How to become indispensable

by Jake Jorgovan on Feb 23, 2015.
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When I was in college one of my good friends always had the coolest internships and the best jobs.

While most students were slaving away for free, he was getting paid for his internships, and paid well.

He had job offers flying at him left and right, and he never took an internship that didn't pay. If he had decided to drop out of school, he would have had no problem walking straight into a high paying job.

In talking with my friend, I asked him how he got to this position, how he had so many offers and paid internships?

He had a simple philosophy:

"I get inside the company and set myself up so they have no choice but to hire me."

He made himself indispensable.

Becoming a linchpin

In Seth Godin's book, Linchpin, he describes a new mentality on how to approach your work.

Traditionally people have gone to work and waited for people to tell them what to do. Seth proposes that in order to become a linchpin (an indispensable individual) you must dive into your work, take initiative, and make yourself indispensable to the people who are hiring you.

This applies to your full-time employer, or to the company that hires you on a contract basis.

If you just show up and do what is asked, then you are another replaceable cog in their machine.

If you show up, go above and beyond, and deliver more value than they expect, then you become indispensable.

Indispensable in action

My friend in college had this mentality and executed it with every opportunity he came across.

For one company, he showed up and helped them re-organize their servers and project management system. No one asked him to do this, but he saw room for improvement and wrote up a solution that would make things better.

Organizing the server did two things for him:

First, the company loved him because projects became more organized and easier to manage.

Second, he now had unique knowledge to manage an aspect of their company. They could not hire someone else with that knowledge.

He made himself indispensable and his compensation grew as a result of it.

How to make yourself indispensable

You can't fake your way to becoming indispensable. You can only do it one way.

You can only do it by creating value for the company hiring you.

You must learn new skills that aid in the tasks you are doing.
You must look for things that are broken, and fix them without being asked.
You must take initiative and find ways that you can create value for your employer.

You must do all of this without expectations.

Don't go above and beyond on your job and then immediately ask for a nice bonus. Instead, consistently deliver beyond expectation. Your employer will take notice over time.

A good employer will see the value that you bring to the table and compensate you accordingly.

A poor employer will shrug off your efforts and give no reward.

Part of becoming indispensable is choosing the right employers to become indispensable for. If your gifts, your value, and your efforts are not rewarded, then eventually you must take your talents elsewhere.

The great thing about the linchpin mentality is that it prepares you for growth. It prepares you to grow in your current position, or in your next career opportunity.

Even if your opportunities are not rewarded at your current position, your skills are changing. Your knowledge and your mindset are growing. These will aid you when you seek out the next position and make yourself indispensable there.

The bottom line

Don't sit by and wait for people to tell you what to do.

Instead, dive in and take initiative. Start projects on your own and seek out ways to create value.

If you create enough value, you will eventually become indispensable.



How to handle time zones as a digital nomad

by Jake Jorgovan on Feb 19, 2015.
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One of the hardest things about being a digital nomad is dealing with time zone changes as you travel around the world.

If you are like most digital nomads, your primary client base is still based in your country of origin. For me personally, my clients were primarily in the United States.

As I spent a year traveling around the world, I had to adapt and adjust my sleep and work schedule multiple times to be able to take meetings with clients.

My goal with this post is to give you some pointers on how to handle those time zone changes and some idea of what you can expect with a work schedule based in different parts of the world.

Avoid phone calls as much as you can

The first rule of being a digital nomad is to simply avoid phone calls as much as possible. When you are halfway around the world, scheduling phone calls can be tedious. It is a huge challenge to find overlapping free time that works well for you and your client.

So the first rule is to try to avoid them as much as possible. You won't be able to avoid them completely, but try to handle as much communication as you can through email or video messaging.

Often I would record screen capture videos showing my clients updates on my work and asking for their feedback. This allowed me to communicate with them in more detail than an email allows, but without the hassle of a phone or videoconferencing call.

