David R. Heffelfinger

  Ensode Technology, LLC


So you want to become a technical author?

Last month at the JavaOne conference I had the opportunity to participate in a birds of a feather session titled "So you want to be a published technical author?". I was glad to share my experiences as a published book author, unfortunately the session was only 45 minutes and we had  5 people plus the moderator in the panel, so we didn't have time to cover everything we wanted to. Here are some things we covered during the session, plus a few more things that were left unsaid.

How do I get noticed?

The easiest way to get noticed is to blog about the topic you are interested in writing. Personally, the way I got discovered was when one of the articles I wrote for my own web site was linked to from The Server Side. My advice to aspiring authors would be to blog about your topic of choice then submit your own blog posts to Reddit, Hacker News and other popular technology sites.

Is it profitable?

Not directly. Yes, you'll get some extra cash, but not enough to live on. However, the fact that you are a published author will increase your demand as a programmer a lot, allowing you to charge higher rates. Also, being published opens the door to other opportunities that further increase your exposure, such as speaking engagements and invitations to write articles for high profile publications. A quote I read somewhere that deeply resonates with me: "You don't write books for the royalties, you write books for the consulting fees".

How do you find the time to write?

Very few technical authors write books for a living, for most of us that is something we do on the side. Since we have a full time job we have to write on nights and weekends. Personally, I have a home office in my basement where I go on the evenings to work on my books.

What topics should I write about?

Something you are passionate about. Personally, I tend to pick open source projects such as NetBeans and GlassFish and write about versions that are still in development and have not been officially released yet. I try to time the book publication to match the official release of the project in question. This approach has the risk that things I write about may change in the final version of the product, however the trade off is that your book will cover the latest version of the technology in question.

Why is it so hard to find Java talent?

One common complaint that I hear from my clients and recruiter friends is that it is very hard to find good Java talent.

I am fortunate enough to be on the other side of the coin, I have been working with Java for several years now, I have authored several books on Java and have been a speaker at Oracle's JavaOne conference on more than one occasion, so I'd like to think I'm one of those hard to find good Java developers.

Being on the other side of the coin, I am bombarded every day with emails from recruiters interested in my services, I am fortunate enough to be able to be selective about the projects I work with. In my experience there are three things that drive me away from accepting a project. Here are my suggestions on things you can do to attract top Java talent.

Make it easy to apply

It is mind boggling to me the number of companies that require me to go fill out some long, convoluted form just so that I can apply for a job with them. I have several other companies that are dying to hire me, don't make it a hassle for me to apply for a job for you. On a similar note, many companies require me to fill out some form made in Word that duplicates all the information that already exists in my resume.

If you want me to work for you, don't make it a hassle for me to apply.

Be flexible with your tax terms

For quite a few years now, I've been an independent consultant, in order to do this, I had to incorporate, hire a payroll service, and get insurance for my business. I already have an infrastructure in place to run my business, therefore I only take Corp-to-Corp (C2C) contracts. A lot of companies do W2 only, or want a permanent employee only. Again, I have several potential clients that want to hire me and agree to my terms, your chances of hiring me are slim to none if you are unwilling or unable to do a C2C contract.

Your project has to be interesting

I'm not going to pull any punches here, a lot of the Java projects out there just suck, plain and simple. If what you want me to do is maintain an old J2EE application using Struts 1 and Spring 1 or 2, I'm not going to be very interested in your project. You need to modernize your infrastructure if you want to attract top Java talent. I have actually researched the topic on modernizing legacy server side Java web applications, and wrote a series of articles for the Oracle Technology Network (OTN) a while back on the topic. The articles focus on Spring to Java EE migration, but the same concepts apply to J2EE to Java EE migration. If you need help modernizing a legacy project, drop me a note, this will certainly be an interesting project and I'll be happy to help.


« October 2013 »

© David R. Heffelfinger