Ricardo Sanchez
Coder, Photographer, Youtuber, Blogger

Life

Two books every month

A new year is here and everyone is making resolutions, sharing their new year’s challenges, hopes, etc. I would like to share with you one of the new challenges I am setting up for myself. I love to read and have read a large variety of books. However, I have also bought quite a few books that I haven’t read yet. The excuse is always the same, lack of time and “better” things to do with my time.

Different - Escaping the competitive herd

This year I am challenging myself with the task (and enjoyment) of reading two books per month. I cannot reflect the amount of excitement I have about this here, but trust me, I am really looking forward to this challenge. I have already started my first book for this month, it is titled “Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd” by Youngme Moon which I had the pleasure to meet and attend her talk at one of the Business of Software events in Boston a few years back.

I will be sharing my reading list and comments on the different books I read in this blog, please feel free to share what books you are reading, book recommendations are welcome!

Happy New Year!

Turning 40

Today I am turning 40 years old. What does that mean? that I am old? that I am about to go into mid-life crisis? that I should give up all of my dreams? that I am entering into one of life’s most dangerous ages for men? The truth is that most of the things I mentioned above can only be true if you allow it.

I still remember when I was in my teenage years and I wanted to reach 20 years of age, I was frustrated that I couldn’t reach that age fast enough. When I was around 16 or 17 the idea of being a 20-year-old opened all sorts of opportunities and freedom, or so I thought. By the time I was about to reach 30 years of age I felt stressed, I knew I was reaching an important part of my life where every time you make a decision regardless of being good or bad, you know it would affect you down the road. It also meant that every decision I made would affect not only me but my wife and kids, I was no longer a unit of one.

It wasn’t until about 3 years ago that I started feeling worried and a bit sad that I was approaching 40. I remember thinking of people who age when I was in my early 20s as I looked at teachers, my parents, uncles, etc… to me it meant that if you were a 40-year-old person, you were a super old person. How naïve I was.

Recently I started to realize how our core and our mind doesn’t really change that much with age after you reach your 20s. You do start seeing wrinkles in your face and you notice how your body starts to change but inside, you are still you; The same person who thought a 40-year-old person was super old and this, this is exactly what made me and so many others feel sad about getting older.

I have respect for people of all ages, and sympathy for those who are trapped in an older body when their mind and spirit is still the same, young and full of joy. However, it isn’t easy to accept that your body is just a wrapper and that you are what’s inside of it. You must remember that your feelings, memories, experiences and thoughts are what makes you, the person.

I’d like to think that I still have a long way to go, that I am still in the beginning of my journey, that there are still many awesome things out there to be discovered and that makes me feel young and happy. I think of all the joy that my kids have brought me so far and that this is just the beginning. I imagine myself being a grand father and walking with my grandkids on the beach or a small street somewhere in Europe. I imagine holding hands with my wife and laugh at our ourselves and our old bodies. Sitting somewhere contemplating the horizon and thinking about all the things we’ve done together.

So I have come to the conclusion that age is nothing but a number, it means nothing really and it only helps humanity to divide people by “age” so we can create rules and laws around that.

Perhaps the fact that we acknowledge age and see it as something important is what causes all of us to become old and feel like it. Think about it, we could be convincing ourselves to feel and behave differently just because we are older. How naïve.

What have I done these years since my 20s? here some of the most important things I have done since then:

