February 3, 2017
Will The Travel Ban Hurt US Tech Conferences?Recent worrying developments in US politics could have a significant impact on the country's standing in the tech industry.
The lightning-speed changes to immigration policy (and, yes, I did choose that phrase carefully) mean that a significant number of our peers are excluded from entering the country, and many more are afraid to leave in case they're not allowed back in.
Believable reports of all non-citizens facing stringent checks - e.g., of their social media accounts - when trying to enter the US mean that many more in our (mostly progressive and liberal) profession could face difficulties at passport control.
I've been seeing more and more tweets from people saying they won't be attending certain US tech events as a result of all this: either because they're worried they will be given a hard time getting there, or in solidarity with those who are banned.
So I ran a straw poll on Twitter, and the results suggest that - in fact - the majority of us feel the same way. 70% of the 160+ respondants said recent events had caused them to reconsider attending a tech event in the US.
We shall have to see how this plays out. But if this change of tone in immigration policy is going to be long-term, then I fear it could significantly damage the country's world-class reputation in the tech industry. To think that any nation can achieve technology - and therefore economic - success without international cooperation is sheer folly. But, as we've been seeing, the new administration is not immune to the odd bit of folly...
February 2, 2017
101 TDD Tips - #1-#80
We're now up to number 81 in my 101 TDD Tips series on Twitter, and I've pasted numbers 1-80 into a handy PDF for your convenience.
January 20, 2017
TDD 2.0 - London, May 10thAfter the success of last week's TDD 2.0 training workshop, I've immediately scheduled another one for the Spring.
It's 3-days jam-packed with hands-on learning and practice, covering everything from TDD basics and customer-driven TDD/BDD, all the way to advanced topics other courses and books don't touch on like mutation testing and non-functional TDD.
And it comes with my new TDD book, exclusive to attendees.
If you fancy a code craft skills boost, twist the boss's arm and join us on May 10th.
January 18, 2017
How Long Would Your Organisation Last Without Programmers?A little straw poll I did recently on Twitter has proved to be especially timely after a visit to the accident & emergency ward at my local hospital (don't worry - I'm fine).
It struck me just how reliant hospitals have become on largely bespoke IT systems (that's "software" to me and you). From the moment you walk in to see the triage nurse, there's software - you're surrounded by it. The workflow of A&E is carefully controlled via a system they all access. There are computerised machines that take your blood pressure, monitor your heart, peer into your brain and build detailed 3D models, and access your patient records so they don't accidentally cut off the wrong leg.
From printing out prescriptions to writing notes to your family doctor, it all involves computers now.
What happens if all the software developers mysteriously disappeared overnight? There'd be nobody to fix urgent bugs. Would the show-stoppers literally stop the show?
I can certainly see how that would happen in, say, a bank. And I've worked in places where - without 24/7 bug-fixing support - they'd be completely incapable of processing their overnight orders, creating a massive and potentially un-shiftable backlog that could crush their business in a few weeks.
Ultimately, DR is all about coping in the short term, and getting business-as-usual (or some semblance of it) up and running as quickly as possible. It can delay, but not avoid, the effects of having nobody who can write or fix code.
And I'm aware that big organisations have "disaster recovery" plans. I've been privy to quite a few in my lofty position as Chief Technical Arguer in some very large businesses. But all the DR plans I've seen have never asked "what happens if there's nobody to fix it?"
Smart deployers, of course, can just roll back a bad release to the last one that worked, ensuring continuity... for a while. But I know business code: even when it's working, it's often riddled with unknown bugs, waiting to go off, like little business-killing landmines. I've fixed bugs in COBOL that were written in the 1960s.
Realistically, rolling back your systems by potentially decades is not an option. You probably don't even have access to that old code. Or, if you do, someone will have to re-type it all in from code listings kept in cupboards.
And even if you could revert your way back to a reliable system with potential longevity, without the ability to change and adapt those systems to meet future needs will soon start to eat away at your organisation from the inside.
It's food for thought.
January 14, 2017
Codemanship Alumni - LinkedIn Group
Just a quick note to mention that there's a special LinkedIn group for folk who've attended Codemanship training workshops*.
With demand for skills like TDD and refactoring rising rapidly, membership is something you can display proudly for interested hirers.
* You'll need to list details of Codemanship training courses you've attended (what, when, where) on your LinkedIn profile so I can check against our training records.
January 9, 2017
Last Call for TDD 2.0 - London, Wed-FriJust a quick note to mention I've got a bit of space of available for this week's jam-packed TDD 2.0 training workshop in London.
January can be a quiet period for dev teams, so twist the boss's arm and take advantage of some slow time.
December 28, 2016
The Best Software Developers Know It's Not All 'Hacking'A social media debate that appears to have been raging over the Xmas break was triggered by some tech CEO claiming that the "best developers" would be hacking over the holidays.
Putting aside just how laden with cultural assumptions that tweet was (and, to be fair, many of the angry responses to it), there is a wider question of what makes a software developer more effective.
