Uncharted Waters

November 5, 2019  1:29 PM

A Social Success Tip

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

A Social Push

If you’re like me, you got into computers because, unlike humans, they made sense.  Humans? The rules for social success didn’t make any sense. By middle school, I had realized I would be judged by the kind of shoes I wore. Like many, I became a computer programmer largely because computers are consistent, applying the same set of rules every time.

Then something happened around ten years of experience. Long ago I had realized the success or failure of the project was more dependent on the quality of the people than the process or methods. About ten years in, I realized the quality of the relationships impacted the outcome as well.

Nobody wants to work for an ass. Nobody wants to work with an ass. If they are multi-tasking, the computer types (us) are likely to work-to-rule, doing exactly what was asked while disregarding the intent or customer need.

Today I’ll write about one way to build a team. Continued »

October 28, 2019  8:30 AM

On Productivity

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser
Development, productivity, Programming, Teams

Matt's productivity bookshelfLast time I discussed the secret stories about computer science from the end of my childhood, and one that had gone missing. The piece, the Parable of two programmers, appears in Wicked Problems, Righteous Solutions, published in 1991. It is the single best short story on programming productivity I have ever read. The book had long vanished to the winds of time, but a few years ago I bought a copy.

Then, two days after that last post, the copy jumped out at me. I opened up the book, did not find it in the index, and instead looked a page at a time. There, on page 167, was the parable of two programmers. A little help from a search engine and I found the piece, by Neil Rickett, still exists on the internet in a few places. Tim Mensch repeats the story entirely, then adds a section at the end where he basically claims to be charles, one of the ultra-productive programmers that I suggest you either become or else become close friends with and deeply appreciate.

However, that is not the productivity secret I took from the story.

Leaving me free to tell it to you. Continued »

October 23, 2019  11:36 AM

Computer Science Alternatives

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser
Computer science

Hood College Alternative Computer Science EducationIn my senior year of high school, after class, I would walk about a mile to Hood College. At night was taking  math and computer science courses like assembler and pascal. Until the evening I hung out in the computer lab, telnet-ing into Multi-User Dungeons and otherwise avoiding actual schoolwork. The professors generally had print-outs or cartoons on their office doors, and I read them. All of them. Those print-outs, later combined with email forwards, became the basis of what I call an alternative computer science education.

For example,  learned that in C you could shoot yourself in the foot, but no one could figure out how you did it. Or that in C++ first you had to define a pistol object with a shoot method. That in Perl you’d stab yourself in the foot with a large Swiss Army Knife.

Mind you, I had no idea what C, C++, or Perl were, other than programming languages. I had simply read a printout on some professor’s door. I would go on to learn and work professionally in those languages, and that background gave me some insight. For that matter, learning Assembler at Hood made C++ and most other languages incredibly easy to learn.

Those snippets generally came from shared emails on the ARPANet, which became newsgroups. In  1990, two programmers, DeGrace and Stahl, collected a few of them in their book Wicked Problems, Righteous Solutions. I was fortunate enough to find a copy of that book, wedged behind a file cabinet, in the early days of the 21st century. Today, the book is $45 on Amazon — if you can find it. In that book you will find the first references to Scrum. You will also find the first references to mature iterative methods which we call Agile today.

Sadly, none of these texts appear in any guide to curriculum. But they should, as they summarize key points the curriculum guides miss. They are, in a way, an alternative route to truth.

Your CS Alternative Education

A few of the best parts of that “Computer Science alternative” education still survive in corners of the internet.  I woud like to share them with you.

For me to select them, the articles needed to be free, funny, insightful, and reasonably short. I could make another list of books, like Peopleware or the Mythical Man Month. This list is free things to read during a coffee break.

If you want insights into the human condition as it intersects with software, well, this is my pearl of great price, given to you.

Continued »

October 22, 2019  1:18 PM

The Competency Challenge

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser
hiring, HR

Taken - Competency…what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you … – Taken

I submit to you that today, right now, in software development, we have a crisis of competence. This crisis shows up in at least two ways.

  1. Hiring managers do not know how to assess competence
  2. In order to qualify for jobs, candidates feel they have to inflate, or directly lie on their resume.

The result is something called a lemon market. Arising from automobiles, the basic idea was that if the buyers (employers) could not understand the value of what they are paying for, they are likely to simply buy whatever is cheapest. “After all”, as I heard one executive say “we can have projects fail for a third the hourly rate without the risk of permanent employees.”


Over the past few years, I’ve managed to do a little hiring myself, and a great deal of interviewing. That time has taught me that the audition is likely the best way to interview. I have also learned a few broad, sweeping generalizations about the audition that, are firm enough to need feedback.

