Perspective

Microsoft: Welcome to Your New Future!

Microsoft logo

2020 has been an interesting year for everyone, without a doubt. For me, 2020 involved a career change that wasn’t something I was expecting at the start of the year. I had been comfortable with my past employer, Magnet Forensics, for just shy of 8 years and had the opportunity to work on many high-impact projects as part of a mission to help with saving children and assisting law enforcement. But at the end of August, I started my first day in my next adventure with Microsoft.

I wanted to write a couple of posts about getting up and running at Microsoft so I figured I’d start with some high level points. This post will be focused on what it was like to join a tech giant after helping scale a startup to hundreds of people internationally.

Meeting the Team and Colleagues

My hiring manager at Microsoft had a list of people he thought would be great for me to reach out to. Forerunners would be the team I’ll be managing and then connections for different functions I would be interfacing with. As well, the list included complimentary teams we’d be working with. Coming from a place where I had the luxury of being around since the beginning of the engineering department, it was a new experience for me to be the outsider… However, this list of initial connections was a great way for me to get oriented.

And well if you didn’t know… Microsoft is big. Really big. So this was an extremely intimidating experience for me. But as soon as I logged into Microsoft Teams I got a message from one of the engineering managers that interviewed me. And I mean literally as soon as I logged in because I didn’t even know where the notification sound came from! And it was an incredibly welcoming message that stuck out to me because this reinforced with me that I wasn’t just a number in a hiring process to fill a seat. Shortly after, I received a message from an old university friend on Microsoft Teams that was congratulating me on my new role and welcoming me to Microsoft. I could feel the tension easing up as I was feeling like I had some great connections already.

So I started sending out the emails to introduce myself and of course it felt awkward saying “Hi I’m the new guy… I know you’re super busy but can you set aside some time so I can get to know a bit more about you and how we’ll interact?” But you know what? Every single person was enthusiastic to welcome me and get something put in our calendar to chat further. Every. Single. One. I haven’t felt so welcomed before. Just another big-tech-stereotype that I had demystified for myself and I couldn’t be happier about it as I started my first day.

Microsoft: Consistent Values

Having not worked for a “big tech company” before, I think that like many people that have lived startup and small business life I made a lot of assumptions about what things might be like. After all, Microsoft has been around since… forever! I’ve been using Windows and Microsoft products since I was physically able to use a computer (which if you took a wild guess was at a very early age). We all know big tech companies only have small pockets of really awesome people… and everything is super corporate with a million layers of bureaucracy… And everything feels like a battle against “the system” just so you can get your opinion heard and….

Okay, so none of that was even remotely close to true. And it was VERY obvious from day one that through *all* levels that there is a homogeneous mission and vision. When the CEO talks about diversity and inclusion and then you see it coming up in the training, and coming up from different levels of leadership, and then directly in your conversations with peers ALL within the first couple of days… You know Microsoft has done something right to nail culture.

This is simply one example that I’m using that I feel would probably hit home with many of us, and I share it because while I could speculate that big corporations might just say they want to focus on this kind of thing in a media or press release, I was shocked (in a positive way) just how much emphasis is put into something that the company believes is a priority. Especially at the scale of the organization. These company-wide goals to focus in certain areas penetrate all levels of the organization and in such a way that you don’t feel “forced” into it, but rather you feel empowered and motivated to be part of the solution and have an influence in it.

Wrapping Up

I think that everything I had hoped was true from my initial talks with the recruiter right through to interviewing with the team was proven to be true right from my starting day at Microsoft. My fears of big-tech-bureaucracy and stagnated perspectives of a behemoth company (and actually more on this to come!) were shut down right away. All of this was such reassuring news as I was getting set up.

While switching companies in tech might not feel like a big deal to some people, for me this has been a completely different life path, and as I mentioned at the start it wasn’t one that I could have easily envisioned for myself. In my previous role I was challenged. I had responsibilities and expertise. I was part of an incredibly important mission. I managed teams of people I loved working with and had colleagues I’d consider to be some of my best friends.

But I was also comfortable. And on that note, I’ll be discussing why I believe that Microsoft is the perfect opportunity for me to challenge myself and help take on a growth mindset.


ProjectXyz: Why I Started A Team For My Hobby Project

ProjectXyz - Why I Started a Team

Who Needs A Team?!

I’ve been building RPG backends for as long as I’ve been able to code. I think my first one that I made for my grade 11 class is the only RPG that I “finished”… It was text-based and all you could do was fight AI via clicking attack, buy better weapons, level up, and repeat. It was also 10000 lines of VB6 code and so brutal that I couldn’t add anything to it without copying hundreds of lines of code.

Since then, I’ve had the itch. I keep rewriting this thing. I keep taking “Text RPG” (super cool and catchy, I know) and rewriting it. I had my first visual representation of this game called Macerus (here’s another rewrite for unity), which is actually how I landed my first co-op job. But every time I’d get so far, I’d decide I needed to rewrite it because I had messed up the architecture in some way and refactoring would be too much work.

My latest attempt is called ProjecyXyz, because I can’t come up with names. And funny enough, I just Googled it while writing this article and there’s actually a company with the same name… So maybe I’ll have to get more creative. ProjectXyz is supposed to be a very generic RPG game framework that allows new systems, mechanics, and game content to be dropped in, in addition to being independent of a front end for rendering.

It’s also something I’ve been making on my own. Because I’ve been making RPG backends on my own for years now. So who needs to have a team, right?

Too Much Pride For A Team

I think initially I wanted to do this all on my own because of pride. I also don’t think it was something I was conscious about except for the fact I looked at this project as my baby and something I could control the development of. I wasn’t consciously telling myself “I have to do this on my own so that I’m better than other people” or anything silly like that.

But why would I go ask others for help? They don’t code like me. They don’t have the same investment into this idea as me. They aren’t as passionate. They might have their own ideas for how to do things too! How could I have someone like that working on MY project?

