What is “Retired” in the 21st Century?

In 2007, after resigning from Model N (the company that bought my start-up Azerity), I established Duck Pond Software and wrote my first blog, “Retirement or Another Start-Up?” In that blog I wrote “My husband says I’ve “retired”. I don’t know what that means. The beauty of being in software is that as long as you have access to a computer, you can do all of the fun activities you did at your job (but just not get paid for it – humm.)”

Shortly afterwards, Model N asked me to return which I agreed to do as a consultant. It was part-time and in parallel I started blogging and creating websites for various groups including this Duck Pond Software site.

During a lull in Model N work in 2011, Freeman & I formed a partnership and created Software 2020, the 21st century tool to replace our SD Tracker bug tracking tool but expanded to support Agile and more. Then back to work at Model N as business picked up there.

Seven years later I did it again (terminated work with Model N) – not out of frustration with the company direction or technology this time. Before I left I was able to influence some important changes in company direction and to restore the product’s platform to a clean, maintainable architecture.

Feeling like I accomplished what I wanted to do at Model N and looking forward to a free schedule to do what I want to do when, here I am “retired” again. This time another start-up is not something I am looking for. Nearly 20 years of start-up life has been plenty. Nor is my goal being another VP of Engineering at a company I do not own.

I’m not void of work. Since 2009 when I learned about the state’s plans to ruin the Delta where I live in order to send our water south to benefit primarily rich agribusiness corporate owners in the Central Valley in their never-ending expansion to sell almonds to Asia for significant profits, I’ve become somewhat of a water activist, focused on Delta water issues and on stopping the BDCP’s Delta Tunnels. Being President of the non-profit Save the California Delta Alliance (STCDA) takes a lot of my time.

Also there’s boating and golf and travel and grandkids.

Will that be enough?

Probably not. I am a software evangelist. It’s in my blood. With the internet it’s easy to continue the discussions, mentoring of new engineers and managers, and hopefully help improve the current software methodology.

At Azerity, Anita and I implemented our own version of software process for start-ups. Later we coined it “Practical Software”. When people saw how we worked, they said “Oh, you use ‘Agile'” and we said “Yes, we are agile” but had never been involved with “Agile”, the new software process movement. Later I took “Agile” training and said “Oh, that’s basically what we used to do.” I found that the while the core of Agile is good, it is missing a lot of the practical basics. Upon retiring, the engineers I’ve worked with are all emailing me about how much they’ve learned working at Azerity and brought with them to Model N. There are lessons learned I’d like to share with a wider audience. Definitely more blogs.

Maybe I’ll finally write that book!

It doesn’t sound like retirement, does it? But then with the Internet, what is “retirement”? Anything is possible.

Rainy Days and Mondays

Sounds like a song title.  But neither rainy days nor Mondays get me down now-a-days. In fact, just the opposite. Now that I don’t need to get up before the crack of dawn, get in my car, and drive two hours to get from Discovery Bay to work in Silicon Valley but rather can work from home looking out at the water and my ducks, with a nice fire going in the fireplace, I really like rainy days and Mondays. Cold, rainy days give me justification for having the toasty fireplace going all day. And Mondays I’m refreshed after having taken a little break from work (although my husband does think I’m basically glued to my computer even on weekends). And now-a-days I’m focused on a different kind of rain.

In January it rained. Referring to both the weather and the work. Good for the pocketbook but not good for my fledgling Duck Pond Software and my newly proclaimed entrepreneurial vision of the new company of the 2000s. In other words, I spent almost full time contracting back to my prior company Model N.  I did most of it working from home, so it wasn’t like I gave in totally to the corporate structure. And it was fun. But still .  .  .

