Technology Council, and create a community that not only engages high school and university students, but its own members as well.
By helping to build a more vibrant software community through industry led training, we can help retain existing professionals, build a solid pipeline of excellent local talent coming from our Idaho schools and universities, and avoid recruiting from out of state.
Our format simply pairs Idaho software experts with those seeking enhanced skills and information about software. The format will be flexible – presentations, interactive coding sessions, round table discussions and other discussion and training methods.
Idaho’s software industry employees and leaders are encouraged to volunteer in one of these areas:
Starting early 2011, we’d like to host an event every other month, with focus areas of your interest. Scheduling will be dependent on areas of interest and the best time of year for the target audience. The target audience will vary throughout the year between high school students, university students, and industry peers.
Volunteers will be asked to present (or help present with one or more additional volunteers) one time each year or two. Topics and formats can vary based on the subject matter and the target audience. Volunteers can expect support from the Software Alliance for organizing, scheduling and communicating the sessions and discussions. The Software Alliance will lay the ground work for the volunteers to effectively share their expertise.
Example topics may include:
Interested? Motivated? E-mail me to volunteer or ask questions.
You can also check out the Facebook page for the most up to date information.
Still reading? The content above was the “short version”, and will be the base message we market in the future and post on our web site. I’m including some of the rational behind the plan below for those interested in more context:
Industry led software education benefits all parties involved, making it a very powerful mechanism.
by J.D. Mullin
Posted on April 22nd, 2010
He explained how TechStars helped to generate a software startup community and ecosystem in Boulder Colorado that feeds itself. Entrepreneurs, investors and mentors generating more entrepreneurs, more investors, and more mentors. It was motivational, to say the least. It was also hard to see why this couldn’t work in Boise. In fact, Nebula Shift was announced a few months ago and plans to use a similar approach.
I don’t plan on leaving my corporate job any time soon, but I’m fascinated with the software startup story. David’s presentation helped me realize my position in the community might be as a mentor. I want to contribute, and mentoring seems like the most immediate way to get involved.
At the end of this post I offer up a little information about myself, not in the context of “look at me”, but rather as a quick overview of things I’m interested in, past endeavors, and areas I might be able to contribute. Some of these things I know in depth, some I’ve only played with for a week or two, some I’d be interested in learning more about and could only provide direction to resources and research. The list is certainly not complete, but hopefully provides a quick overview.
I’m not a TechStars caliber mentor:
I do love writing software, talking about software, and using software.
I can provide architecture and framework suggestions, beta feedback, and general “have you heard of”, or “have you considered” types of conversations. I can help you locate and evaluate contractors. I can review and test the code contractors deliver as well as give you an independent assessment of the reality of their schedules. I can even write a few modules for you on a weekend every now and then.
My day job working on developer tools exposes me to an outrageous number of technologies. My communication skills make it easy for me to effectively discuss these technologies with people of varying technical backgrounds. Some of the most helpful mentoring I have done so far has been helping those with little to no technical background get a handle on what is necessary, and what to expect, when implementing their business ideas.
I hope a few colleagues will join me, and perhaps we can start a mentors directory on the TechBoise web site. Until a directory like that exists, feel free to email me directly.
What I Currently Do