It's hard to believe 2010 is gone and 2011 is here. I always like to say "To see where you are going, you have to see where you have been first".
The first conference of the new year is always CodeMash. This year was a bit different for me. I spent a great deal of time working with a client, Gravity Works first client. After Code Mash, Rachel Hawley and Gary Short from Developer Express spent some time with us in Lansing. I always love hearing stories from Rachel and this was the first time i was able to spend time with Gary. They are both extremely smart people, and are great at their jobs.
Capital Area IT Council Panel
Being in business on my own for only about 3 weeks, I was asked to speak on a panel about entrepreneurship. On this panel, was my former boss and in the audience another former boss from a different company. I have never been the person to hide my thoughts, and during this panel i shared my fears about starting the business. After the panel I talked to Chris Hollman from the Lansing Business Monthly, about risk and fears. He gave me a great deal of information and I will remember that conversation always.
Lansing Give Camp
The weekend of March 26th marked the second Give Camp the Lansing community put on. This year the lead organizer was Carla McWherter. In 2010 Carla added a mini conference for the non-profits, which included sessions about Social Media, Advertising, Swag, and many others. Over 13 non-profits received applications this year. It was the first event where Gravity Works hung a banner.
Held in the old Knaps department store in downtown lansing, the 3rd Lansing Ignite had popcorn and fire twirlers. I was selected to speak this year about "Building a Better Community". In this 5 minute talk, I discussed my experience of developing user groups and events to help make lansing a better place. I challenged the audience to build a community in Lansing about a topic they were passionate about.
Kalamazoo X Conference
I was invited to speak at this conference for the first time this year. The Kalamazoo X Conference is a conference targeted toward IT professionals, focussing on soft skills. Talks included resume work shops, personal branding, and many more. For this talk, I asked my business partner Amelia to do a pair talk. How to Work with a Developer / How to Work with a Designer. This is the first talk that we have ever performed together. We discussed our work flow, and how we did things. This is before we had hired anyone, and this talk became the corner stone for teaching new employees how we work at Gravity Works.
TEDx is for big thinkers, and it was great to see many of Lansing's big thinkers presenting. Because the event lasted all day, i was only able to see a few presentations in the morning. I remember John Hill from MSU Alumni Association, and his talk about social media. Ryan Knott was playing a Bob Dylon song, and John did not speak, just held up large cards to tell a story. Its not that this talk was a "Big Thinking " type of talk, it was about delivery and how I remember the talk to this day.
In May, I was asked to be a guest on MSDN Geek Speak, which was hosted by Jennifer Marsman and Glen Gordan. This was a very busy time of year for me, and i can remember doing the recording while I was at a client. In this Geek Speak, I talked about testing for the web, mainly around security and accessibility.
Lansing Chili Cook-off
Gravity Works was still small, with Lauren just being hired. I had pitched the idea to my former employees for about 4 years, and no one ever saw value. 2010 was the year that I was able to participate. With a recipe that Carla has been tweaking for years, Gravity Works entered the Chili cook-off, with the theme Rosi the Riveter. Our chili's name was Rosi's Riveting chili. I remember cooking the chili at the Lansing center with Amelia, Lauren and Carla the most. The event was great, but busy. With thousands of people, the exposure was great for a new company. It also helped taking 3 awards home with us. I plan on doing this next year, having a few more staff members at Gravity Works will help as well.
In the spring, Carla and I made it out to a few Lugnuts games. The highlight was always running into friends such as Jess and Ryan Knott who always seemed to be there.
We headed down to the south to attend Tech Ed. This year Tech Ed was very stressful, with client work piling up and myself falling further and further behind. It was at Tech Ed that we hired Scott Gowell, a very valuable member of our team. I remember the food the most about Tech Ed. A dinner with James Bender, Carla and myself at some type of "meat" place Carla wanted to go to. I had ribs with pickled watermelon on them. I think this is what started my "Rib Kick" that many of you know about it.
Colton's House Warming
Lauren and Adam invited Carla and I to their house warming party this fall. They have been in their house for awhile, but never had a chance to invite people over after the boxes were unpacked. I was excited to meet their puppy, which I had heard so much about (which ended up puking all over the floor). We chatted, drank hot buttered rum and had a great time. Working with people who invite you over, and into their lives is great. It makes for such a better work environment.
10 over 10 Award
For the past four years, the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Lansing Business Monthly choose 10 people to watch over the next 10 years, and this year i was named one of them. I am honored to be placed among the previous award winners, whom I have watched help build Lansing to be a great a place. At this event, I was asked why I do so much. Helping to build communities brings me enjoyment. I have always been passionate about learning, and feel the best way to learn is from others, thats why I do what I do. There is a lot of pressure now, that people think they need to watch what I'm doing over the next 10 years.
Microsoft MVP Award
In October, I was awarded with the the Microsoft MVP in ASP.net for the 3rd year in a row. Its humbling to be put with the ranks of the top ASP.net developers in the world. Each year Microsoft holds a summit for the MVP's to get together and talk among themselves and interact with the Microsoft Product teams. I love being around so many people that are smarter then me, I learn so much. MVP awards are given out for various reasons, but I feel mine is given out because of the number of speaking events I do every year. With over 15 speaking events this year, the one that sticks out most in my mind is a talk to Telecommunications 425 at Michigan State University. I graduated from MSU in 2001 with a Telecommunications degree, and any time I am asked to guest lecture, I'm extremely honored. When i was at college, I always made sure I took good notes when we had guest lectures, because everyone has a story and you can learn from it.
