Getting Apps Done

To Niche Again!

October 17, 2019

1x

Episode

48

Joshua actually managed to hit the record button this time! So we’re back with a fresh look at niching down, specifically a practical discussion about how it helps get a job!

Be sure to check out our new Slack community to meet others who are facing the same things you are and share your journeys!

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  • 00:00 Joshua

    Hey folks, welcome to Getting Apps Done. A mostly non-technical podcast about building software. Last week I, Joshua, spoke about niching down. Uh, it was just me because I screwed up and I didn't hit the record button. I've now checked at least eight times that I have checked the record button, so we're recording this week and I've get Kel with me this week as well.

  • 00:27 Kel

    Yup. I am actually here today. Well, I was here last time and my recording happened and kind of disappeared into the ether.

  • 00:33 Joshua

    Kel was here. Kel actually recorded. I do have Kel's side of the conversation, so I guess we could have posted that, but I think it would've been a little bit awkward with the pauses in between. I could've played some nice music inbetween or something like that.

  • 00:44 Kel

    We could glue today's to that one and then just see what happens.

  • 00:49 Joshua

    Yeah, that could be interesting. Anywhere after the episode, while I was talking about niching down again, just to recap, niching down is focusing on a particular industry or a particular group of people when you are doing your marketing. Now, I was talking about this in general terms regarding developers and how we market ourselves as freelancers, as people who are looking for jobs, who have built products that we want to sell, whatever it might be because developers do all those things. But the immediate feedback was that some people were struggling to see how that applies directly to actually just going out and getting a job, because in most cases that's probably what you're doing. There are plenty of freelancers, there are plenty of people building products, but I would say most developers are probably just trying to get a job. So, let's talk about that a little bit.

  • 01:37 Kel

    Yeah, that seems like an important part of that, that discussion since you know, talking about jobs and how applying yourself to doing a particular type of job might lead to more. Yeah, that seems relevant. So we're a bit odd on that, isn't that we actually, or at least my case, I did not go from like manufacturing job to manufacturing job. I went from manufacturing job to healthcare and so there was a bit of a carry over of things. But while in the manufacturing space, there was a lot of job hopping within the same kind of zone I guess. So, you know, we started on help desk doing, basic support, but then during that time there was able to go onto sites and talk to to people about the machines that are running the assembly lines and all that kind of fun stuff. So there's a lot that happened during those first few years,

  • 02:22 Joshua

    Yeah, I will say I am. I actually was a little bit more traditional. I started out working on a contract for Boeing and then I moved to Federal Mogul who at the time owned Moog and Champion spark plugs and things like that. And then I transitioned into a 3M after that, I think. So again, it's more manufacturing, the local plants. Either manufacturing medication or sandpaper. I don't know why those two in particular, but that's what we did around here. And then I went into British Steam Suppliers who actually manufacturing supply piping and things like that for plumbers. So I really was in manufacturing for a long time. One of the key things I found with that was that as I went from role to role, it was really easy for me to talk to new people who were interviewing me. Going into the interview, I felt comfortable because they were still talking about the same sort of things. They still have the same problems as everywhere else because every shop floor is like another shop floor.

  • 03:20 Kel

    One of the things that did carry over, a niche, that carried over through all these things was workflow for me. So I, you know, did manufacturing and a lot of what I did in the manufacturing was kind of infrastructure stuff, like taking, you know, the, the software that allowed sales folks to be out and about and still be able to send their sales to the home office and do things. I didn't necessarily work on the software. I worked on the, the glue, the infrastructure, so all the VPN stuff. And then I worked on like workflow stuff of, you know, how do you apply these things, everything from an expense report to sale to whatever. And so when I moved into healthcare, that's actually what I ended up doing was workflows software. And so that is kind of my niche cause that was my very first contract job as well as a freelancer was doing, well I guess second job as a freelancer for them, was doing workflow software, setting up a large infrastructure for deploying software and deploying these packages for demos systems and doing this ridiculously complex thing. Um, but that was kind of my niche and my niche was a little bit of cross platform, but the workflow itself and talking about workflows and how, and all the problems that kind of go along with that, which I don't really want to turn this entire podcast into a discussion of. So I might not go pretend to technical, but there is an entire like language and structure and patterns that are very much like programming patterns on how you accomplish these things, what the common problems are, how you deal with parallelism, like all of the normal, l basically programming problems, but just kind of scaled up a couple of layers. And so being able to talk to that. And kind of any situation just being able to walk into a place and go, no, yeah, that's the problem these are the types of solutions that you can use. And the, Oh, I've seen that kind of problem thing before is we were really useful. Um, and then this case we're kind of talking more about development and so going from, you know, knowing manufacturing floors and being able to tie that to development is very helpful.

