Thursday, 19 October 2017
In 2016 I didn't speak at conferences because I was ill. I really enjoyed getting "back in harness" at CppCon this year (my Guidelines talk
has been uploaded already, if you missed it) and I am happily looking forward to my next two conferences.
In Berlin I will deliver one of the keynotes for Meeting C++
. It will be one of those opinionated talks with stories in it, plus code of course. I love giving those kinds of talks and they're typically well-received, so I am expecting to have a great time. This will be my first time at Meeting C++ and I know it will be a great conference.
The next week, I will be at the 2017 C++ and System Software Summit
in Beijing. 8 tracks and over 500 attendees; this is a big conference. I've never been to Asia before, so I am very excited to meet a lot of new people (and some I've known for a while, the speaker circuit is like that) as well as seeing new places and experiencing a new conference.
I'm still thinking about what I will submit to ACCU
for the spring. I prefer to do a new talk for each conference or at least to update existing talks dramatically. I will need to make up my mind before I leave for China!
Saturday, 23 September 2017
This week, I’ve been in Salt Lake City for the Pluralsight Author Summit and the first-ever PluralsightLIVE event. What a great time! This is my first time on a plane in over two years, and it is terrific to be out traveling again.
Pluralsight takes great care of its authors and that started with a lovely box of goodies in my room the first night.
Tuesday we all got together to hear about the past growth and future vision for Pluralsight, and to get a sneak peek at some things that would be announced later in the week. And of course, for Aaron to get a selfie with the authors!
In the afternoon, we had open sessions where we learned from some Pluralsight staff we don’t normally get to meet, and from each other. What makes you a great author in the eyes of your editor and the other people who help to get your material published and live? How can you get your courses recorded faster? Geeky talk about microphones and other tools of our trade, of promo videos on YouTube, and so many other things we all really wanted to talk about.
PluralsightLIVE itself started Tuesday night with a reception in the partner pavilion and an evening event I wasn’t able to stay up for.
That's my shirt being printed on the spot for me!
That's the very popular candy dispenser array.
I’ve been to a LOT of conferences and most of them look pretty generic. Here there was just so much effort showing: the fun activities like huge Jenga, Connect 4, and similar games, the couches everywhere (with power and USB ports so you could charge whatever you needed to charge), the large easy-to-spot-and-read signage, and more. It was clear the organizers were really caring about the wellbeing and happiness of all the attendees.
There were a lot of keynotes. Wednesday and Thursday both had keynotes the whole morning, and Thursday also had an afternoon keynote. These were entertaining, inspirational, educational, and really worth my time. I was especially looking forward to Joel Spolsky on Wednesday morning and he didn’t disappoint. He was funny and open. He also announced that Stack Exchange users will all get 60 free days of Pluralsight training. I hope some of them use it to take my Stack Exchange course! Then he liked my tweet afterwards so that was fun.
(If you want to take one of my courses, and don't have a subscription, there's a grey rectangle over the right that says Author: click it and you can get a ten-day free trial.)
When I wasn’t in keynotes, I was meeting other attendees and Pluralsight authors. Many of the authors are friends I haven’t seen in far too long, so it was tough to tear myself away, but I forced myself, because meeting learners is what this week was about for me. It was especially helpful to talk to managers and team leaders who want to know how their people are using their subscriptions. The Pluralsight IQ announcement [link] was very well received both by learners who wanted to show off their scores, and managers who wanted to track a team’s progress.
I took the C++ assessment, but I zipped through it a little too quickly and some questions needed more thought than I gave them. Still, I did ok:
After I tweeted my results, a whole pile of my C++ tribe also got their scores, and I even outscored a few! (Plus, I think they found a few bugs in the assessment – I’m going to get them fixed.)
The afternoon keynotes on Thursday wrapped up with Michelle Obama talking about diversity, education, children, and much more. I hadn’t heard her speak before other than sound bites on the news, and I was really impressed. She was warm and funny and willing to show irritation or frustration as well as the polished pleasantness I was expecting.
Next year’s dates have already been announced: the week of August 26th, 2018. I’m planning to be there. If you take Pluralsight courses (and come on, you should be taking Pluralsight courses) then consider it too. There was a lot of good content in a wonderful atmosphere, a chance to meet all kinds of interesting people, and a few days to put learning and growing front and centre – time well spent for me.
Monday, 11 September 2017
This year's innovation at CppCon is a Meet the Speakers Dinner Thursday night. It's pretty expensive ($100) because the venue is charging a lot for it, but here's your chance to relax over dinner with many of the speakers from CppCon. If you've registered for the conference but haven't bought a dinner ticket yet, please do! We want to meet attendees and this is a great way to do it. I've been an attendee at speaker dinners at other conferences and I have to say it's always been a highlight of the conference for me. Career advice from Bjarne himself over (excellent) dessert? Yes please!
I can't guarantee you Bjarne (or even me) but you will be asked if there's someone you want to sit with, and the organizers will do their best to accommodate you.
Wednesday, 05 April 2017
Well, this is exciting!
I was nominated, along with scores of others, but wasn't sure my nomination would succeed, partly because I was so much less active in 2016, and partly because my focus on client development in C++ is not always front-and-centre these days. But I'm happy to report I will continue to be a Microsoft Regional Director until at least June 30th, 2019.
What do RD's do? Well, I've explained this before: We don't work for Microsoft, we aren't really tied to regions, and we don't direct anything. Hence the name . We are a group of business-oriented influencers who go beyond technical excellence to really make a difference. Chances are, you know many other RDs already. You see us on conference rosters (and helping to run them), running podcasts (DotNetRocks, among many others), running community events, leading companies that are moving the needle when it comes to what technology does for the world. The number varies each year as people shift roles and priorities, but it's typically between 100 and 200. Far less than the number of MVPs. It's a heck of a club to be part of, and I'm delighted that I still belong.
ps: If you're looking for me on the RD map, you have to look in Wales. Whatever mapping tech it's using just can't handle there being more than one Pontypool. Sorry about that. In reality I'm just outside Toronto, Ontario.
Monday, 27 February 2017
Tl;dr – I
have (had?) Stage IV metastatic melanoma. This is a diagnosis whose current “5
year survival” rates are about 5%, meaning that 95% of people with this
diagnosis die in 5 years or less, generally a lot less, regardless of the
treatments they attempt: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy. However, that is entirely
based on people diagnosed more than 5 years ago, and everything has changed in
the last 5 years, making that number obsolete. I have had a very challenging
summer and fall 2016. I have a fantastic result though: using treatments that
have become available only in the last 5 years, I have seen my tumours shrink, and
many of them disappear. My symptoms are almost
all gone, I am not taking any pain medication, I am exercising regularly and my
energy levels are almost back to normal. My treatment continues, and my life is
not entirely normal, but it is amazingly great. I look forward to returning to
work, though I am still not sure when that will be. We live in the future.
for those who want details. In hindsight, my first symptom was fatigue in the
fall of 2015. I came home from an amazing 5 week transPacific trip, and within
days was in bed with a wicked cold we all called the Chilean Death Flu. When I
got over that, I had to work long hard days to get ready for CppCon, then was
at CppCon running days from 8am to 10pm or later, so not surprisingly I was
exhausted by the time that was done. But I never really got over that
exhaustion and got back to my regular energy. This is a hindsight thing,
because fatigue is a cancer symptom, but I never went to the doctor and said
“I’m so tired, let’s find out why.” In January after a dentist appointment, I
noticed a slight lump and soreness under my chin, but I forgot all about it as
the rest of my busy life continued to happen. By April, I had noticed it again (it
was larger) and this kicked off a round of medical things that just kept
escalating. Blood tests, ultrasound, cat scan, biopsies, more cat scans, pet
scans, MRIs, more biopsies – oh, many many more biopsies – and never any
conclusions. I had to cancel a headline appearance at an August conference, and
scale back my CppCon commitments a bit at a time, eventually deciding I
couldn’t even attend. Through all this, the lump, whatever it was, kept
growing. It was starting to hurt. Eventually, I had surgery to remove it,
enabling all kinds of tests to be run on the removed material. Throughout this
I kept the process private, discussing with only my very closest family
members. Because I didn’t know what I had, I didn’t want to tell colleagues,
clients, conference organizers or even friends “I may be sick, or not, and if I
am it could be anything.” So I kept it to myself.
September when I officially got the news. The now-removed lump was melanoma.
Since it wasn’t presenting on the skin (as a mole or other visible surface
blemish), it was a metastasized melanoma. And since the cat scans showed that
lumps (growths, nodules, masses, lesions – doctors almost never say tumour) were
also in my lungs (and getting larger between scans), it was Stage IV, and
distant. Here’s Wikipedia on the matter:
When there is distant metastasis, the cancer is generally
considered incurable. The five-year survival rate is less than 10%. The median
survival is 6–12 months. Treatment is palliative, focusing on life extension
and quality of life. In some cases, patients may live many months or even years
with metastatic melanoma (depending on the aggressiveness of the treatment).
Metastases to skin and lungs have a better prognosis. Metastases to brain, bone
and liver are associated with a worse prognosis. Survival is better with
metastasis in which the location of the primary tumor is unknown.
Literally every time I met a doctor in September, they told
me another place it had spread. There was the unknown primary, which my own
immune system had already cleared away. The neck lump. The lung tumours, first
detected in May and having multiplied and grown all summer. The liver. The
spine. The surgeon had no more to offer me – there were too many to consider
removing them. The radiation specialist also didn’t want to do anything – the
neck lump might come back, but “it’s not a survival issue,” he said, meaning
that I would doubtless die from the lung or liver involvement, or some other
new lump, long before any regrowth of the neck lump had a chance to hurt me.
And radiation to the neck would ruin my voice and quality of life. They both
repeatedly used the word incurable, just as Wikipedia does. One of them praised
me for crying “because it means you understand.” I made lists of paperwork to
update (our wills) and find (my life insurance policies) and started thinking
about what music I wanted played at my memorial ceremony. After all, those
facts are pretty cut and dried. If the median is 6-12 months, you have some
months. Maybe 18 months if you’re super lucky, maybe 3 if you’re not. It’s
actually a lot of work to “get your affairs in order” and I was super tired and
found thinking very difficult, so it was even harder than you would think it
But, here’s where things take a turn. The surgeon told me
that things have really changed for melanoma just in the last few years. That
great strides are being made. The radiation specialist told me that what I
needed was something systemic that would attack everything at once. They
referred me to a medical oncologist. And he was like no-one I have ever met.
For one thing, he looked at me – my face, not his feet or my
feet – when we talked. And he smiled. He told me I had come to the right place,
and that he knew what to do for me. He’d already run some tests on the lump and
ruled out one set of treatments, but felt I was a very good candidate for
another set. This involved being in a study, getting a treatment that was
technically experimental. (Technically because it involves combining two drugs,
both of which are already approved in Ontario for treating this, but the
combination is not. Since then, the combination has been approved in the US.
Things are moving quickly in this area.) He started talking about what
percentage of his patients survive and I interrupted him (probably a bit
sulkily, because honestly I wasn’t having a great month) and said “for a while,
anyway.” He grinned. “I have patients who I have to wait for them to die of old
age so I can declare them cured. That’s my plan for you.” So then that was all
three doctor’s offices that I cried in, but this time because he gave me hope.
So that brings us to the weird world of cancer and what
“cured” and “curable” and such mean. The gold standard is to simply be alive 5
years after you’re diagnosed. That is why diagnosing “early” increases survival
rates – not only because people live longer than they otherwise would have
(sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t) but because the survival time is
measured from diagnosis, not from when some particular stage is reached. If you
are diagnosed a year early and nothing changes about the age at which you die,
you still survived a year longer after diagnosis than you would have with a
later diagnosis. At first, there was so
little that could be done for cancer that basically you either lived or died,
and if you managed to still be alive after 5 years, you would almost certainly
go on to die of something else like a heart attack or old age. But now people
are being diagnosed so early, and even very aggressive cancers are being held
back for a while, that the 5 year mark isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re
cured. Doctors like to tell people they’re in remission if they don’t happen to
have any tumours at the moment, a word that carries with it a promise that the
cancer is pretty sure to come back later. You really can’t draw any conclusions
about cancer in general, but there may be some stats available about your particular
type and stage of cancer.
So, in order for the official cancer folks to think I’m
cured, I need to live 5 years after my diagnosis. It has barely been 6 months.
So I’ll be waiting a while on that. And anyway, some folks are now more
interested in “progression free survival” which is not only being alive, but
not “progressing” during that time – getting new tumours, or having your old
ones grow. You also hear about disease-free survival, which is having no
symptoms and no signs of tumours on your scans, and event-free survival, which
is not having “events” such as needing a surgery, or even reporting a
particular pain. There seems to be a belief that three years of disease free
survival after melanoma means you can relax, it’s not coming back. I guess for
me the clock on that has only recently started, but I’m getting ahead of
So, according to the current definition of cured, nobody
gets cured of what I have, because the people diagnosed 5 years ago and earlier
are the only ones whose outcomes are considered, and they pretty well all died.
(I’ve had friends tell me stories of people who died of melanoma 5 and a half
years after diagnosis, making them count as survivors in the cure math, but
not, in the end, surviving it.) So it’s incurable. But in the last 5 years,
they’ve started an entirely different kind of treatment, which works, and
people on this treatment see their tumours disappear and their symptoms stop
and they just return to their regular life. For how long? Well, it’s not
possible to know yet, since the number of people who have 5 years of disease
free survival, or even three, is very small. It seems like a forever cure. But
it can’t be declared one because there just hasn’t been enough time go by yet
to draw that conclusion. And that’s why the medical oncologist says he is
waiting for his patients to die of old age. Only then can he conclude they
never died of the cancer coming back.
over, what is this treatment I was offered? The two drugs Ipilimumab and
Nivolumab. They are monoclonal antibodies. They work by getting your immune
system to remove the cancer. This is entirely different from chemo, which
poisons the cancer and most of the rest of you too. People's immune systems
clear away small cancers all the time. For example, I must have had a
"primary" somewhere on my skin. I never saw it, my doctor never saw
it, so I must have cleaned it up - although unfortunately not before it spawned
off some more cells. That’s normal, a melanoma forms, it gets tidied up. The observation on Wikipedia that people with
unknown primaries do better is probably related to people with unknown
primaries having a proven ability to clean melanoma away. The recent
breakthrough is understanding that when tumours get to a certain size, they
prevent the immune system from cleaning them up – they develop a sort of “cloaking
system” that keeps the immune system away. So these two drugs, one ramps up
your immune system and the other interferes with the preventing so the tumours
no longer defend themselves against (or hide from, or turn off) the immune
system. My body just has to do what it did before and clear it all away.
I am in a study because these drugs are not yet approved in
Canada to be used in combination like this, though each are approved alone.
They have already done studies comparing dose levels of the drugs and found,
rather unexpectedly to me, that people getting different doses have the same
success rate. This study is to see if they have the same side effects.
Personally, I consider that aim secondary to getting me cured, but that's the
technical aim of the study. The side effects from these drugs are all the same
- inflammation and overactive immune responses. That might mean a rash, or
swelling of something. If your eyes swell, that's not as bad as if your heart
swells, or your thyroid. I had to commit to being able to drop everything and
head to downtown Toronto if I get any kind of side effect at all. That means I
can't travel for the duration of the study. The side effects, I was warned, may
also keep me from working or from doing some of the things I normally do. So
far 100% of the study people get side effects, the issue is only how severe
they are. I may end up treated with steroids if they get too bad. As a side
note, I understand that these drugs alone (not counting the time and effort of
doctors, nurses, scan techs, and so on) cost about $200,000 a year. Being in
the study means that the study sponsor, not the Ontario health care system,
covers the cost of the drugs. There’s no cost to me for any of it; my only
expenses have been hundreds of dollars on hospital parking (don’t get me
started), cab and transit fares, and the occasional overpriced food and drink
from hospital food courts.
So far, I’ve been extraordinarily lucky about side effects,
having by far the least of anyone in the study locally. I may have some thyroid
damage, but that’s all. Nonetheless the impact on my day to day life has been
total. Working became impossible – partly because I was constantly going to
downtown Toronto for appointments, and partly because of symptoms I began to
experience as the tumours grew and spread. In less than a week I went from
popping out for a 2 km hike while my Thanksgiving turkey cooked, to being
unable to get out of bed. I spent weeks at a time in bed. I spent almost a week
in the hospital after I got severely dehydrated, possibly because of the liver
involvement messing with my metabolism. I pulled muscles coughing (because my
lungs were full of tumours) and I may also have cracked a rib. I was taking
medications for pain and cough but I was very ill and very weak. I am lucky to
have a devoted husband who has put in incredible energy to give me the support
I needed – looking after me at home, carrying more than his share of work both
at home and in our business, and driving me to all those appointments. I don’t
know how I could have coped without him. I also have a close corps of family and friends who cheered me up over email and Skype, and took care of things I couldn't take care of. I had to learn to let people look after me, which was a very difficult lesson. I haven't mastered it, but I've made some progress.
Then the treatment started to work. The way this shows up is
in the form of pain. The immune system starts to attack and clean up the
tumours. This is a good thing, but it involves swelling and increased blood
flow to the area and such, which manifests as pain. A lot of pain. But it was
weird, because we all knew this was probably a really good sign and reason to
be optimistic and hopeful. Within three weeks of the first treatment, my
symptoms began to improve. I had a setback with some hip pain that turned out
to be caused by tumours in my hip and leg bones. It’s unusual for melanoma to spread to arms
and legs, and more unusual than that to discover it from pain. It is typically discovered when your leg bone
collapses underneath you and you need emergency surgery with plates and pins
and things. They were worried I would break my leg, so I got radiation
treatment for a week to give those tumours specifically a hard knock back. The
radiation techs asked every day “you have pain meds, right? You have enough?
You need a refill?” and within a few days I found out why. The pain when the
radiation starts to blast the tumour apart, and the immune system comes
sweeping in to clean it up, is, well, memorable. And I know precisely how long
it takes my opioids to start working from when I take them, as a result.
Another diversion, this one on metaphors and visualizations.
I reject the war/fight/battle approach to diseases and to cancer. My leisure
time involves a lot of outdoor activity – bike rides, wilderness canoe camping,
hiking, that sort of thing. When you’re trying to ride your bike up a long,
steep hill, you are not in a fight with the hill. You are not battling the
hill. It’s simple: the hill doesn’t even know you are there. The hill doesn’t
care. The hill isn’t steep at you, for you, because of you. It just is. When
you’re paddling a canoe into the wind, the wind isn’t blowing in some sort of
spiteful attempt to keep you from that amazing beach campsite. The wind doesn’t
know you’re there, the lake doesn’t know you’re there. You can “win” or “lose”
– get to the top of the hill, make it to the campsite, give up and turn around
because there isn’t time to do it now – but the hill or the lake doesn’t win or
lose, or even engage in this alleged battle in any way. Things can be very
difficult without being a fight, a battle, or a war. In the same way, cancer
isn’t a side in a fight. My tumours aren’t trying to kill me. They aren’t
co-ordinating with other people’s tumours. There is no communication or
plotting between elements of my disease and elements of someone else’s disease.
Neither cancer in general nor my tumours in particular will feel some sort of
sting or loss when I “win” and they won’t exult if I “lose”. They aren’t battling
me, and it doesn’t really make sense for me to battle them. I can’t kick cancer’s ass because cancer is heartless,
mindless, assless. My metaphor is more about cleaning up. Something is wrong in
my body – things are growing where they shouldn’t, and this can be very
dangerous, don’t get me wrong. Growths that squeeze vital organs keep them from
working. Growths that eat a hole in my leg bone can result in the bone
crumbling and collapsing underneath me. This needs to be fixed. This needs to
be cleaned up. My immune system can do that, but it needs some help, and the
medication is providing that help. I can imagine the lumps and growths being
taken apart and tidied up by white blood cells and other immune components of
my body. When I feel the pain of a flare that indicates a response is
happening, I focus on imagining that process in action right where I’m feeling
the pain. I take care of myself, push myself hard when I need to, ask the right
questions, report the right details to those who need them, and do the work of
getting better. It is hard, really hard, and I do contribute to my recovery, as
well as being a very lucky person.
By December I really could tell I had turned a corner. I
wrote in a family email update:
treatment is in the books and the fourth is scheduled for the Thursday before
Christmas. My first scan since the treatment began will be in early January,
and then I guess I will have an appointment where someone will tell me what
they see on the scan. My expectation is that they will see dramatic shrinkage
if not outright disappearance of all the growths and lumps I was told about
through the fall, putting me in the 80% of study members who “respond” to the
treatment. From my point of view, I ask “where is my cough?” – totally gone.
“Where is the belly pain at the bottom of my ribcage?” – totally gone and they
can poke my stomach in an exam and it just feels utterly normal like before I
was sick. “Where is my fatigue?” – gone. I am not napping. I am out of bed
every day and out of the house if I need to be. I can go shopping. Heck,
yesterday I went to Costco. That’s right, Costco in December. That probably
tells you all you need to know about my energy levels.
We then had
Christmas and New Years and I had a scan and met with my doctor – the grin on
his face as he came into the room told us all we needed to know. He actually
took us out of the exam room to see my before and after scans on a monitor. As
I wrote to family, quoting him:
the lungs, this and this and this, these are tumours. These are blood vessels
don’t worry about those. That is a rib. Now over here see? The tumours are
gone. Here there was a big blob of something, that’s gone. Now down here to the
liver, see how swollen it was? On this side you can see it’s back to normal
size. And tumour here and here, over here now you just see a small shadow in
that place, probably a hole left behind when the tumour was gone.” And so on.
came up with a plan to wean off the pair of pain medications I was using, which
worked, and other than Tylenol for a headache occasionally, I am taking no pain
medications at all. The
radiologist opinion, which came later, is a little more conservative, but uses
the word “disappeared” fairly often, along with “marked improvement” and
“healing”. Overall, the reports show a very good response. Alas, the “whole
body” cat scan didn’t include my hip, so I don’t know how things are going
there. But my overall colour and energy makes it clear that I have had an
amazing response. They don’t see anything new. Everything they used to see is going
question remaining is how long to keep treating me for. We have switched, as scheduled, from Ipilimumab
and Nivolumab every 3 weeks to just Nivolumab every 4 weeks. I have had one and will
get at least one more treatment, then depending on the results of the scans
after those, they might stop or keep going to 4 treatments or as many as 13.
They really aren’t sure how long to treat people for. Some people are better
forever after just one treatment – these are folks with terrible side effects
who can’t have a second treatment. At first they kept treating people who could
tolerate the meds indefinitely, then they decided two years was sensible, then
one year, now … well, we’ll take it as it goes.
essentially side-effect free. I’ve lost a lot of weight: 25 pounds or more
since the surgery, most of it in a single unpleasant month, and I had slowly
and deliberately lost 35 pounds over a few years before that. I am already
starting to regain some of my muscle, lost during all the bedrest. I am
sleeping well too, having finally shaken the effects of a lingering “Christmas
cold.” (It might have been the flu – there was an outbreak, and I couldn’t have
a flu shot this year because of the immunotherapy.) I am cleared to drive
again, since I’m off all my pain meds now, and I can have a glass of wine from
time to time should the mood strike me. My thyroid levels were low, so I’ve
started thyroid meds. They’ve come back to normal on the meds, and I don’t know
if that will end up a life-long thing or not. It’s a pretty minor effect
overall – plenty of women my age take thyroid meds every day. Low thyroid
levels cause fatigue and cold sensitivity, both of which I had in early
January, and which seem to have improved since I started the thyroid meds. I
had been losing hair, not at the levels you see for people on chemo, but
noticeable, and since I started the thyroid meds, that has gone back to normal too. I have enough energy that I could travel to Waterloo for a C++ Meetup in February, my first "public appearance" in perhaps a year.
So that is
where I am. My tumours are dramatically shrunken or gone, and may never come
back. Bone is growing back where tumours ate it. My symptoms are gone. I don’t
know how much longer I will be treated for, or whether more side effects will
still arise, but I can start to build my way back towards a more normal life. I
got better. I was told I had incurable cancer, Wikipedia told me less than 10%
survive it even for 5 years, I could expect to live for just months, and now, less
than 6 months after being told that, I’m better. It’s weird. Wonderful, but
weird. This is like being around when insulin was first being used, or antibiotics.
It changes everything. I should probably have been dead by now and instead I
feel the way I did before I knew I was sick, or perhaps even a little bit better.
to share all of this detail for a few reasons.
- People are
curious – I get emails asking if I’m ok, how am I doing, sending me good vibes
and such from folks who really don’t know what’s happening but know something
is. I would like all of them to know I’m ok now, even though I still can’t
- People are
unaware how much things are changing in the world of cancer treatment and
research. I still shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn’t ended
up referred to the particular doctor I ended up with, and had instead only been
offered the old (useless) treatment. I like sharing the success story so that
other people will know about it.
- It’s a very
happy story and everyone who knows the details is really happy to know them, so
why not share that more widely?
still be less active than usual for a while, but I am working my way back to
being my old self.
Wednesday, 04 January 2017
I had to curtail my activities pretty dramatically in the second half of 2016, even in areas like mailing list participation or answering questions on StackOverflow. I was beginning to wonder if I would qualify for Visual C++ MVP again without conference talks or some of my other usual activities. No-one should ever assume they will be awarded; the program is always changing and our lives are always changing, so anyone can find themselves out of sync with the requirements of a program. However, I'm happy to learn that I have been renewed for 2017 and will continue to be part of this active community.
Looking forward to a terrific 2017,
Friday, 16 September 2016
It has been a very
busy summer for me. Mostly it's been great, with family visits from all over the world and the wedding of my oldest child. But there have been some challenges, too. Without going into details, I've had to cancel plans to speak at (and even attend) CppCon
. This is really sad - CppCon was the largest C++ conference ever when it started in 2014, and has grown remarkably ever since. It's a place where I learn new things, make new friends and contacts, and meet old friends for a wonderful week of laughter, in-jokes, and brain-stretching.
I am hoping that within a few months, I'll be "back in the saddle" again and planning a 2017 full of speaking and learning. In the meantime, I'll be following #CppCon
on twitter, and watching the YouTube channel
for new videos - the plenaries and keynotes get up really fast. If you're not there in person, be there virtually like me!
Friday, 26 February 2016
longest-serving employee, Joyce MacDonald, has worked her last day with us.
She’s moving away to the other side of the country, where I don’t doubt another
firm will soon find themselves blessed with her skills. Joyce joined us full
time 16 years (and one month) ago, and had been working part time for us long
before that. From the very beginning, every task that she took on she
transformed and improved. We needed data entry when we were building a website
for a local real estate firm; she took the procedure for adding a listing and
kept streamlining it – open these three files at once, copy this once, then
paste it here, here, and here – until she had cut the target time in half and
then in half again. Later, she helped to develop our Quality Procedures and to
bring order to chaos in our software development process as we moved to agile
and changed our client mix. She helped our developers to become more organized,
to report progress more thoroughly, and to test before committing or deploying.
She trained our clients to think about what they really needed and to consider
the consequences of what they were asking for. I have never met anyone who
cared as much about the success of the firm as Joyce. We’ve employed dozens of
people who’ve done good work, worked hard, and cared about our clients. The
majority of them, like the majority of people everywhere, never gave much
thought to whether the company was doing well, except perhaps to wonder or
worry if their job was safe, or if there would be money to spend on perks. I’m
not complaining; I think that’s perfectly normal. Joyce is wired differently:
it’s fundamentally important to her that things are done right, that the client
gets what they want, and that the company makes a profit. That’s what just has
to happen, and it’s generally what she’s able to make happen.
started doing data entry and office administration but quickly moved into more
complicated tasks. She’s been managing projects and client interactions for a
long time. She also made sure that people did what they were supposed to do
when they were supposed to do it, and kept everyone informed and contented. If
you’ve ever called our office, you’ve probably talked to her. She’s probably
reassured you about something and made sure it got taken care of for you. She
has her PMP now, which formally recognizes how well she manages projects, gets
requirements out of customers and organized in a way we can all understand, and
builds appropriate processes for developers to follow. She’s taken on the challenge
of managing not just seasoned, well-behaved, adult developers, but also
students and our own grown children, who are not always easy to control. Let’s
just say they meet their deadlines for her .
Joyce to the west coast hasn’t been a total surprise for us. When we came back
from the epic Pacific trip, she got the opportunity to move and though she
delayed it, we rather knew it was inevitable. Over the past 6 months or so
we’ve adjusted the balance of work we take on so that our remaining clients
will be those I can handle client support for, and whose projects I can manage.
(Brian will continue to be an architect, developer, and star debugger who
doesn’t have to talk to the clients.) For our clients, nothing much will
change. For us, there will be a hole in our lives – personally and
professionally – that will take a while to settle down. When she joined us,
Joyce was a neighbor (I believe we first met in the summer of 92), and for a
long time she walked or rode her bike to work in the office attached to our
house. Our kids have grown up together. When stuff happens, Joyce is the one we
talk it through with – business and not-business. We were able to go to the
other side of the world for five weeks, often with no internet, knowing the
company would tick along fine without us. It’s going to be an adjustment not
having her with us every day, not having her to count on. Still, we know why
she’s moving, and we wish her all the best in this new phase of her life.
you’ve found this entry as part of due diligence in a hiring process, let me be
clear: Hire Her. You won’t regret it.
Monday, 07 December 2015
The first keynote at CppCon this year was Bjarne Stroustrup (who invented the C++ language) announcing the C++ Core Guidelines. They are on Github and once he announced them, as Herb Sutter reported in the second keynote the very next day, they quickly became a trending topic across all languages. Here is a description of the guidelines from there:
The C++ Core Guidelines are a collaborative effort led by Bjarne Stroustrup, much like the C++ language itself. They are the result of many person-years of discussion and design across a number of organizations. Their design encourages general applicability and broad adoption but they can be freely copied and modified to meet your organization's needs.
The aim of the guidelines is to help people to use modern C++ effectively. By "modern C++" we mean C++11 and C++14 (and soon C++17). In other words, what would you like your code to look like in 5 years' time, given that you can start now? In 10 years' time?
The guidelines are focused on relatively higher-level issues, such as interfaces, resource management, memory management, and concurrency. Such rules affect application architecture and library design. Following the rules will lead to code that is statically type safe, has no resource leaks, and catches many more programming logic errors than is common in code today. And it will run fast - you can afford to do things right.
To me, these guidelines are the key to getting across my fundamental message that C++ does not have to be hard, scary, complicated, or dangerous. The language may still say “it’s your foot!” but the guidelines, and the tools they can drive, are quite the opposite.
You probably know that Visual Studio has a static analyser built in. (You should, anyway, I’ve blogged about it.) It will catch things like this:
int* p = nullptr;
*p = 10;
But it doesn’t mind things like this:
int* p2 = arr;
Two lines, two violations of the guidelines – I’m not initializing any of the elements of arr, and then I am using its address as a regular old pointer. Now, there’s nothing wrong with regular old pointers – some people have got quite a hate on for them with the rise of genuinely smart pointers, but pointers are fine. Using pointers to control lifetime isn’t fine, because it’s impossibly difficult. But pointers themselves are fine. What’s not fine here is the “decay” of an array into a pointer – folks from other languages don’t expect that at all, and some marvelous bugs have hidden behind this simple bit of helpfulness from the compiler. So there’s a guideline that says don’t do that. Specifically:
(I’m giving you a picture of code because if you want to copy and paste you should go to the live, always updated, guidelines on github.)
This guideline is part of a “profile” – a particular set of rules that are designed to be enforced and that are supported by tools. Well, when I say tools I might be overstating the case a little. There’s just one tool at the moment, but that could be enough!
This tool, C++ Core Checker, is on the NuGet Gallery. You don’t have to get it from there though. You get it, and use it, from inside Visual Studio 2015. Any version will do. If you don’t use Visual Studio normally, just get and install the Community Edition, which is free and is ok to use for commercial purposes, from https://www.visualstudio.com/ . (Need the fine print? if you’re using it as a person, you can do whatever you like. If you work for a company with less than 250 PCs and less than a million dollars US in revenue, again you and up to 4 of your coworkers can use it for whatever you like. If you work for an “enterprise” company then any and all of the employees can still use it for learning purposes or to work on open source.) Note that Visual C++ isn’t part of the Typical install, so you’ll need to choose Custom and select Visual C++:
So once you have Community Edition or some edition of Visual Studio, make a console application and put in the two bad lines of code. Build it and then also run static analysis on it (On the Analyze menu, choose Run Code Analysis, On Solution.) You won’t get any warnings or errors. That’s your pre-guidelines life. You’re doing something inappropriate and nobody is telling you.
Now, add the checker to your solution. This is solution-by-solution, not a change to how Visual Studio does static analysis. On the Tools menu, choose NuGet Package Manager, Package Manager Console. In the console window that appears, type Install-Package Microsoft.CppCoreCheck and press enter. You will see output like this:
Attempting to gather dependencies information for package 'Microsoft.CppCoreCheck.14.0.23107.2' with respect to project 'ConsoleApplication1', targeting 'native,Version=v0.0'
Attempting to resolve dependencies for package 'Microsoft.CppCoreCheck.14.0.23107.2' with DependencyBehavior 'Lowest'
Resolving actions to install package 'Microsoft.CppCoreCheck.14.0.23107.2'
Resolved actions to install package 'Microsoft.CppCoreCheck.14.0.23107.2'
Adding package 'Microsoft.Gsl.0.0.1' to folder 'c:\users\kate\documents\visual studio 2015\Projects\ConsoleApplication1\packages'
Added package 'Microsoft.Gsl.0.0.1' to folder 'c:\users\kate\documents\visual studio 2015\Projects\ConsoleApplication1\packages'
Added package 'Microsoft.Gsl.0.0.1' to 'packages.config'
Successfully installed 'Microsoft.Gsl 0.0.1' to ConsoleApplication1
Adding package 'Microsoft.CppCoreCheck.14.0.23107.2' to folder 'c:\users\kate\documents\visual studio 2015\Projects\ConsoleApplication1\packages'
Added package 'Microsoft.CppCoreCheck.14.0.23107.2' to folder 'c:\users\kate\documents\visual studio 2015\Projects\ConsoleApplication1\packages'
Added package 'Microsoft.CppCoreCheck.14.0.23107.2' to 'packages.config'
Successfully installed 'Microsoft.CppCoreCheck 14.0.23107.2' to ConsoleApplication1
This changes your project settings so that analysis runs this Core Checker for you. Repeat the analysis step and this time the new tool will run and you will get output like this:
------ Rebuild All started: Project: ConsoleApplication1, Configuration: Debug Win32 ------
ConsoleApplication1.vcxproj -> c:\users\kate\documents\visual studio 2015\Projects\ConsoleApplication1\Debug\ConsoleApplication1.exe
c:\users\kate\documents\visual studio 2015\projects\consoleapplication1\consoleapplication1\consoleapplication1.cpp(9): warning C26494: Variable 'arr' is uninitialized. Always initialize an object. (type.5: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/p/?LinkID=620421)
c:\users\kate\documents\visual studio 2015\projects\consoleapplication1\consoleapplication1\consoleapplication1.cpp(10): warning C26485: Expression 'arr': No array to pointer decay. (bounds.3: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/p/?LinkID=620415)
========== Rebuild All: 1 succeeded, 0 failed, 0 skipped ==========
Where it says "type.5" and there's a link, that's to the specific rule in the "type" profile that this code breaks. And where it says "bounds.3", the same - I showed a picture of bounds.3 up above.
