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That Conference Year 2: What worked and didn’t work for me

Returned last night from my second year at That Conference. I enjoyed myself a lot more this year than last year. I wasn’t sure if it was me or the conference last year, so I wanted to give it one more year, and I’m glad I did. Here are my biased thoughts on what I like and don’t like about the event.

What I like

Overall I like the venue. The Kalahari Resort is huge and sprawling and was kind of over-whelming the first year, but it was easier this year. That may also be because I had a better room location. The hotel staff does a good job – they are friendly and personable. They responded quickly to technical issues. And overall the food is pretty good.

That Conference itself is organized by a dedicated team that does a fabulous job of making the event successful. They handled logistics really well. They adapted when they needed to. Nice, friendly, helpful people all the way around.

In addition to regular sessions, the conference also includes “open spaces”. I appreciated the space this year – it meant there was a great area to just have conversations with people and let people know you were available for a conversation non a particular topic. I’m glad they intend to continue doing this in the future. I’ll note that last year I was annoyed at how frequently the staff reminded us about using the open space. Being constantly told to get out there and talk to people was a big turn off for me. I’m not sure if I just missed them doing that this year, but it wasn’t an issue for me this go around.

The conference created phone applications for Android, Apple and Windows Phone to help navigate users navigate the venue and keep track of their schedule. The app wouldn’t install for me last year on my old Windows phone, but this year worked great for me and was very helpful. What I wish they would include in the app AND on the website is a more traditional view of the schedule. Here’s what I mean: A grid with time slots down the first left column, and all subsequent columns a different room with the title of the session in it (linking to the detailed info). I would love at  chance to be able to see a list of session titles at a particular time.

What I don’t like

To be honest, the speaker presentation quality is fairly uneven. There are many speakers who are experienced, thoughtful speakers who provide deliver their content at a very high level. There are also speakers whose speaking skills were at a much lower level. (And then there were those of us who are in the middle. I count myself in that group.)

As I understand it, That Conference uses an approach for session selection that removes the speaker name during the decision process. That means the selection is based solely on the content and quality of the abstract. I understand why they are doing this, but to be honest, I think it hurts the event overall. Good speakers can make even a topic I don’t care about interesting. If I have a choice of 2 sessions, one with a phenomenal speaker on a topic I don’t care about, or a bad speaker on a topic I do, I will often pick the better speaker. I’m happier with the experience and I gain more from it

I’m not saying that should be the only criteria, but it shouldn’t be eliminated completely from the selection process. Giving a chance to some newer presenters is okay, but those people also have other more appropriate venues for trying out their talks, like code camps and user groups. That Conference is a great value for the price, but it is a for-pay conference, and if I’m paying for something I expect a higher quality.

Also: some form of speaker evaluation would be useful for the conference over time. They could use that to help them craft a better overall conference.

Ambivalent

That Conference is promoted as a family-friendly conference. It is held at a hotel resort with a water park. They encourage you to bring your family, and they have some kid friendly sessions, too. If you have little kids – this is great. it certainly changes the feel of the conference.

From my perspective, it is a wash. My kids are grown up. I’m not interested in the water park. I’m glad it makes it easier for families (if that’s what they want), so long as there aren’t a bunch of screaming, misbehaving kids giving me a headache. So far, that hasn’t been an issue, but I can imagine that it could become one.

Perhaps the one way this family-friendly approach works well for me is that it seems to take some of the pressure off attending all the late night stuff. I don’t typically enjoy the after hours events. I don’t drink. I’m not a gamer. I find large crowds exhausting. Because so many families are there and people are doing other things, no one really questions why you skipped a particular event.

Conclusion

That Conference is a great developer event, and one I expect I will continue to attend. If you are looking for a way to combine your technical development with family time, this could be the right event for you.

Posted by Avonelle on Thursday, August 15, 2013. There are 0 Comments.

600 Workouts in a row!

Today is a major milestone for me – I’ve worked out every day for the last 600 days. I thought I would share a bit about why I am doing this, what I consider to be a workout, and how this has improved things for me.

