Friday, December 19, 2008

Letting Your Developers Excel

As every developer knows, it's hard to soar with the eagles when you're surrounded by turkeys.  And by turkeys I don't mean your cow-orkers, but your environment.

As 37signals, and Jeff Atwood describe, a workplace that doesn't trust you, or won't provide necessary equipment won't let you achieve your best.

Now, it's hard to make your bosses extend more trust to you, but you can gain some of the same effects by skunkworking your situation - firewall your development environment from management; extend your estimates a little; frame the dialog with management in your terms - ask what they want as the end result, not how they want it done.

Budgets make technology stuff harder, but use Jeff's numbers to show how quickly your purchases will pay for themselves - show your compile times, the time spent switching workspaces instead of having 2 monitors, and show how the better equipment will help them.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I'm suffering a bad case of burnout.  Work has been a lot of conflicting bug fixes, nearly one hundred arbitrary deadlines, every release getting patch branches, and it's gotten me down.  The work is too simple and too rushed to be satisfying.  The matrix management has all the managers giving me "top priority" tasks, each wanting their own to be really top priority.  Other development teams are trying to obsolete portions of our product.  Customers are pushing their systems past all reasonable limits because our marketing dept did not push back.

In short, I'm sitting in the middle of a big helping of Life Sucks right now.

My hope is that the holidays will get me some much-needed sleep and downtime, and I will start up out of the pit.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

No Comment!

Comments - a contentious subject

Every developer has horror stories of the monster codebase without comments, or worse yet, the one with misleading comments.

And last July I saw this - Jeff Atwood advocating coding without comments.  When I see these sorts of articles, I wonder how many multi-developer. multi-process systems the authors have worked on.  While I agree that it's hard to work on code with bad comments, if the code has seen several developers, the comments may be all that exists to explain why things are being done.

Jeff's example is relatively trite - code that implements math functions is almost by definition clear in intent.  If you have a function that implements business logic for a niche industry that will not have a clear meaning to a new developer, or a seasoned one that has been away from the code.  And that's the reason comments are necessary - no matter how good the other documentation may be, the developers will be in the code first, so that's where you need to have the most info useful to programmers.

So when you are coding, add comments that explain the logic behind the code.  Most of it might be doable with correctly-named function names, and variables, but some things are not so easily explained and need a paragraph or two to get that across.

Not this:

a++; // increment a

But this:

a++;  // the hardware uses 1-based numbering

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Passion - Do You Have It? And For What?

 When you have passion for your work, it hardly seems like work - you want to solve the problems in front of you.  You get a kick from constructing the solution in code.

The dark side of passion is that it often get used as a club to convince you to work long hours under bad conditions because doing otherwise is "unprofessional" - if you are professional, you are supposed to love the work.

Bull.  You are professional if you hate being made to ship unfinished product just because someone in Sales needed a bigger bonus this quarter, so they pulled in a deadline.  You hate working overtime to fix bugs that made it to the field because of those rushed releases.

Over on Creating Passionate Users (apparently defunct) is a post about this topic, and although it is written more for game developers, it rings true.  Passion should not be getting you to do things you don't like; it should be getting you to do things you love. 

So look around at your job, and see if you can find the passionate developers - and you will find they are not the ones who don't care about working overtime, just to be seen as "team players" - they're the ones who prefer to make their code better so that they rarely need to work overtime.

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