Tag: team

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.


One on One Evolution

Background

I’m a “middle manager” where I work, but that means a whole bunch of things. My everyday tasks primarily consist of programming, but I do a bunch of work to interface with other departments and teams, and I play a role in managing people on… well, the “people” side of things. For the latter part, I refer to that as people leadership.

I think it’s pretty easy to look at some of the aspects of people leadership and dismiss them as “fluffy” or needless… I consider myself a logical/technical thinker, so I have that frame of mind sometimes. However, I do see the value in actually being able to support my team so that they can operate at the best of their abilities. I try to find ways to do that without it seeming to them like I’m doing “fluffy leadership things”, and in turn, I don’t feel that way about it either. With that in mind, I had previously set out with ways to accommodate team feedback in a way that works best for them.

One on Ones: The Early Days

I worked with my HR manager a couple of years back to establish a one on one template that I could use with the developers on my team. The goal was to be able to identify points of conversation since the last time we met, the individual’s current situation (both positive and concerns), and then identify goals. Ideally, the individual is able to fill this out on the form in as much detail as necessary for us to be able to have a conversation about it later.

I didn’t want this to seem like a chore for people so I’ve tried to identify why this is useful for the individual and for myself. For the individual, it gives them an avenue to discuss anything that’s becoming a problem over the period of a few weeks (i.e. something not obvious all at once) or be able to identify successes in their work. It also allows them to reflect on their goals that they want to set in their career, current projects, or even things outside of work (because improving your abilities outside of work is a good thing too). For me, it provides better insight into the trend of problems people are experiencing, their contributions to their current projects, and even helps me see where people are at with their career goals. Both parties are able to benefit from these!

I’ve left it open in the past as to how people submit them. Written? Sure. Digital? Sure. Whatever is easiest for the individual provided I can get it a couple of days before we meet. I’ve also left it open ended as to how much of the form they fill in. Based on the trends, I think people see value in having more content but sometimes the goal setting is a bit of a grey area. People might be between setting different goals and want to wait to discuss those things. The best part is, I don’t need to hassle the team to fill in more… They just do a great job of providing information for me!

One on Ones: Continuous Improvement

I’m all for continuous improvement in our development processes that we have as well as our management processes. With that said, we’ve made a few tweaks to the one on ones recently that I think have had a great positive impact.

  • Digitized: I’ve got everyone on board with digitizing their one on ones. This is incredibly handy for being able to search for content later on (instead of sifting through paper), so I get a huge benefit from it. Each individual can probably benefit from this too if their ever looking for things we discussed. Archiving digital documents has so many benefits over the paper counterparts that it’s hard to imagine going back to these mostly being paper-based. I can easily print off copies for the individual if they lose them (or if I lose them) and it makes life easier for me at year end. I can quickly scan over documents on my computer to get a good overview of a person’s year right on my laptop.
  • Nick’s Notes: A little tweak to the one on one process is that with the digital copies, I can put in highlighted notes. This allows me to get down my feedback to the individuals before we meet. In the past, I requested documents a couple of days before we meet so I can try to action what I can ahead of time. However, adding my notes and getting it back to the individual before we meet let’s them know things I want to dive deeper on. It gives them an opportunity to prepare their thoughts, and from what I’ve heard, this is really beneficial for them. The other positive thing is that it let’s me provide them kudos on certain things that I don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of time talking about them with one on one. It’s improved the efficiency of our meetings, and I think it benefits both sides.

What’s Next?

I’ll be honest in that I don’t have any next steps planned for these one on ones. But that’s okay! I’m going to let a few more rounds of these go through before I try to tweak the process. This let’s me get a feel for how the changes are playing out and then from there I can see where I might need to make some improvements.

If you don’t have a semi-structured system in place for your one on ones, I highly recommend it! Make it something you can at least get a feel for how successful they are. If you can gauge their effectiveness, then you can try to tweak the process over time to improve it! You’ll benefit from the information, and your team will benefit from you providing support for them.


Continuous Improvement – One on One Tweaks (Pt. 2)

Continuous Improvement - One on One Tweaks (Pt. 2)

Continuing With Continuous Improvement

I wrote about continuous improvement before and how I’ve been trying to tie that into my leadership role through changes to my one on one process. To recap, at our organization we try to roll continuous improvement into most things that we do. We’re well aware that we’re not going to get things perfect the first time, so as long as we have a process in place to learn, reflect, and adapt, then we can make changes to better our situation. It’s something that’s ongoing and it doesn’t really have an end. So long as your organization is growing and changing over time, or the environment in which your organization is changing over time, having continuous improvement baked into your culture is key to success.

Previously, I mentioned that at Magnet Forensics I hold regular one on ones with my team members. I made a tweak to them that included summarizing notes before holding the one on ones and saw a great improvement. I felt that for now this would be a positive change that I’d like to continue on with. I’ll keep reflecting on whether or not this makes sense over time.

What’s next, then?

Recognition

Recognition is something that I think is fundamental to keeping people engaged, but it looks different for everyone. When I comment on things or share things on social media, I often reflect on how recognition is incredibly important. It’s been a goal of mine to try and do a better job at recognizing my team members for the hard work they’re always putting in.

That was my next hack for continuous improvement. How could I leverage my one on one time to do a better job at recognition? Well, if recognizing my team for things they do is high on my priority list, then it should fall high on the one on one discussion list. The first thing, actually.