Isn’t that great? Come on, it’s great! The tool will add more rules as we move through 2016. I’m going to have a lot more to say about the Guidelines as well. But this is a great place to start.Why not point it at some of your own code and see what happens?
Monday, 09 November 2015
I have a new Pluralsight course on Visual Studio called Visual Studio 2015: Essentials to the Power-User. It starts at the beginning, so if you're new to Visual Studio it will help you get started, but carries on "to 11" as it were, covering things many everyday users of Visual Studio don't know. Here are the modules, each with their length:
- Getting Started (42:08)
- Projects and Solutions (13:23)
- Namespaces, Folders, and Files(27:03)
- Understanding and Personalizing Visual Studio UI Components (26:57)
- Exploring Relationships in Your Code(36:41)
- Using Search and Find Effectively(28:15)
- Letting Visual Studio Help You (46:28)
- Basic Debugging Features (24:04)
- Additional Debugging Features (44:30)
- Working with Designers (39:37)
- Useful Extensions (39:54)
- IntelliTrace and Code Map (25:57)
If you don't have a Pluralsight subscription, click the Author link over on the right hand side of this blog - click Subscribe, then Start 10-Day trial. That should give you a good idea of how valuable the subscriptions can be. (My company buys subscriptions for my staff, and I use my free author one all the time. It's a great way to learn a new technology.)
My main goal in this course was to have Visual Studio make sense to the learner. There are so many ways to do any action that sometimes when you learn something it seems pointless, and you quickly get tired of learning an endless parade of similar features. I worked hard to put these into an order that would lead naturally through the capabilities of the tool, and put things in context. If you watch all 12 modules, you'll know more Visual Studio than most developers - and you'll have a productivity boost to show for it that should be pretty impressive! Please do give it a try.
Thursday, 08 October 2015
On the Pluralsight platform, subscribers can access a discussion area for each course. The traffic in mine is light enough that I have set up an alert to send me an email for each new comment. I just got one for my StackExchange course that brought a huge smile to my face:
I have actually tried not to use Stack Exchange and stick to other sites. I had several bad experiences and have not gained any reputation at all on any questions that I asked. I have even deleted questions due to downvotes or other negative activity. Well after watching this, I understand the problems that I have had in the past. I really enjoyed hearing this and knowing the mechanics of how this works [...] I now know more about it to help me find the answers that I need when I am head scratching my way through coding.
When I first started reading I was thinking "here's a comment about how StackExchange is horrible and why have a course on it" - something I hear from some of my friends. But then it took a sharp right turn to the exact reason why I wrote the course. I mean this is exactly the persona I had in mind - someone who needs answers, but because of not knowing the way the sites work, not only isn't getting them, but is having an unpleasant experience and ends up avoiding the sites.
When I decide to write a course I let myself imagine some possible outcomes. This comment is just the sort of outcome I was hoping for. It keeps me motivated to create more
Saturday, 26 September 2015
Back when I first started going to conferences, the
schedules typically ran 9 or 9:30 to 4 or 4:30. I used to bring a book to read
in the evenings in case I didn’t like what was on TV. Then I started getting
invited to dinners and parties and planning meetings and conference days got a
lot longer for me. But what I’ve noticed recently is that conference days are
getting a lot longer for everyone. People have come all this way and are
willing to pack a lot into each day. I’m writing this on the last day of CppCon
where there is content starting at 8am and running until 10pm. There's even content over the two hour lunch break! That’s
a long day, and a bunch of them in a row makes for a long long week. So here
are some tips for how to handle that kind of week. I’m going to be specific to
CppCon, because I think a lot of my readers should attend it, but other
conferences will have equivalents to everything I’m mentioning here; I’ll let
you do the mapping yourself.
First, have a schedule. Weeks before the conference, mark
out what talks you want to attend. Have a goal of selecting two talks in most
time slots. Then if your first choice is not as good as you expected, or the
room is full and you don’t want to stand, you know exactly where to go for your
second choice. Have that schedule in your pocket – on your phone, or on a piece
of paper – so you have no lost time figuring out where to go. (CppCon uses Sched, which mails you each day's schedule in the morning, making it easy to have with you.) Don’t be the
person who shows up at 9 only to learn there were sessions at 8. Check the
schedule at least once a day during the conference in case things are being
added. Tip: things are being added, you can count on it.
Second, plan ahead to take care of the physical body that is
carrying your brain from session to session. It’s really a simple matter to
have a few granola bars and a bottle of water in your bag. If you miss a snack,
you can still have something to eat or drink. Bring a light sweater in case you
are in the cold room. Bring some painkillers if you might get a headache from
sitting somewhere loud. Bring whatever little comforts you need to keep
yourself from getting whiny and leaving early to go to your peaceful hotel room
and watch TV. (That said, there’s always one day in a one-week conference where
I go back to my room for an afternoon nap. It’s the only way I can stay
functional during long and intellectually-intense days. Just make sure you’re
doing it for a brain recharge and not for something you could have avoided by
bringing a small item with you to the conference centre.)
Third, think about how you’re going to take notes. A paper
notebook? Bring a spare pen, too. Your phone? Your laptop? Or are you just
going to immerse yourself in the experience and use the videos if you want to
check something later? Whatever your plan is, bring what you need to be able to
use it. Power is always a challenge at conferences – I like to bring an
external battery for my phone so it can charge in my bag. Think about what your
bag is going to weigh and consider leaving the laptop at the hotel and getting
by with a phone and some paper for notes. It’s really liberating not to be
lugging a heavy bag, in fact surprisingly so.
Fourth, before you arrive (at the latest, on the plane to
the conference) write up your goals for the conference. Do you want to meet
people? Specific people, or some number of people, or people from a particular industry?
Do you want to learn something specific? (Perhaps this is the year to
understand SFINAE, or be able to follow along in a talk that includes template
meta programming, or “get” those Haskell jokes people are always telling.) Maybe you want to tell people about something?
Tweet some number of times? Blog some number of times? Have a plan. Have goals. Check yourself
against these goals each morning, and adjust your plan for the day if you need
to, so that you move towards those goals each day.
When you arrive at the conference, scout out the amenities.
Where are the bathrooms? Are there tables and chairs? Are there tables and
chairs with power? On Day 1, pay close attention to the food and drink pattern.
Is coffee always available, or only at certain times? Where does the food
appear? Knowing this will take away any worry you may be carrying around that
you may miss something and not get another chance at it. It will also save you
from taking extras of things and lugging them around all day when you don’t
really need them. I also like to work out patterns related to what rooms I’ll
be in – that I’ll be on the same floor all afternoon, for example. It just
makes me feel a little more settled and centred.
Looking after your body doesn’t stop with what you planned
and what you brought. I start each day with 5 minutes of stretching which makes
a big difference to how I feel all day. I also try to use the stairs instead of
the escalators – less lining up and it makes me feel better too. I go ahead and
eat the snacks, many of which are not part of my normal day (brownies in the
afternoon? bag of chips at lunch?) but not to excess. CppCon has fruit and
other options that are not all about fat, sugar, and caffeine, and it’s often a
smart choice to go with those rather than the straight-up treats. Try not to
get too far from normal. If you normally have 5 cups of coffee a day, then you
can do that during the conference, but if you’re a one-cup-a-day person,
perhaps don’t go beyond 2 or 3 a day while you’re here. Same advice for alcohol
– if you dramatically increase your consumption over the course of the week,
you’re likely to feel uncomfortable by the time Thursday or Friday rolls
around. The one thing you should be sure to take in more of than usual is water
– whether you’re eating more sugar than usual, drinking more caffeine and alcohol
than usual, or just walking a lot more than usual from room to room in a conference
centre, extra water is what you need to compensate. If you grab a bottle of
water at a snack break, hang on to it when it’s empty – typically most
conference rooms have a watercooler or bubbler by the door where you can refill
that bottle whenever you want. Can’t stand water? Bring something to flavour it
with – pick up some powders or drops at home and try them out to see which one
you like. It’s way more efficient than hanging around hoping that this is the
break they have juice at, or leaving the conference centre on a half hour walk
for a convenience store.
As the conference goes on, be aware of how you are spending
your time. For example, if you check your email during a session, but then take
a peek at Twitter, and then at your personal Facebook – are you even really in
the session anymore? Don’t be afraid to leave if this is not the session for
you. You can go to another one, or talk to other attendees out in the hall, or
go back to the hotel for a one hour nap. Almost anything is better than
ignoring a speaker and killing time on your laptop or phone. And if you’re not
prepared to leave, then perhaps you just need to start paying more attention to
the session – assuming it’s material you actually are interested in. Take a
look at those goals you wrote. Have you tweeted recently? Blogged? Learned that
thing? Met enough people? Will staying in this session and listening meet your
goals, or should you go out to the hall and work on a goal? Are you just
chatting with your own coworkers, or someone you’ve known for years? Building
and strengthening relationships is great, of course. That doesn’t mean that
discussing the football game with your cubicle-mate is a good use of your time
at a place you flew 5 hours to attend. Maybe you can walk around and find a way
to join a conversation with a speaker or someone else you wouldn’t normally
meet. Just standing there listening can be very enlightening even if you don’t
end up saying much.
If you’re not normally a tweeter, blogger, or
talker-to-strangers, a conference is a great place to start. There are
immediate benefits. Perhaps your question will be answered, or your point will
be repeated and quoted, or you’ll make a new friend or business connection.
This will give you reinforcement for doing that, of course. As you meet your goals,
make a record of that, so you can easily answer questions about what you
learned or accomplished during the conference. Consider writing a summary when
you’re done – for yourself, or for whoever funded the trip. A chronological
structure is natural – Monday morning I went to a talk called X and learned Y
or met Z, at lunch Monday I talked to A and B who encouraged me to look into C,
Monday afternoon I went to a talk on C – but be sure to have an executive
summary that reads a little less like a diary. Start writing it during the
conference and polish it on the trip home. Once you get back to the office,
writing that summary is going to get harder and harder, so don’t put it off.
Attending conferences is a great way to boost your career –
when you do it well you learn a lot in a short time, meet luminaries of your
industry and people just like you, raise your profile and your confidence, and have
a wonderful time. When you do it poorly, you get tired, hungover, lonely,
overwhelmed, and bored. Put in the effort to plan and prepare, and you will be
in a great position to reap the rewards.
Thursday, 11 June 2015
One of the CppCon sponsors, Bloomberg, is running a contest for students in university or college and giving away trips to attend CppCon2015 in September in Bellevue, Washington:
The series of seven weekly challenges will kick off on June 22, 2015, and each week contestants will be provided a different set of problems to solve via Bloomberg’s cloud-based CodeCon platform. Each week’s winner will earn a trip to CppCon in September. The list of seven winners will be announced and notified via email on August 5.
Interested? You should be. CppCon is a great experience for students and one you won't soon forget.
Monday, 12 January 2015
My friend (and fellow Pluralsight author) Kathleen Dollard is coming to town, and will speak at the East of Toronto .NET User Group on "What's New in C# 6.0".
The next release of Visual Studio includes some major language enhancements that every developer should be aware of. Get up to speed on forthcoming enhancements quickly with this user group meeting from Microsoft MVP and language guru Kathleen Dollard.
Join us at 6pm at the Pickering Central Library! Please register at the Meetup page. See you there!
Wednesday, 24 December 2014
In my Pluralsight course, Using StackOverflow and Other StackExchange Sites, I cover all the things you really need to know to use the sites effectively and get answers to your questions, or a chance to show your skills. In the last module I explain how to help run the sites yourself, and I suppose you don't actually need to know that to use them - but knowing how they're run can help you understand what happens and why, so I included that material. I didn't include things that are really just for fun.
Right now, Winter Bash is on and it's just for fun. I made a quick video to show what it's about - take a look and let me know what you think. I hope to keep adding more "almost-great" items throughout next year.
Friday, 26 September 2014
One of the things I have to do a lot is send people a biography. Sometimes it's for a conference session, other times an interview, or for the "our team" section of a proposal I'm joining, and so on. You have to keep these things up to date, dropping old stuff and adding new, and nobody actually enjoys spending that time.
I've had a written bio to use for these purposes for decades, and over that time, the reasons for using a bio have changed. In the past it would typically be used in written material, and often for business purposes with large, conservative, staid organizations - governments, enterprises, that sort of thing. So even though I keep it up to date with what I'm doing, it has a really formal tone that's a bit old fashioned:
Kate Gregory is a C++ expert who has been using C++ since before Microsoft had a C++ compiler, an early adopter of many software technologies and tools, and a well-connected member of the software development community. She has over three decades of software development experience in a variety of programming languages including Fortran, PL/I, C++, Java, Visual Basic, and C#. Her recent programming work is almost exclusively in native C++ and C#, on a variety of projects, for both Enterprise and ISV clients. Since January 2002 she has been Microsoft Regional Director for Toronto and since January 2004 she has been awarded the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional designation for Visual C++. In June 2005 she won the Regional Director of the year award, and she was one of the C++ MVPs of the year for 2010. She maintains strong relationships with the C++, Visual Studio, and Windows teams in Redmond.
Kate is the author of over a dozen books, mostly on C++ programming: the latest, on massively parallel programming with C++ AMP, was published in fall 2012 by Microsoft Press. She teaches .NET, Visual Studio, and C++ (including online courses for Pluralsight) and is in demand as an expert speaker, with numerous cross-Canada tours for Microsoft Canada, and sessions at DevDays, DevTeach, TechEd (USA, Europe, Africa) and DevIntersection, among others. In 2014 she was Open Content Chair for CppCon, the largest C++ conference ever held, where she also delivered sessions. Kate is the founder of the East of Toronto .NET Users group and a member of adjunct faculty at Trent University in Peterborough. Her firm, Gregory Consulting Limited, is based in rural Ontario and helps clients adopt new technologies and adjust to the changing business environment. Current work makes heavy use of .NET and Visual C++ for both web and client development, especially for Windows 7 and 8. Managing, mentoring, technical writing, and technical speaking occupy much of her time, but she still writes code every week.
I've been meaning to do something about that for ages and I finally have! I've written a shorter, more informal introduction that focuses on what I think is important about who I am, instead of trying to get you to figure it out from a bunch of facts about me:
Kate Gregory has been using C++ since before Microsoft had a C++ compiler, and has been paid to program since 1979. She loves C++ and believes that software should make our lives easier. That includes making the lives of developers easier! She'll stay up late arguing about deterministic destruction or how C++ 11 is not the C++ you remember.
Kate runs a small consulting firm in rural Ontario and provides mentoring and management consultant services, as well as writing code every week. She has spoken all over the world, written over a dozen books, and helped thousands of developers to be better at what they do. Kate is a Microsoft Regional Director, and a Visual C++ MVP, an Imagine Cup judge and mentor, and an active contributor to StackOverflow and other StackExchange sites. She develops courses for Pluralsight, primarily on C++ and Visual Studio. In 2014 she was Open Content Chair for CppCon, the largest C++ conference ever held, where she also delivered sessions.
What do you think? Better?
Tuesday, 12 August 2014
Earlier this year I flew to Utah for the Pluralsight Author Summit. Spending time with such a great collection of my friends and colleagues, and learning more about how to make a great course, was the real reason for the trip, but I got up early one morning to record a Play by Play video with Geoffrey Grosenbach. He has a genuine skill of getting you to demonstrate your own thought processes aloud and I've enjoyed watching other people's Play by Play sessions a lot.
Geoffrey had arranged for some ancient C++ code for me to poke around in. Mike Woodring came through with the sample code from his 1997 book with Aaron Cohen, WIN32 Multithreaded Programming. Seventeen-year old code it may have been, but it turned out not to be quite as ugly as I would have liked. Still, we put it through its paces a little and talked about how I approach this sort of task.
It came out to about 90 minutes overall so if you have a chance to watch it, let me know what you thought!
Sunday, 03 August 2014
How fun is this going to be? (A lot!)
I'm going to speak at this next February! One of my big deciding factors was the other speakers. Erik Meijer, Greg Young, Michael Feathers, me, and one speaker still to be named. It's a small gathering to talk about software engineering. I'm still working on precisely what my two talks will cover, but expect it to include C++, legacy code, best practices, being "modern" in your C++, and related topics. Two days of intensive geekery wrapped around two days visiting the Bahamas! Space is still available so why not consider it? Brought to you by the Code on the Beach people, so you know they know how to do this.
Wednesday, 30 April 2014
Do you think Agile and Enterprise can go together? Are you a senior .NET developer who is looking to lead? If so, a client of mine is looking for you. Their job description includes:
We’ll look to you as a team leader who embraces a solid leadership capacity that has truly valuable impact on our team. In this senior role, you will participate in all aspects of the software development lifecycle including planning, technical design and architecture, construction, documentation, testing and deployment. Additionally, you’ll have a big picture view and the opportunity to play a role in the design.
and they're expecting:
- Proven and deep experience with different versions of .NET Framework and C#/ASP.NET development
- Demonstrable experience working on N-tier architectures
- Solid understanding of the full development life-cycle
- Knowledge and experience with Agile development methodologies (e.g. XP, Scrum)
- Champion of agile engineering practices (e.g. TDD, continuous integration, refactoring etc)
- Good understanding of design patterns and their application
- Experienced unit testing frameworks
- Computer Science (or related) degree
- Knowledge of/experience with Sitecore is an asset
- Knowledge of/experience with Ektron is an asset
- Knowledge of/experience with Sharepoint is an asset
Sounds like you? Then get in touch with me and I'll make an introduction.
Monday, 17 March 2014
Office Lens went live in the Windows Phone Store today. I happened to have a list of things to do on a whiteboard in my office, so I gave it a try. I had already taken a picture of the whiteboard to transcribe but I went back to the board with the app installed to see if I could save some time.
Here's the picture Office Lens took (resized to 400 pixels wide)
Here's how that looked when Office Lens cleaned it up and put it in a OneNote document for me (I copied the picture out of OneNote, cropped it and resized it):
Much nicer - the glare spots are gone and the background is cleaner. The skew that resulted from taking the picture on an angle (a defensive action to keep the glare out of the important parts of the image) is also gone. As is, this can go into an email. If my handwriting was neater, One Note could have tried to extract the text from it. But this is a lovely improvement and Office Lens is free, so why not give it a try?
Friday, 07 March 2014
Over the years I've used a lot of tools to get screenshots. My old standby is Paint Shop Pro (copyright 1991-1997 it says on the splash screen, and I recall I deliberately didn't stick with an upgrade that introduced complicated stuff I didn't want, like layers.) I like it because I can set up a time delay for a shot which lets me get tooltips and the like ready when the capture happens.
Alas, on this Windows 8 machine with a second screen, something confuses Paint Shop and it doesn't capture the whole screen. I experimented a bit with the Snipping Tool that comes with Windows, but it doesn't have a time delay or a keystroke, so I can't get tooltips, context menus, or anything else that requires me to interact with the app before the shot.
I got desparate and started using the PrtScrn button on my keyboard. Your keyboard probably has one. I often type Shirt-PrtScrn but I just checked and the Shift is unnecessary. This captures the whole screen (or both if you have two) and puts it in the clipboard buffer. From there I can paste into whatever I edit images with (usually Paint Shop to be honest) and then crop to the part I want.
So far this is boring. I mean really, this is what you could have done TWENTY YEARS ago. And it's been fine for me except that cropping part. But yesterday I learned about Alt PrtScrn. It gets you just the current window! And if you let go of Alt before Prt Scrn, the alt is not passed along to the underlying app either. This is going to save me some seriously annoying cropping.
Sunday, 23 February 2014
I was invited to speak to some Imagine Cup contestants in Calgary and delighted to accept. I spoke to the teams informally for quite a while about judging and judges and general team tips. I was really happy to see some teams from previous years so I could hear what happened after they entered. If you're a student (undergrad or grad) and would like to enter, there is theoretically still time, but realistically it would have been better to start several months ago since you do have to build working software. Why not take a look at the contest (there are over a million dollars in prizes, and you can get a cool trip somewhere and meet some industry high flyers) and start pulling together a team for next year? There's a pretty good introduction for Canadians on the Microsoft Canada blog.
For those of you who were at the sessions, here are the slides I used in the afternoon. I talked about the new C++ features and why they matter, and demoed C++ AMP as a great motivator for using C++. (I wanted to upload the pptx files, but they're too big for the blog, so I've exported PDFs.)
GregoryCppAMP.pdf (1.65 MB)
Cpp11and14.pdf (556.51 KB)
Thursday, 28 November 2013
In a word, it was exhausting. But it was also cool from a technical point of view. Here's a still of us I grabbed from the video recording:
The screens in front of us are touch screens. I forgot how much fun it is to demo Hilo on a touch screen. Here's how it looked from my side (sorry about the lunch mess):
And a better view of all three cameras:
You can see that part of my job was to imagine people who wanted to learn C++ on the other side of those cameras. And finally, here's James hard at work getting something onto the demo machine:
I believe this picture immortalizes the moment he tweets about here:
Great day and good fun. Hope everyone learned a lot!
Wednesday, 06 November 2013
If you know someone who wants to get started using C++, and has done at least a tiny speck of programming in other languages (so I don't have to explain what a loop is) then you might want to point them at this free online event:
C++: A General Purpose Language and Library
Attention developers: here’s a painless way to learn the basics of C++ from the ground up, whether you’re updating legacy code or writing brand new, efficient, and high-performance code for new platforms like phones and want to take advantage of C++. You’ll learn the fundamentals of the C++ language, how to use the language and its Standard Library effectively, and how to use the Visual Studio environment for developing C++, including debugging, exploring code, and understanding error messages. This is your starting point for building software in C++.
James McNellis (of the Visual C++ team) and I will spend the day walking through the fundamentals of the language and the Standard Library. We're going to have a great time. Please send us some beginners to keep us company!
Tuesday, 01 October 2013
I am months behind. I will post some of the stuff I've been meaning to post, but later. Right now I need to make new entries so people can get current information. Remember, never blog about why you're not blogging. Just blog.
Wednesday, 03 April 2013
As it says on the Bristol GGD website:
Our April dinner is being held on Thursday 11th in conjunction with the ACCU 2013 conference.
The event starts at 7pm for 7.30pm, at the Bristol Marriott Hotel City Centre. A few female IT professionals will talk briefly about themselves and their jobs. There will then be time for discussion and networking.
Read more and register http://girlgeeksataccu2013.eventbrite.co.uk/
I can't wait! I'm delighted to be one of the speakers and I'm looking forward to meeting lots of new people.
All are welcome, whether attending ACCU or not. Men are welcome at all GGD but are asked to come in the company of a woman so that women can experience being the majority.
Sunday, 27 January 2013
I write a lot in Microsoft Word. A Lot. And much of it is for my own purposes - say a list of things I need to keep track of, or a summary of my meeting notes. I use the Ctrl-F command to bring up the navigation pane, and I click the leftmost tab on that pane to show an outline view instead of the Find dialog:
Right away you can see something useful going on here. The Four section is highlighted yellowy-orange because that's where the cursor is. If I add sub-sections, the outline gets even more useful:
I guess you knew that you could click a heading in that navigation view and the cursor would scroll there. That's mostly what I use it for. But there are some documents that I have in a two column view, so that I can fit more short lines onto a page. (It's a perfect approach for lists that are slightly more complicated than a to-do list, for example.) This two column layout makes it really hard to select one section with the mouse and move it around, especially if it's a section that crosses the column break.
Or imagine a really long document where each of these sections is about 20 pages long, and you want to move "Possible Risks" before "Motivations for the Schedule". You could click at one place, page down a lot, and shift click, but it's awkward. I just learned I can drag and drop sections in the navigation pane! That's right, click on the Two in the nav pane, drag it a little and watch for the black horizontal line:
When you let go, the section has moved (and the whole section is selected):
This saves me so much time and frustration, I just had to share it. Maybe your client apps can offer some truly delightful drag and drop too?
Friday, 04 January 2013
Over the last few weeks, I've been accumulating links to appearances of mine, and it seems like a good idea to share these.
- OReilly webcast: This is a reasonably horrible recording (sound quality and video size) of a webcast I did back in August. It shows why C++ AMP is so cool and why you might care about it. I recorded it to promote the book but I'm not very happy with how it turned out. You'll probably do better with the recording of my Tech Ed talk.
- Pluralsight interview: This is specifically about my Using Visual Studio 2012 course. You can download the audio or read the transcript as you prefer. My favourite quote from the conversation:
It’s not just like, oh, I saved five seconds. I can go home five seconds earlier today. It’s that you’re less likely to forget what you were doing because you don’t have to put so much time into the mechanics and you just stay in flow. And to me, that’s a ramping up of two or three times the amount of code I can produce when I use everything the tool has to offer.
- Dot Net Rocks panel at DevIntersection: Here Scott Allen, Michele Leroux Bustamante, Woody Pewitt, and I discuss whatever we feel like, with occasional leading questions from Carl and Richard, and some Canadian whisky too.
Even though I haven't been blogging much, I have been doing a lot, and I hope these links will help you to discover some of it.
Tuesday, 20 November 2012
While I was in Nashville as part of the Dot Net Rocks Roadtrip, we recorded an episode of The Tablet Show. The recording is online now and I'll have to give it a listen myself to remember what we talked about - Hilo, for sure, and C++ AMP, and just generally why C++ can be a great choice for tablet development.
Saturday, 03 November 2012
Day 4 was the first time I started to experience what some others had been complaining about with not being able to get into the room for a popular talk. I guess I'll just have to watch the recording.
I remembered to take some pictures of the signage that directed us around to help cope with being in two different buildings plus the tents:
And the map on the ground outside the building:
There were also people holding giant arrows to point attendees towards lunch or shuttles or whatever. It would have been extra-ordinarily difficult to get lost. Herb's session Friday
was everything it had promised to be. I just love the idea of http://isocpp.org/
and I intend to make good use of it when people ask me "getting started" questions.
Finally I had to accept it was ending. They were even tearing the tent down already:
I used the airport WiFi to download sessions to watch on the way home. Good week, Microsoft!
Friday, 02 November 2012
One of the stickers for the badge this year was to attend an 8:30 session. I achieved that by going to Alive with activity: Tiles, notifications, and background tasks which, to be honest, I chose as much to see what Kraig Brockschmidt is doing lately as to learn about tiles and toast. But I'm glad I went, because it was a very good talk.
I've come to Redmond so many times, but I never particularly noticed the colours changing. This week they've been spectacular. I had some meetings in other buildings so I was able to get out of the giant lines at least long enough to take pictures of the giant lines
And yes, it rained, but they were ready for that:
I really like the vibe that came from being on campus. Speakers tended to get up from their desks, jump on a shuttle or walk over, pull on the shirt and talk to us. I really got the sense we were being welcomed into their home.
I also went to Tips for building a Windows Store app using XAML and C++: The Hilo project
- how could I not, since I was on the project. Excellent summary of some hard-learned lessons and one you should totally download and watch.
Wednesday, 17 October 2012
Here's an amazing grand finale to the Dot Net Rocks Roadtrip this year -a full on developer conference in Las Vegas, Dec 9th - 12th.
I love this answer to "What is DevIntersection?"
This three-day conference marks the final stop on the USA leg of the .NET Rocks! Visual Studio 2012 Launch Road Trip! DevIntersection is a developer conference PLUS the recording venue for the last stop of the three-month road trip hosted by Richard Campbell and Carl Franklin. We're bringing together some of the best speakers (and our personal friends) for a conference that is relaxed and educational, plus forward looking as you and your company start to figure out what to do with Windows 8 and Visual Studio for the next few years. Our attendees tend to be .NET software developers plus other members of their teams. DevIntersection is an educational onsite conference for anyone who is attached to a .NET development programming project who is looking to use Visual Studio to develop apps for desktop, web and mobile platfoms.
I have two breakout sessions - one on C++ AMP and one on developing for the Windows Store in C++. No .NET in either one of them; this is a conference for expanding your horizons, after all.
For $1595 you get three full days of sessions. And if you register in October (hurry!) you will also get a new tablet. Build sold out in hours, so this is your chance to get access to deep and current information for developers across the Microsoft ecosystem. See you there!
Tuesday, 16 October 2012
I love writing courses for Pluralsight. I can reach a lot of people and I know the production quality will be top notch. My most recent course is Introduction to Visual Studio 2012 Part 1. It's aimed at people who've never used Visual Studio before, but even a seasoned user will learn something from it - just use the cool speedup feature to zip through things that are already familiar, like the difference between a project and a solution. I cover some very nice productivity features and there's sure to be something in there that's new to you.
Another recent Pluralsight development is that the MSDN Subscriber benefit has expanded to cover MSDN subscribers worldwide, not just in the US, and five more courses were added. If you have an MSDN subscription, you can watch all these courses free:
- Agile Team Practices with Scrum
- ALM for Developers with Visual Studio 2012
- ALM with Team Foundation Server 2010
- ALM with TFS 2012 Fundamentals
- Building Windows 8 Metro Apps with C# and XAML
- Building Windows 8 Metro Apps with C++ and XAML
- C# Fundamentals - Part 1
- C++ Fundamentals
- Continuous Integration
- Developing for Windows 7
- Introduction to .NET Debugging using Visual Studio 2010
- Introduction to Building Windows 8 Applications
- Introduction to Visual Studio 2010 - Part 1
- Introduction to Visual Studio 2010 - Part 2
- Introduction to Visual Studio 2012 - Part 1
- Introduction to Windows 7 Development
- Kanban Fundamentals
- Microsoft Fakes Fundamentals
- Solution Modeling with UML in Visual Studio 2010
- Test First Development - Part 1
- Test First Development - Part 2
- Web Application Performance and Scalability Testing
- Windows Azure Diagnostics
- Windows Phone 7 Basics
The bolded ones are mine. Here's how to sign up - do it by Dec 11th 2012 - and get your one year free access to all these great courses!
Monday, 15 October 2012
Hilo is a reference project written in C++/CX for Windows 8 by the Patterns and Practices team. I was delighted to be part of this project and think it turned out very well. I use the Hilo codebase to remind myself how to do certain things when writing a Windows Store app in C++ (something I'm in the middle of doing for another project.) The accompanying document is rich in best practices for Windows 8 development, async work, modern C++, unit testing, and more. Now the latest version has been released, updated for Windows 8 RTM.
Hilo itself is a photo viewer. Before you roll your eyes, bear with me. I actually think it's better than the one that ships with Windows 8. It shows you some of your pictures as a sort of overview:
Click on one to interact with it. You can right-click to bring up both the app bar at the bottom and a nice strip-navigation control at the top:
If you want to see something cool, use Cartoon Effect. This leverages C++ AMP to cartoonize the picture. I've shopped this image a little to reduce the width (pulled the appbar in from the edges) but the cartoon work was done by Hilo - and super quickly.
If you have any thoughts of writing Windows Store apps, and C++ is a possibility for you, get over to Codeplex, download the Hilo code and the .chm file, and get reading!
Friday, 28 September 2012
I’ve been writing a book, though I swore I wouldn’t write any more books, and it’s finally done! You can buy a Kindle version from Amazon or an e-book directly from O’Reilly today. The paper copies will be ready in about a week and you can order them from O’Reilly or Amazon. The book is published by Microsoft Press, but O’Reilly handles the actual production of the books.
I’ve got a page dedicated to the book
with links for you to buy it, get the code, submit errata, and whatever else you might want. (If you think something’s missing, comment here and I’ll try to take care of it.)
Thursday, 27 September 2012
ago or so, when Visual Studio 2010 launched, the crazy duo of Richard Campbell
and Carl Franklin – if you’re a Dot Net Rocks listener, they’re the voices in
your head – took their show on the road and drove an RV across the USA holding
live Dot Net Rocks evenings pretty much every night for weeks on end. Each city
featured a surprise “rockstar” flown in for the occasion. I did St Louis and
had a great time. Now they’re doing it again and this time announcing us in
advance – I’ll be in Nashville Oct 24th.
Registration is free, and please do register
using the big red Register button for your city (I hope to see you in
Nashville). You can track them online too and follow
the #dnrRoadTrip hashtag on Twitter.
If you’re in
Toronto, don’t miss the October 13th Saturday-a-ganza at the
Microsoft Canada offices featuring Michele Leroux Bustmante! I know I won’t!
Wednesday, 26 September 2012
writing courses for Pluralsight. I have quite a few and am working on more
right now. They like to interview their authors about each course. Here's one about my latest for them. If you’ve
done the whole course you won’t learn anything new from the interview, but if
you’re curious about writing what we’re now calling Windows Store applications
for Windows 8 using C++ and Visual Studio, perhaps this interview will help you
decide whether it’s something you want to learn. There’s a transcript as well
as an audio link.
Tuesday, 25 September 2012
We now have a Windows Phone application in the marketplace. We wrote it for ourselves, to learn the framework and to give us a way to track how we spend our time. The minute we started designing it, we discovered everyone in the company wanted a different way to track. People who do pretty much the same thing all the time (coding, for example) wanted to track project-by-project. People who work on only one project at a time wanted to differentiate between types of work, like meetings or email or writing documents. We decided to make it as simple and flexible as we could. I was inspired by a story of a time tracking technique involving physical objects. You get 5-10 paper cups and write things on the cups like Email, Meetings, and so on. Then you get 32 poker chips, all the same colour. As each 15-minute piece of time goes by, you toss a chip into the cup. It is supposed to help you understand that you very literally “spend” your time. And at the end of the day you can look in the cups and see where your day went.
like to track your time like this – hit the + button to toss a “15 minute”
square into a particular “bucket” or just hit the falling drops button to
accumulate time in one bucket until you change tasks – please try our app and
let me know how it works for you.
Monday, 02 July 2012
I'm headed to Australia tomorrow (I won't get there till Thursday though) and I'm going to be doing some C++ talks while I'm there. Both are aimed at folks who haven't been keeping up to date on all that's been happening in the world of C++ over the last few years.
On Tuesday, July 10th, I'll do a free Tech Breakfast on the new features of the C++ language in the standard once called C++0x and now called C++ 11. I'll demonstrate how a lot of these features are already in Visual Studio 2010 and some in Visual Studio 2012. It runs from 9am to 11 am in Sydney, and you do need to pre-register.
Then all day Wednesday, July 11th, I'll do a course on modern C++ development with Visual Studio 2010 and 2012. I'll cover language changes, tool changes, drill into my favourite feature - lambdas - and show some of the cool things they enable, and give you some advice on best practices for writing C++ today. This course costs $300 Australian and will be held in Sydney just once.
