software solutions / project leadership / agile coaching and training

We’re flushing money down the toilet and no one is talking about it

Posted on November 11, 2015

Every business cares about making money and reducing costs. Yet every day I press a button and sit idly while I watch a little progress bar move. This happens every time I want to run an application or run a test.


Compiling code is something we’ve just gotten used to. Maybe that’s not the right phrase — we’ve learned how to put up with it. Granted, things are a lot better than they used to be. My first job after college was working on a C++ application where changing some of the foundational header files meant 30 minutes of compiling just to rebuild the application!

When .NET came out, they said that it compiled so fast that you would wonder if it actually did anything. That was true on demo apps that only had a few source files, but as your application grows and grows over time, those compilation times are quite noticeable. Certainly it was better than it was in C++, but that only makes you feel good for so long.

Let’s compare this to working with a dynamic language like JavaScript. When I’m coding JavaScript, it runs my tests in less than a second whenever I save a file!! No compiling, no loss of momentum, and oddly enough, dynamic languages don’t run noticeably slower than compiled languages for the kinds of applications that most of us are building.

Scary math

How much is compiling costing you? I decided to find out. The application that I’m in is 5 years old and has a fairly sizable codebase. Rebuilding the entire solution takes about 2 minutes, but usually I don’t need to rebuild everything. If I change a test file and run the tests, it still takes 30 seconds to compile what it needs to run the test. My machine is a year or two old, but it’s a pretty solid development machine with plenty of RAM and everything running on SSD. Your codebase may be smaller (or larger) than mine, so the compile times will vary. If you codebase is smaller because you app is younger, think about what it might be when your app is 5 years old.

There is a Visual Studio extension called Build Monitor that will record the compilation time every time you compile and then dump it to a json file. We all installed this and we recorded compile times from several different developers over a couple weeks, and here’s how it came out:

99 hours of dev time
5.4 hours spent compiling

… which means that 5.45% of our time was spent waiting for the code to compile.

Let’s put this in perspective:

If I code for 8 hours, I lose 26 minutes to compiling each day.

If I code 6 hours a day on a 6 month project, I lose a whole week to compiling.

Spread that across your entire team and multiply that by the average hourly rate of your employees.

5 days lost x 6 hours of coding time per day x 5 devs x $60/hr = $9,000

That’s real money!

Note that we haven’t taken into account that I can’t take advantage of my tests as much when the cost to run them is higher, so I’ll write a bunch of code before I run the tests, which makes diagnosing problems harder.

We also aren’t taking into account the slowdown that comes from having to stop for 30 seconds and go find something else to do like check email while I wait.

We also aren’t taking into account the lost business value because we can’t deliver features faster.

We also aren’t taking into account that someone out there is writing code that is trying to take away your market share, and if they can do it faster than you, they have an advantage.

What can we do about this?

Here are some things you can try to reduce compile times.

Get an SSD

There’s absolutely no reason why you should not be using a solid state drive at this point. When I switched to an SSD, my code compiled 3 times faster. You can get a 128GB SSD on Amazon for under $50. If your company won’t buy one for you, buy it yourself.

Get a faster machine

A new machine isn’t as cheap as an SSD, but if you can get a faster machine and speed up compilation time, the machine is going to pay for itself very quickly. At least make sure that your current machine isn’t strapped for RAM (which is really cheap).

Check your build settings

Once you download your nuget packages, you don’t need to check for them on every build! I like to leave this box unchecked.


Make sure the number of parallel project builds matches the number of threads your machine can run at one time. Also, when you run your code, you should only be building the projects that you need to run the code.


Split up your solution

If your solution contains a bunch of projects that you don’t ever edit, they’re just taking up memory and compile time. I like having one solution that has everything, but it can’t hurt to make smaller solutions that only have subsets of the code that you need in certain circumstances.

Unload projects

If you don’t split up your big solution, you can unload projects by right-clicking on the project in the Solution Explorer and selecting Unload Project. This will essentially remove the project from the solution that you have open without actually removing it (unloading is a user-level thing, so you can unload what you want without affecting your other team members).

