Starting Where You're At

Someone says to you: "you must be doing agile, continuous integration, continuous deployment, automated testing, test driven development, etc. etc. etc. or you're doing it wrong".

For any sufficiently complex application you’re building it's likely that the above things, and more, will be beneficial.

The problem is if you’re not doing any of these things and you feel overwhelmed where do you start?

You start where you're at.

build on each success with subsequent success

I remember watching Ray Mears on TV once and he used the acronym STOP to remember what to do if you get lost or stranded:

  • (S)top
  • (T)hink
  • (O)rient
  • (P)lan

If you feel overwhelmed this may be a useful acronym to help you start where you're at.

Accepting where you are now and starting where you're at can help remove negative feelings and the feeling of being overwhelmed and not being "good enough" at your job.

This of course doesn't mean that you should accept unprofessional practices and not try to improve things, it simply means acknowledging without judgement where you are now and then moving forward to improve things for the future.

You can start with the "big rocks", the more important or foundational things such as making sure you're using adequate source control. Maybe then move to implementing a basic continuous integration build. Maybe then start to add some automated tests, etc. etc.

Do things incrementally and build on each success with subsequent success.

To create the change you desire, you may have to invest in you along the way, develop an understanding that discipline equal freedom, and also ask yourself the question “what would easy be like?”.

Discipline Equals Freedom

One of the books I read this year was Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual by Jocko Willink.

The overarching concept in the book is that if you have discipline now, in the present, this will result in greater freedom in the future.

This could be having the discipline to work out/lift weights; in the future this will most likely result in the freedom to move more with less pain/lift heavy things/go trekking/kayaking on holiday, etc.

This could be having the financial discipline to regularly save/invest money rather that spend everything you earn; in the future this will most likely result in having the freedom to (semi)retire early, not have to work in a job you don't like, etc.

I think the reason this book resonated with me personally is that it helped focus the outlook I already had on investing in the future/thinking longer term.

This concept can also be applied to software development. Disciplined software development now, will most probably lead to greater freedom in the future to make changes or add new features.

As an example, having the discipline to create automated tests can help give you the freedom in the future to make changes without having to perform a load of manual testing or worry about what may have broken unknowingly.

Another example: having the discipline to refactor code as you are working on the current feature/bug to keep the code as clean as possible will most probably give you the freedom to change it more easily in the future.

If you are a manager: having the discipline to allocate time for you team to train/learn/get better even when faced with pressure to deliver will most probably result in the freedom to deliver more in the future.

The concept can also be applied to non-coding practices such as having the discipline to hold a stand up meeting every day, engage business/users/stakeholders regularly, etc.

You can also flip this concept on its head and instead ask: in the future, what aspects would I like more freedom in: in one month, in one year, in 10 years? Let the answers to this question guide you when deciding on what it is you need to be more disciplined on today or this week to make manifest those desired freedoms in the future.

Software Development Wheel

An example of a rendered software development wheel showing what areas are in need of attention.

In business/personal coaching there is an idea of a “wheel of life”. The idea is that you evaluate different dimensions of your life and plot them on a wheel. Ideally the wheel should be balanced (and as large) as possible. If the wheel is crooked, you know what areas need to be improved to create a better wheel that turns more easily. When the wheel turns more easily, you get better results.

In a similar vein, the Software Development Wheel allows you to evaluate your overall software development  experience.

The tool below can be used by individual developers, the software development team as a whole, or team leaders/managers.

To generate your own wheel fill out the form below.

Each dimension is rated from 1 (“very little or none”) to 5 (“awesome, doing everything possible”) and descriptions for the dimensions are included below.

Be sure to share this page with your fellow developers, team leaders, and management as it’s a great way to start a conversation about how to improve things.

More than one person looking at code before it is released. For example: pair programming, code reviews mob programming, etc.

Tests than can be (and are) run periodically to check that code is working as expected. For example: unit tests, integrations tests, UI tests, performance tests, security tests, etc.

Code from developers is regularly combined together to check that it all works together. Usually automated with a build system/server such as TeamCity, Jenkins, VSTS, etc.

Codebase and development teams evolve over time. For example: incremental development, shorter feedback loops, self-organizing/cross-functional teams, etc.