I realize many people who read my blog don't need to come and learn this material. But perhaps you know someone who does? There is room in both sessions for more people - and I want to reach as many people as possible, so please spread the word! Registration links for both session are on the SSW page announcing them
Tuesday, 26 June 2012
As I am soon to discover first-hand, Australia is a very long way from North America. So when Adam Cogan makes the trip, he often extends his stay to see more people or places. Last September when we all gathered for //build/, Adam tacked a mini Canada tour onto his North American stay and we got together for a quick chat near my home. Part of it was filmed and (after a long delay to cope with the sound issues) is now available
on the SSW TV site.
We talk about C++ and why it has advantages over managed code in some cases, about C++ AMP, and about tablets, leading to this moment:
It's just a 7 minute video, so give it a listen!
Thursday, 31 May 2012
Recently one of my staff went to a week-long conference - her first. I gave her some tips before she went and it occurred to me that others might like them too. I hope you'll apply them to a trip to Tech Ed or some other conference where you can hear me speak.
First, here are some links to some other good posts on the topic. Here's me a year ago
, pointing to John Bristowe's suggestions for going to a big conference. And here's me 18 months ago
, pointing to Joey deVilla's suggestions for meeting people and talking to them. And here's a great question
(with an answer from me) on Programmers.StackExchange about networking at conferences. (BTW I met the asker of that question in person at Tech Ed, which was great for both of us.) And here's me four years
ago with some details on choosing talks to attend.
Now, here's the super condensed version of my advice:
- Plan your sessions in advance, at least two per timeslot. Carry a paper list of session names and room numbers so if you decide to bail on one, you know exactly where to run to, even if your electronics are out of battery and there's no wifi.
- Wear comfortable shoes and clothes, but not so comfortable that you would feel underdressed when talking to a potential employer or other business contacts. You will walk a LOT so choose those shoes with special care. It will be both stinking hot (outside - many conferences are held in hot places at muggy times) and freezing cold (if you end up right under the AC that is set on stun) so have a layering approach.
- Bring your own bag so you can tell it apart from everyone else's, and know just where to find things you need. Leave as much as you possibly can in the hotel room, to save your back during all that walking and to minimize what you might lose if there's any kind of bag mishap.
- Eat at the conference - it's a great time to meet people and this is where I usually bump into people I know.
- Go to the trade show floor, the community area, and the like multiple times. Serendipity will happen but you have to give it a chance
- Pack a somewhat larger bag than you need to - there is a lot of swag at Tech Ed and first timers can't resist lining up for TShirts and the like. Don't be that person who stuffs it all in the conference bag and checks a second bag on the way home. For one thing, someone may accidentally pick up your conference bag thinking it is theirs. Your conference bag and all your other swag should fit in your main bag.
- Pack your days and evenings FULL. Don't you dare watch TV in your hotel room! Go to the labs and try something you always wanted to learn a little more about. Download something that was just released and try it. Go to a party. Write up your notes (or better yet, blog them.) Send your boss late night emails about what a great time you're having and how much you're learning. Watch one of the sessions you didn't get to that day and then figure out if the speaker is likely still at the conference and how you can arrange to find that speaker and say thanks for the talk or ask a question. Fill out the evals for the talks you went to. There is SO MUCH you can do while you're on site, so try very hard to do it all. Make the most of the week, make it intense, and you will get more out of it by fully engaging.
- Try to do at least a few hours of sightseeing - one afternoon or evening - with some friends if you can. Maybe the attendee party is being held in some iconic location? Go to that. Or there's a restaurant in the town that you've always wanted to eat at? Gather a few folks and arrange something. Twitter is great with the conference hashtag - "who wants to go to XYZ tonight?" - I've done this for going on tours too. Gives you fellow geeks to talk to while you sightsee and strengthens friendships if you go with people you only know professionally. But don't overdo the sightseeing - you're here for the conference, remember.
I hope I see you there! The better prepared you are, the more benefit you will get from the conference!
Monday, 28 May 2012
I am having a very lucky year. I've been nominated and accepted as a judge
at the Worldwide finals of the Imagine Cup. I love being around students, and everything I've heard about Imagine Cup tells me that the energy, excitement, and creativity is marvelous to be part of. While I'm there, I decided to stay an extra day (July 11th) so I can offer my one-day C++ training to those who can't make it to Tech Ed in Orlando or Amsterdam. Here's what I'll cover:
- Modern C++ with the Standard Library
- Application Lifecycle Management for Visual C++ 11
- Leveraging Lambdas for the PPL and C++ AMP
- Best practices for C++ developers today
This is not a free session, but the price is even lower than the Tech Ed precons since I don't have travel expenses to get down there and see you all. If you live in Australia, please register and take advantage of this chance to come and learn what's been going on with C++ while you weren't looking! And if you don't, I'd appreciate it if you could spread the word to those who do.
Thursday, 10 May 2012
So much C++ news going on lately. Time to clear my queue:
- I updated my C++ Windows 8 Development course for the Consumer Preview of Windows 8. There were a few breaking changes, so if you're working on a Windows 8 app, take a look through it.
- I'm part of a group working on a Windows 8 app in C++ and XAML called Hilo, inspired by the Windows 7 Hilo application. You can read more about it on Scott Densmore's blog, the Parallel Programming in Native Code blog, and the Codeplex site. There's another related blog entry, too.
- There are Windows 8 development camps going on all over the place, but most of them are in managed code. There's a native C++ one happening in Redmond on May 18th, and it's going to be live streamed.
- Don't forget my Advanced Topics in C++ course. I did an interview about it recently.
- Then there's C++ AMP - the topic of the book I'm spending all my time writing. They're hiring. This is a great opportunity for the right developer.
- Oh, and James McNellis spent the last however-many-months answering the question "hey, if native WinRT has all this metadata about types, could you leverage that to implement reflection for native code?" Which for some people was a rhetorical question or interesting thing to muse about, but he went and did it. Incredibly cool.
It's hard to keep up with it all! Especially when I'm on a book deadline
Saturday, 14 April 2012
Like a lot of folks on Twitter, I have a search column open that notices mentions of my name. It mostly catches spammers linking to places my books can be downloaded for free. But lately, there's been something weird:
Here's how that tweet looked originally (about two weeks earlier):
So the strange spam tweets:
- Have one letter randomly removed
- Have two letters randomly substituted
- Lost the + in C++ and replaced with spaces (common when being passed through a URL)
- Are using the exact same URL as before, so this isn't some weird attempt to be paid for clicks
- Have usernames that appear to be random strings
So there's something going on here, something spammy, but I don't see how they benefit. Is it to dilute an otherwise all-spam stream with some "useful" links? Should I report them to Twitter? If anyone knows, please clue me in.
Monday, 26 March 2012
How's this for a renaissance? People are starting C++ user groups!
- The Jerusalem .NET/C++ User Group will cover both topics. They've had their first meeting already.
- The Central Ohio C++ User Group has also had its first meeting and will meet monthly.
- In Austin Texas they're calling it the C++ Meetup and the description sounds a lot like a user group
- The Belgian C++ User Group has its first meeting in April
It's so much fun to see this excitement springing up. There seem to be two popular topics for first meetings: either "What's new in C++ 11" or "Writing Windows 8 Apps". I think these two things arriving together - the huge language and library improvements (and the unexpected synergy of the language changes and the library changes) with the chance to write for Windows 8 in C++and XAML - is producing much more interest than there used to be.
And now the fun is spreading to Toronto! No, I'm not founding the group - I'm surely not the only C++ developer in Toronto after all. But I am honoured to be speaking at the first event on April 17th right downtown (pretty much Yonge and Bloor.) I'd love to dive deep into C++ AMP, or show how the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 is easier to code for, but I think I should begin at the beginning, so my talk is titled What happened in C++ 11 and why do I care? and has this abstract:
C++, both the language and the libraries that come with every compiler, is
defined by an ISO standard. The latest version of the standard, generally known
as C++ 11 after its approval last fall, was optimistically called C++0x
throughout the multi-year process that led to its adoption. Many of the language
changes (new keywords, new punctuation, new rules) and library changes
(genuinely smart pointers, threading, and more) have already been implemented by
vendors who were following the standards process closely.
In this session
Kate will introduce and demonstrate many of the highlights of C++11 including
lambdas, auto, shared_ptr, and unique_ptr. These are all supported in
Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2010. You can see how to make your code more readable
and expressive, easier to update, more correct (less bugs and memory leaks) and
faster, not by trading off among those possible constraints but by adopting
modern C++ which gives you improvements in all four areas at once. If you’ve
been ignoring the Standard Library, for example, you must see how lambdas make
all the difference and open a world of productivity to you.
A sneak peek of the next version of
Visual Studio will show you even more C++11 goodness.
If you've looked at my Pluralsight courses
, you'll know that my biggest challenge is going to be fitting this into an hour plus Q&A. This will be an overview, an overture if you like, and should whet your appetite for the meetings to come!
as soon as you can, please spread the word, and I hope to see you there!
Thursday, 22 March 2012
A mentoring client of mine needs someone to take on a specific project that should be about 500 hours of work. That fits nicely into a summer, and the work would be suitable for a student or a junior programmer. Here's the job description we wrote up (the mentor is me by the way):
- Familiarity with one or more programming
languages and IDEs
- Careful attention to detail, especially for
visual design (form layouts and alignments, fonts etc)
- Willingness to learn a large and complex project
- Time management skills including estimating and
reporting effort and time for tasks and projects
Nice to have:
- .NET programming experience and familiarity with
- Experience developing a Windows Forms
- Background in software testing or user support
The job offers:
- Work onsite in Peterborough
- 40 hours a week as soon as the student’s
schedule will allow
- Important work improving a product that is
mission-critical to real customers
- Specific project to be tackled and completed;
more will likely follow if this one goes well
- Training on the tools to be used and the tasks to be done
- Regular access to a world expert mentor in
- Pleasant working environment with nice
coworkers, relaxed dress code, and an open office
It's worth mentioning that there is no C++ involved in this at all. So don't hold back if you don't have it, and don't rush to apply thinking it's a C++ job, because it's not. If you're interested, email me directly (please don't just comment here or tweet me or the like) and
I will pass along your resume and contact details. I may have another client
looking for someone soon as well, with similar requirements, so let me know if I can hang on to your info and pass it along twice.
Wednesday, 14 March 2012
People keep on releasing interviews with me. If you're willing to listen to them, I'm more than willing to keep on talking. There's remarkably little overlap in all of these.
On The Tablet Show
, Richard and Carl (yes, that
Richard and Carl) asked me about C++ in this wacky new world of Windows 8. We had the usual freewheeling conversation and covered a lot of ground in 49 minutes.
For PluralSight, Fritz
asked me questions about my latest course, and the industry in general. This one's just ten minutes, and there's a transcript if you'd rather read than listen.
Saturday, 10 March 2012
I've been working on another C++ course for Pluralsight to complement the C++ WinRT/Windows 8/Metro course I did as well as the two-part C++ Fundamentals course (part 1, part 2). It's finished and live!
The topics I cover are:
- Avoid Manual Memory Management
- Use Lambdas
- Use Standard Containers
- Use Standard Algorithms
- Embrace Move Semantics
- Follow Style Rules
- Consider the PImpl Idiom
- Stop Writing C With Classes
I had a real blast writing this - while I was editing it I could hear my own enjoyment of parts of it. I hope you enjoy it too. A Pluralsight subscription is such a bargain - buy one for the topics you simply MUST learn for work, then use it on your own time to learn all those other things that you think you might benefit from. (I recommend Annual Plus - $500 gets you the sample code and offline viewing, all you can learn for a year.) Whether C++ is "must learn for work" or "I hear it's different know, wonder if it could help me" for you, I hope you find it helpful. Please let me know!
Sunday, 19 February 2012
Do you know how to get a command prompt and have its "current directory" be a specific directory in which you want to do some work? Sure you do. In fact, I bet you know at least three ways.
First, the how-hard-can-I-make-this way: Click Start, and mouse around until you see Command Prompt. Click that. Change drives if need be (by typing D: or E: or whatever) and then change directories with the CD command a lot.
Did you know that pressing Tab will autocomplete file and folder names? It even puts the quotes in there for you, since spaces are interpreted as "this is the end of the file and here are some other parameters". But as I said, that's the slow way.
A lot of times, I have a Windows Explorer open to the very folder where I would like the command prompt. I've looked at the files and I know I want to install a service or register a DLL or run an exe or something. Here are some ways to get to that command prompt more quickly in those cases.
First, get yourself a command prompt, and get on the right drive (eg D:). Then, type "cd " in the command prompt, and click on the Windows Explorer address bar so it becomes plain text. Copy the text with Ctrl+C, and then in the command prompt, bring up the system menu, choose Edit, and then Paste:
This is really the long way though. First, you can do a cool drag and drop trick. In the command prompt, get on the right drive and type "cd " , but then in the Windows Explorer click the folder image next to the path, and drag that into the command prompt window:
Not bad, but try this. Close that command prompt, and shift-right-click in the background of the Windows Explorer folder:
That's quicker, right? Sure it is. But two issues - first, a shift right click followed by mousing down and clicking does take a little dexterity. And second, what if I wanted a certain kind of command prompt - say a Visual Studio Command Prompt? Well, that's where we take a turn into stuff I didn't know until just a few days ago.
Go back to that Windows Explorer, click as though you were going to overtype the address in the address bar (you did know you could do that, right?) and type cmd, then press enter:
It even changes drives (to D:) if you need to. Wow! Now, what else can you type there? Well, I've tried notepad foo.txt, for example, and it creates a file in that folder for me and opens in it notepad. Do you know how many times I've done right-click, New, Text File, type the new name, enter to accept that, enter to edit it? This is way quicker. (It doesn't seem to worker for newfangled apps like WinWord, unfortunately.) Or, how about this:
You need the pairs of double quotes at beginning and end - you might have this string in a handy text file on your desktop, or you might move that batch file to somewhere with a shorter path. Because that particular string gives you a "Visual Studio Command Prompt" in the folder - perfect for installing services and whatnot.
Just goes to show you, there's always something new to learn. I use the cmd trick almost every day. And my thanks to whoever coded that, whether it was 20 years ago or more recently.
Tuesday, 07 February 2012
The minute this was announced, I knew I had to go.
Two days of "C++ today and tomorrow" with the bright lights of C++ today? Just try and keep me away! I'm so glad I was there - it was AMAZING and FANTASTIC and just generally wonderful. For me, personally, seeing so many old friends was a big part of it. The C++ team, other C++ MVPs, people I went to university with, and so on. It was also wonderful to see so many young people - including speakers, but also attendees, who were clearly in their 20s (and a few who were obviously in their teens.) After Chandler's talk I told someone "we can retire now: the future of C++ is in good hands." The speakers were not "the usual suspects" at a Microsoft event either. At a panel at the end of the second day, someone asked about C++ and the cloud and one of the answers was to indicate three speakers sitting next to each other: "Microsoft guy, Facebook guy, Google guy. Where isn't C++ in the cloud?" While that was a great cloud answer, I think it also highlights how inclusive this was - it was a C++ conference held at Microsoft, not a Microsoft conference.
Some fun quotes I happened to write down:
- “if it’s that ugly, it must be good” - Bjarne, on why some newbies imitate horrible code written long ago by their heroes
- “write C-style code, expect C-style errors” - Bjarne again
- “we know where bugs hide” – Bjarne (they hide in large tracts of complicated code)
- "dot dot dot is where the fun begins" - Andrei
- "real code is not supposed to fit on slides" - Andrei
- "this is legal" - Andrei (we needed to be reassured since it rarely looked legal)
- "if you're using new or delete, you're doing it wrong" - Herb (it's true!)
And Chandler's talk was very much a 2012 talk, with lolcat-like interjections and Simpsons references and even a how-agile-is-this update with a picture of Oscar Wilde in reference to Andrei's earlier off-the-cuff description of some template error messages (aka template barf) as being "a small novel by Oscar Wilde." The humour level was very high, much of it self-deprecating - no-one, not even the coiners of the terms, thinks RAII or SFINAE are great names, but what the heck, they're the names we use.
Even the little things here were so well done. Herb opened the conference by dedicating it to Dennis Ritchie, which I found extraordinarily touching and appropriate. He opened day 2 by celebrating the 20 year anniversary of Microsoft C7 which was C++ 1 for them, with Visual C++ appearing in the next release. There on the podium was the two foot long, 44 pound box, with multicoloured plusses all over it, in which it shipped.
And what was inside? A lot of books, and a lot of 3.5" floppies (I took this picture earlier, before the box headed to campus):
There are 5 or 6 floppies in each bag and apparently each bag had a part number of its own.
This conference was far more than a trip down memory lane, of course. It was a two-day Valentine from Microsoft to the C++ community, a demonstration of the "new growth" in modern C++ and the power and capability that is there for those who are prepared to start using the new features, and a chance for all of us to accelerate the learning we have to do. I so hope you were able to be there, or to catch the energy by watching it live and following tweets from those of us who had to share the bon mots and the fun. But if not, the on-demand videos are almost all there now. Here are the links:
Threads and Shared Variables in C++11
T. Lavavej: STL11 – Magic && Secrets
Variadic Templates are FunadicPanel:
The Importance of Being Native (Bjarne,
Andrei, Herb, Hans)
Herb Sutter: C++11, VC++11 and Beyond
Clang - Defending C++ from Murphy's Million
Alexandrescu: Static If I Had a Hammer
Stroustrup and Andrew Sutton: A Concept Design for C++Panel:
Ask Us Anything! (all
Fair warning: both of Andrei's talks, and the Concepts talk, are hard. This is cool new stuff that we are all learning about. There is no shame in pausing, rewinding, and giving something a second listen. Look, Chandler was running through pitfalls and problems that Clang catches, and showed some code with a problem I couldn't spot. A few minutes later in the Q&A, Bjarne asked him to clarify just what the problem was. Made me feel better!
Chances are you won't be able to watch any of these on fast forward, or skip any of them. So I'm asking you to invest 12 hours of your life to watch all of them. Do it! You won't regret it!
PS: They gave us shirts (it's all about the shirts for developers) with real code on the back and this on the front:
Highly appropriate. Of course, it's not a comeback for those of us who never left. But still...
Monday, 09 January 2012
Yay! Today I got news that registration is open for Tech Ed 2012 in Amsterdam, and with it confirmation that my preconference
has been accepted! This is great news for anyone who loves C++, because it's a C++ all day preconference! The title is C++
in 2012: Modern, Readable, Safe, Fast
and here's the abstract:
is gaining momentum as a development language, so whether you’ve never used C++
or stopped using it a decade ago, it may be time to brush up on your skills.
With a new standard release providing new keywords and capabilities, C++ is a
featured language for many of the new Microsoft technologies and enables
some amazing speed-ups of your application using libraries like PPL and C++
AMP. What’s more, Visual Studio offers tools to native developers that have
only been available for managed developers in earlier versions. This all-day
session will show you what all the fuss is about and give you the skills you
need to understand the advantages of C++ today and how to start applying those
benefits to your application.
Now, if you're an experienced and current C++ developer, you may not need to come to this session. But if you were thinking you needed a refresher, here's a great way to get one, and at the same time look at some of the cool new stuff that is available to you once you know C++. If you've never written a line of C++ code in your life, but you're solid in C# or Java so you know the basic syntax (if, while, etc) you should be able to follow this session, though it won't teach you all the fiddly bits of C++ syntax and make you a C++ developer from scratch. It should, however, give you the inspiration you might need to go and learn all that fiddly syntax, and understand why we have it. I am also hoping there will be a number of relevant breakout sessions you'll want to attend after getting a taste of what C++ developers can do, though we have to wait a little longer to find out about those.
I'm still working on the exact content, but my first draft outline looks something like this:
- Modern C++ with the Standard Library (demo of strings, shared pointers)
- Application Lifecycle Management for Visual C++ 11
- Leveraging Lambdas for the PPL and C++ AMP
practices for C++ developers today
This is 9am - 5pm (all day) the Monday before Tech Ed Europe starts, June 25th. You can register for the precon and Tech Ed now. And tell your friends! I would love to see a TON of registrations to ensure continued C++ content at Tech Eds around the world.
PS: Yes, I know that Tech Ed US is a few weeks before Tech Ed Europe. You didn't miss the US announcement; you shouldn't have to wait much longer for it though.
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
Work is underway on settling the agenda for Tech Ed, even though it's almost 6 months away. As Brandy explained
a week ago or so, it starts with asking "the usual suspects" for session submissions. Tech Ed is a fairly closed conference - the call goes out to MVPs, RDs, some Microsoft employees and previous speakers. (How do you become a new speaker? Do a great job somewhere else first -Tech Ed is not a beginner's conference. The people who get the call for content can propose great speakers who didn't get the call.) Now they've announced the technical tracks
, which gives you an idea of what you can expect to see covered. There are no huge surprises here: I'm most interested in Architecture & Practices, Developer Tools, Languages & Frameworks, Windows Client and Windows Phone.
What will be next? Announcing the precons. They've already announced the price: $400 if you're attending Tech Ed, and $500 if you're not. They'll say what the precon topics are in early January. But by then, the super early bird discount will have expired. That discount will save you $300. So registering now is like paying only $100 for the precon! If you can decide in January or February, when the precons are announced, you'll still save $200, so it's like your precon is half price. Either way, it's a great deal for a full day of deep training on something relevant to the kind of people who come to Tech Ed.
To be clear, I don't know what the precons are going to be. I will blog as soon as I know. But if you think there's a chance that spending a whole day with someone who really knows their stuff on a topic you need to know (especially one you never got around to learning and feel you should) would be worthwhile, then why not make it official, register for Tech Ed
, and see what gets announced in January?
Saturday, 17 December 2011
Pluralsight, for whom I've done a lot of courses
, has revamped their website recently. That includes having drawings or sketches in a lot of places where you might expect photographs. Here's the one they've been using for me, next to the photo it was made from:
I definitely like the sketch better, but lots of people recognize the photo because it's one of the few I use in the various places people want pictures. I also have this one I use on my public Facebook page
I am not sure any of these will help you find me in a crowd. That's one of the reasons that on my business card (and my Twitter profile
) you'll see this one:
More than one person has had an "oh, that's who you are!" moment when I hand them my business card. Yup, that's me!
Saturday, 17 September 2011
Oh my goodness. What a week that was!
Here's how I thought I would do my first summary. Links to videos, discussions of sessions I either went to or tried to go to (more on that in a moment) along with my tweets from the ground, as it were.
My first real tweet Tuesday morning (8:37 California time) was announcing that my PluralSight C++ Fundamentals course had gone live. Then the keynote started. Here are my tweets and retweets along with the time into the keynote I said them:
- 6 minutes: #bldwin totally dominating my stream SS doing a good intro to lean back computing
- 37 minutes: RT @dseven WinRT API'S are natively built into Windows and built to reflect in different languages - C/C++ and .NET. #bldwin
- 42 minutes: Starting at 8PM today, Seattle time, you can download all of the code that attendees at BUILD received. t.co/nuTuwga
- 43 minutes: RT @wkrwk Did anyone notice the UI during the VSE 11 demo is the classic Windows UI? #bldwin
- 48 minutes: #bldwin VS vNext demo is breaking twitter = no hope of following it all
- 50 minutes: RT @andrewbrust Expression Blend is still Grey on Black. It could use a little "fast and fluid," frankly. #bldwin
- 51 minutes: Store menu in VS?? #bldwin #wholenewworld
- 58 minutes: RT @rhundhausen Desktop (#x86) apps can be listed in the #windows8 store as well #bldwin
- 61 minutes: RT @ayus :))) RT @timheuer The Red Shirt is dominant even when not present. #bldwin @scottgu
- 79 minutes, @EdgarSanchez retweeted @rickasaurus asking "I'm interested in hearing more about this new GPU offloading API. Any links? #bldwin" and I answered "Check my blog as the week goes on for GPU stuff"
- 80 minutes: RT @marypcbuk Sinofsky: that gaming PC looks like ice. Angiulo: more like lava, it converts 700w of power to 4.7 teraflops like 3,500 Cray XMPs #bldwinPlatform for Metro style apps
- 87 minutes: RT @Pete_Brown Dude just cracked open a laptop on stage and showed the electronics. Can't beat that #bldwin #geek
- 100 minutes: RT @andrewbrust When will we admit Sinofsky's doing a great job? He's working hard, not just presiding. #bldwin
- 120 minutes: RT @ronnipedersen If you have an iPad, don't watch the build keynote… It'll make you feel like you have bought a C64 #bldwin
- 127 minutes: RT @jonbrasted It is a great day to be a Windows developer. #bldwin #trbbuild
The download surprised me, I didn't think it would be ready for people to try on any old hardware. And the hardware demo was very very good. And sure, I was on instant messenger back to the office saying "it's official" when the rumour was finally confirmed that we were getting tablets. But mostly, I really liked what I saw and wanted to know more, which is what keynotes are all about.
After eating something completely unmemorable, I found my way to the overflow room, always a little more casual and a good place to find "the cool kids". I had already met a number of old friends in the huge keynote session and before it, but here were more. I'll just give you the links to the Big Picture sessions. They are all very good.
- 8 traits of great Metro style apps - a truly excellent session by a presenter who cares deeply about the topic. I tweeted a lot less during this one because it required more active listening.
- Platform for Metro style apps - another very good session during which I just retweeted some other people's "Hey, this stuff is C++" reactions and a link to the session planner app for the phone, which I used heavily.
By this time people were starting to "get it" (including me) and the excitement level was rising. Here's just what I retweeted:
- @coridrew #bldWin is really, really, really making me want to //BUILD/ Windows apps #BestConferenceNameEver #WhoKnew
- @briannoyes Add ref from js project to C++ library - really empasizes this is running native #bldwin
- +@fignewtron iPad limited in many ways to consumption - Windows 8 is production and consumption on many devices. Sales numbers decide winner. #bldwin
- @mcakins Wow, the silence from Apple's camp is deafening! Windows rocks once more! Its 1995 all over again! #bldwin
One more session: Tools for building Metro style apps - I was getting tired at this point. It was a lot to take in. People were lined up the length of the convention centre for tablets. I knew there were enough for all of us, so I went back to my room to edit my pointers module for the PluralSight course so it could "tack on" to the end of the published course. While videos rendered, I had a little back and forth on Twitter with people who had noticed how much fun I was having, and others who were playing with their tablets already. I slipped out to pickup the tablet about 7:30 but didn't open it till the module was done. Then:
- 10:48 pm: got major piece of work done ... yielding to temptation ... tablet here i come #bldwin
- 10:57 pm: How's that for fast setup? Everything's installed.... Trying visual studio next
- 11:11 pm: Just wrote a Win8 C++ app on the tablet with touch keyboard. Built and ran first time. #winning
That's right, I didn't even set up the bluetooth keyboard. People cite Visual Studio as an app you couldn't possibly use with touch. I wouldn't want to do it all day, but I did it! Then I played a bit more.
Day 2 started with another whole keynote
. C++ was front and centre here. Some tweets:
- 17 minutes: RT @seesharp 3D graphics debugging at the pixel level in DirectX. Unreal. #bldwin
- 33 minutes: RT @bgervin killer strategy for MS to help developers make HTML apps for iOS and Android #bldwin
- 34 minutes: RT @tpdorsey RT @EisenbergEffect […] in C++, you can write your own WinRT library, which when built, can be used by C++, C#, VB and JS.
- 34 minutes: RT @jmorrill This new COM and C++ version is not _anything_ like what you think it is. From what I can tell so far...effing amazing!!!!
- 49 minutes: Loved it RT @MichaelDesmond Zander shows off the new image editor in VS11 as he works on a C++ DirectX game.
- 54 minutes: RT @shycohen Moving a VHD while the machine is running is cool. Moving a live VHD is even cooler! :) Will enable amazing things in the future. #bldwin
- 82 minutes: most tattoos ever in an MS keynote
- 95 minutes: RT @seesharp WOAH. Did not expect Steve Ballmer today. Everyone was starting to leave already. Woah! #bldwin
- 97 minutes: RT @carafone 500,000 downloads of #win8 already! #bldwin
- 98 minutes: RT @LACanuck And #Win8 was downloaded 500K times in 12 hrs RT @mashable: RIM Has Sold Just 490,000 PlayBooks - on.mash.to/nEu0dU #bldwin
- 102 minutes: That's what these keynotes were missing! Turns out it's a great time to be a developer. I was worrying, no-one had told me yet #bldwin
- 105 minutes: I've been paid to program since 1979. Keynotes tell me at least once a year it's a great time to be a developer. And they're right. #bldwin
Then it was time for simultaneous breakouts, and that meant choices. You can search the sessions list
as well as I can. The C++ ones
are not to be missed. These are happy people who are delighted to tell us what's been going on, and they're proud of it, too. At 3:13 I tweeted "Went quiet because i am massively engaged with C++ content in packed rooms. Small break between sessions to say "wow!" #bldwin #happycamper
". The remainder of the afternoon was super confusing. People were jumping to conclusions, correcting each other, having opinions about the death of this that and the other. Because C++/Cx (the language extension you use to call WinRT) looks a lot like C++/CLI, people thought it was managed, but it's not, it's all native code and C++ Metro apps get a perf boost from that. The understanding that something amazing and powerful still has COM at the core began to grow. People were reporting trying to use Windows 8 gestures on their iPads and on nontouch screens, showing that the team has made some very intuitive choices. One tweet of mine I want to repeat: "Big props to Aleš Holeček for joining in the Q&A in the last C++ talk of the day when the questions got really Windows-y. Impressed. #bldwin
". Even if you're not a C++ developer, download that session
and watch the Q & A.
Day 3 started with being turned away from a C++ session
, and so going to a different C++ session
that was on at the same time. Several people from the C++ team made the trip with me, giving me a chance to tell them how impressive all this was. Meanwhile on mailing lists, people who weren't onsite and were 12 - 24 hours behind as they waited for session videos to go live were echoing the confusion and dismay of yesterday. It was hard to be patient with them. It's going to make sense, I wanted to tell them. Just hang in there! I took a small break from sessions to watch (and help with) the C++ part of Channel 9 Live (I am still waiting for links to the recording, because I couldn't hear everything they said and I want to) and then to Herb's second talk
- again the room jammed full and dozens turned away, Don Box (who had earlier reminded us COM is still love) blurting out his admiration for Herb as a speaker and the great content, and the terrific line, "We protect against Murphy, not Machiavelli
". What a time to be a C++ developer!
Day 4 kicked off with kind words from Daniel
and a chance to hand out paper copies of the whitepaper I recently blogged. I got some quiet time with various smart people who told me their thoughts on all this. I'm still synthesizing it all. I also was downloading videos like a mad thing. I came home with 22 hours of video to watch and since then have grabbed another 15 or so. Some people began to realize they had over-reacted. Some excellent blogs began to appear - Doug Seven,
for example, had several sensible things to say.
And then it was time to go. Glenn Ferrie tweeted "Writing C++ in the airport #bldwin #WinRT
" and that summed up the week for me. I have a lot of watching, coding, thinking, reading and talking to do so I can establish what all this means. But hey, why not join me? It's a great time to be a developer!
Saturday, 27 August 2011
I was poking around on CodeProject looking at some developer interviews
(they've started these up again with some interesting subjects, so check the recent links) when I spotted An interview with Microsoft's new
Visual C++ .NET community liaison
- and in March 2002, nearly a decade ago, that was Herb Sutter. Isn't the Internet a handy attic? Check out some of these quotes:
I hope to make a noticeable mark in the product.
C++ continues to be relevant, dominant, and in widespread and still-growing
use. The C++ standard and standardization process also continues to be relevant [...] all the vendors, including
Microsoft, are there together actively working on the next-generation C++0x
standard whose work is now getting underway.
[...] the best numbers I keep seeing put the global
developer community at something like 9.5 million people, and those using C++ at
about 3 million of that. That's well ahead of Java in nearly all studies I've
seen, by the way, usually by a factor of 1.5-to-1 or 2-to-1. [...] The reports of C++'s demise have been, well,
C++ developers need power and know how to use it. I've always said you should
use the best language for the job, and I've used dozens of languages
professionally. Depending on how you count languages, I've probably used a dozen
professionally in the past year. People who want to write efficient, tight, fast
code often tend to choose C++ because it lets you get the job done with powerful
code but without sacrificing efficiency.
People who want mature, stable compilers and tools often tend to use C++
because it's been around a while and the tools and libraries are plentiful and
solid. Commercial client-side application development with more than a few
screens, most kinds of server-based software, and most kinds of libraries are
all done more often with C++ than with other languages, according to the best
numbers I've seen and according to my own experience as a developer and as a
consultant who shows up at other developers' shops.
Nine and a half years later, I see nothing but good stuff there. I hope all my interviews stand up as well (though I already know they wouldn't) and I'm impressed at the ability to set a goal and meet it. What will the next decade bring?
Saturday, 13 August 2011
When I provide links from this blog, I don't shorten them. When I get a link in an email, I always hover over it to see where it leads, in case it's a phishing email. But when someone emails you a shortened link, or tweets a shortened link, how do you know where it leads? It might be a phishing link. Or it might just be that cat video you've seen too many times already.
Years ago, Joshua Long wrote up a summary of how to see where a shortened link goes
before you click it, and he's been updating it pretty regularly. He covers TinyURL, bit.ly and its relatives like on.fb.me, goo.gl, is.gd, and many I've never heard of. There's even a site you can paste a shortened link and get back what it redirects to. Not all links will be worth this treatment, but many will. It's nice to have a summary of how to check them before you follow them.
Thursday, 11 August 2011
I'm pleased to see that Kenny Kerr is writing his C++ column for MSDN
again. He's also blogging again and in a recent entry
, he provides some really plain-spoken advice to people looking for guidance:
- "You can of course still use MFC but I do not recommend it as modern C++ can do
a better job of supporting the Windows developer."
- "You should never again use auto_ptr for anything."
So there! I agree with these, especially the auto_ptr one. It was an attempt at a smart pointer that just wasn't smart enough. We have shared_ptr and unique_ptr now and they work in collections and are truly smart pointers. Use them and stop typing delete in your code entirely.
As for MFC, it does fill a need and I certainly wouldn't scrap a working MFC app just because the library is getting old (the facelift a few releases ago helped) but if I was starting a brand new application from File, New Project I would need a good reason to use MFC as my UI framework.
Tuesday, 09 August 2011
People often ask me what Visual Studio Ultimate offers that other versions do not. There's a handy chart on the Microsoft site:
The only problem is, if you don't know what "Architecture and Modeling" includes, it's easy to think there's probably nothing useful in there. So I was pleased to see a blog post by Susan Ibach from Microsoft Canada showing how easy it is to generate a sequence diagram from code, and how that can help you understand code you've inherited from a predecessor. That's one of the diagramming tools included in Visual Studio Ultimate.
Right click in some code, select Generate Sequence Diagram, set some options (does getting a property count? What about calls to methods of String or other .NET Framework classes?) and presto, you have a sequence diagram.
This sort of thing can save you a tremendous amount of time, and that means it can save your organization money. That's why some people buy Visual Studio Ultimate, after all. Having access to a tool like this is one of the ways I can "hit the ground running" when I join a project. If you need to do the same, make sure you're not ignoring a capability you already have.