I am a person who responds well to habits. When I can integrate a task into my every day flow, I can stick to it. But intermittent activities are harder for me to keep it going. When I started exercising regularly a few years ago, it was often hard for me to keep it up. I would skip a few days, telling myself I didn’t have time or energy or whatever, and that I would do more “tomorrow”. Then when tomorrow came, my motivation was low because my long workout seemed overwhelming.

I’m not sure when it came to me, but at some point I decided that perhaps I was doing things wrong. I decided to start working out every day, at least 10 minutes a day. If I felt like doing more, I would, but no matter what I would commit to that 10 minutes.

There is no way to convince yourself you can’t find 10 minutes in a day to exercise.

You might be thinking: but you can’t lose any weight exercising only 10 minutes a day. And you are right. So what’s the point? Remember that 10 minutes is just a minimum. The goal is really about establishing a habit. Also, even if I’m not losing weight, I’m boosting my metabolism. I’m increasing flexibility. And reducing stress.

So, what do I consider to be a “workout”? I’ve decided to only count things that I wouldn’t already be doing. So even though I walk outside with my mom twice a week, I don’t count that. But it doesn’t have to be intensive every time.

The best workouts for me are low friction. It has to be so easy to start that it requires very little set-up. I used to ride bicycle for my workouts, and I still do occasionally, but riding bike has too much friction for a regular workout. (I have to check the tires on the bike, change my clothes, put on my cleats, helmet, etc.) I’d have the same problem if I was trying to workout in a gym. Too much preparation and additional time.

So a better approach for me has been workout videos. I have a variety of DVDs and instant exercise videos on Amazon. They range in length from 10 minutes to around an hour, and they include a variety of workout types: pilates, yoga, strength training, aerobic, etc. I try to mix it up so that I’m not doing the same routines every day. If I feel lousy, I’ll do some very basic yoga poses or perhaps some simple pilates. If I feel good, I’ll do aerobics or something that pushes me more. For example, today I did 30 minutes of aerobics, and 10 minutes of yoga.

And I’ve constantly increased the minimum time. When I started, the minimum workout time was 10 minutes. These days, my minimum is 30 minutes. I’ve done that for 328 days in a row!

Tracking what I’m doing really helps. I have a spreadsheet where I log my daily workout. I note the amount of time I worked out, which workouts I accomplished, if they involved weights or a distance I include those stats too. I also write my current days-in-a-row numbers on the white board in my office. I makes me happy to see those numbers go up every day.

These days my average monthly workout length is 40 minutes. All by just starting with a commitment to do 10 minutes a day.

This may not work for you. Some people like the flexibility of workouts on a different days. Others won’t like the types of workouts that are low friction. And for others, if your focus is initially on weight loss instead of feeling better, this may not be a good fit. But for me, this has helped me to keep my metabolism up, my weight down, and I feel more flexible and relaxed.

Posted by Avonelle on Friday, August 09, 2013. There are 0 Comments.

Someone changes your estimate?

I shared my talks on estimating and going independent at the Society for Women Engineers last weekend. There was one question from the audience during the estimating talk that really got me thinking. The person described their situation, which was that another department would request an estimate for some work from their department, their group would produce a thoughtful estimate, and then someone in the requesting department would alter the estimate substantially, often cutting the number in half. Then their group was just told to “live with it”.

Unfortunately, this situation had led to the group starting to double their numbers, just so they break even. That is a bad situation all around.

I didn’t have much of an answer during the session, but after considering the problem more, here’s how I would handle it:

First, I would meet with the other department. If it is just one person who is responsible for making these arbitrary changes, I’d only meet with them. I’d ask them in a non-threatening way why they think they are better at estimating my work than me. I’d bring statistically data that demonstrated why this was less accurate. I’d also point out to them that I felt no obligation to attempt to meet their changes, and that this was an unacceptable situation.

I’d point out to them that this was disrespectful and unacceptable. At a minimum, there should have been a discussion about the numbers and how I arrived at them, not just arbitrary changes.

At this point, you could expect one of two things to happen, I think. Either the person will take it seriously and promise not to do it again. OR they will blow you off.

If they don’t take it seriously, then you have the choice of living with it, escalating it to someone else, or looking for new work.

