The Hard Tour

By Mike / On / In Personal

The days are getting longer and warmer, the new version of Lemurs Chemistry is almost complete, and it’s time to start touring again. I thought I was going to be talking about monads this year, but things have gotten so hard in our industry lately, I’m going to talk about that instead. I’m not doing a lot of speaking this year, so these are some of few chances to see me on stage.

Appsterdam Birthday Bash April 20 in Amsterdam

The City of Amsterdam’s famous canals are 400 years old this year, and we are two! It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since we started the Appsterdam movement. It’s going to be amazing to look back at how far we’ve come, and how the organization and its goals have evolved. It’s also an important time to look at what Appsterdam means to us, and where we need it go in the future.

There are a limited number of tickets available for the low, low price of €15. The Appsterdam Foundation has been planning a really nice evening, and given how many folks are coming from all over to attend, the networking opportunities should be as good as the show itself. Don’t miss it!

GOTO Chicago April 23 in Chicago

Missing GOTO considered harmful! The GOTO conference and its counter-clockwise cousin, YOW!, are the biggest and best general technology conferences in the world, run by some of the most genuinely nice, community-centered organizers I have ever met. Here I’ll be giving a keynote about the App Universe After the Big Bang, where I’ll talk about the state of our rapidly shifting industry.

You can save $150 off the cost of admission with the discount code LEE150. I was born outside Chicago, and launched my speaking career at the C4 conference in Chicago. I could not be more thrilled to be returning to the Windy City—especially now that it’s home to one of the most active Appsterdam embassies.

360 Intersect April 28 in Seattle

Over the past few years, conference talks have been getting less and less technical, a trend that conference organizers around the world have collectively decided to put a stop to this year. Always looking to fill voids, John and Nicole Wilker of the excellent 360 conferences have decided to try a non-technical technical conference. I think it’s a great idea, and am giving it my full support.

Here you can get 20% off the ticket price with the discount code BMF. I’m going to be giving a very intimate keynote called Insane and Back Again, where I talk about some of the crazy things I’ve experienced in these past few years of travel. These are the stories I’m not comfortable blogging about, but speaking at 360 has always felt like talking to a roomful of friends, and I can think of no better place to give this special, one-time-only talk.

MobiDevDay May 4 in Detroit

When I first started Appsterdam, Andy Ihnatko asked me why I didn’t start it in Detroit. Somehow, that opened up a soft spot in me that remains undiminished even after what happened the last time I was there. I’m pleased to finally deliver something for the Motor City by participating in MobiDevDay, joining what promises to be an amazing array of speakers.

I’m giving a talk called Engineering is Hard, where I’ll be talking about the things we go through in order to deliver our products, pay our rent, and make the world a better place. In the vein of the title, which you might recognize this as a saying I’ve borrowed from a friend, I’ll be sharing a lot of great advice I’ve collected from engineers around the world on making a living in these crazy times.

AltWWDC June ? in San Francisco

WWDC tickets went so fast last year, our ears popped, and just like that, the whole idea of WWDC changed forever. What used to be a chance to get the latest news from Apple has turned into a kind of homecoming. This has become the poster child for a conference where the conference doesn’t matter. It’s really just the one week we all decide to be in California, as much for each other as Apple.

With the number of ticketless “showcializers” set to outnumber the number of actual attendees, and IndieDevLab merging with Appsterdam, AltWWDC 2013 promises to be the best unofficial side conference ever to side conference a conference. Whether you have a ticket or not, AltWWDC is your place to sit down, plug in, and get some wifi, lunch, and maybe even some knowledge.

Back to Microsoft

By Mike / On / In Technology

You might find this hard to believe, but I used to be a huge Microsoft fanboy. I left the platform in the mid ’90s, when the Chicago betas coming across my desk began displaying a disturbing Apple-ization that sent running to UNIX. It’s taken nearly 20 years, but Microsoft is finally doing their own thing again. It’s time for me to head home.

Yes, I spent over a decade on Apple’s platforms. What can I say? I’ve always been a fan of the underdog. Not just for the innate satisfaction of it, either. I really do prefer the culture of openness and eagerness that teams in a disadvantaged position engender. For a long time, Apple was like that, but they’re hardly the underdogs now.

