Tag Archives: new beginnings

Interview

Depending how you look at it, my interview with RainBird was either non-existent featuring, at best, an informal chat; or it was a gruelling 5 year affair where I had to prove myself by working my way up the ranks of a totally different company. Either way it wasn’t your standard technical interview.

I’ve written on the subject of interviews before, but that was for an established company hiring a developer. At a startup you’re hiring a manager/secretary/handyman who can also code and do a million other things that need to be done, which is a very tall order. I’m not entirely sure how you’d go about doing that without knowing that person and seeing, first hand, what that person was capable of over a prolonged period of time.

This approach to hiring means you can dispense with the incredibly narrow (and often counterproductive) fallacy that you must hire someone with X years experience in technology Y1, because that’s what you use. RainBird needs developers who can code in Node.js, AngularJS, plus a smattering of C++ and Prolog. If we’re charitable I have 1 months worth of industry C++ experience… from over 15 years ago.

Despite that seeming handicap I like to think I have a good understanding of a number of programming languages, including Javascript, a good grasp of architecting systems, the ability to manage a team, a broad set of organisational skills and the ability to build furniture that means, regardless of the technology being used, the longer term benefit I bring to the company by far and away beats the incredibly short term drawback of me having to get up to speed with some new stuff.


1 And don’t get me started on the whole “must be a self starter; must work well by themselves or as part of a team; must have excellent communication skills”; what does that even mean? You’d be unlikely to hire a lazy illiterate who didn’t play well with others for something as simple as a job at McDonalds, let alone put them into a development role – please, for the love of God, stop putting this crap into job specs.

So I Joined A Startup

So I joined a startup… or at least I’m going to shortly. In some respects it’s a bit of an odd move for me as I’m usually the one who opts for the “safe” option, but once you look at the decision in more detail it’s easy to see why it’s a no brainer for me.

The first worry for anyone moving to a startup is “is my job safe?”. But then define safe. We’ve just been through a recession that kicked off by bringing down Lehman’s, who were supposedly “too big to fail”. What I do know is that there’s money for the next year and even if it all goes tits up the experience gained in that year is going to be invaluable.

What about the hours? Well.. what about them? I spend most of my spare time playing with new technology anyway, why not invest that time into something useful, which could ultimately help the company, and therefore me.

And then there’s always the product. To be fair this is what has stopped me going to a startup in the past; I’ve never really believed in the product. My reaction has always been one of “OK, so that’s kind of cool… if it gets traction let me know and, if you’re still looking for people, we can talk”. With RainBird I think the product has the potential to be absolutely awesome. The fairly limited technical beta is already seriously cool.

So yes, it’s a risk, and yes it may flop, but hopefully I’m about to embark on something amazing, with some seriously talented people, doing a job that I can enthuse about at length. Watch, as they say, this space.

PDD, The Other SDLC

As I’ve said before, I’m no stranger to public speaking. That said, NorDevCon was my first conference and, by all accounts, I did OK.

My talk, “PDD1, The Other SDLC2” focused on how external stimuli, such as live production errors and impending deadlines, can cause development practices to break down. Ultimately this breakdown boils down to communication, or lack thereof. This talk was spawned from my talk on “Agile In The Real World” last year, and both of these talks focus on the personal experiences I have had when real life gets in the way of theory.

Personally I like this type of talk as it’s something that tends to resonate with the audience. With Impostor Syndrome and fears about “Am I doing it right?” being quite common among developers it can be quite useful to stand up and highlight where it commonly goes wrong so people know they are not alone.

Of course the irony is my own Impostor Syndrome and fears about “Am I doing it right?” have me worry the audience will respond with “No, we don’t relate to that, it’s just you doing it wrong“. Having the original author of some of the work I was building on attending the talk also added to the pressure a tad.

Having proved to myself that not only can I do it, but that I thoroughly enjoy it, I’ll be looking to see if I can do talks at other conferences3. I’m also hoping to line up so local talks too during the year (including my PDD talk if you missed it at NorDevCon). I suspect this year is going to see a lot of me using Keynote 🙂


1 PDD: Panic Driven Development

2 SDLC: Software [or Systems] Development Lifecycle

3 Ones where I don’t personally know the organiser, and run the group backing the conference 🙂

I am not a developer

I am not a developer anymore” – Me, last night

This (probably not so) startling statement was made by me at yesterdays Norfolk Developers meeting as part of a discussion about the Developer to QA ratio in my team. Actually, the statement is probably more accurate if you change it to “I am not a professional developer anymore“. The reality is I’ve not done any real development at work for about a month now. I’m a manager. I don’t code, I… well, that’s the thing. I’m not so sure what I do any more.