I realize there are no easy answers to this. But I’d have a serious conversation about it that was non-emotional and focused on the issues. My guess is that, in some cases this would be successful.

Posted by Avonelle on Monday, March 12, 2012. There are 0 Comments.

#shesgeeky 2011: Why I love it

If you follow me on Twitter at all, you know I adore She’s Geeky. She’s Geeky is an unconference that just wrapped up its second time coming to the Twin Cities. Because I got so much out of last year’s event, I worked hard to convince colleagues and friends that they should come this year. I was mostly unsuccessful, except that I brought my 13 year old niece on day two (and she was immediately hooked!)

Having attended both days this year, I want to see if I can express more clearly why She’s Geeky is such a useful event to me, and why you should consider attending next year.

Geeky careers can be isolating

This is true on different levels. For example, some jobs themselves are naturally isolating, like my freelance programming job. Women who work at geeky jobs are often the only woman in their group/project/department, which can be isolating in a different way. And if your job involves interacting with non-geeky people, then you may feel alone and isolated in still another way.

She’s Geeky helps to combat that by helping you to connect with people who you have some commonalities with.

Have the conversations YOU want

How many times have you attended a conference and wished they had a session on a particular topic? Or have you attended conferences where the most valuable part of the event was the conversations you had between sessions, not the session itself?

At She’s Geeky, if you want to have a session about a topic, you suggest it. If others want to talk about it too, they’ll show up. Even if you know nothing about the topic, you can suggest the topic as a question or explain that you are hoping to learn more about it. I attended a session on setting pricing for web work, because the session convener was looking for advice, and I felt I could contribute something to that discussion. I ran a session on trying to get more women speakers at tech events, and got some good feedback about what might work or not work. This was very valuable to me.

The conversations are safer also. One of the sessions I attended this year was on imposter syndrome, the problem many of us have that we fear we just frauds, and that someone will soon figure out that we are frauds. This problem is not specific to women, but is more frequently held by women, and women deal with it in a different way. If a man feels insecure, he will often puff himself up more. When women feel insecure, they tend to apologize. This is a session probably would not have happened in a mixed gender situation. I think many women wouldn’t have been comfortable admitting that feeling in front of men.

You ARE geeky enough

Sometimes when I try to convince women to attend She’s Geeky, they tell me they aren’t geeky enough. FYI: you are probably are. Look, there were conversations at She’s Geeky this year on manga, digital art, and video games. These are all topics I have no interest in. That doesn’t mean I’m not a geek. There were also sessions on dealing with failure, starting a business, and management tips for new managers. Do those sound too geeky for you?

My point is: the conversations that happen are what YOU want and need. It is okay if you don’t like Star Trek, or don’t have the periodic table memorized. Really. You’ll still fit in.

Are segregated events a bad idea?

I’ll admit, before attending She’s Geeky for the first time last year, I was a bit suspicious of events that only included women. I personally have little interest in sitting around talking about how “oppressed” women are, or whatever. And I’ve heard it argued that women-only events are ultimately bad for women, because they are segregating themselves. Honestly: would we be comfortable with a “He’s geeky” event?

Good question.

Here’s my answer: Guys probably don’t need a He’s Geeky event, because as a significant majority in STEM fields, they don’t experience the challenges of being in the minority. So a He’s geeky event would feel like guys trying to exclude women for no good reason. But turn it around: my guess is that there are very few male elementary school teachers and nurses. They probably have unique concerns from their female counterparts in their fields. They might need a “He Teaches” or “He Nurses” event, and that would be completely understandable to me. I would think: good for them.

Further, I want to make something clear: to my great relief, none of my She’s Geeky experiences have been women trashing men in any way. There have been frank discussions about gender differences, and certainly some conversations about whether some of those differences originate via nature or nurture, but this isn’t a hen party. It isn’t gossipy or whiny. And it is usually practical discussions. How can I solve X problem? How should I handle Y situation? How can I make Z better?

Summary

Thanks to the sponsors and volunteers who made She’s Geeky 2011 happen. It was a great success. I can’t wait until next year!

