Giving back & step 1 on how I figured things out

I’m not yet in a position to make a material financial contribution to the institution that whipped me into shape by throwing me into a quicksand pit with only a textbook on how to get out. I’ve been volunteering at Georgia Tech since graduating in 2004. The day before yesterday was my 7th annual GT Major’s Fair where freshmen and sophomores get an opportunity to speak one on one with alumni from different majors.

When I was a student at Tech there were a couple of people (besides my fantastic parents) who had my back and showed me the way to realize that my potential was not limited. My mentor was my first non-client “boss” that hired me to do contract development work at the end of freshman year.

Sami Matari took me in not only as his chief contractor but also his life-long mentee. By doing contract work with him for his clients I was able to understand the different facets of a company and understand how to best perform client work at age 19. Hearing him describe the systems and processes he envisioned that would revolutionize and streamline organizations made me start to think far more abstractly. This directly translated to my ability today to take on any client, from any industry, and help them take a step back and look their business, product, or service holistically. Without the non-CS skills I learned from Sami I’d probably still be doing contract work at some Fortune 500 today.

Not providing other young Techies an opportunity to do the same would be selfish. That’s why every year, since 2005, I’ve been attending the Major’s Fair and for the last three years have been taking on official mentees through Mentor Jackets. I have a couple of unofficial mentees who stay in touch after getting my contact info from the Major’s Fair. There is nothing more delightful than seeing their faces go blank when I explain to them how I did what I did and that NOTHING is stopping them from following the same steps to get here in a few years.

So, in case any Techies or other students out there are interested, here’s my response to the student handout y’all were supposed to use to ask questions of us. Reach out, anytime by email no matter where you went to school!

Response to Questions – Student Handout
Computer Science

Who am I: Naveen Dittakavi, CS 2004 – At Tech I specialized in Software Engineering, Databases, HCI, Networking
What do I do: Current Job: Entrepreneur, I start App Businesses provide Software Dev Services – Started current business, iMLogical, Inc. in Fall 2002 out of 8th Street West
Contact: naveen@imlogical.com

What will I learn from this major?

In short, you will learn how to make computers do anything you want. I make computers solve problems for my clients and charge them for either solving the problem or providing a product that runs on the computer that solves the problem. In general, this is how computer software businesses work. There’s another model called the advertising model where you offer the solution to the customer for free but promote other people’s advertising on it. Facebook, Google, and Twitter are examples of this.

What skills will I develop in this major?

You’ll learn how to ask the right questions in order to provide the solution to the problem. While you’re in school the problems are defined by your teachers and TAs. In the real world, your boss will give you a problem to solve. Typically their boss or their client is the one who gave THEM the problem to solve.

Being able to solve problems, especially figuring out how to make computers automate the solution process, is an invaluable, lifelong skill.

While you may learn specific languages in the CS program, you will ACTUALLY learn the ability to teach yourself ANY language required to solve problems now or in the future. I have taught myself 5+ new languages and frameworks since graduating in 2004. By throwing you into the deep end & giving you the tools to learn how to swim, this major promotes your ability to be capable of lifelong learning.

What kinds of internship and co-op opportunities are available in this major?

ENDLESS. What do you want to do? Ask alums like me and we’ll connect you with our enormous networks. Want to work at Google? Microsoft? I personally have friends at those companies and through LinkedIn probably have friends at almost any major company. They are happy to help you. Just email me and we can figure it out.

What types of jobs are available for graduates of this program?

Software Development & Consulting are typically what graduates do. Some may choose to do a start up. I can go into a lot of detail here if you want. Just ask.

How much are employment opportunities in this field growing?

There are not enough EXCELLENT software developers in the world. This is a seller’s market – and you are responsible to sell yourself to your client or employer. If you are good at what you do, you can get any job you want in the world of computer science.

What types of employers typically hire graduates from this major?

Small consulting shops like me to Facebook/Amazon/Google/Apple. Everyone needs CS grads.

What is the working environment like in this field?