My schedule while working in Southeast Asia

Exploring the tropical terrain of Thailand
Everyday I woke up around 10-11 a.m.. I spent the early morning doing personal work. I would work on my own website, my blog, my marketing, etc. Sometimes if I was busy, I would work on client work during the day and knock it all out before my clients in the States would wake up and get online to distract me.

From noon-7 p.m. I would head out and enjoy whatever city or country I was in at the time. This was an incredible schedule because it allowed me to experience so much during the day and then focus on doing my work at night.

Around 8 p.m. I would sit down to my desk and start my work for the day. Thailand and Vietnam are 12 hours opposite of the United States CST, so it made calculating time zones easy. An 8 p.m. call for me was an 8 a.m. call for CST.

I would aim to schedule a majority of my phone calls during my clients’ mornings. If I was able to get in everything before noon CST, then I would be done with phone calls by midnight. My goal most nights was to be done working by 1 a.m. and then give myself an hour to wind down before going to bed at 2 a.m.

This schedule worked most of the time, but occasionally I had a West Coast client with an inflexible schedule. A few times I had to take meetings at 4or 5 a.m. Thailand time. I will admit, this totally sucked and threw off my sleep schedule.

If I was in a position to turn down those calls it would have been nice, but sometimes I did what I had to do to make the sale.

My schedule while working in Europe

The countryside outside of Barcelona, Spain
Working in Europe was actually much easier on the time zones than in Asia. Europe is roughly 6-7 hours ahead of USA CST depending on where you are. That means a 9 a.m. call in USA CST is at 3 p.m. in Europe.

In Europe I would generally wake up at 9-10 a.m.,and then head out to explore the city.

I tried to schedule most of my meetings for the afternoon in the States so that I could sit down and start working around 7 p.m. in Europe. I would then work from around 7 p.m. until midnight and then wind down and be in bed by 1 a.m.

My schedule in Mexico

My desk in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
For 5 months I lived in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Even though I was in another country it was still on USA CST time.

Time zones were a piece of cake there. I just kept with my normal schedule that I always have.

If you don’t want to deal with the time zone changes, then try adventuring to Mexico, Central America or South America. You will still be on the same time zone as your USA based clients.

How to not screw up time zones

Inevitably, you will screw up some time zones during your travel. It is going to happen.

But there are a few tricks you can use to try and minimize this.

1) If you type into Google, "What time is it in _____?", it will show you what time it is in your client’s location.

2) Get a world clock on your phone. Apple's built-in clock has a world clock feature that can set up different clocks for different time zones. This makes it easy to check the time in your client’s location.

3) ALWAYS use calendar invites. Create an event on your calendar for what you believe will be the proper time and send an invitation to your client. It doesn't matter if you think you have calculated it correctly, always use an invite.

“Why?”, you ask.

First of all, you will screw up your mental calculation from time to time.

And second, daylight saving time. Believe it or not, most of the world does not honor this tradition, even some states in the USA don't. Because of this, in Mexico, where I was once on the same time zone as my clients, I was bumped an hour off because of daylight saving time.

Don't risk it. Send a calendar invite so you are on the same page with your client.

Time zones really aren't that bad.

While this all seems crazy and difficult, it's really not that bad. In fact, you will grow to love the time zone difference.

While you are out exploring foreign countries during the day, you don't have to worry about missing any client calls or emails because your clients aren't even awake yet.

While the occasional stickler client will screw up your sleep schedule, it is a small price to pay for the freedom of the digital nomad lifestyle.



Two steps to work remotely and travel the world

by Jake Jorgovan on Feb 17, 2015.
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My desk in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Working remotely is the new American dream.

Long gone are the days of seeking a steady, safe corporate job.

Now are the days of freedom, adventure, and travel.

Instead of sitting in an office, our generation wants to work from a beach in Mexico, a mountaintop in Argentina, or even the couch at their own home.

But why is it that so many people still conform to the traditional routines of work?

They wake up, commute to an office, meet with clients in person, and then return home for the day and do it all again. Rinse and repeat.

Why aren’t more people taking advantage of the remote working movement?

My goal with this post is to share with you two simple steps to working remotely and traveling the world.