Consolidate projects

I see lots of solutions where there’s a project for the data layer, a project for the business layer, a web project, and many more. The problem with this approach is that every time you compile, it has to copy .DLLs around to all of those different bin\debug folders, which takes time.

I would recommend consolidating projects whenever you can. Yeah, this might allow someone to reference the data layer from a controller instead of going through the business layer, but we all should know what you should or shouldn’t do in a codebase without having to have project boundaries enforcing it.

There is one caveat here… if you consolidate projects, then you can’t unload them anymore and you’ll have to compile them all the time. So while you might save time by consolidating projects, in some cases you could increase people’s compile time because you force them to compile code that they might otherwise unload.

Rethink your language choice

If you’re using a dynamic language like Ruby or Python or JavaScript and you’re still reading this, you may be mocking .NET developers right now. People that use dynamic languages can run their tests anytime they save a file. They can deploy changes to code by just deploying a single code file instead of compiling all of the code and deploying it. They can change a line of code, hit F5 in the browser, and immediately see what will happen. They don’t have to spend $500 for their IDE. They don’t absolutely need to have super high end machines to do development. And oh by the way, they aren’t spending 5% of their day watching their code compile.

(Yes, I know there’s a free version of Visual Studio, but how many of you are using that at work?)

I did Ruby on Rails for a year, and not only was it nice to not have to compile, I just loved the language. You really can do a lot more with less code. I felt like someone took off the training wheels and I could just write code that did what I wanted to do without all of the ceremony.

I realize that it doesn’t make sense for most teams to rewrite an existing codebase in another language just to avoid compilation. However, I will say this – someone else is competing against your company, and by using another language, they could have a 5% (or more) advantage. Ruby on Rails is very widely used by startups, and no one is more pressed for time and money than a startup.

C’mon .NET

I’m sure there are reasons that .NET can’t become an interpreted language like Ruby, but why can’t it? You can already make dynamic method calls in .NET using reflection, and at runtime it will attempt to call the method that you specified and will throw an exception if it can’t find the method. So why can’t everything work that way? Compilation may still have value as a sort of test to make sure that everything does link up, and it probably makes runtime faster if I can compile my code before I deploy it. But the real win will come when I can write .NET code and run it without having to check every method call and check every line for syntax errors when I’m only going to execute a few lines of code in a test.

Yeah, I know, now there’s ASP.NET Dynamic Compilation, but when I read about it, it just sounds like moving the slow compilation to the web server, which is convenient but isn’t going to save a lot of time when developing from what I can tell. But I haven’t actually tried it, so I suppose I could be wrong (I hope I am).

What else am I missing?

Do you have any ideas, tips, or tricks for how you’ve reduced compilation time on your team? I’d love to hear your thoughts! We’re all tired of watching progress bars.

Task Parallel Library – multi-threading goes mainstream

Posted on March 10, 2015

The Task Parallel Library is nothing new (it came out with .NET 4), but recently I had to diagnose some slowness in my application and I thought that the TPL might be what I was looking for, so I dove in.

Doing work in multiple threads is nothing new. You’ve been able to do new Thread(...).Start() and ThreadPool.QueueUserWorkItem(...) for some time now. But if you’ve used either of those methods, you know that it’s not simple and it usually feels like more work than it’s worth.

This is where the Task Parallel Library is awesome — it makes multi-threading easy. This doesn’t mean that it’s trivial (you can still have deadlocks, race conditions, etc.), but now you can introduce multithreading into your application with minimal effort.

I’m guessing that many of you have had the same problem that I had. You have a screen which will load up all of the details about an account/customer/order/whatever your system deals with. If you use a relational database (which most of you probably do), this probably means that you go and run a series of SQL queries (using an ORM or not) to load up all of the data that you need on the screen.

In my case, I had several slow SQL queries that had to run (and by slow, I mean ~2 seconds). The queries weren’t all that slow, but if you do 20 SQL queries and each one waits until the previous one finishes, you end up with it taking 12 seconds to load all of the data. Not good.

