Why weekly billing amps up time pressure

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This past year I worked on an 8 week contract. I was tasked with helping improve scalability, measuring current throughput, then troubleshooting systems & infrastructure to find the big problem areas.

Slow process of on-boarding

In only six months, the firm had grown from a small startup, to a larger mid-sized company. That kind of growth is great for margins & investors, but it’s tough on teams & management.

We had outlined a nice todo list up front. Tasks would fit well within our eight week budget, with some additional time for things that came up along the way.

As it turned out, on-boarding for the project got drawn out. I got tangled in email problems, configuring, forwarding, and so forth. The default on-boarding process placed me on various general lists about office parties, and treasure hunts. Having all this email forwarded to me became a problem to untangle.

Meanwhile getting credentials and logins to the correct servers was a challenge. Tickets were created, emails flew back and forth and time rolled on.

Read this: Why operations & MySQL DBA talent is hard to find

Time pressure at the end of engagement

As the engagement barreled on, we reached the final two weeks mark. It was then that I scheduled another meeting with the director of operations, and to go over status.

At that point the team was fighting some new fires with database change management. I was intrigued by the problem, and wanted to dig in and see if I could assist. But at that point we both agreed there wasn’t sufficient time left to devote to it.

Having spent a large portion of the engagement up front on administrative tasks, we now had time pressure at the end to finish the tasks agreed to.

Related: 8 Questions to ask an AWS expert

The hourly billing experience

I’d worked on many hourly clients over the past decade. With hourly projects the VPN configuration, logins & admin tasks sometimes fell through the cracks. Firms of all sizes, even small startups, often have a lot of balls in the air at once.

On hourly billing, when things get drawn out, there’s no real pressure. The cost to the firm is the same whether they drag their feet or push to get things done rapidly.

Read this: Why Amazon RDS doesn’t support Maria DB or Percona

Contrast with weekly billing – mutual accountabilities

The contrast with weekly billing engagements is palpable. You feel it right out of the gates. We both want to make good use of time. And clients feel they don’t want to waste resources, and budgets.

That’s a good thing. There’s an incentive on everybody’s part to keep things moving.

Also: Why generalists are better at scaling the web

We act when we feel it in our wallet

My conclusion from these experiences, we act when we feel pressure on our wallet. With weekly billing the client will pressure their own teams on mutual accountabilities. They’ll also pressure you the consultant or service provider. So be prepared to pull your own weight.

When things are not moving along smoothly, expect discussion to quickly bubble to the surface. Embrace these moments, for everyone will have incentive to solve those problems.

Time pressure & budgets – keys to successful consulting engagement.

Related: Why I don’t work with recruiters

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5 startup & scalability blogs I never miss – week 2

5 blogs week 2

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Hunter Walk – Startups

If you want to have your finger on the pulse of startup land, there aren’t many better places to start than Hunter Walk’s 99% humble writings. Google finds his top posts on topics like AngelList, Advisors, and reinventing the movie theatre. Good writing, insiders view.

Read: NYC technology startups are hiring

Arnold Waldstein – Marketing

I first found Arnold’s blog using my trusty disqus discovery hack. He had written an interesting piece about new mobile shopping at popup stores like Kate Spade.

Follow him on Disqus, follow the blog, get the newsletter. All good stuff.

Read This: Why hiring is a numbers game

Claire Diaz Ortiz – Social Media

Claire writes a lot about social media, twitter & blogging. She wrote an excellent guide to increasing your pagerank, another on 30 important people to follow on twitter and more. She can even help you find a job.

Check out: Top MySQL DBA Interview questions for candidates, managers & recruiters

Bruce Schneier – Security

Bruce Schneier is one of the original bad boys of computer security. He writes about broad topics, that affect us all everyday from common sense about airport security, to the impacts of cryptography for you and me. Very worth looking at regularly, just to see what he’s paying attention to.

Also: Why operations & MySQL DBA talent is hard to find

Eric Hammond – Amazon Cloud

Eric Hammond has been writing about Amazon Web Services, EC2 & Ubuntu for years now. He maintains and releases some excellent AMIs, those are the machine images for spinning up new servers in Amazon’s cloud.

Even if you’re not big on the command line, you can get a lot of critical insight about the Amazon cloud by keeping up with his blog. Jeff Barr’s AWS blog is also good, but not nearly as critical and boots on the ground as Eric’s.

Also: 8 Questions to ask an AWS expert

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Why I don't work with recruiters, but I learn from them

Join 11,000 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

Bring me clients, pleaseā€¦ pretty please!

When you first start out as a freelancer, your network is small. Without a steady stream of projects, the tendency is to reach for whatever you can find. Head shops & agencies build a brand, and ongoing relationships with firms. However a project with a middleman is a relationship with him or her, not the client directly. You lose control of a few very key things, such as fees, testimonials and payment terms.