  • 05:10 Joshua

    Yeah, absolutely. And I think the keyword there is problems and that is a lot of what niche-ing down is about is understanding that target well enough to know what their problems are. And as we said before, it doesn't have to be a particular industry. In Cal's case it was actually the process management defining these processes and what that flow was, but also understanding what the problems with those are. What's likely to crop up. Because that's going to be one of the first things you're asked in any interview is tell me an example of this. And if you've worked in that industry before or if you've worked with that particular, in Kel's case workflows and processes, you can give concrete examples that are going to make sense to them. And that's a big deal because if you go from industry to accounting and they ask you, well how did you deal with this? And you're talking about something that happened on a shop floor and accountants, they're going to glaze "what?". We don't do anything with that. Because the problem sets are completely different and while the solutions might actually be very similar and you might be able to do both of them equally well, having that really great example of something that they can relate to is hugely advantageous. And that is, that's probably one of the biggest things about niche-ing, whether it is that you are trying to do freelance jobs or trying to sell a product or trying to get a job, understanding their problem set and being able to give concrete examples of how you have helped other people who are very similar to them is, that's definitely going to get you much further than anybody else's going to get.

  • 06:44 Kel

    And that's a pretty good callback. We've talked about, communication and context and that's kind of what we're talking about here. If you go into a place that is filled with other, say accountants, you're an accountant, they're a accountant, you can talk shop, you share a lot of contacts. It's really easy to trade information and to trade problems and solutions because you share a lot of the same words in the same context. And that definitely applies to an interview situation. Like that's no different than, you know, getting drinks at a bar and talking to somebody about the work you do and how the things and the problems that you know how to solve. But if you're doing this in interview situation, you probably should be a little bit more formal, a little bit more, a little less drunk. Um, but it's more or less the same. Yeah. So it's more or less the same process though. You are just exchanging information, you showing people what you know, the problems you can solve, how you can help them and that's a whole lot easier if you speak the same language, use the same acronyms, you know, the same like common problems of this context.

  • 07:40 Joshua

    You mentioned professional, I was reading something the other day asking if suits have gone out now. And actually I found that quite interesting because in the market they were in where they were talking to a lot of startups and things like that, if you walk in in a suit, they're looking at you like you're a one of those, you're one of those corp-y people. You shouldn't be work here at all. Whereas if you walk into a manufacturing or an accounting office, they're kind of going to expect you to come suited and booted. If it's manufacturing, they probably aren't expecting you to be in a fancy suit, but they want you in a suit anyway.

  • 08:12 Kel

    Yeah. We've talked about a lot of this with the interviewing things. The reverse of this is the big long conversations we've had about interviewing people and not being horrible at it and not gatekeeping on silly things. This is kind of an example of that, clothing really doesn't have a, like, who cares? I'm in Seattle and so I'm definitely in a market where showing up in a suit is a negative thing and that's also kind of silly because who cares what I'm wearing? Especially if I took effort into it. Like, look, I put effort into this relationship. Why won't you love me?

  • 08:46 Joshua

    I shaved and everything!

  • 08:47 Kel

    Exactly. That's kind of what you're looking for when you talk about like dressing up for an interview. That's really what most people are gatekeeping on is how much effort are you putting into this and how much effort am I putting into this?

  • 08:58 Kel

    But that's not really how a lot of people look at it and that's the, you know, the downside of the world we're living in and why we have a podcast talking about it. Um, and so, but yeah, a lot of industries have a lot of really arbitrary decisions on things. Healthcare to tie even while you're changing printer toner, like it's actually a danger to you to wear a tie while working on printers cause it can get caught in the little the gears and the, yeah, there's processes where you tuck the tie in to be safe about it. This is how ridiculous the industries are that you're trying to get into. So clothing is a little bit arbitrary, but knowing what you're supposed to be wearing can always at least help. The one that I heard a long time ago was that you should not stand out in an interview with your clothes. Like your clothes should be Oh nice. And then they should forget about them. So yeah, that's usually the goal. That's kind of the opposite of, you know we've said like unicorns on your, on your resume like this would be the opposite of that.

