tsJensen

A quest for software excellence...

A Software Development Allegory

Farmer Brown has a tractor. Farmer Jones has a tractor. Both tractors break down every Monday.

Farmer Brown spends every Monday afternoon fixing his tractor and then gets a good five days of work in before he rests on Sunday.

Farmer Jones spends Monday afternoon evaluating the tractor and Monday evening discussing it with his wife writing up a plan and reviewing that plan for fixing it.

Tuesday morning Farmer Jones goes to the diner for coffee and a donut and to discuss his tractor woes with his pals, showing off his plan for fixing the tractor. One of the pals suggests it might not a problem with the doohickey as Farmer Jones suspects. He recommends that Farmer Brown take the tractor to the mechanic for further diagnosis and discussion. So Farmer Jones spends the rest of the day loading up his tractor onto the trailer and hauling it into town whereupon the mechanic tells him he can get to it first thing in the morning.

On Wednesday morning after coffee at the diner, Farmer Jones ambles on over to the mechanic shop and learns that the problem was indeed what he had suspected all along and that he could have fixed the problem in an hour or two on Monday afternoon. So farmer Jones loads up the tractor and takes it home only to find that his wife has baked a nice apple pie and so he spends a lazy afternoon eating pie and talking with his wife and the neighbor who has come over to gossip. That evening he fixes the tractor.

Now first thing Thursday morning, Farmer Jones gets to work and works through Sunday, making his wife cross with him for not attending Services at the church. Farmer Jones is too tired to listen and flops down in bed in need of rest.

And on Monday morning both tractors break down again.

Farmer Brown gets 20% more work done and rests one day a week.

Farmer Jones later gives up on farming and gets a job managing the parts store at the mechanic shop.

What kind of farmer are you?

Hiberfile.sys Removal Note to Self

A very large portion of my system drive, a 250GB SSD, seemed to be gobbled up with my fresh Windows 8.1 install and after install all my tools, I was fast running out of disk space on the C: drive. A quick search for culprits using Effective Search from SowSoft turned up a 64GB file called hiberfil.sys.

After a little hunting and poking, I found the GUI for power management options and tried to turn off hibernate. But that did not get rid of the file.

Not until I found and used the following in an “as Administrator” cmd window did I recover the 64GB of SSD space:

powercfg -h off

And yes, I have 64GB of RAM. Call me spoiled.

Blog Vacation is Over

It's been seven months and two job changes and crazy busy with family, work and life.

Vacation is over.

List of things to blog about.

So much to say, so little time to say it.

Origins of My Inner Geek

In elementary school, I loved being an AV (audio-visual) library assistant and running the mimeograph machine. I knew all the tricks to getting that film strip projector to work. I was an expert overhead projector operator. And I could thread a 16mm projector faster than anyone.

I was the master of my domain. I was a geek before the pocket protector became the defacto standard geek identification badge.

Fast forward to a time when I had suppressed the geek within to become a lawyer. I even took an English undergrad degree. I was married when I received my Bachelor of Arts, so I’m not sure it counted. But they gave it to me anyway. Then having had a chance to work for a lawyer for a while, I realized I could never be a lawyer—I hated the work too much to study for the LSAT. And so I became a tech writer. What else.

commodore_pet4016_3And a few years later, while I furiously scribbled notes on my legal pad, the ancient primitive predecessor to the iPad, I overheard a software engineer say, “It’s not supposed to do that,” while looking at the screen of a computerized simulation going very wrong. At that moment, my mind darted back to my junior high and high school days of banging out BASIC on a Commodore PET, translating the Atari BASIC from the Creative Computing magazine, so that my friends and I could play Adventure.

You are in a deep dark cave. There is a lamp here. What do you want to do?

The microsecond burst of nostalgia closed and I knew then that if I had written the code for that software, it would be doing exactly what I told that computer to do. It took a few years to make the transition, but I let the inner geek out and consumed every computer programming book I could get my hands on. Finally I landed my first professional programming job. And have been doing that for nearly fourteen years now.

And just today, in stand up, I overheard a team member say those immortal words, “It’s not supposed to do that.” My brain seized on the phrase and compelled me to write this post before I could sleep again.

Where did your geek come from?

My Technical 2013

Technically speaking, I had a fun and productive 2013. Here are some highlights worth mentioning.

StorageClient: Client Side Load Balancing

A technology specific problem solved, bypassing server based solution with client side load balancing and fast fail retry algorithms that took us from horrible to nearly 5 nines in reliability while improving overall performance. (This was at the day job, so that's about as much as I can share about that.)

LocalCache: In Memory Cache with Async Persistence

A library that takes advantage of Concurrent Collections in .NET and SQLite to provide fast in-memory caching that persists asynchronously on local disk for rapid rehydration of in-memory cache when an application pool is recycled. This solved a big problem with service level compliance recovery on a critical service, taking complete recovery time from hours to a few minutes. (Also for the day job.)

DuoVia.Net: TCP and NamedPipes Services Library

An extension and revival of RemotingLite that makes intra-process communication easy and fast. This was my first foray into creating and sharing open source software on GitHub and publishing packages on NuGet. I enjoyed it so much, I added 8 more packages to the set. And while these projects were built on my own time, one or two of them are in regular use by one or two teams at the current day job and they have been downloaded over 1,500 times.

VersionedCollections: A Shared Idea Brought to Life

Recently I shared an idea with Ayende Rahien on his blog with respect to creating a snapshot-in-time, read-only view of a collection that is being written to constantly. I'm happy to report that it turned out to be exactly what he needed. And I am honored and appreciative to Ayende for the kudos. Sharing good ideas with community friends is almost as much fun as bringing them to life yourself.

