I recently received an e-mail from a fellow named Edward T. Boot, asking about my experience and credentials. As the sorts of questions asked there aren’t new — people occasionally ask for my CV / justification of my credentials — and since posting such questions on Yahoo! Answers would probably qualify as chatting (in violation of the Community Guidelines), I decided I would answer the question here.
I do not really have a work related question for you, but more so a question about your experience. What really qualifies you as being someone who knows everything about programming? On your website, you state you got a major in broadcast journalism and that you wrote for several different places, then you started your own computer/internet consulting business and you do freelance programming I just read.
That’s correct. As the About Me page and a previous blog entry on this site note, I started making Web sites as a sideline somewhere around 1996. It eventually expanded into programming, then consulting, and blossomed into my full-time career. At the time I started that business, I was also editorial page editor for the Central Maine Newspapers; my professional career and educational background prior to that had mostly been in newspaper reporting, but also in television production and electronics repair.
What really qualifies you to be a computer or internet expert in the field of programming?
A favorite quote of mine, from Dad: “The only difference between you and an expert is, the expert has screwed up in ways you can’t even imagine.” In other words, I’m an expert because I not only know how to do things, I know how not to do them, and I know how not to do them because I’ve tried to do things the wrong way before and it’s come back to bite me.
In fact, I can read code on this blog that I wrote two years ago, and realize that’s not the way I should have gone about solving that problem.
Practice makes perfect. I have lots and lots of practice. And I am a genius (I have an IQ of 135). That generally makes learning things, and retaining what I have learned, easier for me than it is for most people.
Do you have people who work for you that tell you this stuff, or are you a self taught programmer?
As the previous blog entry noted, I am self-taught. I took one introductory C++ programming class in college, but all the practical programming knowledge I have comes from reading books / Web sites, watching videos and attending seminars.
I have had subcontractors in the past who worked under me on a project basis; these were graphic designers, as I’m no artist. (Interestingly, when I started, I was the graphics / layout guy and others were the programmers. That quickly changed, as most of my early work centered on working for ad agencies, converting their designs into Web sites.) I haven’t had a subcontractor since 2000.
I’m a fan of answers myself and I like to help people out a lot in the programming and design boards, and I see you are the top contributor. I’m not trying to offend you in any way but it seems like there is a missing link somewhere and you didn’t really give any details about your experience in computers on your “contact/about me” page, so how do you answer all of these programming related questions being of your status?
I’ll let my work — here, on Answers, and elsewhere — defend itself. I’m certainly not going hungry, so I must be doing something right.
I’m just interested in your history beings your racked up so many thousands of points on Yahoo.
As I have noted here before, getting points on Yahoo! Answers has everything to do with being selective about the questions I answer, voting my own answers as best, and the low levels of participation / low quality of other answers.
I self taught myself a lot of programming concepts and got jobs out of it, but now I actually got to college to have a legitimate background in my experience.
When you discover that your college education makes you no more prepared for the job market than had you devoted the same period to learning how to work in specific platforms and technologies, you’ll regret that decision. You’ll also recognize it as sophomoric.
In many career paths, a college degree, especially a graduate degree, matters; this is especially true of business management and certain licensed professions, such as the medical, scientific and legal fields.
If you examine the jobs for non-managerial computer science positions, however, you’ll note that most state “4-year degree or equivalent experience”, and all the ones that pay well require 10+ years’ experience. That’s what you should be applying yourself toward if you want to write code: Experience, not education.
How much could you possibly know, though, to charge people $70.00 an hour for being their consultant, and a whopping $1000.00 for actual programming when you have no real qualifications besides experience for programming? I thought I was a know-it-all before going to college for programming and there was a lot I really didn’t know, so I would love to hear your story.
Others might find this passage offensive, but it’s actually ignorant. However, this is the way most people who are used to working for a wage think, especially people who are used to working for a wage and have no management experience. It’s the way I used to think.
I am worth $70 per hour because my clients agree I am worth $70 per hour. I can ask for, and get, a $1,000 retainer because if I don’t get it, I won’t work for you.
I ask for those things because otherwise, it’s not worth my time and effort to help you. I’d rather do nothing than work for $10 an hour. I have the luxury of being able to make that call. My clients pay the $70 per hour because they have learned that if I tell them something, I am usually right. But more specifically, if they have a problem, I will fix it, whatever that problem may be.
That I don’t hold some academic credential might disqualify me in some hiring manager’s eyes, and that’s fine by me. Again, I point to the work I have done here and elsewhere as all the proof one needs of my qualifications. For scores of clients, the fact that whatever problem they had is now gone more than justifies my rates.
People are paid what they are worth and vice-versa. That is a very difficult concept for non-entrepreneurs to understand, but it is literally that simple.
Heck, $70 an hour isn’t a lot when compared to any other contract labor — be it a car mechanic, plumber, HVAC technician, dentist or doctor visit.
You can reply to this email, I don’t have any other secretive email addresses or anything. Again, sorry if I sound offensive, I would just like to know your qualifications for programming to charge such high prices.
My price isn’t high. I could actually charge more, but in my area of the country, it would probably force some of my smaller clients to use someone else, and it’s the littler guys I like to help.
I would recommend reviewing my blog entry titled “The Three Keys To Successful Self-Employment In Programming And Consulting: Introduction.”
By the way, I only do server side programming myself right now, and I usually get one flat rate, no hourly rates, and I do not charge consulting fees yet … I’m still new to the job field to do any of that yet.
Edward T. Boot
PHP & MySQL Web Development and Design
As you spend more time in business for yourself, you will understand how naive the preceding statement proves.
You can charge consulting fees now; you can charge by the hour or by the job (provided your pricing is not discriminatory; the federal government requires you to charge all your customers on the same basis, whatever that basis might be). How successful you are in business is not primarily dependent on your skills, so much as it is on your ability to recruit and retain customers, and the opinion those customers have of you at any given moment.
Yes, you need to be able to do the work. But that’s not as important as being able to properly interface with your customers.
I would recommend two classic books to help you understand what I am talking about. The first is “How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie; it will explain the basic idea of how you should be speaking to potential customers (and everyone is a potential customer).
Another is any of the scores of books out there that discuss competing against Wal-Mart, especially the most recognized one, “Up Against the Wal-Marts: How Your Business Can Prosper in the Shadow of the Retail Giants.”
While it’s really aimed at helping Mom and Pop stores on Main Street, this book really discusses customer service approach — not the old cliche of “the customer is always right,” but the more likely “you’re doing it wrong” that most businesses fall into.