Ivan Mitev In The Software Trenches

Technology weblog on .NET development and other things that make the world go round

December 24, 2013

Summary of the year 2013

I am continuing my series of annual retrospectives from 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005...

The highlight of this year for me was definitely the birth of my son in January. But this blog is about software, and Stamen still can’t code, so let’s see now how I did professionally:

  • The year started with a month of polishing off a product that is yet to be used for the first time in actual projects. It has already reached a pretty good maturity and a client was close to adopting it, but unfortunately this didn’t happen in 2013. But in the beginning of the next year other clients would finally start using it, and I am excited to see how it will serve their needs.
  • Worked on many maintenance tasks in various functional areas throughout the year. Besides those small stuff, there was one major development that I lead, which I am pretty proud of. It was the next generation of our migration’s solution mapping schemas. The legacy approach had numerous flaws – didn’t scale, didn’t allow expressing intuitively condition logic, wasn’t convenient, wasn’t stable. It was more or less completely redesigned in terms of features, UI and storage. It became a desktop application that resembles a mini-IDE for a visual programming language. There were numerous usability challenges how to make it productive both for developer-minded users and not-so-technical users. And it turned out pretty well. It is being used for more than 3 months in a couple of projects, and the feedback helped us to polish it even further.
  • In the last couple of months I also continued to work on the cloud strategy for our testing product. Participated in some architectural redesign of test execution components, in order to have better deployment flexibility that works outside a LAN (via HTTP).
  • For fun, I spent some time with IronPython. I wanted to experiment with an interpreted language for awhile. Read a couple of books about it, tried it on a small work-related task. It’s certainly a fine language, but since I do most development with C#, I am not sure that the context-switching to IronPython makes me more productive, though for exploratory code it’s definitely nice.

Looking forward to what 2014 has to offer!

December 21, 2012

Summary of the year 2012

I am continuing my series of annual retrospectives from 2011, 2010, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005...
Here is how the year 2012 went for me professionally:

  • Expected in 2012 the bulk of my time to go for the role of a team lead/product owner for one of our emerging products, but this turned out to be not a full-time effort (spent just a couple of months on it). So my concerns of too narrow specialization were groundless Smile
  • Lead another project – integration of HP Quality Center with our testing solution. Was glad that I put extensive logging all over the place, otherwise troubleshooting of the issues on-site would have been a PIA.
  • Expected not to spend much time on customer support this year, but there were weeks when my sole assignment was providing technical assistance, especially when troubleshooting difficult issues. I still like it, given that it’s a part of a mix with other activities.
  • Participated in the development of a cloud strategy for the company’s products. It was interesting to get to know Amazon, Azure and other offerings. In the beginning of the year Amazon seemed to be way ahead, but Azure is doing some good catch up work. This project was also a good chance to re-examine the architectural decisions in our products.
  • Several tools, that I had tried to introduced last year, were finally adopted: PlasticSCM for source control management and Jira for task management and issue tracking. The transition was not painless, but it was well worth it. Both release often new versions (especially PlasticSCM) and it’s fascinating to observe the evolution of such best-of-breed products.
  • Worked with several newly hired developers with various experience and personalities. That taught me valuable lessons what to do and what to avoid in such work relationships. Also continued to participate in developers assessment in recruiting campaigns.
  • Kept reading my favourite blogs + some link blogs. Several books that I read recently and liked are Team Geek, Being Geek, User-Centered Design and Making Things Happen.
  • Spent a couple of weeks researching if it’s worth to learn another language. Thanks to stackoverflow contributors, I narrowed down the candidates to Python, Ruby, Powershell, F#, Clojure, Scala, Fantom, Cobra. Wrote my first Python program a couple of months ago, when I needed to organize a big e-mail address list. Have to say I liked the language conciseness. But after all, despite some minor deficiencies  C# is not that bad for a general-purpose language, so I am not sure if I want to invest much time on other languages.

So that’s it for 2012.
P.S. My memory is getting bad. I had to browse through hundreds of e-mail subject to recollect what I was doing in the first three quarters of the year Smile

December 31, 2011

Summary of the year 2011

I am continuing my series of annual retrospectives from 2010200820072006 and 2005...


There just a couple of things that probably deserve a brief mention about the year 2011:

  • I've been given recently a new role in the company I work for - to lead the development of one of our products. It's an interesting challenge. I am a bit reluctant to get overly specialized, since till now I've been contributing in a much broader scope, but on the other side there are benefits in working in a more narrow context.
  • In the last month or so, I've been active in improving the company development process - mainly by assessing our current tools and practices and searching/evaluating others. Most likely we will soon transition to a better version control system (PlasticSCM) and a more powerful issue tracking system (Jira). We might also adopt various other tools to improve our productivity in different parts of the development process.
  • As the previous year, I continued to participate in our developers hiring process (helping with the job ads text, and in candidates assessment). I think I am getting pretty good in guessing  just by looking at a CV a developer's abilities, strengths and weaknesses, (well, the candidate's code still surprise me occasionally, usually unpleasantly ;) ).
  • Mid-year I returned back for a couple of months to my old duties as a Support manager, but hopefully it was temporary. The next year I don't expect to be involved much in this type of work.
  • Technology-wise, there were not that many novelties worth mentioning, besides me getting to know MS SQL Server much better. I planned and participated in supporting of MSSQL as a backend for our applications (we supported only Oracle until recently). Learned a lot from this - e.g. the differences in the default locking models of Oracle/MSSQL turned out to be interesting. Although new technologies are now introduced in our development at a slower rate, I am trying to keep up-to-date with everything interesting in the software development field. Besides the .NET related stuff, there are so many exciting trends to follow, e.g. NoSQL comes easily to mind. And of course, there's much more than the programming frameworks, libraries and tools, it's a big universe...
This pretty much sums it all. Hope that the year 2012 would offer a lot of excitement and positive experiences.