The first half of January was more typical for me – part-time Model N work (split between getting my briefings ready to present at Rainmaker, the Model N user conference to be held in February in Phoenix, and on designing a new Rebates module) and part-time moving Duck Pond Software ahead with potential partnerships and customers. Then mid January I got a call from three Model N managers all excited and panicky because of a potential hot new customer deal and marketing arrangement if they could get their software integrated with SalesForce.com tout de suite. This meant an immediate full-time diversion in order to get a live demo up and running in a couple of weeks. The CEO wanted to make an announcement at Rainmaker about a Model N/SalesForce partnership. It was, to our CEO, one of the biggest announcements Model N had ever made. Besides diverting me, they said they’d assign Freeman full-time. That’s what made it fun.

Freeman and I have worked together for about 15 years through four companies. I hired him initially right out of college. He proved himself quickly, becoming the software architect at Azerity. He’s a brilliant and creative engineer but at the same time practical, down-to-earth and loads of fun. He was probably the first engineer who worked for me who was the age of my daughter. But rather than making me feel old, his wit and liveliness always kept our work fresh and fun. Plus he lives and works in San Diego (Model N’s one remote software engineer besides the offshore team in India) so my working from home wouldn’t be a problem on this project at all since he would be working from his home too.  
Long story short, we spent two hectic weeks but delivered the demo, got kudos from everyone, and the CEO had the joint announcement for Rainmaker. And the January paycheck was also very sweet.   But in the end, it’s just a paycheck received while building on another entrepreneur’s dream versus building momentum towards my own dream.

It was the last hurrah for Freeman and I working together which made it a bitter-sweet success. Freeman joined a start-up locally in San Diego at the end of our project. He’s going for the entrepreneur dream getting in as the third member of a team not even officially a company yet. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if we work together again some day. .  That’s the cool thing about the new companies of the 2000s. It’s like the website LinkedIn and other networking sites that are springing up.  People in this century want to be building their own dreams, not working for big corporations where there’s a single entrepreneur who’s the only one who ever makes it big.  We all want it our own way

We want to make our own rain.

Retirement or Another Start-Up?

After more than 30 years in the software business, I’m not driving to work every day. Surprisingly, I left my prior company without having a new company to go to. My husband says I’ve “retired”. I don’t know what that means. The beauty of being in software is that as long as you have access to a computer, you can do all of the fun activities you did at your job (but just not get paid for it – humm.)

I’ve worked in the big aerospace and defense software world, been a software exec in various commercial software companies, done the “start-up” bit. I’ve proven that the “80’s” development practices and procedures can be leveraged and changed to work for the 90’s and 2000’s. I might say (humbly I hope) that I always was a great software manager – my reputation was on-time delivery, teams that were motivated, all that good stuff. At my own start-up, Azerity, we produced a product that competed with the big gorillas (SAP, Oracle) and won every time. I’m not stretching now – that software was used by major corporations for mission critical tasks (quoting, pricing) and was reliable (never crashed – really), scalable (30,000 users worldwide), and high performance (just what you want from a web-based system – click click click – screen after screen snap, snap, snap). And it didn’t cost the clients millions to install and millions more to upgrade (semiconductor companies may be big but they are very, very cheap!) When we were bought by a bigger company, within 9 months, the acquirers made more in software sales of our product than they paid to buy the company.

So I went back to the company that acquired Azerity and negotiated the rights to relicense the tool we’d built, SD Tracker.

So now the question is this: Go back as a VP Engineering at an existing company and use SD Tracker and processes and lessons learned and do it all again? Take SD Tracker and start a new start-up going after VC funding and that whole gig? Golf every day? Or some combination of all of the above.

By the way – the other change last year was moving out of Silicon Valley to Discovery Bay – “Live where you play in Discovery Bay” is our city’s official tagline. (Or an alternate is “A small drinking town with a boating problem.”) Both fit. Wonderful place to live – BUT, a 2 hour drive to Silicon Valley where the companies and action are.

We built our house on Drakes Drive, have the Delta (Sacramento River) as our back yard. Wake to the sounds of ducks, geese, and seagulls outside our bedroom window, golf on a lush course abounding with lakes (i.e., duck ponds). Seeing a theme here? So I named my fledgling company “Duck Pond Software”. At a minimum it’s my DBA for consulting back to my prior company for a while. But … maybe more…