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Great Not Big, a partial answer to a vexing question

Decades are the traditional measure of achievements and shifts in our lives and culture. My adult professional life divides neatly into three periods. I spent a decade in higher education (the 1980s, my 20s), a decade as a professor (the 1990s, my 30s) and a decade building and running Atomic Object (the 2000s, my 40s). The obvious question, in those rare moments when I stop to think about it, is how will the decade of the 10s (my 50s) be spent?

Being a person of fairly modest material desires, an early and consistent saver, and the majority owner of a profitable company, makes this a more difficult question than it might otherwise seem—I no longer have to subordinate my work life to optimizing my earning potential. While that sounds, and indeed is, rather awesome, it creates an open-ended opportunity, one which I feel an obligation to fill responsibly and productively. I really need to think about what I want to do. It’s a little bit like the blank page of a writing assignment, or a designer with unlimited space or budget, or facing the full glory of the snack bars aisle at Meijer. Lots of choice, few constraints.

I do have a partial answer to the question. Atomic will be a major part of my next decade, but I’m also taking on a new challenge. I’ll be dedicating some of my time to sharing what I’ve learned about building and running a software product development company. By “software product development company” I mean a firm like Atomic that builds software products for other companies, not a firm that has its own products. The differences between a service company and a product company are substantial, and in the technology world, the product companies are definitely the sexier of the two. There is much less written and fewer people talking about product development companies, and I hope to partially fill this gap. I see product development companies as a competitive advantage for our country, and a satisfying alternative form of employment for the people who work for them. If I can help the founders and leaders of such companies be more successful, or if I can inspire new entrepreneurs to start such companies, I’ll be happy.

Last week I launched a new blog as a vehicle for this work. Great Not Big will be where I post my ideas, lessons learned, tips, ongoing challenges, and insights into building and running software product development companies. I’ll take advantage of Atomic’s core value of teaching and learning and our high degree of transparency to base my writing on real experiences, both positive and negative.

I hope the next decade is as challenging and interesting as the last three.