This is the Clevernet Server Room.

Clevernet Server Room

I took this picture to document our most recent changes to this room and our server network configuration. This is great for geeks, but I don’t think it communicates much to non-techies. In fact, such a site might actually scare some people. They’d rather see the door closed on the cabinet and have it tucked away in the corner, to say the least. Some might even consider the cabinet a potential torture device.

Nevertheless, elements of this picture are frequently our solution for our clients, usually a smaller configuration, but with many of the same components: firewall, file server, hotspot server, switches, ADSL router and cables, all in some kind of housing.

It’s a great solution. For the most part, it just works.

If we want to connect with our target audience, however, we need to show them how maintenance-free the product is and that’s usually accomplished with a picture of a confident, graying man in a suit standing and smiling with his arms crossed. We’re considering using pictures of us goofing off just to be different… We’ll see how this ends up.

Having attended one of the Mixtura Lab meetings on dealing with clients (here in the Canary Islands), I am republishing this blog entry. You might find it interesting to contrast and compare my business experiences with those of other expats living in Spain.

I’ve lived in the Canary Islands for 3+ years now and have been with Clevernet for 2+ years. I don’t consider myself a big success here because I simply do not have that many web development clients located here (but that could be due to the fact that we tend to work on really large web applications and not on straight web design). In any case, I am sharing my observations thus far. It is my hope that those who read this blog might be kind enough to share their cross-cultural business experiences as well. This is a topic I am quite fond of, personally, and would love to get a conversation going on doing business in the Canary Islands.

Please note: these are GENERALIZATIONS. These observations are NOT to be taken as hard and fast facts, they are simply summaries of some of the experiences I’ve had and are listed here to communicate trends. For each observation I’m pretty sure there have been one or two times when the opposite was the rule.

  1. Clients may try to re-negotiate a contract after the terms have been accepted by both parties, and sometimes after it has been signed. Furthermore, some clients actually believe this is acceptable behavior. I suspect this is a reflection of the fact that we are all here, together, on this island and must be reasonable with each other. Sticking it to your client, even when you have their agreement in writing, is likely going to bounce back on you and you end up sticking it to yourself in the form of a lack of future prospects. Listen to your clients ideas rather than rejecting them outright based on what you thought was a done deal.
  2. People are reluctant to put things in writing, or sign contracts. Much greater value is placed on original intent than what I’ve seen in the U.S. where you are required to agree to a wild variety of things before someone will sell you something, but it could just be that clients want a way to back out if needed. So far we’ve never had a single client back out of an oral agreement, so, I believe it is the former rather than the latter.
  3. A successful negotiation takes into account customary financial arrangements such as:
    • arranging financing around delays introduced by government subsidies
    • providing proforma invoices
    • providing a single invoice, against which multiple payments will be made over the course of the year
    • the use of avales to secure contracts
    • electronic delivery of invoices must be negotiated and follow some very strict rules (although almost nobody does)
  4. When talking to potential clients with whom you have no prior relationship, show reverence, don’t ask too many questions, just let the potential client tell you what he/she wants. This is particularly difficult for someone like me who is used to playing the role of the “solution provider” in technical areas where the client usually has little or no idea of what they really need. I tend to assume a level of trust that, as far as the potential client is concerned, doesn’t exist. I haven’t done anything to win their trust yet, and when working with an outsider, trust is not assumed.
  5. The Chicago tactic of pointing out a clients’ failures in their existing systems tends to hurt your clients’ pride and does little to convince them to work with you, even if your intention was to help them see where they could improve. Again, the trust thing…
  6. Although favors are common currency here (and sometimes greatly appreciated), even small ones can be costly. Failing to recognize when someone has done you a favor has been the end, or near end, of more than one business relationship here so far. I have no problem doing favors, but am uninterested in developing a relationship based on them (that’s what friends and relatives are for).
  7. Be sensitive toward your clients. Try to do things their way even if in the long run you plan on doing them differently. For example, it is particularly important to deliver bad news in person, never through email or SMS. Likewise, good news is also best delivered in person, or at least via a cell phone call.

Here are some more, even more general observations:

  • It’s hard to tell what attitudes or customs are the result of living on an island and what come from Spanish tradition.
  • Language skills seem to matter far less than people skills, but listening closely is a very important people skill.
  • In general people are very punctual, contrary to popular mythology, but they will frequently ask you to call the morning of a meeting to make sure they can really make it (something that drives me crazy – if I schedule an appointment with you, do we really need to double-check the morning of?)

So, that’s my list at this point in time. It will be interesting to see how it changes 10 years down the road. Please feel free to leave a comment. It is no longer necessary to register.

As a young boy, whenever I asked for the definition of something I was told to “look it up”. I hated that answer! It seemed so futile: if the task was to get something done and you knew the answer, why should I look it up?

It is clear to me now that I was told to look it up as a young boy to get me into the habit of being independent, of being able to fend for myself, and probably more importantly, not bothering busy people when the answer was available elsewhere.

In fact, that response has ended with me:

Learning to read by looking up words in the dictionary.

Learning to juggle by dropping lots of balls.

Reading El Quijote in Spanish the same way I learned how to read.

Learning to connect to the Oxford English Dictionary hosted at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne from home via a 2400 baud modem and a connection to the dial-up lines at UIC-Chicago the same way I learned how to read (and by bothering more than one techie…).

Along the way I also learned:

  • how to use PowerPoint (via Aldus Persuasion, which in my opinion was infinitely more powerful)
  • how to write HTML
  • how to write JavaScript
  • how to program in Perl, PHP, XSLT, ASP, JSP, JavaScript, AppleScript, Java, .Net, Fusebox, VBA, C, C++, Bash, SQL (Server), HyperCard, Director, Authorware, MS Office Macros, Photoshop Actions, Flash (yes, I even learned how to program in Flash), and more that I’m forgetting…

And remember, I started out not knowing how to read.

I guess my teachers weren’t so dumb after all.

And the next time you consider asking someone you know for the answer to a question just as easily answered by Google, consider looking it up first. Just look where it might lead you!

Based on these instructions on how to compile mod dav svn, I managed to get our old Red Hat server serving our public subversion repository.

I’m a little surprised by how little documentation there is on how to do this considering it is such a great way to make a code repository available to authorized users. I was unable to find any clear information on how to do this on subversion.tigris.org or on apache.org.

So, how do I know what name to use with the Apache configuration option –enable-MOD_NAME? The configure option –enable-mods-shared=all is a nice shortcut, but not very realistic in a real hosting environment. I’ve read in several places that you should only enable the modules you are really going to use and enabling all just seems like a bad idea. Can anyone help?