So now that I create a summary of topics to go over in our one on ones, I reflect on what my team members say they work on and I toss in other stuff they may not have mentioned. Did they have big accomplishments in our sprint? Did they have things outside of work? Did they have tweaks they suggested for the team to try? Accomplish goals they set for themselves? I try to gather that information and comment on a couple of things at the start of our one on ones now.

I want the team to know that their hard work and their success does not go unnoticed and that they should all keep working to the best of their abilities.

Results?

I’ve only been doing this recently, so I can’t quite say that I’ve noticed big differences. In my opinion, the team has been entering a solid groove over the past few months but it’s hard for me to say whether or not these one on one changes had any impact. I like to think that they did. I’ve heard from several people that they’re really happy with where the team is at.

Has this brought about anything negative? Were there any cons to rolling out this change? I’d say no, not at all. It’s no extra effort for me to reflect on what accomplishments each team member has add. I mean, I’m not writing out lengthy documentation on each accomplishment, but I jot down a couple of points on what I want to call out. I think if anything, that quick exercise has been really positive for myself, if not for the other team member.

So, in the end, I think this small tweak has been a positive change for me in terms of doing a better job of recognizing the team. I also hope that the team has a better understanding that myself and others do see their hard work and efforts.

Keep on it, Team Magnet!


Leadership: What Does It Mean? – Weekly Article Dump

Leadership: What Does It Mean? - Weekly Article Dump

Leadership

Everyone has their own variation of what leadership means. For me, leadership means empowering others to accomplish their goals and providing assistance when they need it. There were a few articles that came up on LinkedIn this week that I wanted to share with everyone and discuss how they fit into my perspective on leadership.

Articles

  • Does Your Team Work With You Or For You?Kwame Manu-Antwi opens up the article in an interesting fashion. When I read the title of the article, I figured this was going to be the typical leadership vs management debate. However, Kwame goes into describing a scenario where he had a humbling experience from one of his team that made some sacrifices for him. This was truly an example of working for him.

    The entire second half of the article shares a bunch of leadership traits that I think are really beneficial.  For example, being transparent and encouraging growth in your team members. I think the point that is being made in this article, although I don’t personally feel like it was made as obvious as it could have been, is that as a leader, if you want to feel like your team is willing to make sacrifices (for you, or for the team) then practicing being an excellent leader is the way to get there. Thus, the tips he provides to do so!I’d say there’s a lot of takeaway in his bulleted leadership points.

    If you’re an experienced leader then it’s probably mostly stuff you’ve heard before. However, it never hurts to be reminded of great leadership responsibilities!

  • How Do I Hire A Good Employee: Insights on Leadership Traits: In this article Kendall Matthews talks about the specific things he looks for when interviewing. It’s not about how picking the smartest person in the world or the most skilled person according to Kendall. It’s all about finding people that have that curious drive that can think on their feet. Have you given into the status quo?

    When it comes to leadership and hiring, your responsible for building out a well rounded team. In my opinion sometimes this will require hiring the smartest or most skilled person, but more often than not, you’re just looking for go getters. People that are curious by nature and always looking to push the boundaries make great candidates for your team because they’re adaptable. This means you don’t need to go finding someone with the perfect skill set because you can hire the person that’s willing to evolve into that person.

    Again, it’s not a blanket rule in my perspective. Sometimes your team will require that super-skilled person to be up and running from day one. Being a good leader in charge of hiring requires you to understand your teams needs though.

  • Can Skipping a Meeting Make You a Better Leader?: I find that Ilya Pozin always has some interesting articles up on LinkedIn. If you don’t follow him yet, I suggest you do! This article is all about shaking things up to align them to your leadership strategy (and not just accepting meeting invites and then not showing up).The first part of the article is really about taking charge of your daily routine. If you get into work and your ready to make a big dent in your todo list, then moving meetings until later in the day might have a huge  benefit. Similarly, it helps you plan out and prioritize the rest of your day. For me, I plan the night before and since I’m still largely a developer, I find that if I have meetings in the middle of the day when I’m in my groove then that’s when I have the biggest problems. Try tweaking when your meetings are to suit your leadership style.

    The second part of this article talks about the idea of a devil’s advocate and is personally my favourite part. I can’t stress enough how important healthy debate is for continuously improving. I had a colleague the other day say that he doesn’t like how often he hears “because it’s always been that way”. I jokingly responded, “because we’ve always said that”! But the point is, he’s not sticking to the status quo and doesn’t want to settle. I had another colleague argue against my perspective even more recently, and it really got me thinking about how our perspectives were different and where we might need to go next. Healthy debate is awesome. Your goal is not to put your “opponent’s” face in the dirt, but to understand their perspective as much as possible and ensure they get your perspective as much as possible.

  • Heisenberg Developers: In his article, Mike Hadlow talks about how a new (what seems to be scrum-based approach?) was introduced to a software development team and how it negatively impacted them. Mike’s argument? The process that was put in place took away autonomy from developers–they should be given free reign to implement a feature as they see fit.

    While the general consensus in the comments on his blog indicates that people agree, I actually don’t. I’m well aligned to the first two sentences in his closing paragraph (autonomy and fine grained management) being important, but I think direction is incredibly important. In an agile shop, often the customer proposes features to go into the product (and when the customer isn’t available, product owners acting on behalf of the customer propose the features) and the developers work to get them done. Maybe this wasn’t the implication of the blog post, but I don’t think it makes sense to just let developers randomly choose which of the features to work on next and decide on their own how to do it.