My friends in Redmond have hooked me up with a Surface and a Lumia running Windows Phone 8, as well as Parallels and Visual Studio. I simply could not be happier with the attention we’ve gotten. With the long-time focus on education that Microsoft is well known for, I’m eager to get Lemurs Chemistry in front of some students.

Me, holding an actual Surface.

Not to diss on Apple. I wish them all the best, not that they need it. They’re doing amazing work, and I suspect they will continue as the market leader in mobile for a long time. If I’ve learned anything from being on their platforms, it’s that one company doesn’t have to lose for another company to win.

After all, I don’t do what I do to drive adoption of a platform, but to make the world a better place. It would be the height of narcissism to think I could even make a dent on my own. Truly, whether you love Apple, Microsoft, Google, or some crazy platform I’ve never even heard of, we are all in this together.

Brent Simmons

By Mike / On / In Personal

One of the most important lessons from my apprenticeship did not come from my mentor, but from my fellow apprentice, who talked me into coming out of my shell and meeting the community of Seattle Xcoders. I met a lot of important people, not the least of whom was software legend Brent Simmons.

This would soon become vital, when things started to get tense between my mentor and me. Brent told me stories of his own apprenticeship, and the tension that grew between him and his mentor. He explained it as an inevitable phase, indicative of growth, a sign it was time to move on.

We often call him the godfather of indie software development, but in truth he more closely embodies the Japanese word, “sensei,” which is translated as both “teacher” and “doctor,” but literally means “born before.”

Just as your doctor is able to give peace of mind by assuring you what you’re experiencing is normal, just as a teacher is able to draw from their superior knowledge and experience, so too has Brent set the tone and led the way for a generation of App Makers.

I can honestly say I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for Brent Simmons, and I think several other people would say the same thing. On the occasion of his birthday—it’s hard to believe it’s been 5 years since B4[0]—I thought I would share some things I’ve learned reflecting on Brent Simmons.

The first time in my life I ever missed a flight was to Las Vegas, for Brent’s big 40th birthday bash. I mixed up a.m. and p.m., which is very much unlike me, the former airline employee. I was flying back and forth between Seattle and San Jose because I’d just come on as co-founder of Tapulous.

I have always prided myself on an attention to detail and a willingness to push myself. Here, without even trying, Brent gave me a permanent reminder that pushing yourself too hard will lead you to make mistakes.

Brent is a hardcore dude, but he knows when enough is enough. Since his 40th, he’s lost a lot of weight and gotten into really good shape. It’s no secret nerds in our community have been getting in shape lately, and while some of that is attributable to Steve’s early demise, I think it precedes that.

I know for me, seeing Brent get into shape was a real kick in the pants. If he’s not immortal, nor immune to the laws of nature, who the hell are we?

I’ve noticed something else about Brent. He’ll disappear. He’ll decide he’s had enough, and would like to get some sleep, and will just disappear. If you happen to be standing next to him, he might say goodbye, but otherwise, he’ll just be gone.

I, on the other hand, always make the rounds and say goodbye to people. I stress about other people’s feelings. A lot. Brent doesn’t, and yet we all love him. I think there’s a lesson in that. Something about being genuine and useful and spending your energy on things that matter.

You can draw boundaries, and take care of yourself, and people will still respect you. That is what I learned from Brent Simmons.

Unprofessionalism

By Mike / On / In Personal

I’m a very lucky man, and one of the things that makes me so lucky are my friends. These are the nicest, most talented people I’ve met in my life, and many of them have skills that have made them vital contributors to my success over the years—not only in making my products and building my brands, but in getting my message out there (for what it’s worth). For example, a bunch of them have started great podcasts with unbelievable guest lists, which they have generously allowed me to be part of.

My friend Saul Mora has assembled one of the finest collections of interviews in our industry with his NSBrief podcast. Seriously, look at his archive—it’s like a who’s who of NSCoders, and he’s had me on not once, but twice.

What’s cool about NSBrief is that the audience is just as illustrious as the guest list. Both times I’ve been on the show, I’ve ended up getting amazing, life-changing feedback from its audience. Most recently, I talked about trying to blend consulting with making our own apps, and ended up basically having the implementation details of that handed to me after the show.