Sunday, 07 August 2011
Like a lot of people, I got started on Facebook one way, but now I use it another. And like a lot of people, I haven't quite "cleaned up" from my original start. My rule these days is very clear - Facebook friends are actual friends. People I know and like. In fact, my rule is that we should have shared a meal - ideally a meal and some wine - to be friends on Facebook. If we worked together, or presented at the same conference, and we actually enjoy each other's company, chances are we went for dinner, or lunch, or a beer, at some point. It's a handy rule that makes my decision process easy. I get friend requests all the time from people I don't know, and I just ignore them.
With that audience, my Facebook posts can be pretty personal. What my kids are up to. Pictures of my family and my holidays. Details about travel plans, including whole-family trips that leave my house empty. Sure, I know that what you put on Facebook can be forwarded and shared elsewhere. But I know who I'm sharing with and I trust them to have my best interests at heart. I don't connect my Twitter statuses (which I know are public) to my Facebook ones (which are more private and less frequent) or vice versa.
What I've set up, for people who use Facebook as a news hub, is a public page
. Here I post when I'm speaking somewhere, or when a video or article is published. If you "like" this page, my announcements will end up in your news feed. So if you added me on Facebook and never heard back, use the public page instead. I don't post links to all my blog entries there, because I figure you can always subscribe to this RSS. I don't post anything personal either, so if you don't actually care where I'm spending my holidays, you might want to like that page even if we're already Facebook friends.
Friday, 05 August 2011
It's worth explaining a few things about me and Twitter. First, I'm @gregcons
. There is someone with @KateGregory
but it's not me, and whoever it is has never tweeted. I follow several hundred people and several hundred people follow me. I don't "follow back" when people follow me, unless I happen to recognize the name when Twitter emails me about it. I look at the tweets of people who retweet me or @ me (or who people I follow retweet, or who people I follow are in @ conversations with) and if the tweets look interesting, I follow for at least a while.
I tweet a mixture of personal ephemera (wow, what beautiful weather we're having today), personal stalker-bait (I'm at place x with person y, hey whoever sure was great seeing you today, wow my child just did thing x in place y), and actual technical stuff. The technical stuff might be my own blog entries, my own material being published (a PluralSight course, a Channel 9 interview, a TechEd talk) or a link to someone else's blog entry/interview/talk that I think is interesting. If you want only the technical stuff, my public Facebook feed (more on that in an upcoming post) is a better choice.
I unfollow people for a variety of reasons. People who post a great volume of tweets that are in a language I can't read, or are about things that don't matter to me, just clutter up the stream, so I will unfollow. It's not a value judgement and it's not about the ratio of useful to non useful, just the volume of non useful. (Non useful includes what your cat just did, what airport you just left or arrived at (a few close friends excepted), what you are eating/drinking unless it's inspirationally yummy, coded/veiled potshots at your coworkers, and updates on your car repair or the planning of your wedding.) Since there's a lot of overlap among the people who care about the same stuff as me, I find that when these people post something useful, ten of my friends retweet it anyway, so I won't miss it. People who just post the same thing over and over because they read somewhere that Twitter is ephemeral and people might miss your announcement at 8am so you should do it again and noon and again at 5pm and so on I will usually unfollow also. I don't keep track of who is unfollowing me and I'm not offended if I realize someone has - we all use these things differently and one person may unfollow for too much personal stuff and another may unfollow for not enough personal stuff or not different enough from my other feeds.
I mostly use MetroTwit. This lets me have search columns on myself, my @mentions, and whatever topic I'm interested in according to the news of the day or the event I'm attending. I have a Twitter client on my Windows Phone and A Quick Tweet
by Scott Cate as well - it loads super fast because it's for sending tweets, not reading them. I also use the web page from time to time. I always check email before Twitter, so it's not a great way to get hold of me in a hurry.
I don't blog my tweets. I often tweet my blog posts. If something deserves to stick around for a while, I may quickly tweet it, then later write up a blog post about it. Other than that, there's little overlap.
Twitter has turned out to be hugely valuable to me. I find out about breaking news faster than Google News, I hear technical rumours and announcements there first, and I keep in touch with technical friends the world over, as well as my own neighbourhood and my family. I've started my day with smiles from jokes or from just seeing what people I care about are up to, and I've kicked off business conversations, too. It's part of my work rhythm now and it's pretty much the only place I put personal stuff these days. If you're not part of it, consider giving it a try for a week and see what changes for you.
Wednesday, 03 August 2011
Here's an article
in a pretty mainstream publication - the Economist - that explains why concurrency matters. I used to say "the future is concurrent" but that was then; this is now and it's the present that's concurrent. As the article says,
What was once an obscure academic problem—finding ways to make it easy to write
software that can take full advantage of the power of parallel processing—is
rapidly becoming a problem for the whole industry. Unless it is solved, notes
David Smith of Gartner, a market-research firm, there will be a growing divide
between computers’ theoretical and actual performance.
I'll have some more concurrency material over the next little while in this space. Things continue to change pretty rapidly. If you haven't been thinking about concurrency, now's a pretty good time to start.
Thursday, 31 March 2011
You go to Tech Ed to learn about technology - developer tools, sysadmin tools, platforms like SharePoint or Windows Phone. But there's more to your work than the nuts and bolts of how to solve a technical problem. Do you use social media effectively? What would an effective use of Twitter or Facebook look like, anyway? Are jobs shifting because of technology? How important is cross-platform development? How important are new platforms? How do you react to big changes in your technical world and direct your own career?
Well, there's a Tech Ed precon Sunday evening
that covers that exact topic. And look who's involved: Stephen Rose
(Windows Community Manager), Zeus Kerravala
(Distinguished Research Fellow and Senior VP, Yankee Group), Richard Campbell
(Co-founder of Strangeloop Networks, co-host of .NET Rocks!, host of RunAsRadio, Microsoft MVP, Microsoft Regional Director),
(Senior Technical Director for Penton Media’s IT & developer publications, author of SQL Server Developer’s Guide series from Osborne-McGraw-Hill),
(Microsoft Regional Director, Founder of InterKnowlogy),
Michele Leroux Bustamante
(Chief Architect with iDesign, Microsoft Regional Director, Microsoft MVP, author of Learning WCF (O’Reilly)),
(Principal Developer Evangelist for Microsoft, Central Region),
(Microsoft Academic Developer Evangelist), Sean Deuby
(Technical Director, Penton Media’s Windows IT Pro Magazine, Microsoft MVP),
(Senior Industry Analyst, Penton Media’s Windows IT Pro and Supersite for Windows; author of Windows Phone Secrets), John Willis
(VP of Training & Services, Opscode), Laura Hunter
(Principal Technology Architect for Microsoft IT’s Identity & Access Management team), Yung Chou
(Microsoft Senior IT Pro Evangelist, East Region) and Barbara Yamauchi
(Microsoft IT program manager for developer tools and IT lifecycle management). Wow! And this is an interactive panel discussion, so you can help to shape the conversation.
There is a small fee ($99) and you have to arrive Sunday afternoon so you'll be able to attend. But it looks like a heck of an evening! Glad to see so many RDs and MVPs on that list.
Friday, 25 March 2011
Charles was busy during MVP summit! In addition to interviewing me
, he sat a number of MVPs down to talk about C++, being an MVP, and the like. They're from all over the world and they have widely different jobs, but you can see how much they love this stuff. And please notice -- they span a wide age range, too. The stereotype of C++ as the language for the grey haired developers is just a myth. If you wonder why anyone still uses C++, and why it's going to be very good for this industry that there are still C++ experts around, watching these videos will be an eyeopener.
By the way, Alon
is also an RD.
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
As you may have noticed the C++ team is really stepping up the communication lately. There have been hours of Channel 9 videos (I pointed you
to some good ones) and Diego has been blogging a lot. Recently he did a long post
(with references!) on Intellisense in C++/CLI - why it wasn't in Visual Studio 2010, why it didn't sneak in with SP1, and so on. Here's a level of transparency you just don't see these days:
...we simply underestimated the amount of work it would take to implement C++/CLI
in this codebase, and we couldn’t change our plans by the time we realized
it. ... In the end it was one of those hard cuts you have to make when dealing with
the real world resource and schedule constraints. It turned out that the work
was also too much work to fit into SP1. As soon as we wrapped up VS 2010, we
started work on C++/CLI IntelliSense, but it wasn’t ready in time for SP1. We
realize this wasn’t what you wanted to happen and an explanation doesn’t help
you get your work done if you are affected by this, but we want you to know the
Wow. Makes perfect sense and is actually a nicer reason than "we think you don't matter". Yet so few teams will hold their hands up and say this. It happens. It happens to every one of us pretty darn regularly. Kudos to the C++ team for not pretending it was all part of a plan from the beginning to leave it out. And do read the blog to understand just how much they were taking on.
Friday, 11 March 2011
Writing samples and demos is tough. You want them to do more than say "Hello World" or draw a red square, but you want them to be simple enough that people can see the "new stuff" you're demoing (WPF, or Windows 7 taskbar integration) or multi-touch) in amongst the real business logic. It would be neat if they did something actually useful, because then you might keep it around on your machine and use it, but most things that are useful are too big to be demos.
Well here's a sample that lands in the sweet spot: Tasks.Show. You put in your tasks, things from your ToDo list, along with time estimates, and it keeps track of them and shows them to you. I like this view:
It uses touch to let you flick tasks into categories, and has taskbar integration to let you open a specific category, add a task, and so on. All the source code is available so you can see how it's done - it is a demo, after all. You can get more details and screen shots on the Windows Team Blog. Check it out!
Friday, 25 February 2011
Pete Brown is a WPF guy and I've learned a lot from him. Now I get to watch him learn. Recently he wanted to write an add-in for IE and he decided to do it in C++. You can see how he struggled through it and get some tips of your own in the detailed post
he wrote about the experience. I agree with the commenter who said you should only run Visual Studio as admin when you know you're going to do a step (like registration) that requires elevation, and you should run non-elevated the rest of the time, and the one who tweaked the string code to take advantage of being in C++. If you have some tweaks of your own, stop by and add a comment.
Wednesday, 23 February 2011
People talk a lot about work/life balance. There really is no such thing. They never deserve 50/50 which is what balance implies. But I read an interesting point in this summary of (and link to) a TED talk
: over what period of time do you want to achieve some ratio of "work" and "life"? Every day? Most people prefer their weekends to have more "life" than "work". Over every individual week? I think we all would like to have weeks of vacation with no work at all, and most of us accept the occasional "crunch week" with more work than is comfortable. Over a 50 year period? That's not realistic at all. Think about that a bit. Then watch the video.
Monday, 21 February 2011
If you've been to a developer event this century, or if you spend any time on Channel 9, you've probably seen Beth Massi
. I read an interesting interview
with her by Carla Fair-Wright where she talks about what Microsoft is like, advises young women, and plugs LightSwitch. Did you think she was the I-was-programming-in-BASIC-when-I-was-8 type? Well now you know.
PS: the whole series
is worth a read.
Thursday, 17 February 2011
One of the marks of true expertise and skill is making something very difficult look easy and effortless. It can take a long time and a lot of work to give the impression that something is natural and everyday for you. It takes even more work and practice to make something look spontaneous and unrehearsed. This is as true of giving a technical presentation as it is of playing a sport or a musical instrument, dancing, singing, or cooking. Oddly, some people seem to think that presenters are all "just naturals" who don't practice, rehearse, or plan.
There are two problems with thinking that. The first (and the smaller one) is that it doesn't give enough credit to the hours of work that goes into producing that "off the cuff" presentation you so enjoyed. The second (and by far the bigger one) is that it leads you to think that you couldn't be a presenter. And that would be a loss. Presenting, even in the smallest of contexts, makes you better at whatever you're presenting about. If you do a presentation on Windows Phone development or Visual Studio Extensibility or the like, you will know that subject better when the presentation is over. It also generally helps your career, gives you a chance to meet people and help them, and if you're lucky will also get you a chance to travel to marvelous places and meet even more people.
One of the terrific people I've been able to meet thanks to the speaking I've done is Guy Smith-Ferrier. He's really good. He's always been generous with slides and downloads on his website, and he really knows his stuff. And now he's made a series of videos
to show anyone - really, anyone! - just what it takes to be a presenter. He covers a number of things I've never seen in talks of this kind, like choosing your topic wisely. They total a little over 2 hours and are well worth your time if you're thinking of trying presenting or (more likely) you wish you could and think you can't. You can watch
them on the UGSS site or download
them if you prefer (search for speaker.)
Once you've watched these, you will understand what it seems the great speakers just "happen" to be doing. And you can do those things too. You can be a presenter if you want - it's no harder than learning to code. Guy's straightforward way of laying down the truths behind great presentations will take you where you want to go.
Sunday, 13 February 2011
I've written about "banned APIs" before - let's start with this link and if you read it, it has a link to a previous post, and go on and follow that link and it has a link to a previous post and so on and so on. To summarize, there are three ways to ensure you are not using banned APIs in your C++ app:
- You can use the extension I blogged about. It highlights places in code you're editing or typing that calls a potentially unsafe function. That's great if you're typing fresh code,not so great if you just inherited a million lines of C++ and aren't sure if it's vulnerable to buffer overflow attacks.
- You can compile with /W4, and deal with all the C4996 warnings (and use code analysis or code review or generally find the places that someone has suppressed that warning.)
- You can include banned.h, which controls whether these unsafe functions are marked deprecated or not
None of that has changed. What I wanted to point out was a recent blog entry
from the SDL team alerting us that banned.h has been updated, and I also spotted a video
on TechNet (why a developer-focused thing is there I don't know) that shows it in action. If you write C++ code, you should be using one or more of these techniques.
Wednesday, 09 February 2011
At the end of January, the busy bees at All-in-One
(OK, they're not bees, they're Microsoft engineers) released
even more samples including Azure, setting a hotkey that Windows will route to your app even if it doesn't have focus, detecting if the machine has been locked (with Windows+L) or unlocked, downloading multiple files with ftp, and many more. As always these are in VB, C#, and almost all of them are also in native C++.
In fact, there are just so darn many samples right now that it's getting harder to find the one you want. What a great problem to have! So they've released a sample browser
to help you search and browse and generally get your hands on the code that will solve your problem and move you on to the next part of your day.
What are you waiting for? Go get it!
Friday, 28 January 2011
Despite this rather famous xkcd comic, most developers would rather spend as little time compiling as possible:
But most of us how no clue why a build takes as long as it does, or how to make a project build faster. I mean sure a Clean and then a Rebuild will take longer than an incremental build. But beyond that, which is quicker - a debug build or a release build? Debug puts more information in, but it doesn't optimize - which wins? Does it make a difference if you keep Visual Studio up all day or if you close and re-open it from time to time? Are there options you can set that make your builds faster? All this and more is covered in remarkable detail in a new blog post from the Visual C++ team. You need to read it.
Friday, 14 January 2011
It's a trope of horror movies that bad things happen in the basement. You don't go down there to see why the other people who went down there aren't back yet, and you don't go down there alone. Jan Miksovsky extends the software-as-building metaphor to talk about the scary-basement part of most apps
. What I like about the post is that he's not just complaining, "some parts of the app are a real pain to change" but he's also aware of the good part of it, the foundation aspects. Well worth a read!
Wednesday, 12 January 2011
Since midsummer I've been watching the "STL on STL" series accumulate on Channel 9. The lectures appeared as "part 1 of n", "part 2 of n" and so on until, in the bleak midwinter, part 10 of 10 appeared, so they must be done. Here are some links to them all:
There really isn't any universe in which the material this series covers can be called Introductory. When Stephan has finished introducing you to the STL, you will know an awful lot. And in this century, knowing the STL is a vital part of being a C++ developer. Many developers are scared of it: they think it's difficult and complicated. And to be honest, it can be. There's an awful lot going on and there is a lot to learn. Watching these videos, you can see how much Stephan LIKES this material, likes this library, and he's clearly not scared of it or trying to impress you with how difficult it is. He wants you to know all this. And if you follow along (and even do the homework!) you will catapult yourself forward in your STL knowledge and abilities. Take the time to do it, you won't regret it.
Monday, 10 January 2011
The Visual C++ team, in addition to tweeting and blogging regularly, is now accumulating a week's worth of links and stories at a time and publishing them at paper.li. If you don't compulsively check in to the C++ world every day, it can be a great way to stay in touch. Even if you do, you might discover a source you're weren't checking before. It's a little less obtrusive than other ways of sharing links, I think. Check out the C++ Weekly and the team blog post introducing it.
Wednesday, 29 December 2010
Visual Studio 2010 comes with a whole pile of project templates (C# WPF project, that sort of thing) and snippets. They get you started on new projects and save you a lot of time. But if you're a StyleCop user, they can frustrate you, because the code they generate for you can generate plenty of warnings.
The solution: new versions of these snippets and templates that are StyleCop-compliant. Plenty of XML comments, nothing left to default, generally nice code. Doug Holland has a blog post on this
with plenty of examples and links. Take a look!
Monday, 27 December 2010
I'm a big fan of Visual Studio 2010 extensibility; I've given talks at various places about extending Visual Studio yourself and using the gallery to find great extensions. I recommend specific extensions as part of other talks and there are many I can't live without. I came across a fun list by Terje
Sandstrom of the extensions they like to use at Inmeta. I completely agree about Pro Power Tools, but I would also add Presentation Zoom and Code Snippet Designer. By the way, the All in One Code Framework is also listed on the gallery. It's just a link over to the CodePlex site, but it's a way to find it if you missed one of the zillion links from my blog.
If you're using Visual Studio 2010 and you're not taking a little time to explore the gallery and tweak the way your copy works, you're missing a chance to be more productive and to enjoy Visual Studio more. Take a look!
Thursday, 23 December 2010
It's the time of year where people set themselves goals - for the whole of 2011, for the next few months, or just in general. And you can read a lot about SMART goals and how great they are. Opinions vary
on exactly what the letters stand for but I'll go with Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. So if I'm giving you a performance review and I say "you should be more helpful", that is not a SMART goal because we can't measure your helpiness and it's also not terribly specific and I haven't given you any kind of time frame for improvement. If you're not helpier tomorrow, have you failed your goal? What about next week? Next month? How long do you have to get more helpful? If I say "you should fill out your timesheet more often" it's still not a SMART goal because it's vague and doesn't have a time element and so on. I can make it a SMART goal by saying something like this: "over the next 6 weeks, at least 5 weeks' timesheets will be completed by 10am
of the next Monday morning." The relevance will have to come into play when I explain to you that late timesheets delay our billing of clients and mess up our cash flow. (Or whatever; we actually don't use timesheets here, but that's not the point.)
So OK, we have this concept. And it seems like a pretty good one. After all, if you write it like that, we can come back after 6 weeks (or whatever) and say "pass" or "fail". But let's look at the timesheet-laggard above. Let's say that person misses week 1 and week 2, then goes flawless after that. Still fail? If you feel that way, then as soon as the laggard misses week 2, why keep trying? You've blown the goal, right?
Then there's the matter of the consequences of blowing the goal. Am I going to fire you for messing up my invoicing and causing cash flow headaches and just generally not caring about the business? (I might.) But if you have a goal to pass a particular cert, and you fail it, is anyone going to fire you? Or you have a personal goal to run some distance under some time and you don't get to that time, will you give up running?
Here's I. M. Wright on why having a dozen year-long SMART goals is just wrong
- they take so long to write, if people meet 11 out of 12 they can still have a fail of a year, they're all about you when you're actually part of a team, and so on. Since they're unavoidable at some companies, he has some suggestions how to have 4 or 5 really good ones. He also doesn't like SMART for stretch goals, and I agree. Christophe is more about how things change over an entire year
, so the goal is probably not relevant by the time limit. The top answer to this StackOverflow question
says they're not good for developers, period.
In answering this StackOverflow question
I realized something. SMART goals are good for "shape up or else" goals, put on a person by someone else, that allow just a few weeks to achieve something really, well, specific, measurable, and relevant. Do your timesheets. Come to work on time. Include a decent comment when you check in your work. They're really not good for "be a better person", "lose weight", "make more money", or even "get a paid acting job". You just need a different way to express and measure progress on those kind of goals. If you're setting a goal for yourself, unless you think you're correcting a deficiency and have consequences lined up for failure, don't make it a SMART goal.
Tuesday, 21 December 2010
According to Darryl Taft
, the top languages for next year (and this may surprise you) are going to be Java, C, and C++. You're probably all ready to disagree, but understand the criteria:
... the workhorse languages such as C and C++ continue to remain at the top end of
the software development landscape in terms of language use and job potential
(despite growing more slowly and even decreasing, according to some sources).
Moreover, this list is not intended to highlight the hot, hip new languages on
the horizon, but to focus on where programmers can go to look for work.
There's a large body of work being done in languages that are not new, or hot, or trendy, but that have been around for long enough to develop a body of developers and libraries that enable getting things done. The volume of code that will not be ported to new and exciting languages, and will be maintained in its current language for years and decades, will always outweigh the volume of code that is being written from scratch right now or being ported. If you want a job, knowing an "old workhorse" language is a good thing.
Thursday, 25 November 2010
You know I just love jumplists. Probably my favourite app to have a jumplist is Windows Explorer. After all for Word, PowerPoint, Visual Studio and so on, there is a MRU list on the file menu or the like. But getting to folders I've used recently is super important to me.
That's why I kind of freaked out when the jumplist for my Windows Explorer disappeared.
I tried rebooting my laptop (something I do less than once a week.) No help. I caught up on updates. No help. So I started searching. And I found two articles, one about a jumplist that is slow to load itself
, and other other about an "orphaned" item that couldn't be removed from a jumplist
. That one helped me realize the likely cause of my problem - although I hadn't pinned a mapped folder, I had mapped a drive at a client site, and now that drive wasn't accessible any more, which is perhaps why the jumplist wasn't loading.
But anyway, what to do? Based on what I read in those two articles, I navigated to %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Recent\AutomaticDestinations (that's exactly what I typed into the Run box, it figures out %APPDATA% for you.) There I saw a whole pile of apps with a strange extension, a little reminiscent of the files that hold the details for libraries:
If you open any of these files in Notepad, you'll see that amongst all kinds of unintelligible strings are paths to files you've dealt with recently. What's more, you can kind of guess which app each file is for by looking at those paths - one file will have a bunch of .pptx files mentioned in it, while another will have a bunch of .xlsx files. Now, which one is Windows Explorer?
Well, both articles said the same name: 1b4dd67f29cb1962.automaticDestinations-ms.I had a file called that, and when I browsed in Windows Explorer to another folder, the timestamp on that file changed. It seemed quite sure that it was for Windows Explorer on my machine too. So, I deleted it, as the articles suggested. Now I still had no jumplist, but when I then browsed to another folder, I had a jumplist with one item in it. From then on life was back to normal.
Something to know if you get a stuck jumplist someday.
Sunday, 21 November 2010
Opinions seem to vary a little on the birthday of Windows. Charles Petzold says the files are dated November 15th, 1985. Ray Ozzie says it's the 20th. ComputerWorld says the 20th also.
Whatever you think the date should be, you really need to read the article by Charles. He did a keynote "selling" Windows 1.0 (a product almost none of us used) as a solution to the problems of the day:
Will it spoil the gentle humour throughout the piece, written 5 years ago, if I show you the output of his demo? I think not:
And that is Windows, and I don’t know about you, but after this event is over,
I’m going home and writing me some Windows apps.
I'm with you, man.
Saturday, 13 November 2010
Wow, these things get up there fast! My sessions were very well received and I had such a great time doing them! In the order I delivered them, they are:
- Women In Technology Panel - Claudia Woods, Freena Eijffinger, Paula Januszkiewicz, and Rhonda
Layfield joined me to take questions from the audience and talk about what was on everyone's mind. There's really no video - just the title slide for the whole hour. Please listen!
- The Windows API Code Pack: Add Windows 7 Features to Your
Application - This one includes screen capture so you can follow along in the demos. You can also download the powerpoints from this page, and as I mention in the talk, the demo code is the samples that come with the Code Pack.
- Modern Programming with C++0x in Microsoft Visual C++
2010 - I had a great time delivering this talk even though it was the first time I delivered this version of it. The attendees responded by putting the talk in the top ten for the whole conference - thankyou! It, too captures the screen and slides, and you can download the powerpoints.
- Advanced Programming Patterns for Windows 7 - Another talk I was doing for the first time and I enjoyed it too. If you'd like the sample code, stay tuned - I will blog when the recipes are released. The slides are with the video of the screen and slides.
If you came in person, thank you! If you couldn't be there, please watch the videos and leave me a comment. Speaking on technical topics really is the most fun you can have standing up, and I can't do it without audiences.
Thursday, 11 November 2010
Pluralsight has some great offers for user group leaders
that you should really know about. Even if you don't lead a group, make sure your leader knows, because some of these offers are for members. They're offering to send swag, subscriptions, and speakers (oh yes, that could include me, it sure couldn't hurt to ask, right?) to groups. What's more, unemployed user group members can have a free one-month subscription to the Pluralsight On-Demand! library
- a fantastic all-you-can-eat way to get your skills modernized and get you back working again.
I wrote Windows 7 and Visual Studio Extensions courses for the library, and am working on plans for my next one. These are great people who really want everyone to learn as much as humanly possible, and work hard to make that happen. Take them up on this offer and you won't regret it!
Tuesday, 09 November 2010
is an amazing program. Startups (companies under 3 years old with revenue under a million dollars a year) that are making software can have full access to Microsoft developer tools (yes, MSDN Ultimate for every developer in the company) for FREE. There is a $100 exit fee, but it costs you nothing to get started. We are a Network Partner and have sponsored a number of our mentoring clients into the program.
Well now some firms are seeing the end of that three-year membership ahead of them and wondering, what's next? Soma has announced
a truly generous offer. Graduates from the program can have that exit fee (nominal as it was) waived, and can keep and continue to use all the software they acquired while in the program. For some, this will be all they need to keep on making great software with those tools. But some will want newer versions as they are released, or will want the Windows Azure subscriptions that come with an MSDN subscription. So for the (very low) price of about $1000 per developer, they can continue their subscriptions for another two years. That will take care of developer tools like Visual Studio. As well, they can buy Microsoft Software Assurance at half price, if they need production licenses of Windows or SQL Server.
If your startup has been in business three years, and you've been paying people and renting an office all that time, I'm sure these prices look delightfully affordable to you. If you've been hesitating about joining BizSpark because you weren't sure what would happen after the three years, well now you know, so don't hold back! For those who are eligible it really is the best deal in town.
Friday, 05 November 2010
You may have noticed that the fall tour I'm doing features morning talks that go till about 11:30, and evening talks that start at 6pm. I've decided that between those two, I'll spend the afternoon in a coffee shop and host an "on the road coffee and code". As I explain on the Coffee and Code page I keep for this purpose, this is really informal. Just stop by, say hi, we can talk about whatever you like. If you were at the morning session, you might want to just walk with me from the venue to the coffee shop and continue the conversation. Or if you're coming to the evening session, you might want to try to find me during the afternoon to ask something specific, then head to the venue together. Or maybe you have a topic to discuss that has nothing to do with Building Awesome Windows 7 Applications in managed code: a C++ question, or an extending Visual Studio 2010 question, or whatever. That's great, and the Coffee and Code format is just the place for us to have that chat.
If you live or work near the venues for the fall tour, I'd appreciate your suggestions (by email or twitter) for where to hold these. Obviously we need wifi, power, and a table we can hog for most of the day. My default choice is Starbucks, but if you know a better one that I can easily walk to, please tell me about it. Once I've chosen the location I can finalize the times.
Looking forward to meeting everyone,
Monday, 01 November 2010
Here's something that happens to me a lot. I'm working on a project that is mostly Technology A, but I need a little Technology B. I want a sample or two to show me what it can do. I search the web, but often find mostly things written by people who don't know what they're doing and are posting their (possibly flawed) code into question-and-answer forums. I search MSDN, but often the newest technologies don't have their samples yet. I also remember to check if the All-in-One Framework people (I blogged about their coding standards document earlier) have anything. And if I still get nowhere I start asking people I know if they have one.
Well, now those helpful folks at All-in-One are kicking it up a notch. And remember, they cover all technologies and languages related to Microsoft tools. (Want to know more about them? Here's a fun video.)
And this goes back to one of my earliest blog posts - what you want may be what I need to give. Imagine it's your job to decide what samples to write. How are you ever going to find out what developers out in the big wide world want samples of? You could come up with a great idea and then find out people already had all the samples they needed for that. So that person wants ideas for samples. And here you are needing a sample. See how that works?
Just visit the wiki page and follow their instructions. It's a tad more complex than "shoot me an email and tell me what you need" and for good reason. Give it a whirl if there's something you need!
Saturday, 30 October 2010
Think you can write a TFS client for Windows Phone 7? Think you can do it by the end of November? Would you like a free MSDN subscription with Visual Studio Ultimate worth about $15,000 Canadian? Then you need to read Barry Gervin's post
where he offers you not just that, but several (probably more valuable) introductions and blog mentions.
Now, you don't need to write all of Team Explorer. Barry suggests build status, dashboards, work item editing, and of course connecting to what the phone knows about People on the team. And he wants to hear from those who are trying, so he can help make it happen.
Interested? Plan your code, email Barry, write your code, and in the end email him the code and maybe a video demo by November 30th. Easy, right?
Thursday, 28 October 2010
Thanks to the Markham .NET Users Group
for passing along this job opportunity. The full description is in a Word document
on the user group website. Here are some things that jumped out at me:
- The company is big enough to have an IT department who will support you
- They use a variety of Microsoft technologies including some reasonably new stuff like Workflow
- You should have experience doing web and database development with Microsoft tools
- They have Windows applications too, and need you to know about concurrency and threading
- They want you to gather requirements and to train end users as well as write code, so you need to be well rounded and enjoy a variety of types of work
My guess is they are not a software development house but a manufacturing company. These jobs can be very rewarding because you get more responsibility more quickly, but on the other hand there may not be a career track to senior dev, architect, manager of devs etc because there aren't that many developers in the building.
It's nice to see they want to hire two developers. You know you won't be a team of one, anyway! If you're interested, please follow the instructions on the user group web site, which is to send an email to a specific email address with specific information in the subject line. Emailing me or commenting on this post won't help, sorry.
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
If you search for my name in the Tech Ed Europe session list, you'll see four sessions. But I've only blogged about three: Modern C++, Windows 7 Development with Code Pack, and Advanced Windows 7 Development. Now it's time to talk about the fourth, the Women in Technology Panel. I've been asked to run it this year, which is a big honour for me and one I'm pleased to take on. I have found four great panelists who are not all the same age, don't all live in the same place, and don't all do the same kinds of work. I hope that makes the conversation useful to a wide variety of attendees.
Here's the abstract:
If you're a woman in technology, or if you care about the
topic (fathers of daughters, this is your cue) then come to the Women in
Technology gathering at end-of-day Tuesday. Our panelists Claudia Woods, Freena
Eijffinger, Kate Gregory, Paula Januszkiewicz, and Rhonda Layfield span a
variety of ages, geographies, and technical interests, and we want to hear from
you. What are the issues in your working life? How can companies attract and
retain a diversity of technical staff, including women of all ages? Is work/life
balance a myth? How can you find your strengths and your friends in this field?
Bring your business cards and get ready to meet some of the other women who have
come to Tech Ed, as attendees, speakers, or staff. Let's share experiences and
advice, support each other, and learn from each other.
Does that sound good? It does to me. And here's a special invitation. It starts at 6, as you can see online. But the panelists will all be there at 5:30 along with some refreshments. So please, come a little early and mingle, then we'll do the full-on panel thing at 6, but we'll have started to get to know each other already by then. See you there!
ps: I really do mean it when I say men welcome.
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
I've been pretty active lately on StackOverflow, a question-and-answer site where people ask "what does this error message mean and I how can I make it go away?" for a variety of languages, platforms, and business purposes. There are a number of brilliant features on StackOverflow including voting on both questions and answers, and closing questions that are off topic for the site. This means less junk to wade through and a bit more confidence that any particular answer is actually going to be helpful.
One of the reasons questions get closed on StackOverflow is because they don't have an answer. There's a category of nasty questions of the form "Have you stopped [bad thing] yet?" that have no answer. If you never [bad thing]'ed in your life, then you obviously haven't stopped. Yet answering "no" implies you continue to [bad thing]. Answering "yes" implies you [bad thing]'ed for some time, but have no stopped. Either way, it's bad. So I knew the question "Should
LINQ be avoided because it's slow?" was going to be closed. And sure enough, it was. But not before some really excellent answers and comments accrued to it. Like these:
- I would not avoid code because it only executes 250 million cycles a second
instead of around 750 million, unless that kind of throughput is an actual
business case. Also, chances are that the data comes from something that is a
lot slower than this code anyway (a database, disk, ...). Go for what seems most
convenient and optimize where it matters.
Slow is irrelevant to your customers, your management and your
stakeholders. Not fast enough is extremely relevant. Never measure how
fast something is; that tells you nothing that you can use to base a
business decision on. Measure how close to being acceptable to the
customer it is. If it is acceptable then stop spending money on making it
faster; it's already good enough.
- So what you're saying is that the devil you know is better than the devil you
don't. Which is fine, if you like making business decisions on the basis of
old sayings. I think it is generally a better idea to make business
decisions based on informed opinions derived from empirical
Those last two are by Eric Lippert
. Yes, that Eric Lippert
. He's answered almost a thousand StackOverflow questions, and he's by no means the only product team member who's answering questions there. In addition, other answers fix a different perf bug in the asker's code (an unnecessary and expensive cast) and provide a wide range of opinions about performance decisions, architecture, choosing technologies and so on.
I love StackOverflow for fixing immediate blocking problems, but don't neglect the possibility of gaining philosophical wisdom from reading an offtopic question or two.
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
I'm teaching OO design and UML again this term, and one of the things I emphasize to the class is the dangers of coupling. (Get your mind out of the gutter, I mean classes with dependencies on each other.) It's not about calling methods of each other necessarily; it's more about if-I-change-this-one, I'll-have-to-change-this-one-too. Changes that ripple through a system are expensive and dangerous.
When I am helping clients with interop, they are often surprised to learn how entire applications and libraries can depend on each other without ever calling each other's code. For example, App A writes a record to a database table. Service B checks the table regularly for new records (or records with a 0 in the Handled column, or whatever) and calls a web service (or whatever.) Those applications are now coupled - if a change in one necessitates a change in the format of that table (or its name, etc) then the other must be changed too. Thinking ahead and doing all you can to reduce this kind of coupling is part of the challenge of doing good application integration, even if there are no interop calls in the solution.
And then there's performance. So often left until last, it provides another consideration that you should ideally have in mind all the way along. And as Rico Mariani points out, it also couples applications and libraries you may have thought were independent:
Two subsystems that both (loosely) use 2/3 of the L2 cache are going to use 4/3
of a cache... that’s not good. There may be no lines between them in the
architecture diagram but they are going to destroy each others ability to
Sound advice as always. Please read the post, and keep one more "don't forget" floating around as you design and architect your systems and solutions.