    What works better, in my opinion? Have product owners provide acceptance criteria for what would make the feature successful. Have software testers and software developers mull over the acceptance criteria and bounce ideas back off of the product owners. Did they think of how that would affect feature B? Do they realize it will be a support or regression testing nightmare unless feature C is in place? What’s my point? Collaboration. The article doesn’t even mention it. It’s only about how process takes away from the artistic nature of programming. I feel like people should stick to hobby programming if it’s art they want to express, but when it comes time to business, it’s about delivering rock solid features that the customer wants.

    Back to estimating and tasking out features. Why break a feature down? What’s good about doing it that way? If you hit road blocks or need to pivot, it’s great to have a part of a feature done and realize that in it’s current state it might be classified as acceptable for a deliverable. Maybe it doesn’t match the original acceptance criteria, but perhaps the pivot involves adjusting that and now it’s acceptable. Task breakdown brings insight to the people working on the feature. What’s involved in making it? How are you going to test it? How are you going to support it?

    Autonomy is important. But I think that there needs to be some level of process in place for leadership in management to have insight as to what’s taking place, and there needs to be enough autonomy for developers and testers to do their job to the best of their ability. Sometimes the time invested in collaborating is one of the best investments in your development team.

  • Why The Golden Rule SucksJoaquin Roca has an awesome article on “The Golden Rule” and why it doesn’t apply in leadership. Joaquin starts by discussing why building a diverse team is incredibly important and why you should take advantage of the tensions it can create. So why does The Golden Rule suck? Well… not everyone is like you and not everyone wants to be engaged the same way you are. Everyone is different and it’s important to adapt your ways to the person you are engaging with–especially when your team is diverse. There’s also a cool leadership quiz that he has posted at the top of the article!
  • Did I Make a Mistake in Promoting This Person?!: This article is about something that happens in the tech world all too often. Caroline Samne talks about how skilled professionals are promoted into leadership in management positions–except they don’t have any expertise in this area. I’m actually a prime example of this. I was hired on as a developer early on at Magnet Forensics, and before expanding the team, I was chosen for a leadership position without any past experience. However, like the article says, I had great mentorship through our HR manager and I was empowered to seek learning opportunities to grow in this space. The moral of the story is, just because someone is skilled at X, it doesn’t mean they’ll turn out to be a great (people) leader in this space. Leadership just doesn’t work magically like that.
  • Corporate Hackathons: Lessons LearntChristophe Spoerry‘s article is all about hackathons. It’s a great way to spur some innovation in your organization if you’re allowing it to happen naturally. He shares his learnings from past experiences such as having leaders with past experience in hackathons present and having teams and/or themes picked out ahead of time. Once the hackathon starts, you don’t want to be wasting time with logistics… You want to be participating! Discuss what the outcome of the hackathon will be. Who’s going to take ownership over what was created? How will the outcomes be shared with the other participants or the rest of the organization? Get hackin’!

Thanks for reading! Follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week.


Performance Reviews – Weekly Article Dump

Performance Reviews - Weekly Article Dump (Image by http://www.sxc.hu/)

Performance Reviews

It’s almost the end of the year, and performance reviews for many companies are just around the corner. This will be the first time for me sitting on the other side of a performance review. I’m excited, and to be honest, a little nervous about how it will all play out. I know our HR manager has done an excellent job putting together our initial take on performance reviews, but it’s still going to be up to me to ensure that all aspects of a performance review are communicated properly to my team. It’s definitely going to be an interesting time of year!

I’ve started doing a little bit of reading on performance reviews. From what I can tell, the general consensus is that most performance review systems are flawed and nobody knows the perfect way to do them. That’s kind of scary actually. So, like anything, I started questioning all the aspects of performance reviews that I can think of. So things like: What’s stack ranking? Why do companies stack rank? What are alternatives? What about leveraging teammate-driven reviews? etc… There’s a whole lot for me to learn, so I need to start by questioning everything.

With that said, how do you do performance reviews? Have performance reviews been working at your organization? Do you stick to “the norm”, or do you have your own interesting spin on performance reviews that make them effective for your organization?

