Dude, I have a business proposition

I am slowly beginning to think that I should just lie to people about what I do for the living. Unless I’m talking to a fellow technology professional there are only two things people want to talk about after I divulge that I “work with computers”. Most folks just want to tell me about their current computer problem and score some free tech support. Others – mainly those with degrees in business administration – want me to help them launch a dream project of theirs.

You know what I’m talking about right? They have it all figured out – they have a great idea, a business plan, they even picked out a logo and registered a trademark. All they need is a “computer guy” who can take care of the technology side of things. And by taking care of the technology side of things they mean writing the whole thing based on their vague descriptions. Bonus points if they use a phrase like “you are the technology guy here – you can figure out these details yourself”.

I politely refuse these sorts of offers before I even hear the pitch because 10 times out of 10 it doesn’t even make any sense. I honestly have yet to hear a marketroid or businessdrone come up with a sensible technology related project. They just don’t have the clue and imagination for it. Absolutely all business proposals I was pitched at parties, gatherings or other social situations fell into one of these categories:

  1. I want you to create a facebook clone
  2. I want you to implement that internet thing that was popular 6 months ago. Everyone and their mom already jumped on that bandwagon and the market is over-saturated but I don’t know this because I don’t actually go online much
  3. We have this really expensive enterprise system here, and we would like to create something that is exactly like it because we just don’t want to pay the licensing fees anymore
  4. Here is a popular mature, closed source, off-the-shelf software product. I want to make something exactly like it, with this one additional feature and then sell it for $SHITLOAD.
  5. I just invented Microsoft Access and I would like you to implement it as an Excel add-in
  6. Can you write a middleware kludge that will connect the 17 incompatible systems we are using to do stuff they were not designed for. Oh and none of these systems has any documentation or API’s but that should not be a problem, no?
  7. I have this cool idea for this awesome project/time/space/product tracking and reporting system, but I don’t understand this fancy database stuff so I want to do it by somehow stapling together various MS Office products and making them talk together.
  8. I want to do XYZ for the iPhone even though there are already about 800 apps that already do XYZ in the app store

Almost invariably all these projects involve you doing all the heavy lifting with no help, no formal specifications and on your own time without any guarantee of payment. But that should not be a problem right? I mean, all the difficult work of cumming up with a totally redundant and unoriginal idea is done. All is left is the easy stuff. You just need to sit down and type some code into the computer and you like to do that anyway. I mean, you sometimes do that programming thing for fun no? So have fun with this totally original and completely non-boring project. It will probably be a learning experience for you too – maybe you can put it on your resume or something.

Sigh…

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against part time hobby projects. I love to work with cluefull people on an interesting projects – you know, as a team of equals. There are few things as exciting and rewarding as brainstorming and hacking with a team of talented individuals. Unfortunately such teams are hard to come by, and interesting projects that would draw them together are few and far between. On the other hand, business minded folk with MBA diploma and a technology related project idea are dime a dozen.

Honestly, most of the time I find these brilliant business proposals quite insulting. They really shows what business people think of us software engineers and programmers. They thing we are hopeless nerds that need their benevolent direction, and could not possibly start a successful business venture without them. Which could not be further from the truth. In fact, most of the web/technology giants (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc..) of today have been started by innovative geeks and engineers. They built their technology base first and then created a business around it. We honestly don’t need an MBA with a crazy idea to tell us what to do. And if we need someone to help us with the boring stuff, we will seek such a person out ourselves. I mean, you can’t throw a stone these days without hitting someone with a business related degree so there so it’s not like there is a shortage of those.

Have you been pitched silly project ideas by clueless business people recently? What’s the craziest project someone asked you to implement?