Friday, 08 October 2010
I've gained a lot of Twitter followers in the last few days, and I'm pretty sure I know why. John Bristowe included me on a list of Canadian Developers
that includes a full list of luminaries. I counted 112, and he's included blog links as well as Twitter handles. Most, but not all, are .NET developers. John follows all of them (us), which shows remarkable dedication. Why not take a look and see if there's someone there you'd like to follow too?
Monday, 04 October 2010
I started paying attention to "app compat" around the time Vista was in beta. It stands for Application Compatibility and refers to all the various techniques for ensuring that an application continues to work when it's moved to a new environment, such as from XP to Vista or to Windows 7. Some of these techniques involve changing the source code of the application and rebuilding it, but others don't. And paradoxically, in order to be good at those no-writing-code techniques it helps if you're really a good developer. It really helps if you have strong skills in areas that the .NET Framework generally hides away or abstracts from you.
There are folks whose job it is to solve app compat problems. It's the kind of job that really appeals to me, where you aren't exactly sure how things are going to go each day when you get up, and you think on your feet and react to what you find. And now there's an opening to be such a person if that interests you. Aaron Margosis writes:
The job is basically
to figure out why applications that are important to the customer and that work
on earlier versions of Windows (typically running as admin) no longer work on
Windows 7, and then to get the apps to work correctly without reducing security
posture and (typically) without seeing or touching source code. Don’t worry – we will teach you the
tricks.If you enjoy problem solving on
the Windows platform, you will love this job.
Interested? Have some experience writing Windows apps in native C++ or C? Know a little about how Windows works? Think that being handed unknown problems and asked to fix them is more fun than a regular job? Then read the blog post and apply!
Tuesday, 28 September 2010
I love this image:
I know this is true because in my role as friends-and-family help desk, I get people to read the error messages and then I repeat whatever they just told me and then they are like "oh, I get it! Thanks! I'm glad I know someone who understands these darn computers!" This works over the phone when I can't even see the message.
Now why am I mentioning this, besides the fact I love this dialog? Because it comes from a lovely blog entry by Chris Jackson on why app compat problems can't be fixed by talking to the user about them. You slave over a lovely dialog with a button which might as well say CLICK HERE TO GET A VERSION THAT DOESN'T HAVE THIS PROBLEM or a checkbox that might as well say CHECK THIS IF YOU DON'T THINK ITS A PROBLEM AND ARE SICK OF BEING REMINDED but instead the user clicks JUST THIS ONCE I WANT TO USE THE OLD ONE BUT BE SURE TO TELL ME ALL THIS AGAIN NEXT TIME.
Is there a solution? I don't know. But you need to know people are like this.
Friday, 24 September 2010
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
I came across this blog post of a farewell email from Philip Su
, written as he was leaving Microsoft after twelve years. You might expect that someone leaving a company would have some negative things to say about it, but not Philip. He sounds like a very nice person and one who's done pretty well by being nice. I thoroughly approve. It is full of specific and actionable advice as well as philosophy. I liked "Smart people understand why smart people disagree." and his thoughts on how people rank themselves, and what influences their ranking of others.
Well worth a read.
Saturday, 18 September 2010
A first glance, a book about social media
might seem to be "dancing about architecture." But of course the target audience for the book is people who are not yet fully fluent in social media and it makes perfect sense to talk to such people using a medium in which they are fully fluent. That means book form makes sense.
I was lucky enough to get a preview copy of Working the Crowd: Social Media Marketing for Business from Eileen Brown. She and I have been working together and bumping into each other for years, which is why I agreed to read it. But I'm recommending it simply because it's good. It's full of no-nonsense advice and useful anecdotes. Just a few pages in, for example, she says:
If you want to progress in business, don’t wait to be discovered. Make sure you have a great online profile and a positive brand.
I'm not saying that no-one has thought of that before. I am saying that clearly stated and useful advice is a good thing, and this book is full of such advice. She clearly tackles this "this is just a fad" crowd, explains about "influencers" (like me) and lays out specific actions steps you can follow to have a good social media experience. This includes how to measure what is happening, which most companies desparately need. She even covers specific sites and tools, guidelines for blogging and Twitter, and how to protect yourself from reputation damage or legal consequences.
It's a good book. If you don't have a social media strategy yet, then reading this one will take you a long way forward. I recommend it to any business wondering about "the twitter". You can pre-order on Amazon now and I suggest you do, though you may want to adjust this link to point to the Amazon nearest you.
Wednesday, 08 September 2010
Here's another thing I learned when preparing demos for a non technical crowd on Office 2010. Putting videos into PowerPoint can actually be fun. My exposure to these was mostly at large keynotes and so on, where the speaker would play a video and stand there kind of awkwardly while it played. Not my thing.
Now, have you ever been at a party or get together that had a slideshow of pictures playing? Weddings, wakes, milestone birthday parties, seems like you can almost always spot a laptop in the corner just quietly cycling through dozens (or hundreds) of pictures. It's actually a really nice trend. Most of the people I know do that with PowerPoint. One picture per slide - sometimes filling the whole slide, sometimes with some text added - and then set it up to auto advance and to repeat indefinitely. Well, if you're going to do that, you can include videos as well. And PowerPoint has some built in tools to let you crop (or clip) the video, fade it in and out, even display it in a slightly more interesting layout.
I can see adding videos to my next slideshow using these tools. And not having to open a second product will make it that much more likely that I'll actually do it.
Monday, 06 September 2010
Earlier this summer I was invited to talk to some non technical users about Office 2010. As always happens when I am preparing new material, I learned something. My problem is that I often learn how to do things and then figure I'm done, I know how to do that. But software changes and sometimes the 11 step, 3 application approach that I've learned gets superseded by a much simpler way.
Here's an example: let's say you're putting together a Word document, but it's not a requirements document or a specification or a response to an RFP. It's something a little more personal, a little less technical. It has actual photographs in it. Not screen shots, not a GIF exported from Visio, a photograph. You have the photograph, but it's not quite the right size, or perhaps it's too dark, or too light. You need to fiddle with the contrast and such. If you're a geeky person, you probably have various apps installed on your machine that can do that. So you open the photo in app 1, do something to it, maybe also in app 2 and do something else, and then finally you paste the picture into Word.
Well that process is just old school. Word can do all kinds of neat stuff right from within the app. Try it! Paste in a picture that needs some tweaking. Then select it, and click on Picture Tools.
You can adjust brightness and contrast with a live preview. Or try out the Artistic Effects:
This is a lot quicker than fooling around with multiple applications, and makes this sort of document fun.
Thursday, 02 September 2010
I'm having a Coffee and Code of my own in downtown Toronto on September 23rd all afternoon. Actually, I'll start at 11 and be there until 6 to catch the "stop by after work" folks. If you've heard of Coffee and Code at all, you know how this works. If you haven't, I've made a page on our web site about it
. Just drop in and ask me "Is it true that the C++ language is getting new keywords and stuff? How can that be? And does it really matter?" or "Do you have the Windows Phone 7 tools installed? Can you show me an app on the emulator?" or "Is Visual Studio 2010 really nicer than Visual Studio 2008?" or "What local user group meetings should I be coming to?" or whatever else is on your mind.
So stop by any time between 11 and 6 on the 23rd to the Starbucks at Yonge and King. I'll be at the big table at the back, just walk up and say hi. We'll talk about whatever is on your mind, maybe some of you will talk amongst yourselves, maybe you'll show me what you're working on. I'm looking forward to it!
Friday, 27 August 2010
As a new school year starts to roll around I naturally pay a little more attention to articles about undergraduate education. I'm once again teaching a one-term course on Object Oriented Design and UML at Trent University in Peterborough. This is of course just one piece of the curriculum. Trent is an interdisciplinary place and its graduates are expected to understand the concepts that underpin what they're learning. In fact this is what I see as the main difference between those with a university education and those without (though there are exceptions on both sides.) It's one thing to learn, perhaps by rote, the steps required to make a certain kind of application, and it's another to understand what you are doing and why. The latter kind of person generally finds it easier and easier to learn new things, connecting them to things already known, while the former finds it harder and harder as a mass of seemingly-unconnected facts moil around in an overly-crammed head that feels ready to explode.
I approve of valuing concepts over specific how-to's. It's hard work keeping up with the very latest technology when all you're doing is using it. It's even harder when you're also working on concepts and trying to teach. I don't expect a university to teach students how to use a specific user interface framework (MFC, Winforms, WPF, whatever) -- I expect it to teach them user interface concepts, illustrated with some framework the prof happens to know that's generally available. The students can then learn a variety of UI frameworks over their careers. But that doesn't mean I approve of all the ways in which programming as part of undergraduate education varies from programming in real life. Two specific variations I have a problem with are team size and problem size.
In real life, it's rare to work all alone, all the more so when you've only just graduated. Most university computer science grads will join a team of 2-10 developers reporting to a lead of some sort, with various people from QA, user reps, the business people and so on having various positions of semi-authority, semi-teammate in relation to them. Yet undergrads are generally expected to work alone on all projects and never discuss them with anyone until handing them in.
In real life, problems are not well specified, certainly not as tightly as undergrad assignments are. Most importantly, in real life user input is bizarrely ill formed. Users type letters where numbers belong, leave mandatory fields blank, even deliberately construct complicated bad input as part of hacking attempts. Yet most undergrad assignments do little or no input validation or error handling unless those are the point of the assignment. And of course, most undergrad assignments can be completed by an inexperienced programmer working alone a few hours a week (10 at most) in a week or two while most real problems take weeks and months of work by one or more dedicated resources to produce even a preliminary solution.
Trent (and I presume most other universities) addresses these issues with a fourth year course in which a team of students works on a real problem for an outside entity - usually a local firm or charity. They must gather requirements, code, test and implement a solution, and present to their peers and professors a summary of the project. Some students benefit immensely from this, though most take on far too big a challenge and struggle to complete it.
My contribution is to point out to my students where things are being simplified for them, where things would be vastly different in real life. Undergraduate courses simply cannot be the same as on the job training, and I don't want them to be. I want my students to be learning concepts and underpinnings as much as language syntax and how to work particular tools. But I want them to understand that when they start to put all this to use, things will feel very different than they did during class time. An assignment from your boss and an assignment from me are very different. (I've blogged before that in real life, you don't get 7/10
, you have to keep doing it until it is right.)
I don't have all the answers. Lots of people muse about this stuff. Here's the inventor of C++ on the same issues
. Easy to complain, hard to do anything about it, but we can all do our bit.
Saturday, 21 August 2010
Recently, I was shown this quote. The person who showed it (in a general talk, not to me personally and specifically) is a smart person I respect, so I'm going to leave that person un-named. The authors of the quote, Kernighan and Plauger, are legends of the field. In 1979 (the very same year I was first paid to program) they wrote:
1. If a program is incorrect, it matters little what the documentation says.
2. If documentation does not agree with the code, it is not worth much.
3. Consequently, code must largely document itself. If it cannot, rewrite the code rather than increase the supplementary documentation. Good code needs fewer comments than bad code does.
4. Comments should provide additional information that is not readily obtainable from the code itself. They should never parrot the code.
5. Mnemonic variable names and labels, and a layout that emphasizes logical structure, help make a program self-documenting.
In general, I agree with this. Point 5 is really strong. But when I watched that person I respect walk through this quote I suddenly realized, for the first time in all the times I've seen this, that 1 and 2 are wrong. Really. They're wrong.
Imagine you came across this in a code review:
// Process the first 5 elements
for(i = 0; i <= 5; i++)
I hope it's clear that this code actually processes 6 elements. The program is almost certainly incorrect. Perhaps the reason we're reviewing this part of the code is that there is some sort of message in the event log or unprocessed records or incorrect answers that have led us here, suspecting and hoping to find some incorrect code. And look! A comment that disagrees with the code! It's like a giant arrow pointing to the incorrect code. The documentation doesn't agree with the code, and that's great! It makes it really likely that we've found the bug. This sort of thing happens all the time - developers write the correct logic, as agreed in the requirements, into a comment, but sometimes make mechanical errors in representing that logic in code.
If a program is incorrect, comments that represent what the developer hoped or planned or tried to write may be of great value in rendering the program correct (fixing the bug.) If the documentation doesn't agree with the code, with any luck at least one of them is correct.
I still actually agree with the conclusions of the quote, and of those who quote it. Good variable names and function names, well structured code, and written requirements are all more helpful than comments inside the code, as I've written before
. A true conclusion can follow from a false premise. Still, I was initially shocked to find myself disagreeing with these premises, and I wanted to share that insight. And don't feel bad if you leave "translating into English" comments around from time to time. They may surprise you some day.
Tuesday, 17 August 2010
This is a story
you might find hard to believe. A guy's project is cancelled and he's laid off, but he just shows up to his building (without being paid) and keeps working on it. He gets other people to help him and the product actually ships! One of my favourite quotes:
"The secret to programming is not intelligence, though of course that helps. It is not hard work or experience, though they help, too. The secret to programming is having smart friends."
Could this happen today? Almost certainly not. It probably couldn't even happen in another company. Remember the start of all this wasn't the support from former coworkers - that only happened once the product was almost done and the glamour of working unpaid on a feature caught on. The start of this was that a laid-off guy's badge still worked, and then when it finally stopped working he was able to tailgate through the doors every morning. Which leads to my second favourite quote:
"We wanted to release a Windows version as part of Windows 98, but sadly, Microsoft has effective building security."
A fun read and a reminder of how some people felt (and still feel) about creating software.
Friday, 13 August 2010
I'm curious about Windows Phone 7, and I've been playing around a bit with the development tools. So when I read that Joey deVilla was holding another of his semi-regular Coffee and Code sessions in downtown Toronto, and bringing his phone, I made the last minute decision to pop down there and join them. I'm really glad I did.
A steady stream of people stopped by, mostly just to look at the phone, but a few to deploy their code onto it and see it in live action. There were technical conversations, and some less technical, and a general good time. Joey's blogged about it
(with pictures) and is looking for folks who think these would be fun where they live. Let him know if you would participate.
Saturday, 07 August 2010
I got a call this week from a recruiter who is trying to find senior C++ developers for a firm with a growing need. He has placed people with them in the past and it's worked out well and they want more. They write performance-sensitive applications for the financial industry and need someone who's comfortable with templates, and has experience with applications that process high volumes of data. If you're interested, drop me an email and I'll forward it to him for you. Good luck!
Sunday, 01 August 2010
I've done a lot of training in my day. I really enjoy it - you get immediate satisfaction, as a trainer, from seeing people leave changed by having spent a week with you. It's one of the easiest ways to have a major impact on someone's career and even their life. These days, there's a lot less of it going on. Partly it's because technology has enabled other ways of learning. Partly it's because we're a lot more "fast-paced" - someone who realizes they are missing knowledge will search for it online, ask on StackOverflow, watch a recorded talk or screencast and then carry on, rather than waiting several weeks to be able to go on course. There is still a lot to be said, however, for spending a day or three days or a week with a really smart person who has committed to making you better at something you don't know enough about.
So why would someone who was lucky enough to be "sent on course" by their employer, or who has invested their own time and money on taking a course, waste that opportunity with self defeating behaviours? I don't know, but I know for a fact that it happens. I've had people in my courses who didn't care, who didn't want to learn, who were hostile to the language or tools or methodology I was there to tell them about. Sadder still were the people who did care, wanted to learn, wanted to learn this topic, but still chose to act in a way that prevented it. Back in the day when you couldn't check your email in class (no wireless, and email on phones was rare) it was the folks who burst out into the hall at every coffee break and every lab period to go check their email and voicemail. Often they would say "I read the exercise and I only need 10 minutes for that, so I'll check my messages then come back and do it." My reply was always "if you really only need 10 minutes, do the exercise and then go check your messages." But this group of people can't make the training their top priority even for this one day, this one week. And often, they don't learn much as a result. In person training is probably a bad fit for them, and they might even give it a bad name. Then there's the showoff, the arguer, the "sorry I was zoned out can you say that all over again", and so on.
Paul Randal and Kimberly Tripp are still teaching more than I ever did. And now Paul's written up a lovely list
of ten things NOT to do when you're on a course. None of it is SQL-specific and it's all good advice. Enjoy.
Wednesday, 28 July 2010
Here are some interesting lists. Each of them is fleshed out in a blog post you really should read. I'll give you the lists so you know you want to read them.
First, Ted Neward on 10 Things To Improve Your Development Career:
10: Build a PC.
9: Pick a destination
8: Be a bell curve
7: Learn one new thing every year
6: Practice, practice, practice
5: Turn off the TV
4: Have a life
3: Practice on a cadaver
2: Administer the system
1: Cultivate a peer group
Some of those are metaphors: I'll let Ted explain them.
Then, we have Jim Carroll and How to Get Faster When the World is Faster:
- build up experiential capital
- master collaboration and share
- focus on tactical to strategic transitions
- fuse generational insight
- take on anticipatory projects
- be a farmer
- displace indecision
- implement quicker
- think bold
The advice is aimed at entire companies, but I think it can resonate well with an individual. Again well worth the read.
And then there's John MacIntyre and 11 Personal Programming Assumptions That Were Incorrect.
- The customer and user are the same person.
- You isolate and kill all bugs without exception.
- Writing beautiful software as an act of craftsmanship.
- Working 24/7 would be rewarded.
- Vendors can be believed.
- You are not actually working from the monitor.
- That I wasn’t a very good programmer.
- You need to / should grok a language or tool before you even
- You don’t say you know something unless you’ve grok’d it.
- Other programmers saw beauty in their work.
- The best programmer is recognized.
There's some cynicism in there, but others might call it realism. I suspect most of this you have to learn from experience, but perhaps you recognize a few?
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Here is something I've been asked more than once, and seen asked on various forums as well. I'll paraphrase rather than quote one specific asker:
We have an application written 15 years ago that's been working flawlessly. But when we run it on Windows 7, the users can't find the files it writes. Worse, there are no error messages, so they think they've saved the files, but when they go to C:\Program Files\MyGreatSoftware\UserExports - the files aren't there!
Often, the question trails off into a rant about how sneaky and mean Windows 7 is to somehow prevent access to Program Files but not give error messages. The rant might also include a paean to how amazing the lost files were and how many workyears of productivity have been lost now that these files cannot be found, and why this means you can't trust Windows to do something as simple as write a file to the hard drive. Sometimes, the asker has established that this is related to UAC and they are recommending everyone turn it off to avoid this disaster. I thought I would make some less drastic suggestions.
First, your files are not lost. A few people know this, but they then claim the files are almost impossible to find and no end user will ever find them. Let's tackle this one first because if you know this trick you may be able to get by without changing anything else about your application. Tell the user to go to the place they expect to find the files, say C:\Program Files\MyGreatSoftware\UserExports. Then have them look in the toolbar for a button that says Compatibility Files. Click it. Ta-da!
Ok, now the next thing is, why the heck are your files being written there? Because you are trying to write to a protected area and you don't have a manifest. You have several things you can do about this, and they boil down to two main things:
One, don't write to a protected area. You can get this by installing somewhere other than Program Files (not a good idea) or by changing the application to write to a better place. Two, get permission to write to the protected area. This means running as administrator. Train the users to right-click Run As Administrator when they run the app, or train them to set the Compatibility Settings for the app (neither very likely) or ship the application with a manifest that includes requireAdministrator. Now matter how you arrange this second thing, your users are not going to like agreeing to the UAC prompt every darn time. So really, that brings you back to number one, don't write to a protected area. Use AppData instead - there's a simple function call to get that path on any machine (including older XP machines) and you'll be in fine shape. If you think your users can't find that, and the files are for the users and not just some internal settings, then use a folder under Documents - again, there's a simple function call that will get you the path.
If virtualization makes you nuts - that your code thinks it's writing to C:\Program Files\whatever but really it's writing somewhere else, and the OS is cheerfully lying to it and saying all the writes succeeded - then put a manifest on your app. Doesn't matter whether it's requireAdministrator or asInvoker. Doesn't matter whether it's embedded (VS will embed them for you from 2008 on easily, and there are tools that do just manifest adding) or just a file of XML in the same folder as the exe. Once the app has a manifest, virtualization stops. Of course this may mean the users get all kinds of Access Denied errors that they don't like. Now you see why virtualization was invented.
Should you rely on it? No. For one thing, it may go away in some future version of Windows. And it goes away when you add a manifest, which for many people happened when they migrated to a new version of Visual Studio. What you should do is understand it, including how to find the virtual store, so it doesn't make you quite so crazy.
Now go turn UAC back on,
Saturday, 10 July 2010
I'm not sure when this started, but DevX has a whole area for Visual Studio 2010 articles. They've got handy links to download a trial and a training kit, walkthroughs of creating extensions (a simple blogging one, and adding your own language to the IDE), and lots more. It's a combination of articles, webcasts, and downloads that cover not just Visual Studio but some of the things you can create with it and what's new in related tools. Of course I've seen some of the material before, but that just shows that it's comprehensive. Take a look around!
Thursday, 08 July 2010
I'm an optimist. I'm always looking for (and usually finding) the bright side. I think this has served me very well over the years. Recently I read an interesting Fast Company article (an excerpt from a book) that described a problem solving approach based on looking for the bright side - well actually, what they call the bright spot:
Our focus, in times of change, goes instinctively to the problems at hand.
What's broken and how do we fix it? This troubleshooting mind-set serves us well
-- most of the time. If you run a nuclear power plant and your diagnostics turn
up a disturbing signal once per month, you should most certainly obsess about it
and fix the problem. And if your child brings home a report card with five As
and one F, it makes sense to freak out about the F.
But in times of change, this mind-set will backfire. If we need to make major
changes, then (by definition) we don't have a near-spotless report card. A lot
of things are probably wrong. The "report card" for our diet, or our marriage,
or our business, is full of Cs and Ds and Fs. So if you ask yourself, What's
broken and how do I fix it?, you'll simply spin your wheels. You'll spend a lot
of time agonizing over issues that are TBU - true but useless.
The article gives a number of examples of not trying to find the major underlying system cause and solve it with huge missions, but instead trying to find a localized success and encouraging it to spread. Interesting concept and well worth a read. How could you apply it to that totally-messed-up project or that new hire who has turned out to be so wrong?
Wednesday, 30 June 2010
I'm recording some videos again (I'll announce when the project is live) and I'm doing it, as I really like to these days, in a bootable VHD. I've got the environment set up just the way I like it, without messing with my day-to-day setup, and as an extra bonus I avoid the distractions that Outlook, Instant Messenger, Skype, and the Favorites menu in my browser have to offer. When I went to record the first video I realized I had forgotten to install Camtasia in the VHD so I quickly downloaded a trial from www.techsmith.com. I got to work recording my video, editing it, and so on. Then I rendered the video. This can take a few minutes, but I don't complain because I know it's doing a lot of work. But I got a great surprise ... this latest version uses the taskbar progress bar overlay, so that I can put the rendering into the background and work on something else full screen while it renders. I can still see at a glance how it's doing, but I don't have to keep the little progress window on top. It's a really nice touch.
Then as serendipity would have it I spotted this video on Channel 9 that calls out this and other Windows 7 features in TechSmith products. It's only 9 minutes long, so go and watch it. And if you haven't added Windows 7 features to your client apps yet, why not? It really makes a difference.
Monday, 28 June 2010
With summer finally under way for real it seems like a million years until the fall. But in the world of event organizing, autumn is just around the corner. Session selection for TechDays is in the final stages and I'm looking forward to seeing the completed list. In the meantime, the Early Bird pricing is still in effect.
There will be an event roughly every two weeks from mid September to mid December. In each city (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax) it will be two days, and while most of the sessions will be the same in every city, a new Local Flavours track will vary from location to location - just as the local tech folk vary! You can register now - go ahead! If you have some questions, Damir has answers for you.
Monday, 14 June 2010
Metaphors can be dangerous things. Just recently I got into a Twitter conversation with someone who was using the metaphor "it's like leaving your car unlocked, or your front door" - meaning something you would never do and would expect to be dangerous. But in my neck of the woods, that metaphor triggers different neurons, having a meaning more like something you regularly do and would never expect to be a problem. (I not only never lock my car in my or a neighbour's driveway, I also know many people who would leave their keys in their cars in someone else's driveway.) It doesn't really matter whether you think door locking is normal, the point is your metaphor needs to have the same meaning for your audience as it does for you.
For an example of a metaphor landing really badly, check out Scott Berkun's blog post
on the "periodic table of visualization techniques." Now unlike Scott (who thinks the periodic table is obscure, complex, and unfondly remembered) I really like the periodic table. I think it carries a tremendous amount of important information in a very compact way, and explains some relationships succinctly. But I think it makes a poor metaphor when trying to discuss all the different ways you can present information visually. Plus, their particular version of it doesn't seem to have any actual periodicity, anything that's the same in each column, anything that's the same in each row, or any reason for the lengths of the rows. Always understand a metaphor before you use it. Otherwise you're working against your own goal - helping someone else understand your point.
Thursday, 10 June 2010
Another terrific Tech Ed has come to a close. I never really got used to the weather in New Orleans, but I loved the food, I loved that we could walk to just about every dinner or party, and I loved the locals I met. I would have liked a little less walking within the convention centre itself - that building is a mile long and I had to go the whole length and back several times each day!
I have a few pictures from inside for you.
This is the "RD couch" in the community area. Good for hanging out while waiting to be on Channel 9. As you can see, non-RDs were hanging out here too.
The table for the Code Pack was giving away copies of the Code Pack on these slightly bizarre USB keys. I meant to keep one for myself but got carried away handing them out at my session (along with cards for a free trial of the Pluralsight On Demand! library). Also the shot-glass-on-a-string-of-beads is pretty brilliant for New Orleans swag. "Give it a shot!" they say.
This is the room for my C++ talk. That's Juval Lowy, who spoke right before me, up on stage. You can see he did a pretty good job of filling the room, which holds 1000. I got somewhat less than that, but was happy with the turnout and the evals for the C++ talk. Both my talks are available online already, by the way, which is astonishingly quick.
I love the "face time" with Microsoft people (including "my" product teams as well as folks in marketing, developer outreach and education, and so on), with my fellow RDs, MVPs, INETA folks, and speakers of all stripes, and with attendees. Booth duty, where you spend long minutes shifting your weight from foot to foot praying someone will come by, is a bit like of box of chocolates. An eager attendee comes forward, meets your eye, smiles ... for every "can you tell me where to find the blinky Windows 7 pen?" there is a good solid question or expression of interest in my actual technology. I got one question on Wednesday from someone who just wanted to know what booth to go to for it to be answered, only to learn it was this booth and that in fact I was probably the only person in building who could have answered it. I sure liked that one!
Next year, Atlanta:
But I may not have to wait a year for another Tech Ed experience.
Saturday, 29 May 2010
It's no secret that I'm not in my twenties. After all, I'm in my fourth decade of being paid to program. (To be fair, you enter that decade as you pass the doing-it-for-30-years mark.) I have gained a lot of experience in all that time, and not all of it is programming experience. I am slowly gaining wisdom and judgment in general. But am I losing things? Am I perhaps closed off to new experiences, or stuck in the mud? Is there anything you can in general conclude about a person because of their age?
I have two problems with that line of thinking. The first is that differences between any two individuals in a group are always larger than the differences between groups. I can easily find two 20-somethings who differ from each other more than either differs from a 30-something or even an 80-something. Women in general may be shorter than men in general, but I'm sure we all know a man who is shorter than most women or a woman who is taller than most men. What you know about the group doesn't necessarily apply to the individual. My second problem is specific to age - some age related effects are actually related to "you went to university in the 70s" or "you learned to code in the age of GUIs" more than to how old you are, others are actually about your life experience, still others your work experience. Two 60-somethings may not have gone to university at the same time as each other or learned to code at the same time as each other. That makes it even harder to generalize based on a single piece of information - when you were born.
A few months back, 'Dave' posted a series of myths about older developers and then debunked them. Do you find yourself believing any of these?
- Older software developers are more expensive
- Older software developers are less flexible and less capable of learning new
- Older software developers are less able to perform the arduous tasks of
software development (read: work long, painful hours)
- Older software developers are less mentally agile
- Older software developers are more jaded and cynical
My only issue with this list of myths is that it doesn't contain positive ones. It's also a myth that older developers are wiser, more tuned to business issues, better at talking to others, and so on. Some are -- I strongly believe I am -- and it takes a while to get there, but time passing isn't the only thing that brings about that change in a person.
I have to work with people a lot younger than me every day. Perhaps some of them think less of me because of my age at first. I'm pretty confident that doesn't last. If you're not an "older programmer" yet, I hope you aspire to be one someday.
Tuesday, 25 May 2010
When I started out in this industry (and I'm in my fourth decade of being paid to program) there was a definite culture of rudeness within it. Smart people weren't just allowed to be rude to not-so-smart people, it was expected. Being rude to others was how you proved you were smart, whether it was with a cutting insult thought up on your feet, or with a cruel proof of just where they had gone wrong. As a group we were especially fond of insulting those who weren't developers with brilliantly disguised insults they couldn't understand, or so the theory went. Who hasn't heard someone refer to "error codes" like PEBCAK or ID-ten-T?
But over the last generation or so I've noticed a switch. I hear the chair, keyboard thing still, but only self-referentially. That is after someone has asked for help, perhaps with a starting position of "I have found a bug in Windows", and then sorted it all out and realized they were doing something wrong, they may say "well it turns out the problem was between the chair and the keyboard after all, eh?". When I interview developers for a job at my firm, I ask about working with non developers (testers, technical writers, users, project managers) and I need to see (not just be told about) respect and interest for those people and those jobs.
Now not everyone feels that way. Meredith Levinson
asks if there is a still a place for the "I'm smart, I don't need soft skills" geek pride of old. Commenters point out that speaking truth to power is important, and those who won't be rude sometimes don't do it. David Starr
talks about how to tell someone that a thoughtless habit, like always coming late to meetings, is bothering you. I would skip the praise sandwich
, but I support the idea of pointing out the consequences of something another person may have thought had none. Interestingly, Susanne Biro
points out how people who are actively interested in learning soft or social skills can still be blundering about doing very rude things, apparently unaware.
I think in the end it's not that our industry has changed much. It's that people who are just starting out in it are often a bit rude. OK, sometimes they're very rude. But as they gain technical skill, many of them also gain the ability to take others into account and to work in teams. Those people get promoted. So now, hanging out with decision makers, with people who are allowed to represent their companies in public, with people who get paid to help other people get better, I mostly meet polite and interesting geeks. The rude ones probably still exist -- I just don't run into them very often. Which group would you rather be in?
Sunday, 23 May 2010
I have quoted
Albert Einstein here before, but only one quote. Amber Naslund
has found 14 nice quotes and connects them to social media issues. I'm sure you could find a way to connect those quotes to what you work on all day, too. I'm going to spend some time thinking about "Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that
counts cannot necessarily be counted."
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
A colleague of mine who is not near Toronto has a client in Toronto who needs .NET developers. They would like to start out with a contract position and it could become permanent if it's a good fit for everyone. Here's the job description:
Position: Senior Programmer / Analyst
Pay: $7,500 per month contract (negotiable)
Applicant must be an expert or proficient in:
- .NET Framework / C#
- .NET Services
- Microsoft SQL Programming
Experience in the following areas would be helpful but not required:
- Visual SourceSafe
- Mechanical engineering experience
The primary responsibility is to modernize a legacy C++ distributed application. This may include a redesign and possible rearchitect of the application. The final application should be an n-tiered application. The tiers would ideally be:
- WPF/Silverlight as the presentation layer
- A business layer with business components (C#) exposed via WCF
- A data layer
Where necessary, COM components can be preserved.
Other responsibilities include:
- Move image files from file database to SQL database
- Document the application
- Handle ongoing change requests.
Someone who moved from C++ to C# but didn't forget their C++ would be perfect. They are looking for more than one person so it sounds like a fairly meaty project. This is strictly onsite work, no remote work, which is why I mentioned where they are (east of the DVP; west of Pickering.)
Anything you email to me about this I will forward to my colleague who will in turn forward it to the Toronto folks. Good luck!
Monday, 17 May 2010
Have you seen this yet? It's a letter from Leonardo da Vinci (yes, that Leonardo da Vinci) to a prospective patron. He lists fully 9 paragraphs of way cool things he can do that are relevant to the warfare of the time (portable bridges, bombing strategies, stone flingers, ways of tunnelling into places and so on) and then mentions:
10. In times of peace I believe I can give perfect satisfaction and to the
equal of any other in architecture and the composition of buildings public and
private; and in guiding water from one place to another.
11. I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay, and also I can do
in painting whatever may be done, as well as any other, be he who he may.
Given how well he followed through on those last two (this letter was written before his most famous works) you kind of have to believe all the siege/bombardment stuff too.
The article I've linked to has an image of the actual letter - not in English of course - and some lovely commentary on what makes it a good cover letter. It's not really a resume but it sure is a job-getting device. Apparently the Duke did indeed hire him - as a painter, not a fighter. And if you'd like to see it translated into modern day geekery, I spotted that too.
Tuesday, 11 May 2010
Programming is not one skill - it's a large conglomeration of skills. Some people are not very good programmers because they aren't very good at imagining their way through an algorithm. Others have great ideas and imagination, but it's painful to watch them type and they can't be bothered to learn how to use their tools (editors, etc) so they just take twice as long as everyone else to create the code. Still others are doing fine until their code does something unexpected, and then things fall apart, because they can't figure out what's going on. They step too soon, spend ages stepping through code that couldn't possibly cause the problem, then get impatient and end up skipping right past the problem. Worse, they don't seem to understand the capabilities of the debugger. I've watched people spend over 5 minutes patiently stepping into so that when they reach a particular line, they know how control reached it. Then I show them the Call Stack window and they say "oh".
I've blogged before about conditional breakpoints and tracepoints, hit counts, and so on. There is so much to the Visual Studio debugger that it is very hard to know it all. But the more you know, the better you are. And what's more, being a great debugger has more value than some of the other programming skills, because so much debugging happens at urgent times, is unexpected, and needs to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible. The difference in impact between being good and great is very large.
So how to be a better debugger? Partly, it's practice, especially practice with someone who's really good. That person can say "hey, what are you doing? Here's a way easier way to get there!" Even practice alone can motivate you to learn how to do something and get you reading the documentation or searching the web. You could buy a book, if anyone even buys books any more. You could take a debugging course, and spend a day or a week with someone who really knows every speck of this enormous tool. Of course, that costs money, travel time, and so on. Some of you will do it, and benefit from it tremendously.
But ALL of you can benefit from watching John Robbins' latest set of videos on Channel 9. It's in three parts and they total about three and a half hours. It hits the ground running and just doesn't stop. It's all using Visual Studio 2010 but the vast majority of the features he shows are in earlier versions too. I knew a lot of it (even the Go To Find box and the file opening etc) but I learned new things in the first ten minutes and continued to learn new things as they continued - both actual capabilities of the tool and interesting ways of thinking, like using hit counts on a breakpoint not to stop, but just to count how much some code gets run. I wish I could get the slides and code, but I guess some things need to be saved for the folks who actually take the course.
If you're a .NET developer, watch these videos. Now.