Consider the same tweet but in a different context: the "best screenwriters" will spend their holiday "hacking" screenplays. There's an assumption there that writing is all there is to it. Look at what happens, though, when screenwriters become very successful. Their life experiences change. They tend to socialise with other movie people. They move out of their poky little downtown apartments and move into more luxurious surroundings. They exchange their beat-up old Nissan for a brand new Mercedes. They become totally immersed in the world of the movie business. And then we wonder why there are so many movies about screenwriters...
The best screenwriters start with great stories, and tell their stories in interesting and authentic voices. To write a compelling movie about firefighters, they need to spend a lot of time with firefighters, listening to their stories and internalising their way of telling them.
First and foremost, great software developers solve real problems. They spend time with people, listen to their stories, and create working solutions to their problems told in the end user's authentic voice.
What happens when developers withdraw from the outside world, and devote all of their time to "hacking" solutions, is the equivalent of the slew of unoriginal and unimaginative blockbuster special effects movies coming out of Hollywood in recent years. They're not really about anything except making money. They're cinema for cinema's sake. And rehashes of movies we've already seen, in one form or another. because the people who make them are immersed in their own world: movie making.
Ironically, if a screenwriter actually switched off their laptop and devoted Xmas to spending time with the folks, helping out with Xmas dinner, taking Grandma for a walk in her wheelchair, etc, they would probably get more good material out of not writing for a few days.
Being immersed in the real world of people and their problems is essential for a software developer. It's where the ideas come from, and if there's one thing that's in short supply in our industry, it's good ideas.
I've worked with VCs and sat through pitches, and they all have a Decline Of The Hollywood Machine feel to them. "It's like Uber meets Moonpig" is our equivalent of the kind of "It's like Iron-Man meets When Harry Met Sally" pitches studio executives have to endure.
As a coach, when I meet organisations and see how they create software, as wel as the usual technical advice about shortening feedback cycles and automating builds and deployment etc, increasingly I find myself urging teams to spend much more time with end users, seeing how the business works, listening to their stories, and internalising their voices.
As a result, many teams realise they've been solving the wrong problems and ultimately building the wrong software. The effect can be profound.
I'll end with a quick illustration: my apprentice and I are working on a simple exercise to build a community video library. As soon as we saw those words "video library", we immediately envisaged features for borrowing and returning videos, and that sort of library-esque thing.
But hang on a moment! When I articulated the goal of the video library - to allow people to watch a movie a day for just 25p per movie - and we broke that down into a business model where 40+ people in the same local area who like the same genres of movies club together - it became apparent that what was really needed was a way for these people to find each other and form clubs.
Our business model (25p to watch one movie) precluded the possibility of using the mail to send and return DVDs. So these people would have to be local to wherever the movies were kept. That could just be a shed in someone's garden. No real need for a sophistated computer system to make titles. They would just need some shelves, and maybe a book to log loans and returns.
So the features we finally came up with had nothing to do with lending and returning DVDs, but was instead about forming local movie clubs.
I doubt we'd have come to that realisation without first articulating the problem. It's not rocket science. But still, too few teams approach development in this way.
So, instead of the "It's like GitHub, but for cats" ideas that start from a solution, take some time out to live in the real world, and keep your eyes and ears open for when someone says "You know what's really annoys me?", because an idea for the Next Big Thing might follow.
December 21, 2016
"Our Developers Don't Do Any Design". Yes They Do. They Have To.A complaint I hear often from managers about their development teams is "they don't do any design".
This is a nonsense, of course. Designedness - is that a word? It is now - is a spectrum, with complete randomness at one end and zero randomness at the other. i.e., completely unintentional vs. nothing unintentional.
Working code is very much towards the zero randomness end of the spectrum. Code with no design wouldn't even compile, let alone kind of sort of work.
To look at it another way, working code is a tiny, tiny subset of possible combinations of alphanumeric characters. The probability of accidentally stumbling on a sequence of random characters that makes working code is so vanishingly remote, we can dismiss it as obvious silliness.
Arguably, software design is a process of iteratively whittling down the possibilities until we arrive at something that ticks the right boxes, of which there will be so very many if the resulting software is to do what the customer wants.
It's clear, though, that this tiny set of possible working code configurations contains more than one choice. And when you say "they don't do any design", what you really mean is "I don't like the design that they've chosen". They've done lots and lots of design, making hundreds and thousands (and possibly millions) of design choices. You would just prefer they made different design choices.
In which case, you need to more clearly define the properties of this tiny subset that would satisfy your criteria. Should they require modules in their design to be more loosely coupled, for example? If so, then add that to the list of requirements; the tests their design needs to pass.
Finally, in some cases, when managers claim their development teams "don't do any design", what they really mean is they don't follow a prescribed design process, producing the requisite artefacts as proof that design was done.
The finished product is the ultimate design artefact. If you want to know what they built, look at the code. The design is in there. And if you can't understand the code, maybe you should let someone who can worry about design.