Posted by Avonelle on Monday, September 26, 2011. There are 2 Comments.

I don’t want your help

The famous Michael Arrington post about women in tech and several of the comments and blog responses have been rolling around in my brain all day. There were some thoughtful insights as well as some really stupid responses on all sides of the argument.

I don’t know if the reasons are nature or nurture. Personally, I don’t feel like I’ve been the victim of discrimination. And I don’t think we will ever see 50/50 gender representation in tech fields and that really doesn’t bother me. I like to educate girls about the opportunities available in technology, because I think young women eliminate tech from their career options for false reasons, like that they won’t be able to interact with humans or that they will spend every day completely at a computer.

But here’s what I do know: I really don’t want any “help”. Men trying to “help” women get noticed because they think women can’t do it on their own. Men holding special recruiting drives to find more female speakers. Men trying to be more “inclusive”.

Ick.

Doesn’t it feel condescending and yucky? It sure does to me.

If I’m writing something useful and smart, someone will find it. If they don’t, perhaps it is because I’m not promoting it very well. I certainly don’t want any charity promotion from someone. If you think it is good, then tell people. If not, ignore it. Fine by me.

Small addendum: Women who complain that people who disagree with them on the internet are “raping” them DO NOT SPEAK FOR ME, and in fact make me ashamed to be female. Really. (Even if you are being called filthy names or threatened, it is not the same thing AT ALL, and makes you sound like an idiot.)

Posted by Avonelle on Monday, August 30, 2010. There are 1 Comments.

SEO Companies, try using your brains (snark follows)

Dear “SEO Company” (any of those who have left a message for me on my site),

Thank you so much for your kind offer to help me increase traffic to my site. I’m so glad you contacted me, as I’ve been DESPERATE to improve my search engine rankings. (In fact, how did you even find me with such low rankings?!)

I have a few questions before we get started:

1) Your email address is a generic gmail account. At first I was kind of surprised you didn’t have your own domain account, but now I’m thinking it is brilliant. Why, lots of people must think you work directly for Google. Plus you are saving a few bucks in the process. Should I do the same thing and get rid of my branded email address?

2) Your note says you have “helped a lot of businesses thrive in this market”. Which market do you mean? (I’m sure you meant to include it. I certainly don’t imagine that you were spamming me with generic marketing text, right?)

3) Your note said when I contact you I should make sure to “include my company’s website address (mandatory) and or phone number”. But since you filled out my contact form, don’t you already have my website address? Plus, if it is mandatory, why say “and or”? (You’re right…I’m just nitpicking.)

4) I’m thinking there is no point in giving you my phone number anyway. You didn’t include your phone number, so I’ll bet you don’t have a phone.

5) You don’t seem to have a website of your own, or at least you didn’t leave a company name OR a website URL for me to check. That makes me think that perhaps websites are old news anyway. You clearly don’t think they are worth the time and effort, or you’d have one yourself! So perhaps I just just forget the website and SEO altogether.

Thanks again for your swell message. I can’t wait to meet you and learn all about your amazing skills.

Avonelle

Posted by Avonelle on Monday, September 21, 2009. There are 0 Comments.

Why the “community” makes me want to poke my eyes out

I have to confess something: I don’t like asking for help. I like to figure things out for myself. Plus asking for help means making yourself vulnerable. You have to say “I am ignorant in some way”. I’m not a big fan of broadcasting my ignorance (at least not in so direct a manner.)

I. Really. Hate. It.

But on occasion I will use the magic of the internets to ask a question. Last week I posted a question on a popular freelancing forum. Before I posted my question, I searched for the answer both on Google and within that forum. I was basically looking for recommendations for software with a certain specific set of features.

The first responder basically pointed me to a search of that forum. The search results did not in any way address my specific requirements. They weren’t rude exactly, but the implications were clear: Don’t bother us with questions about stuff we’ve already discussed.

I’ve seen this a lot on forums. The regulars get cranky when people ask similar questions over and over again. In some cases these regulars can get combative and downright nasty.