The most interesting project I almost got roped into was actually an indy video game. It was supposed to be some sort of a dystopic future, hover-board racing sim and by the time I entered the picture there was already a team of around 20 people involved with the project. This sounded amazing until I realized not a single person in that group actually wrote a line of code in their life. Half of the people in the group were actually just folks who wanted to do motion capture stuff for the character models. No, not produce 3d meshes or anything like that. They were there to strike poses on their skateboards and be motion captured. They also had an artist who scribbled some sketches in pencil and “was learning photoshop” but never actually did 3d textures or anything video game related. The rest were idea men and dude who read online about the Unreal engine SDK but didn’t even know how to install it and one dude who took a class on game design in community college. All they really had done so far was a “design document” written by that last guy, which was all high level concepts and ideas bereft of any useful technical detail. Everyone in the group was convinced they could actually have a working beta-quality product ready within a month. They just needed a “computer guy” to do all the work for them. Luckily, since I have never worked in game design or with the Unreal engine I was able to back out quite easily. I don’t know what happened to this project after that. I suspect that it either died a natural death or they are still looking for someone to do all the heavy lifting for them. On the other hand, if you see a dark, gritty, post-apocalyptic, dystopian hoverboard racing sim out there, let me know.

What’s the silliest tech related project you were ever pitched? Also, how do you usually get out of the situations like this? What is your go-to, polite excuse for not wanting to do be exploited by a business guy with an idea?

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7 Responses to Dude, I have a business proposition

  1. Rob UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    So I have this great idea…

    Reply  |  Quote
  2. Kim Johnsson SWEDEN Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    +1! This is so true.

    I remember a friend from high school (totally a business type) dropping by a few years ago with this BRILLIANT idea. Long story short, he basically wanted a car alarm connected to a cellphone and a GPS receiver, so that when it was activated it would text our highly sophisticated call centre and somehow allow us to continuously track the car. Piece of cake, right? Just needs some soldering and some codes. This was obviously gonna be set up for mass production within a couple of months. The team included him… and me. I ended up just signing a badly designed NDA to make him go away. He never talked about it again =P

    Reply  |  Quote
  3. Matt Doar UNITED STATES Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    I always look very serious and say “yes, it’s just a matter of ones and zeroes and putting them in the right order”. Then tell them your hourly rate.

    Reply  |  Quote
  4. Vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Uh… ‘coming’ and ‘cumming’ are distinct concepts. One shouldn’t really be referring to the latter as ‘difficult work’, or at least realise it’s probably not prudent to do so in public…

    Reply  |  Quote
  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Kim Johnsson:

    So basically he invented OnStar minus the infrastructure that actually makes that service work.

    @ Matt Doar:

    And without even blinking they respond: “This thing is going to be huge. Once it takes off, I can even double that rate. Triple even. I can’t pay you that much now but this is a huge opportunity for you!”

    Then if you keep insisting they offer you a 40% of the future profits or something like that.

    @ Vacri:

    Damn you Firefox inline spellchecker! You have failed me for the last time!

    Reply  |  Quote
  6. Matt Doar UNITED STATES Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    Ha. Tell them you live in the present and cash in hand is what talks ;-)

    Reply  |  Quote
  7. dak Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    I’ve been casually reading posts here since 2004 and this is the first time I felt compelled to comment. Kindred spirits, I suppose.

    I think the most outrageous, ignorant, and confused proposal I’ve received was to design and implement a social media gateway – a software client that would integrate the APIs of several social media services and would have a generic API for adding your own social media services. This was pitched to me as a “simple” project that would be sold to businesses to help them “get on” social media services. When I declined to participate I cited several flaws with this project not the least of which is that it would be impossibly complex due to the constant updating of those kinds of services. I’m not an application developer or well versed in social media, but it bears noting that a business needs to know what, if anything, that kind of marketing is going to do for them and what metrics of success or failure exist. I explained using a common retail model that if, for example, I owned a shoe store I might tweet coupons to people who followed me as a reward for reading me tweet about how excited I was to use twitter. I could measure the success of this kind of thing by watching sales of shoes within a period of time of these tweets. Blank. Stare. I was able to suppress my sense of indignity when I was told I must not know how to accomplish this task and that someone else is probably more skilled than me. Bullet: dodged.

    Oh, and there would be no compensation.

    So when the uninformed and unwashed masses approach me with these kinds of projects I immediately lampoon them. Sometimes it is an easy thing like the project has already been completed by someone else and better. Other times I have to dig deep and assassinate someone’s hopes and dreams for making a quick buck.

    The OnStar comment is hilarious – I know two OnStar architects

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