Book Review: Micro-ISV and the Business of Software

For the past ten years, I've been trying to learn as much as I can about small-scale software engineering: what to do when you have a dozen people, a dozen months, and a dozen major features to implement. My reasons are partly personal---I don't like working in large, bureaucratic organizations whose HR departments have more people in them than my home town---but it also seems that a lot of what's cool in our industry starts off in groups that size. In order to understand what development practices make sense for groups that size, I've had to learn what makes small companies succeed or fail. I've therefore found myself reading less about bytes, and more about balance sheets. Much to my surprise, I've been enjoying it, especially when it gives me an excuse to read books like these two. The first of the pair is Eric Sink's Business of Software. Like Joel Spolsky's Joel on Software (reviewed here in June 2005), it began life as a series of blog postings. The chapters are short, the language is informal without being chatty, and the author's prefatory comments add a fresh breath of after-the-fact perspective. The book starts by asking, "What is an independent software vendor (ISV)?", then goes on to look at how to pick a product idea, how to figure out whether there's a market for it, who to hire, and so on. Sink draws on his own experience with SourceGear Vault and other projects to illustrate his points, and throws in just the right number of amusing anecdotes. The second book, Bob Walsh's Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality, is more structured. As Walsh says on the back-cover blurb, "I wrote this book because it didn't exist when I decided it was high time for me to start my own micro-ISV." It's only a few pages longer than Sink's, but significantly denser: there are more quotes and references, lots of screenshots, and more case studies than anecdotes. I didn't grin as often while reading it, but I put in a lot more yellow sticky notes, and would seriously consider using it as a textbook in a course on the business of software. Which one should you read? I'd say both: the sixty-odd dollars and ten hours they cost could well be the best investment you ever make. If you're serious about going solo, though, I'd start with Walsh's, and take lots of notes.
Eric Sink: Eric Sink on the Business of Software. Apress, 2006, 1590596234, 301 pages, $24.99. Bob Walsh: Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality. Apress, 2006, 1590596013, 376 pages, $29.99.