I got into an interesting conversation with somebody over the weekend. He was also an IT person, and had been a contractor for many years. I wonder how many other people are out there who feel the same way he does?If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.
Over the last few months, while not working on batBack (my social bookmarking invention), I’ve been helping a couple friends of mine with their consulting business in Virginia. This is kind of “coming home” for me, as I haven’t worked in my home area for over 15 years. Their company has around 30 employees, and have been running a “Virtual CIO” and “Virtual IT” -based business, concentrating on local governments and regional businesses.
It’s good to help people, plus I thought I’d give the luggage a break.
One of the things I’ve found is that there are a LOT of small IT shops out there — shops with 1 or 2 developers and a manager, or shops with 20 people and a couple of managers. These shops are tasked, mainly, with keeping the lights on and the bailing wire and duct tape all secure. Call integration management. But some folks are seeking to do greenfield development as well. One of the neat things I learned is that some of the local governments in Virginia are actually building new systems and then sharing among themselves. That way localities all over the state can have the benefit of hundreds of IT workers without huge budgets. Very cool.
So what do you need to run a shop like this — bare bones? Let’s say you got enough money for three people. I won’t count management or network support. What kinds of hats should you have?If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.
I’m a simple man. I used to program a lot (and still do), but then I got into project management, program management, and finally, teaching process to large organizations and inventing. Along the way, I’ve been beaten up many, many times about one word — process.
Why? Because it’s always either too little, or it’s too much, and it’s the most poorly understood thing that software developers do. The amount of process you need in your project is directly related to risk — if you’re worried about something, put in some steps and decisions so you won’t be so worried about it. That’s it. Some things, like “what are we doing” and “how do we know when we are done?” you worry about for every project, so it makes sense that you have some small amount of process you do each time.
The problem is that people don’t understand that this is the reason for adding process. They view it as paperwork. To make matters worse, large organizations are worried about EVERYTHING, so they try to put in as many steps and decisions as possible, which means a lot more paperwork, proving people’s suspicions correct. This makes process an even dirtier word than it was before when people simply didn’t understand it. Now when they think of process they actually think of the wrong thing — and this is true for a lot of folks out there who are making processes for other people to do! What a world! So many problems, so few billable consulting hours.
So in an effort to help you developer schmucks out there like me, I’ve put together a checklist of indications that you may actually be doing too much process. You might want to print this out and hang it up around the cube or the war-room.If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.
I just finished a tape series entitled “Philosophy of Religion” by Professor James Hall and the Teaching Company. It’s part of my goal to pick up college-level courses I might have missed during some of my free time during the day, like when I am driving to a client site.
I really enjoyed the tapes, which were an overview of the various philosophical facets around the existence of God. What can we say about God that is knowable?
This was one of these tapes that I’m pleased that I DID NOT run into when I was in my twenties! What did Steve Martin say? “I took philosophy in college. Not enough to do anything, just enough to be messed up for the rest of my life” There is some truth in that. At some point, philosophy becomes a game of noise and symbolism, not of immediate import. In my opinion, you have to have a firm foundation in the real world to begin to weigh and understand these arguments. So many brilliant men, having made an initial jab into something new for the species, went overboard and took their ideas to the point of absurdity.
So what did I learn about the big guy from these tapes? The professor did not take a position, but here’s what I got out of them using my own life as a backdrop. This isn’t mean to be controversial — I’m just recording my current feelings about what I think you can know or not about God. If I get hit by a bus, maybe my kids or grandkids one day might find this piece interesting to them.If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.
Over the past several years, I’ve reached a few conclusions. Some of these you might not like, but here they are:
- Stephen King was a better writer when he was an active junkie – there’s something about chemical addiction — the desperation, the frenetic pace, the inner self-destruction, that makes for good entertainment. I don’t like this conclusion, but after watching all sorts of successful creative talents, including John Belushi and others , that’s my call. People think of entertainers as basically a form of circus clown. Junkies make good clowns.
- We should have had more troops going into Iraq – Iraq was a totalitarian dictatorship and was ruled by brute force at every level. We had to keep that fear of the government in place for the mission to work. We didn’t. We need to adjust our national strategy accordingly. I supported the war and still support the war, but our national command structure failed the American people.
- The culture of the Pentagon failed us – You can and should blame the Republicans and Bush, but the pentagon did not plan for, nor will they completely participate in this type of warfare. I could argue this all day long, but suffice it to ask — why haven’t we stationed a Marine Division semi-permanently in Iraq? A heavy army division? Because the mission is viewed as expeditionary, not a geopolitical change. Even after Vietnam, the national command structure was not prepared for the another insurgency. Somebody should ask why. If we’re buying F-22 fighters at the same time everybody is agreeing that Iraq is in trouble, we’ve got something deeply wrong somewhere.
- American politics always gets crazy in October – We’re just one week into October, but we’re already got tell-all books, pedophiles, and bribery scandals. Somehow this time of year reminds me of being in a huge dysfunctional family where everybody is yelling and screaming at each other. My suggestion: vote for who you think is best. Don’t join the fray, just do the right thing in your heart. At this point, I would almost even give up trying to have a reasoned discussion with folks who disagree with you — emotions are running high. Both parties are doing their best to keep their folks angry and emotional. The media will help out, as they love a good fight more than anything.
- Notebook computers should be water-proof and shock-proof – Three times in the last five years I’ve spilled liquids on my notebook computer. Twice they came back, but this most recent time, I spilled a drink on my notebook on Friday and it looks dead. why can’t they make notebook computers spill-proof? How much could that cost, anyway? Ten bucks? I’m not talking about going deep-sea diving with my notebook, but a little neoprene couldn’t hurt, guys.
- Software companies are not the friends of software developers – Software development is about managing complexity. Software sales is about making things look easy. You can’t make a complex thing completely easy. Yes, tool companies and compiler vendors will tell you they work for you, but they don’t. They work to make sales, not to solve problems. If they can give a demo that makes you and your boss say “cool!” and write a check, their job is done. If I had a nickel for every software developer I know who was lost and/or disappointed after buying a new miracle tool I’d have a couple of bucks. Don’t go to conferences and watch demos. Read some technical articles and compare notes of people on the ground using the tools. Be skeptical, not enthusiastic. It’s never as easy as the commercial.
- It’s always the end of the world – Ever since I can remember, people have been saying that due to the actions of mankind, the end of the world is coming. When I look back in history, they said it back then, too. Perhaps this time they are right. Perhaps not. Somehow I feel that 50 years from now they’ll be saying the same thing. I guess once the world is finally destroyed somebody, somewhere will be able to say, “See! I told you so.”