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This Upstart Joins A Start-Up


After two and a half years working for Marshalls I’ve decided to move on. Despite being in essence a concrete manufacturing company and therefore theoretically about as far away from the cutting edge of IT as it’s possible to be, Marshalls has actually been a fun place to work where I’ve managed to write some interesting software, been a bit creative and met some really good people. Despite the fact that I always call myself a software developer, I do a lot more than sit down and write code. I enjoy doing everything from gathering requirements (that means speaking to real people who’ll use the software I write) as well as designing, building and delivering the software to do what they want. I’ve managed to do plenty of that over the last couple of years.

My first ‘real’ job (working for a University doesn’t count) was for a company that had just been bought out but it continued to operate as a start-up. We were building a product, chasing our first customer and having to change direction all the time to try and make that sale. It was at times frustrating (like sometimes having to cut corners to get things out the door) but the fact was that every person in the team counted – there’s no room in a start up for people there just to make up the numbers if you want to be successful. Everybody had to be able to turn their hand to any problem – it wasn’t as though there was a whole department dedicated to setting up machines and networks, one of us would have to figure it out and do it.

What I’m getting at is that in that start-up it was all about the end result – building the product was the most important thing. Since building a product that sells is what keeps you in the job, you’re strongly motivated to make sure it’s a success and since there’s only a few of you you’re in prime position to make that happen. And that’s what I’ve always been interested in as far as software development is concerned – building something that people want to use.

But in the big companies I’ve worked for that’s not the way things work, and this is especially true of companies where software is not their primary business. At the end of the day, if you’re writing in-house software that your users will have to use no matter what you produce, the standards just aren’t going to be as high as shrink-wrap software to paying customers. You’ll never hit the high notes and frankly there’s no point in senior management making that a priority – where’s their return on investment they’ll wonder?

And as my friend Stu (who I worked with at that start up all those years ago) told me when I last visited him, end-user software is the most satisfying place for people like him and myself to be. I want to build something that’s a success and is good enough that real people want to pay to use it, something I can be proud of.

For me the best place to build something I can be proud of is a start-up with none of the politics, red tape or risk aversion that gets in the way. Sure it’s longer hours, harder work, more responsibility, more risky in that if you don’t get things right you’re out of a job, but for me the potential rewards and satisfaction of building something I believe in makes it all worth it. The chance to join a start-up where I live doesn’t come along very often so I always promised myself that if the opportunity came along again with the right people I’d take it.

Imagine my surprise when an ex-colleague of mine phoned me up over Christmas to talk about joining him and some other ex-colleagues in their start-up. After meeting them it took me all of about 5 minutes to decide I’d say yes if they offered me the job. For me the risk is a lot lower than just joining any start-up. For one I know them all very well and they happen to be some of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with. I also worked with them on a similar product to the one I’ll be helping them build so know I won’t be starting from square one and having to learn the ropes. And there’s a lot of market interest in the product which is half the battle. For the first time in a long time I’m really looking forward to starting something new and seizing the opportunity that has presented itself to me.

I start tomorrow. Wish me luck! 🙂

Update (2010): Read all about how it went and what happened next here!

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Creator of John's Background Switcher. Scotsman, footballer, photographer, dog owner, risk taker, heart breaker, nice guy. Some of those are lies.

23 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. I don’t think you need any luck as your very talented at what you do :o) but just so I’ve said it Good Luck you’ll be great! :o)


  2. I’m speechless! What is it with IT folks and their itchy feet – always wanting to go somewhere else and try something new (I’m on job #5 in 8 years)? As per Mr Nelson, I thought you’d found your vocation – latest tools, sympathetic easy going management, and the opportunity to do a few ‘glory boy’ apps inbetween the more bread and butter work – hang on, sounds good, why did I leave again!?!?
    Anyway, best of luck to you in the start-up…I’m sure it’ll be fun.


  3. Ha ha, hi Phil, good to hear from you! 🙂

    Yeah, it’s funny how we do all seem to keep moving around, they always say IT is a cyclical industry! 😉


  4. Hi John,

    I have been reading articles from your blog for a while. The first article I happened to read isn’t anything related to software but the one you describes how you felt when you lost your mother. I was very touched and kept visiting your website since then. I think your mother will be very proud of you in heaven as you seems to be a very adventurous, smart and friendly person. Best wishes for your new move and hope you a big success in your new career.



  5. Good luck JT, the office was un-nervingly quiet without you (and Ian) in today. Fortunately we found a nice young Polish coder that will program for Mars Bars to replace you, so maybe we’ll survive 🙂

    Have fun, keep in touch.


  6. Cheers Col! I definitely will keep in touch – I’m afraid there is no escape! 😉

    He’ll program for Mars bars? Much cheaper than the tiffins I demand – sounds like you’ll be just fine!


  7. You’ve provided us with some first class entertainment over the past couple of years John, and been just a top guy to work with. I believe you might have done the odd bit of code too!!

    Am sure things will go swimmingly well at the new place, and if not it certainly won’t be your fault!

    Good luck with your first day, see you Thursday!


  8. Congratulations and good luck with the future.
    sounds like you have found exactly what you want.


  9. Thanks Dave! And really? It’s a small world indeed! They never let us near the website preferring to outsource it instead (probably a good idea – we were busy enough).


  10. Start ups………. the money runs out and you go back cap in hand for your old job 😉

    Seriously mate, I can’t see you failing at anything you put your mind to (saying that, you’re a bit poor at tracking your man at football)

    Good luck John and thanks for all your efforts over the past 2 years – you’ll be sorely missed, not just as software developer but as a friend too


  11. Thanks Sion, it really has been a fun couple of years on both a professional and personal level. 🙂

    And I’ll work on my tracking – it’s just my brain’s so far ahead of the game that I’m ready to intercept the pass! 😉


  12. hi john…
    been using your software tools – and got caught up in your blog/writings – something about your tone is very endearing. just was interested in hearing how the job is going at the start up… you know – an update of some sort, maybe you wrote it somewhere else and i didn’t come accross it – if yes, send me link and i won’t trouble you.

    🙂 Miki


  13. It’s going really well and I’ll be posting an update about what’s been happening soon but some things are happening that I can’t talk about at the moment which is why I’ve been silent! Keep an eye on my site and I’ll be posting something as soon as I can…


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