Sunday, 09 May 2010
I often carry links around for a while before I use them in a post. I'm not one of those "here's 53 things other people posted yesterday" types, though I read three of them (Jason, Chris, and Alvin) almost every morning. When I think something is interesting, I'll use it eventually. It's unusual for me to accumulate a lot of links from someone I don't know some other way, typically from having worked with them. But that's the state I find myself in now. Brent Ozar is actually a SQL MVP and I've found plenty of helpful information about SQL on his blog. But these three articles really aren't about SQL:
- Why I Always Bill By The Hour - mostly about keeping a pleasant relationship and avoiding the blame game, plus not doing things for free just to be nice. We have some clients who run a tab and are charged for time spent, while for most we used fixed bids. What I like most about doing fixed bids is being able to decline work that is out of scope. The big problem with charging by the hour is that people expect that means you will do things when they ask you to. While that might seem fine, I assure you there are times it is not.
- Salary Negotiations During the Interview - pretty much the exact opposite, for people who don't bill at all but work on salary. Can I just say as an honest and nice employer that it makes me mental when people won't say what they want to make? I had a guy tell me he would be ok with anything between $8 and $40 an hour for a summer job (he was in third year of university.) That is no more a range than "on the planet Earth" is a neighbourhood. I generally pay people what they want to be paid, or else don't hire them. So if you tell me the truth, I'm not going to argue you down from your number. I might decide you're not worth that much to me and so decline to hire you. I might hire you and then give you a 30% raise after 2 months (true story). But I sure won't say "really? I will offer you 80% of that." Ever. I think I might be odd though, because many people utterly refuse to tell me what they want to earn if they work for me. So I like that Brent says "If they keep pressing for your salary, don’t give them your current
number – give them the number it would take to get you to switch." That works for me.
- Rock Stars, Normal People, and You - how you can start presenting, writing, and generally becoming a "rock star" in our industry. There is absolutely no secret to this and there are literally hundreds of people who want to help others get good at this stuff. I like this quote: "Doing this stuff took time out of my personal life, but I was determined to make an investment in my career. I didn’t want to have another really crappy job search, bouncing from headhunter to headhunter, having to
re-prove that I wasn’t an idiot and that I was worth money." And this one: "you’re still struggling to get a better job, a better speaking slot, or a speaking slot period, right? You think that Other People are the ones who get book offers, or Other People are the ones who get paid to speak. You’re wrong."
Wednesday, 05 May 2010
I was just looking up the session codes for my Tech Ed talks next month (my flight to New Orleans leaves a month today, at about this time actually) and spotted something unexpected:
DEV316 | Modern Programming with
C++0x in Microsoft Visual C++ 2010
Session Type: Breakout Session
Track: Developer Tools, Languages
Speaker(s): Kate Gregory
Level: 300 - Advanced
for the C++ committee to finish the specification when you can enjoy much of the
power of C++0x today! C++0x, the next C++ standard, is almost upon us and it
contains the most important updates to the language since the mid-90s. It even
accepts the existence of multiple threads for the first time in the history of
the language. Needless to say, these new features bring more expressiveness and
power to the native C++ developer. Visual Studio 2010 has added support for some
of these key features in order to enable these modern programming techniques.
This session clarifies what features are in Visual C++ 2010 and what is yet to
come. It illustrates how new constructs such as lambda expressions enable better
use of existing libraries and how your code can be simpler, safer, and faster
all at the same time. If you are itching to show off how C++ is one of the
coolest languages on the planet, this talk is for you!
WCL316 | The Windows API Code Pack:
Add Windows 7 Features to Your Application
Session Type: Breakout Session
Track: Windows Client
Speaker(s): Kate Gregory
Level: 300 - Advanced
Accessing new Windows 7 features is a challenge from
managed (.NET) code. The level of interoperability required is out of reach for
many developers. The Windows API Code Pack for the Microsoft .NET Framework is a
sample library you can use in your own projects today that provides access to
new user interface features (taskbar jumplists, libraries, sensor platform, and
more) as well as "behind the scenes" features that make your applications more
aware and responsive (restart and recovery, power management, and more.)
Discover a shortcut to Windows 7 development for Microsoft Visual Basic and
Visual C# programmers and get started today.
The first digit carries meaning, but the last two don't. So I don't really know how they both got to be 316. Since I often have trouble remembering my session codes, this should halve the effort for me .
PS: I checked whether the Brian rule still applies. You can too, by just dropping down the "Speaker" box on the session catalog page. I'm happy to report there are 9 Brians and I reached 9 obviously female names (ignoring Alex, Chris etc) while I was still in the C's. Good news, in my opinion!
Saturday, 01 May 2010
On Thursday night I was the surprise mystery guest for the St Louis installment of the .NET Rocks Roadtrip. What a fun little jaunt that was! We recorded an episode of .NET Rocks, (talking about Windows 7, C++, and educating developers) then Carl and Richard both did very interesting presentations. I had seen parts of Richard's before, but Carl's was all new to me and I will just say if you live in the half of the roadtrip that hasn't happened yet, you really need to make an effort to be there and be part of it!
Here's a blog entry by Nicholas Cloud, and another by Brian Williams, and a picture by fallenprogrammer of us getting set up.
The next morning featured breakfast at Cracker Barrel (an experience) and then a ride to the airport in the RV for me and Kindler Chase, who had joined them in Tulsa, before they headed Chicago-wards. It sure was fun to be part of it!
Sunday, 25 April 2010
Once again Carl and Richard are driving across the country to celebrate a Microsoft launch. This time it's for Visual Studio 2010.
As they say on the roadtrip page:
Carl and Richard are loading up the DotNetMobile (a 30 foot RV) and driving to your town again to show off their favorite bits of Visual Studio 2010 and .NET 4.0! Richard talks about Web load testing and Carl talks about Silverlight 4.0 and multimedia.
And to make the night even more fun, we’re going to bring a mystery rock star from the Visual Studio world to the event and interview them for a special .NET Rocks Road Trip show series.
Along the way we’ll be giving away some great prizes, showing off some awesome technology and having a ton of laughs.
So come out to the most fun you can have in a geeky evening – and learn a few things along the way about web load testing and Silverlight 4!
You can track their progress online, too! Looks like a blast.
Friday, 23 April 2010
I like to introduce myself, in C++ circles, by mentioning I was using C++ before Microsoft had a C++ compiler. It's often interesting to watch people try to handle the concepts behind the sentence - mostly, that for some languages you can buy compilers from more than one vendor. And once upon a time, C++ existed as a language, and Microsoft sold compilers, but it didn't have a C++ one yet. Then eventually (OK, in 1992) the C product Microsoft sold became a C/C++ product (compiler, linker, debugger etc) and then the next year Visual Studio came along and with it Visual C++. And Visual C++ 1 included the Microsoft Foundation Classes 2, so that for a while the version numbers of Visual C++ and MFC were out of sync. Eventually there was a version skip to catch up (there was no Visual Studio 3). For quite a while we all worked with Visual C++ 1.52c and every speck of that version number was significant. So as you can see, the version of a product is not a simple question with one answer.
So, here we are, welcoming Visual Studio 2010. Lots of people called it Dev10 while it was under construction. But was the 10 short for 2010? It was not. It was just 10, as in the number after 9. Visual Studio 2008 was 9, and Visual Studio 2005 was 8. You can see these numbers on the shortcuts to your sln files, by the way:
OK,so VC8 means Visual C++ 2005? Basically. As long as you realize that it doesn't mean version 8 of the compiler. Because the C compiler transitioned into the C/C++ compiler, the version numbers came with it. VC8 includes version 14 of the compiler. Confused yet? If so, you're in good company. Here's a tabular explanation, though it only goes back a decade. You want more details? Wikipedia has them, of course. Me, I am going to enjoy Dev10 and watch for news of Dev11.
Wednesday, 21 April 2010
One of my pet peeves is software that thinks it's smarter than me. There are times when software does things I wouldn't think of, without asking me, and I find that helpful and I like it. But it can backfire. The worst offender was FrontPage, thankfully now gone. But Outlook has an annoying little habit. It assumes that people who send emails can't really be trusted to format them, so it "fixes" their error for you. In other words, if I send you this plain text email:
How are you doing?
Call me when you can.
Outlook helpfully displays:
Hi, How are you doing? Call me when you can. Kate
Most of the time that's only a petty annoyance. But what about when my code sends:
And you see:
Monday 1:00 Tuesday 2:30 Wednesday 4:00 Thursday 9:30 Friday 10:00
Know what happens then? I do! The user reports a bug that the emails are misformatted. And what's more, when you tell them it's an Outlook issue and send them a screen shot of what to click in Outlook to fix it, they don't thank you. Well, Scott Mitchell has discovered what to do in your code to make Outlook leave your ratsen-fratsen line breaks alone. Just add a space before each newline. Awesome, thanks Scott!
Thursday, 15 April 2010
I've been making videos lately, as I've mentioned. So among other things I've needed to know the total length of a bunch of .wmv files. Now sure, if you have a spreadsheet you can teach it to add up times. But the ironic thing is, I was asking the file system for the length (in minutes) of each video, then adding them up, when I could have just asked the file system for the total length!
Well that's fun! Notice it also adds up the total file size. I find these little savings really add up to keeping me focused on what I'm really trying to achieve (write a tutorial) instead of getting caught up in minutiae.
Tuesday, 13 April 2010
Is it a good omen when mornings start out beautiful? I think it might be:
Normally, when I go to a conference, the first day is a little slow. I might go to the keynote, or I might not. If I do, I wander in to the back row 5 minutes before it starts (hey, I'm leaving plenty of seats for the paying attendees) with my coffee in my hand. So reaching the keynote room at 7am, full of pep and vigour, was fun!
No sooner was the keynote over than I was headed for the Channel 9 stage to record half an hour of Q&A with Twitter people.
That's available online too. And if you want more, some of the sessions are appearing on Channel 9, too. Not filmed on site, but the content matches. Get your Visual Studio 2010 from MSDN downloads, or if you're not a subscriber you can take the Professional Edition for a test drive.
Sunday, 11 April 2010
I've never been backstage for a big keynote before. There's a lot going on back there. Each demo runs on its own machine, so if one messes up it doesn't hurt the others. There are monitors everywhere showing what's on all the cameras and what's going out as the feed. There's one half for the camera and production people, and one half for the demo people. Here's a glimpse of the demo half:
Crowded, noisy, hot, and people are standing in your way sometimes. Best seat in the house!
Also, I'm just loving the signs throughout the Bellagio. There are all different ones (water, wires, light bulbs etc) but I think this is my favourite:
Watching something launch feels like it wouldn't be exciting, after all how long have I been working with this product? But you know what, it is!
Friday, 09 April 2010
This trip to the launch gets more exciting by the minute! Check this out:
The Channel 9 team will be broadcasting live, unscripted, and 100% interactive
from DevConnections 2010 in Las Vegas as part of the Visual Studio 2010 and
Silverlight 4 launches.
Join us Monday April 12th, from 8AM (PST) for Bob
Muglia's VS2010 Launch keynote then stay tuned for more than seven hours worth
of Visual Studio 2010-themed demos, interviews and panel discussions on Channel
. . .
Day 1 Schedule April 12th 2010 (Pacific time)
8:00 AM DevConnections 2010
Day 1 Keynote.
10:00 AM Welcome to VS2010: Doug Handler and Brian
Randell with Dan Fernandez.
10:30 AM Live Q&A with Bob Muglia,
President Server & Tools Division with Dan Fernandez.
VS2010: Native Code. Kate Gregory and Richard Campbell with Charles Torre.
11:30 AM VS2010: Managed Code. Lisa Feigenbaum, Tim Ng Dustin Campbell
with Charles Torre.
. . . then some other people, who I love, but I can't paste it all in here. . .
To be part of it, use Twitter with @ch9live somewhere in your message. We'll see it and that's all it takes to join the conversation!
I count 11 Regional Directors (many of whom are also MVPs) on the guest list. What a way to spend the day!
Wednesday, 07 April 2010
A little over five years ago a whole pile of people, inspired by Julie Lerman
, got together to raise money for the tsunami relief and recovery in Aceh. (Here are my blog entries from that time
.) We raised over $10,000 and perhaps some of you were wondering if we made a difference. Well Stephen Forte, who was a big part of that effort, now lives nearby and he visited them. His update
is a lovely way to see what happened as a result of our efforts. It's nice to see that the organization we chose to support is still there and still doing good work. I wish all my donations came with a five year followup like that.
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate the women of software. I've blogged about it before
, and it seems like a good springboard to get started again. There's a nice post
over on Toronto Girl Geek Dinners, too. I have been trying to go to an event there for at least 6 months, maybe a year - seems it's always on a day I'm out of town or otherwise unavailable. April 5th might work out - I hope it does.
What have I been doing for the last almost-4-months? Working hard. Speaking, mostly on Windows 7 things. Planning future speaking gigs. Writing code - real code - in VB, C#, and yes, C++. Some using STL and some using MFC as it happens. Project managing, which can be many times more satisfying than coding but also many times more frustrating. Tweeting
(yes, I did - and I tweet personal stuff as much as technical stuff so if you don't care for that you don't need to feel obliged to follow me.) Publishing videos. All of these things will get blog posts of their own over the next little while.
Thursday, 26 November 2009
I teach a course at Trent University on Object Oriented Analysis and Design with UML, and have done since the last century. I teach my students how to make decisions about the systems they will some day build, and how to draw diagrams that communicate those decisions to others. We find as often as not that the act of trying to make the diagram leads us through the thought processes that are needed to make good decisions. That brings huge value even if you never show the diagram to anyone else and never update it.
I've never been a big fan of "technical documentation" in the form of a giant binder that some poor person has to keep up to date any time the code changes. If you want to know all the methods of the Employee class, why not use Intellisense or the Object Browser or the like? But that doesn't mean I don't like making those diagrams at the beginning, when they help me to do my thinking. I also make them when I have something to explain, including when I bring a new person onto a project. So how much do I love this quote?
the UML ... was to be a language for visualizing, specifying, constructing,
and documenting the artifacts of a software-intensive system—in short, a
graphical language to help reason about the design of a system as it unfolds.
Most diagrams should be thrown away, but there are a few that should be
preserved, and in all, one should only use a graphical notation for those things
that cannot easily be reasoned about in code.
It's in an interview I already linked to, but it took Patrick Smacchia to point our those sentences to me. As I wind up the last few weeks of the course, it's nice to know that my position on the point of the diagrams and deliverables is aligned with one of my heroes.
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
Developer Night in Canada is a fun podcast from John Bristowe and Joey deVilla of Microsoft Canada.
Episode 1 - my friend Joel Semeniuk. He's talking about the tool formerly known as Team Systems, and about the way he makes software. The Work Item Manager I told you about gets a mention too. Worth a listen!
Monday, 02 November 2009
I remember when Design Patterns first came out. I already owned A Pattern Language - The Timeless Way of Building (an absolutely huge and fascinating book) and so I immediately "got" what Design Patterns was for. [And yes, I have used parts of Timeless Way to guide house-buying and house-renovating decisions.] I couldn't wait to get my hands on it.The member of staff I lent it to ended up reading it in the bath for hours. Geeks are funny, aren't we?
Well it's been 15 years since then. How does the book stack up?
Pretty well, really. Reuse has sort of moved from something we try to do project-to-project in our code to something that frameworks give us. But reusing design has always been a huge timesaver compared to reusing code, and that's this book in a nutshell.
Now Larry O'Brien has interviewed three of the Gang of Four and Grady Booch. You definitely need to read both of these, but I'll just give you some "taster" quotes:
- "...writing 100K lines of new code isn't that much easier now than it was 15 years
ago. It will do a lot more, but costs the same."
- " The most important artifact any development team produces is raw, running,
Saturday, 31 October 2009
Have you ever heard someone make a definitive statement about a particular feature of Visual Studio or the .NET Framework that you knew just wasn't true? Did you ever wish for a Snopes equivalent you could send them to? Well, your wish has been granted.
Give it a whirl
and see the official position on some popular (but unfounded) beliefs.
Thursday, 29 October 2009
I have now finally been using the Internet for more than half its existence. That's 20 of its 40 years. Back in 1969 the first few bytes were sent between networks (hence the name, it was a network of networks) as part, believe it or not, of a plan to save money. The BBC has a nice article about it. The Globe and Mail tosses in a quick summary of the history of the internet, which reminds me to link to my post that points to a more comprehensive summary in Vanity Fair.
If you think the Internet is just the web, all I can say is you missed a golden age. These days it's always September. I know I prefer what we have now, just as I can still miss what we had then.
Saturday, 17 October 2009
As C++ developers, we have a lot of options about how to link to libraries we use. We read sometimes that if we link statically, we will have more work to do if there's ever a security hole in the library, since we'll have to redeploy our app rather than just relying on the users to get the new library and use it dynamically. There's a great example of that in the ATL story
that is now just wrapping up. A problem was discovered in July, and emergency updates were promptly released
- just a day before the guys who discovered the problem spoke about it publicly. An article that same day
pointed out that the error was almost a typo - an extra & in an expression - and warned that the patches "do not automatically fix software that was developed using the buggy ATL.
Instead, vendors -- Microsoft as well as third-party firms -- must use the
patched Visual Studio to recompile their code, then distribute the new, secure
software to users." Well finally, Microsoft has finished their part of it with updates for the parts of Office that were using the old ATL. Have you done all of yours?
ps: love the "related twitters" at the bottom of the article - people may not tweet about the Active Template Library very often, but they sure do mention a certain airport / city that uses the same abbreviation
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Esther Schindler and I go way back. She's a great editor and I never quite have time to write for her, though I've come close a time or two. Recently, she wrote:
I decided to compile a list for developers, designers, and other techies of
blogs-worth-reading whose authors just-so-happen-to-be (mostly) women. I'm a
strong believer in women being more visible; we tend to fade into the
background, too much, and to apologize for our achievements. (That's one reason
women earn less than men; I'll get into that discussion another time.)
Enumerating women-to-admire felt like a good way to highlight smart people who
have wisdom to share.
I am delighted to see my friends on this list, and to be introduced to new blogs as well. Esther was even nice enough to include me on her list. Take a look and see if you can make a new friend, or at least a new habit.
Thursday, 01 October 2009
I came across a very insightful post from Paul Graham. Many of us know a manager who literally has meetings booked all day back to back, sometimes double or even triple booked. These are people who book meetings with themselves in order to have a block of time show busy in their schedule so they can do some non-meeting work. They end up with a week like this:
But what I hadn't thought about was how that changes the way they think about time, and about using up someone else's. Paul says:
You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default
you change what you're doing every hour. When you use time that way, it's
merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your
schedule, book them, and you're done.
Thing is, lots of us work on a completely different schedule - a maker's schedule. We need long chunks of time to get into flow and to take advantage of that state to produce. A scheduled interruption, in the form of a meeting, can ruin an entire morning or afternoon. It may not be logical and it may irritate other people, but it's still true. Read Paul's article to be convinced - he articulates this beautifully and he really crystallized the issue for me.
I find myself slowly moving into a manager's schedule these days. I'm typically juggling a lot of projects, I am a manager, I have a lot of meetings and conference calls, and I spend less and less time heads down creating. This has caused some conflict with other people in my company who are still on maker's schedules. It has also caused conflict for me - when I have a maker-style day, I don't take care of the usual zillion little things like returning phone calls, answering emails and so on, and when I have a manager-style day, I don't produce as much "stuff" - code, decks, demo scripts, proposals, or whatever - as I otherwise would. Having names for the concepts should let me understand what's going on a whole lot better. Thanks Paul!
Tuesday, 29 September 2009
I read (in the blog of one of his people) that Bill Wagner has won yet another award. This one is from Automation Alley, an organization that represents technology firms in southern Michigan. He was honoured in the Emerging Leader of the Year category. According to their nomination form, the award "recognizes an individual with a strong commitment to the future growth and success of Southeast Michigan’s technology community." They expect a Director or VP who has "numerous accomplishments to technology company, industry and/or market", shows "proven leadership" and is "active and respected in technology community". Yep, sounds like Bill to me! One of the delights of being an RD is that it brings people like Bill into my work life. Congratulations!
Friday, 25 September 2009
Scott Ambler says a lot of "detailed specifications" are just "detailed speculations". You think people might need some particular feature, so you write some very detailed material that says "you could click this button to confirm it" and "there could be this grid that would show you all the pending requests" and so on, and that also says "we think that if we code everything the way we've just said, it will take X hours/days/weeks of effort over Y elapsed days/weeks/months/years." And tempting as it is to say that all this is some sort of binding contract signed in blood, the truth is we're all guessing. Guessing what users might need, guessing what might be a good way to give them that (both in terms of what it looks like and in terms of how it would be coded), and guessing how hard or easy it would turn out to be. We're speculating. And the users, they're speculating too, about how they would use that feature and how important it is to them. It's an interesting thought.
Don't get me wrong. We write specs. We also guess what things will cost. But we don't write the kind of super-detailed, prototype-heavy, let's-list-every-field-on-the-report stuff until that last responsible moment. Do you?
Sunday, 13 September 2009
I'm a big Joey deVilla fan (known fact.) I'm also a big fan of the book "How to Work a Room", which inspired a line of thought that led to one of my earliest blog posts, over five years ago - What You Want to Get Could be What I Need to Give. So if Joey is quoting "How to Work a Room", you've got yourself a must-read. And then he's doing so while discussing a conference I'm going to speak at!
Why do you go to a conference instead of just watching the sessions online? So you can meet people. But gosh, when you're first starting, having conversations at conferences can be HARD. And it gets harder if you start beating yourself up for not doing it. Once you start doing it, and start reaping the benefits, you'll do it more and more, trust me. But to get started, relax. It wouldn't hurt to follow Joey's two big tips: "It’s especially important to talk to people you don’t know or who are
outside your usual circle" and "The best way to make weak ties at a conference is to work the
room." He follows that with 9 specific things you can do.The last one reminds me of another post from the same era in my blog: Know
What You Want From the Meeting. They're all excellent and I really recommend you come to TechDays and put them into action!
Tuesday, 01 September 2009
Here's a recording of a panel
at Tech Ed this summer featuring four dear friends of mine: Stephen Forte
, Joel Semeniuk
, Chris Menegay
, and Richard Campbell
. The title is "Agile: A Process or an Excuse?" but they don't really answer that question. Instead they talk about what Agile means to them, what to say if people argue about whether you're agile or not, and the role of tooling including Visual Studio Team Systems, sticky notes, really large sticky notes, and Excel spreadsheets. They don't agree on all of it, which makes it a good panel, but the insight is useful. Most interesting to me: Joel and Chris have been in the "I am the guy you are making the software for" role on some internal projects - and found themselves doing everything that your usual contact over in the business unit does when you ask for requirements - forgetting some, being vague, leaving out special cases, and demanding changes because of changes in the business model out in the real world. Users don't do these things because they don't know any better; they do them because that's how life is. An agile approach lets you live in that reality instead of bemoaning the fact that no-one will stick to the things they signed two years ago. I listened on fast speed, but I suggest you only do that if you've spent a lot of time listening to these four because they're pretty fast talkers to begin with, and faster still when they get excited about a topic.
Friday, 28 August 2009
Alan Skorkin reminds us
that much of what drives current software development process came from the more general study of process for all kinds of work, including manufacturing. When you decide to adopt a particular process, you do so to reach a goal and for that vast majority of businesses, that goal is productivity - more profit per time period. (For a few very small operations, less time period to earn the profit / income sounds far more humane, but is still based on a desire for higher productivity.) Whenever you adopt a process instead of just telling your staff to do whatever you want, it's because you don't think they would be as productive left to their own devices as they would be under the direction of the process.
As Alan points out, there are two very different thoughts behind this basic position. One says that workers are lazy and shiftless. They'd rather chitchat, smoke, or daydream than produce what management wants them to produce. Processes built on this thought are all about measuring and controlling and proving that people have or haven't done what they should have done. The second, christened Theory Y in contrast to the first, which got dubbed Theory X in order to tell the two apart, says that workers are much happier when they know they are productive, and need management to help them achieve productivity as a co-operative goal. Processes built on this thought are full of collaborative work and empowering and the like.
He goes on to draw some specific conclusions about Lean that I will leave aside. I think it's useful to look at the process you work with day to day and ask yourself - is this process founded on Theory X or Theory Y? What image does the management at your firm have of the workers at your firm? Does process control them or support them? Is the motivation for workers assumed to come from inside themselves, or to be imposed by management? No matter what management says about what developers can and can't do, the process you work with will tell you their founding principle. It might be an eye opener to think about it like that.
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
It wasn't long ago everyone was talking about a whole new way of working. It started with telecommuting in the 90's, but spread in this century to something far bigger. Remote work as a way of life, virtual teams, outsourcing, offshoring ... the scale just kept growing and the savings for companies appeared to be at least partly met by happy staff, whether that was a guy in the city who didn't have to spend 90 minutes each way in traffic, or a guy who was able to keep living in his small town while working for the big city firm so far away, or even a guy in a developing country who was able to earn more than his neighbours and follow the lure of high tech and problem solving at a time when no firms in that country were offering those jobs. I know many people in the big cities and the developed countries lost their jobs to those people, and I know it wasn't always simple to find traditional employment once the world of work started to change. Still, the world and the way many people in it earn a living changed and will not be changing back.
That said, in the mid 90s everyone I knew who was associated with any of this "new way of working" had come to realize it wasn't just a fire and forget sort of thing. You had to communicate a lot
. And while technology made some ways of communication simple and cheap, so that video calls and conference calls and instant messenger and desktop sharing and so on are all vital, it couldn't do it all. You have to get face to face still, and you have to do it regularly. I recently finished a 10 month contract for clients three thousand miles away. I did the vast majority of the work from here, and had phone calls and livemeetings many times a week. But every 4 to 6 weeks I got on a plane and I went there. And wow, the work we got done in those few days! Mini hallway meetings, lunches, dinners -- I typically could "touch" half the project participants in just two or three days, and solve seemingly intractable problems by going to people's offices and listening to them and looking at their body language and telling them they could trust me or asking them what the real problem was. It made such a huge difference to the success of the project. I didn't get paid for the time I spent travelling to them, or the nights spent away from my family, but I gladly invested that time to make everything go smoothly and to be a successful remote worker.
Some other folks have noticed this too, and in a far more systematic way. How's this for a conclusion
: "... common workplace-relationship problems, such as broken commitments, mistrust
and misrepresentation of information, occur more than twice as often with
virtual teams, as opposed to teams located in the same building. " Yikes! Apparently it's partly because things we do when we're upset with people work well if you see if each other regularly, but make things worse if you're apart. Or this useful summary
: "teams are a lot more effective when they're working with their friends in
than when they're working with those stupid offshore idiots
who never understand our designs or requirements
." So in that context, what could be a worse way of saving money than lowering the travel budget to zero and not letting people visit each other any more?
Yet that is exactly what's happening in a lot of companies. If it's happening in yours, do something about it. You need to visit your colleagues. If not, when your projects go pear-shaped, you may find the whole concept of virtual teams gets thrown out with it. And that would be a real shame.
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
I've read a few articles lately that have no praise for the praise sandwich. If you haven't heard that name before, it refers to something like this:
Joe, I really like the confidence and energy you bring to your work. But yesterday's outburst was unprofessional and frankly unacceptable. It's the sort of thing that could get you fired. But you're such a smart guy that I'm confident you'll never do anything like that again. You're an important part of the team and we're all glad you work here.
You start out by saying something nice, then criticize, then say something nice again to end the meeting on a positive note. So what's wrong with that? Well partly it's all the "but" in there. I've talked about that before
. There's more to it, though. Esther Derby says
it "tends to erode trust in the feedback givers intentions, and once that's gone,
there's not much chance any useful information will get through" which is a very good point. Her advice about how to deliver criticism is very good, most especially "don't sell past the close." Art Petty says
it is "insulting to the receiver and borderline deceitful" and is really about making the criticizer feel better, not the recipient. Of his tips, I especially like "link the issue to business impact" - one of the real strengths the boss brings to any situation is the extra information about the consequences of errors. I have found over the years that people who write code all day really don't see a problem with broken links or bad images on live websites, because it still works and it's not like there was a code problem. That's just one example of course, but if you want to change someone's behaviour, it's important that they actually understand why it's truly a problem.
I couldn't count the number of times I've had to tell someone they really screwed up. I know there were times it was as little as two words. After establishing the facts of the matter, I once just sighed and said "Not cool." That was all that employee needed to be told. I've also had very long and heated conversations that did not result in changed behaviour. These days I go for shorter over longer. And I don't do sandwiches.
Friday, 14 August 2009
What language do you think this
post by Jeff Atwood refers to?
There are over 220 billion lines of <language> in existence, a figure which
equates to around 80% of the world's actively used code. There are estimated
to be over a million <language> programmers in the world today. Most impressive
perhaps, is that 200 times as many <language> transactions take place each day than
Google searches - a figure which puts the influence of Web 2.0 into stark
Wow. 220 billion-with-a-b? B as in Business? As in Business-Oriented-Language? You know, the only thing I like about COBOL (and I have written precisely one COBOL program in the three decades I've been paid to program) is that it made it possible to have a language called SNOBOL.
The comments are full of folks who are maintaining 30 year old apps with a million lines of code, but the thing about billion-with-a-b is that you need 220,000 such folks to hit that number, and what's more as Larry O'Brien points out
20 years ago folks said there were 30 billion lines, and while I can agree that existing apps are being maintained, I don't think there are 7 times as many lines of COBOL out there now as there were at its peak.
But that's not my point. My points is that when you live at the leading edge, the bleeding edge, you forget a really important rule: edges are thin. The handful of us who are moving our apps to 4.0 now, who are complaining about an incompatibility between our Visual Studio 2010 beta and our Office 2010 beta, who are using a language invented this century, are dwarfed by folks who have been using the same tools and the same languages throughout their entire career. These people are invisible because they don't come to conferences, attend user group meetings, buy programming books, or read blogs. Heck, at one of my clients, the AS/400 guys sat off to the side and behind a little wall of cubicle partitions that was double the height of everyone else's. Really. They also never came to all-hands meetings and were exempt from the company-wide .NET training I delivered.
So do these "dark matter" developers matter to the "bleeding edge" developers? I think they do. For one thing, when you have your shiny and exciting idea to change everything about the way some software works, these guys can cancel your whole project with one or two sentences. For another, they are likely the only ones who understand the data format, the business rules as actually coded, and the special cases that come up every 15 to 20 years. Not to mention they can work the text editor. If you find yourself in a situation with some COBOL (or equivalent) developers in it, don't ever tell them you didn't think they existed any more. That's my tip to you.
Monday, 10 August 2009
Of course the most important sessions at PDC couldn't possibly be announced yet. The best are the ones that are TBD in the session list and schedule right up until the keynote. That's how you know something big is going to be announced. Imagine something where just hearing its code name, just knowing who was going to give the sessions, or even a single sentence of description would spoil the whole announcement. Those are the sessions you go to PDC for, so it's a bit like a Christmas present ... you can't know in advance what it will be.
But it's a four day conference with a lot of sessions and some of them can be announced in advance. I can see that this year some folks have decided to have slightly more interesting session titles (along with the more traditional titles):
- Zero to Awesome in Nothing Flat: The Microsoft Web Platform and You
- Windows Workflow Foundation 4 from the Inside Out
- Windows Identity Foundation Overview
- Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 Kernel Changes
- Using Classification for Data Security and Data Management
- Under the Hood with Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Programmability
- The State of Parallel Programming
- The DirectX 11 Compute Shader
- Simplifying Application Packaging and Deployment with Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2
- Petabytes for Peanuts! Making Sense Out of “Ambient” Data.
- Microsoft Visual C++ 2010: The "Accelerated" Way of Building Applications
- Microsoft Unified Communications: Developer Platform Futures
- Microsoft Silverlight Roadmap and Futures
- Microsoft Silverlight 3 Advanced Performance and Profiling Techniques
- Manycore and the Microsoft .NET Framework 4: A Match Made in Microsoft Visual Studio 2010
- Development Best Practices and Patterns for Using Microsoft SQL Azure Databases
- Developing xRM Solutions Using Windows Azure
- Developing .NET Managed Applications Using the Office 2010 Developer Platform
- Developer Patterns to Integrate Microsoft Silverlight 3.0 with Microsoft SharePoint 2010
- Data Programming and Modeling for the Microsoft .NET Developer
- Building Applications for the Windows Azure Platform
- Automating “Done Done” in the Dev-to-Test Workflow with Microsoft Visual Studio Team System 2010
- Accelerating Applications Using Windows HPC Server 2008
My favourite title in there is definitely "Manycore and the Microsoft .NET Framework 4: A Match Made in Microsoft Visual Studio 2010" but there are other contenders for sure. As for the topics themselves, I think many of us have still not given concurrency/parallelism/manycore the attention it deserves, and all of us are guilty of compartmentalizing what we learn about so I bet you have probably ignored something (Silverlight, or SharePoint, or Azure, or the full power of VSTS). That means these sessions alone will make us better devs. If these titles are enough to get you signed up, do it now
while you can get a $500 (US) discount - from $2095 for the whole conference (except workshops) down to $1595 until Sept 15th. Wait till Labour Day to start bugging your boss about it and the discount will be gone, plus the plane tickets will be more expensive. (Oh, if you're a student or teacher, you pay only $595, which gives you an astonishing way to get head and shoulders above those around you.)
There are also some seriously intelligent workshops scheduled:
- Getting the most out of Silverlight 3
- Patterns of Parallel Programming
- Developing Quality Software using Visual Studio Team System 2010
- Architecting and Developing for Windows Azure
- Microsoft Technology Roadmap
- Software in the Energy Economy
- Developing Microsoft BI Applications - The How and The Why
Four of those seven workshops are being given by RDs, meaning you'll get real world experience along with the technical product knowledge. What a way to get caught up on something you weren't paying attention to!
Going to conferences is getting harder and harder to justify in this climate. But that doesn't mean you stop going to conferences - it means you only go to those that are relevant to your work and offer amazing value (content, people, atmosphere, and otherwise-unavailable bits) in return for your registration fee, travel, and time away from work. The PDC offers just that for devs on the Microsoft stack. It's the only conference I've ever paid my own money to get to. Be there!
Sunday, 02 August 2009
I hate SharePoint sometimes. It's powerful, and strong, and free(ish) and does an amazing job. If you just want to install it and use it, there's really nothing to complain about. But it's greatest strength, and my greatest user-upper of swearwords, is that you can program against it. With each release, whatever I swore about last time is magically fixed (RunWithElevatedPrivileges FTW) but a whole pile of new misery sneaks in out of nowhere. (Well, and CAML remains, but I guess we can't do anything about that.) It's usually related to security, but not always, and the thing is that debugging it is always like surgery with oven mitts on.
I had a situation where I wanted to find the item you just added. Took a little searching, but I found it:
query.Query = "<Where><Eq><FieldRef Name='" & list.Fields.Item("Created By").InternalName & _
"'/><Value Type='User'>" & SPContext.Current.Web.CurrentUser.Name & "</Value></Eq></Where>" & _
"<OrderBy><FieldRef Name='Created' Ascending='FALSE' /></OrderBy>"
items = list.GetItems(query)
The first entry in items is the thing you most recently added. OK, fine. But we have event receivers on these lists, and they go off asynchronously. That means that right after you saved an item, while the receiver is still processing, the item isn't returned by the query.