Varies from company to company. Everyone who works for me works from home wherever they are in the world. There is still a dot-com culture at certain companies. Ideally the best companies allow a ROWE or a results oriented work environment. Some companies are like what you see in the movie – Office Space. Some companies are cut throat and political (Deloitte, Accenture, Bain, McKinsey, BCG) but offer you an ability to learn how business at the Fortune 100 level is conducted. There is a tradeoff for making any decision. It is up to you to determine your personal priorities. Is it becoming a CEO of a NASDAQ company? Is it to be able to travel the world on your own terms? Is it “not having a boss”? Is it to go to the best business school? What is it that motivates you? What do you think is ideal for you? Happy to walk through these questions with you and point you to some excellent resources that might help bring you more clarity.

What else can I do with this major?

Patent Law. Medicine. The demand for capable patent attorneys is INSANE. After the crash of 2008 law firms cut back dramatically. This persuaded most young people to stay away from law school as anyone who is not a patent lawyer is STILL having a hard time finding a job. Patent attorneys who are well versed in computer science or computer/electrical engineering are nearly impossible to find. The pay starts at $125k for small firms and is around $150k for large firms. The work hours are intense and of course a $120k law degree is required. If this sounds like something you are interested in, email me and I’ll connect you to my close friends who are patent attorneys who can help.

Is any additional training necessary beyond a bachelor’s degree?

Depends on what you want to do. Research? Yes. Want to teach at the college level? Yes. Want to start a business, join a consulting company, join a start up in Silicon Valley, or be a developer? Not usually. You’ll need a PhD if you want to work on how Google develops its search algorithm but you don’t need more than a Bachelor’s to make GMail.

Will this major prepare me for medical school, law school…?

You’ll need to confirm with GT CS staff but when I was here in 2000-2004 we had the MOST electives of any engineering major. This enabled several of my friends to use those electives to take the pre-med courses. That being said, CS is not for the faint of heart. To get to medical school in the US you need a high GPA in your pre-med courses AND in your general courses. This is not an “easy” major. I’m not going to say which majors are “easy” but if medicine is your end goal and if you’re currently struggling to get good grades, I don’t know if this is the major for you. My friends in medicine (both Tech CS, Tech non-CS, and non-Tech) are happy to talk to you more about how to get into med school.

What is the typical starting salary for graduates?

Bachelor’s $60k. Master’s $80k. After a couple of years after your Bachelor’s, you should be earning $80k and a few years after that $90-120k if you are top performer. Get an internship/co-op, build apps, show that you are self motivated and understand how to get things done and you could walk out of Tech like me, with a $100k+ job. My first contract as a Software Engineer was for over $100k. Happy to tell you how I did it.

Note: At the 2012 Major’s Fair the statistical data was at the table. I remember it describing a 90% placement rate, 90% offer rate, median starting salary was $67k, mid career median salary was $110k. The exact figures are available through your CS advisor.

Want to know more? Reach out and say hi! :-)

Sticking to quality and delivering value

Today I was in an awkward position… I found out where and how my competitors are being supplied. I saw their costs and was able to determine their gross margins. In some cases they are slim to none and in other cases they are disgustingly handsome. I was, for a moment… envious… and tempted to align with the same supplier… Those resellers are offering a very low priced alternative to my service but at a cost: The cost is uncertainty for the consumer. Their general shadyness is being demonstrated by non-disclosure of what might happen to their customers. The service that my competitors are offering is likely to result in a complete reversal of the service the customer paid for in a few months from now. They are either making no disclosure of this potential for reversal in their sales material or are hiding their disclaimers deep in their terms of service. I am finding reports of service reversals on industry forums and the complaints are slowly trickling in as the providers are catching on to the illegitimate method that they are using. I don’t want to go into detail yet as I have not yet released my own service but I want to talk about why I am choosing the path of righteousness by not playing in the same space.

I think that while I may receive fewer sales (in both volume and revenue) than my competitors, I will be able to serve a sizable and important niche – the skeptical consumer. Ramit has been successful because he offers a valuable product that he fully controls. I too, would have full control of my offering compared to my competitors who are reselling a service that they do not control. Ramit turns customers away regularly. He either turns them away because they are in credit card debt and he does not want to contribute any further to that or he turns them away from his blog and mailing lists because they are being annoying freeloaders. As I am drafting my copy, I think that it is best to ignore the cost sensitive prospects and that it is best to invite them to leave as I’ll never win them over anyway. I think that my target customer would pay for reassurance that when he pays me for the service, it will be performed, and it will not be reversed on him in the future.

