scottish national economic forum

suit and tie photo

So a few weeks ago I attended the Scottish National Economic Forum in Edinburgh. The focus was on building Scotland as a digital nation – with the sub topic of cyber crime.

Now, I’ll hold my hand up and say that I wasn’t expecting much and with the 2.5 hour journey to get there expectations had dipped even lower!

The first thing that struck me was the sheer number of suits and ties! I understand that even making this observation sounds trite and, all in all, me a bit of a dick, but hey! The fact is that formality is not my thing, and indeed it does not chime with my experiences in the digital world. Maybe the atmosphere would have been more laid back, rather ungovernmental, without the formality. The fact is that most of the people attended were not in the tech sector or indeed under 40 years old. Maybe those points are related, maybe not.

Anyway the above is nitpicking so on to other matters.


One comment at the forum stood out on my radar. It was made by John Swinney who stated he thinks that they have the (early stage) startup scene and angel funding sorted in Scotland, he thinks the problem is now venture funding. Really! I don’t think this is true at all. There are nowhere near enough people starting companies. From what I can see people still have “the fear”, the completely-and-absolutely-no-risk-taking-I-must-have-a-mortgage-by-25-and-must-never-fail-or-be-seen-to-fail attitude. I attend or have attended quite a few startup/business meetups around Glasgow and quite frankly the scene is “quiet”. For me to feel this about Scotland’s largest city surely means it’s far from being “cracked”. It’s never going to be Silicon Valley so let’s not try to be. Onwards.

The workshop on digital marketing was good. Not exactly ground breaking but was nice to hear what some local marketers and government agencies were doing on the digital marketing front. What was quite poetic was the gentleman sitting next to me showing examples of new types of marketing material in the form of promotional gatefolds with embedded screens which is exactly what Neonburn (my business) can be used to create. Well I never!

network business photo

What followed was the ominous networking time. I say ominous as quite frankly I suck at it, I just find it completely unnatural, and it probably comes across that way as well! I do try though, fear not. Strange thing is I enjoy talking about my business, who would have guessed.

And finally. I was asked “are you looking to raise money” to which my reply was “no just making some sales would do rather nicely”. Is it just he automatic assumption now that to start a business you need to get money and without that you can do nothing? Surely it wasn’t always this way???

programming just isn’t that hard!

Programmers at times can take themselves, and their abilities, a little too seriously. The fact is that programming, in general, is just not that difficult. Sure, there are parts of it that are tricky but, at the risk of over generalising, the capabilities required by your run of the mill programmer are not that high. Are you sure I hear you say?

Well plucking figures right out the air I’d say that around 90% of applications involve a simple CRUD model. So what we are essentially doing is gathering data, processing data, and writing this data to the database. Two-thirds of this process is pretty simple, i.e. gathering the data and writing it to the database, this leaves the possibilities for hardness in the processing data phase.

Again in most situations the processing of data is pretty simple with no complex db manipulation or algorithmic mind games. Consider your typical web application for example. The processing of data is minimal, with little to no algorithmic work involved at all – I mean with Twitter there is literally nothing to do. Google on the other hand has lots to do: it has to make those search results shine. This is not to say that developing Twitter is simple, as the scaling issues will make your head hurt. However, scaling problems are only going to affect a very very small number of sites out there, but due to their ubiquity they are the ones we hear most about.

If all this programming nonsense is so easy then surely it’s difficult to make bad software?

Nope. The fact is that the only people who care what the code looks like are other developers. The code underneath could be shitter than an incredibly shitty shit and the end user wouldn’t know. As long as it carries out the task that they require the software to do, in a reasonably efficient and user friendly way, no one really cares. Oh apart from other developers.

Obviously nice structured code, that is easy to understand, free of bugs, and a maintenance dream is a good building block. However, it is by no means a guarantee that you are on to a winner. Marketing, user experience and coolness are all equally important, actually, they are probably much more important. I obviously can’t say for sure but I would imagine there are plenty of successful software products that are badly written but tick these boxes – maybe even most successful products, as they are free from the burden of the studious programmer.

So, essentially what I’m trying to say is that despite programming not being that difficult there are many other more important factors that contribute to the success of a software product. Many software products do their job, but the one that will be successful is the one that does it well.

All this is not to say that programming well is not important. On the contrary, it’s important to other developers who you work with and that is not to be underestimated. This is a topic for discussion another time though!

Finally, for those non-programmers out there, don’t start shouting “If it’s so simple why does it take so long”? Well just because something is easy it does mean there are not lots of easy things to do. I mean, hammering a nail into a piece of wood is pretty simple, right? But if I asked you to hammer 10 million nails into a bit of wood it would take you a long time. Remember this marketers and project managers.

is twitter the next myspace?

I use twitter and think it’s pretty cool way of throwing out a link or having some conversation bites with friends, but the marketing/social media whore side of it is getting out of control. The same thing happened with myspace.

There are a few articles I have read (sorry I can’t remember the exact articles) that state that twitter does not suffer the same woes as myspace etc  – as ultimately you choose the people you want to follow. However, there are loads of people who follow you on twitter for no apparent reason, which to my mind is the same problem I experienced with myspace (it doesn’t really affect you much per say, it’s just seems a little lame).

Not that I mind people following me, I would like to encourage it, but only if you are interested in what I have to say. Otherwise what is the point?

Lately, I have been wondering what the response would be if I posted a link that directed you to a page that said “£100 will be given to each of my followers that see this page”. I suspect I would only be a couple of hundred pounds down, if I was down at all. Those who are following 5000 people must set up TweetDeck to ignore most of them and read only a chosen few. WHAT IS THE POINT IN THAT?

Well here’s the point (if you can call it a point). They were hoping to get you to follow them in return. I refuse though. That said, I do actually check the profiles of each and every person that adds me as a friend – apart from those with usernames like manboylovesxxxx. If their tweets are something that are relevant to my life, i.e. developer/designer chat, music chat, or sport then I will follow them. Other than that, what is the point in me following them?

Some recent articles ([1],[2]) have illustrated the measured conscious switch of twitter from a comunications medium between friends to a marketing tool. Surely the idea of using it in this manner is really just tantamount to spam? The idea is that you follow as many people as possible with the hope (knowledge) that a subset of those who you follow will follow you back. In fact you can even use Mr Tweet to observe users who adhere to this pattern. Surely what these users are doing is the same as those who send spam emails for Viagra and penis extensions do – they know that if they send out enough emails some idiot will reply. Is this a good thing to be encouraging?

One thing that has surprised me so far is the lack of using twitter to meet chicks! I haven’t seen much of this, and given that there is no better way to get a guy to use something than to encourage him with the thought of getting laid, this is a real surprise. I mean everything is there to make this happen. Who knows, maybe it won’t be long before the first ever twitter marriage. And mark my words, it will happen, with photos on TwitPic and a running commentary of the ceremony using an iPhone. Maybe we need twitter-like sites that are domain specific to save us all from this black hole!

[1] 8 Useful Tips To Become Successful With Twitter

[2] The Twitter Survival Guide