Articles

  • Employee retention is not just about pizza lunches and parties: On the surface, things like candy stashes, catered lunch, and all other shiny perks seem like a great way to get and keep employees. However, keeping employees engaged is the sum of what attracts them to the company and what keeps them motivated while they’re working. Recognizing their accomplishments and giving them challenging and meaningful work is an awesome start.
  • 7 Reasons Your Coworkers Hate You: The truth? You probably know at least one person at work who does at least one of the things on this list. The harder truth? You probably do one of these yourself. It’s a pretty cool list put together by Ilya Pozin. I’d suggest a quick look!
  • How To Inspire Your Team on a Daily Basis: In this article by James Caan, he echoes one of the things I wrote about recently. You can’t expect to have a motivated team unless you lead by example. You really shouldn’t expect anything from your tea unless you are going the lengths to demonstrate that your dedication to the team and the team’s goal.
  • humility = high performance and effective leadership: Michelle Smith write about how humility is actually a great leadership characteristic. A couple of the top points in her article include not trying to obtain your own publicity and acknowledge the things you don’t know. The most important, in my opinion, is promoting a spirit of service. You lead because you are trying to provide the team guidance and ensure every team member can work effectively.
  • The Surprising Reason To Set Extremely Short Deadlines: This one might not be the same for all people. I think that anyone that tries to apply this as a blanket statement is probably setting themselves up for failure. How do you feel about short deadlines? Some people tend to work really well under pressure and having short deadlines. For those that do, this article offers a perspective on why. Under pressure, you operate creatively given your restricted set of resources, and you don’t have time to dawdle and let things veer of track. Interesting to read.
  • Eliciting the Truth: Team Culture Surveys: Gary Swart talks about something I think is extremely important for all businesses. Maybe your work culture is established, but where did it come from? It’s easy for people to get together in a room and say “we want to have a culture that looks like X”. It’s harder to actually have the culture you say you want. Gary suggests you do a culture survey to actually see what your work culture is like because… well, who knows better? A few people sitting together in a room, or everyone in the company?
  • You Are Not a Number: With year-end performance reviews and the like coming up, I thought it would be interesting to share this short article by Dara Khosrowshahi. Do you stick to stack ranking? Do you have in-depth conversations with employees about their performance? Have you tried switching things up because the canned approach just wasn’t delivering?
  • Which Leads to More Success, Reward or Encouragement?: Deepak Chopra analyzes the positives and negatives of using rewards and using encouragement as a means of driving success. The takeaway from Deepak’s article is that using rewards is not a sustainable means to motivate your team, and actually tends to create separation within the team. By leveraging encouragement, you can empower your team to work together and self-motivate.

Remember to follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week.

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Matt Chang – Team Magnet Recognition

Matt Chang - Team Magnet Recognition

Matt “Chang-a-rang” Chang

If you saw this post, then the face above is no new face to you. You’re familiar with that beautiful ‘stache already. Okay, so I’m being a little misleading… Matt Chang doesn’t walk around with that glorious caterpillar on his face all year round. We’re working on that though.

You’re likely wondering why I’m putting incredible pictures of Matt Chang on the web and why I’m even writing this. Previously I mentioned that I want to start recognizing the people I work with when I feel that they’re going above and beyond. I did this with Cam Sapp not too long ago, and I plan to keep doing it for all of the great people I work with. There are a million ways to recognize someone, whether it be in team meetings, personally, or by doing what I’m doing right now. I hope he finds it at least mildly embarrassing, and I hope you get to realize just how important Matt Chang is to Team Magnet.

The Origins of The Chang

It must have been just under a year ago now when we were going out to recruit, if my calculations are correct. Based on the density of moustache growth that was on Matt Chang’s face, it must have been pretty late into M/November. We had an instantaneous bonding moment when Chang, my colleague Tayfun, and I stood at our Magnet Forensics booth and introduced ourselves–With our mighty ‘staches. It just goes to show you that we were all on the same page when we made the conscious decision to  leave our nose sweaters on when going to a public event. Needless to say, our conversations with Chang went great, and he was definitely our top candidate for the position based on everything we had heard from him.

In the early days, having Matt on board with us didn’t affect my day-to-day all that much. If there were customer questions/concerns coming in, he wouldn’t necessarily be able to answer them because he was brand new to the product. Completely expected. The only difference in my work was that now I’d periodically chat with a ‘stacheless Chang about potential bugs or customer questions. (I’ll get to the good stuff a bit later, hold your horses).

Aside from work, Matt Chang was a great addition to the Magnet culture. He’s one of our pro-star soccer players, and even the sales and marketing side of the office like him! They’re a tough crowd too, so that really means something. Whether it’s because it’s required by his job or just because he’s an awesome dude, Chang is incredibly approachable and easy to get along with. Simply put, he was a damn steal for us.

Above and Beyond

So now you know a bit about Matt Chang. Pretty sweet guy, right? No doubt. So what’s actually so good about Chang (aside from being able to grow a beauty ‘stache and being a great team player)?

Chang is our front line tech support guy. It’s probably the toughest position we have at Magnet. For anyone that knows me on a personal level, I get over the top sarcastic when I’m frustrated (actually, I’m almost always sarcastic). And sometimes I find it hard not to get frustrated when I hear things aren’t going right for the customer. Whether it’s actually a fault of our own or if the customer has misunderstood some instructions that were provided to them, it gets me pretty riled up. “We must be geniuses if we let that slip by us” and phrases like that are things I’ll mutter under my breath. It’s not positive thinking, but I’m working on it. Of course, I know just who to learn from.

Matt Chang always keeps his cool. Not only is he servicing customers all day, he has to put up with the development team’s crap. He does such an incredible job of it though, which is why I have to call him out. No matter how much effort he has to put into a customer support ticket (even if it’s a really small issue that the customer just really needs help with) he’s calm, collected, and gets them what they need. On the customer side of things, Matt Chang does an excellent job of ensuring that the customer is happy when they’re done talking with him.

That same Matt Chang is also a blessing from the developers’ perspective too. Before having Chang on board, and even in his early days when he was getting on board and learning our products, there would be a lot of back-and-forth with customers. If a support ticket came in, we’d have a lot to figure out. What was the customer seeing? Did they have debug logging on by chance or was there a crash log? Was it reproducible? Did they actually put their license for the product in the right spot? The questions would go on, but of course, Chang would take care of the customer in the end. At this point, Chang is an absolute super star. When he comes up to me to ask about a support issue, he’s already collected the information he needs. Sometimes, he’ll give me a heads up and tell me that he’s already getting the information I’d require, and he’d offer up what he thinks is happening. Hell, at this point in time, Matt Chang will go directly to the person who worked on the feature or previous bug fix to get even more information. He’s quick to get developers the information they need to debug a problem, and that’s absolutely awesome for us.