Those are all pretty naive reasons for considering to work alone though. Sure, this is my pet project and I’m going to likely feel more attached to it than anyone else. That’s probably expected. It doesn’t mean that I can’t find people that are super interested in working on something like this. They could be totally passionate about learning different aspects of creating an RPG backend.

As for having their own ideas… That’s probably one of the BIGGEST reasons in FAVOUR of having a team! It’s easy to get scared about having other people put their ideas into something you feel like is “yours”. It might have taken a few years of working in the industry (currently just passed 6 years of working at Magnet Forensics), but it’s actually very common for other people to be contributing ideas into code bases you’re working on. It happens every day. Sometimes you have design meetings or code reviews or general architectural discussions and your idea ISN’T the one that’s picked. That’s cool! As long as everyone is striving for extensible and testable code, we can make changes if we need to going forward. You don’t need to make every decision and sometimes it’s much better that way. Other people are smart too ūüėČ

Passion is Key for a Team

While the “team” I started isn’t an official team, it’s the first time I’ve been very open to having people directly contribute to my pet project. I think one of the most obvious reasons I became comfortable with this is because I found someone that was very passionate about exploring this space.

My colleague and I were talking about some of the concepts in ProjectXyz and where I wanted to go with it. Immediately he expressed interest in map generation and how that’s always been something he wanted to explore. How can maps be procedurally generated? Can we take this concept and generate maps on the fly? What are memory and runtime constraints? How do we represent this information in code? What about persistent storage?

I could immediately tell he was very curious about how a system like this might work. After several conversations with him about how he was starting to hack up some ideas and doing research on different algorithms, I knew he was passionate about it. We discussed working on some of these things together and contributing to the project code that I have, and we’ve been going back and forth for a few weeks now sharing ideas and his progress that he’s making for map generation. I’ve been hands off only really acting as a sounding board for him.

I think having someone passionate like this is critical for a small team. There’s going to be many barriers when working on a challenging project, and it’s easy to get bogged down and lose motivation when you’re stuck. Having additional people that are passionate about seeing progress in your project means you have some support for pushing through those hard times when you might lose motivation. If my colleague comes to me and says “I’ve been stuck on this issue and maps wont generate how I want…”, then I’m more than happy to sit down with him and talk through his algorithm and maybe where there’s an issue. I’m invested in seeing his piece come to fruition. Similarly, if I’m working on something like dynamic item generation for the game and I get stuck, I know he’s there to do the exact same thing. We both want to see this thing working how we intend.

So passion is important for a team. But is it sufficient? Is it the only requirement for adding a team member?

A Team is Built on Trust

Trust! Trust is a huge part of establishing a team because you need to be able to rely on each other. As mentioned, my colleague is passionate about working on this and has an interest in map generation. But what if I had never seen any of his code before? What if I didn’t know if he’s had practice with writing extensible code, testable code, following good design practices, etc… What if?

To be honest, I probably would be pretty nervous about him contributing code. It might be a huge barrier for me. I’d want to review his code and make sure it wasn’t “polluting” my pet project. I’ve re-written this code enough times that I really don’t want to have to think about rewriting it again! If I was nervous about someone contributing code I was going to need to re-write from scratch just to have an extensible design, it might not even be worth it having them contribute in the first place. It might actually create MORE work in the long run. It sounds selfish, but if the goal of adding someone to the team is to provide a net positive effect, then having to re-write code that isn’t up to par might be a deal breaker.

But that’s not the case here. I have multiple years of experience working with this colleague closely on various projects. We align to coding practices but still have our own twist on things. We value the same things in “good” code (extensible and testable). We use many of the same design patterns in similar situations. I’ve seen enough of his code to know that most of the time my comments about it are “oh, have you considered” and not “… you need to rewrite this”.

I can trust that what he wants to contribute will be aligned to my vision. I also can trust that new ideas he introduces are probably awesome new perspective that I hadn’t thought of. I also trust that if we disagree on something, we’re open to discussing it and coming to a resolution. So trust in this case certainly removes the barrier to entry to adding additional people to my hobby project.

Should You Form a Team?

While this was a pretty general article, I just wanted to get you thinking about opening up your hobby project(s) to other people to contribute. This is something I wish I would have considered more seriously early on. Maybe I wouldn’t be re-writing my project for the millionth time!

Some general points:

  • You’re not a “worse” programmer for getting other people contributing. Good programmers need to be able to work with others!
  • Other people can have good ideas too! Sometimes, they’re even better than your own ideas ūüėČ
  • Other people may have more knowledge or interest in areas that need to get work done that you just don’t want to do! Perfect!
  • You’ll want to try and find people passionate about working in the area your project focuses
  • You’ll want to find people that you feel like you can trust so that you’re comfortable with them working on “your baby”
  • Getting help doesn’t mean your code must be “open source”. You can still share private repositories together (i.e. consider BitBucket!)

So what do you think? Is your hobby project kind of stale because you’ve hit enough roadblocks and it’s time to get some more firepower to tackle it?

Share your thoughts below about your experiences with forming teams for your hobby projects!


Doubling Down: My Specific Strategy

Doubling Down: My Specific Strategy - https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=130306

Doubling Down: The Quick Background

I recently wrote about how and why I’m looking to double down on my strength to improve a weakness, and I figured it would be a great follow up to try and explain the specifics in my strategy. It’s an interesting learning opportunity for me, so why not share it with those that are interested?

The format of this post is really just to call out the specifics of some strategies I’m looking at exploring when building the brand for my vehicle to help with sponsorship opportunities.

Reach Outside Core Audiences

This one shouldn’t be a shock to you if you’re familiar with this blog already. It’s primarily aimed at programming, leadership in a tech environment, and self reflecting as a means to improve. One of my goals is to explore attracting other audiences that might have a bit of overlap with my core audience in order to build up awareness of my brand. In this particular case, I’m writing about branding in the online world and attempting to relate it to setting personal goals and establishing a plan to reach them. So while this topic is outside my core domain here, I think there’s some interesting overlap, and working on this will help me build up the knowledge for how to apply this to my vehicle brand.