  • Said bye to my family in Mexico and moved to the United States, undocumented.
  • Got a job and helped my family back in Mexico.
  • Fell in love with my wife.
  • Got married after dating my wife for 3 months.
  • Got my first apartment, for me and my wife.
  • Got my first real job, working at a factory and earning minimum wage.
  • Became a citizen of the Unites States.
  • Went to College in Minnesota.
  • Had our first child, our beautiful Jennifer Lee.
  • Kept working fulltime and going to college in the evenings.
  • Found a job as tech support in a small company.
  • Learned to code and started doing some websites and consulting.
  • Started a Tax preparation company which my wife runs today.
  • Graduated.
  • Got promoted at my job, I was no longer making a minimum wage.
  • Had our second child, our handsome Ricardo Ervey.
  • Moved to another city in Minnesota.
  • Things improve professionally, and the Tax preparation business takes off.
  • Got tired of the cold winters and the snow.
  • Moved to Texas.
  • Bought our first house.
  • Found a job as a software developer.
  • Traveled to Europe for the first time.
  • Had our third child, our handsome and energized Mauricio Dioni.
  • Things improve professionally, my wife takes over the Tax business.
  • Travel a lot.
  • More travel.
  • Move to another job.
  • Start another business.
  • Sell our first home and move into our second home.
  • Kids are growing. Jennifer is in High School now.
  • My brothers and sisters are growing, and so are their kids.
  • By now my wife and I have traveled to almost 10 different countries, and have drank and ate more food that you can imagine.
  • Turned 40.

Today I am 40 years old and I am very happy. If you are into history and would like to know what “other” famous people are turning 40 this year, click here.

[Update]

Meet Tokio, new member of the family and a gift for my 40th birthday from my wife.

tokio

Until next time, I’ll write something similar when I get to 50 🙂

Discovering creative ideas in San Francisco – CapitalOne 360 Cafe

capitalone360 3This is the 4th time I come to San Francisco this year, I just love this city and the weather (yes I love Summer in San Francisco!). I was lucky enough to get invited to Y Combinator’s Startup School this year, it was great and I had the opportunity to learn insights from founders from many companies, you can learn more about that here. However, the part that I really like about traveling is to discover cool places in cities I visit. This time a quick search in Yelp brought me to Capital One 360 San Francisco Cafe (it used to be ING Direct Cafe), it is a very interesting concept that Capital One has launched in about 8 cities including San Francisco – and yes I asked one of the Capital One employees why not in Austin and he told me that they are actually working on it at the moment, so brace yourselves as we might get one of these electronic-only transaction bank/Cafe/Coworking space in Austin, this will rock big time!

capitalone360 1This creative concept for a bank branch is awesome, there are no lines, no counter, no “numbers” to talk to a representative, etc.. and instead they have created a very cool open space filled with desks, power outlets, beanbags and an excellent WiFi and coffee drinks – oh, there is also good background music like nothing you have ever experience in your local bank. Also, if you have a CapitalOne card and you pay your coffee with it, they only charge you half of the price so in other words you can get a regular size latte (and very good!) for about $1.50 – this is pure genius.

I have never thought that a bank such as Capital One would do something this creative and out of the norm, but they are and apparently I am not the only one who loves the concept of a bank branch that also serves as a coffee shop and free co-working space as the place was filled with people working with their laptops and drinking coffee and I am sure someone was also doing some electronic banking as well… It might be hard to rate the success of such a concept but if what they want is to bring people to the place and raise awareness about their brand, this is a great idea that probably costs much less than other not so creative marketing efforts.

capitalone3602So there it is, this last trip to San Francisco allowed me to discover and actually work from this place called CapitalOne 360 Cafe which is on 101 Post St. San Francisco, CA 94108 (Post St and Kearny St) and it is the place from where I wrote this post and did some work for BedandBreakfast.com. At some point I would love to have places like this pop in every city branded as The TechMap work spaces, it would be awesome, perhaps in the future. Until next time.

@ricky

 

The Developers and Designers Group

The Developers and Designers Group by OnTechiesHello fellow techie. You are a software developer, a designer, or maybe a UI or UX designer or engineer (yes, there is a difference!) and probably belong to many groups in sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc… and if you are as unlucky as I am you probably agree that most of these groups are irrelevant as they basically provide no value and instead bombard you with job listings and the like.

After looking around I realized that there aren’t many groups for us. There are some groups that are specific to a technology stack or programming language but not something a bit more generic for the developer/programmer/designer/engineer crowd.

I am not the type of person that seats around to wait for something to happen so there is a new Facebook group for Developers and Designers and you all are welcome to join. My promise with this group is not to allow job listings, or “selling” but instead allow for free sharing of information related to software development and engineering, UI/UX design, tips about new tools, technologies, platforms and a healthy dose of discussions about anything related to all the items I mentioned above. Yes, it is OK to geek out and discuss the best programming keyboards and text editors.

