Twenty years ago, if I wanted to learn about software, I could buy a book or pay to attend a handful of big conferences. Today, there are still large, for-profit conferences, but an increasing group of smaller, local events, that require no airfare, no hotel, and fewer days off work.
The smaller events might charge a hundred dollars for one day. They can be on a Saturday, or have no keynote speakers, break at 3:15PM to go to open space and open bar. Like, for example, Agile Des Moines.
That I happen to be at right now.
Let’s talk about how this is a different ball game. Continued »
I have been following a thread describing fraud in the Silicon Valley. A company called WrkRiot reportedly failed to pay employees for several weeks, and then later produced falsified pay stubs to convince employees that any slowness in payment was due to banking problems on the side of the employee. In a FaceBook post, WrkRiot claimed they were taking legal action against Penny Kim for slander. Today, that post seems to be deleted and the WrkRiot FaceBook page is inaccessible.
The software industry, and Silicon Valley specifically, are in a boom now and for the foreseeable future. The promise of free flowing cash from investors trying to hit their own jackpot has created a situation where people are willing to walk an ethically questionable line.
I have worked for a few startups in the last 5 years, and haven’t directly witnessed fraud, but I have seen some questionable behavior.
I was eavesdropping on a conversation about vetting technical skill during an interview in a local Slack channel last week. One person suggested live programming or logic exercises on a white board. Others responded that this is inhumane and rigged against people that need a quiet space without people hovering over their shoulders to respond to this type of challenge. Another person suggested a take home exercise that someone could complete over the course of a few days and email back for assessment during the interview. Yet another group of people said that this type of challenge only assesses privilege. They claim person that has disposable time and resources to complete an at home programming challenge has an unfair advantage over the person that works full time, has a family at home, and has little disposable income to build a good development environment at home.
All of these perspectives have a little truth in them of course. But, we still need some way to understand what the technical skill of a candidate is. I have interviewed a few people over the years and have learned a few lessons along the way.
You might remember some of the product announcement keynotes that Steve Jobs delivered at the end of his career. Just as you thought the presentation was over, Steve would say “oh, and just one more thing”, and introduce product, like the iPod, iPad, or iPhone. Each of these took a technology that already existed but cumbersome and made it available for the masses. He presented the idea as a new category of device – and held his ground.
Steve began by introducing each device with a tag line, such as “a thousand songs … and it goes right in my pocket.”
He would also make and project his own judgements about the product – that it was “amazing”, “wonderful”, “beautiful” and magical. Journalists would copy those words without thinking, and the readers of those articles would assume they were the judgements of the journalists, not just a repeat of what Jobs said. The techniques Steve used have even be parodied by sites like college humor.
Steve projected a reality where the products were the best thing ever.
You may have watched some of those videos, thought you “had” to have the product and realized, six or eight months later, that hey … it’s just a tablet. It’s pretty, and has some cool games, and it might be easy to carry and combine multiple features, but it’s a tablet. Buying it did not make us better humans.
As of this morning, a google search for “Steve Jobs” “Reality Distortion Field” yields over forty-seven thousand results.
I attended and spoke at the first run of Music City Agile last Wednesday. Music City Agile is a one day conference themed around, your guessed it, agile software development. A sister conference, Music City Code ran the following Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Jim Benson ran the opening keynote on Post-Agile Stress Disorder (PAST). Jim presented what seems to be a more common theme: consultants arrive at a new gig and present a set of tools and process that will fix every problem. Once that consultant leaves, the tools stick and the process mostly washes away. New consultants arrive at a regular pace and present their preferred tools and process. This happens over and over again.
All in all this was a very well run conference. I’d like to talk through a little of my experience with what Jim described in his keynote.
That is, the technical staff feel they are not heard, but when we get down to talking, they often don’t know how to ask.
Today I’d like to talk about assertive communication, and how different it is from passive, using When I Say No I Feel Guilty as a sort of field-guide.
I got back from the annual Conference for the Association for Software Testing (CAST) last Thursday morning after catching a red eye flight from Vancouver, BC to Nashville. I am one of the tortured souls that are unable to sleep on overnight flights. I get glimpses of sleep here and there, but nothing long enough for it to feel like a real night. Recovering from the flight, and the energy spent at the conference gave me some time to reflect on the day 2 keynote on neurodiversity in technology from Sallyann Freudenberg.
Sallyann’s talk was powerful, bringing many audience members to tears during her presentation and then again during the Q&A segment at the end. It seemed that people in the audience were discovering things about people around, and themselves at the same time. There were two big messages in the talk — foster varied perspectives on your technology teams, and also nurture the variation you already have.
My new guilty pleasure, Pokemon Go, was supposed to be a fun past time. I’m in Vancouver this week attending CAST2016 and have had some time to walk around the city and hunt digital monsters. The game is fun, it is something I can easily do that doesn’t really have direction or purpose. Basically it is a nice way to distract myself from normal busy life.
Pokemon Go was released a couple of weeks ago, and and has become an overwhelming success. For me though, it’s been tough. The game has a lot of bugs, and every day I’ve been learning aspects of the game that are hidden because I am lacking 10 years of Pokemon background.
I was thinking about that nice distraction and some lessons about software development started jumping out. Especially around the idea of what lean and agile people call a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
I’ve spent the last week in Atlanta, Georgia, at Agile2016, the world’s largest Agile Software Conference. The conference started Monday, but there was a preconference event all day Sunday, called the “bag packing workshop”, where I learned a quality assurance lesson.
The bag-packing workshop runs 8AM to 4PM, including two three-hour shifts of thirty people each, with a lunch break and debrief.
My hope was to show up and help out.
I didn’t expect it to turn into my biggest insight from the conference.
I can see burnout on the horizon. I’m trying to back peddle, but it is still there.
I did a quick Google search on preventing burnout, and this was the top result:
- Work with purpose.
- Perform a job analysis, and eliminate or delegate unnecessary work.
- Give to others.
- Take control, and actively manage your time.
- Get more exercise.
- Learn how to manage stress.
The list makes sense, but sometimes those things just aren’t possible. Last Tuesday, I was walking into the airport in Houston about to fly home. I got a call explaining that a contractor had dropped out mid-contract with no notice and 4 replacements had been pitched, and they wanted me. I’m already working a nearly full time software testing contract and have a few writing gigs like this one. “Sure, sign me up” I said. It’s important to help friends.
So here I am with too much work till the end of the month. It isn’t glamorous, and working too much isn’t a sign of valor. Right now I’m taking steps to avoid burnout and still be productive when this ends.