I’d like to practice on this blog by writing about some things that are slightly outside of the norm for the content here and gauge how readers react. This learning will be used to expand the brand awareness of my vehicle when I apply it in that domain. Or that’s the theory, at least.

Linking to Related Content

If you’ve been paying attention, I’ve been trying to link you, my fearless reader, to other content I’ve created. It’s a simple tactic to provide you with more opportunities for the information you’d like to read more about and simultaneously keep you engaged with more of my own content.

The specific goal here is exploring how readers consume related information. When it comes to my vehicle brand, perhaps those that are interested in the wheel brand I use will also be interested in the air suspension setup I run. Perhaps the shop that does my work can gain more business because someone clicked a link or followed the breadcrumb trail to their site. Something about content synergy <insert eyeroll>.

Content Planning

Between the last post on doubling down and this current post, I had to do a little bit of work beforehand to plan content. This is something I need to practice more of, and I think I can do a good job of it when it comes to writing programming articles. So for example, I’m picking up more Unity3D work and would love to write more about Unity3D.

This will have great carry over for social media platforms when trying to plan content around events that my vehicle will be at. I can engage audiences better if I have a better plan for content, but this will take practice, time, and effort. The practice part is something I can work at on this blog with little risk because it comes a bit more naturally.

Ads: Hosting Them and Creating Them

This is a big one for me because it’s very new to me, in general. This blog runs ads, and without much experience, they’ve been able to generate a little bit of income (and I mean, very little). It’s something I can work at tuning to get better results, especially because I at least have a starting point to work with.

On the flip side, I’ve never created ads for my blog to drive traffic to this site. This is something I need to explore in order to help with the vehicle brand, and is a great example of doubling down on a strength. This devleader brand has better online presence (at least in terms of a website) than my vehicle’s brand. I think it would be a significantly easier experiment to work on creating ads for this site to drive traffic here and perhaps use my small ad revenue to seed this initial experiment. Minimize the risk!

Once I learn how to use ads better, I can perhaps apply this to the vehicle brand to drive more traffic to the content I create for that.

Calls to Action

For social media engagement, it’s really important to have calls to action. In the last post on doubling down, I added a call to action right at the end of the post. Did you see it?

Maybe not, and that’s okay because I’m practicing it. For Instagram and Facebook, it’s extremely helpful for generating impressions when you have your audience interacting with you. The more practice with creating good calls to action, the better I can do with my vehicle brand.

Next Steps

My next steps for my doubling down strategy are to start with creating some Unity3D articles. As I mentioned above, I’m looking to work more with Unity3D so it’s another great doubling down opportunity where it’s minimal investment for me (I’m already doing the research, I just need to write about my experiences) and a low-risk area to experiment in. I can practice some of the individual pieces of my strategy (as outlined above) in creating a series of Unity3D articles, and measure my success along the way.

If you’re a Unity3D programmer, what sorts of Unity3D articles would you be interested in? I plan to start some on Autofac and some cool patterns I’ve been using, but I’d love to hear what you’re interested in!


Double Down On Your Strengths!

Double Down on Your Strengths - https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=130306

Double Down: Why I’m Working This

I haven’t written in a while, and despite setting a goal for myself to start writing more, I’m not going to kick my own butt over not getting around to it. Actually, if anything my priorities and goals have been evolving over the past while and it’s been a great growing opportunity. Previously, I wanted to start up writing again to work on my ability to self-reflect. In all honesty, other factors came into play and this started to happen more naturally without forcing myself into writing more.

Now that my goals are changing again, I’m realizing that I need to come up with some creative solutions for addressing them. For total transparency, one of my hobby goals is creating a brand for my show car, Ignantt. It’s a fun hobby of mine, and in order to keep it going I’m looking into sponsorship opportunities to take things to the next level. Sponsors are interested in your social media reach, and rightfully so. They want to make sure they can reach a wider audience by working with you.

I’ve been active on social media for my vehicle’s brand, but I’m interested in accelerating this. One option I’m exploring is paid promotions, but like many people, I’m a little bit skeptical and I feel weird about spending money out of my pocket to do this. Social media marketing is certainly not a strength of mine, but I would love to work on that.

So that’s where my creative strategy comes in!

Focus on Weaknesses or Double Down?

I read a lot about focusing on your weaknesses to become better and more balanced, and that concept makes sense to me. It’s going to take trial and error in addition to consistent effort to become better at something. Time. Resources. It’s just the nature of the beast. I’ll give you a few examples:

I’m interested in strength training. When you’re looking to improve a lift, whether it’s your bench press, your squat, your deadlift, or any other lift, you need to actively train that movement. As a novice, you’ll quickly see strength improvements. However, as your body adapts these improvements slow down. If you’re trying to increase your one rep max and progress is stalling, it might be a great opportunity to train strength in other rep ranges that you’re lacking in. The side effect of this can be that your one rep max strength breaks through a plateau. Maybe you have a weak body part you need to build more strength in, and as a result, fixing this imbalance allows you to continue to progress in your strength. These are all examples of working on a weakness to become stronger in another area, and in this particular case it’s physical strength for a lift.

I’m also interested in bodybuilding. Similar examples apply here as with strength training because bodybuilding has a lot to do with symmetry and balance. Got big arms but tiny legs? You won’t do great on stage until you bring up your lagging legs because judges are looking for symmetry between your upper and lower half. Arnold Schwarzenegger was known for blasting his small calves until they were no longer a weakness. It’s about balance in bodybuilding, so turning your weaknesses into strengths is important.

Double Down to Reduce Risk

So why might I suggest that you double down on your strengths instead of just hammering away at your weaknesses? Well, in this case I’m looking to reduce risk in terms of time and money while taking a more slow and steady approach to working on my weakness. My blog for development and leadership has been more successful in terms of generating online traffic and ad revenue. It’s nothing crazy, but it’s been proven more successful than my other blogs or sites. For me to invest more time and money into this blog is actually minimal effort, minimal risk, and it’s also aligned with some of my other goals (which I’ll follow up about). In fact, instead of feeling like a forced scenario to write, I have some topics I’d like to write about because they’re recent learning experiences.