February 12, 2011

On hiring entry-level/junior devs

I was recently asked about my opinion on adding some young & not-experienced people to our dev team, and after I emailed my analysis, I decided the topic is worthy of a blog post.

I’ll first start with the possible disadvantages of hiring junior devs:

· Might be very ineffective compared to more experienced devs, due to lack of necessary knowledge, skills & habits. Of course, attitudes & motivation also affect productivity. Btw, productivity b/n developers might vary significantly.

· Might require significant time (usually the time of senior devs) to train them & supervise them continuously (especially in the first several months)

· More people equals increased time for communication & coordination.

NOTE: When I speak of skills, I guess I should be more specific. Here are a few categories of skills that would determine how effective a developer would be at his work:

· Programming skills – ability to write/understand/debug/modify code efficiently (those include skills working with tools like the IDE, the source control + basic skills like touch-typing)

· Problems solving and design skills – ability to analyze (and redefine) problems, to come up with several solutions and evaluate what’s the best, etc.

· Learning skills – how fast can he learn new things and adopt beneficial practices

· Communication skills – how well the developer expresses his ideas (via code/documentation/e-mails/verbal discussions etc) + how well does he cooperate with others from the team + how willing is he to ask for help when stuck

· “Get into the others shoes” skills – how well he can understand what the client needs + how well he understands how his work is affecting the work of the team.

· Leadership skills – those are probably not software-specific.

 

Though most young people have probably not had the time and the opportunity to develop those skills, there are still probably several advantages in hiring them:

· Easier to find on the market (and cheaper)

· Motivated and energetic (hopefully)

· Free of bad habits – developers with experience are more or less shaped by their experience, and might have accumulated many bad habits that they’ll need to unlearn. Newbies can be molded into good programmers, if given appropriate tasks, attention, training & feedback.

Conclusion

I have a feeling that the best mix is with predominantly senior devs and ~20% junior devs, but I’m sure that other combinations could work fine too.

January 02, 2011

Summary of the year 2010

I somehow missed to write anything about 2009, but I am continuing my series from 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005.

The most noteworthy change for me this year was my new role as support manager that I undertook for the last nine months of 2010. Initially the plan was just to substitute for a couple of months the person who recently got in charge of the customer support activities, but who had to go on-site to an important project. But I ended up doing this kind of a job for such an extended period of time. I was all the time trying to keep up with my work as developer as much as I can, though there were days when I couldn’t write code even for a minute.

It was a very different type of work. Definitely more stressful, especially in the begining. Unlike my dev work, it required often switching between tasks, quickly prioritizing where to put effort and where not. There were times I worked overtime by answering support tickets from home (before going to work or in non-working days), but the worse part is that often my mind continued to go back to the problems at work, even when I was trying to get rid of such thoughts.

The nature of this type of work was pretty demanding, as well:

  1. It required deep and broad knowledge of many aspects of our products (I guess only a developer can have both).
  2. It required knowing which of my colleagues to ask for assistance for particular customer issues (I admit I initially hated to delegate work that I though I would finish more quickly than anybody, but soon I realized that this is not always as effective as it seems).
  3. It required an ability to quickly find out what is the customer really wanting and help him get it (either by directly solving his issue or thinking of clever workaround to get the job done in another way).

Often it felt very rewarding to help people solve their problems, and as an additional benefit my support work gave me a better understanding of how our products were getting used. This lead to better clarity what matters and what not, so I could concentrate on the truly important things.

Being the person responsible for the support, I strived to improve the process in several ways: by customizing the help desk software that we use, by educating our staff and our customers how to use it effectively, by trying to setup proper expectations and attitudes. There were numerous challenges and even several mini-crisis during those nine months. They definitely gave me a better understanding of the bigger picture. They also shaped my vision how things should be done in order to things to go smoothly. It was a valuable experience, but I am happy that I will be handing it back to my colleague, since I think that I would be more valuable in other areas of the product development. My passion for being a developer is stiill strong, but additionally I think I’m a person whose understanding of the product, the technlogies and the customer needs, could be used for architecting proper solutions for the areas that will make a difference for the company and its customers.

Besides this role of the support manager, there were other experiences that were new to me:

Going on a two-week on-site project – I went to Poland for an on-site work at our client there. I am not used to such type of work, but I think it went very well. Besides answering questions and troubleshooting issues, I also coded a few simple tools that help them solved some problems. The work was diverse and interesting, and it kept me busy all day. It was pretty exhausting too, so I am grateful that my lovely fiancé (now my wife) came for the second week to make my stay in Poland much more pleasant. It really helped me get my work-leasure balance back.

Interviewing candidates for a developer position – the last month I participated in several interviews (I’ve used to be only from the other side of the table). I was responsible for evaluating their technical abilities. Although the CVs gave hints about what the candidate knows and is capable of, asking proper questions sometimes revealed unexpected voids in the knowledge of people. Btw, in my first interview I was totally unprepared and didn’t know what to ask, but after some research on the topic I became more adequate to the task, though I guess I could be more creative. In addition to the interview questions, I also prepared a simple coding homework assignment that we were giving to the candidates. I am happy we used this approach since it showed pretty well how people approach code and what their skills are. It was also interesting to notice how differently people could try to code their way through such a simple problem.

Looking towards 2011 – I already mentioned what are my preferences about my career development for the new year. I hope that it will be a great year for everyone I work with. I wish my colleagues all the best, to keep it cool and to their best to maintain a friendly and supportive work environment.