Uncharted Waters

April 8, 2014  2:46 PM

Heusser On NoEstimates

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

I’ve covered the #NoEstimates movement as a journalist, twice now. Still, some of you may be wondering “What do you think about it Matt?”

This blog post is for you. Continued »

April 2, 2014  1:37 PM

Chromecast for the people

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

Have you noticed how slow Netflix streaming  has become? ISPs have (maybe for a while now) been throttling bandwidth from heavy consumers like Netflix. For me, this has made the service almost unusable. Trying to watch an episode of House of Cards that is maybe 45 minutes long in total when it stops at least 20 times to buffer was…frustrating. First world problems, I know. Having paid for bandwidth from my ISP and streaming from Netflix, I just expected things to work but it doesn’t. Why?


The timing of this slow down corresponds almost exactly with the end of Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality is based on the idea that all internet traffic should be treated the same way by an ISP, no preferential treatment for anyone. With Net Neutrality being struck down in January of 2014, this is no longer the case. An ISP can now control the flow of traffic as they please, and this is exactly what is being done with content providers like Netflix.

Google has a new offering that might help alleviate some of this pain.

Continued »

March 26, 2014  12:58 PM

The leanest coffee

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

Over the weekend my wife and I flew to New Orleans to meet my parents for a short family vacation. Even if you are not a party animal (I am decidedly not that), New Orleans is a great place to take in a little history, a little music, and a lot of food. While there we did the obligatory tourist stuff; walk to the river front, give a dollar to musicians busking in Jackson Square, and a stop at the legendary Cafe Du Monde.


While hanging out there having a coffee with my parents, watching people wiz by I realized this was the most perfect example of lean I have ever seen. I didn’t have to look hard to find an example where each type of waste (the Japanese term is muda) was eliminated.

Continued »

March 19, 2014  12:40 PM

Yesterday’s Weather

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

Man with a crystal ball to predict the futureYou might call me a “knowledge worker”; I have one of those jobs that involves sitting at a computer, typing things, making phone calls, and talking to people.

The majority of my mornings start out the same. The night before I make plans at all the great things I will do – each seems reasonable. I plan the number of hours each ‘should’ take, and I’m certain to get five or six done by the end of the day, easily.

Then the alarm rings and I check my email.

A short time later, I look up from my monitor to my clock. It is 1:30PM; five hours have passed. I have not had lunch, and I am staring at a video of a cat playing with string.  (Don’t click that link; you might not come back!)

Let’s get a little more detailed about my day, and talk about a meaningful way to predict work delivered.

Continued »

March 11, 2014  3:20 PM

On Tech Safety

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

Picture of the Adoba Hotel dearbornAbout two weeks ago I found myself driving to Dearborn Michigan, to the Adoba hotel to attend Agile and Beyond. I’ve always found the title a bit ironic; too many companies want to get to “beyond” without doing the heavy lifting. It was my third trek to the conference, and I didn’t expect a whole lot new.

Then I heard the opening keynote, by Joshua Kerievsky. It blew me away.

Continued »

March 6, 2014  11:35 PM

Can obstacles help improve development flow?

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

I’ve been reading a pretty neat book called On Looking over the past week or so. The main premise of the book is that all of your experiences cause you to look at the world in a completely different way from other people. You will ‘see’ things that others will not. One thing struck me in chapter 7.

on lookingThe example that jumped out at me was Fred Kent from the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) mentioning that something preventing a person from getting into a space could actually help groups of people move about faster. Think about the last time you were exiting a theater through double doors after a really big movie let out. That column in the middle of the double doors has an unconscious effect on people. Groups self-organize and things get real efficient real quick.

Continued »

February 24, 2014  9:41 AM

How to deal with a bad boss

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

There are all kinds of bad bosses out there, but reading the Gervais Principle has warped my mind a little bit. I can’t help but see organizations in terms of this model now and it is sort of freaky. If you haven’t read this, I’ll give you enough for this article to make sense, but I highly recommend it.

The Gervais Principal is based on this sketch by Hugh McLeod which explains an organization in terms of three kinds of people. There are the losers at the bottom who have made a financial trade off for any number of reasons but usually it is stability, the clueless on top of that who are basically incompetent, and on top of that are the sociopaths of create their own ethic based on self-interest alone.


Really though, I wanted to talk about some of the ways you can deal with working with a person like this.

1) Quit your job and find something better. This is an immediate, albeit risky solution to your problem. There is some risk for this solution though, you might be jumping into another equally bad situation.

2) Become a low performing loser in your company doing just enough to get by and keep your job. If you choose this path, you’ll probably want to make an effort to continue developing your skills outside of work. Most tech jobs don’t last forever and sabotaging yourself isn’t a good thing.