Here's to an equally fun and productive 2014.

Facebook Sucks Away Too Much Time

I have removed Facebook mobile apps from my mobile devices. It was really just occupying too much of my time. I am now considering removing my account entirely. I am finding less and less value in the increasing amount of time I spend on the site. what about you? Have you abandoned Facebook too. Let me know why and how leaving Facebook has affected your life.

Attracting and Keeping Top Talent in Software Development Teams

A friend recently shared a Forbes article with me entitled Top Ten Reasons Why Large Companies Fail to Keep Their Best Talent which I found informative and useful in understanding my own recent thoughts on this topic. Rather than review each of those reasons here, I encourage you to read the original. Instead I would like to share with you the flip side of that coin based on my own recent experiences.

Attracting Top Talent
Before you can work on keeping your top talent, you have to find them and convince them to join your team. Here are five things you should be doing to attract top talent:

  1. Choose a competent and effective recruiter. This can make all the difference. Don’t just hire an agency and let them blast a job description to every Tom, Dick and Mary of the tech world. Know specifically who is representing your company. Make sure that she knows how to find and filter top talent for you. Ensure that she has the communication and people skills required to manage the phone and in-person interviews and coordinate with the hiring manager to make his job even easier rather than just dumping a pile of resumes on a desk and waiting to get paid.
  2. Do more than one phone screen. Give at least two top team members the chance to phone screen the candidate. Make sure they are prepared and understand what they should ask. Then have one or two managers or potential peers conduct a phone screen as well. Never rely on the resume alone to decide whether you will do a face to face interview.
  3. Have the candidate interview with more than just the hiring manager. Have potential peers and even potential subordinates interview the candidate as well. And when possible, have a peer or supervisor of the hiring manager conduct an interview. Meet with and collect the thoughts and opinions of every interviewer and carefully consider their input.
  4. Assure that every interviewer is positive and upbeat about your company but equally honest and transparent about the challenges and opportunities within the company which the candidate may be able to help resolve or improve. Don’t paint a dismal picture but don’t put a shine on a dull spot. Any intelligent candidate who gets different stories from interviewers will think twice before accepting an offer. Transparency and honesty from the bottom to the top of the company will be a refreshing and attractive quality. And don’t worry about scaring off a candidate who is afraid of a blemish. You don’t want to hire someone who wants to work for a perfect company with no opportunities to contribute to the solutions of the real problems that every company has.
  5. Follow up and answer a candidates questions after the interview process is complete and make a decision as quickly as possible. If you will have some delays before you can make a decision, keep the lines of communication open and keep the candidate up to date. This kind of follow through is often overlooked and companies often take for granted that the candidate will sit still and wait. They won’t. To keep a fish on a hook, as they say, you have to work the line. Let it go slack, and you’ll lose.

Keeping Top Talent
Once you have hired a key employee, make an opposites list from the Forbes article and work toward eliminating the reasons that top talent walks out the door. Of the ten, here are my top picks recast as things you should do to keep top talent on your team:

  1. Give your employees an opportunity to have a voice in key policy and process decisions. Listen to your people with an open mind, prepared to change your mind if you have overlooked something. Your top talent will often have better ideas than you may think.
  2. Take the time to provide regular feedback to your employees. Annual reviews are great, but follow up with periodic reviews of goals, professional development, projects and opportunities for improvement. And always find a way to share positive feedback. When you acknowledge achievements and performance, publicly and privately, you’ll get even more of the same.
  3. Make sure that your team members know that you care about their professional career development. The small amount of time you invest in helping your team map their future success will yield returns in happy, dedicated employees much greater even than the recent gains in the gold market.
  4. Steer a steady ship that can make tactical adjustments in course but is on a solid strategic heading. If you run into stormy waters, keep faith with your employees and stay on course. If you need to make strategic course changes, involve your top talent in that decision making. Getting on a boat headed for Hawaii and finding out that the captain has decided to go to Alaska instead without even talking to you can be more than demoralizing.
  5. Build teams of people who can work well together, who are talented and skilled and willing to pull their own weight and then some. Passionate people will help to bring out the best in team members who are having a bad day, but it is impossible to fix a team member who fundamentally lacks the requisite skills and desire to acquire them.
  6. Be open minded and tolerant of opposing points of view. If you do not invite honest discussion with your team at appropriate times, you will lose your top talent and end up with a team that affirms any decision you make, even those that will send you off a cliff that you did not have the foresight to recognize.
  7. You can teach management skills to a leader. But teaching leadership skills to a manager is not so easy. Look for leaders who can motivate and rally teams. You can hire a clerk or accountant to take care of the bean counting. But you may not recover from having a leaderless team and the resultant chaos and confusion and serial loss of top talent that will result. Do not be afraid to amputate and stop the bleeding. Keeping a failed manager long beyond the point of recognizing the problem to avoid the pain of change is an ominous sign to your top talent that you lack the leadership required to steer the ship successfully to port and they will abandon ship at the first reasonable moment.

If you’re making New Year’s resolutions with respect to your company, I urge you to review these lists, and the plethora of others available on the web from sources far more authoritative than me. Take positive action to attract and keep your top talent. And if you find yourself looking for a company that exhibits these desirable qualities, keep up your search. They are out there. And while no company is perfect, there are certainly some that far and away exceed others. So whatever you do, don’t give up hope of a better day.