My thought process is that I can continue to use this blog to:

  • ¬†Generate a small amount of revenue
  • Experiment with content creation in an area I’m stronger in and have more experience with
  • Use my learnings to carry into a different area/domain but with similar goals

Generalizing My Double Down Strategy

While I absolutely believe balance in many things if very important, I think there are opportunities where you can double down on your strengths to help improve in other areas.

This boils down to:

  • The area I’d like to improve in is something I’m lacking experience in and as a result, could be risky to heavily invest resources into
  • I have an area I’m strong in that has potential carry over to my weak area
  • My strong area can be used as a buffer to minimize risk (i.e. potentially use ad revenue from one to pay for ads for the other)
  • Focusing on my strength is aligned to something I enjoy, so it won’t feel forced to work on it

Double Down Summary

While this may not make sense to do all the time, I think the timing works really well for me. I’m going to write a follow up to discuss particular examples of how I plan to execute this and how they relate to building the brand for my vehicle.

Can you think of any areas that you can double down in to improve another area in your life?


Resolutions: Why Have Them and How to be Successful

Resolutions

What’s Up With Resolutions?

It’s that time of year! You know, where everyone is thinking back on all of the things they wish they had actually accomplished this year and they’re convincing themselves they’ll get it done next year. It’s time to set some New Year’s resolutions!

But what’s up with that? Why does it take people a whole year to reflect on what’s going right or wrong in their life and try to change their direction? Why does it take you a year to realize your diet and exercise regime is something you couldn’t stick to and you’re no better off than you were last year? Why were you still unmotivated in your career doing the same old thing? Why didn’t you get your head in the game for school? Why did you continue to pursue toxic relationships?

Continuous Improvement

Resolutions are all about trying to get better; we’re trying to continuously improve. Often when I talk to people about “agile” software development, all that I really try to drive at is that “continuous improvement”, in my own personal opinion, is really the important part.

So¬†to continuously try to improve, you need to analyze what’s going well and what’s going not so well, set some goals, try things out, and re-evaluate. It’s a nice iterative cycle. It’s kind of like setting mini resolutions for yourself (or in the case of software development, maybe for your team or teams).

The¬†big difference is the amount of time between measuring whether or not your change is having an effect! Waiting an entire year to try and measure your success would be absolute insanity in a fast moving software environment… why haven’t we gotten better at realizing this for our own personal continuous improvement?

Mark Manson

I’ve been reading a ton of Mark Manson material lately because of events going on in my life and the fact that the way he writes really aligns with how I often talk to my close friends. There’s analysis, there’s some humour, but it’s often a bit blunt and to the point. It’s actually a really nice change from many leadership, self help, or similar content where everything almost feels impossibly positive. This just feels like a real person talking to you.

Mark talks about setting goals in this blog post, and it got me motivated to reflect on my own goals and even write this post. In Mark’s post, he talks about our identities being built up by a bunch of habits, and goes on to state that some research shows that often habits only take about 30 days to form. In his opinion, using a whole year to set a goal of changing, adding, or dropping a habit just allows us to procrastinate for the entire year and then ultimately we fail.

His suggestion? Shorten the time frame.

If it takes on average 30 days to make a habit, why not have a “New Month’s Resolution”? Setting resolutions this way should then allow you to establish a new habit and then at the end of the month reflect on whether or not it worked well. You have less time to procrastinate. Your iteration is much shorter. Interesting.

My Own Goals

I figured I’d wrap this up by sharing some of my own goals publicly. I have a few things I’d like to work on coming up for the year, so I’ll outline them briefly:

  • Read more:
    • I’ve definitely dropped the ball on this one. I always had the excuse for myself that I don’t have time to do it. However, I found when I read the most consistently was when I found a decent book that I could read for a few minutes before I fell asleep every night. No pressure to get through it, but the books were there if I felt intrigued or needed to relax my brain a bit.
  • Try¬†meditation:
    • I’ve always associated meditation with being spiritual or religious. Both of these things don’t really mesh well with me, personally. Mark Manson mentioned meditation in his post that I mentioned earlier, and it gave me a different perspective. I know I get stressed easily and I used to have pretty bad anxiety problems. Maybe this is something I could try out?
  • Write more:
    • I used to blog a lot. Between this blog, my fitness blog, and my car blog, I used to write content multiple times per week. It was always a bit of a social media experiment to get a better feel for how internet traffic works and where different types of content get the best visibility, but it also let me express myself. My content production has been almost nothing over the past year, and it’s something I’d like to look at more of.
  • Try public speaking:
    • This was something my HR Director had a chat with me about as a potentially cool opportunity. We were discussing getting more involved with the community and pushing boundaries, and she proposed speaking to students at local colleges or similar. I was turned off by it at first because I don’t like public speaking. But then the more I thought about it, I don’t know what public speaking is because I’ve never really done it. So why not try it?

But those aren’t my resolutions! Those are all just ideas for things I’m interested in improving. So taking some of Manson’s advice, I’m going to take ONE of those things and try to form a habit out of it for a month. Focusing on one thing at a time allows you to really give yourself an opportunity to establish the habit without worrying about too many other things, and ultimately setting yourself up for failure.

My first resolution is going to be to try out meditation. So for the first month, I’m going to try meditating four times per week for about 10 minutes at a time. I should be able to easily do this for two days on Saturday and Sunday where I don’t really have any external commitments, and then during the week I should be able to find at least two days¬†before work where I can give this a shot.

Small steps, but small steps still take you forward.


How to Refocus: Getting Back in the Groove

How to Refocus: Getting Back in the Groove

Identifying when you need to refocus

It happens to everyone at some point to varying degrees, for various reasons, and at different times in our lives–but it’ll happen! You hit a period or a rut where you can’t keep your focus on continuing to be successful (and I’m over-generalizing that for a good reason).