  • 09:55 Joshua

    That's another great example right there. CVS we've talked about in the past. I think if you want to put fricking unicorns on your CV, absolutely. Put some unicorns on there, but being in a particular niche, you understand what you can get away with and what you can't. Kel called them filters. When we were talking about this and CVS and that is exactly what it is. Understanding how to tune your filter in to that particular niche is really beneficial because if you are applying for a design job with a really trendy fashion startup or something like that, flaming unicorns might be the thing to get you in the door and having worked in that industry, you would understand that, okay, yes, flaming unicorns are great because this is amazing. But then if you are trying to apply for a job with an accountancy, it's probably not going to go over nearly as well.

  • 10:48 Kel

    There's definitely a risk reward curve there of the reward is you'll get a job that fits you better. The risk is that they'll just filter you out because they don't understand you at all. And the more you understand the context that these other people are in, the better you can kind of like measure where that curve is.

  • 11:04 Joshua

    Yeah, and I do consider fine tuning. We've mentioned again in the past that I've actually done AB testing with my CV to try to figure out exactly what was working and what wasn't working for the particular industry I was in. I couldn't have done that if I hadn't been staying in one particular industry. If I had figured it all out for manufacturing and then decided nope, now I'm gonna go now do design with a design agency, I would have lost all that value that I gained from that.

  • 11:31 Kel

    Yeah. And those, I mean there's definitely, you know, bonuses of switching, bringing, bringing experience from a different market or a different industry or a different skill set into a new one is great. When I moved from healthcare for manufacturing, manufacturing is really, really good at supply side and keeping track of where everything is. Like, you know, the entire history of that random, you know, wiper blade that came on a car. You know, where the rubber came from, you know exactly how much it costs, you know, if there was any lost or involved in it. And that's something that the manufacturing industry is really good at and the healthcare industry is like a garbage fire. The differences were really interesting, but I could still talk to them like the wastes were really similar. There were different risks, obviously in healthcare you have people. So that's why there's a lot more risk. You can't, you can't guess and miss, you know, you, you can't ever be wrong in healthcare. It's better to be wasteful. Yeah, it's better to be wasteful than to be wrong in healthcare, but it's still a lot of the same problems. A lot of those same workflows, a lot of the same processes, a lot of the same supply stuff that you're tracking, including where is person A what room are they in? We have to keep track of that. That's important. And so it carries over.

  • 12:43 Joshua

    And that might actually be an interesting way to turn this around a little bit and say maybe you shouldn't always niche down. There are absolutely values to transitioning. And I mentioned in the last episode that you can start out by niching down in a particular industry. I, I've used, I think the example of dentists. Oh yes, yes. Dentists. I used it in both the episode because it was there in my head. I just kept thinking dentists, I've been to the dentist recently, so I don't know why it's on my mind anyway. Um, but getting yourself in a position where you are able to work well within that particular niche and then transitioning into another, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. And in a lot of ways it can provide a huge amount of value. Uh, we've talked to a lot of second career devs who are in the midst of transitioning from one particular niche to another in a lot of ways.

  • 13:36 Joshua

    But actually one of the really great ways that they can transition is to start out, and this is absolutely something that I did transitioning from being a technical support person and administrator to being a full time developer, was I started to use my development skills to support manufacturing industries by adding some value in there. Knowing how manufacturing worked and knowing all the problems that they face allowed me to present solutions that nobody else was thinking about because I was kind of bridging the gap between two worlds. That's highly technical world and this highly nontechnical world and a lot of second start developers can do exactly that. You can start taking the knowledge that you gained in that first career and then all the new stuff that you're picking up in this new career and merge the two together. And that's a really great way to get your first niche and to get in the front door because you've got some valuable information there. Some knowledge that you wouldn't necessarily have as just the normal, I just finished a course in development

  • 14:37 Kel

    And that's like a great example. That's how I became a developer. I started writing scripts on a help desk. I wrote little utilities that did things for me, because it was way easier to run this little batch file than it was to walk some person, the phone doing all of the steps and then that I exchanged them with, you know, other help desk people and that slowly, you know, built into applications that I wrote in like visual basic six, which we can pretend that era never happened. Never happened. But that was exactly how I became a developer of knowing the industry as someone working in it and Oh, but I also can code things and I could totally automate that. And so there was, there's definitely the overlap on, you know, combining two skillsets, which might be a better way of phrasing all of this is that you should really just specialize in yourself. What are your best skills? Like what are you good at? Combine those things. How can you apply those to other industries and just run with that?