Joanna Wiebe describes in Copyhackers book 1 that writing to the masses will weaken your copy and that its worth the risk alienating some in order to be highly desirable to a few. She also goes on to describe the importance of your messages being what the customer wants to hear and that those messages must be unique to your product. Her step by step approach in this book is incredibly helpful. By the way, this is the THIRD time I am reading this book. I read all of her books twice over for my first landing page and am re-reading it for the third time for my second landing page. I would be lost in the wilderness if it wasn’t for her book. If you are writing sales copy for the web, you are a fool if you do not have all of her books on copywriting and writing long form sales pages.

By sticking to these values to provide a quality service to a well understood prospect I’ll be able to stand proudly by my work and offer a guarantee that none of my competitors could ever fathom providing.

Forward march. Err… write.

-N

Great artists steal

“Good artists copy, great artists steal”

I first heard this Picasso quote through Steve Jobs. I didn’t fully understand it until a year or two ago. When I finally did “get it” the world became my oyster. Still, I did not know how to channel my energy and I think only now after nearly 10 years in business I fully understand how to incorporate “Great artists steal” into my life.

When I was in Florence in April 2010 my sister and I saw the David in the Accademia. It’s one of the few times that art has moved me. (The other was in the Galleria Borghese in Rome). At the pedestal that afternoon were 2 young students sketching the David. I didn’t understand at the time why students go to museums and sketch. I realized later that it was because “great artists steal”.

In order to become great, you have to study the masters. Michelangelo and Ramit Sethi. I know nothing about art so I am going to focus on one of today’s masters that I am “stealing” from.

What am I stealing from Ramit at this moment? I am trying to understand how he does what he does. I have zero interest in teaching personal finance or his consumer focused courses but I am fascinated on how he is able to connect to me and my friends. I’m fascinated on how he uses sophisticated marketing strategies and executes his tactics so that he is not guessing. Honestly, there is no reason why I could not employ the same strategies and tactics. And – I have found no material that will teach you from step 1 how to do it. If I figure it out, I may teach what I learned in a course of my own.

But first I need to learn this for myself.

How am I stealing? By taking a lot of time out of my day to listen. And I’m also taking copious notes. I’m buying the books he recommends and am studying the greats who he also studied from. This is the only way to steal. Anything else would be copying.

The rabbit hole is vast but I know that through his teachings I’ll be able to discover wonderland for myself. I’m using this blog to help organize my thoughts on what I am learning and hope that others who wish to become self taught soon-to-be sophisticated marketers, will find my posts helpful.

-N

“Failure for many of us was a B-”

In the wee hours of the morning I completed my first blog post. And as promised I completed what I set out to do in that post. To re-review Ramit’s Staying Motivated lesson which is part of his exceptional Earn1K program.

I’d like to use this blog as a forum for me to explain what I have learned from the various things I’ve listened to and will be listening to going forward. For far too long I just consumed information without taking notes about what I found relevant to me from the educator. In 10th grade this was called Active Reading, I never knew how important it was until I set out to learn new non-technical skills.

Ramit explains that most of us face difficulty experiencing failure. We don’t know how to react to it and seem to just shut down and move on to the next shiny project. He discussed how Seth Godin rarely commits to ideas but when he does, he relentlessly pursues them and brings them to market. I’ve been doing more of that since Fall 2011 and have brought to market projects that are contributing to my recurring revenue bottom line which has enabled me to take on less one-off client work.

Yet I still feel that I am not able to surf the motivational wave well enough and sought out to determine the underlying conditions as to why I am struggling with staying motivated.

Ramit suggests that by responding to the off days using systems and positive work, I’ll be able to maximize motivation and productivity. I do not want to regurgitate his lesson, I am going to recap the segments that I found relevant to me and show you how I am applying his concepts to my case.