Allow me to share a few words about assessing competency. Continued »

October 18, 2019  2:47 PM

Talk To Strangers

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser
Communication, Leadership

Secrets of Consulting Book - Talk to StrangersConsulting, or indirect influence, is getting people to choose what you suggest. That makes developing long-term consulting skills incredibly important. Those skills go beyond “thrill and bill”, needed to get and keep the job. It extends to helping improve the client condition. Again, this has to be indirect. Without authority or power.

Today I’m going to suggest one way to do that: By talking to strangers.

If you grew up in North America, this might not sound like the best idea. I’ll explain how not to do it, how it can be done well, and the impact of doing it well.

Continued »

September 24, 2019  2:53 PM

Conference Conferring

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser
conference, quality, Software, Software testing, Testing

KWSQA Conference LogoIt’s a great week to be in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, for the KWSQA Conference, sometimes known as targeting quality.

If you don’t go to regional conferences, i’ll help you find them. For now, let’s talk about what the experience is like — and my adventures on the 5-hour drive each way.  Continued »

September 20, 2019  11:36 AM

The Narcissist and the Enterprise

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

The Narcissist in the EnterpriseEarlier I wrote about the faker – a kind of person that tends to succeed upwards in business. At the same time, they seem to fundamentally lack the ability to do the work. Several people asked me for examples, or jumped to label this kind of person a narcissist. One person who might fit the bill, Elizabeth Holmes, former CEO of Theranos. In his book on Holmes and her company, John Carreyrou. the Wall Street Journal reporter, considered the very real possibility that Holmes was a sociopath.

When I wrote the article on fakers, Holmes was not who I had in mind, nor this sociopath term. Narcissist, and Narcissism, was much closer to the narc. I’m not a psychologist, and not qualified to diagnose anyone with Narcissism as a personality disorder. The traits of narcissism, on the other hand, are much easier to spot — grandiosity, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration chief among them.

If you are thinking that sounds like too many C-level officers, then you are picking up what I am laying down. It may be as simple as the narcissists are actually willing to do “whatever it takes” to rise to the top. When the normal people think a decision like a layoff is … icky … it is the narcissist who is willing to “step up” and do what needs to be done.

Let’s talk about Adam Neumann. Continued »

September 16, 2019  10:53 PM

How To Spot a Faker

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

No Fakers Allowed - Hollywood Cemetery, RichmondIt wasn’t too long ago that a friend, someone I respect, told me that everyone lies on their resume. Perhaps many people are fakers, in the lowercase-f sense.

But what about someone who is entirely a faker?

By faker, I mean someone who cannot do the work. To a hiring manager, at best, this person will be dead weight. At worst they will create conflict, use manipulation to advance, and cause good people, who are not advancing, to quit.

How can you tell the difference?

Real, capital-F Fakers may build an entire career on deception. Like a chameleon, they can be hard to spot. In my experience, there are a collection of behaviors that Fakers seems to have in common. One or two of them, individually, might not mean much. When you start to see individuals with five, six, seven of the symptoms I list below, then it’s time to pause and take stock.

Here are ten habits of highly effective Fakers. Continued »

September 12, 2019  9:34 PM

How to be [more] effective

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

A calendar with effective times of day -- there is only about three hoursIf you work in an a corporate office and rely on people to be effective, then the calendar at right may be familiar to you.

And make no mistake, you do rely on other people. It might be to get more clear requirements, or get new builds, new test environments or new packages installed. No matter what it is, no one is an island.

Yet they are only available three hours a day.

Not to mention thanksgiving week, Christmas week, and new years. Sean McMillan and I used to joke that “December is not a month” for project planning. When we say a project that was supposed to finish on January 1st, we’d change the documentation to February first.

This post is about how to be effective anyway. Continued »

September 11, 2019  12:33 PM

A Career Tip

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser
career, IT

Career FacepalmRecently a software tester walked into my office. Shoulders slumped, head down. I’m not great at signals, but he was clearly having a bad career day.

Alfred looked at me, sadly, and said “We’ve got quality problems. Everyone knows it. That means we are behind schedule. Two days ago I filed some bugs. I came in yesterday morning, and saw they were turned into tasks. Overnight they were converted from tasks to stories for a future sprint. Which won’t get priority, because we are so late, because we have quality problems.”

Sounds like a career-ending viscous cycle, doesn’t it?

You can almost hear the toilet bowl flushing.

I thought for a moment, smiled, and said “wow. This is absolutely fantastic.”

And it is.

Allow me to explain why.

Continued »

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