Maybe this means you can’t focus at work to perform at an optimal level. Maybe you’re falling off the diet you’ve been working hard on. Maybe your training in the gym or for your sport is taking a hit because your head isn’t in the game. Maybe you find yourself unable to hit the books studying or completing your projects in school.

It can look different for everyone.

There are a bunch of different little warning signs that things aren’t quite on track and you need to refocus:

  • You’re losing interest in what you’re working on or have been working towards
  • You can’t seem to keep your mind on the goal(s) that you’ve set
  • You feel like you’re plateauing in your progress toward your goal(s)
  • You’re suddenly finding you’re not happy or not feeling fulfilled
  • You’re taking out stress on your co-workers, friends, or loved ones
  • You’re isolating yourself from friends and family
  • You find yourself overly concerned with things you can’t change (dwelling on the past or fearing a future event, like an exam)

But don’t freak out just yet… you need to see and acknowledge the signs before you can start to make any progress. Feeling pretty good about everything in your life? Then keep doin’ what you’re doin’! If any of those points seemed to resonate with you, then let’s continue on!

Don’t worry

If you’ve found that you’re in a bit of a rut, it’s important to not worry. You need to remind yourself that you were once on track and you’ll get back on track. You’ve already identified you need to refocus, so you have the power to get back on track.

Worrying about the fact you’ve identified you’re not in an ideal state of mind doesn’t help anything; in fact, it makes it worse.

“I can’t seem to find my focus at work… I’m going to be such a bad employee. I wonder if I can even get my work done now. My colleagues are going to notice… My manager will notice!”

“Training has really been kicking my butt… Why am I even doing this? I wonder if I should just give up. I haven’t seen any progress in my abilities in the past couple of weeks. I’m hopeless at this.”

“There’s a lot going on at school now and I can’t seem to keep up anymore. I’m going to fail this project that’s due next week because I can’t seem to get started on it. And my exams are coming up and I can’t seem to study. I’m going to fail this term.”

All of that kind of talk is negative and it’s not going to help you progress! So why are you continuing to focus on hampering your progress? Don’t do it. Instead, acknowledge you’re looking for a positive change, and then¬†acknowledge that you’re in full control to start making that change.

And step one is to stop worrying and drop the negativity.

Analyze what’s getting you down

I get told that the engineer in me talks too much about analysis… but I think it’s a critical step! You need to understand the things that are getting you down.¬†You’ve identified that you need to refocus because you’re not happy with your current behaviour or state of mind, but what are those things that are getting you down?

If you understand what’s getting you down you can start to take corrective actions. It’s got a (cue the fancy buzzword) synergistic effect with my previous point–Drop the negative thoughts and work on correcting them in parallel.

Let’s look at a couple of potential examples:

  • You’re unable to see any progress in your work, schooling, or training
    • How are you measuring progress right now?
      • Some things aren’t well suited for quantitative measurement
      • Try and identify a consistent mechanism for measuring progress
    • How often do you measure progress?
      • Some things don’t change very frequently so it’s hard to notice progress
      • Many things don’t progress in a totally linear fashion
    • Is it time to update your strategy for continuing success?
      • How long have you been doing the exact same thing expecting to get the same increase in results?
      • Have other environmental factors changed that suggest you should update what you’re doing?
    • Have you actually compared your current status to a previous point in time, or is it just how you feel?
      • Maybe it’s all in your head!
      • Try reflecting on where you were a month ago, 6 months ago, and a year ago.
  • You’re¬†constantly comparing yourself to others
    • Do you actually know all the ins and outs of a person’s life?
      • Just because you observe certain things, it doesn’t mean they’re exactly as they seem
      • If you don’t have the full perspective and details on someone’s life, you’re guaranteed to be misunderstanding something
    • Can you change other people?
      • … Even if you could, you shouldn’t!
      • See the next major point ūüôā
    • Are you comparing different subsets of your lives and expecting them to align a certain way?
      • Other people are not you and are living a different life
      • You can only truly compare yourself to your own self at various parts in your life
  • You’re dwelling on things you can’t change
    • Are you expecting to change something in the past that’s already happened?
      • Unless you have a time machine, you absolutely cannot change past events
      • Trying to understand past events can be helpful learning for the future
    • Are you dreading an event in the future that’s unavoidable?
      • If you can’t avoid it, then work at accepting it’s going to happen. (Things like exams or year-end reviews for work, for example)
      • Ask yourself why you’re dreading it. Try applying this example of analysis to THAT reason and dive deeper.
    • Are you focused on the thoughts and emotions of other people?
      • You can’t (and shouldn’t try to) control how other people think and feel
      • The best you can do is focus on yourself and live the values that you believe in
      • When it comes to thoughts and feelings, we all observe and interpret on our own
    • Have you considered whether this situation is temporary?
      • When you don’t know how long you’ll be out of control, it can make you feel helpless
      • Knowing there’s a point in time where there’s a change that can affect your situation can be a great help (i.e. money is tight for two weeks and you just need that next pay cheque to come through)

These are just a handful of examples, but hopefully you can see a pattern:

  1. Identify a particular thing that you know is getting you down.
  2. Ask yourself what effects it’s having and why you believe it’s having those¬†effects on you.
  3. Dive deeper on each one of those by repeating these steps.

It’s nothing groundbreaking and I’m not claiming it will magically fix your problems… But analyzing things can lead to understanding, and understanding can lead to progress.

Remind yourself of your strengths

Everyone gets down on themselves at some point and this will cause you to lose focus on your goals. But I guarantee you if you stop and think about it, there’s a lot of great things that you got going on!

Don’t believe me? I challenge you to take a pen and something you can write on.

  • Write¬†three things you’re proud of or that you’ve accomplished
  • Write three things about why your best friends like you
  • Write down the thing you love doing most or loved doing most before this point in time
  • Write down the thing you think you’re best at

Now step back for a second and think about the things you wrote.