Read: NYC technology startups are hiring

It’s all about the relationship, Luke

With independent consulting, your relationship with clients is key. Fostering that relationship, builds trust, communication, and confidence in you as a service provider. Doing operations and database management, a CTO, VP or Director of engineering needs to be confident entrusting enterprise systems to you. Security of assets, reliability that things won’t break, and consistency are all crucial.

Working with a recruiter, agent or head shop the client then may feel a stronger relationship with that firm. Testimonials and due credit for successful completion of a project may go to them rather than to you directly.

It also means you lose control of the conversation about fees. Want to do project or week-based fees, your suggestion may fall on deaf ears. What’s more you will share large margins that could amount to 25% or even 50% of the overall fee.

Read This: Why hiring is a numbers game

Headhunters have the pulse of the market

With all those complaints, you might think I don’t like recruiters much, but you’d be sadly mistaken. It turns out I learn a ton from recruiters, and almost always take their calls.

o those conversations are good practice for talking shop
o they provide good feedback & ask questions about confusing areas in conversation
o buzzwords will pop up prominently, helping you understand what their clients needs are
o gives you a bit of the pulse of the market

I learn to speak in broad terms, in a language managers and folks at all levels of an organization can understand, and I learn patience too.

Check out: Top MySQL DBA Interview questions for candidates, managers & recruiters

Recruiter pings – a key performance indicator

Over a ten year period you start to notice trends. Certain times of the year I get more calls & more pings from talent agencies. Here’s what I monitor:

o recruiter views of my linkedin profile
o recruiters email me on linkedin
o recruiters call me
o recruiters signup for my newsletter

Also: Why operations & MySQL DBA talent is hard to find

Learn from people whose business is communication

Although I don’t have referrals or connections for the HR or search consultant that’s reaching out to me there is still lots I can learn. At the end of the day, recruiters are in the business of relationships, and that’s where I become the humble student.

Also: 8 Questions to ask an AWS expert

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5 Superb blogs this week

Why wait for the new year to start something new? I come across a lot of great new blogs, while digging through the interwebs. So I thought I’d start a regular column to feature the best ones. We’ll including gems from web 2.0 industry, startups, business & management, and of course some technical devops & cloud computing ones.

Join 11,000 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

1. Todd Hoff’s High Scalability

Todd Hoff’s High Scalability has been around for years, and offers up a cup of espresso for your infrastructure daily. From important topics like why you should avoid ORMs (Object Relational Modelers see post on technical debt) to regular scalability around the web posts to keep you on track.

He also features great articles under the title “real life architectures” from heavyweights such as facebook, twitter & youtube. These are the gold nuggets that are indispensable to devops and startups.

Read This: 5 Reasons Devops Should Blog

2. Albert Wenger’s Continuations

I was tipped off to Continuations using the Disqus commenting system’s discovery features. Click through to the community tab on say Fred Wilson’s AVC blog and you can find top commenters and where they blog at.

Wenger’s posts include such gems as Anatomy of a URL, giving a lay audience a little insight into the ubiquitous web paths and Computing Building Blocks which dissects the internet stack for everyone. As a partner at Union Square Ventures he’s obviously looped in with the big boys, but his writing style is so great he offers a model for technical bloggers everywhere.

Check out: A CTO Must Never Do This

3. Andrew Chen

Let’s face it Andrew Chen is the rock star I want to be! He’s got tons of organic followers on twitter, and reading his blog & newsletter it’s no surprise. He’s bright, and always provides Nate Silver style insights & new perspectives.

What is a minimal homepage, and how will it help me increase signups? Why can’t I seem to find a technical co-founder? What’s a minimum desirable product? You’ll see why Dave MacClure & Mitch Kapor work with him.

Read: AirBNB Didn’t Have to Fail – AWS Outage Postmortem

4. John Paul Aguiar

John’s website may appear a bit busy at first, but that’s just because it is so chock full of useful content. He offers very hands on, down in the trenches advice for bloggers & entrepreneurs. 150k followers on twitter, and articles that get retweeted hundreds of times, means he’s done the A/B testing, and learned to write clearly, and has great insights to share.

One thing he does is a weekly piece on entrepreneurs & users to follow on twitter. That great feature inspired this very post, not least because it offers a steady stream of things to write about, but because I was also featured there recently. I feel like I’ve hit the big time, thanks John!

Related: How to Hire a Developer That Doesn’t Suck

5. Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs is a bad boy. According to Bruce Schneier he apparently pissed someone off so bad, they had illegal substances sent to him through the mail in attempt to frame him.

Clearly his security research and writing is not appreciated by everyone. That said take a look at his website. You’d be shocked to learn what an ATM skimmer is, or what is the value of a hacked PC. Phishing, bots, email spam, gaming & reputation hijacking are just a few of the criminal activities that go on.

Also: The Myth of Five Nines

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