I’m Carl Erickson, Founder and Executive Board Chair of Atomic Object. I started Great Not Big in 2011 to share the lessons we’d learned building and running a small software development services company. I’ve found that the subjects covered here apply much more broadly than I expected. There’s very little here that’s specific to software development.
In 2017 I opened this blog up to some talented individuals who I’ve worked closely with over the years, and who now run Atomic’s Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor offices. While we’re obviously aligned in many ways, I think the differences in our perspectives makes this blog more interesting and useful for their participation.
Every topic is fair game: finances, facilities, metrics, models, conflicts, roles, policies, compensation, customer relationships, marketing, selling, company owership—the list is long. We’re taking advantage of Atomic’s culture of transparency and our value of teaching/learning to base our writing on our experiments, concrete examples, failures, successes and hard lessons learned.
Atomic Object is by no means finished. In fact, one of the keys to our success is that we’re always growing and adapting to meet our client’s needs. This gives us a living laboratory from which to report fresh knowledge and new challenges.
Originally, I was looking to help small software development firms composed of collaborative teams making products for other companies. I believe such firms are a competitive economic advantage for their local economies. I also believe that employment in such firms offers a more humane and satisfying alternative than either employment with a large corporation or work as a freelancer.
Over time I’ve found, and heard, that much of what I write about is appreciated more by an audience much broader than my original target. I’ve always loved teaching; now I have a new curriculum and a solid base of knowledge and experience from which to share.
If you’re curious, I’ve written about the origins of the blog’s name.
After nine years as a professor of Computer Science, in 2000 I took a position as Vice President of Development for Deltamode, a tech startup company based in Austin, Texas. A year later, Deltamode ran out of money. I probably could have gotten my academic job back; I loved teaching, I was proud of my university, and I had done some really good things while in academia. But there’s an inevitable, deeply wired bias toward maintaining the status quo that characterizes most universities, and after nine years I was ready for some new challenges. Simultaneously, I had become increasingly uneasy with the hypocrisy of teaching an applied subject in which I had little experience as a practitioner.
So what to do? I had the remainder of an office lease, some used furniture, a great partner and three young interns. We’d discovered and gotten good results from following Extreme Programming practices, a lightweight methodology and precursor of what’s come to be known as agile software development. Atomic Object rose from the ashes of Deltamode and my team’s desire to keep finding better ways to develop software.
What I didn’t have was any practical business experience or educational background. That made starting a company challenging to say the least, but in truth I never really considered the safer and perhaps more rational alternatives (like getting a job). Sink or swim is a great way to learn, and I realized I had jumped in the deep end when a month after we started Atomic, my wife lost her job of 17 years. I’ve learned a lot about business and creating a company from scratch since the summer of 2001. I made lots of mistakes and wasted a lot of time, but I never screwed up enough to go out of business.