In two days, we release Tidepool alpha 1 to our private group of 84 families. Most on the list aren’t familiar with coding, so likely don’t really know that “alpha” means “early testing version.” Put more clearly, “There Will Be Bugs.”
For more than three weeks since freezing the release, I’ve found and fixed bug after bug after bug. The shakedown period is a mostly miserable time when you repeatedly get down to “zero bugs” only to find new ones a half hour later. The jello is mostly solid now, which means I’m ready to put it out for others to share.
Soon I’ll click “Send” on the email inviting everyone, after which mere minutes will likely pass before someone downloads Tidepool and finds the first problem. Such is my profession, where we cobble things together as best we can, then unleash our imperfections on an unsuspecting public.
Software is hard! Usually there’s so many moving parts that nobody can fully visualize all the interconnections and outcomes. Once a bug is found, it’s usually a quick fix, but with each snag, the user trusts the software a little less. “I don’t have time for this!” and on they go, likely to not come back.
Please be patient. Please be kind. Bugs are a natural part of the process. Please don’t go!
With some time off to clear my head, I’ve lost the momentum that carried me through May. Just as well, since now I need to switch mindsets from coding to talking. Of the last six months, I spent the first half on business development (talking, designing, writing, sales) and the next half coding Tidepool. My hope was to split my daily time between selling and coding, but that didn’t happen. It’s tough to be two different people at the same time.
I need to raise $40,000 to finish. We’re at least a month away from opening things up to Kickstarter and the rest, so this means person-to-person sales, which feels daunting to me right now. In my head, I have complete confidence in the plan and my ability to sell it. In my heart, I’m emotionally drained and afraid of rejection. Somehow I need to will myself back to money mode.
Years ago, when first starting my work in Haiti, I confided to Susie Krabacher of Mercy & Sharing how hard it was for me to ask people for money. Her response is something I remember often: “Tim, you’re not asking for you, you’re asking for the kids. You’re making it possible for people to help children. That’s a gift.”
If we’re able to finish Tidepool, if we’re allowed to endow it with just a fraction of our recent educational experiences, if we can market it successfully, then children around the world will benefit.
I need to remember the way children looked in Haiti and Nicaragua while they worked with XOs and Etoys: confident, engaged, hopeful. I need to imagine these hundreds increasing a thousandfold. I need to see a million proud parents watching as their children learn more deeply, as they learn to think.
I am simply the vehicle. Money given to me is opportunity given to children.
I believe this.
So quit my bellyaching and pick up the phone!
Today I uploaded our first release candidate, which means we’re (almost) ready to let people play Tidepool. For weeks, I’ve been scrambling to complete the last Alpha 1 features, finding and fixing bugs and more bugs, like some demented game of whackamole.
Along the way, I’d think of a new idea. “Hey people will love this. It’ll only take a few hours.” Days later it’s done, with now a fresh set of bugs to whack down. Software’s just like that … a shifting amorphous mess with no master. Change something here, now that doesn’t work. As an industry, we’ve gotten better at making change safer over the years, but even now it’s often a crapshoot whether something will take hours or days to do, especially when your codebase has reached a certain size.
In the last few months, I’ve written roughly 44,000 lines of code, which printed out single-spaced would take almost 800 pages. To do this, I’ve spent about 425 hours, not counting business development time. Were I to charge a corporate client for this work, I’d be at $85,000 worth of billable time. (Yes, that’s my wife Paula you hear moaning in the background.)
Yet here we are! The foundation is complete and our first creative steps are before us. All important now is to freeze features and fix bugs, letting things settle enough to be generally useful. My “shakedown team” will be putting Tidepool through its paces in the next week. We hope to announce the alpha soon.
I am personally exhausted, having worked perhaps the most intense hours of my professional career. My body’s aching, my family misses me, the house is a mess … but I’m done!
I’ll now take some time to rest before doing this all again for Alpha 2. Stay tuned.