Tech support used to be invasive for the developers, but it was always handled reasonably well for the customers. Chang has taken it up a notch on both ends and made it relatively pain free for developers to help or look into issues while customers are kept quite pleased with the responses.

Wrappin’ It Up

We’ve received praise from our customers for a long time now that our product, Internet Evidence Finder, makes a big difference in investigations. It’s always amazing to hear that we’re having a positive impact. A more recent trend is that people are raving about our tech support, and there’s no doubt in my mind it’s because Matt Chang delivers the experience they want. Plenty of companies have cool software or software that has a positive impact, but few have superstar customer support to back them.

We knew Chang was going to be awesome from the day we met him, and he hasn’t let us down once. Thanks for being an awesome addition to Team Magnet, Matt. You hold the bar high, always deliver, and do a kick-ass job around the clock. Our hats are off to you.


Team Theme – Weekly Article Dump

Team Theme - Weekly Article Dump (Image from http://www.sxc.hu/)

Articles

  • The Real Reason People Won’t Change: Admittedly, when I read this article on my phone the full posting wasn’t available to me. I was only able to read the first page of the article, but the concept was enough to get me interested. “Competing commitments”. Heard of it? I hadn’t but it seems to explain a lot. Competing commitments are, as you might have expected, commitments to things that are in conflict. The article has a ton of examples, but the concept of competing commitments offers insight as to why some people seem stubborn in their ways, despite everything else being lined up for success. A simple example might be someone who is a die-hard advocate of the project they are working on and really wants it to succeed. However, they’re actually inhibiting the success of the project because they aren’t comfortable with their role in relation to teammate. As a result, the team suffers and then the project suffers, but their alignment to wanting the project to succeed is in the right spot. Now that I have full access to the article, I’m certainly going back and reading through the whole thing.
  • Want to be Extremely, Wildly, Radically Successful?: I really appreciated the perspective of Joel Peterson in this article. There’s a million and one books and articles online about how to be successful. They all have titles just like this one. They’re all a bit over the top and unrealistic: “The one thing you need to do to be successful”, “The shortcut to success”, “5 simple steps to being the most successful human being in the universe”. There’s no shortcut to success. All the articles and books that offer information on being successful are doing just that: offering information. You need to make a habit out of doing things that make you successful. Live it. Day in, day out. And it’s not going to happen overnight.
  • The Problem With “There’s a Problem”: This is one my own, so it’s another shameless plug. This post was all about, in my opinion, the right way to tell someone about a problem. If you simply just tell someone that something is broken, doesn’t work, or isn’t right and that’s all that you do, you’re slacking. Everyone, especially in a startup, has a million and one things to do. If you’re about to offload some problem onto someone, at least do your part and get some context around the problem. Better yet, generate some potential solutions so that you’re going to people with solutions, not problems.
  • The Most Powerful Habit You Can Imagine: A colleague of mine shared this article earlier this week, and I felt I had to do my part to share it as well. In this article, Bruce Kasanoff outlines some traits to making your leadership skills more effective. By introducing some compassion and treating people like people, you can have a big impact. People will align more with you and want to work with you. It’s hard to resent your leader or manager when they’re the type of person who fights for you around the clock. You can greatly improve your team mechanics by not acting like an overlord robot.
  • Leadership Tips from The Voice: This article was a bit unique compared to the rest, but I thought it was a cool parallel. Jackie Lauer from Axeltree put this one together. She uses a music performer’s traits as a comparison to a good leader. The highlights? Be fearless. If everything you do is calculated to eliminate all risks, you’ll never fail, and you’ll never learn from it. You need to be a human with the people you lead. Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Build a team that’s strong where you’re weak.
  • The 6 Types of Thinkers to Seek for Your Team: Katya Andresen defines six variations of how people think and how they’re important in a team. She’s not claiming that you need six people (one with each way of thinking) to be successful but rather an individual can have a variety of these perspectives. The interesting part is that if you look at her list and compare it to your current team, you can probably fit each team member into one or two of those types of thinkers. Pretty neat!
  • The Town BlackBerry Built: Is Anything Left?: This isn’t an article… but a video! Our CEO of Magnet Forensics, Adam Belsher, is featured throughout most of this video. Myself and a few colleagues actually have some cameo appearances too, which I thought was pretty cool too. For anyone outside of Waterloo that hears about all the RIM/Blackberry talk, they often have a different perspective of the town than the people living here. Waterloo has an absolutely incredible startup community, and regardless of how good or bad Blackberry is doing, it’ll continue to thrive. As Adam said, it’d be silly if you’re looking to expand your team or business and you’re not even considering Waterloo.
  • 2 Mental Exercises For Battling “It Won’t Work” Syndrome: In startups (or any company really), generating new ideas is a big part of innovating. With any idea, there needs to be a choice to act on it or not. This article is about how some ideas are simply just dismissed without actually giving them a chance. it might be worth trying these exercises out with your team if you feel there isn’t a good environment for nurturing ideas.
  • Infighting is Toxic and Probably Running Rampant at Your Company: What is infighting and how is it killing your company? Let Daniel Roth tell you. In his article, Daniel talks about how competing against each other inside your company can be poisonous. Why not work together towards your common goal against your common competition? If you truly want your company to be successful, you need to put aside your personal agenda.
  • The One Belief That Is Holding Back Your Career: Like the infighting article, Fred Kofman‘s article has a similar perspective. Stop thinking about the goals of individual components of the company. If they are not working toward the common goal of the company, they are not operating effectively. An excellent example is given int he article: The aim of the defense of a soccer team is not to stop the other team from scoring. Their goal, like the rest of their team, is to win. Taking defensive action is how they accomplish that. However, if they’re down one point and the clock is running out, you can bet they won’t just crowd around their end trying to stop any more goals from being scored.