Short version: we’re setting thresholds for when our consulting flag goes up or down. If we drop below 3 months burn, we have to accept consulting until we get back up to 12 months burn. Since we don’t have capacity for business development, we’re doing all our contracting through Big Nerd Ranch Europe. (So if you’d like to hire us, contact Marcel and Bolot!)

My friend Dave Wiskus and I were recently able to celebrate our strange relationship on his show, Unprofessional. Because Dave is the protege of my protege, I am always busting his balls. He wanted to do a show themed around being offensive, so I spent the whole show pretending to hate the show (which I actually love) and ripping on Dave (who I actually love).

It’s a beautiful piece of performance art. At one point I even insulted Dave while the call was muted, an act so dickish it calls to mind the old Dutch expression, to wipe one’s ass on the door. I had a really good time. Given how successful the show has been, it should come as no surprise that Dave (and everybody’s best friend, Lex Friedman) are not only genuinely great people, but incredibly good sports.

Finally, although the episode is not up yet, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by my old pal Guy English and Rene Ritchie on their show, Debug. I was so excited when they started this show, because of Guy’s skill as a conversationalist. Really, of all the many things to envy him for, that’s the one I envy the most.

Maybe it’s my internal journalism major, but I always pay attention to people’s interview styles. Saul sets up the guests and lets them talk. Dave and Lex relate to their guests by sharing their own anecdotes. Guy and Rene ask probing follow-up questions to encourage their guests to dive deep in exploring their topics.

I know the key to great conversations is asking great follow-up questions, but that’s easier said that done. I’ve always admired Guy for this, and I listen to their show as much for the interviews as for a case study on how to talk to people.

That’s what makes me respect my friends so damned much—they have so much to teach me, just by doing the things I can’t.

The Economy of Terror

By Mike / On / In Personal

“You’ve made it very clear that you never want to return to the United States,” my friend said to me. I was surprised to hear that, because I certainly never meant to give that impression, but as he pointed out, sometimes what people hear the loudest are the things you do not say.

Yes, I quietly doubled my rates for working within the US. No, I didn’t explain why. Frankly I am terrified to talk about it, but now I’m afraid that by not talking about it I’ve added a wrong impression to the pile of wrong impressions about what I am doing here, and how I feel about the US.

You have to understand that I am not trying to make a statement. I’m just trying to get better at business. I’ve come to understand that when you assume risk, you should be compensated. It’s risky to give people honest feedback about their apps, which is why I require payment for that. Similarly, it has become risky to enter the United States, so I require compensation for that as well.

The last time I went to the US was last June, for WWDC. My flight required changing planes in Detroit, so I went through customs and immigration there. I went looking for a missing suitcase, and found it sitting like a trap in the middle of the floor. When I approached it, I was apprehended by law enforcement, denied a request to inform my partner I was being detained, then put in a cell, questioned, and aggressively strip-searched.

I was left feeling completely dehumanized, but what terrified me most was not how they violated me, but why. By their own admission, it wasn’t that they thought I might be smuggling something, but that they hoped I might have forgotten something. “Maybe you left a bud in a jacket pocket, or half a joint in your jeans.” That, to me, is a terrifying redefinition of the rules.

I have always believed that the intent of law enforcement was to root out criminal behavior, not to find excuses to reclassify good people as criminals. I don’t want to participate in a system that looks to bust people not for poor judgment, but for obvious mistakes. I don’t want to subject myself to arbitrary power, to unreasonable search and seizure, or to entrapment.

“I know you’re an engineer. Well, so am I.” the customs officer growled menacingly. They read every stamp in my passport like an indictment. They seemed to imply that the system is unnerved by intelligence, by thinking, by any attempt to improve your mind or expand your horizons. They seemed to find dedicating myself to learning about the world suspicious, even threatening.

I don’t like being afraid to enter my own country. I don’t like being terrified to talk about my experiences, for fear of retribution. I don’t like living in a world where the government can and will use their power to drive people to destroy themselves, where the very act of being investigated can be an extrajudicial death sentence.

I cannot travel without terror, because I cannot assume that they will not take me, and if they do, I cannot say when they will let me go. I cannot say that I will never make the mistake they need to bring about my downfall, despite my best intentions. I cannot deny that there is risk in crossing that border, in entering that country, despite being its citizen.

Where I cannot eliminate risk, I must ameliorate it with compensation. I don’t know what else I can do.