So what I did was to do each call as a Task and let the framework do it as fast as it can with as many available threads as possible. This is really easy to do, actually, once you learn a few basics.

Here’s a sample of what my old code looked like:

dto.Enrollments = EnrollmentRepository.GetEnrollmentsForAccount(accountId);
dto.Usages = UsageRepository.GetUsagesForAccount(accountId);
dto.Invoices = InvoicesRepository.GetInvoicesForAccount(accountId);
return dto;

(Obviously, I’m simplifying the code a bit for the sake of this post, there were about 20 calls in the real code.)

Here’s what the code turned into:

var tasks = new List();
tasks.Add(Task.Run(() => dto.Enrollments = EnrollmentRepository.GetEnrollmentsForAccount(accountId)));
tasks.Add(Task.Run(() => dto.Usages = UsageRepository.GetUsagesForAccount(accountId)));
tasks.Add(Task.Run(() => dto.Invoices = InvoicesRepository.GetInvoicesForAccount(accountId)));
return dto;

I really only added two things. Task.Run() tells the framework to do an action on a new thread. Task.WaitAll() tells the framework that the execution of the code should wait at that point until all tasks are complete.

With this simple change, I was able to take the loading of an account from ~12 seconds down to 2 seconds!

This is not the first time that I’ve written code that does things on multiple threads. But this is the first time that I did it and it was this easy. This is important because now it’s easy enough to make me think about doing things asynchronously more often. In the JavaScript world, doing things asynchronously is the norm (Node.js basically forces you do write asynchronous server code). It feels a little weird at first, but it makes total sense. If I have this fancy computer that has lots of hyper-threaded cores, why wouldn’t I take advantage of it? That would be like having an assembly line with 8 workers but then having one person do all the work while the other seven sat around and watched.

How much can I actually do at once?

This got me curious. I know that I have a quad-core machine, and the cores are hyper-threaded so each core can do 2 threads at once. This means that my machine should be able to do 8 things at once. I decided to find out what would actually happen.

This code will queue up 50 tasks. Each task will sleep for 1 second and then tell me when it finished.

public void How_many_things_can_we_do_at_once()
    Func action = i =>
            return (() =>
                    Console.WriteLine("Task {0} finished at {1}.", i, DateTime.Now.ToLongTimeString());

    var tasks = new List();
    for (var i = 0; i < 50; i++)


Here's the output of the test:

Task 1 finished at 10:10:52 PM.
Task 2 finished at 10:10:52 PM.
Task 3 finished at 10:10:52 PM.
Task 0 finished at 10:10:52 PM.
Task 4 finished at 10:10:52 PM.
Task 6 finished at 10:10:53 PM.
Task 5 finished at 10:10:53 PM.
Task 7 finished at 10:10:53 PM.
Task 8 finished at 10:10:53 PM.
Task 9 finished at 10:10:53 PM.
Task 10 finished at 10:10:53 PM.
Task 11 finished at 10:10:54 PM.
Task 12 finished at 10:10:54 PM.
Task 13 finished at 10:10:54 PM.
Task 14 finished at 10:10:54 PM.
Task 16 finished at 10:10:54 PM.
Task 15 finished at 10:10:54 PM.
Task 17 finished at 10:10:55 PM.
Task 19 finished at 10:10:55 PM.
Task 18 finished at 10:10:55 PM.
Task 20 finished at 10:10:55 PM.
Task 21 finished at 10:10:55 PM.
Task 22 finished at 10:10:55 PM.
Task 23 finished at 10:10:55 PM.
Task 24 finished at 10:10:56 PM.
Task 25 finished at 10:10:56 PM.
Task 26 finished at 10:10:56 PM.
Task 27 finished at 10:10:56 PM.
Task 28 finished at 10:10:56 PM.
Task 29 finished at 10:10:56 PM.
Task 30 finished at 10:10:56 PM.
Task 32 finished at 10:10:57 PM.
Task 31 finished at 10:10:57 PM.
Task 33 finished at 10:10:57 PM.
Task 34 finished at 10:10:57 PM.
Task 36 finished at 10:10:57 PM.
Task 35 finished at 10:10:57 PM.
Task 37 finished at 10:10:57 PM.
Task 38 finished at 10:10:57 PM.
Task 39 finished at 10:10:58 PM.
Task 40 finished at 10:10:58 PM.
Task 41 finished at 10:10:58 PM.
Task 42 finished at 10:10:58 PM.
Task 43 finished at 10:10:58 PM.
Task 45 finished at 10:10:58 PM.
Task 44 finished at 10:10:58 PM.
Task 46 finished at 10:10:58 PM.
Task 47 finished at 10:10:59 PM.
Task 49 finished at 10:10:59 PM.
Task 48 finished at 10:10:59 PM.