Old Town Jazz Fest
Old Town Lansing holds a ton of festivals each year. This year at the Jazz festival Kristin Juhl was in town to help Gravity Works out on a project. This was great, we had all the Gravity Works contractors and employees at my house to work on the application. It was something that had a quick turn around and we needed to move fast on it. Kristin is from Minnesota and it was great to have her out and show her the town. While she was here, one of the activities was the Old Town Jazz festival. After spending some time at the festival, we went back to the Gravity Works office, and this is where I meet Collin. Collin is Dave's son, and boy is he like is father. Collin is about 3 and 1/2, and I love kids that age. I tried to get him to pay attention to me, but no matter what I did he just did not want to have anything to do with me. Kristin was giving him popcorn, so he liked her a lot.
The Loss of Two Professors
I was sad when i heard professor Thomas Muth of Michigan State University passed away this fall. Professor Muth taught in the Telecommunications department for years, I never had him as a student but after graduation I had a few conversations with him at local IT events. I felt a deep sorrow because he was loved by so many. Many of my friends deeply respected this professor, so I in turn gave the same respect. At his memorial services, I ran into many friends, classmates and colleagues. Each had stories to tell. During the service I spoke with Ron Choura, who was a professor of mine at MSU. Through the years, Professor Choura asked me to speak to his classes on occasion, and I always loved it. A few weeks ago I was at an event, and was informed that Professor Choura had passed away as well. This brought tears to my eyes, as he was a professor that I respected and learned from. In professor Choura's classes I learned to create a business plan, as well as how to respond to Request For Proposals. The business plan i created in TC 463 is very similar to what Gravity Works is today. As for responding to RFP's, this is a skill that has become invaluable to me. I can remember sitting in a lab with professor Choura (I was a junior, and the lab had to do with some type of PBX system), and my nose started to bleed intensely. I was the only person in the lab with him. I had an extra t-shirt so i used that hold off the flow until i was able to get it under control. I will miss speaking at this class.
Grand Rapids DODN
In the fall, the folks in Grand Rapids put on a Day of .net event. I spoke about DNN module development. Windows 7 phone was the hot topic at this event.
Charlie's First Birthday
Not having kids, being invited to events like this mean a lot to me. Scott from Gravity Works, invited Carla and I to celebrate his daughters first birthday. Carla and I went to Kohl's, and picked out some nice outfits as well as a stuffed animal from a Dr. Seuss book. At her party, we played board games and had a great time with Scott and his family. A few weeks ago, Scotts wife Barb, took video of Charlie walking...this was amazing.
In 2010 Amelia Marschall and I started Gravity Works Design and Development We left our jobs in mid January to start this endeavor. We would ski each weekend together, which gave us a great deal of time to discuss where we wanted the business to go. We did things right, we got an accounant, a lawyer, created a business plan and set goals to were we wanted to be. Working out of our homes, we started to realize we were taking on a great deal of new clients and needed to hire someone to assist.
Gravity Works employee #1 was Lauren Colton. We started talking with Lauren before we had an office, but knew we needed an office soon if we were going to start hiring employees. I had first met Lauren at the very first Lansing Give Camp. Lauren and her husband Adam, both were at the event, and I started to see them more and more in the community. Lauren has a James Madison degree from MSU and is very strong on writing. Lauren accepted our offer to work at Gravity Works and has been working on usability, information architecture, HTML/CSS implementation and general writing tasks.
Amelia and I were at Tech Ed in Louisiana, and one of our clients dropped a ton more work on us. To be able to handle this new unexpected load, we needed to hire a new developer. While at Tech Ed, I was pretty stressed about this. Hiring great people is difficult, and its very scary when its your own company. We reached out to Scott Gowell on the last day of Tech Ed (he was still in Michigan), and he had accepted the offer letter and turned in his two week notices by 8PM that night. Scott and I worked on a project many years ago, where I was a consultant. I can remember walking into Scotts office to deploy a reporting solution before a holiday about 5 years ago. His shelves were littered with tech books and geeky toys. Scott and I hit it off, and kept in contact throughout the years. When we needed a developer, I knew Scott would be a great fit. Programming is a hobby for Scott, not only is he good at it, he is passionate about it. Since starting at Gravity Works, Scott has worked on web applications, database solutions, iPhone and Android applications.
While at the Dev Link technical conference, in the summer I was asked to participate on a panel discussion about hiring. There were about 5 of us on the panel, with head hunters, consultants and business owners. I explained many of the horror stories about interviewing people I have encountered (thats a different blog post) and was also able to share some tips we use to hire good people at Gravity Works. After the panel Dave Smith (who I have known for almost 8 years now), approached me about the panel. It was a light conversation, and i knew Dave was not looking for a job, he was working at a CRM shop in Chicago and was happy. Well long story short, we made Dave an offer and he came to work for us soon after. We had just started the look for a new employee, and recruiting Dave was great. Dave is not just a programmer, he is a big thinker. Dave was hired in at Gravity Works to not only program, but to help with business development. Since starting at Gravity Works, Dave has worked on web applications, system architecture, database architecture, iPhone and Android application development.
Amelia and I were able to blow past our year goal. Then our year two goal. Then our year three goal. Everyone at Gravity Works has put in 110% effort to make it what it is today. Amelia and I have been able to build the roots of a strong business in Lansing. We are tied closely to the community, and our work is our advertising. We have been able to foster a safe place to work and learn. Gravity Works is where 80% of my energy has went to in 2010. I am glad to work with Amelia, and have learned a ton from her in this past year.
In the late fall, during a business planning session, Amelia and I decided we were going to need more office space if we wanted to continue to grow. We knew we wanted to stay in Old Town, and decided to rent the office space next to ours. Having a big open space like that was a dream to me. This meant we were going to be able to open our doors to user groups and have events. After a few meetings about the space with the Gravity Works employees, Second Gear co-working was born. Second Gear is still very young, but is the first true co working space in Lansing. We still have yet to push a full fledged advertising campaign, but have created a great deal of buzz around town.