Sunday, April 30, 2017

Windows 10 Driver Issue with Falcon / Z-77 Keyboard

Windows 10 has an issue with this mechanical keyboard (which works great, BTW).  It's a Chinese-made keyboard (aren't they all?), but it doesn't have much English-language support.

I captured a few screen shots of how to fix it in case someone else has the same problem.  (I got the instructions off of Tom's Hardware, but it doesn't have screen shots & isn't clear on some of the details.)

First, open up Device Manager and select the controller under USB controllers (not under keyboards).

Next, choose "update driver" from the Drivers tab.
Then choose the "browse" option (search doesn't find anything).
Then select "Let me pick from available drivers on my computer."
Finally, switch it from the ND device (which is the wrong one) to the generic USB compatible one (which works fine on my machine).

You might want to clip these instructions into your favorite notes software because:

  • You need to do this for each USB port you plug into (though you only need to do it once for each & then you can unplug & plug back in without issues).
  • You need to re-do it after major Windows updates, and it's hard to tell which ones will break it.
Good luck, fellow mechanical keyboard-enjoyers!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Developer Skills: Listening

Most people have an agenda when they listen.  They aren't really listening, they're waiting for you to finish talking so they can tell you why you're wrong, or demonstrate their own brilliance.

It is hard to listen without an agenda.  Your mind jumps to how you will respond, or wanders off to what you're going to have for lunch.  Becoming good at this takes a lot of time and practice.

It's worth it because:
  • You learn more - a LOT more.
  • You will often change your point of view for the better.
  • People trust you more - and their trust is justified because you are open to changing your point of view.
  • You will make more connections with other experiences.
So how does one listen without an agenda?  The best advice I can give is to "Fake it until you make it."  Act like you don't have an agenda.  Your need to "own" the conversation will slowly fade away as you repeatedly experience the value of listening with an open mind.

If this doesn't work for you, you might want to try being less of a douchebag.  I recommend therapy and meditation.  I'm not longer a complete jerk thanks to both of those.

You can also apply "active listening" techniques.  One is to repeat what they told you in your own words.  This can very easily be overdone, so be careful that  you aren't substituting technique for genuine openness and curiosity.

The best way to demonstrate that you're interested and listening?  Draw it!   This not only clarifies concepts in your mind, it helps your conversation partner understand their own ideas better.  The best part:  It's easy to capture what you've drawn for later reference.  It's easy to forget the details of a conversation, but if you capture the salient points in a picture or a set of bullets, you can recapture most of what you were thinking.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Do. Not. Optimize.

You've probably heard this quote before:
Premature optimization is the root of all evil.
 - Tony Hoare

Speculative optimization is always wasted time.  In the absence of an actual performance problem, you're just burning time that could be better spent on refactoring your code to make it clearer.  This is exacerbated because performance-optimized code is usually harder to read than code which hasn't received such treatment.

Here is what you're doing when you optimize:
  • Adding code that now must be maintained.
  • Obfuscating the existing code.
  • Spending time writing code that doesn't add value.
But what's that you say?  You have the experience and know-how to decide when optimization is needed?  Maybe, but probably not.   The people at Sun and Oracle may or may not be smarter than  you or me, but they certainly know more about optimizing Java bytecode than we do.

For example, some people think that having a large number of classes is slower than the alternative.  This was (maybe) true a long time ago, but isn't now. 

Why?  Because the JIT compiler inlines methods automatically.  It does a host of other optimizations adaptively (i.e., it decides where the program is spending most of it's time & optimizes those methods & loops).

So, when should you performance-optimize your code?  When you have a real performance problem, and a profiler (or similar tool) has identified the place in the code where it occurs.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Developer Skills: Drawing

You aren't a good developer if you can't draw.

Fortunately, if you're a human, you can.  Drawing isn't an inborn talent, it's a technical skill that can be learned.  Write the previous sentence on a piece of paper to prove it to yourself.

There.  You just drew a whole bunch of letters quickly and (hopefully) legibly.  Words are a complex set of shapes that need to be drawn in a particular sequence to have meaning.  It's the same basic skill you use when drawing non-character shapes.

Drawing isn't a binary skill that you either have or do not have.  It's a continuum, and even at the shallow end (people with barely-legible handwriting), you have enough of it to communicate ideas visually.

So that changes the top line of this post to:

You aren't a good developer if you don't draw.