The test completed anywhere from 6-8 tasks per second in this test run. I did other runs where it never got above 6 tasks per second. It all depends on whatever else my machine is trying to do at the same time that is tying up the cores. The good thing is that the framework is taking care of creating the threads, figuring out when a thread can run, disposing of the thread when it's done, and all of that plumbing that I don't have to worry about.

Learn more

I found a really good series of blog posts that covered all kinds of different topics related to parallelism, threads, tasks, async/await, and everything related to it. It's definitely a new way of thinking for me but I'm starting to think of all kinds of ways that parallelism is going to change how I write code.

Go faster

Posted on May 5, 2014

I found this post that I wrote in 2010 and the 2014 version of myself can’t say it much better, so I’m going to regurgitate the same post for your reading enjoyment.

Go to a software conference near you and you will probably hear talks on new languages, new frameworks, how to design code better, how to test better, and the like. What no one ever seems to talk about is how you can go faster.

We need to get faster at what we do, because it just takes too long. Why do you think companies and managers are always pressuring people to get things done faster? This is a tricky situation though — the challenge is to find ways to get faster without cutting corners, ignoring unit testing, and writing poorly designed code. Anyone can get things done faster by deciding to not write tests or not think about how to design code well, but that’s cheating. That just leads to more bugs and more work down the road.

Don’t ignore the importance of getting things done in a timely manner. I got to be a project manager on a project once, and every day I was looking at our feature wall to see how we were doing and if we were on schedule. I guarantee that your manager or project manager is doing the same thing. That experience and awareness helps keep me from not wasting time adding non-essential features or spending too much time over-analyzing things (be especially careful of this one if you’re pairing). I try to work with a sense of urgency, as if I’m competing with someone else who is trying to complete the same project faster than I can (without cutting corners).

One way to get faster at something is to practice. Find a simple coding problem, like the ones mentioned here. Pick an easy one (nothing with crazy math algorithms, complicated recursion, etc.), or maybe take a complicated one and simplify it. Try and find something that you can do in 15 minutes or less, but still involves writing tests and creating multiple files.

The first time through, go through it like you normally would. Think about design, write good tests, and make sure you understand all the nuances. Then go back and do it again and time yourself. Do it over and over, and try to beat your previous time. At this point, you’ll know how to design the code pretty well, and in order to get faster you’ll have get faster at moving around your IDE, find ways to generate code, or learn new tricks. This is what you’re trying to learn. Remember, you’re not allowed to cut corners! You still have to write tests and write well-designed, readable, clean code. Check your code each time you’re done and make sure you didn’t compromise in these areas.

In sports, there are the teams that are good on paper and there are those who execute during crunch time. You may be good at writing well-designed, well-tested code, but if you can’t get it done on time, no one is going to care. So take time to hone your skills and become a faster developer.

Modularity and testing

Posted on April 8, 2014

When we write automated tests, we want to do it in the simplest way possible while achieving the highest level of quality for the time we invest in our tests. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

Writing tests can be hard. It’s hard figuring out what kinds of automated tests to write. We can write unit tests, integration tests, functional/acceptance tests, performance tests, or just do manual testing. We have to decide if developers are writing tests or if QA people are doing it (or both). It’s really complicated!

Let’s look at some ways that people sometimes tackle the testing problem and then discuss some different ways we can approach it.