December 19, 2016
Start The New Year With A TDD Skills BoostJust a quick reminder about the next public TDD training workshop I'm running in London on Jan 11-13. It's the most hands-on and practical workshop I've ever done, and at about half the price of the competition, it's great value. And, of course, you get the exclusive TDD book. Not available in any shops!
December 8, 2016
What Do I Think of "Scaled Agile"?People are increasingly asking me for my thoughts on "scaled agile", so I though I'd take a quiet moment to collect my thoughts in one place.
Ever since that fateful meeting in Snowbird, Utah in 2001, some commercially-minded folk have sought to "scale up" the Agile brand so it can be applied to large organisations.
I'll give you an example of the kind of organisation we're talking about: a couple of years ago I was invited into a business that had about 150 teams of developers all effectively working on the same system (or different versions of the same system). I was asked to put together a report and some recommendations on how TDD could be adopted across the organisation.
The business in question was peppered throughout with Agile consultants, Scrum Masters, Lean experts, Kanban experts, and all manner of Agile flora and fauna.
Teams all used user stories, all had Scrum or Kanban boards, all did daily stand-ups, and all the paraphernalia we associate with Agile Software Development.
But if there was one thing they most definitely were not, it was agile. Change was slow and expensive. There was absolutely no sense of overall direction or control, or of an overall picture of progress. And the layers of "scaled Agile" the managers had piled on top of all that mess was just making things worse.
It's just a fact of life. Software development doesn't scale. Once software projects go above a certain size (~$1 million), chaos is inevitable, and the best you can hope for is an illusion of control.
And that, in my considerably wide experience of organisations of all sizes attempting to apply agile principles and practices, is all that the "scaled agile" methods can offer.
I've seen some quite well-known case studies of organisations that claim to be doing agile at scale with my own eyes, and they just aren't. 150 teams doing scaled agile, it turns out, is just 150 teams doing their own thing, and on a surface level making it look like they're all following a common process. But they're still dogged by all the same problems that any organisation trying to do software development at scale is dogged by. You can't fix nature.
Instead, you have to acknowledge the true nature of development at scale; that these are highly complex systems, not conducive to overall top-down control, from which outcomes organically emerge, planned or not.
Insect colonies do not follow top-down processes. A beehive isn't command and control, even if it might look to the casual observer that there's a co-ordinated plan they're all following. What's actually happening is that individual bees are responding to broadcast messages ("goals") about where the pollen, or the threat, can be found, and then they respond according to a set of simple internalised rules to that message, co-operating at a local level so as not to bump into each other.
In software development teams, the internalised rules - often unspoken and frequently at odds with the spoken or written rules - and the interactions at a local level determine what the outcomes the system will produce. We call these internalised rules "culture". Culture is often simple, but buried so deep that changing the culture can take a long time.
In particular, culture round the way we communicate and collaborate tends to steer the ship in particular directions, regardless of which direction you point the rudder. This is a property of complex adaptive systems called "strange attractors".
Complex systems have a property called "homeostatis" - a tendency, when disturbed, to iteratively revert back to their original dynamic state, as determined by their strange attractors. Hence, a heartbeat can rise to more than 150 bpm, but will eventually return to a resting heart rate of about 70-80 bpm.
We can apply external stimuli to a system to try and change the way it performs, but the intrinsic properties of the agents within that system, and particularly their interactions, will ultimately determine the outcome.
Methods like SAFe, LeSS and DAD are attempts to exert top-down control on highly complex adaptive organisations. As such, in my opinion and in the examples I've witnessed, they - at best - create the illusion of control. And illusions of control aren't to be sniffed at. They've been keeping the management consulting industry in clover for decades.
The promise of scaled agile lies in telling managers what they want to hear: you can have greater control. You can have greater predictability. You can achieve economies of scale. Acknowledging the real risks puts you at a disadvantage when you're bidding for business.
But if you really want to make a practical difference in a large software development organisation, the best results I've seen have come from focusing on the culture: what do people really value? What do people really believe? What are people's real habits? What do they really do under pressure?
You build big, complex products out of small, simple parts. The key is not in trying to exert control over the internal workings of each part, but to focus on how the parts - and the small, simple teams who make them - interact. Each part does a job. Each part will depend on some of the other parts. An overall architecture can emerge by instilling a set of good, practical organising principles across the teams - a design culture, like we have in the architecture of buildings, for example. The teams negotiate with each other to resolve potential conflicts, like motorists on our complex road systems trying to get where they need to go without bumping into each other.
Another word for this is "anarchy". I advice you not to use it in client meetings. But that is what it is.
I think it's very telling that so many of the original signatories of the Agile Manifesto have voiced scepticism - indeed, in some cases been very scathing - of "scaled agile". The way I see it, it's the precise opposite of what they were trying to tell us at Snowbird.
This is why, as a professional, I've invested so much time in training and coaching developers and teams, rather than in management consulting. I certainly engage with bosses, but when they ask about "scaled agile" I tell them what I personally think, which is that it's a mirage.