Well that made me grumpy but I understood, so I made a loop, and if the first entry in items wasn't recent enough (say, in the last two minutes) I would have a little sleep and then ask again. But no matter how long I waited (even 20 minutes!) this code never would find the item. Oh, there was swearing, you can be sure of that.
I decided that SharePoint must be caching the query results. But searching for things like "SPListItemCollection cache" just got me helpful tips on caching these results myself, some thread safety issues, and the like. For example, this MSDN article
You might try to increase performance and memory usage by caching
SPListItemCollection objects that are returned from queries. In
general, this is a good practice; however, the
SPListItemCollection object contains an embedded
SPWeb object that is not thread safe and should not be cached.
Does that match up well with what I am seeing - always the identical results from this query-in-a-loop even though I know the underlying list has changed while the loop was running? It does not.
Then I found two blog entries by Jeff Crossett: first the complaint, and then the solution. He's right. And when I implemented his hack:
' use a random value in query so we don't get cached.
randomValue = generator.Next(100, 1000000000)
query.Query = "<Where><And><Eq><FieldRef Name='" & list.Fields.Item("Created By").InternalName & _
"'/><Value Type='User'>" & SPContext.Current.Web.CurrentUser.Name & "</Value></Eq><Neq>" & _
"<FieldRef Name='Title' /><Value Type='Text'>" & randomValue.ToString & "</Value>" & _
"</Neq></And></Where>" & _
"<OrderBy><FieldRef Name='Created' Ascending='FALSE' /></OrderBy>"
items = list.GetItems(query)
We all lived happily ever after. Well, until the next WTF that SharePoint throws my way. I am doing amazing things with this product. My customers would pay more for their software if SharePoint didn't exist. But man, sometimes it is HARD.
Monday, 13 July 2009
A whole pile of really smart people, many of whom I am lucky enough to call my friends, have contributed to a new eBook on development topics. Check these titles:
- Working with Brownfield Code by Donald Belcham (Microsoft MVP)
- Beyond C# and VB by Ted Neward (Microsoft MVP)
- Remaining Valuable to Employers featuring Barry Gervin, Billy Hollis, Bruce Johnson, Scott Howlett, Adam Cogan, and Jonathan Zuck
- All I Wanted Was My Data by Barry Gervin (Microsoft Regional Director and MVP)
- Efficiency Upgrade by Derek Hatchard (Microsoft Regional Director and MVP)
- Getting Started with Continuous Integration by Sondre Bjellås (Microsoft Regional Director and MVP)
- On Strike at the Software Factory by Daniel Crenna (Microsoft MVP)
- C# Features You Should Be Using by Ted Neward (Microsoft MVP)
- Accelerate Your Coding with Code Snippets by Brian Noyes (Microsoft Regional Director and MVP)
- Is Silverlight 2 Ready for Business Applications? by Jonas Follesø (Microsoft Regional Director and MVP)
- Innovate with Silverlight 2 by Daniel Crenna (Microsoft MVP)
- Real World WPF: Rich UI + HD by Gill Cleeren (Microsoft Regional Director and MVP)
- Hidden Talents by Peter Jones
- Creating Useful Installers with Custom Actions by Christian Jacob
- Banking with XML by Peter Jones
- Sending Email by Derek Hatchard (Microsoft Regional Director and MVP)
Also, it has comics in it. Really. And if you prefer a printed copy, you can order one (black and white or colour) at a nominal cost. And these aren't little blog posts, they're decent length articles. All told the PDF is 132 pages. Each article conveys, on top of the technical information you'd expect, a glimpse into the personality and style of the author. A highly recommended download and read.
Update: This whole recommending thing works even better when you include a link: http://devshaped.com/book. Slow brain day today, I guess.
Thursday, 09 July 2009
We have a long running Agile project underway. Every month or so we deliver a new release, then work with the customer to decide what will be in the next release. Unlike many Agile shops, this isn't our only project - we have other small software development projects, mentoring work, and so on that take up about two thirds of the team's time, leaving one third for this project. What's more, we do this as a little fixed bid project every month, and both my bottom line and the customer are happy with the cost of each release. The key to that, of course, is accurate estimation of the effort in each iteration.
In some ways we have it easy now. The client has working code, and each month all we need to estimate are the changes and additions to that code. But how would it be if we were starting from nothing and planning to build a whole big system over the course of a year or so, for someone who wanted a fixed cost up front and a reasonably complete list of features to be delivered for that cost? Stephen Forte gave a talk recently on just that topic. Plenty of good ideas and a fun listen.
Wednesday, 01 July 2009
So I guess I am totally having a "get off my lawn" moment here. I read, on a blog I generally enjoy reading, the following rant about "bad customer service":
- Why am I still required to fill out my personal details (city, birth date, job title) while registering on web sites, when all they need to do is fetch that data from my LinkedIn page?
- Why does my new Internet provider give me a new email address (which I won't use), requiring me to read that mailbox regularly for service updates? Why not send me tweets?
- Why do I have to go to the web site of my vendor of contact lenses to re-order my monthly set of lenses? Why not enable me to send a "reorder" message through Facebook?
- Why does the agile 2009 conference require that I upload my presentation to their site, in PDF form with maximum size of 5 MB? Why not integrate with the much more advanced SlideShare where I already have an account?
- Why do I get offers for products that I clearly don't want or that I already own, which can be easily deduced from my reviews, ratings, and rantings on various social sites?
Prior to this bulleted list was a complaint that an ISP hadn't magically noticed that some emails weren't reaching the ranter, and didn't email about it, or didn't go figure out what @tag to use in a Tweet so that their customer would know there was a problem with some emails. I mean really, "send me a tweet"? Tweets are broadcast messages, not one-on-one communication, aren't they?
Good heaven. If I went to a random web site and on the registration page entered "Kate Gregory" (or "Barack Obama") and it trundled off to LinkedIn and filled in where I live, what I do, my birthday etc I would be majorly creeped out and want nothing to do with that web site. Maybe, just maybe, I would be ok with a button that said "go find this out on the public web" but I doubt it. I think OpenID is a better way to go, and I do appreciate that most Microsoft sites now just let me use my Live ID, but for sites with no business relationship to share what they know about me just creeps me right out. Reorder contact lenses on Facebook? What does Facebook have to do with buying stuff from completely unrelated third parties? Why would it be a good thing to put intermediaries (Facebook, Twitter etc) in all my transactions? The big excitement of Web 1.0 was that it took intermediaries out of the picture and let me interact directly with the producers of the things I wanted to buy. One of the major inconveniences of Web 2.0 is excited under-30's (sorry to generalize, a handful of over-30's are excited like this too) making me sign up for yet another account on yet another Social Networking Silver Bullet that they are going to use to manage their event/project/party/virtual team.
I disagree with the fourth bullet, too. I would much rather just be told where to upload my stuff and be done with it. I also have some empathy for folks who want to use the same way to communicate with everyone on a reasonably large list. Can you imagine the job (probably unpaid in his or her free time) of the conference organizer who says "everybody please put your slides somewhere, anywhere on the web that works for you, and send me the link, and here are links to free places you can put your slides in case you're not on SlideShare." And this organizer probably still has to run the upload-your-slides here site for everyone who doesn't have an account somewhere else. And has to accept and send not just emails about it (with or without links) but also tweets, blog posts, and comments on one speaker's YouTube channel and another speaker's CodePlex project home page, because why should they be obliged to look in more than one place for attempts to communicate? And then this poor organizer needs to know how to download from 10 or 20 different document sharing sites, and register for notifications if they're changed, because the speaker figures uploading new docs and not telling anyone will be fine, since after all the site sends notifications if they're changed.
The last bullet is hilarious. Dude, I get offers for things that I clearly don't want. The spammers can't be bothered to check my gender or what country I live in. You really think they're going to check your MySpace to see you already tried acai berry and whether it worked for you or not?
But under all that rankling and disagreeing is the germ of a really important truth. Just as David Platt likes to say "Know your Customer, for he is not you", I can see that I might not offer enough options to the millennials, and they might not offer enough options to my and my fellow post-boomers. It's an interesting culture clash considering we write software for each other, and one that's worth thinking about. If a customer service department doesn't offer service the way you want it, if the conference speaker wrangler doesn't wrangle speakers the way they want to be wrangled, if my software doesn't let you talk back to me the way you want to talk back to me and if I don't listen when you talk the way you want to, then that's a problem. Hmmm.
Monday, 29 June 2009
I'm a big Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares fan. I wildly prefer the English series (also true for The Apprentice and several other "reality" shows) because he cares more on those than on the US-edited ones. I'm also a big Steve Clayton fan. So when Steve says "It was like watching an episode of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (minus swearing). I watched the first episode start to finish…I can’t remember the last time I watched such a long video on the web" that is endorsement enough for me.
I watched it and it was indeed both entertaining and instructive. How could a big company launch a whole new initiative, commission a ton of software for their customers to use, and not have software for the back office to use to manage it all? Why does it take an outside consultant to say to one guy "how much of your time goes to this?" and to another guy "is that enough?" and then present the result to the CEO, who (no surprise) promptly authorizes some hiring? I may never launch a global initiative in Paris, New York, and London and spend a few million in each city before setting to work to make it profitable, but I'm still glad I watched the video. And as the person who sometimes asks the two questions that were never asked in the same room before, it is nice to know the demand for simple questions at the heart of the matter will never fade.
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
An interesting article about the "hockey handshake" tradition. One of the first things I needed to understand when I started watching baseball was the handshake thing.
At the end of a big hockey game, the teams shake hands with each other, that is each player shakes hands with each and every one of the opponents, and generally not with their own teammates at all. I was used to that and I see that as a "ok we were hitting each other, but no hard feelings."
But at the end of a big baseball game, the winning team shakes hands amongst themselves, that is each player shakes hands with roughly half of their team-mates (the ones on the field shake with the ones who were off the field) while the losing team disappears as fast as they can.
It's tempting to see this as a fundamental Canada/US dichotomy, but it's more a baseball/hockey thing and I suspect it's because hockey is a contact sport and baseball (at least on paper) is not. Forgiving the person who has bruised you and saying "good game" is probably a lot more important in contact sports. And indeed, it seems that football goes for the "shake the opponents hands" tradition.
I have to say I'm more the hockey handshake than the baseball handshake type, even though I'd rather watch baseball than hockey most of the time. I really like the idea of taking the time to reconnect with the opponent and affirm that you're really all part of a large thing (the league and the sport) and are colleagues in that effort. In the same way, everyone in this business is a colleague, even if we compete from time to time.
Tuesday, 09 June 2009
I finally got around to listening to the last recorded webcast in this spring's Ignite Your Career webcast series from Microsoft Canada. Joey has a handy set of links to all the episodes on the Canadian Developers Blog. This series is very different from most Microsoft webcasts - it's not really about technology. It's about the things you need to learn to advance your career that are not straight technology like picking up a new language or a new development paradigm.
- Industry Insights and Trends (featuring Joel Semeniuk)
- Discovering Your Trusted Resources (featuring Richard Campbell)
- How to Establish and Maintain a Healthy Work/Life Balance
- How to Become a Great Leader (featuring Barry Gervin)
- Building, Managing and Strengthening Your Team
- Women in IT Panel Discussion
All the webcasts have been recorded and are well worth a download and a listen.
Friday, 05 June 2009
Well, obviously some programmers are poor communicators, just as some programmers are good painters or poor singers. But Leon Bambrick (Secret Geek) says "the better you program, the worse you communicate." And he means it. Basically good programmers have a number of habits that work well when talking to (or listening to) a compiler, but hurt you when you're dealing with people. And the comments dig in to the "how can I get better?" part of the problem. Worth a read.
Monday, 01 June 2009
We have all worked with star developers. When I come into a client to mentor, occasionally they have one developer who is just a star. I can pretty much spot them in the first half hour these days. Other times they have a developer who would say "I am a star" but who wouldn't get that designation from me. Tim Stall has a nice list of things that make a developer a star. As I went through the list I was thinking "yes! yes!" and finally "hire! hire!" which is also what happens when I meet real stars. (Don't worry, I have never poached a dev from a client and never would, but "would you hire this person" is still an incredibly useful summary of someone's skills.) I especially like "22. Knows when the rules do not apply". It can't be taught, and dear heaven can people get this one wrong. When you meet someone who gets this right, it is such a relief.
The list doesn't tell you how to become that sort of person, but I am quite sure the rest of the Internet has some hints. So will I if I meet you in a mentoring context.
Saturday, 30 May 2009
An illuminating post from Dr. Rick Kirschner on bringing out the best in others. He gives ten specific rules, which act as nice reminders only after you've read the paragraphs that go with each. A lot of this maps well to things I am doing and things I have read elsewhere, but in far longer than a paragraph. Other things, like "useful assumptions" are new and bring me an "aha" that I enjoy.
Read it over and see if you don't learn something.
Sunday, 24 May 2009
Paul Sheriff provides a link to a panel he was on at Tech Ed about setting up a consulting business. I've watched the video and I agree with so much of what the panelists said. Watching this video will give you a good insight into the common problems we tend to run into, and some practical tips to keep yourself out of quagmires. Recommended.
Friday, 22 May 2009
Completely without sarcasm, I am pleased with Air Canada for introducing cell-phone free areas in their lounges. While it seems plenty of people come there to hang out, drink free booze, ask when the soup will be available, and have long loud conversations, I go there to have some peace and quiet and a wireless connection. (Though I do like the soup.)
Yes, that's a regular phone in the foreground, just outside the cell-free zone. Irony? Only if anyone ever used them.
Saturday, 16 May 2009
I have a collection of USB drives in my laptop bag, as I suppose we all do, and recently I wanted to use one to give someone some files. This wasn't a temporary hand-it-over-they-copy-get-it-back scenario, so I wanted a pretty much empty drive. I found one with only 3 files on it, but the bad news was one of the files was called ReadyBoost.sfcache. That means at some point I had put the drive into my machine and told Windows 7 it could use it to speed up my machine. That's a good thing, and I'm a ReadyBoost fan and all that, but I wanted to use the drive for files and it was pretty much all filled with the cache file.
I tried deleting it, but no go. I tried ejecting the drive and putting it in again so I could say no if I was asked about using it, but I should have realized I hadn't been asked earlier when I put it in so not surprisingly I wasn't asked this time either. A little searching revealed the trick. Put the drive in, open My Computer, right click the drive and choose Properties. Go to the ReadyBoost tab. Presto!
Check "Do not use this device", click OK and tada - the cache file disappears and I have my drive back.
Sunday, 26 April 2009
Gary Bertwhistle tells the story of the "yeah but" guy and encourages all of us to be "yeah and" guys instead. It's good advice. Years ago, I heard about the improv "yes and" rule. I discovered that, in both business and personal life, if you take a sentence with a but, and replace the but with and, the sentence becomes a much more positive and pleasant one. Your decision, your ruling, hasn't changed. The way you present it has. Sometimes instead of "and", I split the sentence at "but" into two sentences. Compare these:
- (To your child, about some iffy party or event they want to attend) I love you, but I'm not letting you go to that. I love you, and I'm not letting you go to that.
- I've thought about it a lot, but it's not going to happen. I've thought about it a lot, and it's not going to happen.
- It's a good idea, but I can't approve it. It's a good idea. I can't approve it.
- I know you really want to, but you can't. I know you really want to, and you can't.
Is it because people hear "but", know you're saying no, and stop listening? Is it because "but" somehow negates the "good" half of the sentence? I don't know. I do know I have less arguing in my life since I adopted this verbal habit.
Wednesday, 22 April 2009
I'm a very lucky person. I get great parking spots, I find money on the ground, I bump into people who turn out to be just who I needed to bump into, and so on. I was intrigued to read about a professor who can teach people how to be luckier. He recruited people who self-identified as lucky or unlucky, and then subjected them to tests that were not entirely based on chance (for example, not rolling dice or tossing coins) but that most people wouldn't think of as a game of skill. For example:
I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. I had secretly placed a large message halfway through the newspaper saying: "Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win £250.” This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than two inches high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.
He has a list of principles to make yourself luckier. I'd say I do these things, and I agree they are likely why I am lucky. I suggest you give it a try. You may also be interested in his blog and youtube videos, which are mostly about "magic tricks" that are based on psychology but don't feel like it. I especially like "Colour Change." See if watching that changes your mind about anything.
Saturday, 18 April 2009
I love reading Rands. He has such practical day to day advice for managing projects and people, and then he has some truly inspirational topics. You think you have a tough project? You think you have to invent half the technology you're using on the fly? Working with new unproven tools? Try building the Brooklyn Bridge. I guess it's the engineer in me (chemical, not civil) but I see bridge building as one of our most persistently amazing technologies. It also makes an amazing metaphor. I hope something I design, build, or project-manage lasts 120+ years, but I rather doubt any of it will.
And while I'm quoting Rands, you just have to read about The Pond. I have had a lot of variation, over the decades, in the amount of time I spend with my staff and the amount of time they spend with each other. I wish his pessimism about the fate of those who work remote all the time was misplaced - but unfortunately, I think he's right. If you work remote all the time, you need to think about how to be in the pond.
Both highly recommended.
Saturday, 04 April 2009
I spend a lot of time at a keyboard and screen. Most of the time, I'm working. I might be writing code or a document, reading something to better myself, reading something because it's my job to review it, watching a video or screencast, triaging bugs in TFS, or of course processing email. Some of these tasks involve a lot of typing, others mainly mousing, and some involve sitting almost completely still with the occasional page-down or mouse click. Other times, I'm having conversations with family or friends, reading something for fun, or playing a game. These tasks also have the same spectrum of frantic-typing and clicking through to mostly passive consumption with the occasional click or keypress. And at still third times I'm doing what we might call family administrative tasks - seeing when the grocery store in a nearby town closes, checking the school web site for holiday dates, ordering something, renewing something, banking or billpaying - or business administrative tasks - including invoicing my clients. You can't tell, by looking at the back of my screen or listening to my typing and mousing, what I'm doing. You can't tell by where I'm sitting either ... I might be using Remote Desktop to access the computer where our book-keeping software is installed, or a server that needs to be configured, or a client machine so that I can reproduce a production problem.
So what? Well it isn't how work has usually been. Hundreds of years ago, if someone was working you could tell by looking at them. They had a hammer in their hand, or a paintbrush, or some other tool. Even a few decades ago, if someone worked at a desk by writing on paper it was easy to see what desk they were at, what papers were strewn around them. Reading the paper looked very different from checking the invoices. And of course, leisure never involved the same tools or locations as work. Now, not so much. Bill Buxton has an interesting article on just this topic. He's at Microsoft Research, and it pleases me to think that folks there are thinking about this. I look forward to a future time when people can get a better idea of what I'm doing and how interruptable I am, not just "you're always on your computer."
Tuesday, 31 March 2009
I've heard people use the name "elevator pitch" for a concise answer to a question like "What do you do?" or "What is this company that you run?". I don't think that's a good use of the term. You pitch a specific project or idea (which might be "hire me" but might not.) Answering a small-talk question isn't making a pitch. It does, however, have a lot in common with the elevator pitch - most importantly that you don't have very long at all. Hi, how are you, that's a cool shirt, where do you work, what do you do there - these aren't essay questions.
So you want a concise answer, so that at least you don't talk people's ear off and bore them. And it would be neat if your answer either led the conversation in a direction you'll enjoy, or brought you business, or both. Steve Pavlina has given this quite a bit of thought. It's a long blog post that leads down to 2 or 3 10-12 word sentences, but that's the thing with short statements - they take forever to write.
I've been working on this for a while with gregcons - what's our 10 word answer to what do we do? Generally I say "We solve people's problems. Sometimes we write them software, other times we give them advice on software deveopment or mentor them." If the person looks even vaguely interested I might elaborate, but often that's all the answer they needed. The process of finding this short answer for us, and the process ahead of me to continue to shorten it, does give useful insight into what parts of my job and what parts of this business matter the most to me. I highly encourage everyone whose answer is "all kinds of stuff!" to take the time to find the common thread rather than just listing off a whole pile of -ing verbs until the person who asked slips into a coma. For more on the "what is my real underlying business" (as opposed to the skills you happen to ply in support of that business) you might also want to read a year-ending post from Mike Gunderloy that's just as valid at this time of year.
Monday, 23 March 2009
I've written before about Agile and how we do it (not like other folks) and how I agree it can play well with CMMI. Even with that background, I was a little taken aback to read the title of this Scott Ambler blog post. But he makes an interesting case. He says at level 1 you're doing core Agile things. Maybe you're using Scrum, XP, Agile Modeling, or Agile Data. You're on the way. At level 2, you're disciplined Agile. I might phrase this as saying there's process in your agility and agility in your process. He lists some processes that build on Scrum and XP to provide a little more structure while staying lean. Then at level 3 you've achieved agility at scale. That really is a tough one - a small team with a small customer base has a much easier time being agile today. Perhaps it's a mythical level, or perhaps some folks are operating there.
I'm going to keep reading what Scott has to say on this. It's increasing my own comfort level with what to call our own approach to software development and problem solving.
Saturday, 21 March 2009
I love this story. Seems a fellow was playing a low-stakes slot machine. This thing takes pennies, so if you win the "big jackpot" it doesn't rain pennies on you, it displays a message that says "you have won $xyz, please call an attendant over to this machine so you can collect" or words to that effect. Imagine his delight when it told him he had won 42.9 million dollars! Sadly, when the attendant arrived there was no 43 million dollar payout. The most that machine can pay out is $9,025.
So what happened? Here's the quote from the story:
In a confusing nutshell: Computers speak in a language of bits. Information is represented with zeros and ones. Very often, these numbers – both positive and negative – are stored in 32-bit sequences.
Still with me?
In this system, the number —1 can also be represented as 4294967295. Count that many pennies as dollars and you see 42,949,672.95.
The reporter wants you to know this is difficult. I want you to know it's hilarious. But then again, I didn't write a 43 million dollar signed/unsigned bug.
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Women in Leadership & Technology, a subgroup of IAMCP Canada held their first Canadian “Meet & Mingle” on March 9th. It was a networking opportunity for women in technology and leadership both inside and outside Microsoft. This was a nice opportunity to meet some new people for me and to talk about the issue that seems never to go away ... why do so few other women want to be in this business? Maxine Chung from itbusiness.ca was there too and has posted a slideshow (I am not in any of the pictures though) that includes a summary, plus a longer article. Check it out!
Wednesday, 04 March 2009
Here's an interesting post from Rick Segal. Even if you don't want VC money, it's an intruiging exercise to see how you look from that point of view. Let's see how gregcons does:
- Google "Gregory Consulting" and "gregcons". Our site, some sites of other Gregory Consultings in the world (note to self - if I want VC funding, create a sub with a weirdo name with extra vowels or not enough vowels), and some folks linking to blog postings of mine. Not a soul who's actually discussing us as a company. Fine by me but probably an issue if I wanted investors.
- Google "Kate Gregory" and "Brian Gregory". You can see who the public face of this company is - not one of the Brian hits is the right Brian, and all the Kate hits are me speaking, writing, and general experting. Interestingly Google (which I never use for my own searches but am using in the spirit of Rick's blog) doesn't find the "other" Kate Gregorys that Live tends to return. I'm not actually the only one on the planet.
- The mission statement. Um. Well, we have a tag line on the website "Leading your developers forward" so I'll give that a try. Interesting way to discover who is mirroring your old content chrome and all, but you don't learn much about us from it.
I think we pass the test of being discoverable on the internet, but it's clear people don't talk about us as a company much (they do talk about me from time to time). Fun exercise. Try it yourself!
Tuesday, 03 March 2009
I've been accumulating some links that might be relevant to folks looking for work. I got a lot of traffic to a post last year about trick questions in a job interview, so I thought I'd share these as well.
These posts are very different, but they all have useful information for you.
Saturday, 28 February 2009
I've been doing some training lately and of course conference season is on the way, so I'm starting to think once again about the mechanics of talking to audiences. One relatively recent change in audience is the popularity of Twitter. It is starting to create a far more public backchannel, one that even the presenter (or the presenter's colleagues) can read and respond to during the talk.
Private, even secret, backchannels are nothing new. I've been on many a conference call where 5 or 6 of us are on Messenger discussing the call itself (and we probably wouldn't want the speaker to read what we were typing.) I've also been in physical meetings where a small group of people are privately discussing the meeting itself, whether co-ordinating who will say what when, or just aimless snarking and wondering when we can leave.
But a public backchannel, maybe even one you have an obligation to monitor, is a very different beast. Some folks, like Olivia Mitchell on Tamar Weinberg's blog, think it's all-good all-round: better for the audience, the presenter, the world as a whole. Presenters just have to learn new reflexes: when your audience suddenly starts typing and looking at their screens, it doesn't mean you've lost them, just that you're so interesting and the information is so important that they feel the need to share with the world immediately. Ira Basen is not so sure, especially if the tweets are negative and going out in public before the talk has even finished and without asking the presenter any questions.
Different conferences will probably lead to different conventions and habits. I can imagine a lot of tweeting from a keynote where things are being announced or demo'd for the first time. But if I'm doing an hour on C++ 0x features, I can't really see why "OMG Lambdas r AWESOME" can't wait until the talk is over. "Now showing capturing the whole stack by reference" doesn't seem like a likely tweet. I can tell you that I'm not going to have a window open on my screen where I'm following "my channel" and that if you want to ask me a question, it's going to involve speaking aloud, at least for now. That said, it's a good idea to think about the impact of wireless internet in every room and instantly-constructed channels on speaking, on conferences, and on the way we all share information. I think there will be more room-switching early in talks if people learn that someone else is really doing a great job, and attendees may demand more agility in scheduling repeats and extra sessions on topics that were well received. As always, we live in interesting times.
Thursday, 26 February 2009
Michael Feathers put together a list of ten papers that "every programmer should read". I've seen such lists before, and this one is pretty good. I've read Parnas and Cunningham and draw on that background pretty regularly. I'd heard of some of the rest. But the real fun begins in the comments. People suggest additions (Fred Brooks - definitely! Joel Spolsky - why not?) and then other people start saying that reading, especially reading stuff from 20 years ago, just makes you an academic and not useful. Oh my.
I'm useful. I've written a lot of code that's made people's jobs and working lives a lot easier. I've written systems that have transformed companies and enabled them to survive business model changes they thought would sink them. I've rescued projects and made developers better than they were time and time again. And I'm academic. I have a Ph. D. for heavens sake, I teach at a university (no, not full time, one course a year), and when someone uses the word "academic" or "intellectual" as an insult, and I object, they tell me "you're not that kind of academic, not the kind I meant." Well honey, to paraphrase Gloria Steinem, this is what academic looks like. Reading 20 year old white papers and thinking about concepts and theory is one of the things that makes me useful. Folks who just want to get started and type some code and not bother with that high falutin design stuff tend to write bad code.
Grrr. Read the list, maybe read a few of the papers (as the commenters mention, Michael's links are to a site that will charge you to read them, but if you have the author and the title your favourite search engine will undoubtedly help you find free copies lying around on the web) and think a little about why it would be an insult to say that someone cares about history and theory.
Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Steve McConnell has a training company, Construx, that is not like other training companies, mostly because Steve is not like other developers. As it says on his web site:
Steve is the author of Software Estimation: Demystifying the Black Art (2006), Code Complete (1993, 2004), Rapid Development (1996), Software Project Survival Guide (1998), and Professional Software Development (2004). His first two books won Software Development magazine's Jolt Excellence award for best programming books of their years.
Steve has worked in the desktop software industry since 1984 and has expertise in rapid development methodologies, project estimation, software construction practices, and third-party contract management. In 1998, readers of Software Development magazine named Steve one of the three most influential people in the software industry along with Bill Gates and Linus Torvalds. Steve was Editor in Chief of IEEE Software magazine from 1998-2002.
There are very few authors who have multiple books on my bookshelf that I paid for. Steve is in rare company there. And the courses they offer? We're not talking "Introduction to Silverlight" or "A First Look At Sharepoint" here. This stuff is more university-like: concepts, theory, the big picture. Some upcoming titles:
- Object-Oriented Requirements Analysis and Design Using the UML
- Professional Tester Boot Camp
- Enterprise Agile: Planning, Managing and Scaling Agile Projects Using Scrum
- Requirements Boot Camp
- Software Estimation in Depth
These are the kinds of courses that change the kind of developer you are, not just teach some new syntax or tool. And they cost thousands of dollars. But Steve has decided that fully one quarter of the seats in each class will now be available for free to people who have been laid off. If you can get to Bellevue WA, you should arrange to take one of these courses. No question about it.
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
Here's a list of ways to be a superstar at work, from GL Hoffman. It applies equally to a 19 year old close to me who's starting her first full time job, or to developers who want to work for me. The examples in the article are aimed at a 20-something working in an office full of older people, in a vaguely technical capacity, and is kinda Web 2.0 ish, but the principles are far broader than that. My two favourites: See Work and On Time. But read them all.
Sunday, 22 February 2009
If you've been to a big conference in the past few years you'll have seen the name David Platt on the speaker list, and usually scheduled into the big room. Dave's superbly entertaining speaking style delivers valuable information about user interface design and genuinely meeting the needs of the folks who use the systems you're developing.
Here's an interview with Dave recorded at Tech Ed, and on the Tech Ed Europe sessions page, if you click through to page 2, you can see the one hour version of his talk.
Since Dave mentions used car salesmen in his interview, I'll share a little joke with you. What's the difference between a computer salesman and a used car salesman? The used car salesman knows when he's lying to you.
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
I have a favourite piece of advice, and I give it even though it frustrates many recipients. If you want to write, write! If you want to get into public speaking, speak in public! If you want to start a user group, start a user group! If you want to be an MVP, do what MVPs do (advise others and solve problems and volunteer for stuff) and you'll start to get the benefit even before you get the award. I'm not quite saying Just Do It but the fact is the barriers to entry are very very small these days and possibly non existent. Technical writing especially - start a blog or get active on newsgroups and presto, you're writing! Listen to feedback (people telling you you're wrong is bad, people thanking you for your answer or quoting you elsewhere is good) and you will get better. Public speaking isn't much harder to crack because the world is full of user group leaders and similar folks who need someone to speak to them month after month. It's also full of Code Camps and other places to get started (they tend to come with coaching and encouragement too.)
Still some people don't like this advice. They feel held back from what they want to do, and they don't like to be told "nothing is holding you back, you can start whenever you want." Alternatively, they don't want to speak or write or lead for free, they want to be paid for it, and they don't like the idea of starting for free and working hard for years to get that overnight success. So here's a rephrasing that maybe you'll prefer: "80% of success is just showing up." It's attributed to Woody Allen, not a guy I would normally take advice from, but it sure is accurate. Go to the meeting, open the document you're supposed to be writing, be there when someone asks for volunteers, go to the whiteboard and draw as much as you know, put your shoes on and go outside, ... not all at once of course, but these are the "just showing up" tasks that get you on the road to success. Try it.
Sunday, 08 February 2009
I had read that Windows 7 did the perf calculations differently than Vista, so I thought I would compare them. I took a picture of my settings as part of the whole "back up everything three different ways" process before the upgrade (me? burned before? ya think?) and here's what it said:
After the upgrade, it said:
So the same conclusion, but drawn from different numbers. Bottom line is I could mess around with this laptop and it would be faster, but it works for my day to day use. And things feel zippier on Windows 7. Sleeping and waking up, for sure. And finding the files I want ... but that's about jump lists and previews.
Saturday, 07 February 2009
Well, I did it. I put the Windows 7 beta on the laptop I use day in and day out. This machine had Vista on it, and the upgrade was utterly painless. All my software was still there and still working fine when the install was complete. The only glitch was that my built-in touchpad has become invisible in some way. This means I can't configure it to be less sensitive, which in turn means I was "clicking" a lot when I didn't mean to. I disabled it completely (using the 1980s-style UI of the edit-your-settings-on-boot experience) and other than having to carry a mouse with me when I take the laptop somewhere, there's been no other impact.
First impressions: I use jump lists a lot. Enough for a separate blog post. I like everything I noticed, except the default large-icons, no-text, group-everything setting on the taskbar. I fixed that:
(I've cropped it so it doesn't stretch the page)
I've said it before and I've said it again ... you can't really learn a product if you kick up a VPC once in a while but live your life in a different product. Windows 7 is stable enough to live in, and living in it will show what it's really like soon enough. I'm liking what I'm living.
Wednesday, 04 February 2009
I like Scott Berkun's blog a lot. He often shares insightful glimpses of what it takes to achieve. In this entry, he talks about how ratsen fratsen hard it is to write a book. This reminds me that I don't want to write any more books (in case watching Julie finish hers wasn't reminder enough) and also connects to the trouble I sometimes have with other long term unstructured projects. Deciding to work on what needs to be worked on is how you show your character. Day in, day out. Don't like the character you're showing? Decide differently, starting today.
Tuesday, 03 February 2009
Let me share with you something I heard on the TV the other night that really clicked with me. "As I get older," the man said, "I find that I ask myself questions more. You know, why am I here?". He paused, and I nodded. The older we get the more life we have to ponder the meaning of. Then continued. "It's not exactly philosophy though. It's more ... why am I here... in the basement? What the heck did I come down here for? "
Oh yeah. That I do even more than the pondering.
Saturday, 31 January 2009
Rands has some cool advice for being a fantastic manager in a pretty big company leading a pretty big team. It isn't all applicable to managing a whole company and having no boss, as I do, or to leading a smallish team without hire and fire power, as many developers do when they first move to management. But a lot of it is. Try this for a start:
... at the end of the day when you ask, “What did I build today?” The answer will be a troubling, “Nothing”. The days of fixing ten bugs before noon are gone. You’re no longer going to spend the bus ride home working on code; you’re going to be thinking hard about how to say something important to someone who doesn’t want to hear it. There will be drama. And there be those precious seconds when there is no one in your office wanting… something.
If that resonates with you, read the whole thing. You'll be glad you did.
Friday, 30 January 2009
I've been in Redmond all week (some Windows 7-related fun that I'll discuss later) and rented a car. Look at the license plate I happened to get:
I don't know why it's Oregon. Probably all the Washington DEV plates are taken . When I first saw it, I said to myself "somewhere here there's a 22 year old developer who wishes this plate was available." It was several days before I remembered that Gregory Consulting was founded in 1986. Nice.
Monday, 26 January 2009
You know the deal when you demo beta (or worse, pre-beta) software. That stuff has audience detectors in it! Sure, it works on the plane, but just wait until you get in front of people. I’ve had my share of demo deaths, but I don’t think I’ve managed to look this cool about it:
Steve Teixeira tells the story in this blog entry.
