When Your Backup Plan Becomes Your Biggest Success

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Steve McConnell, Founder / Construx Software

In this growing age of technology, not everyone who becomes a developer starts out with that as their
goal. Many start out with a different career or interest, only to find their way into the world of coding. Steve McConnell, founder of Construx Software and author, had this very type of change in his education that led him to where he is now.

McConnell originally pursued a degree in Philosophy, with Computer Science as a backup. When it came time to graduate, he took a job as a developer in the insurance industry. He found himself doing BASIC programming, APL, mostly GW BASIC. During this early point in his career, he had the opportunity to work on small, startup teams, and also large teams at Boeing and other smaller firms. He found it beneficial to see how teams of all sizes worked together, and it has shaped how he teaches teams in his consulting work now. “In all these environments, I saw things being done that were pretty dumb.” In contrast, his work at Microsoft led him to better understand what it looks like when teams function very well together. “It was incredibly well run,” he says of the giant company.

Many developers transition back and forth from developer to founder, however, McConnell’s career transitioned between author and developer and then back again. In 1993, he published his first book, Code Complete, a 900-page book that took him two and a half years to finish.

While he enjoyed his time working at Microsoft, he realized he just couldn’t work for anyone else. “I came to terms with the idea that the issue wasn’t that companies were being run badly, but I didn’t want to work for anyone else.”

When McConnell started his own company, he did so by himself, but then he quickly began adding people, multiplying his force and eliminating the sole responsibility of it all. However, that came with its own issues. “The hardest part was the amount of time spent on staff issues. Staffing challenges and marginal performance takes a lot of energy out of me.” Through the challenges of outsourcing in 2005 to the joy of watching his local team grow, it is all par for the course when you work with a team.

McConnell emphasizes knowing yourself as the key to building a successful business. “Know what your strengths and weaknesses are. If your skills are around development, you may not be the one to lead people. Hire people who are better than you at certain things in the business.”

To this day, McConnell has been an advocate for understanding your own motivations. “Understand yourself really well. Why are you doing this? If you’re doing it to get rich, that’s a bad idea. That’s an achievable objective for some, but at least get clear about what you want.” From learning about sales and marketing, or just partnering with other diverse talent, you need to have many different tools in your belt in order to succeed.

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