  • It’s very likely the accomplishments you made or things you’re proud of required you to overcome something. Unless you got lucky or had some magic, odds are you used your strengths to achieve these things.
  • Your friends stay by your side because they admire you. They admire the qualities you have and see strength in you. You might not realize these strengths, but your friends perceive these about you.
  • If you love doing something, you’re probably pretty good at it, and if you’re not, odds are you’ll get good at it because you love to do it!¬†Acknowledge and understand what you’re passionate about because it will tell you about your strengths.
  • Sometimes you’re good at things that you’re not totally passionate about. That’s cool too! What makes you good at this thing? Can you apply this to other areas in your life?

Set some goals

At this point you’ve:

  • Identified that you’re not content with your current state
  • Reminded yourself¬†that you¬†can make a change
  • Analyzed what’s getting you down so that you have a better understanding of some direction to take
  • Reflected on your own personal strengths

And now… It’s time to set some goals!

Goals you set should ideally align with SMART goals. Do yourself a favour and check that page out for a little bit more information so you can set yourself up for success. You want to make sure you’ve agreed your goal is achievable within a certain period of time and that you can measure progress in some way as you go. This is critical for a few reasons:

  • No time box? How will you know if you’re on track?
  • No way to measure? … Same problem!
  • Not realistic or achievable? You’re setting yourself up for failure.

It seems obvious when it’s laid out like that, but this will keep you from setting goals like “I’m going to do better at work”, “I’ll kick¬†my training up a notch”, or “I’ll¬†worry less about what’s going on in other peoples’ lives”. None of those goal statements indicate when you’ll be done by or how you’re going to measure progress.

Here’s¬†a simple example:

In the next month, instead of missing on average three¬†practices per week, I’ll reduce this to one. I’ll make sure that I have things put into my agenda ahead of time so I won’t schedule things over practice sessions, and if something critical comes up last minute, I can use the following week to compensate for it.

  • Specifically about not missing practices
  • Measured weekly by an average of missed practices
  • Achievable because it’s an improvement and not an expectation of perfection
  • Realistic and with the reward of getting to more practices
  • Time boxed to one month.

Start slow and set one or two SMART goals. As you build confidence that you’re progressing in your goals, try adding in another. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself!

Be brave enough to ask for help

If you’re reading this and you’re considering making changes then you’re already starting your path to progress. That’s AWESOME and you’re a strong person for being able to get started.

Sometimes things can get tough though. You might feel you’ve made progress over a few weeks or months and seemingly fall back to square one. You might feel like you’ve set SMART goals but you’re having trouble even getting started. Maybe you read this and still don’t even know how to get started.

There are a million reasons why getting started or continuing can be hard. Be brave though. Ask for help. I can guarantee you have some amazing¬†friends and¬†family that love you that¬†want to see you be successful. There’s nothing to be ashamed of when asking for help! It’s a courageous thing to admit that you’d like assistance on your path for doing better, and people see that. You might feel embarrassed or ashamed, but other people see a brave person trying to move forward.

Summary

It’s a common thing for people to fall into a figurative rut in life. It happens to everyone at some point and it’s nothing to get down on yourself about. You’re not a bad human being if it happens to you, so don’t sweat it.

Analyzing your current situation and why you feel certain ways can help you gain an understanding of what’s going on. Focus on driving out the negativity and create actions to try making progress by leveraging your strengths.

In the end, remember that you control your life and you can make all the positive changes to it that you want to see. It¬†takes time and hard work, but if you put in the effort, you’ll always get to where you want to be.

Now get out there and go kick some ass.


What Makes Good Code? – Should Every Class Have An Interface? Pt 2

Should Every Class Have an Interface?

This is part two in the sub-series of “Should Every Class Have an Interface?“, and part of the bigger “What Makes Good Code?” series.

Other Peoples’ Code

So in the last post, we made sure we could get an interface for every class we made. Okay, well that’s all fine and dandy (I say half sarcastically). But you and I are smart programmers, so we like to re-use other peoples’ code in our own projects. But wait just a second! It looks like Joe Shmoe didn’t use interfaces in his API that he created! We¬†refuse to pollute our¬†beautiful interface-rich code with his! What can we do about it?

Wrap it.

That’s right! If we add a little bit of code we can get all the benefits as the example we walked through originally. It’s not going to completely fix “the problem”, but I’ll touch on that after. So, we all remember our good friend encapsulation, right?

Let’s pretend that Joe Shmoe wrote some cool code that does string lookups from an Excel file. We want to use it in our code, but Joe didn’t use the IStringLookup interface (because… it’s in OUR code, not his) and he didn’t even use ANY interfaces. The constructor for his class looks like:


public ExcelParser(string pathToExcelFile);

On this class, there’s two methods. One method allows us to find the column index for a certain heading, and the other method allows us to get a cell’s value given a column and row index.¬†The¬†method calls looks like:


public int GetColumnIndex(string columnName);

public string GetCellValue(int columnIndex, int rowIndex);

We can wrap that class by creating a wrapper class that meets our interface, like so:


public sealed class ExcelStringLookup
{
  // ugh... we have to reference the class directly!
  private readonly ExcelParser _excelParser;

  // ugh... we have to reference the class directly!
  public ExcelStringLookup(ExcelParser excelParser)
  {
    _excelParser = excelParser;
  }

  public string GetString(string name)
  {
    var columnIndex = _excelParser.GetColumnIndex(name);
    // assumes all of our strings will be under a column header
    var cellValue = _excelParser.GetCellValue(columnIndex, 1);
    return cellValue;
  }
}

And now this will plug right into the rest of our code that we defined originally.

This doesn’t totally eliminate “the problem” though (the problem being that some class doesn’t have an interface (what this post is trying to answer)). There’s still a class we’re making use of that doesn’t have an interface, but it looks like we’ve reduced the exposure of that problem to JUST this class and the spot that would construct this class. Are we okay with that?

