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I had a job about 9 years ago working in a university office where I was essentially a full-time administrative assistant, using some software to manage various aspects of the departmental office. The software was poor, written by a student at the university actually, to fit the specific needs of the office.

Fast forward 9 years, now I am a software developer with about 5 years of development experience, and looking back, I have tons of ideas for how the software can be made better. I want to improve the existing software and, if agreeable, would be open to doing a complete rewrite down the road. I would have to work remotely since I have relocated since then. I know they are still using the same software in some degree of bad-ness, because part of it is public-facing, and from what I saw today, the styling and UI are identical to what they were 9 years ago (if that tells you anything...).

I am tempted to email the dean of the office where the software is used, but I am conflicted about how to word such an email. I want to be bold and assert that I have not only the functional but technical know-how to give them a quality product. Also, I worked pretty closely with this dean when I was there before and am convinced he'll remember me. How do I professionally offer my services without sounding like I'm saying "Hey your software sucks, and if you pay me, I'll fix it...?"

Not asking for someone to write the email for me, just want one or more basic professional guidelines to follow when doing so.

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    Probably belongs on freelancing.stackexchange.com in regards to unsolicited work. – RubberChickenLeader Oct 19 '15 at 21:12
  • @JoeStrazzere, interesting perspective in your question there. I am not the former, so process of elimination makes me say the latter, though I don't know that it qualifies me very well either. I am offering my services. If they say no, I won't be doing more convincing, I already have a full time job -- but honestly my main motivation is that it would be fun. – trpt4him Oct 19 '15 at 21:18
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    @trpt4him If your main motivation is truly "it would be fun", consider making it an open source /free software project instead. – Brandin Oct 19 '15 at 21:32
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Assuming your email gets past the admin assistant to the dean, unless there is a pressing business need I doubt that they would be prepared to spend the money.

However, if you want to try to contact them and see what happens, then you need to make sure you cover the following points:

  • Cost/benefit analysis. How much will it cost compared to how much it would save in poor productivity?
  • Risk. Is there any risk associated with the existing product for support (or lack thereof), or failure?
  • Value for money. Is the price you are giving competitive? How can they tell?
  • Ongoing support. How are you going to install, maintain and support this application while you live remotely? What will be the costs involved? What service level agreements will be in place to correct any issues that may arise?
  • Domain knowledge. Given you used the existing product, then you have a considerable amount of knowledge about how the existing product is used.
  • Process improvement. How would your solution improve processes and efficiencies? Less chance of user error?
  • Leveraged Relationship. Do you have an existing, recent relationship with the dean or the current admin assistant? If not, the next point becomes harder:
  • Why you? There are lots of developers with more experience. Why should they choose you to do this as a cold call?

There are a lot of things you need to consider here, and your communication will be much more than "just an email to the dean". But if you can frame these together, then you might be able to get some traction.

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What unique need is met by this software that can't be met by existing off-the-shelf software? It seems likely the cheapest way to improve the situation would be to abandon the software and import the data into an existing free or commercial application.

Students are particularly prone to writing small custom applications in ignorance of existing applications.

  • They sought a commercial solution while I was there, and obviously, chose not to purchase it, presumably because it wasn't worth it for them to enter into an expensive contract for software that they already had in some form. I don't know how much, or even if, the former student is still providing any support. But I see missing features and interface issues that were subject to complaint 9 years ago that are still there. – trpt4him Oct 20 '15 at 12:10

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