What I found annoying was that I tried very hard to express my specific requirements (which the responder ignored in favor of pointing me at generic options), and also that I had clearly stated that I had already done some preliminary searches. My goal was just to see if anyone had any suggestions of products I had missed. But obviously to him my request said “newbie”, and decided to respond using his standard “do a search” response.

So when people talk about the value of participating in the “community”, I want to gouge my eyes out. While I’m sure there are places that are warm and fuzzy, there are also just as many places that are snotty and rude.  All you need are a couple of regulars (trolls or otherwise) to make everyone else feel unwelcome.

I’m not suggesting that everyone has to be all cuddly. In fact, I find cuddly (or “me too-ism”) just as pointless. And I’ve got a thick skin, so it isn’t like I’ve been huddled in a fetal position this week trying to get over it. No biggie, really.

I just think that occasionally the “community” could try not to be such complete jerks. M’kay?

Posted by Avonelle on Wednesday, September 09, 2009. There are 0 Comments.

Retreat Day #3: How the same trail can look different

For day #3 of my retreat, I decided to go east along the Wobegon trail towards St. Joseph. This is a section I’ve ridden before, both last Sunday as well as a few times previously. My recollection even from a few days ago was that it was a pleasant stretch of trail punctuated by some cities and other stuff to look at. In fact, I recalled it as quite interesting, and a stark contrast to the more dull ride on Monday

As it turns out, my memory is completely flawed. Today’s ride was just as boring as Monday’s. It was (again) very straight and flat. I only encountered one town (as I gave up after 13 miles), and there were almost no riders.

What is funny about this to me is that this isn’t how I remembered that part of the ride at all. I thought there were many more towns, and that there was a lot more to see.

I can only conclude that a trail is more interesting when there are other people riding on it. Today it was quite empty – I encountered less than 10 other riders. I did stop for a few minutes to chat with a rider who was sitting on the trail. Apparently he had bonked. His son had gone up the trail to meet his wife at a crossing who was going to bring in a vehicle to extract him and his bike. So we spoke for a while until they arrived. But that was the most interesting part of the day.

In fact, the ride was so dull I didn’t even take pictures. Lame.

Actually I shouldn’t complain. I like trail riding and this week has been fun. But it has definitely given me an appreciation for the road riding I do at home. I’ll bet riding these trails as the leaves turn will be beautiful to look at, although given the proximity of the trees it will probably mean more leaves and branches on the trails themselves, making it a more tricky ride.

The weather looks good for tomorrow so I may get one more ride in before I head home.

Posted by Avonelle on Wednesday, September 02, 2009. There are 0 Comments.

Retreat day #2: Good weather and more cows

My luck continues to hold as today’s weather was just as beautiful as yesterday’s. So I was able to ride another part of the Wobegon Trail. Today’s section took me from Albany to Holdingford, which was a lovely little town with a sweet little rest area on the trail with bathrooms and a place to park.

holdingford

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I first want to say that today’s route, while only having 1 town instead of two, was actually more interesting. You might recall that I described yesterday’s ride as dull (mind numbingly boring is probably a better description.) But today’s route included things like curves! And even some hills! Yes, I know. I ride a recumbent, and so usually I hate hills, but after yesterday’s ride was so flat and straight, I actually appreciated the variety of today’s trail. Also it wasn’t near any roads, which meant that it actually sounded like nature. Yesterday’s ride included a lot of nature visually, but you could always hear the cars and semis nearby. Today I mainly heard crickets.

It was really good that the route included more interesting things to look at, because Holdingford was 10 miles away from Albany. But it was a fun ride. The early part of the ride wound around trees and farms. There were creeks and a few drop offs. And I saw some pretty farm houses and some cows. I took a picture but it didn’t come out. (I wonder if these are the same cows from yesterday?)

When I got to Holdingford, I was in for a treat. You ride into the town by going through a covered bridge.

covered_bridge

You cross a few streets, and then you find yourself in this nice little park. There was a family eating some lunch there. And a bunch of older female cyclists looking at a big map of the trail and discussing their next move. I didn’t encounter them again, so I’m not sure what happened to them.

Oh, and there is this really fun-looking wooden train:

train

I’ll bet that is really popular with the kids.