Developers make the worst managers” – Me, c.2003

History has taught me that developers are not good at management. Don’t ask my why this is1, it’s just something I’ve observed during my career. It’s by no means a hard and fast rule, but there is a strong correlation there.

This doesn’t bode well for me. If you’ll excuse the WoW2 analogy: I feel like I’ve gone from being a level 60 Developer with Epic gear to being a level 1 Manager with noobie kit. Oh, everyone says I’m doing a wonderful job, but this is still the honeymoon period and I’ve yet to cock anything up.

Yesterday I… erm…” – Me, 9:00am most mornings during the standup meeting

Part (most?) of my problem revolves round the fact that I no longer produce anything. As a developer I can point to a list of git commits and say “I wrote this code“; I can point to a feature and say “I implemented this“; I can point to a bug report and say “I fixed this“. My job is now meta. I liaise, guide, advise and facilitate while others do the actual work. Hopefully while doing this I add value.

For a long time now I’ve kept a private work journal detailing what I’ve done during the day. It’s proven to be useful on more than one occasion and now my job is much less tangible it helps keep track of what it is I actually do. There is a blissful irony here though: I’m now so busy doing… whatever it is I do during my day, that I don’t always have time to note it down at the end of the day.

Have you tried pairing a QA and a developer together?” – Chris Oldwood, last night, 21:00

One thing I learned being a developer is that peer review is A Good Thing™, and that you can learn new things from the most unlikely places. It’s part of the reason why I am so candid about our development processes at things like nor(DEV): and SyncNorwich, warts and all; the feedback you get is invaluable.

The discussion that ensued after Cat Landin‘s talk last night on why developers are so bad at testing gave some really valuable insight into fixing some of the problems we have in our team. Sometimes all it takes is someone unencumbered by the politics, culture and mindset of an organisation to point out simple, but effective fixes.

After last night I have a number of “bug fixes” for our processes. Lets hope they’re as easy to refactor as code.


1Trust me, if I knew I’d be cashing in on “How to go from Developer to Manager” courses and books.

2World of Warcraft – and also from 5+ years ago, I’ve been clean a while now.

NorDev 1

“It’ll be all right on the night!

And it was! OK, so we had one helper and an organiser drop out at the last minute due to illness; my dinner was a bit rushed; I forgot the memory cards for my camera; I forgot to return the memory card I attempted to borrow; I rather fluffed the wonderfully witty and insightful intro talk I was going to do (twice, given we split it into two chunks); and the projector was playing silly buggers… but I don’t think anyone noticed (well, maybe they noticed the projector, but we’re techies, we expect this kind of thing).

NorDev 1 is in the can and Norfolk Developers is on the map. Our opening night saw nearly 50 developers descend on Virgin Wines in Whitefriars to see Liz Keogh and Phil Trelford talk, as well as enjoy a glass of fizz and a brownie or two.

Liz was, as always, fun and engaging as she detailed the differences between lean and agile practices in a 6 round “fight” with a wicked twist at the end. Given most of my team attended the talk I suspect we’ll be adopting much of what was talked about and becoming more lean over the coming weeks and months – actually, even if they hadn’t attended I’d probably be foisting a lot of it on them, but it’s nice to get buy in from the start, and for them to understand why 😀

Phil’s talk was funny and hugely interesting, even for a Java developer like myself. Having a room full of devs meant he could fire up the IDE and write code live during the talk, something that is helpful when faced with a new language. I find myself hankering after something F#esque for the JVM.

Despite the hiccups I think everyone had fun, people found it interesting and, hopefully, will come to NorDev 2 (Wednesday 10th July… which only seems to be 2 weeks away, eeep!). No doubt it’ll bring its own set of hiccups 🙂

I hate WordPress

A couple of years ago I suffered quite a major hack on my sites thanks to a vulnerability in one of my WordPress plugins. After quarantining everything and disinfecting some key sites I got massively disillusioned with the whole self hosted internet presence thing and slunk off to go spam Facebook with my drivel instead. Facebook doesn’t scratch the blogging itch though and recently I’ve been trying out some alternatives to WordPress. Sadly, many years of using WordPress means, hate it as I do, I’m familiar with it. The plugins, themes and features I want are all there, and its got a very large and active community.

I was looking at using Habari, which showed promise, however it’s too immature at the moment. I may well return to it later if the issues I found with it and the plugins I wanted to use are resolved, but for the time being it’s a grudging return to WordPress. Fresh install, fresh database, fresh start, but WordPress is on its absolute last chance. If it fails me again I’ll probably go roll my own.

Meanwhile I’ve still got sites that I haven’t restored from the attack a couple of years ago. I think it’s time to accept that they’ll never be fixed, let the domain names expire and concentrate on slightly less things at once 🙂