Code that is easier to change. For example: readable code, good object oriented practices (SOLID), YAGNI, use of appropriate design patterns, well-named variables/functions/etc.

Management exists primarily to remove things that stop/slow down the team delivering the software. For example: shielding the team from management politics, empowering individuals and teams to make decisions, caring about people, providing training, etc.

The team has the best tools that are available to do their work. For example, powerful hardware, latest versions of IDEs, multiple monitors, etc.

Comfortable work environment. Includes: comfortable ergonomic chairs/desks, standing desks, peace and quiet, air conditioning, plants, cleanliness, etc.

Investing In You

I grew up in humble surroundings, my family was for the most part “working class”, I moved around a bit as a kid, moved schools a few times, and lived in state/council housing. At one point as a child (due to some unfortunate circumstances) we lived for a short time in a “homeless” hostel – a transitional place whilst waiting for state housing to be allocated. In one area that I lived as a child I had a knife pulled on me outside a local shop, I learned then how quickly I could run! Today I live in a nice safe suburb, drive a decent car, and generally don’t have to worry too much about personal safety or not having a roof over my head. This is due to some kindnesses I’ve been shown along the way and also by investing. Investing in myself…

I recently completed reading Tony Robbins  Money Master the Game, it is a good book for those new to investing - with a few chapters being somewhat US-centric. (Other books you may find interesting if you’re just starting out your investing journey include The Little Book of Common Sense Investing and A Random Walk Down Wall Street.) While Money Master the Game contains a lot of information about how to attempt to maximize your financial returns and  ways to diversify your portfolio, in it Tony also talks about  how you can add more value.

One way to improve your financial investments is by by investing in yourself.

One nice idea is that by investing in yourself you can add more value and if you can add more value you can earn more and if you can earn more you can invest more.

I had some help and kindnesses shown to me in my journey and like everyone I’ve also some challenges to deal with along the way. Even though I come from a somewhat humble  background, and as a white heterosexual male I’ve never had to deal with prejudice, I am lucky that I have always loved to learn. I became fascinated by computers and programming from an early age and was lucky enough to borrow one for a time when I was younger. Eventually my interest and enthusiasm meant I was lucky enough to get my own machine.

Over the many years I continued to learn and was eventually privileged enough to be able to attend university to study computing. Even after starting my first job I continued to learn in my own time, in the evenings and at weekends, always interested in learning more.

As I look back now, at the time I was just following my natural curiosity, but looking back what I was really doing was investing in myself.

About 2 and a half years ago I stepped into a gym for the first time in my life. I look back now and smile, my first experience was not pleasant, I didn’t know what exercises to do, I tried bench pressing with an empty bar and wobbled all over the place, while the muscular guy next to be hoisted 50kg dumbbells to the sky. I went home feeling awful and a little stupid. Two days later I went back, and I kept going back. I devoured Arnold Schwarzenegger's Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding and eventually paid for some personal training sessions to learn how to clean and press and bench press properly. Whilst I am not a shredded muscular bodybuilder, I did lose 14kgs over 2 years and add some amount of muscle mass and some strength. This is another example of investing in you, this time the physical you. Oftentimes, as developers we don’t always take the best care of ourselves, but I believe investing in the physical you carries over to the work/business you.

As the adage goes, "if you want better answers, ask better questions". One question I’m asking myself this year is: how can I continue to add more value than anyone else? As a software developer and “techie-minded”, in the past I would have thought of a question like this as being big-headed or management-speaky. But if you want to help others you need to help yourself and if you want to help yourself you need to offer value to others.

If you want better answers, ask better questions

It’s good to take a step back sometimes and ask ourselves some questions, especially as we get laser focused on the test we’re writing or the feature we’re working on or the sprint that we’re in, or the next project that might be coming along.

I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given in life, I’m grateful for the challenges and failures and what I’ve learned from them, and I’m grateful for the gift of my lifelong love of learning.

Whilst somewhat dramatic, there is some truth to the phrase “if you’re not growing you’re dying” and if you want to grow you have to invest in you.

What Would Easy Be Like?

As another (Gregorian) year edges ever closer, it’s a period that offers a natural reflection time on what happened in the past year and the forging, often weakly, of “New Years Resolutions”.