I rode a few miles out of Holdingford to see what was next, but never really encountered anything else. Since I didn’t see any signs telling me how far away the next town was, I finally gave up and returned to my hotel. That was probably the smart move anyway, because if I have a major mechanical problem with my bike, I’m not exactly sure how I’ll get back. It isn’t like you can throw the ‘bent in your typical 4 door sedan.

Like yesterday’s ride, encountered very few other riders. In total, I think I saw less than riders during my 28 mile ride. I assume that this is because it isn’t the weekend, and also because there isn’t a darn thing between these towns besides farms and woods. So perhaps most people don’t have a big desire to ride them all the time. Which of course begs the question: why were these trails created in the first place? Oh, here’s a bit of history on it.

Posted by Avonelle on Tuesday, September 01, 2009. There are 0 Comments.

Retreat: Boring trails and bovine signage

Today was the first full day of my retreat. Oh, I didn’t mention that I was going on retreat, did I? Long story short: I haven’t had a break that was longer than 1 day or two for more than 3 years. (And it is difficult for me to count 3 years ago, since that was when I took 6 weeks off to care for my dying father.) So I’m taking 4 whole days off to read, relax, and ride my bike.

The location I selected for my retreat is Albany Minnesota, a little town about 90 miles west of St. Paul. It happens to be on the Lake Wobegon bike trail, so I thought it would provide for some easy biking. I did a 20 mile ride yesterday evening after I arrived, heading east towards St. Cloud. I’ve ridden that section before when I’ve come for the Tour of the Saints bike ride, and it is lovely. In fact, I prefer the trail to the actual Tour of the Saints route, mainly because I am wimpy and don’t like a lot of hills. Today I decided to head west to try out some of the trail that I’ve never attempted before.

Let me just say that those 26 miles (13 each way) are probably the most boring I have ever ridden. Yes. Most. Boring. Evah.

That isn’t actually a complaint. One of the problems with riding from my house is that I have to avoid traffic, construction, and the occasional hazard. But this section of trail had nothing on it. In fact, the whole trail pretty much looked like this:

Trail

No bends, relatively flat, weeds, trees, and farmland. Oh, and the interstate. The trail runs along I-94, so especially during the first leg of the ride there was a lot of car noise.

There were two towns I encountered during my ride. The first was Freeport, which has a lovely water tower with a smiley face on it. Unfortunately my picture didn’t come out, but you can see a picture of it here on the town’s website.  (Apparently their catch phrase is: “The city with a smile”, which explains the smiley face.)

It also has this cool stone marker for the trail:

 Lake_wobegon_trail_sign

And it has this interesting bicycle flower holder:

Bike

But the best thing Freeport has is this sign:

wedocows_2

Actually that sign has nothing to do with Freeport except that it is outside the town, and actually refers to a “veterinary outlet store” in the next town. But really – how often do you see a sign like that?! I had to snap a picture.

The next town is Melrose. Melrose appeared to me to be a little bigger than Freeport. Certainly the water tower was bigger (take my word for it):

Melrose_water_tower

There was also a tank near the water tower. Unfortunately the picture didn’t turn out. (Hey, I’m a crummy photographer I know, but it was my crappy cell phone camera, so cut me a little slack.) I didn’t get a chance to find out what the tank was doing there.

It appeared that the trail went on for miles and miles and miles. And actually I think it does, but I decided not to test out this theory and instead came back to Albany.

Posted by Avonelle on Monday, August 31, 2009. There are 4 Comments.

Crazy Business Tip: Identify Yourself

StupidI got a letter today from a credit card company that is really lame. The letter is to inform me that they are changing the APR for my card.  Whatever. (This is not an unusual letter given the problems with many banks and other financial institutions.) But what was priceless is that they don’t identify themselves anywhere on the card or the letter. The letter says it is coming from “Cardmember Service”. It identifies my card by the last four digits of the card number. But I don’t think of my card as “7322”. I think of it as “Discover” or “Chase” or “Sears”, etc.

I read the letter twice. No where do they identify themselves. So, it is bad enough that they are giving me crappy news. They also increased my pain level by making me dig through my cards until I found the one with the correct number. Brilliant. (Gee, I hope none of my cards end in the same 4 digits.)