Step 1) Get paid without being present

To work remotely, you only need one thing:

An ability to generate an income without being physically present. Many people overthink this or get caught up in internet scams about how to make money online.

The truth is working remotely is much simpler.

There are two ways you can get paid without being physically present:

1) Find a position that allows you to work remotely
2) Go freelance

How to get a job that allows you to work remotely

Before you begin your job search, it's worth at least talking to your current employer to see if they would be open to a remote working arrangement.

Try slipping them a copy of 37 Signals’s book Remote. If your boss is a business book junkie like most entrepreneurs, then they will eat this one up.

But, if your employer isn't going to budge on a remote working arrangement, then you may need to start looking elsewhere.

Believe it or not, remote working job opportunities for developers are everywhere on the web. Plenty of companies realize they can get better talent at a better price by working with remote developers.

Look through sites like Gun.io, Weworkremotely.com, and Flexjobs.com. See if there are any opportunities that fit your lifestyle and apply.

How to build a remote freelance career

The alternative is to go freelance and work for yourself. It is every developer’s dream to work remotely and have complete flexibility over your schedule.

Many people are afraid to make the jump and go freelance, but it's not as risky as most people think.

Site's like Gun.io, Elance, oDesk, and others provide a safe way for you to attract freelance work. You don't have to deal with the contracts, hunting down the work, or marketing yourself.

If you have never worked freelance before, these marketplaces are a great way to get started. There are countless clients on these websites looking to hire people like you.

You just need to take the time to get on board, hustle, and apply for the right kind of jobs.

In addition to these marketplaces and recruitment companies, you can also use some marketing tactics to bring in business remotely.

Some tactics that helped me generate a remote income are:

  • - A strong website and web presence
  • - Blogging & Podcasting
  • - Cold e-mailing ideal prospects
  • - Social media
  • - Staying in touch with old employers and industry contacts
  • - Asking past clients for referrals

Step 2) Move somewhere awesome and cheap

Once you have started generating some remote income, its time to make the jump.

Pack up your stuff, throw it in storage, or just purge it all. Then buy yourself a one way plane ticket to somewhere awesome and cheap.

When I started my remote working adventure, I flew down to Mexico for five months. While living in Mexico my cost of living dropped by almost 2/3rds. This made it much easier to hit my monthly income goals and start building up my freelance business.

People think that moving to another country and working remotely is risky. I disagree.

Staying in the USA, where my cost of living was significantly higher, was actually a much riskier path.

When you move somewhere cheap, you are lowering your cost of living, which is the overhead of your freelance business. Lower overhead means it's easier to hit your monthly sales goals and there is more money leftover for your personal enjoyment.

Best of all, you are having the adventure of a lifetime while living abroad.

Quit making excuses and join the remote working movement

Remote working is an opportunity that didn't exist 10 years ago.

10 years ago tools like Skype, Dropbox, and Google Drive didn't even exist.

This is a new age. The age of the remote worker.

Get on board and design your life so you can work from anywhere.

Remember, you just need one thing:

An ability to earn an income without being physically present.

Once you can earn an income without being present, just move somewhere awesome and cheap. Then you will be off on the adventure of your dreams.

Quit making excuses, make the jump, and join the remote working movement.



A Hacker's Guide to Hiring a Ruby on Rails Developer

by Grayson Carroll on Feb 14, 2015.
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So, you want to hire a Ruby on Rails developer.

You and everyone else in the Valley! Rails has been amongst the "it" technologies for web application development for some time now, and although it's got some tough competition coming from the likes of Node.js and Meteor, there's no denying its iterative power and robust community.

That being said, it's not the best framework for every web project out there. So the first question you should ask is...

Do I really need a Rails developer?

The best way to answer this question is to determine what you want your application to do. Do you need to push real time updates to the client, a la Trello? Do you just need to build an API for a mobile app or some front-end framework such as Backbone, Knockout, Angular, or Ember? Or, do you just need a blog or e-commerce site with little innovative application logic?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, I would reconsider your choice of hiring a Rails developer for the job.