Remember to follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week.

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My Team Triumph Canada – Weekly Article Dump

My Team Triumph Canada - Inaugural Race

All of the captains with their angels after the race! What a blast!

My Team Triumph – Canada

You probably haven’t heard of it, but I can assure you that will change. Today I was fortunate enough to participate in the first My Team Triumph race in Canada. My Team Triumph is a program that allows people of all ages with disabilities to participate in endurance events. With a great volunteer staff, a few angels, and all of the amazing captains, this was made possible.

My Team Triumph takes their inspiration from Team Hoyt, whom you’ve probably heard of.  Now I can’t do the Hoyt story any justice, so I suggest you head over to their site to get the full details. Team Hoyt is a father-son team that has competed in over a thousand races; however, their team is slightly different than your average racer in these events. Dick Hoyt, the father, pushes his quadriplegic son, Rick, in a wheelchair during these events. It started in 1977 when Rick told his father that we wanted to be able to participate in a benefit race for a paralyzed rugby player. Dick agreed to it, and they finished their 5 mile race. That night, Rick told his father that it felt like all of his disabilities went away when they were running together. Honestly, you need to read the story.

So today at the My Team Triumph race, I was grouped up with Captain Vernon of “Vernon’s Maple Leafs” and two angels Nadine and Blair. It was exciting to get to meet the team, and Vernon was incredibly enthusiastic about the whole thing. For anyone who knows me personally, I’m not a runner at all. People actually joke around with me about any time I have to run (because we all know those calories could be put towards squatting, obviously). When we were sharing our running experiences with each other, I had to let the team know that I had never actually ran a 5 km race. That didn’t discourage Vernon though. He told me he was going to make me run, and he wasn’t lying. In the end, we were the second chair team to cross the finish line, which is absolutely amazing in terms of where my expectations were.

My Team Triumph Canada - Nick and Steph

Steph Hicks-Uzun and I bright and early before the run! I’m all smiles here because my lungs and legs haven’t yet endured the 5 km!

Once it was all said and done, my lungs and legs were on fire, but it was an incredible experience. Wes Harding has done an amazing job in putting My Team Triumph Canada together, and everyone at the race was incredibly supportive. Please check out their site to read about their inspirational stories. Way to go, team!

Articles

It’s a pretty short list this week, but it doesn’t mean there’s a lack of quality!

  • I like, I wish, I wonder: A teammate of mine, Christine, brought this to my attention on LinkedIn. In this post, Akshay Kothari talks about a different approach to what our typical sprint retrospectives look like. For some background, in our development life cycle we work in “sprints”. Sprints are typically one or two week units of time where we claim we can get X units of work done. These units of work are often “stories” or “tickets” that we’re essentially taking full responsibility for getting done by the end of the iteration. At the end of the sprint, we do a retrospective where we discuss what went good, what went bad, and how we can improve them. More often than not, there’s less than ideal amounts of input and it seems pretty forced. This article suggests taking a slightly different approach where people can make a statement that starts with “I wish”, “I like”, or “I wonder”. I’m hoping to try this out at our next retrospective and see if it’s the little switch-up that we need.
  • The 17 Qualities And Views Of Great LeadersAndreas von der Heydt put together this awesome list of 17 qualities that great leaders possess. Among them is the idea of failure (and doing it early and often), which you’ve probably seen my write plenty about now. There’s nothing wrong with failure as long as you’re learning and moving forward. Over communicating and keeping a positive attitude are also right up there on my top picks from that list.
  • How To Uncover Your Company’s True Culture: When I shared this on LinkedIn, I had a lot of positive attention from it. I’ll assume that means that it hit home with a lot of people! I this post, Dharmesh Shah, the founder of HubSpot, discusses what company culture really is. Some key take away points are that it’s really easy to say “this is what we think our ideal culture is, so this will be our culture”, but that means close to nothing. Your real culture is not what you say you want it to be, it’s what your company lives and breathes every day. You can say you want your culture to be anything, but it means nothing unless you’re all living it out at work. There are some great points in the article with specific cases to what you might say your culture values. For example, if you value customer service highest of all things, then when you have an opportunity to improve ease of use for your customer(s), what’s your first reaction? “That’s going to be a lot of work?” or “Let’s get it done for the customer”. Neither is wrong, but those answers are the ones that define your culture, NOT what you think you want the answer to be.
  • Forget a Mentor, Build a Team: In this article by Jim Whitehurst, he talks about an alternative to the mentor approach. It’s becoming increasingly more common for professionals to try and set themselves up with a mentor who has been there, done that, and has a lot of insight to offer. This is great, and there’s nothing really wrong with it. However, Jim proposes an alternative where instead of setting yourself up with a mentor, why not surround yourself with team members who all bring something to the table? It’s a great idea, really. I’m sure we all have close friends, old classmates, or old colleagues who would be great to bounce ideas off of, share our hard times with, and share our victories with. They’ll keep you grounded and hopefully bring some of their own personal insights to the table.
  • 5 Things Super Successful People Do Before 8 AM: I thought this article by Jennifer Cohen was great. Some things I definitely want to start doing are mapping out my day and visualizing what’s ahead. I’m already pretty good for eating well, and I favour exercising at night once my body and nervous system has had time to wake up, so those ones aren’t at the top of my personal list. Another great tip from Jennifer: Get that one big ugly thing off your list as soon as possible in your week. Awesome.
  • Scrappiness = Happiness: This article really hit home with me. The company where I work, Magnet Forensics, is still considered a startup but we’re making the transition into small business. The rate at which we’re developing and growing all aspects of the business makes it hard to remain in a complete “startup mode”. In his article, Tim Cadogan talks about a meetup between “originals” of the company where he worked. The key take away points are that the initial years of your company where you’re facing hard times and dealing with less than ideal circumstances are going to be the times you remember later on. This is where the memories are made. Being able to share these stories with each other (and new people you bring onto the team, for that matter) is what lets your company culture continue on.