I would like to now thank US Bank personally for demonstrating real business savvy. Good job. I would like to nominate you for the stupid business of the week award.

Posted by Avonelle on Wednesday, May 06, 2009. There are 0 Comments.

Bureaucratic programming

vogon Jeff Atwood’s recent post on the The Ferengi Programmer may be my favorite so far this year. Jeff posits that some programmers fall into a trap where they attempt to define a large set of rules for programming, similar to the Ferengi rules of acquisition. I think the comparison to the rules of acquisition is a bit flawed, since none of the Ferengi in Star Trek seem to be overly burdened by the rules like the programmers Jeff describes. Instead I would argue these programmers are bureaucrats, like the Vogons in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Of course it all begins innocently enough. It starts with a bad project. The project goes wrong somehow – impossible deadlines, miscommunication, poor architecture, something. And it is painful. Afterward the programmers, project manager, customer, whoever, thinks “there must be a better way”. They make a list of what they would do differently. They have a  post mortem meeting to discussion where things went wrong. And next time they try to do better, using the lessons they learned from the first project.

Except the next time, new problems are encountered. Users keep changing their minds. The design is flawed. Or whatever. So there is another post mortem, and they add to the list. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And this is okay. In fact it is good. We should learn from our mistakes. We should try to improve. All good.

But…

There is a belief by some that if we just enforced a set of rules, a collection of standards, best practices, on our programming staff, we could eventually hit some kind of programmer nirvana where nothing would ever go wrong.

Not gonna happen.

Why? First, as the rules get longer and more complex, no one can remember them. And no one follows them. They become a joke. And second, the rules depend on the presence of smart people who care about what they are doing. It doesn’t matter how many rules you have in place – if your people are crap and don’t care about what is going on around them, 1 rule or 100 won’t make any difference.

The bureaucrats think they can prevent problems and chaos with more bureaucracy.

This is mistaken. Rules and standards are useful tools, but they alone cannot prevent problems with software projects. Only smart people who care about the craft make a real difference.

Posted by Avonelle on Thursday, February 12, 2009. There are 0 Comments.

Fascinating marketing

I received two email messages the other day that were interesting. Both emails were from vendors that I do business with (so I wouldn’t exactly call the messages “spam”). Here are the subject lines for each:

  • Our Economic Stimulus Plan: Save up to $200 on [Product]
  • [Product Name] can bail you out!

One thing is for sure: some people know how to turn anything into an opportunity. Good for them.

Posted by Avonelle on Thursday, February 12, 2009. There are 0 Comments.

Stupid Programmer Tricks

I’ve had a bad programmer week  - time filled with lots of little technical glitches with no obvious solutions.

The latest problem was today when I was trying to use a WinForm DataGridView with a collection of objects created with LLBLGen Pro. Long story short: I thought I had remembered that to set-up databinding at design time I need to use a LLBLGenProDataSource, so I spent a lot of time trying to add the component to my toolbox. At first it never seemed to add it, and then I realized it was disabled. I spent tons of time reading forum and blog posts where developers described similar problems with other controls, and I tried a variety of weird solutions (including using a non-wireless keyboard and mouse - seriously).

Then I ran into a post in the LLBLGen forums where a developer described my same problem. And the response was that the LLBLGenProDataSource is a web forms control. Duh! No wonder it was disabled.

Anyway, that gives you an idea of the week I’m having.

Posted by Avonelle on Thursday, February 05, 2009. There are 0 Comments.

How to ruin your day in one easy step

I'm getting ready to deploy a set of changes for one of my customers. This morning I learned there was one more bug that needed fixing, so I fired up my virtual machine and loaded the project.

Ugh. The ASP.NET 2.0 web application had magically turned itself into a "web site" type project. Oh, and it wanted to upgrade. What?

As near as I can tell, my build script that makes sure I have the most recent version of the code from the source control tool wasn't set up properly, and somehow the correct project file wasn't stored in the source code control. Somehow my project file was lost. I looked everywhere, including checking to see if I had the correct version in a backup of the virtual machine. (Crap - the virtual machine was backed up last night, so the problem was already there. Ugh.)