  • 15:32 Joshua

    Absolutely. That's exactly what I was trying to do with mine. I started out in manufacturing, not because I was really excited about manufacturing, but because that's where I got a job. And I found that all along I kept using these skills that nobody else was using and at the beginning, I kind of thought like there was something wrong with me because I was doing these weird things, but nobody else was doing. Uh, but in the end it started to become this thing that everybody came to me for because I was very similar. I was starting to build little small scripts, but most of it was actually trying to build interfaces between old analog tech that worked really well on the shop floors and all the new shiny Windows machines that were running in the offices. Neither of them really wanted to talk. So I was building all these little interfaces for them to move stuff from old green screens into the Windows world and from the Windows world back to the green screens. And that became really, really valuable for them. I was solving a lot of problems that nobody else was solving for them. And that's really what got me into development. It was all about me being really interested in the tech but stuck in manufacturing. That caused me to kind of build that own my own little niche there for a long time.

  • 16:40 Kel

    Yeah. I feel like I kind of naturally found mine. I just like making stuff flow into other stuff. Workflow, process management, developing. Like this is all more or less the same stuff I'm entertained. Um, but yeah, I really do. Like I, I kinda like phrasing it, specializing in yourself. Like that is more or less what you're doing. You, you come with all these skills and experiences, you know how to do things. You can see how to apply those to other industries and when you do apply those to other industries, you're going to learn about them and you're gonna learn about the, this new niche and you're going to draw those skills back in. And those are going to be what you can apply to the next step. And so it is helpful to be really good at a few things though. It doesn't have to just be one thing, but it's helpful to be like a few specific ones that you can point at and list on an elevator pitch kind of style thing. That's very helpful

  • 17:28 Joshua

    And actually that is a slightly different take on what a niche is and that's where specialization starts to come in. In general. A niche when you're targeting just for product or something like that is one group of people, so it might be doctors, but when you are building your own niche around you and when you are starting to specialize, it's actually not one single thing. It's all those little unique things that focus you into one particular thing. So in that case, for me it was software development plus manufacturing. The two combined actually formed a niche for me because manufacturing itself is huge. Development is huge, but put the two together and actually that's a very fairly small subset of things that I could have been doing and that helped me focus. Yeah, it's the intersection and that's exactly what you're trying to do is to find some way that your unique skills can benefit one particular group of people and that's really all there is to it. It's simple but it's really, really effective because it makes it very easy for you to understand what their problems are and how you can help them and how you can communicate that value to them because that's when it comes down to it, that's the biggest problem usually is trying to explain to people this is what I can do for you and if you've got that niche, you understand what your value is and what you're trying to fix and provide. That part gets really easy.

  • 18:47 Kel

    Honestly, I would argue that the biggest problem was probably really crappy gatekeeping in terms of interviewers, but yeah, the second problem is actually talking to those interviewers and showing them what you're capable of and competing against all the other people doing similar things.

  • 19:02 Joshua

    Absolutely, and we can't necessarily fix the gatekeepers, but if you can give yourself all the bonuses you can on the other end, that makes it a lot easier.

  • 19:12 Kel

    Strategy, being aware, being prepared, and just being ready to attack that is what you can do right now. Like something that you can approach right now as a junior developer, just being prepared.

  • 19:24 Joshua

    Absolutely. All right. I will put some transcripts up at https://gettingappsdone.com. Please be sure to check out my website at joshuagraham.info And Kel's website at piffner.com. We actually managed to record an episode. I think it still has red dots. So hopefully. In the meantime, if you've got some insight into a niche that you've built around yourself to get yourself into a position where you're infinitely employable, because that's what we want all of our developers to be, pop onto our Slack channel at gettingappsdone.com/slack to share that with us and with our community. We post every Thursday, so we'll be back next week, assuming I managed to hit the record button, uh, until then, thanks for listening.

  • 20:09 Kel

    Cheers.