When Is the Price Too High To Accept?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sometimes my reputation as a software engineer preceeds me. Other times, people simply see me with a computer and try to hire me on the spot.

I was recently approached by a businessman for a simple project in Boca Raton, Florida. It involved writing some custom software to spider through a website, download millions of records and organize the results. It was a relatively straightforward task that would have taken a few days to complete. And the price he was willing to pay? Let's just say that I would have eaten quite well for a while.

So I proceeded to perform a quick check of the site using his login credentials. The average cut-rate programmer would have jumped into the code, programming at a rushed pace, but I'm no average programmer. The first act I took was to read the website's terms of service.

Within minutes it was clear that this project needed to end before I had even charged a dime. The site's terms clearly stated that bulk downloading and re-purposing of its data would trigger immediate litigation. There were even several legal theories that could be used to take action against any one who so much as thought about doing what I was asked to do.

While my worries may have cost me some income in the short-term, my long-term financials were much improved. Not only did I save myself from some immense legal fees, but I likely saved my "client" from potentially dire consequences of his ill-thought-out project.

I wrote out a report that explained not only why the site's owners would be upset, but also how they would be able to use technical means to track down the identity of an individual downloading massive amounts of data from the site.

More importantly, I demonstrated my value as being significantly higher than that of the dime-a-dozen programmers that have become all the rage in recent years. A software engineer who can think critically about business objects and outcomes rather than just lines of code is a valuable commodity indeed.

If you'd like to figure out how to value software products and the software engineers who write them, make sure to check out my book Charge Like a Rhino: The Software Pricing Handbook.