Hope you enjoy it and please invite any of your friends that might be a good fit for the group.

Click here to join the Developers and Designers group.

May the force be with you!

 

 

 

 

Be the person where the problems die, be the finisher and people will notice you

Many people often ask and wonder how or why they don’t get promoted, or even noticed at their jobs. Here is some advice I got from a VP of Engineering at a very prominent tech company in Austin, TX:

Be the person where the problems die, be the finisher and people will notice you

While simple this is such great advice, it basically tells you that if you want to be noticed and advance in your career, you need to take ownership and get things done, that’s it. This is very interesting because even when we think we are great executors and sometimes even brag about how much we get done, the truth is that only a few people really take ownership and full responsibility when given a task or a problem to solve.

take ownership and get promoted

 

If your manager is able to hand you a problem and you have the capacity and tenacity of figuring out the problem and complete the task, you’ll probably be a clear candidate to promote and give more responsibility when the time comes because your manager will know you can get the job done. In other words, they know you are a finisher, problems die when they come to you, you are trustworthy and naturally they’ll be willing to give you more responsibility.

Remember, it is not so much about office politics or friendships, it is about getting things done and have an impact because that will look good on you, your boss and your company.

 

 

Tips to have success as a remote worker

I still remember when I first had the opportunity to work remotely, it took some convincing but my employer at the time understood and agreed to give it a try, it was 2002. Nowadays is very common to find professionals, especially developers and designers doing some of their work remotely. There are even some successful companies where not only some employees work remotely but almost their entire work force is remote, in these companies working remotely is just part of the culture.

Tips to have success as a remote workerBelow are some of my own experiences as a remote worker, and although I have never been a 100% remote worker, still think some of the following tips might help some of you, and if you have additional tips please feel free to share it with us in the comment’s section.

Have a schedule and let co-workers know about it

Unless you work remotely 100% of the time, you should let people know in advance about the days and hours you are working remotely, that way no in-person meetings are scheduled and no expectations of you being physically at the office are set. Your company and co-workers will appreciate this.

This also helps you plan for personal things such as running errands, doctor appointments, walking the dog, going to the gym, or whatever it is that you do when you are not attached to specific working hours during the day. The real benefit and very productive thing about working remotely is having the ability to work when you are the most productive, not necessarily from 9-5PM.

Work when you are the most productive, avoid the 9-5

Most people benefit from working remotely because if done correctly, it truly gives you a chance to balance your busy life with your work. Unfortunately many employers and professionals do not understand this and instead request that people working remotely work the same hours as if they were at the office, and while this might be seemed as a good idea it isn’t. Working the same hours while working remotely does not let you realize the full potential of working remotely, and it also brings the same problems you tried to avoid by working remotely such as constant distractions by coworkers pinging you, and the pressure of not being able to work when you are the most productive which in many cases is not from 9-5PM.

Make yourself unreachable

That is right, be unreachable. The whole point about working remotely is so you can be more productive and you can only achieve this by eliminating distractions. If you are in a position where you can work remotely, then you can certainly make yourself unreachable for a day or two. If you or your employer feel uncomfortable with this, then none of you are ready to work remotely or to have a remote workforce. Here are some tips to make yourself unreachable and to train people around you to understand that you are not openly available while working from home, a coffee shop or anywhere you decide to work from:

  • Only read and reply to very important emails that truly require your input.
  • Do not answer the phone if the caller is unknown.
  • Do not engage in online discussions in IM, Twitter, etc…
  • Avoid phone conferences while working remotely.
  • Disable email, IM and other automatic notifications.

Give yourself permission to decline interruptions, and set expectations with your team about this.

Use the right equipment

A good laptop, good internet connection and plenty of electrical power is absolutely needed to succeed as a remote worker. Having two computers such as one sitting at work and another one at home won’t cut it, trust me I tried and failed miserably. Also, remember that working remotely doesn’t mean working only from home, there are going to be days when you decide or need to work from another location such as a coffee shop, a hotel or a co-working space, and you’ll need to make sure that you have all of the above… laptop, fast internet connection and a source of power. Caffeine is in my list of must-have as well.