The black box

On some projects, the team is testing a big black box. Usually this is where QA people are doing all the testing and developers aren’t writing automated tests. If you read my blog at all you know that I do not like this approach (unless time to market is really that important) because it leads to lots of bugs and makes refactoring anything really scary. In this scenario, QA testers typically only control the inputs and outputs into the black box (which is usually a user interface of some kind). This leads to problems like having to jump through a bunch of hoops just to test something that’s farther down the line of some complicated workflow.

Tiny slices

If you’re a fan of test-driven development, you will write a lot of unit tests. In this case, you’re slicing your application up into very tiny, testable units (like at a class level) and mocking and stubbing the dependencies of each class. This gives you faster, less brittle tests. You still probably have QA people testing the black box as well, so now we’re using two different approaches, with is good.

I’m not satisfied

While each of the previous two approaches have their positives, they both have their negatives. I’ve already talked about the negatives of all manual QA black box testing, so I won’t go into that again (although I’m always up for a good rant). But writing lots of unit tests has its problems as well. For example:

  • Tests with lots of mocks and stubs, and failing tests that fail because someone refactored a class any now my stubs and mocks are all hosed. You know the feeling.
  • Testing an individual class or method is great, but my tests aren’t always testing something that has business value on its own.

No limits

You own your application. Your application does not own you (at least it shouldn’t). We also own the testing of our application and should be able to test it in any way that we can think of. The goal is high quality, low cost of maintaining the test suite, and speed to market. How can we best achieve this goal? (And don’t just give me the first textbook answer that pops in your head.)

There is no one-size-fits-all method for testing applications, and there isn’t even one single best way to test a single application. So what if we used many different approaches and broke our system up into chunks so that we can use each testing method to its fullest potential?

In this case, I’m dividing up my application into separate modules, each with its own purpose, function, and business value. Some may have a user interface component and other might just do some task behind the scenes. I can decide how to best test each module individually. Maybe some modules are done with all black-box acceptance testing, and other modules are done with lots of unit tests. Even within the black-box modules, I might still write unit tests. Of course, I’m still going to have some end-to-end tests (manual and/or automated) that test the whole system working together, but I don’t have to test the majority of the functionality this way.

My favorite kinds of tests are ones that test a system working together because I can specify the inputs and outputs and I don’t have to deal with tons of stubs and mocks. Now if you try to test the whole application end to end this way, it can be a bit cumbersome. But if you have a smaller module that you can test end-to-end, now you can have clean, readable, well-defined tests that don’t have tons of mocks, and the tests define some business function that the module needs to perform. My module might still work independent from the UI or the database, so I might still be able to stub those out and have fast tests. This feels like the kinds of tests I’ve always wanted – tests that test a module end-to-end but are able to run fast because I can still isolate dependencies.

Hey, look, it turns out that modular applications is a good idea in general! It’s way easier to deal with lots of smaller applications that work together than dealing with one monolithic application. Those of you with large solution files and long compilation time (I’m raising my hand) know the pain of dealing with large applications.

The emerging blob

We like to talk about “emergent design” and that we can write tests first and let that drive the design of your code. That is true, but your codebase will evolve into a monolithic (albeit well-tested) blob of an application that assimilates all code into it’s large collective.

The only way you’re going to have a modular application is if you draw the lines in the sand up front. This can be really hard to do when you have a newer application and you don’t have a ton of insight to tell you how to keep things separate. Compounding the confusion is the fact that you might have a single database for the application as a whole, which I think is fine. You can multiple modules that use the same database, even the same tables. Sure, it would be better if you can keep the tables in separate databases, but sometimes that’s not possible or realistic.

You might start out with certain modules and then realize that you created a separation that is too painful to maintain. That’s OK, it’s much easier to combine two modules than it is it try and separate things into modules after the fact!

Once you’ve defined your modules, now you can decide how to test them (QA and devs should work together on this!).

This feels better

  • Cleaner tests with fewer mocks that test mini-systems that provide some function or business value
  • More modularity means I can change code without potentially breaking as many things
  • Smaller solution files!