Remember to follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week.

Nick Cosentino – LinkedIn
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Cameron Sapp – Recognizing The New Guy

 

 

Cameron Sapp (Rocking awesome handlebars for Movember)

Cameron Sapp and a Little Background

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that I wanted to start publicly acknowledging some of my teammates. While this is the first one, it certainly won’t be the last. At Magnet Forensics, I’m surrounded by many individuals that bring a lot to the table. There’s certainly no reason and no way I’d only be able to pick one person to write about. Now there wasn’t a particular reason I picked this individual first, but I think I had some concrete things fresh in my head that I wanted to share. Without too much more rambling, I’d like to introduce Cameron Sapp!

New Kid on the Block

Cameron joined our team earlier this year. I don’t think any of us doubted his technical abilities and we were all excited to bring him on board. After all, we have a ton of stuff to work on and we need more great minds working with us! We were getting pretty impatient waiting for him to start, but it was definitely worth the wait.

Cam fit in to the work culture really well and really quickly too. Heck, he’s one of Team Magnet’s awesome volleyball players! Something people may not pay attention to is how much a work culture fit is important in a small organization. Being able to get along with all of your teammates and share a common vision is absolutely crucial for being successful. Luckily for us, Cameron fits in well with the team and definitely embraces the Magnet culture!

I was recently told by a bright individual, Dan Silivestru of tinyHippos, that there will be a time where someone younger is going to show up and surprise me with what they know. Of course, it’s not that I walk around doubting the ability of people, but unfortunately it’s pretty common for age and/or experience to bring about big assumptions for people’s abilities. I’m still young and early in my career, so I don’t think age is something I’m concerned with–but I might be guilty of thinking highly of my technical abilities. While Cameron isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, he definitely was able to pull some tricks from his sleeves to impress me. For that, I would like to applaud him and recognize him here on The Internetz.

Whatcha Gonna Do With All Them Lambdas?

I’ve been programming in Microsoft’s C# for quite a few years now. I’m certainly not a master by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d say I’m pretty well versed. I’ve also written in the past about how I like to use events a lot when I’m programming (like here, here, and here) and almost always try to find an event-driven approach to things. But what does this have to do with Mr Cameron Sapp?

Well, you see… In C# it’s often the case where you hook up events like this:


someObject.DidSomething += SomeObject_DidSomething;

private void SomeObject_DidSomething(Object sender, EventArgs e)
{
    // do some awesome stuff.
}

That’s not so bad, right? Well, except if you’re making these suckers everywhere… And when you don’t want to have to type out a big ugly signature… Or when the type of your event arguments is obnoxiously long… Well, you get the point. If you’re not a C# programmer, take my word for it: if you use events a lot, having these event handlers all over the place sometimes just sucks to have to look at.

Enter… The lambda.

So once upon a time, Cameron stuck up a code review. Things were looking pretty good (as per usual with Cam’s code), but I noticed something right before I was going to give it the stamp of approval.


// Some code...

someClass.SomeEvent += (s, e) =>
{
    // event handler logic
}

// Some more code...

What the heck is that?! My alarms for event handler memory leaks weren’t going off (since this handler needed to exist for the entire lifetime of the objects in question), but I had no idea what I was looking at. Cameron’s a pretty smart guy, I remember thinking, so this code definitely had to compile on his machine before he pushed it up for me to review. Still… What was I looking at?

This was my first real shocker where someone caught me off guard for something I always felt really comfortable with. I mean… C# and events are my bread and butter. How was this guy showing me something I hadn’t seen before regarding events? How can he know something about them I don’t?! Well, he did it. And I’m sure that he’s got a lot more up there in that head of his that I don’t know. And I can’t wait for him to teach me it!

Summary

So this was pretty quick, and it probably doesn’t do Cameron enough justice, but I think it’s a start. We’re really fortunate to have Cameron as part of our team–both from a culture fit and a technical perspective. He’s a rock solid developer that is not only willing to adapt to our coding environment, but he’s also got lots of insight to bring to the table.

It’s important that we never put ourselves in a position where we think we know it all. As soon as you get comfortable with what you know, you stop learning. When you stop learning, you have people like Cameron show up and send you a wake up call. There isn’t a single person out there who knows everything, and you might be surprised who can teach you a thing or two.

Thanks for being part of our team, Cam. Let’s show ’em how it’s done.

More team member recognition to come! Stay tuned.