If possible, have an extra battery (charged) for your laptop, a cell phone and all of the cables you need to power up your devices, never leave home without them.

Use the right software

This advice really varies depending on what you do and who you work for. For example, if your company provides remote access to network shares, and other resources within the company’s network then make sure you have access to it as well as the security software and knowledge to connect to it. For example, most companies will require you to first connect to a virtual private network (VPN) before you can access your email, network folders, databases, etc… Another good idea is to know how to access your company’s email using a browser (webmail) since there are going to be times when your VPN connection might not work when you need to read or sent an important email message. It will happen, trust me on this one.

Here are some other applications that can prove to be very useful while working remotely:

In summary, make sure you test all of your software while at home and confirm that you have everything to do your job remotely.

The above list is what comes to mind based on my experience as the basics for successfully working remotely, and I am sure that depending on your company and the type of work you do there might be the need for other software or equipment to make this happen. If you have other tips or suggestions please add them in the comment’s section below.

How to build a software product in your spare time

I have been writing code professionally since the early days of .NET although I remember doing lots of classic ASP as well. As a student, I did some C++, BASIC and even some Pascal but not enough to be good at it. I consider myself a great decent developer and very enthusiastic about coming up with ideas to use new frameworks and platforms to design and build new software products. It is my idea of fun and have been doing it for quite some time now. Sometimes with the idea and ambition of building companies around my product ideas.

My guess is that most software developers enjoy testing new technologies and some even do it in their spare time, outside of work and probably late at night (it’s the best time to code, especially if you have children!). However, one thing that I get asked often is where do I get the time to think about products and more specifically where do I find the time to do it. You see, to me is not about building the next killer app or anything like it, it is about thinking of how I could use that cool new JavaScript framework, experimenting with a new platform or perhaps some mobile app that will finally get me into mobile development… and it all sounds good until you start finding excuses and convince yourself that you just don’t have the time to do it. If you are in my age group you will likely find excuses involving the kids, the wife, the house chores, the full-time job, etc… and if you are much younger than me then your excuses are going to be the friends, games, parties, or even a job or school.

Excuses are evil, they offer an easy and sometimes pleasant way to avoid doing something new. I hope some of the tips provided below can help you avoid excuses and get you motivated to build a new app or try out some cool new framework.

Originating ideas

Believe it or not, coming up with ideas might be challenging sometimes, one thing I find very useful is to just take a moment, walk, and think of the things I do on a daily basis that I could do better. This task will take you probably a few minutes and you’ll be surprised with the number of ideas you will originate. Some examples of things I have built doing this are, a translation app, a spam blocker, a profile finder and a useful contact merge tool, etc… all of these were created based on this procedure.

Another great way is to ask people around you, or better yet, observe them and find out what things they struggle with while doing their work, using the computer, etc… For example, years ago while at a customer’s site I saw how some people were doing data entry on their computers and getting the information from a piece of paper, after that they scanned the piece of paper and then named it manually… one page at a time, yikes! From this came the idea of creating an application that would allow people to scan all documents at once, then display the scanned pages on the screen along with the data entry fields right next to the image so they could then do the data entry and indexing needed, reducing the task to just a few steps, much quicker and the data entry more accurate. This eventually became a product for a company. Just look around you and think… how can I do this better, how can I reduce the number of steps and if you are brave enough go out and ask people these same questions and you’ll get plenty of ideas!

Designing your product

You have an idea, now what? it is really easy as software developers to just start writing code, this is both fun and common but if you start your application from scratch then it will take you more time, especially if you are using a new framework, etc… The assumption is that you are trying to build this in your spare time at 2 AM in the morning, so you need to plan and optimize for it. The advice here is not to write any code just yet, instead search for open source projects that are using the technology or framework you want to try, download it and build on top of it. It is not cheating, it is a great way to get started and building on top of an existing open source application or software sample will get you ahead and save you a lot of time. Remember, the goal is to build something fast and useful.