I really like how this sounds.

Combating the impostor syndrome

Posted on April 7, 2014

The “impostor syndrome“… is when you’re pretty sure that all the other coders you work with are smarter, more talented and more skilled than you are. You live in fear that people will discover that you are really faking your smarts or skills or accomplishments.

Ever feel like this?

If you do, you’re not alone. But this feeling is not healthy and probably isn’t accurate.

I know people who are like this, and you probably do too. It tends to manifest itself when people feel that they need to work extra hours in order to provide a perceived amount of value that matches the amount of value provided by people working normal hours.

Why does this happen? I believe it’s because people are comparing themselves to others (unhealthy) instead of looking at the amount of value that they do provide (healthy).

Look, if someone gave you a job or put you in a position, they did it because they see value in you and they think that you can do the job. You already convinced them that you can do it!

Now that you are past that point, let’s focus on the value that you provide. I’m guessing that you can probably come up with a list of value you provide at work. For example, maybe you can say that you’re a solid developer, you like helping users, you have a lot of knowledge of system X in your company, and you’re good at using ORM tools.

Think about the last time that someone left your company or your team. It was pain replacing them, wasn’t it? (Well, in some cases maybe that person leaving was a good thing.) But if that guy who left wasn’t a problem, it probably was a lot of work training someone new, learning all of the things that person knew, and trying to make up for the value that walked out the door. (As someone who just took over for someone who left, trust me, I know the feeling!)

Instead of comparing yourself with others, focus on what you’re good at and how you can provide more value! Come up with a plan of something that you want to do to provide value. Write down the steps that you’re going to take to accomplish it. Then when you make it happen, look back and enjoy the good feeling that comes with accomplishing something and providing value.

That’s what matters! That’s what your company wants from you. They don’t want you to be another (insert name here). They want you to be the best version of you that you can be.


Posted on September 24, 2013

Do you sometimes have that feeling that your life is running you instead of you running your life? Do you feel so bogged down with meetings and distractions at work that you feel like you’re unable to get anything accomplished? Are you feeling like you don’t have the discipline to accomplish your goals?

The answer to all of these questions involves focus. I firmly believe that I need to have a plan for achieving my goals and getting things done so that I can be in control of the situation rather than have the situation control me.

Focus at work

Most of feel (or have felt) that we have too many meetings and distractions. I’ve certainly felt that way a lot in the past. I’d like to tell you to just start skipping meetings, and while that might be a good idea in some cases, most of the time you can’t do that. What you can do is prioritize meetings and distractions so that you have time for the most important things.

If I’m working on a project, people expect me to get things done. So if all of my time is consumed by other things like meetings, production monitoring, asking questions, etc., then I’m not sticking to my promises. I started blocking off work time on my calendar. Actually our whole team blocked off 3 hours in the afternoon for “work time”, and if my day got to be half full with meetings, then I would just block off the rest. I decided that I needed at least half a day of time to get things done because that was important. I wasn’t dismissing everyone else, I was just making a conscious effort to decide what was most important.

I’ve also been getting better at saying no. Even if I’m not feeling swamped by deadlines and meetings, I still have a primary task that I’m focusing on. In order to maintain that focus, this means that I’ve started saying no to other people who need things done if I’m not the person who should be responsible for doing the work. I generally like to help people, so it’s been hard to do this. I’ve even started doing it with relatively easy tasks. Sure, I could spend 20 minutes and get that thing done for someone, but then they will keep coming back. This sounds somewhat selfish, but I’m making a conscious effort to focus on my task at hand.

Focus in life

There have been times when I have felt like my life was running me and that I was just treading water and trying to keep up. No one likes feeling like this.

I realize that I’m only somewhat in control of my life. I could get cancer tomorrow, or get hit by drunk driver. Thankfully those haven’t happened to me so far, so I want to proactive and intentional whenever I can.

