Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Art in Value

One of the challenges in a creative profession is managing the perception of your “value” including the work that you perform, the objects that you create, and the temperament that you nourish. These are truly three independent metrics.

Due to the demands of the profession and its continually advancing technologies developers tend to dwell more on what they already know (or what they need to learn) rather than focusing on how others perceive them. As software development is both an art and a vocation however, it is important to pay attention to both your internal qualifications as well as the perceived external value that you add to your job.

The value of your physical software development opus is fourfold: it may provide a revenue stream by itself, it may tender “goodwill” to customers and draw them in to purchase other products, it may offer cost savings as the business operates, and finally it may give a strategic advantage by opening new markets that create unique services.

The value of the product you help design is a separate matter however from the value of the actual work that you perform. Somewhat impishly, you can lead a project that creates the next YouTube and still only get paid like a system designer. Your employer compares your base salary to that of any other developer they could hire off the street. The cost of a foot of electrical wire inside a jet plane is the same even if you only use it to connect your power outlet to your reading lamp.

But now let’s consider your actual value as viewed by your employer. This is a more nebulous quantity that relates to a host of factors, many of which are strictly outside of your vocation. Are you a healthy employee? Then you add value by your contributions to the company’s medical plan. Are you cheerful and easy to work with? Then you add value by improving the morale of the workplace. Are you a good mentor? Then you add value indirectly through improving the productivity of others.

As a professional remember not only to stay sharp on your skills, but also to pay attention to the art in your value.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Art of Humor

A friend consulting with me on an Data Warehouse development effort (Lee Laniear) once told me an excellent metaphor that explains the three types of software development projects.

You are like an archer with a quiver full of arrows. In the first type of project, your user places the target in the distance, you grab and load your straightest arrow from your quiver, you draw back the bowstring, take aim, and you give it your best shot. The objective, of course, is to hit the bullseye. You may hit or you may miss, and certainly the aim is more difficult with increasing distance to the target or with increasing crosswinds. But the main point is that you can see where you want to go.

In the second kind of project, you are still the archer, but the user runs back and forth fifty yards away carrying the target. The objective, of course, is to hit the bullseye (not the client). He may stop, run one way, then suddenly stop and run another. He may stand still for brief periods of time, and then without warning start running around again. You grab your straightest arrow from your quiver, you draw back the bowstring, and you aim where you think the target is going to be by the time your arrow reaches it. Your success depends to a great extent on your historical observations of how the user changes his mind. And your self-control to aim safely for the target and not allow your emotions to divert your attention toward more animated ends.

In the third kind of project, you grab your straightest arrow from your quiver, you draw back the bowstring, and then leaning backward, you shoot your arrow straight up into the air. The object is to get the user, carrying the target on his head, to position himself directly underneath the falling arrow.

Successful project managers have an ability to separate themselves from their immediate feelings about the folks providing them with work. They need to be able to understand a larger picture of how others view their world, have a sunny disposition, and cultivate a fair amount of self-effacing graceful humor.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Artful Versions

When you focus on modular resilience, one item that helps a great deal is to pay attention to versioning. Version numbers are of use not only for change management but for testing and customer support as well. Apps developed with Microsoft tools keep their version numbers in a config file. You should standardize on a common meaning for the four subparts of version numbers.

Upgrades that produce a system that is incompatible with a prior release should increment the "major" version number. Upgrades that retain compatibility but that add significant functionality, should upgrade the "minor" version number. Bug fixes that get packaged into a distribution should increment the "release" version number. Finally the developers should increment the fourth component, the "build" number, with every compilation.

I like to present versions to the customer as major dot minor, for example this is versions 2.4 of the software. This version should display in a welcome pop-up and in the title bar of the main screen of your application. But for purpose of technical support I like to display (in a pop-up "About" box) something like version 2.4.3 build 118. Of course all of the version components are retrievable using the system reflection class.

Another helpful trick is to include a parallel matching version number within the backing database. When the client begins to run your software, make sure the version number in the data is compatible with the number in your software.

You should also version all of the modules within your software in a similar fashion. Although the component module versions aren't typically presented to the end user, reflect them to a called module (for debugging purposes) so that the called class can display the version of the invoker whenever it throws an error.

Sometimes it may seem superfluous, but it only takes about 30 seconds to update a version number, and with multiple developers on a project you will find that having this tracking available is invaluable.