Forget about adding any features, focus on the one thing you are trying to solve and nothing else… do not worry about the look or adding extra functionality, first, make sure what you build achieves what you are going after and then you can iterate and add features and improve the look and feel of it.

Finding the time to do it

This is by far the main reason people will never do something they say they want to do. The lack of time according to most is the reason a new language is not learned, a book is not read, a class is not taken and an app is not built! Time is a very valuable thing that we all protect because none of us seem to have enough of it. Let me tell you this, that is bull-crap. the idea of not enough time is overrated, we use it as an excuse to not do the things we need to be doing or worse, to avoid learning or doing something new. Also, I am against working super long hours, it is not healthy and not even productive, instead try to prioritize your tasks, and eliminate or avoid your time-wasters. All of us have a bag full of those.

I used to watch TV every evening, but haven’t had cable for about 5 years now and do not miss it. Yes, I do watch some shows but when I do it is usually using Netflix or Hulu and is usually playing in the background as I am writing or coding. The time I used to spend in front of the TV I now use to write blog postsbuild software, and organize meetups. I know many of you might say you lack the time to do any of this but I disagree, there are way too many hours in the day, spending just 2 hours every day to write that mobile app you’ve been thinking about for a while is very feasible. Above I mentioned I usually write software late at night, that is when my kids are in bed and the house is quiet – it is the perfect time! I don’t spend more than a few hours but sometimes I will spend more time learning about email marketing, writing blog posts, finding useful things on Twitter, etc… it is my hobby and I don’t see any of that as a task, it is enjoyable for me. At the same time, I help around the house, wash dishes, take the kids to school, to swimming lessons, etc. There is enough time to spend with the family since luckily I don’t have to travel much, having a balanced life is not only possible but very real, it is all about spending time on the things that really matter and avoiding the things that are neither useful nor productive.

There is also plenty of time while at work… and I am not suggesting you work in your personal projects during work hours but at times such as lunch. Yep, I love going to lunch with my co-workers but that does not mean I have to do it every day. At least twice a week I spent my lunch time eating a sandwich or cheap sushi and coding away (my own app), writing a blog post, or doing some marketing for some of my projects using email and social networks.

Are you in a different situation where you still cannot find the time to do this? if the answer is Yes then chances are you are not really motivated to do it… excuses are easy to come up with, and I am sure the next time you are watching a TV show, a movie or a game you’ll remember this and think… I guess I do have time if I really wanted to. Do not get me wrong… I love watching some TV shows and movies… maybe too much, but still find the time to do what I like which is developing software apps, sites and writing blog posts like this.

Finally, if you are lucky and use public transportation for your work commute… then use that time to do this, and perhaps, even more, things such as finish reading that book, learning that new language, etc…

Do you have any tips or ideas to add to the above post? please share them with everyone in the comments.

It’s Your Choice

It's your choiceReading this blog post is a choice, everything around you is the result of the choices you’ve made during your life. Yes there is luck, and faith, and karma, and many other things that many of us believe on, but in the end it is our choices and those of the people around us that make our lives the way they are.

So you want to be a software engineer? what choices are you making today to make it happen? are you in school studying computer science? are you learning by coding a simple project, or perhaps learning the basics online at codecademy or Udacity, or Girls Who Code or treehouse. I believe reaching your goals is all about making multiple tiny choices as you go along.

Do you want to be an entrepreneur? it is your choice, just do it  (please don’t sue me Nike). Do not say you want to be an entrepreneur, start a company and then complain about not having time, or the necessary resources, or the connections or a great idea… You will never find the perfect time, or the perfect partner or the perfect idea, just go and try with what you have today. If you still think is not possible then all you are doing is choosing to not be an entrepreneur.

Do you want to help people in need, volunteering at a local charity or something similar? that is great! all you have to do now is choose to help and make something happen. Choose not to think of the many excuses out there and instead choose to participate on a charity or similar organization where you can help with your time, money, skills or any combination of these. Just do it.

The next time you think of something that you want to accomplish, not just think about it but do something about it, anything that might help you get closer to your goal helps, and avoid any possible excuse you will undoubtedly use to convince yourself why your dream is not possible, it is your choice, make it happen.