One interesting question to ask for your work (or personal) life is: “what would easy be like?”.

For example, looking back to the past year where was the pain, sadness, frustration, long hours, constant overtime, feelings of falling behind in new technologies, failed deployments, the same bugs re-occurring over and over again, unsupportive management, mean co-workers, feelings of inadequacy, disappointed customers, etc.

you should feel like you’re doing your best work

Take some time. Make a list. Write them all down.

Now imagine what it would feel like if all of the things on the list did not exist in the upcoming year – what would easy be like?

Fixing some of the things may mean radical decisions such as quitting your job and moving employer.

Some things may not be quite as radical: better automated testing to catch bugs earlier.

You probably won’t be able to fix everything on your list. Starting from the point of view that things should be easy, that you should feel like you’re doing your best work, can be a powerful way to frame where you’re currently at and where you want to be by this time next year.

Winning in 2016

As the year 2015 starts its last slide into 2016, it’s the time of year that I start to think about what my 3 Wins are going to be for next year.

If you’re not familiar with the 3 Wins concept, it’s similar to goal setting but rather than focus on “what will I tick off my todo list” it’s more along the lines of “what will make me feel great, like I’ve accomplished something, like I’ve made progress…”. One way to help come up with three wins is to imagine how your future self will feel when you look back on the year and have accomplished all your 3 Wins.

It’s important to make your 3 Wins achievable, otherwise not achieving any of them could be disheartening and demotivating.

One technique to guide you, while being sounding very “managementy”, is the concept of SMART criteria.

SMART is an acronym that stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-related (or Time-bound)

Using SMART may help if you are struggling to create your own 3 Wins.

You might have 3 Wins for your work/career and you may also have 3 Wins for personal/health/family/etc. related things. Also you can use 3 Wins daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or at any scale you wish; you could even have decade or lifetime 3 Wins.

On Staying Positive and Subconscious Prejudices

So I was toying with an idea using SignalR on Azure.

In the client code:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<head>
    <title>Internet Uptime</title>
</head>
<body>   
    <script src="Scripts/jquery-1.6.4.min.js"></script>
    <script src="Scripts/jquery.signalR-2.1.0.min.js"></script>
    <script src="/signalr/hubs"></script>
        
    <script>
        $(function () {
            var hub = $.connection.uptimeHub;            

            $.connection.hub.start();           

            hub.client.internetUpTime = function (time) {
                $('body').text(time);
                
            };           
        });
    </script>    
</body>
</html>

So when the server sends  an “internetUpTime” message, the <body> is being set to the content of the string sent from the server.

More...

On Showing Up

So I just listened to episode 1000 of .NET Rocks. I’ve been listening to this podcast for many years, through biting snow-covered walks in England to the cosseted comfort of an air-conditioned car in Australia when it’s 43C outside.

1000 episodes is an amazing achievement and it got me thinking.

There’s a lot of popular talk at the minute on advancing your career, becoming an outlier, and building a personal brand. The thing is there’s one underlying trait that successful people seem to possess: showing up.

"if the rope breaks nine times, we must splice it together a tenth time"

Fear is a big motivator, for the longest time (like so many other developers I’ve met) fear was present; fear of not knowing everything, fear of looking stupid, fear of not being able to find another job. For the most part I’ve let this fear fly away and one of the ways I think I’ve done this through persistence, thorough showing up.

I think if you take an approach of continuous personal improvement you will. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out into the world, whether this be blogs, user groups, Twitter, or lunchtime “brown bag” sessions presenting to your colleagues where you work.

There are always going to be people who criticize, but there are also always going to be people who say “thanks”.

There’s a Tibetan saying that “if the rope breaks nine times, we must splice it together a tenth time” – this is showing up, even when you feel you have nothing to contribute, are fearful of criticism, or feel like you can’t get anywhere – there are always choices, and showing up is one of them.

As Jim Carey says: “you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love”.

5 Ways to Contribute to Open Source - It’s Not All Code

Open source is cool. Most of us use at least one open source project in our daily work. Even if we don’t, the websites we visit probably do.

It’s easy to contribute to an open source project, even if you don’t write code.

Contributing To Open Source pyramid diagram

This diagram shows some of the different ways to contribute.