In the first case, you would be better off using Node.js or a similar socket server technology. These are built with data streaming and live client side updating in mind. While Rails can make this happen, the framework is not designed around this use case, and you have to be very careful which gems (Ruby's version of packages) you use.

In the second, Rails would be overkill. It's an end to end web framework; that means you're writing all the HTML, CSS, Javascript, and backend Ruby code all within the walled garden of Ruby on Rails. If you just need an API, I would recommend using a technology such as Sinatra if you're heart set on using Ruby, or Flask if you're open to hiring Python developers. There are equivalent web micro-frameworks in just about any language.

In the final case, you don't need a web application, you need a Wordpress site. You'll get a much better deal if you just pay a PHP or Wordpress developer to bang out the minimal functionality and move on.

Now that you're sure you need a Rails developer, here are some litmus tests to make sure you're getting the right person for the job.

Ruby

One of the most important marks of a great rails engineer is their ability to wield the Ruby language effectively. It's got a lot of power and magic under the hood, and this can be a good or bad thing. One line of Ruby can be equivalent to 100 lines of Java or C++.

What's the easiest way to determine Ruby chops as a semi or non-technical person? When I got hired for my first Rails job, they encouraged me to go through the Ruby Koans. The Koans walk you through the entirety of Ruby in a succinct way. Most Ruby developers I know have gone through the Koans already; all you have to do is ask them to push up their Koans repository to their Github and send you a screenshot of the final success image. This is the easiest way to see if they've at least explored the Ruby language thoroughly, and if they can do this, they're in good shape.

Testing

With dynamic languages such as Ruby and Python, tests are the best way to know that as you keep building your application, all the moving parts stay in working order.

Whether they drive their development by tests (a methodology affectionately dubbed TDD), or they write them once they've got a piece of functionality where they want it to be, having a solid grasp on what it means to develop a thorough test suite is key. Ask them about their testing methodology. If they don't have a clear answer, this is a huge red flag.

Gems

Gems are the way Ruby and Rails developers share packages of functionality that others might find useful. Gems are one of the most powerful parts of the Rails ecosystem, and any Rails developer worth their salary has a bundle of gems they keep in their back pocket to simplify their work.

An easy litmus test here is to ask them how they would go about developing user authentication in an app. If their answer doesn't include something about a gem, specifically Devise or Omniauth, I would ask them their rationale behind building their own authentication. I can't think of a Rails programmer in my network that builds their own authentication system, and I think there's a good reason for that.

An Open Source Legacy

What would be great is if the dev you're hiring has actually contributed to gems or built their own. If they have, you know you've got someone special. Hire them quickly because they have plenty of other exciting opportunities and won't be free for much longer.

Deployment

One of the more difficult parts of being a Rails engineer is actually getting your application deployed and serving many users at a time. The deployment process has come a long way since the early days of the framework, but it's still tough to do.

If the engineer has deployed a Rails application to a server that they own, then they've got the chops they need.You don't need to worry about these folks.

If they've only deployed to Heroku that might be fine, too. Are you okay with being locked into that ecosystem? If so, then you can move on.

Do you need some more intense infrastructure? Are you required, for whatever reason, to use AWS, or Rackspace? If so, make sure your engineer understands this. It's okay that they don't have previous experience working with these platforms, but ask them to deploy a "Hello World" app to whichever platform you need to ensure they have the stuff to make it happen.

Deploying early and often is key in developing web apps. Make sure your developer can do so on the platform of your choice, and you're golden.

General Web App Chops

Do you have a front-end developer? A Javascript guru? A CSS wizard? If so, you don't have to worry too much about this section.

I imagine that many of you don't, though. In this case, it's important that your prospective hire knows these enough to get the job done. Ask them about their experience developing front ends for web apps. Ask them to show some of their favorite interfaces they've built in the past. Ask them if they enjoy this side of the work. If you need them to build your front end and they resent having to touch HTML, you're probably going to have a bad time.

