Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Factor-based Opportunity Analysis


A few months back I went to a Ruby-on-Rails speed-dating event. I ended up building a spreadsheet tool for myself that a couple people have expressed interest in it. So I thought I'd share it with all of you. 

If it isn't obvious what a "Ruby-on-Rails speed-dating event" is, here's the scoop: about 30 developers come and meet 30 hiring managers; you get 3 minutes to pitch your company and/or self (depending on who starts talking first!). I like to be open to new experiences-- and I thought I just might find my dream job, so I gave it a shot. If nothing else, I thought I'd get elevator pitch practice. 

And in fact, I did get to practice my pitch. But what I didn't think about was that I'd have to sort through 15 interesting leads. I went with an open mind, and although some of people had dubious ideas and funding, there were quite a few interesting ones. 

I realized I had a few factors in my head I was using to evaluate companies, but I'd never clearly put them down on paper. When opportunities come one at a time, I don't have to. So why didn't I like that bio-tech company in Campbell? Well, actually the guy seemed great, experienced, and their business plan seemed solid, and it was in a growing and interesting industry. I could tell it would probably be a nice place to work-- but it was 60 miles from my house. So my first criteria: location.

Then there was the super-nerd building tools for developers of developer tools. I can handle a little B2B, but I'm tired of not being able to explain what I do at all those cocktail parties I go to.

Thumbing through the leads, I was able to come up with a set of factors I can use to evaluate opportunities:
  • Location – this is really what it sounds, as my commute significantly contributes to my quality of life
  • Project Realness  – whether  a startup or a big company, lots of projects just won't move forward-- they are just ideas in someone's mind. This is a judgement on whether the project is really happening. A question or two can usually give me a read on this.
  • Funding – this seems straightforward: does the company or project have money. 
  • Sold on me – How much work is it to convince them I'm great? Having a "believer" on the inside increases the odds significantly that a job will come through.
  • Diversity of Work — I really like a range of work and collaborators in my day-to-day life. I shy away from jobs that are pure coding tasks. This also includes some intangibles about the team.
  • Nature of Work – is the domain of the project interesting? I like software because I get to build software for a many audiences, and in the process learn all about their life and work. I spent a year learning all about birth control, and I found it very interesting-- and in the process changed my perspective on my life (and parenting).
  • Cocktail appeal — I'd like to be able to share what I do with people I meet. So although doing obscure technical work isn't out of the question, it's not as easy for others to relate to.
  • Resume — on a purely skills level, does it take me in the direction I want to be going with my career?

Next, I gave each criteria a rating from 1 - 10. 5 is neutral, and 10 is great for me. 

Finally, I put them in a  spreadsheet and created and "overall rating" column. Mine is simple-- adding up the different criteria-- but you could easily do some weighting of different factors if necessary.

I put all the leads (and a whole other set of leads I'd been carrying around), rated and sorted. This gave me a clear path on where I should spend extra time chasing things. As I learned more about them, I could change the values and make sure I was managing in a reasonable way. 

I found this tool helpful to sort out my own thoughts. I imagine other people will have completely different criteria and rating systems. Let me know of you find it useful.
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