Dealing with Low Energy: Ramit simply accepts that some days he is going to have low energy. I’ve done the same lately but I knew that I was not following the lesson properly. It’s because I did not think about why I choose to deal with low energy periods incorrectly… To maximize productivity during peak motivation periods he recommends understanding the timing when you are most productive.

When am I most productive?
- 1 hour after waking up until lunch.
- 90 minutes after lunch until dinner or
– 90 minutes after lunch til lull then nap for 30-90 minutes, shower, then experience productivity until dinner

My day is over after dinner. I’ve accepted that. In fact I did not have dinner yesterday until 130AM which is why I churned through so much material and got this blog up on my server. For me, in periods where a high amount of work needs to be accomplished, I should consider snacking and pushing the dinner meal out as far as possible.

Being Overwhelmed: For client work I’ve been able to break things down into bite sized chunks for my team and for myself. When I do this occasionally for my own products it’s been helpful to get through the list. I look forward to making more bite sized items for my own products to keep them moving forward.

Inertia: He talked about Jerry Seinfeld’s don’t break the chain tactic. He also said that sometimes you need hacks to help you get started but to not go crazy trying to find the perfect hack, just pick one that works and move on. Inertia has got the best of me with respect to exercise, I wonder if the Jerry Seinfeld technique can get me out of this behavior…

Forgetfulness: He says that humans are not good at complex memory tasks. I agree and I’ve been using systems to keep my clients happy and their work moving forward. While my client work has not faced setbacks my product work has – he suggests weekly reviews on Sundays to look back at the prior week and look forward at the week ahead on what you want to accomplish. I used to do this with Anil Chawla but his availability dried up… that leads into the next item Ramit covered…

Lack of Urgency: He started off by talking directly to me… It’s hard to have urgency when you have no boss breathing over your shoulder. He suggests finding an accountability partner – someone you trust and respect – who you can send a commitment to that you can’t easily get out of such as “I’ll contact 30 leads by Saturday and send you a list of those leads by 9am”. A close friend has agreed to be my accountability partner on this.

Discouragement: Sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned. Ramit talked about how Howard Schultz overcame discouragement. I haven’t read his book but I was able to find a relevant quote from Pour Your Heart Into It:

Fear of failure drove me at first, but as I tackled each challenge, my anxiety was replaced by a growing sense of optimism. Once you overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, other hurdles become less daunting. Most people can achieve beyond their dreams if they insist upon it. I’d encourage everyone to dream big, lay your foundations well, absorb information like a sponge, and not be afraid to defy conventional wisdom. Just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Ramit recommends a quarterly review to where you write:

- What you have you learned?
- What have you accomplished, however small?
- What are you long term goals?
- What are your short term milestones and when do you plan to accomplish it?
- Am I focused on a good market?
- Am I doing the kind of work I love?
- Am I adding value to people?

 

And staying true to my intentions of this blog, I’m going to use this area to do my quarterly review right now:

What you have you learned?

- I’ve learned that I love immersing myself in copywriting and sales psychology.
- I’ve learned that delivering on promises is the most important thing, ever.
- I’ve learned that taking time out of my day to do research is worth its weight in gold.
- I’ve learned that it’s extremely important to understand who your customers are before they buy and to use the words they would use themselves in the sales messaging is the best way to craft the offer to them.
- I’ve learned that benefits not features sell products and services.
- I’ve learned that people will pay for peace of mind and a frustration free experience.
- I’ve learned that metrics is critically important and using the right strategies is more important than using the right tools.

What have you accomplished, however small?

- I’ve built my first landing pages, got smacked across the face with criticism, and rebuilt it to glowing reviews.
- I’ve written persuasively using Joanna Wiebe’s Copyhackers book series.

What are your long term goals?

- To shift my business to cater to entirely high value clients that appreciate what my team provides and shed clients who are cost conscious and are not value conscious.
- To offset revenue losses from this shift from one-off revenue to valuable, sticky, recurring revenue products.

What are your short term milestones and when do you plan to accomplish it?