Design

Someone who knows Rails, HTML, CSS, and Javascript is not too uncommon a specimen. Someone who knows all these things and can also hop on the Creative Suite and build you an incredibly designed site is one in a million. If you don't have a designer on board, I would highly recommend finding one that's not your Rails dev. They'll thank you for it, I promise.

Dat Portfolio

It's all about the portfolio, baby. All this stuff aside, if the person you're hiring has an incredible portfolio of applications they've banged out in the past, that's the best litmus test of all, especially if they've built something with some overlap in functionality with what you need.

Ask them about the projects of which they are most proud. You don't need to see all their work, just their best work. Make sure that what you're asking for is similarly interesting to them and not beyond what they've shown themselves to be capable of in the past, and you're in for a treat. If you can provide a Rails engineer, or any engineer, really, with an awesome problem to solve, they will likely blow your mind with the quality of their work and pace at which they work.

If I was on-boarding a Rails engineer, this would be the steps that, as a Rails engineer myself, I would take to ensure I was getting the best bang for my buck.

Happy hiring!



Why side projects will determine the course of your career

by Jake Jorgovan on Feb 12, 2015.
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As freelancers, we are approached with opportunities for side projects all the time.

Often, these side projects have very little or zero budget, yet they still pique our interest.

Side projects could be:

  • A startup with an interesting idea.
  • A friend’s business that you know you could help.
  • A non-profit with a cause you believe in.
  • Or any other project that seems interesting.
There are many forms and fashions that side projects can come in, but the thing is that we can't take them all.

If we take on the wrong side projects, it can be disastrous.

Getting involved in the wrong projects can ruin our friendships, waste our time, and prevent us from taking better opportunities that could have come along.

How many times have you taken on a side project to later think to yourself, "Why the hell did I agree to this?"

Choosing the proper side projects will make or break your career.

Discover your motivations

Before taking on any side project, first evaluate your motivations for the project.

Why is it that you are even considering this project in the first place?

If you aren't going to be paid up front, what are you expecting to get out of this project?

These are hard questions to answer, so below I have outlined a handful of motivations that may align with your side project.

Portfolio - Is this project going to become an incredible portfolio piece that you can showcase in the future? Will this be something you can use to win future freelance clients or your next job?

Skills - Will this project allow you to develop new skills or practice the ones you already have?

Control - How much control do you have over this project? Are you in charge or are you going to be answering to someone else's final say?

Collaboration - Is this project giving you a chance to collaborate with someone new or meet new people?

Growth - Is this project going to push you out of your comfort zone or force you to utilize new skills?

Impact - Will this project make an impact in the world? Do you believe in it? Does it support a cause or make a small change that you want to see?

Passion - Are you passionate about this project and the industry that this project is in?

Scale - Does this project have the ability to scale into something bigger? Or, is it purely a one-off project?

Profit - Does this project have the ability to provide an income or financial success down the line?

It’s not always about the money

Notice that profit is last on this list.

It’s last on the list because it is the WORST motivation.

One of the biggest mistakes freelancers make when choosing their side projects is being motivated solely by money.

They hop on a startup with dreams of someday selling their shares and getting rich. This is the wrong way to approach it. When you are in it for the money, it’s easy to lose motivation when things get hard.

Instead of being motivated only by profit, identify your other motivations up front.

Do you want to work on this project because it is going to allow you to step into a new role?
Will this project become an incredible portfolio piece?
Will this project give you the ability to practice new skills?

Before taking on any side project, ask yourself, "What motivated me to work on this?"

When your motivations aren’t monetary, you can’t fail. Even if a project never makes a profit, you will have gained something for your portfolio, sharpened your skills, and pushed yourself. This makes your next project even better.

How to evaluate your next side project

Before taking on your next side project, step back and outline your motivations for getting involved.

Take some time to go through the list in this post and see what is really driving you to want to hop in on this project.

Never take side projects purely on the basis of potential income.

Instead, figure out what your motivations are for the project.

When you know your motivations, your projects will begin to align with your values.



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