The first thing to do is decide what you want your life to look like and then come up with a plan for success. Then you need to arrange your life and activities around those priorities. Time is a scarce resource for all of us, which means that at some point we have to think about what’s filling our day and eliminate things that aren’t important. With all of our electronic devices, it’s so easy to spend more and more time surfing the internet, reading blog posts, playing online games, and so on. Not that those are bad, but I’ve found that I need to cut some of those out so that I have more time to do the more important things I need to do.

The Human Side of Software Craftsmanship

Posted on January 29, 2013

The Manifesto for Software Craftsmanship states that they “are raising the bar of professional software development by practicing it and helping others learn the craft.” As a software developer, I take pride in my work and have high standards for myself, and I appreciate it when others do the same. But if those high standards turn into arrogance toward others, then maybe we’ve gone astray.

They told us back in grade school that you shouldn’t pull yourself up by putting others down, but even today that wisdom can be hard to remember. I admit that I’m guilty. If you work at a company that has any code that has been around for a few years, you’re going to find some horrible code, and it’s really easy to make fun of it. I still do it all the time, but I’m trying to stop.

Arrogance and software craftsmanship don’t mix. While the technical aspect of software development is extremely important, the human side of things is just as important. It doesn’t matter how good your code is if the software doesn’t meet the needs of the users. If you refer to people in the business as “stupid users”, how are you going to be able to understand what life is like in their shoes? If you know all of the SOLID principles but you have a bad attitude, your teammates would probably rather work with someone else.

People who don’t know what we do sometimes think of software developers as a bunch of people who sit in front of a computer all day and never interact with anyone. In my experience, that hardly ever happens, and in fact, we often get rid of cubicles in favor of more collaborative workspaces where we can communicate easier with other team members, and sometimes even have business users come sit near us so that we can have their constant feedback.

I remember a situation several months ago where I had to meet with some users to design some functionality. After the first few meetings, I had to present a potential design idea to them. Before I went into the meeting I had already thought of potential issues that the users might bring up and the rebuttals that I would give. The users expressed some concerns and I wasn’t winning them over.

I stopped after that meeting and took a step back. Maybe I was listening to the words coming out of their mouth but not actually hearing what it was that they were really saying. Maybe their concerns weren’t petty after all and they had good reason for bringing them up.

The next time we met, I tried to go in and just listen. I mean really listen, like let them talk without thinking about what I’m going to say next. I tried looking them in the eye and processing every word that they say, the feelings they were expressing, and the reasons why they believed that way. Then when they were done talking, then I would think about how I’m going to respond. And this time I finally saw what they were talking about. It really hit home when one of the users (who was excited about me finally getting it), said excitedly, “That’s what we’ve been saying for the last month!”

I’m glad that I finally got it right, but I’m disappointed that it took me so long to get there.

In my mind, in order to really consider yourself a craftsman (or craftswoman), we need to not only value technical expertise but skilled human interaction and communication skills, and that starts with having an empathetic attitude toward others instead of finding ways to put them down.

Practicing what matters

Posted on November 30, 2012

I read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal the other day about “Must-Have Job Skills in 2013″. While this wasn’t necessarily referring solely to technical fields, it was still interesting. Here is their list of must-have job skills:

  • Clear communications
  • Personal branding
  • Flexibility
  • Productivity improvement

It made me think of the software craftsmanship people and the importance that they place on things like code katas, learning new languages, etc. If you’re a developer and you spend time honing your craft, how much value are you placing on skills like:

  • Being able to write a good requirements document
  • Facilitating a requirements gathering session with business users
  • Giving demos of your software to users (in their language)
  • Coming up with estimates for a large set of functionality
  • Being able to evaluate tools and frameworks and choose the best one for your project

Admittedly, it’s much easier to practice TDD than it is to practice requirements gathering. But these are skills that I feel are very important for developers. There are lots of people who can write code, even good code. If I don’t know how to use a language or framework, someone can teach me pretty quickly and I’ll pick it up. But can you also pitch in and help with requirements gathering, test planning, system architecture and design, and everything else that needs to be done on a project? Now that will set you apart.

When you think about learning new skills and investing in your career, just make sure that you don’t limit that to tools and technology.

What fills your day?