Thoughts So Far…

Let’s do a little recap on what we’ve seen so far:

  • Having interfaces for our classes is a nice way to introduce a layer of abstraction
  • Interfaces are just *one* tool to get layers of abstraction introduced
  • If you wanted to have interfaces¬†for all of the classes in your code and some third party didn’t use interfaces,¬†that code is likely not as common in your code base (especially if you wrap it like I mentioned above). This may not always be true in your code base, but it’s likely the case.
  • The amount of work to wrap things can vary greatly. Some things are straight forward to wrap, but you need to add many methods/properties. Sometimes it’s the inverse and you only have a few things to wrap but they’re not straight forward.
  • The number of classes¬†you’d need to wrap¬†to get to this state can vary greatly… Since even built-in System classes aren’t all backed with interfaces!
  • There’s certainly a trade off between the original work + maintenance to wrap a class in an interface versus the benefits it provides.

Is that last point blasphemy?! So there may actually be times we DON’T want to have an interface for a class?

Watch this space for part 3 where we start to look at a counter-example!

 


API: Top-Down? Bottom-Up? Somewhere in the Middle?

A Quick Brain-Dump on API Desgin

I’ll keep this one pretty brief as I haven’t totally nailed down my thoughts on this. I still thought it was worth a quick little post:

When you’re creating a brand new API to expose some functionality of a system, should you design it with a strong focus on how the internals work? Should you ignore how internals work and make it as easy to consume as possible? Or is there an obvious balance?

I find myself trying to answer this question without ever explicitly asking it. Any time I’m looking to extend or connect systems, this is likely to come up.

Most Recently…

Most recently I started trying to look at creating an API over AMQP to connect my game back-end to a Unity 3D front-end. I had been developing the back-end for a little while now, so I had a pretty good idea for how things needed to work from that perspective. The front-end? Not so much really. I knew some basic actions that I was considering, so I tried coding up an early API for them.

A lot of my focus was around how I was going to implement the code on the back-end to make this API work. It resulted in some of the API calls looking a little bit gross. But the idea was that if I settled on an API that would make the back-end easy to implement, I could get it up and running faster.

After a little while, I feel like my API isn’t getting any cleaner from a consumer perspective, and funny enough, it’s not actually as easy to implement as I was hoping on the back-end. Which had me reflect on a work example…

Once Upon a Time at Work…

Well, it was only a couple of months ago, really. I was working with a colleague on integrating a new system into an existing code base. We decided we wanted to approach the API problem from a consumer perspective. We said “let’s make this as easy to call and use as possible so that people ACTUALLY want to use it”.

We set out with this mission, and created a pretty simplistic API. The challenge? There was a lot of heavy lifting and a bit of voodoo going on behind the scenes. But you know what? We hid the magic in one spot of the code (instead of having ugly stuff scattered all over the code base) and it ended up being a very usable API.

So…

So does this consumer-first, top-down approach to API design always work? I’m not sure. Some similarities/differences in the scenarios:

  • In my current situation, I have a back-end implemented and very minimal code implemented on the caller side. In the work example, we had nothing implemented on the back-end, and a ton of code implemented where the caller side would be.
  • In both examples, at least one of the caller side or back-end side was reasonably well understood. For my game, the back-end was pretty well understood. For work, the caller side was pretty well understood and we had experience with what we’d call a “failed’ back-end implementation (that we were actually setting out to redesign).
  • The work example was a relatively small subset for an API, but the game example was about to be a very specific implementation that I’d need to adapt into a pattern for all messaging in my AMQP system

So there’s a few things to consider there. I think I’m at the point in my game where I’d like to revisit how I’m forming this API and try it from a client-first perspective. Now that I know some of the catches, maybe I’ll shed some new light!

How do you approach API design?


Staying Productive

Staying Productive

Background

I wrote a post a long while back about how I started to use Google Keep to get myself organized. Google Keep has been a go-to app for me on my phone for a long time now. I love using it to make lists of things, and I find it much more convenient than a paper notebook.

Don’t get me wrong–I think a paper notebook still has plenty of uses! I love my notebook for long running meetings with open-ended discussions or brain storming sessions. It’s great to be able to take a pen/pencil and doodle down any idea that comes to mind. When I’m having a free-form conversation, I need a free-form way to take notes.

However, my phone is something I almost always have with me–and my paper notebook isn’t. My phone allows me to take my Google Keep notes and email them to myself. It allows me to have a reminder right on my homescreen every time I unlock my phone. It’s just more convenient.

But something happened since the last time I wrote about using Google Keep. I use it more and more, and at some point I felt like I was getting less and less done. This is less about in the office and more about how productive I feel at home. So how can I be getting less done (or at least feeling that way) if I’m taking my own advice and using Google Keep to hack my TODO list?

I have tons of lists and no actions.

I think that’s the big take away. I list all the things I’m thinking about, and I keep making more lists. There’s no time frame around actioning things with the lists I’m making! So, in the spirit of continuous improvement, I set out to make some changes.

Inspiration

I know I wanted to make some changes with this part of my life because it was starting to weigh down on me; I didn’t feel productive. But I knew this wasn’t going to be something I’d answer over night. I kept my eyes and ears open for ideas for a little while before I thought up some tweaks.

The first thing I came across while living my alter ego was an Instagram post by Big J. Big J is this¬†guy that’s incredibly big and incredibly strong. He’s lived the bodybuilding life and has a lot to show for it… And because being successful in the bodybuilding and strength world means being extremely motivated and hardworking, it’s no surprise I picked up this little bit from Big J:

Simple idea, right? Put some time into planning your schedule for the upcoming days. It almost seems to obvious to not be doing. I mean, don’t I do this already? I have meeting invites and stuff in my calendar for work… But, that’s right! I don’t have anything in my calendar for my own personal things that I like to do outside of work. Hmmm…

The next little tip to push me along was after a conversation with a teammate of mine at work. Our conversation was mostly about work-life balance, but my colleague was telling me about something he was trying out around forming habits. Essentially, over a period of time he’s been recording his success at keeping on top of good habits and identifying reasons why he’s sometimes missing them. Definitely right up the continuous improvement alley! Another great point he brought up was that good habits need to be introduced one at a time and only once you’ve been consistent with your other habits. By adding too much at once, you can derail the whole good habit process.