- To launch my first internationally useful consumer product-service by October 15

He ends with “there are no secrets to staying motivated”. If you’re interested in self improvement, even if you are not a business owner or free lancer, the Earn1K course is brilliant and provides detailed strategies and tactics to help you build the right systems for mastering your own life.

You might be able to get a glimpse of the psychology behind motivation through one of Ramit’s older monster posts.

-N

Staying Motivated Is Not Possible

I recently met with Emory MBA students who wanted to interview me for their entrepreneurship class. In order to prepare for that interview I had been in a introspective mood during my trip to California last week. I was thinking primarily about what it was that motivates me to do what I do daily. I’ve always been extremely introspective and quite self-critical. In my experience. being critical of yourself is helpful but can also make you feel disappointed that you were unable to achieve certain goals that you laid out for yourself in your head but never put on paper. My poor friend Jai has witnessed these wild swings where I appear to be at the top of the world when my productivity is maximized and my goals are being realized. He’s also witnessed my frustrations when I’ve been down in the dumps because some artificial goals centered around not having “made it” yet have not been met.

I’ve always wondered why those swings occur. I’ve always wondered why I’ve been unsuccessful at counteracting the downward swing. I’ve attempted to prop myself up with videos (mostly of Steve Jobs or re-watching The Social Network) and by browsing books during the lull but the downward slope doesn’t change. It seems that I can’t reverse it midstream.

Tonight I saw a video explaining why this happens.

I consider myself a high performer and generally a high achiever. I’ve been following the most awesome ABCD in the world since 2005 – Ramit Sethi. Ramit has been talking about top performers, high achievers, and motivation for years. I’ve taken his Earn1K course and re-taken it a few times when I am jonesing for guidance. His material is just amazing. Everything he does is extremely well thought out and is exceptionally executed. How is he able to execute so consistently? And like my mom would say if my mom knew his parents: “WHY CAN’T YOU BE MORE LIKE HIM?”

Well god damn it, I am going to figure this out. I’ve been watching his interviews closely. He’s got something up his sleeve… it’s his systems approach to life. His material covers systems for personal finance but he also revealed in his Staying Motivated lesson in Earn1K how he accepts the downward swing and how he tackles whatever he can during the lull. I heard the lesson but I didn’t listen. I probably was going through the lesson during a high motivational period and didn’t find that planning for the lull was relevant. So I probably just filed it away in my back of my head – because I didn’t understand why it was important at the time.

Today I found his source for that lesson – He built that lesson around his mentor’s findings… One of Ramit’s teachers/mentors at Stanford was BJ Fogg. I only started reading about BJ tonight and I’ve watched only two videos so far. In one of these two videos I heard Ramit’s favorite word of late: Disproportionate. Since hearing Ramit use this word, I’ve also fell in love with it. His sales pitch for his No Stress Negotiation class was centered around how top performers get disproportionate results and therefore deserve disproportionate pay. I couldn’t agree more.

BJ’s video on motivation explained the peaks and troughs: The periods of extreme productivity and the periods of sorrow where I bitch to Jai. BJ says that he’s not a fan of amp-ing motivation during the downward slope. There’s my answer to why I too can’t reverse the lull once it’s underway. He explains that he likes to do things that reduce barriers during the highs so that in the lulls you can execute on tiny steps and baby steps. That big leaps almost always fail… Ramit goes into a lot more detail in the Staying Motivated lesson. For whatever reason I had not put the tiny steps list together yet. And since I am now in the highly motivated zone it’s time to plan for the lull to keep pushing forward.

I started this blog to help me with a few things. I want to improve my writing (copywriting and general writing), I want to organize the ridiculous ideas in my head which I think will help me generate even more revenue, and I want to become more accountable to my boss – myself.

Tomorrow I plan on re-listening to the Staying Motivated lesson and will put together 5 baby steps that I can execute on when the lull comes. That lull is forecasted to arrive in 2 weeks.

-N

It’s time to be a little more public

I’ve been consuming posts and information for years and feel that it’s time to start contributing value publicly. While my locked down Facebook and Twitter accounts have been helpful to close friends who I let in I think I have to start to share the things that I have found helpful so that others who I do not know might be able to benefit as well.

Let’s see how helpful I can be starting today.

-N