Visual communication is much more powerful than text.  (This study found 65% retention over 3 days for images vs text.)  We also absorb visual information much faster than text.  (This link goes nowhere.  Do your own research you lazy bastard.)

Communication is a key software development skill.  Consider how often you need to talk to people, and how badly things have gone wrong when you don't.  Design sessions, customer collaboration sessions, backlog grooming, story estimation, etc, etc, etc.

And yet, how often do we get up an draw a picture in an estimation session?  How often do we do it when talking about design?

Some years (decades, actually) ago, I started drawing simple box & line diagrams whenever talking about design.  Now I don't even bother to have a design conversation without that.  Even a simple nested box with a few labels in it will speed things up considerably.  It gives us something to point to and summarizes basic assumptions.

So, do you want to supercharge your development skills?  Don't bother with Angular 2.0, typescript, SpringBoot or DropWizard.  Practice drawing!

Why don't you?  What excuses have I heard?
  • I don't have any talent.
  • I'd look like a five-year-old.
  • I have gone paperless.
All of these really mean, "I'm embarrassed that my simple boxes and lines aren't as good as what a professional sketch artist can do."

They certainly don't need to be.  The easiest way to get better (in fact, the only way) is to just do it. For yourself if you must, but preferably to show others.  Their drawing skills are probably just as bad, so what have you got to lose?

Still too embarrassed?  Fine, here are a few simple ways to improve:
  • Switch back from digital notes to a paper notebook (I like the Levenger Circa system, but Staples' Arc is just as good) and doodle in it for a while.  (You can still capture photos of your notes to stick in Evernote, OneNote, Keep or whatever.)
  • Google the word "doodle" (or whatever else interests you) and copy whatever appeals to you onto paper.
  • Google "learn to draw" and choose from websites and YouTube videos.
  • Buy a book and work through it.  I liked "Learn to Draw in 30 days", but there are loads of others to choose from.

Bonus: Get others to draw!

I find this is much more powerful if you can get other people to draw on a whiteboard with you.  It clarifies what they are saying, and forces them to give you something concrete to point to.  

This is particularly useful in determining if A) someone is trying to convey and important concept that you don't understand, or if B) they're a clueless idiot blowing smoke.

Give it a try.  At the very least it will give you something to do in boring meetings, while making you look engaged.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Showing Off: How to Do a User Demo

Rather than repeating what has been said elsewhere, here is a nice short post on agile-for-all that covers the basics.

Here are a few things for my own future reference and teams that I'm working with...

Try to keep each demo to 5 minutes or less.  

If it's longer than that, it's possible that you should be demoing more than one story.  More likely, you're just being too wordy.


No, louder than that.  Louder.  Do you feel like you're yelling?  OK, that's about right.  You need to put your voice in public-address mode for 5 minutes.

Focus on why your audience should care about the story 

This is particularly important for back-end work.  For example: Your story generates a feed of XML that will be consumed by another application. Show the output, and point to a couple of salient features in it.  Then be done.

The important part of the above is "show the output."  Showing the end users how to interact with your service is a separate sit-down, not part of demo.

At base, you want to remember who your audience is, and why you're doing a demo. 

Your audience

Usually, people come to a demo because they have a stake in the success of your software project. They're executives and end-users who want a preview of what they're getting.  The questions that are foremost in their minds are:
  • Am I spending my software budget wisely?
  • Is what the team is working on what I need next, or do I need to change their priorities?
What it does and why it matters are most important.  They do not care if you came up with a way-cool whiz-bang solution to a technical problem.  They do not care if you just learned how to use the MEAN stack.  Show off your skills to the rest of your team in a lunch & learn session later.

Why do a demo?

You're doing this to ensure that you're building the right thing.  Hopefully you have other controls in place (tests, business validation reviews, etc) to ensure that you're building the thing right.  This isn't the time & place to prove it.  You're here to give the business-oriented people a chance to judge the value of your work, so they can help you adjust if you're not giving them what they really need right now.

On this last point, it's important to keep an open mind and accept the feedback you get.  If you aren't getting any feedback, you probably need to adjust how you're doing the demo.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Steps of a Code Review

Pair programming is better than code reviews, but sometimes you don't have a lot of choice and a review is your best option.  In such a circumstance, how should you go about it?