Sunday, 25 January 2009
I attended more events than usual in 2008, and I spoke at roughly the same number as usual, for me. But many people are saying they plan to attend fewer events in 2009 than usual, and what’s more they’re saying that might not be a bad thing. In a time when sessions are online, when you can search the web for the blog of the person who wrote the feature you’re interested in, why would you pay for a plane ticket and a hotel room, not to mention a substantial admission fee? I can think of at least three reasons why I do it: for the time spent with likeminded attendees, for the time spent with speakers, and as an oasis from my other obligations that’s devoted to this particular topic. There’s a fourth that you won’t notice unless you go to conferences that are well-curated: somebody is taking the time to select sessions, to select speakers, and even to get the sessions delivered in a sensible order. For more on this point, you should read Andrew Brust’s blog entry on the importance of track chairs in the 21st century.
Thursday, 22 January 2009
Leon Bambrick, aka Secret Geek, reveals the true differences between small businesses and enterprises. Like Dilbert, it’s only funny because it’s true.
Wednesday, 21 January 2009
Continuing my theme of 2008 in review, the year was interesting because it featured the breaking of two rules I have long held to be utterly true. These rules are cynical and depressing and people generally do not want to believe them. I am known for my optimism and yet I assure you these rules are true and you cannot escape them:
- There is no such thing as a “slow yes”.
- You will never get paying work (or a sale) from that guy you sat next to on the airplane.
Let’s start with the mythical “slow yes.” All there really is in this world is the “fast yes”, the “fast no”, and the “slow no”. I am sure you have been asked to give somebody a donation, or to buy something, that you didn’t really want to give or buy, and so you said “can you send me a letter about that?” or “can you send me a proposal?” when what you really meant was “can I please get off the phone so I don’t have to face saying no to you?” It’s a “slow no.” We have all done this. Yet for some reason when we are trying to get the sales (or the donations, or to be hired) we get off the phone and tell our co-workers or family or whatever, “Success! He wants me to send a proposal!” or “Score! They’ve got nothing now, but he wants me to phone back in a month!”
I have been a consultant for over 20 years. When people want to hire our firm to help with a problem they’re experiencing, they hire us. Sometimes there’s an RFP to respond to, sometimes they need to show a written proposal to someone, but generally they say “I want you to do this” and then we talk about paperwork. When people don’t particularly want to hire us (and usually that’s because the conversation was my idea, and I am trying to sell work to people who were minding their own business) they ask for proposals, or they say “well, we would have to have a meeting about that but I’m really busy this week so how about I call you in two or three weeks?” This is the start of the “slow no”. They won’t ever say “no” or “go away” but they won’t ever give you work either. You can spend days and weeks and months thinking you are “working on sales” because you are emailing these people and asking if there’s been any change, you’re sending these people generic proposals (because you don’t know their specific problem, and that in turn is because they haven’t told you a problem they want you to solve, and you know why that is? They don’t have a problem they want you to solve), and you’re updating your tickle lists, all of which sure as hell feels like work, but is not in fact accomplishing anything.
So when I finally learned this lesson (and I believe I read it somewhere, and fought it for a while, and then came to know it was true) my life got simpler. I rarely phone or email strangers (or even former clients) and try to pester them into giving me work. If for some reason I do, and they’re not very interested in hiring us, I don’t put a lot of time and effort into trying to persuade them otherwise. I assume that people who want to hire us will make the effort to do so. This has lowered my stress tremendously.
But you know what they say about the exception that proves the rule? We got an RFP from some people we didn’t know, through a third party who felt we’d be good for it. It was highly specific about what technology to use – an Access application distributed as a single file to be installed on each workstation, a SQL backend to be shared by all these workstations, no offline story, a VB6 application to run in the system tray and notify you if another user added something to the shared repository you should know about, that sort of thing – and our first guess of effort doing it their way was well over (perhaps even double) what the third party believed was their budget. So we wrote back and declined to bid. Months later, we heard they were putting it out again. So we asked if it was ok to ignore all their tech specs and submit a solution to the underlying business problem, which was well described in their material. They said go ahead, so we did: suggesting a SharePoint store, some workflow to handle their special business rules, and some Reporting Services goodness for the managers. Total cost including buying all the SharePoint licenses at full retail was less than the whispered budget, and we were pulling in a raft of features that they had on their wishlist for v2 such as email notifications when things were changed. It was a great proposal.
Great or not, it got no response. After about 2 or 3 months I wrote to confirm that we didn’t get it. And was told “actually, we haven’t decided yet.” I imagined a conversation in a boardroom somewhere with one person saying “can she not read? We clearly said SYSTEM TRAY!” and another saying “look how much more solution to our problems we will get for the money!” Some more months went by and you know what? We got the gig. Well over a year from the first RFP to being hired for the project. It’s underway now. I will point out that although this was a slow yes, it didn’t get to yes as a result of pestering actions on my part. I patiently waited (while working on other stuff for real clients) and these guys came to me when their process had worked its way through to a decision.
The second rule that sales people need to learn is that those “hey cool your product sounds perfect for us why don’t you drop me an email” conversations on the plane just do not, in general, lead to sales. Again, the guy just wants to be nice and to go away in a pleasant and positive way. Pestering Mr 13B to see if he’s ready to pull the trigger on the order that will save your year may feel like work, but it isn’t getting you anywhere. If Mr 13B wanted your product, he would have taken your card, and he would have emailed you the minute he got his laptop on the network. That silence and absence of emails from Mr 13B is basically “he’s just not that into you” or in this case, your product.
That said, here’s the story that breaks the rule. Sasha, my MVP lead, spent some time last year in a customs lineup, and got chatting with the fellow next to him in line. That fellow needed some mentoring or consulting from a senior person with solid C++ and project management skills who could suggest a good architecture for his new product, and then help to get it built. Sasha took the guy’s card and sent me one of those “X, meet Y” emails. A conversation ensued, followed by meetings, and the end result: the product is very clever and I am delighted to be part of the team that is building it. We ended up with no C++ in the product, but that doesn’t worry me at all. It meets a genuine business need and supports the way people in that business need to do their jobs. And my client would not have found me if he wasn’t willing to chat to a complete stranger about the software he was trying to build.
I still say the rules are true, despite the specific exceptions I met this year. Or more accurately, that the smart way to live your life is as though these rules are true. Selling consulting services is not like selling timeshares or couches. You can’t bully people into it or catch them in a moment of weakness and trick them into saying yes. They have to want to choose you to solve their problems. That isn’t something you can persuade them to want by “following up” every two weeks. So I just plain do not do that. Some folks who I like and haven’t worked with for a while get a note sometimes (especially if I come across something that reminds me of them) but I don’t set out to make people buy our services. I don’t lose sales by spending less time “working on sales” and I certainly don’t lose sleep. If anything it frees my time to talk to people who genuinely want our help. That’s way more fun anyway.
Tuesday, 20 January 2009
Anyone who blogs on technical topics soon notices they get a lot more hits if they wander into non technical areas for a post or two. That’s just because there are more non technical people out there, searching for tips on stain removal or coupons for TGI Fridays, than there are people who want to know how to get a manifest on an executable or how to write a C++/CLI wrapper for native code or what’s coming in Visual Studio 2010. That’s why my top ten posts last year are:
1 - XPS Document Viewer – Nov 19th 2006
I guess people are still getting XPS documents and don’t know how to read them. OK. Not sure why my page would be the one that over 7000 people find, but what the heck, the information is still valid.
2 - Reading Office 2007 files – Nov 23rd 2006
Also from two years ago but people still need to know this. I send people this link whenever I get one of those “I can’t read your attachment because I’m not on Office 2007 yet” replies to an email. I didn’t send it out 4000 times though, so I guess a lot of people are searching for this stuff.
3 - Try Www.mappoint.com – August 18th 2004
I read recently that people don’t seem to realize they can type URLS into the address bar on their browsers, and have their home pages set to search engines, and actually type entire URLS into search boxes so they can click the result. I would deny this could happen, except many years ago I had a client who did just this, so I know there really are people who do this. I also can’t think of any other reason why over 2500 people would read a four year old post comparing MapPoint to MapQuest given that everybody these days uses either maps.google.com or maps.live.com.
4 - Introduction to Workflow in SharePoint 2007 – June 22nd 2006
Yep, workflow was a hugely important addition to SharePoint. We’re loving it in the SharePoint project we’re doing now. Again this is a topic that must surely be better covered somewhere else though. Still almost 2500 people stopped by to learn about workflow – I hope they followed the link to learn more, and learn something a little more recent – say from after the product was released?
5 - How to earn a million Aeroplan miles – Oct 1st 2005
Now this is really non-technical, but it caught my attention and I guess plenty of other people’s too. I have some other blog entries from time to time about Aeroplan miles, but I don’t really cover how to earn them. For that I highly recommend Flyertalk’s Aeroplan forum.
6 - Batch-convert Visual Studio 2005 projects to Visual Studio 2008 – Dec 17th 2007
The most recent entry yet in this top ten. It makes sense that something that gets hits all year does better than something that wasn’t even around for the first half of 2008. And this is a useful tip I haven’t seen many other places. All those searching people should just subscribe to John Robbins – searching only helps you if you know something exists and want to find it. Smart blogs like John show you things you hadn’t imagined existing.
7 - Another Way to Get the Shield on a Button (or Anywhere Else) – Jan 30th 2008
Finally, something from 2008 in the 2008 top ten! And this is a good tip from Daniel Moth. Remember, the shield on a menu item or button doesn’t bring up the UAC prompt any more than putting ... on a menu item brings up a dialog. And nothing puts the shield there for you if you trigger a prompt any more than something puts the ... for you when it sees you have code to show a dialog. All of this is just sensible developer tradition that helps users feel comfortable with the software they’re using. So please play along and help people know what to expect.
8 - Don't compile MFC apps with /clr:pure – Jan 17th 2007
This one seemed like a no-brainer – MFC includes native stuff, /clr:pure means I don’t have any native stuff, but I was getting emails asking for help and this kept turning out to be the issue. So I blogged it. A lot of my blog topics are the answers to random emails I get from people who are looking for help. This way an extra 1500 or so people saw the answer in 2008.
9 - Hot Laptop? Here's a tip – May 14th 2006
It’s still good advice for working with an overheating laptop. I’m not sure if the searchers all had that problem or were using “hot” more metaphorically.
10 - Adding a manifest to a Vista application – Oct 3rd 2006
This is mostly a link over to Catherine Heller’s Visual Studio 2005 instructions, except that I really wanted to call out how much less work it was for Visual C++ compared to C# and VB.NET. Anyway it’s all a ton easier with Visual Studio 2008 these days.
What else can I tell you from my stats? I got almost a million visits over the year, and they averaged 2.71 requests – meaning most folks clicked around a bit once they arrived. That’s heartening. In 2008 I set myself a goal to blog every day. I didn’t achieve that – there were several long gaps in there – but I did post 135 times. I still like the quote from my post on June 1st, resuming after a four-month gap: “Blogging, like speaking at a Quaker meeting, is something one must do only if the spirit moves one.” I’m looking forward to having my spirit move me hundreds of times in 2009.
Monday, 19 January 2009
2008 was a tumultuous year for me so I thought I would start a new tradition of doing a retrospective post.
In January, I started doing something at Trent that I had never done before in ten years of teaching there a course or two a year – teach the same course twice at once, on different nights in different locations. I think the Tuesday night people got a better course since I in effect rehearsed for them each Monday morning . The marking load was a little difficult but I managed it. Also in January I had a geekspeak appearance, and the planning started in earnest for Tech Ed.
In February I spoke at my own user group, which is always a treat, and the Toronto Heroes Happen Here event introduced Visual Studio 2008, SQL Server 2008, and Windows 2008 to Toronto.
March kicked off with SD West, where I did two sessions (Vista programming for half a day, and some Practical VSTS tips) and recorded a video interview. I really enjoyed SD West’s sense of difference – the attendees, speakers, and topics all had a little fresh and unusual twist to me compared to the conferences Microsoft runs. My schedule doesn’t often let me get to third party conferences but it’s definitely enjoyable when it does. Also in March, we closed our Peterborough offices after nearly a decade there, and consolidated back to a single office attached to our home. Times have changed since we set up the Peterborough offices – we have high speed Internet at home, couriers are no longer an important delivery mechanism for us, and we haven’t employed a university student for many years – so we decided paying rent and commuting 45 minutes each way every day was a foolish habit. It really has been one of my best decisions of the year.
April’s big fun was the MVP Summit. My schedule was jam-packed and my only regret was that the C++ team didn’t schedule any boring or irrelevant parts of the day that might have let me go visit another team to broaden my horizons.
In May, Chris Dufour and I held our own Heroes Happen Here launches in Peterborough and Whitby. We had a scaled down version of the Toronto event and enjoyed it a great deal. Then DevTeach came to town – my absolute favourite third party conference always. As well it provided an opportunity for the Canadian RDs to get together and that is never a bad thing!
June, of course, meant Tech Ed. A precon, lunch with Bill Gates, three breakouts, two podcasts, assorted booth duty / ask the experts / etc plus dinners, receptions and side meetings made for a whirlwind week. The sort of thing I work all year to get, to be honest ... I loved it!
I started July by recording a .NET Rocks episode. Another thing I don’t get to do enough of. Then I just settled down and worked on projects for a while. Community activity is always a bit slow in the summer. As my project work intensified (nothing I can announce at the moment) I stayed heads down right through to the end of October when the PDC rolled around. We were all full of pent-up PDC demand after so long without one, and it was good, really good.
Just one week home after PDC, and trying to catch up on that project work, and it was off to Barcelona (maybe for the last time?) for Tech Ed Europe. I would have had an amazingly great time even if I hadn’t placed a talk in the top ten, but I was lucky enough to do just that. The food, the scenery, the weather – I am really going to miss Barcelona.
In December I got back on the community stage by visiting three southern cities to tell the story of Vista Bridge. I got caught in a snowstorm in Baton Rouge, the like of which they get once or twice a century, just to add a little spice to the tale. And that brings us around to the end of the year. What's next?
Saturday, 29 November 2008
Whenever I go to a conference I run into people who make software so differently than I make it. I also run into people who do the same things I'm doing, but they have a name for it and I don't. Someone asked me recently if I "did Agile." I always answer that we're not "formally Agile" which frankly I find very funny. We do have a client though, for whom we ship a new release every month. They ask for things (typically with emails) we design and estimate, together we draw up a list of what will be in the next phase and when it will release, and then we mostly do that. I say mostly because sometimes over the month they change their minds, or their customers impose a business change on them, and we tweak the list a little, but just about every month they get a refresh and their software has evolved to meet their new needs.
So there are plenty of people who will tell me, since I ship every month, I'm Agile. I guess so. But we don't do scrum. We don't do burn lists. We don't do pair programming. We don't have a daily anything. We manage all this with TFS and with a Word document called "phase 13 as approved.doc" that has a table in it listing work items, their descriptions, and their status. We don't really use any of the deliverables or artifacts that are considered Agile today.
So, with that mindset (what makes you Agile) I have two links for you.
First, http://martinfowler.com/articles/newMethodology.html. This is Martin Fowler on agility, the essay he first wrote in 2000. It talks about how requirements change, how people are not all the same, how customers adapt, and so on. To my great surprise it lists the Rational Unified Process as an Agile technique. His conclusion is a damn good one:
So where should you not use an agile method? I think it primarily comes down the people. If the people involved aren't interested in the kind of intense collaboration that agile working requires, then it's going to be a big struggle to get them to work with it. In particular I think that this means you should never try to impose agile working on a team that doesn't want to try it.
Second, http://www.agilemanagement.net/Articles/Papers/CMMIandAgileWhynotembrace.html. Unfortunately the paper is only available as a PDF, but this page has a link to it. The abstract:
Agile development methods and CMMI (Capability Maturity Model® Integration) best practices are often perceived to be at odds with each other. This report clarifies why the discord need not exist and proposes that CMMI and Agile champions work toward deriving benefit from using both and exploit synergies that have the potential to dramatically improve business performance.
OK, so it isn't written in a conversational style, but you know, it makes some really good points. I've just started a project in which we're using the CMMI templates for TFS, just to see what it's like, and we're being our usual "get the detailed requirements and do the design at the last responsible moment" on it (we have sensible phases which makes this possible) and you know what? It's working pretty well.
So, you think you know your methodologies, but I recommend you read both of these papers and then see how you feel. You may be surprised. You may be pleased (I was.) And you may start working more effectively.
Thursday, 27 November 2008
I'm a very positive person, as anyone will tell you who has met me. I actively work at keeping a happy attitude in a variety of circumstances. And it is work, more than just smiling no matter what happens. For example, who you choose to spend time with makes a big difference - spend a conference with someone cynical who keeps saying "what a waste of time this is" and you will skip most sessions and go home saying the conference was a waste of time. Spend your time with someone excited about the material who joins in conversations about what this might mean and where that could take us, and you'll go home excited and rewarded for your week away.
In that spirit I identified immediately with this quote I saw on Scott Berkun's blog:
I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim or too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard travelling.
I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.
Scott has a few more paragraphs, and identifies the speaker, so just to make you click over, I'm not going to. I'll give you a hint though: I saw his son just last month, which I suppose is no coincidence.
Friday, 21 November 2008
One very powerful question to ask yourself, if you run a business of any kind, is "what business are you in?" Another way to ask it is "what needs do I meet?". It's easy to say "I'm in the software business" or "I'm in the consulting business" but more people are saying "I hate the way we <something in their business>" than are saying "I wish I had new software" or "I wish I had a consultant."
This Harvard Business School article even says people don't really buy drills, or that isn't the need they are meeting when they go buy a drill - they buy holes. They want holes, and they buy a drill as a way of getting them. The only way you can sell them your drill is to relate it to holes. Being lightweight, for example, doesn't matter to someone who only plans to make a few holes at a time. But it's really important to someone who is going to make a lot of holes and has to slow down the pace because their arm aches from holding the heavy drill. Being cordless only matters if you can think to say "make holes anywhere!" to the purchaser. And so on. The rest of the article helps you try to understand what needs your product or service meets, and therefore how to adjust it or sell it so that you sell more of it.
I've said for years that we're in the problem solving business. We solve people's problems. We're more likely to use software to solve them than to come over to a client's house and build a shed in the backyard or mow the lawn - but we're not so much in the software business as in the problem solving business. If I write great software that doesn't help the problem, I've failed. Often our advice on process is as valuable as the software we write encapsulating that process. And of course when we're mentoring and advising other developers, we need deep technical chops but we need to remember that the mentee or advisee has a problem (our UI looks stale, we have to exchange information with a new business partner and don't know how, our application blows up under certain circumstances and we don't know why) and we are there to get that problem fixed.
As the economy worsens you are more likely to stay in business if you are sure what business you are in. It isn't obvious.
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Recently, as a meeting wrapped up, one of us was taking on an action item to adjust the due dates on a large list of work items. We had gone through the meeting saying "put that for the end of next week" or "put that for middle of next month" and there was a good chance that too much stuff had been put into some of the buckets. He said "I'll go through on a first pass and put the dates as we agreed them, then I'll send them out for everyone to review." Makes sense. He continued, "Once we see them all at once if we need to postpone some, or prepone some, we can." And part of my brain went "prepone? What the -- oh yeah, I get it."
It's quite useful really. People say that "move ahead" and "move forward" are perfectly clear and you can't get confused by them. The problem is, half those people say it's clear that moving forward means to an earlier date and half say it's clear that moving forward means to a later date. Oops. "Move earlier" is ok, but I quite like prepone. I'm going to see if I can use it with a straight face. BTW I did a quick search, and it's an accepted and generally understood word in South Asian English. I'll see if I can do my part to spread it to the rest of the world.
Saturday, 15 November 2008
Friday night wrapped up with a reception in the speaker room where we'd been working all week. Some of us (including me) were a little slow to switch from workin-on-my-laptop mode to hangin-with-my-speaker-buds mode.
That's Rob Windsor in the foreground and Brian Harry next to him. I went with Cava, Rob with beer. There really are no wrong choices . In the background you can see the big screens that show the top ten speakers and also randomly display comments from any and all sessions. A number of these were very funny out of context.
Earlier Friday I took this picture from my hotel window:
Always you can see Sagrada Familia, I noticed this from the cable car and the castle also. It just rises up out of the sea of lower buildings.
Barcelona was, as predicted, warm and beautiful. Crime was not an issue this year - the police presence was intense and I heard no stories of pickpockets, muggers, or cutpurses this year at all. I discovered the best tapas in the city at Ciudad Condal - which doesn't have its name on a sign so you need to know the address, 18 Las Ramblas. Three of us arrived here - it doesn't take reservations - and fought our way inside through the crowd to reach the maitre-d', who asks "inside, outside, or at the bar?" and then told us it would be 30 minutes for our inside table. The next step is you go to the bar, ask for "tres cervesas por favor" and then point at something from the dozens of plates of gorgeous tapas and montaditos (thingies on toast) and say "tres". Presto - three beers and three (in our case) smoked salmon on toast and you go stand on the sidewalk with the rest of the city. Heaven. The beer was good, the salmon divine, and it didn't even feel like waiting. In no time we had our inside table and then the fun begins. Not a false note - and we gave them lots of opportunities because we ordered a lot of plates. Highly recommended, and actually cost less than some other dinners we had here even though we could barely move by the time we'd finished eating it all.
Will I be back? Well I guess it will be a while till Tech Ed brings me back - we move to Berlin for next year. So I'll have to bring myself back, because I'm really going to miss coming here otherwise.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Check this out. If you go to DevTeach - and you certainly should - you will be getting more than you bargained for. First and foremost you'll be getting great sessions by great speakers. 136 sessions to be precise, plus a keynote by Ted Neward. Because of the small scale (8 simultaneous tracks instead of dozens) you will get a chance to meet and talk to many speakers and your fellow attendees during breaks and meals.
Now I happen to think that is well worth the $1250 attendance fee plus your travel and hotel. You would pay double to go to Tech Ed. Montreal the first week of December is a delightful trip, and you will learn the things you need to learn to stay current in this world, and get face time with a dazzling array of people who are not usually this accessible.
But, in case that's not enough, they've negotiated their way to giving you about a thousand dollars worth of software and learning. Seriously. I quote:
We believe that all developers need the right tool to be productive. This is what we will give you, free software, when you register to DevTeach or SQLTeach. Yes that right! We’re pleased to announce that we’re giving over a 1000$ of software when you register to DevTeach. You will find in your conference bag a version of Visual Studio 2008 Professional, ExpressionTM Web 2 and the Tech-Ed Conference DVD Set. Is this a good deal or what?
It's a very good deal. Oh, and one other thing. Did you go to TechDays? Did you get a $100 coupon? They've decided to retroactively make that a $350 dollar coupon. So you can attend for just $900.
Monday, 10 November 2008
There is an older, deeper meaning for "cut and paste" and this sticker, on the laptop of a member of the C++ team, shows it nicely. The sticker was a gift, btw - somebody made it for the team member. I like it.
Friday, 07 November 2008
Guess where I plan to be mid-November next year?
What will they talk about? Let the speculation begin.
Wednesday, 05 November 2008
Microsoft has announced BizSpark. If you know what DreamSpark is, then you might guess what BizSpark is. I was really surprised myself - essentially unlimited free licenses of developer software and hosting software such as Windows, SQL Server and SharePoint. Yes, free Team Suite for everyone in the company! You must meet three criteria:
- Be a startup, less than 3 years in business
- Have not much revenue, less than a million a year (stricter in some markets, mostly in Asia)
- Be software developers, not consultants or resellers
You prove that you meet these criteria, not to Microsoft, but to a network partner. Ideally your network partner is more than just your gateway to free software, but someone who can advise and help you on the path to success. Since the network partner has to know a bit about you, not many will just email you a key if you email them. You can look through the partners on the BizSpark site and see who would be a good match for you to establish a relationship with. Be sure to get the user guide and read the FAQ as well.
Plenty of coverage of this elsewhere on the web:
So, if you fit the description and want the free software, what should you do? Go to the BizSpark site's Find a Network Partner page. A lot of them are venture capitalists and investment companies. If you were hoping to find such a firm, this is a cool way to know one that is in favour of your using the Microsoft platform and won't try to make you change development tools to get funded. If you weren't planning to work with an investor, scroll through looking for a firm that offers consulting and mentoring. You can send an email and see about working together. If you can't find a firm in your geography that looks as if it could help you, try a nearby geography. For example, I'm only listed under Canada, but Americans could engage with our firm too.
Tuesday, 04 November 2008
All three from Steve Clayton's blog which I admire tremendously. The monster (Blue Monster updated to Azure Monster)matches the logo to my eye and they're both lighter and greener than the hex from the shirt. Btw I pronounce Azure with the emphasis on the first syllable
ps: No clue what Azure is yet and wish someone would post about that instead of colours and pronounciations? Try http://blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft/?p=1671 for Mary Jo's take.
Monday, 03 November 2008
More PDC goodness.
Steven Sinofsky is the senior vice president for the Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group at Microsoft. He was awesome in the Day 2 keynote. Then he walked down to The Big Room and did a half hour Open Spaces talk with attendees. I recognized fellow RDs Tim Huckaby and David Yack among them. The sound quality varies but the recording is well worth watching to see how comitted he is to the Engineering 7 blog and to communicating with developers.
Then there's Joey deVilla. I've been reading his personal blog for ages and his technical blog once in a while - he was an open source guy so it wasn't always relevant to me. I love his sense of humour and spirit of community. I was delighted to learn that he would replace the departing Jean Luc David (our loss is Redmond's gain.) While at PDC, he interviewed Don Box, Miguel de Icaza, John Lam, Phil Haack and some of the .NET Micro Framework team. Great ways of learning some of what happened at PDC and getting to know Joey a little better.
But he wasn't the only one! John Bristowe was also busy with the camera. He interviewed Joel Semeniuk (another RD) and some people from Windows Home Server. This is a product I am hearing a lot of praise for that I really should install on a spare machine.
I love these videos because they start to capture some of the non-session parts of the conference. If you're wondering why on earth you would go to a conference and not go to sessions, look at these conversations. Also look in the background at the other conversations and interactions. Face time is why we all come to the same place. Sessions are a bonus.
Sunday, 02 November 2008
We're building a backyard shed, and I recruited a certain young teen to help. Sooner than I expected, he was back inside the house. "Finished already?" "I need a rest." But I only see two or three pieces of wood carried from the under-roof storage area to the work zone. It turns out that he kept bringing the wrong piece of wood (2 x 4 when asked for 2 x 6, or 8 foot when asked for 10 foot) and having to take it back and go get the right one. This is tiring, of course. But I also found it illuminating because a similar thing happens with my new hires who are straight from school or university.
In an academic setting, if I assign you the task of getting me a 10 foot 2 x 6, and you bring me a 10 foot 2 x 4, or an 8 foot 2 x 6, I will probably give you a pretty good mark. Not 10/10, of course, but at least 7. After all, you have brought me wood, as opposed to a rabbit or some mashed potatoes. You have come back with something, rather than wandering off into the woods to play or inside to watch TV. You have even got one of the dimensions right and the other close to right. So you receive your mark and you're done. Similarly when I mark a programming assignment, maybe I spot a logic flaw or other mistake, your code won't work under certain circumstances, but it works some of the time, or almost works, or at least doesn't always blow up. I can give you 7/10.
In the real world, whether of shed building, or code writing, things are more binary. I have the wood I need or I do not. Your code meets our standards or it does not. And here is the key thing - you have to make it right. Take this wood back and bring a longer piece, or a wider piece. Take this code back and make it so it can accept strings with apostrophes in them, or so the title is centred, or whatever other bug you need to fix. You're not done until it's right.
It's a lesson that probably needs to be taught more explicitly to the new grad. It wouldn't hurt to teach it a bit in those academic settings.
Saturday, 01 November 2008
One of my demos (OK, more than one) for my upcoming Tech Ed Europe talks is a console application. I find when you're doing complicated concepts like C++ templated code, that adding the plumbing to talk to a Windows application (whether MFC, Windows Forms, WPF or whatever) can obscure what's going on. Generally speaking people can follow cout << i << endl; just fine and it reduces the header files and so on that are needed to use the sample.
I had one problem though - on this machine, when debugging a console application I couldn't get the Properties of the command prompt to come up when stopped at a breakpoint, and of course the command prompt disappears as soon as the program finishes running. I could change the properties in the command prompt you get for "start without debugging" but they had no effect on the debug one. The font was too tiny to use in a presentation:
Here's what I did. I brought up any old command prompt, right-clicked in the title bar, and chose Defaults instead of Properties. This affects every command prompt on your machine at once. I switched to Lucida Console and a bigger size, and closed the command prompt, then debugged my console application again:
Do I care that the font is now big in all my other command prompts? Not really. I suppose if I did I could deal with their properties one by one.
Friday, 31 October 2008
An interesting thing happened towards the close of Thursday's MFC session at PDC. Damien Watkins was taking questions, and as so often happens, some of the questions were really more comments or suggestions, feature requests and so on. It's rare for the speaker to be the person who can act on these requests. Normally we're reduced to saying "send me an email and I'll forward it to the right people." Sadly, very few attendees do that. I know it takes a great deal of initiative and even courage to ask a question at a big conference (I do remember my pre-speaker days) and when asked to send email instead, that is sometimes too high a hurdle. As a speaker I can try to make a note of it, but if it's outside my area I may not write down the most important word of the request and that may leave the team unable to respond.
So during Thursday's session, after the third or fourth "OK, I'll pass that along," Damien volunteered:
I know you're thinking "he's just nodding his head and not paying any attention", but if you're using the mike it's all getting recorded. Everybody back on the team says "hey, as soon as it's online, let us know so that we can go ahead." It is getting recorded so it's all going back.
After the talk, Damien told me that they recorded the MVP Summit sessions and replayed them frequently to hear the attendee comments in context and with precision. For the PDC talks, when they need to share comments with another team, it's as simple as sending them a URL and a minute mark and asking them to listen. In fact I've done that myself this week when asking a question of someone in Redmond who couldn't attend - I sent the URL to the talk, a screenshot of the slide, and the minute mark. One of the easiest followup emails to compose ever. It really makes it possible for the conversation to continue long after the conference. I hope the trend spreads to all my conferences.
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
Even those of us who are here can't see all the sessions we want to. I have three and four stacked across in most timeslots - and then I might end up spending that timeslot getting some vital "face time" with an RD or blue badge I don't otherwise get to see. But never fear, they're online within about 24 hours of happening! And what's more, you don't have to be registered to see them!
So, that Parallel native C++ talk that put me in the overflow room? http://channel9.msdn.com/pdc2008/TL25/ - watch the video, download the deck. The terrific Boris Jabes talk I lined up for? http://channel9.msdn.com/pdc2008/TL13/ - same deal. The MFC talk that hasn't even happened yet? The page is waiting at http://channel9.msdn.com/pdc2008/PC26/ and the video should probably show up Friday.
Want to find some more? https://sessions.microsoftpdc.com/public/timeline.aspx. This is just an amazing thing to do. It really increases the value for me of being here because it lowers my stress and worry about choosing the right session. It lets me concentrate on going to talks where I want to meet the speaker or ask the speaker a question, on going to the Labs and Lounge area to meet product team folks, and on enjoying the experience instead of frantically taking notes (or snapping pictures of demos). I think this makes me MORE likely to attend future PDCs, believe it or not.
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
An astonishing thing happened to me on the afternoon of Day 1. I went to the room for the "Parallel Programming for C++ Developers in the Next Version of Microsoft Visual Studio" talk, and the redshirt guarding the entrance said "the room is full you have to go to the overflow room." I tried logic with her "It's a C++ talk! It's can't possibly be full!" but she chose to believe her own eyes. So I walked the hundred miles or so to the overflow room, which itself became full. The audience really enjoyed seeing how simple it can be to take advantage of multicores using templated functions. Lines and lines of boilerplate goo disappear into a library instead of your code, which means people might actually do this. Nice stuff.
Having learned my lesson, I lined up immediately for "Microsoft Visual C++: 10 Is the New 6." The room filled up just as fast:
I don't think I had heard Boris Jabes present before. He was very good indeed. The slide you see in this picture lays out the mission statement for "Dev10", the next version of Visual Studio, as far as the C++ team is concerned: Make VC10 the most productive IDE for native development. Then he proved it to us. Since it was the last talk of the day, people stayed with questions for a long time afterwards. I really enjoyed listening in on those.
Tuesday started with a keynote that really impressed me. Azure is amazing but the gritty details are not there yet. But Windows 7 - it's on the hard drive! It's real! So they showed it to us. Then they started talking about client development. Ray pointed out a number of advantages of writing a Windows application instead of (or as part of a suite that also has) a web app.
I loved the Windows 7 demo. Lots of features there I really want right now. I love Vista, but this is even nicer. And I hear the stability is great already so you could really use it. Julie plugged the Engineering 7 blog I've plugged myself.
Scott Guthrie said C++ five times. I don't think I've ever heard him say it once before.
Don't worry, he talked about managed code too. You may think of ScottGu as "the web guy" but he gave client development in general, whether C++ or WPF, some serious love in this talk. Great announcements too - grid control for one!
Want one more inside joke explained? (I just love the RD alias for this sort of stuff!)
David Treadwell's shirt had 0x007FFF embroidered on it. Think of it as 00 7F FF. RGB. Go try it in some HTML. Then think back to Day 1.
Update: better picture of the shirt by Angus Logan. Subtle-as-a-brick demo of the colour by Steve Clayton.
Missed the keynote? Based on the URL to day 1, try http://channel9.msdn.com/pdc2008/KYN02/
Monday, 27 October 2008
Now the fun begins.
If you were there, or watched it streaming, did you wonder about the shoes?
Azure and its subsystems had a number of code names, one of which was "Red Dog" and the team got red shoes (dogs being a slang term for feet) in honour of the name.
If you missed the keynote, you can watch it at http://channel9.msdn.com/pdc2008/KYN01/
I had heard some of this before, but not all of it, and I need to digest it a bit, but I think the key difference between Azure and hosting, between Azure and the Amazon offerings, is this: it's one thing to offer you a machine (real or virtual) and tell you "feel free to remote desktop into this and do what you need to do, install things, configure things, it's a machine" but it's a completely different thing to publish your app to the cloud and to configure the cloud rather than your target machine. I like it.
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Rico, who like me wonders from time to time "am I old?", muses about how things tend to come on around again. Is C++ too old to bother learning now? Rico says no. But he also says:
...the real need facing C++ programmers is somewhat the same as what faced COBOL programmers say 25 years ago. It's not that the language is out of joint -- it isn't. I mean, ok maybe you like or don't like COBOL syntax but that doesn't doom a language and surely C++ syntax is not the zenith of wonderfulness. But that isn't what's holding C++ programmers back. The biggest problem, at least in my opinion, is one of accessing new/modern runtime features that may have a different programming environment from the context of an existing environment.
Now, what does that translate to in terms of action items for you? Good question.
Thursday, 16 October 2008
With every year that goes by, I of course get older. But I tend to feel older in bursts that are further than a year apart. Like when I first had a student in a class of mine who was born after 1977, which is the year I started university. Or when someone asked me where to get that special .NET utility "xcopy" so they could take advantage of "xcopy deployment". (Hint: it came in very very early versions of DOS. Pre Windows.)
But it turns out some technologies are not only older than when I started in this business, they're actually older than when I was born. Video games are 50, and I am not.
The circular inset shows an oscilloscope that was hacked up t