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313Selling Our Java Skills

Author: Dr Heinz M. KabutzDate: 2023-11-27Java Version: 21Category: Inspirational

Abstract: What causes opportunities to disappear? Is it #1 the market has lost interest in what we are selling (Java is dead). Or is it #2 we have personally become irrelevant (AI writes better code)? Or could it be something else? Join me as we read about my recent dumb mistakes :-)


Welcome to the 313th edition of The Java(tm) Specialists' Newsletter, inspired by some dumb mistakes I made this year. Learn from me, and don't repeat them :-)

As we do every year, we are giving generous discounts for Black Friday. I was firmly decided to stop the discounts at the end of Cyber Monday. However, because of a technical glitch (see this newsletter), I will extend the offering until December the 4th, which conveniently is also my birthday :-) Please visit our new self-study course catalog to see how you can upskill your Java knowledge.

Selling Our Java Skills

Starting some time in July 2018, enquiries for my Java consulting and advanced in-house Java training went eerily quiet. I still sold a lot of courses on my Teachable JavaSpecialists School, but enquiries for the more lucrative gigs had all but dried up. It was a tad depressing and I even considered getting a job. If you know me, you can imagine that this was quite a stretch! My manager Charl from 25 years ago described Heinz as a train. You can get on, you can get off, but the train is going to go where the train wants to go. That's me. So for me to even consider getting a job was strange.

I put the lack of enquiries down to as either #1 the Java industry as a whole had slowed down or #2 Heinz's Java specialities were simply no longer interesting. I flipped between these two options for many months and discussed it with my friends and colleagues. They had also experienced a slowdown. There seemed to be a pattern. At least it wasn't my irrelevance, but rather, it was a general slowdown in the market. It had to be.

At the end of 2018 we bought two investment apartments in Chania. They were a steal, a real bargain. EUR 750 per square meter. I didn't even see one of the apartment, just trusted my friend Nick who had seen it and told me it was nice. It took until April 2019 to finalize the paperwork, have the engineer and lawyer check the apartments, etc. When it came time to sign, I was on my way to the lawyer with my friend Nick, when I received a strange email. It was from a customer who had attended my Extreme Java - Concurrency Performance Course. They wanted to run our Java Design Patterns Course for a large group of students. The last sentence made my heart sink into my stomach:

"Ich hatte dort schon eine Anfrage über das Formular gestellt, aber bisher keine Antwort bekommen." (I had already submitted a request there using the form, but so far I have not received a response.)

I had not seen any enquiry on my website. In fact, I had not seen an enquiry for quite a while. Since the previous July to be precise, a massive 9 months of radio silence! Nick asked if everything was OK as he watched the colour drain from my face. I told him "no". I quickly whipped out my phone and entered a bogus enquiry. A smiling Heinz greeted me on the enquiry landing page, assuring me that I'd get a response within 24 hours. But there was no email. Nada, nothing. I tried again with a different email address. Again, nothing. I started panicking. So that would present option #3 - technical glitch. The enquiry form wasn't working! It looked like it did, but it didn't forward me the enquiries. My customers just thought I was being rude by not replying within the 24 hours I had promised. The really persistent ones emailed me or DMed on Twitter.

In case you think this is a made-up story, sadly, it isn't. Between July 2018 and April 2019, I lost every single one of my website enquiries. I was still in business, but just a bit anxious that the business seemed a bit slower than in 2017. Fortunately everyone knows my email address, so I was still getting amazing orders. I have no idea just how much money I lost in those 9 months. Could be in the six figures. Better not to think about it too much...

As Java programmers, it is easy to think that marketing and sales are of no concern to us. All we have to do is write good clean code (whatever that is) and we will do exceedingly well. But unless we sell ourselves, we will not glean the benefits of our own brilliance. When job offers stop pouring in, is that because we have become irrelevant, or because we have stopped marketing ourselves? In my case, a technical glitch threw all new enquiries into a dumpster fire.

What happened? My system is rather complex. Since my domain is JavaSpecialists, I refuse to run on PHP. This means that we handcrafted our website in Java, with a backend that is run by a powerful CRM, also in Java. Their former CTO read our newsletter. At some point the backend changed something in the way they were redirecting form submissions, and my Java version was updated, which handled redirects slightly differently. The most obvious functionality - Can a visitor to our website buy our product? - stopped working. Yes, my tests should have picked that up, but the enquiry did say "success", except that it didn't really work. Too many moving parts, and the tests did not find the problem.