Innovation: Weekly Article Dump

Innovation: Weekly Article Dump (Image by http://www.sxc.hu/)

Innovation and You

There’s no denying innovation is important. You often see startups oozing with innovation completely disrupt a market and consequently, there are tons of people out there with dreams to do the same thing. How do you jack up the innovation level in your company? Why is it that startups seem to be so much better at innovating even though multi-million dollar companies have the people and financial resources to throw at R&D? Why do big companies suck at innovating?

The answer starts with your employees. Empowering your employees to innovate and embedding innovation in the work culture is key to ensuring your company continues to innovate. With big companies, the focus moves from innovation to profit maximization. Over time though, some small team of highly innovative individuals are going to find a way to do it differently or do it better, and the big players will take a hit.

Where does your company sit in the world of innovation? Does innovation come from a select few individuals?

Articles

  • Driving Innovation: This article is all about how to truly drive innovation in your company: It doesn’t come from one person, but rather many people. Arne Sorenson shares five tips for trying to drive innovation among his team members. Coincidentally, my colleague Tayfun actually wrote an innovation piece on a similar topic earlier this week.
  • Are Headphones the New Cubicle?: I thought this post by Richard Moran was pretty interesting and at least worst asking yourself the question (even if you don’t feel like reading the article). Open offices are seemingly the new way to go, but are the benefits of open offices reduced by everyone strapping headphones on? I’m personally a big fan of having an open concept office, but I do think that open communication factor is significantly hurt by having headphones on all day.
  • How to Spot a Great Leader in Four Easy Steps: James Caan says that great leaders are defined by four major things: confidence, intuition, decisiveness, and empathy. I have to agree. People need a leader they can get behind and trust to make good decisions. That leader needs to show confidence when they are making their decisions to really show that they aren’t blindly leading people down path X. However, the empathy part goes really far. After all, you’re dealing with real live people, not machines.
  • Intrapreneurship – Guest Blog by Tayfun Uzun: I’ve already briefly mentioned it here in this post, but my colleague Tayfun from Magnet Forensics wrote his perspective on intrapreneurship and how it drives innovation. It’s all about empowering each individual in the company to be innovative in their own right, and in return, the company itself experiences a boost in innovation. Check it out!
  • University of Waterloo Grad’s Journey To Becoming A Software Engineer: Here’s the part where I toot my own horn a bit. A friend of mine, Meghan Greaves, did a mini-interview with me for a TalentEgg article. It’s about how and when I knew what I wanted to do when I “grew up”, what university in Waterloo was like for me, and my transition into a development leadership role at Magnet Forensics. It was really flattering to have Meghan put this together, so please check it out and give her a shout out on twitter!
  • New Generation of Business: Connecting Employee Loyalty with Customer Loyalty: In this post by Colin Shaw, he dives into the concept of employee ambassadors and how you can build a better business by marrying employee and customer loyalty. Keeping employees engaged through your employee ambassadors will help keep the rest of your employees engaged and believing in the company’s mission.
  • Just Do it – Right from the Start!: Michael Skok provides a high-level walkthrough for startup success. The first thing? The right people. A successful company absolutely requires the right people and that’s where it starts. Keeping a solid workplace culture and empowering your employees are two fundamental things to do as you bring the right people on board. Great article!
  • Look for Advisors Who Can Teach, Not Tell: Hunter Walk shares some advice that certainly makes sense for advisory boards, but I wouldn’t limit it to just that. The idea of being able to teach and not just tell is a parallel to great leadership. Telling people what to do is not as effective as telling people what the goal is and empowering them to get there. It’s much easier to learn and grow if you’re given guidelines but you get to hold the reins.
  • Using Humor in Business: Some Practical AdviceColin Shaw is up again this week with an article on humour in business. I think it’s pretty common that when people think of big corporations they have this vision of straight-faced people in suits carrying brief cases… but is that always the reality? Should it be the reality? Colin talks about how you can leverage humour in the workplace for things such as improving relationships or making ideas more memorable. There’s certainly a balance, but I think Colin doe sa great job explaining it.
  • The # 1 Job of a Leader Is …: If you have grammar OCD then skip to the next link right now. Fair warning! Tom Hood says that to be a true leader, you need to be doing “more better”. What does it mean? It’s simple… do better, only more! Okay, maybe it still sounds kind of strange, but the idea still applies. In order to be a real leader in your domain, you have to keep doing better. You need to innovate, push boundaries, and keep doing things better. Do better than your competitors, and do better than you did in the past.
  • 5 Lessons On How to Build High Impact Teams: Jake Wood talks about what it takes to make a high impact team. What are some of the ingredients? First, you need to know your role and how you fit in with your team. You need to embrace innovation and change. And of course, one of my favourites, “Passion trumps talent, but culture is king”.
  • Why Your Software Development Process Is Broken: In this article by Joe Emison, discusses where control in software products lies and how shifting it between developers and high-level managers can have different effects. On one hand, developers with too much control start to stick in all the fancy new technology because developers love new shiny things, and on the other hand high-level managers create a one-way flow of direction down to developers. His solution is to have a benevolent dictator that lies somewhere in the middle.

Empower your team to innovate and watch your company’s innovation as a whole increase. Remember to follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week!

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  • Nick Cosentino

    Nick Cosentino

    I work as a team lead of software engineering at Magnet Forensics (http://www.magnetforensics.com). I'm into powerlifting, bodybuilding, and blogging about leadership/development topics over at http://www.devleader.ca.

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