Learning from the Experts at Techweek Chicago 2013

learning experts

Jason Fried: Co-Founder of 37Signals, Author of Awesome Books and Blogs

One thing that we are very passionate about at Drifty is our culture and the attitude with which we approach our work every day. With this in mind, our co-founders, Ben and Max, require a bit of reading during each new employee’s onboarding process so that he or she can get a better idea of what working at Drifty means.

One piece of our book club is Rework, the masterpiece of challenging traditional business stereotypes by Jason Fried and some of his team at 37Signals.

While he may not have said anything in his talk at Techweek that I had not previously read either through his book or in his blog, hearing Jason speak in person really gave a grounded-ness to Jason’s word that had never resonated with me before:  this guy used to be right where we are, bootstrapped and just trying to create a great software product to make people’s work lives easier and faster.  That, in and of itself, was a very enlightening experience.

 Jeff Silver: CEO, Coyote Logistics

Jeff Silver, well-known logistics professional and CEO of Coyote Logistics, gave a talk on Day 1 of Techweek about how to mold Culture to positively affect your company’s bottom line.

After about five minutes of speaking: two things were abundantly clear with Jeff: First, he and his companies have been extremely successful over the years.  Second, he is an extremely avid believer in culture and how it affects success.

Jeff primarily spoke about the current setup at Coyote, where he makes a point of primarily hiring raw talent directly out of college.  Jeff believes that, at such an age (ironically, my age), that the level of passion and drive in certain young people is drastically higher than most other age brackets.   While many business structures take advantage of this desire to work harder and longer to simply exploit long-houred, low-waged labor out of employees that have far more potential than that.  Through hiring these young and fiery team members, Jeff sees a culture at Coyote that breeds excitement and success, without sacrificing any happiness.

As I will reference about many of the talks at Techweek, Jeff’s hit home for me because I consider myself largely in the group of young tech starters that he described in detail.  I love working because I love my company’s product, I love working overtime because I am passionate about our success, and I love my coworkers at Drifty because they all feel the same way.

Neal Sales-Griffin: Co-Founder and CEO, The Starter League

The Starter League has become something of a darling in the conversations many tech minded entrepreneurs in the midwest.  Similar to many rapid learning development academies that are popping up in large cities, The Starter League trains its students how to design, code, and ship products in a multitude of different foci and programs. Neal spoke on stage with Jason Fried about how to build a product from the ground up, and the successes and pitfalls he has encountered on his journey with SL.

Starter League began as a small online/remote development education service.  Over time, according to Neal, it grew along with its number of students, and the course offerings evolved as this growth occurred.  Now, it is home to six design/development programs, including a nine-month intensive training called Starter School, and has changed the lives of many young tech hopefuls.

I met a 20 year old web designer at the conference that had dropped out of college as a sophomore, attended the Starter League, and 6 months later was working full time at a cloud-based development company.  That right there completely encompasses what is so special about the product/service/institution that Neal and his team have built.

The main takeaway I gained from Neal and the Starter League is that the way you design your product, and the way you allow it/spur it to grow, is the central success driver no matter what industry.  Allowing your product to be defined by its core users and growing it in a simple and systematic manner to help provide these users more value is a very strong formula for success.

A Few Final Thoughts…

It is extremely easy to get caught up in the day to day grind of working, whether your company is big or small, software or hardware, young or old.  Everyone gets stressed, and most of us even lose our minds from time to time.  I learned very early on that I do my best work when I am thinking profoundly, when I am injecting my own personality and passion into it, and when I have my eyes on a bigger prize.  I have also found this to be true in many of my coworkers, and in many of the success stories I heard on the stages of Techweek Chicago 2013.

In my opinion, the biggest takeaways of getting to hear guys like Jason, Jeff, and Neal speak are perspective and inspiration.  I listen to these guys talk about their products, their companies, their teams, and it reminds me not only of how cool the work is that my company does, but how driven we are as a group to reach our collective goals.  Sometimes it only takes a little bit of stepping back, and a little bit of perspective, to re-realize how work can be very special.