In my current context, we only do code reviews if another team owns the development, and we can't (or aren't ready to) enforce our coding standards.  That means we can't insist it was TDD'd, or even that it has tests.

  1. Does it work?
  2. Names & commit message
    • Does it have a commit message that describes what was changed?
    • Do the methods tell you what they do?
    • Do the variable names tell you what they're used for.
  3. Tests
    • Are there tests where appropriate?
    • Are there enough tests.
    • Is the test code clean with one assertion per test?
    • Is use of mocking appropriate?
  4. Style
    • Are methods shorter than 10 (or so) lines?
    • Are classes short?
You'd want to reject code for 1 no matter what.  Initially we'll reject it if 2 doesn't work as well.

We probably want to slowly start enforcing 3 and 4.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Organizing teams for success: Horizontal or Vertical?

How do you organize teams for success?  Who do you put together with whom, and who will do their performance reviews?  I don't have answers, but I wanted to lay out the concepts more clearly as food for though...

A recent Java Posse podcast got me thinking about this.  Is it better to organize teams horizontally (backend, middle tier and front end) or vertically (one team creates a product or feature through all three tiers).


A horizontal team is organized where the team is focused on a layer that cuts across more than one application, like this.


A vertical team is organized around getting their product or project done, and cuts across all layers of an application.

My experience in the past few years led me to believe that vertical is always better, but now I think it isn't quite that simple.  Consider this table:

  • Products get done faster because teams don't wait on each other
  • User experience is consistent through a product
  • Core services cost more (reinventing the wheel)
  • Inconsistent user experience between products
  • Services / products are more stable due to a consistent architecture
  • Performance is often better because team members build deep expertise
  • Products take longer to build (teams often wait on each other)
  • Individual team members can stagnate (work is done in silos)

You might want to call bullshit on some of my bullets.  Your list will certainly differ (and I'd really like to know what it is, so please leave a comment.)  You might be part of an organization that fails to reap the benefits while experiencing all of the negatives of both models.  Many do.

Each choice has it's own set of costs and trade-offs.  There are a multitude of "hybrid" solutions that can eliminate some of the costs and increase some of the benefits.

Another Type of Horizontal / Vertical

Reporting relationships affect how we get things done as well.  You can have every member of a team report to one person regardless of their specialization, split them by their specialties, or do a mix.

For example, I work in an organization where all of the QA people report to one director, all of the business analysts to another, and all of the software engineers to a third, with some managers in between for the larger groups.  There are other roles like content production and product development who have their own reporting structures.  That means members of a project team might report to 4 or 5 different people.

Our structure supports consistent practices by role, but lacks focus on individual products.   Individuals don't report to someone who is accountable for delivering products or projects. We have to make up for that by assigning people to projects with responsibility for delivering them.

There are plenty of other ways of going about it.  You could have people report to a manager who is responsible for a product.  That has the advantage of stronger accountability baked-in to the reporting structure.  It has a few drawbacks, such as making it much harder to move between teams and an "us vs them" attitude becoming prevalent.

My conclusion is that there is no one "best" team or organizational structure.  You really need to try more than one to learn what works, and be willing to change them over time.  This can be a very expensive proposition.  Particularly if your employees expect to have one "perfect" structure for all time.  In that environment (which I think is most office environments), every re-org feels like a failure on someone's part.

Refactoring Organizations

If you work in an agile development shop, you understand that it's good to have an inspect-and-adapt loop without your team.  What if we applied that to the organization as a whole, though?  What would "fail fast" look like if we wanted to do it with team and management structures?

I don't know yet, but I believe there are some preconditions.  The main one is to ensure that you can keep a fairly consistent culture in spite of how teams are organized.  People - software developers especially, need some sort of bedrock reality for their day-to-day work if you want them to accept change without losing productivity.

A company to watch in this space is Spotify.  They have deliberately addressed culture and the need for communication through informal networks with their squad / chapter / guild / tribe concepts.  It is a supporting structure for pursuing excellence of craft in software, which lives inside an organization focused on getting product out the door.

We've kicked their concepts around for a while at my workplace, but I can't help feeling that we're missing some key elements.  Guess I'd better read that slide deck again.  Maybe you should too.

Windows 10 Driver Issue with Falcon / Z-77 Keyboard

Windows 10 has an issue with this mechanical keyboard (which works great, BTW).  It's a Chinese-made keyboard (aren't they all?), bu...