After spending quite some time trying to figure out what happened and looking for my lost file, I finally gave up. I created a new project in a new folder, added all the appropriate files to it, tested to make sure things seemed to be working, and then added it to a completely new folder in my source code control tool. Then I went through the build script meticulously, making sure it was all pointing to the correct locations. Oh, and I made a backup of the folder.

That solution was relatively quick. I wish I had thought of it sooner. 

I don't know what it is about this week, but it is time for it to be done already. I can't think of one thing that turned out to be as easy as it was supposed to be.  

Posted by Avonelle on Wednesday, November 12, 2008. There are 0 Comments.

Shatner and Cosby Hawking Tech

There are some great technology ads from the 1980s. I'm not sure why the calculator Bill Cosby is "holding" is so gigantic. (No wonder he looks surprised!) I didn't recognize William Shatner without his uniform, although I should have because in his current television series he wears a suit all the time. Then again, it is 20+ years later, so he's aged a bit.

My how things have changed. The ads include an information form readers can fill out and mail in to obtain more information. I don't recall seeing that in the ads of today. Then again, most of the ads of today aren't even on dead trees.

Posted by Avonelle on Thursday, October 30, 2008. There are 1 Comments.

Check out "That Guy With the Hat"

Lewis is a big fan of Ask ThatGuy (at That Guy with the Glasses), so when ThatGuy opened it up for others to answer questions, he couldn't resist. Here's his entry, Ask That Guy with the Hat. (Beware the woodchucks!)

 

Posted by Avonelle on Sunday, October 12, 2008. There are 0 Comments.

How crazy are you?

Sometimes I get a good laugh out of job postings.You know the kind that I mean - where someone expects to find a programmer with 20+ years of experience with C#, for example.

Today I saw one that was quite amusing. First, the job title is "IT Manager", but as you'll see, the responsibilities have little to do with management of any kind. The are looking for a "current senior or recent graduate with a B.S. in Computer Science", so clearly they are looking to low-ball the pay. Here are just some of the tasks this IT Manager will be performing:

  • Administering a single Windows 2003 SBS server and about 10 Windows XP desktops/laptops
  • Converting videos. Occasional editing
  • Maintaining old software in VB6
  • Programming new software and functionality in VB6, C#, and VBA
  • Write code/scripts to help automate and/or simplify common tasks
  • Configuring new tests in our proprietary software for research
  • Database related tasks
  • Network and server administration tasks
  • Preparing the data for the analyst
  • Keeping the numerous files related to a project organized
  • Computer maintenance including hardware and software updates
  • Manage and update website CMS
  • Assisting others as needed

Quite a variety, eh? Later on  in the ad, they make it clear that "Programming skills are essential", although as you can see almost all of the tasks are non-programming tasks. And, while they mention writing new code in VB6, C# and VBA, my guess is that most of this job has nothing to do with new code. 

Good luck to them finding someone fresh out of school who thinks maintaining a bunch of VB6 in addition to doing data entry on their website for fresh-out-of-school wages is a way cool opportunity for them. (Hey, it would put that "IT Manager" title on their resume, and that's all that matters, right?) 

Posted by Avonelle on Wednesday, July 16, 2008. There are 0 Comments.

How to Fail Gracefully

I was very sad to read the news that SimonDelivers is going out of business. Up until the end of last year I was using SimonDelivers for regular grocery delivery. The company was always a class act, from the customer service people who you called if there was a mistake, to the delivery people who brought the groceries.  

The article notes that while they had an intensely loyal following, they had a hard time converting the masses. I think costs played a major role in that. When I first started using them, I think I was paying approximately about 5%-10% extra. At the time, it was completely worth it to me. However, when I did some analysis last year, I realized I was paying about 25% extra now, which translated to me to $50 a week or more. In my case, that made it no longer a viable alternative.

It is a real shame, because all my experiences with the organization were very positive. I hope that they all land softly.

Posted by Avonelle on Tuesday, July 15, 2008. There are 0 Comments.