Tweet About the Project

The easiest way to contribute to a project is to either Tweet about it to tell people that it exists, or send a Tweet to the contributors / creators. Most open source authors don’t get paid, saying thankyou is not only nice but is good encouragement for the authors to keep the project going.

Submit a Bug or Idea

Don’t like something about the way a product works? Wish it had a killer new feature? Don’t remain silent, instead head over to GitHub or CodePlex or wherever the project is hosted and create a new Issue or Bug “ticket” to tell the authors about it. Even if you think your idea may not be useful to other users, submit it anyway and let the project team decide.

Contribute Documentation or Design

Even if you’re not a programmer or you don’t have time to submit code to the project you can still help. There are some great open source projects out there, unfortunately sometimes the documentation for these projects is either non-existent, out of date, or lacking. Helping to make better documentation is a quick win for everyone.

Another contribution you can make is to the project design. Maybe you’re a graphic designer or know someone who’s an artist. Help the project team out by designing the project website CSS or by contributing a logo design. A lot of projects have limited time and so focus on the code, they don’t have time for design and logo-making. This is a great non-coding contribution to make.

Contribute Code

Contributing code to open source projects is a great gift of our valuable time and keystrokes. We can make the products better for ourselves and others. It’s also a great opportunity to learn.

If you’re running an open source project consider creating a label for easy issues/bugs/work items that a newcomer can tackle.

Create a Project

This is a biggie. If you’ve got an idea for a project, go for it! It’s super easy to get started on GitHub or CodePlex.

10 Pluralsight Courses–A Milestone

I just had my 10th Pluralsight course released; Building .NET Console Applications in C# teaches how to create well-designed, fully-featured .NET Console applications.

When I hit 7 courses I wrote Three Things I’ve Learned Being a Pluralsight Course Author and those learnings still stand but there’s three other things that I think I also appreciate more now.

1 Continuous Improvement

As the saying goes: practice really does make perfect; though aiming for “perfection” is probably not a path to happiness. To paraphrase Mother Teresa: don’t try to do great things in this life, just do small things with great love.

We did not weave the web of life, we are merely strands in it

Continuous improvement doesn’t just apply to code, it applies to ourselves as a whole. A the name of this site implies, if we don’t take good care of our health (mental, physical, spiritual) then our code will be affected adversely. We know this from our own experience, we can bang our head against a problem and stay late for hours only to leave work without success, feeling tired and unproductive. The next morning we start work and solve the problem in 10 minutes. We are not machines, we shouldn’t think of ourselves as such. We are not Human Resources, we’re just Human.

I’ve learnt loads by being a Pluralsight author, maybe one day I’ll make it to 20 courses, there’s one thing for sure: my 20th course will be better than my 1st. We should all look for and feel a sense of progress, if we aren’t then maybe it’s time to revaluate our circumstances.

The goal of getting better and making progress is, I think, a better goal than becoming perfect.

2 Gratitude

No matter how cool the things we do for work are, it’s easy for the common to become unconsciously ignored.

Having my 10th course published is probably a good time to reflect with gratitude.

I’m grateful for:

  • Being part of the Pluralsight vision to democratize online tech training for people around the world, because
  • The work I do on course production helps people to get better at what they do
  • The opportunity to create, and have what I create viewed by thousands of people around the world
  • Being part of what really is a revolution in tech training, and Pluralsight really is leading the way for tech training
  • And finally, simply being able to teach.

3 Changing the World

We sometimes don’t think of the ripples we send out into the world by our actions. No thing exists purely because of a single cause. A complex web of things brought the thing into existence.

Continuous improvement doesn’t just apply to code, it applies to ourselves as a whole

Take for example the clothes you are wearing right now. You aren’t wearing them simply because you bought them: someone made them, someone made the machine that made them, someone harvested the cotton that made them, someone planted the cotton, someone drilled the oil to make the diesel that delivered that t-shirt to the store, and so on.

In the same way, the work we do sends ripples into the world. When we make software, we change people’s lives. When someone learns and uses something from one of my courses, their software gets better, and their lives and the lives of their users is improved. This is a pretty amazing thing to be part of.

“We did not weave the web of life, we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves” – Chief Seattle.