Posted on November 29, 2012

Time is one thing in life that will always remain constant. You can acquire more knowledge or more money, or you can save today’s money and use it tomorrow. But you only get 24 hours a day, and you can’t carry them over to tomorrow.

Most people would agree that there are not enough hours in a day. There are plenty of things I would like to do, books I want to read, projects that I want to work on, that I just don’t have the time to do. The challenge is figuring out how to make sure that you’re spending your time on the things that are important to you.

Know your priorities

If you don’t know what your priorities are, you won’t know how to prioritize your life. That sounds obvious, but it’s really hard to actually do. Many people don’t really know what their priorities are, let alone how to execute on them.

Do what’s important first

Something or someone will fill your day if you won’t. Personally, I hate the days where I feel like I didn’t get anything done that I wanted to get done because I was constantly reacting to things that came my way. Sometimes this is inevitable, but you can control it. For example, I expect that I should have at least half of my day available to do work (i.e. not stuck on meetings), so when a day is half full, I block out the rest of it so that no one can schedule me for a meeting. I do that because I need that time to accomplish what I feel is important and what people are expecting me to accomplish.

Live out your priorities

People are a priority to me, so if someone wants to go to lunch, I may or may not have time for that, but I usually go anyway and then find a way to everything else in around it. I have other friends who will go out of their way to make time to eat lunch when they’re really busy. That shows me something – that I’m valuable enough to be made a priority in their life. I love that.

My team is also a priority for me. This goes back to shunning meetings. I feel that in my current role, it’s more important for me to be with my team than to sit in a meeting with people from another team, so I block off my schedule and try to get out of meetings if I don’t feel that it’s valuable for me or the meeting organizer. (Sometimes people like to schedule 30 minute meetings for things that could be solved with a 10 minute hallway conversation.)

Own your life

I want to control my life and time as much as I can. I don’t want my life to control me because then I’m not able to do the things that I feel are important. The more proactive I am, the more likely I am to succeed at this.

Video of my “Business of You” talk

Posted on October 15, 2012

Here is a recording of my talk entitled “The Business of You – 10 Steps To Run Your Life And Career Like A Business” from CONDG on 9/27/12. Thanks to Jeff Miller for the recording. Enjoy!

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I have over 15 years of software development experience on several different platforms (mostly Ruby and .NET). I recognize that software is expensive, so I'm always trying to find ways to speed up the software development process, but at the same time remembering that high quality is essential to building software that stands the test of time.
I have experience leading and architecting large Agile software projects and coordinating all aspects of a project's lifecycle. Whether you're looking for technical expertise or someone to lead all aspects of an Agile project, I have proven experience from multiple projects in different environments that can help make your project a success.
Every team and every situation is different, and I believe that processes and tools should be applied with common sense. I've spent the last 10+ years working on projects using Agile and Lean concepts in many different environments, both in leadership roles and as a practitioner doing the work. I can help you develop a process that works best in your organization, not just apply a prescriptive process.
TDD Boot Camp is a hands-on, three day, comprehensive training course that will teach you all of the skills, tools, frameworks that you will need to use test-driven development to develop real world .NET applications. If you're not looking for something that intensive, check out the the half-day version.
Have any questions? Contact me for more information.
Iteration Management - Your Key to Predictable Delivery
From QA or the Highway 2015
The Business of You: 10 Steps For Running Your Career Like a Business
From CodeMash 2015, Stir Trek 2014, CONDG 2012
From Stir Trek 2013, DogFoodCon 2013
From Stir Trek 2012, QA or the Highway 2014
(presented with Brandon Childers, Chris Hoover, Laurel Odronic, and Lan Bloch from IGS Energy) from Path to Agility 2012
From CodeMash 2012 and 2013
(presented with Paul Bahler and Kevin Chivington from IGS Energy)
From CodeMash 2011
An idea of how to make JavaScript testable, presented at Stir Trek 2011. The world of JavaScript frameworks has changed greatly since then, but I still agree with the concepts.
A description of how test-driven development works along with some hands-on examples.
From CodeMash 2010
From CodeMash 2010