The “Staying Productive” Hack

This is the hack I’ve been implementing for a bit over a week now, and it’s helped tremendously with feeling productive!

Every night when I’m laying in bed, I spend about 5-15 minutes with my phone and I schedule personal activities in my calendar for the following day.

There it is. It’s not rocket science or something Earth shattering, but it’s definitely helping. Taking a page out of Big J’s book and a tip from my colleague, I’ve modified my schedule to introduce a very brief planning period every day. And it’s just one change that I think is helping introduce a good habit into my life.

This has helped me:

  • Stay on top of prepping food (which is a big part of the lifestyle I try to live)
  • Schedule time to relax (yes, I even schedule time for things like video games!)
  • Schedule time to blog (I run three blogs, and sometimes finding time to write feels like a chore)
  • Work on personal projects
  • … Feel like I’m being productive.

And no, I didn’t drop Google Keep–It actually helps feed into my scheduling! It’s great to look over my lists of things and try to create actions for them.

Next Steps

This simple hack¬†is not only nothing particularly fancy, it’s also not bullet proof! But that’s okay when you’re always trying to continuously improve. Some snags I’ve run into or things I’ve thought about are:

  • How do I¬†adjust my planned schedule when unexpected things come up? If someone drops in for a visit out of nowhere, or my car breaks down, or my dog decides to tear up the furniture, how do I make sure I can continue on with my planned schedule? Right now some things drop off the schedule or I push other things off to compensate. This hasn’t been too big of a problem so far, but sometimes this has a bit of a landslide effect and it makes the rest of the day feel unproductive. A little bit of dirt in the cogs seems to throw the whole thing off for me! This is something I’ll be thinking about as I encounter it and I’ll try to thing of some easy solutions.
  • How can I be more like Big J?! Aside from being bigger and stronger, how can I plan for more days? Big J plans every Sunday but I plan every night for the next day. Is there a happy medium? Planning every Sunday would potentially amplify the landslide effect I previously mentioned, but it would be a convenient single planning session for the whole week. Perhaps I’ll continue with the advice of my colleague and modify one part of my new habit at a time and look at planning for an extra day at a time and see how that goes!

If you’ve been making checklists and find that you’re unable to action items, try this approach! It takes only a few minutes every day, and so far I’ve been having great success in feeling productive. It’s not difficult, so it’s worth a try!


Yeah, We’re an “Agile” Shop

Everybody Has Gone “Agile”

If you’re a software developer that’s done interviews in the past few years, then you already know that every software development shop has gone agile. Gone are the days of waterfall software development! Developers have learned that waterfall software development is the root of all evil, and the only way to be successful is to be agile. You need to be able to adapt quickly and do standups. You need to put story point estimates on your user stories. You need retrospectives… And agility! And… more buzz words! Yes! Synergy! In the cloud! You need it!

Okay, so why the sarcasm? Every single software development team is touting that they’re following the principles of agile software development, but almost no team truly is. Is it a problem if they aren’t actually following agile principles? Absolutely not, if they’re working effectively to deliver quality software. That’s not for me to say at all. I think the problem is that people are getting confused about “being agile”, but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with how they’re operating if it works for them.

Maybe We’re Not So “Agile”

I work at Magnet Forensics, and for a long time now, I’ve been saying “yeah, we’re an agile shop”. But you know what? I don’t think we are. I also don’t think that’s a problem. I think our software development process is best defined by “continuous improvement”. That’s right. I think we’re a “Continuous Improvement” shop. Our team has identified the things we think work well for us in how we develop software, and we experiment to improve on things that we think aren’t working well. I’m actually happy that we operate that way instead of operating by a set of guidelines that may or may not work for us.

So, why aren’t we¬†agile? When I look at the Agile Manifesto, I feel like there’s a few things we actually don’t do, and we don’t even worry about them. We don’t necessarily have business people working with developers daily through things, for example. Our delivery cycles are much longer than a couple of weeks most of the time. Sometimes people on our teams don’t communicate best face-to-face. I mean, just because we’re not focusing on those things isn’t¬†necessarily proof that we aren’t agile, but I truly don’t think we’re trying to embody all of the components that make up¬†agile.

As I stated previously, I do think that we try to focus on continuous improvement above all else, and I’m absolutely content with that. I think that if over time we continued our retrospectives and our team ended up operating closer to a traditional waterfall process then it would be the better thing for our team. Why? Because we make incremental changes for our team in an attempt to keep improving. Switching to waterfall is¬†a bit of a contrived example, but I definitely stand by it. Another example might be that maybe working with business people daily isn’t actually effective for our team. I don’t know, to be honest, because we’re currently tweaking other parts of our development process to improve them. Maybe we’ll get around to worrying about that at some other point.

I do know that the way we operate, we’re always trying to improve. Whether or not we get better sprint to sprint is for the retrospective to surface for us, but if we took a step back, at least we can try a different path when we try to take our next step forward.

So, We Don’t Need To Be Agile?

I think my only point of writing this post was to get this across: If you’re not actually an agile software development shop, then don’t call yourself that. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with not living and breathing agile. Maybe you’re a software shop that’s transitioning into Agile. Maybe you’re moving away from Agile. Maybe you have no¬†parts of your software development process that are agile. Who’s to say that because you’re not 100% agile your setup is bad?

I can’t advocate that agile software development is the absolute best thing for all software development teams. I personally like to think that it’s a great way to develop software, but… I don’t know your team. I don’t know your codebase. I don’t know your products, services, or clients. How the heck could I tell you the best way to go make your software?

Again, there’s nothing wrong with not being 100% agile, but we should try to be honest with ourselves. Find what works for your team. Find out how you can effectively deliver quality software.


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  • Nick Cosentino

    Nick Cosentino

    I have nearly a decade of professional hands on software engineering experience in parallel to leading multiple engineering teams to great results. I'm into bodybuilding, modified cards, and blogging about leadership/development topics over at http://www.devleader.ca.

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