But the real problem wasn't one of broken technology, but rather of self-doubt. I understood that business was slow in July and August, because summer. And then, well, September and October were slow too, with hardly any enquiries. (Zero enquiries made it through to me, but it felt like it was just less than normal, not none at all.) November is usually a bumper month, but again, not much going on. On a whim, I sent out my first ever Black Friday Special. I was at the airport, waiting to board, and I literally spent 10 minutes writing an email. The result was beyond anything that I had ever imagined. December is usually slow, and I was looking forward to the new year for things to pick up, still doubting myself. And then eventually April came around, and it finally clicked. Technical glitch. Great.

Self-doubt is a very strong emotion that most of us face at some point. It recently almost made me not send a quote to a customer, because I imagined that I wouldn't get the job of teaching virtual threads to their 50+ programmers (I got the contract). My beach friend Eustratius told me: "Heinz, just go home and write the quote TODAY." I did, expecting a rejection letter, but instead, had a wonderful time teaching Loom to very smart programmers.

All of us have fears. Most consultants are terrified that they will one day no longer be relevant. When it appears that this has happened, take a step back. Read what Job said: "What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me." If you know the story, he had a bit of a rough time, even worse than a non-functioning enquiry form. We get into trouble when we imagine that our worst fears have become true, when instead a small technical glitch explains everything.

Many years ago, I read some excellent advice. As soon as we get one job, we should start searching for our next job. We should always have our CV ready and up-to-date, and keep on interviewing. This keeps us flexible and increases our likelihood of finding great opportunities. Similarly, if we are self-employed, we need to keep on marketing constantly. Speak at conferences if invited, write articles, contribute to open source. It increases our chance of success.

But if we do market ourselves, and we still don't get any opportunities, it could be #3 - technical glitch. Something could be wrong. Check that all communication paths are working. Contact forms on websites, DMs open on Twitter, correct phone numbers, emails not landing in spam or otherwise blocked.

Let me give you one more (sad) example. The bestseller of all my self-study courses is, by far, our Java Specialists Superpack. It contains almost 200 hours of expert Java training that you won't find anywhere else. This year, it was doing OK, but not as well as in previous years. Again, I thought it was #1 - no one wants to learn advanced Java anymore, hoping AI will do it for them or #2 - Heinz had become irrelevant. Last week, when I was setting up for Black Friday, I was looking at my website and realized that for the first time ever, I didn't actually list my Superpack on my main Teachable sales page! This time, something had changed in the backend of Teachable in how they decide which courses to display, and it was not showing my most important offering. Yet again, #3 - technical glitch - had happened. I still made quite a few sales since it is a super popular course, but those were all through direct clicks on my newsletter and website.

Not one to give up easily, I continued preparing my Black Friday offering and sent it off to 60k emails in my CRM. Immediately after that, Helene and I rushed off to see our son get sworn in as a conscript soldier in the Greek army. He is off to Kos to protect Greece's borders in the armed vehicles batallion. He will hopefully get to drive tanks - and seriously, which boy has not dreamed of doing that? So, so cool. As the day ticked on, Helene kept on asking if we had any sales. "Nope, not yet." Again, my default was #1 - industry had changed and #2 - Heinz had become irrelevant. Yes, you might have guessed where this is heading. Today, I wanted to send one more reminder that the Black Friday special was expiring in a few hours, when I discovered that I had never sent the email! It was still sitting in draft. But I had seen enough sales from our other channels (Slack, Twitter, Teachable, etc.), that it didn't occur to me to check #3 - Technical glitch.

I know that I will make this mistake again in the future, thinking that either the industry didn't care about what I had to offer, or that I had become irrelevant, when the real explanation was that some other technical glitch had prevented my message from going out. We all need to remember this though, that if we stop getting annoying job offers on LinkedIn, something is definitely wrong. It is most likely #3 - technical glitch, rather than #1 or #2.

Here are some excellent books that I found useful in improving my understanding of human persuasion. The weird thing with these techniques is that they work on us, even when we know them. I won't add links - you can find them yourself quite easily with a quick web search:

  • Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini
  • Influence, New and Expanded: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
  • Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss
  • The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully by Gerald M. Weinberg

All of the books are excellent and might make the holiday period a bit more entertaining.

Remember: Nothing happens until someone sells something. In our case, that would be selling ourselves, our skills as Java programmers and consultants. The better we can persuade, the more effective we can be at convincing customers and colleagues of the genius of our ideas. The person with the best idea is in charge.

Kind regards


P.S. As I'm writing this, I notice that our Teachable website is stating that the price for all our courses is $0 after the discount. It's yet another technical glitch, but one that could work in my favour. Perhaps people will click on that, hoping to score all my training for free, and then realize that if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. And then still buy my course. Let's hope ... :-)



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