3) Go independent, be a consultant. Michael Church added a fourth layer to the model, the technocrat. The technocrat is driven to good work and to serve. The goal of the technocrat is a mutually beneficial relationship, their life isn’t dependent on the failures of others. I think the independent / consultant tech worker can potentially fit nicely into this role.

4) Have you ever had one of those managers that liked to act as a shield from all the bad stuff that rolled down from management? Finding one of those might help you out. They can at least provide a layer between you and the sociopath. Maybe you can find one of these in your company and transfer under that person.

5) Learn the secret language of the sociopath, power talk. This might leave you feeling a bit icky, but at least you’ll will be armed to navigate the kind of conversations that surround you.

I think I know what I’d choose given these options, how about you?

February 14, 2014  1:06 PM

On Powertalk

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

Have you ever been to one of those meetings where the entire department is called in with four hours notice? If you have, then you know a bit of what I was feeling.

If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky.

There we sat, around the conference table, waiting for our newly promoted Senior Manager of Technology Delivery to tell us what was going on.

The room was silent, breathless almost.

Our boss told us the news, which was mixed. The greater organization was sending some extremely challenging project schedules down the pike, and we needed to drop all-non essential project work to focus on three company priorities. Our manager assured us that Technology Leadership was committed to sustainable pace. “Now is not the time”, he said “For us to be doing favors for other departments, to sneak in just one thing on the side. We have NO energy for other projects. Zero. If your request isn’t on this list, you don’t do it, even for a friend, even at night or on the weekend. We want to protect you.”

When we left the room, the general feeling was elation. Wow, people seemed to be thinking, Tech leadership really cares about me.

I wasn’t quite so sure. Continued »

February 12, 2014  12:47 PM

An interview with Eliza Brock from Nashville Software School

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

Last time I talked a little bit about the differences between a traditional university education and posted some thoughts about why you might want to look into vocational education. This time, I have an interview with Eliza Brock from Nashville Software School to get into some details about their program.

120517_brock_eliza_ 043

To get started, can you tell me a little about what Nashville Software School is, and what you do there?

Nashville Software School is a vocational school for adults that are transitioning into tech careers. It is a 6-month immersion program that is broken up into two 3-month class, Web Development Foundations (HTML/CSS/Javascript) and Software Development Foundations (Basic Computer Science, Ruby, SQL, Rails, and a host of web standards and technologies).

I teach the advanced course, Software Development Fundamentals with Rails.

When students graduate, what % of students have a gig one month after graduation – six months? Do you keep up with how many are still working for the same company 12 months after graduation? If the number is low, do they get a better job or what?

I have the luxury of having my only job be teaching, so I don’t personally keep track of those numbers.

I know that with cohort 1, 14 of 16 had jobs within a month or so of completing the course. At least one more student from cohort 1 got a job within a few months.

Cohort 2 (26 students) graduated in July and their initial placement rates weren’t as good. This is at least in part because two of our bigger employer partners weren’t able to make planned hires. You could ask John Wark for more details- I’m sure he has the latest figures.
What makes Nashville Software School different from a university. Are these certificate programs? Are they specialized along the lines that continuing education certificates are? What range of course work is offered.

We don’t offer a certificate or anything like that. The students largely get out of the courses what they put into them, and the best way to demonstrate that is with their skills and the portfolio of projects they build up during the six-month program.

NSS is significantly different from attending a university. My job is to give them the tools to become working junior developers and to grow into solid professional developers. Students aren’t graded (although they are given lots of feedback and classwork) and there is no graduation. At a university, a lot of the job is to help young people grow into well rounded individuals. Our students are expected to be adults already, and most of them have degrees, so that isn’t a component of what we do.
How was the NSS curriculum developed and vetted? How do you know that the material you are teaching and the evaluation methods that are being used are effective?

I can’t speak to the curriculum of the intro course, but the curriculum of the advanced course was developed by me.

I was a teaching assistant in college, and as soon as it was decided that I would be teaching this course, I called up my former professors and asked for their guidance on developing the curriculum. It is largely based on the high points of the 4-year software engineering program at Rose-Hulman. Obviously, you can’t cram 4 years of education into a single 3-month course, but I do my best to expose the students to the depth and breadth of the field. I also consulted with a number of area developers for feedback as I was developing the initial curriculum.

From that point, I’ve iterated based on how each class has reacted to the material. For example, for cohort 3 (my current class), I’ve expanded the databases unit by several weeks, so that they have a firmer foundation in what’s happening behind the scenes. The feedback I’ve gotten from cohorts 1 and 2 (and their employers) post-graduation has been quite positive.

If you’d like more details on the curriculum and how it’s evolved, you can view the full syllabus and course materials from the first 3 cohorts on my github profile (https://github.com/elizabrock). The README for the current cohort (https://github.com/elizabrock/NSS-Syllabus-Cohort-3) will be of particular interest.

Now, it’s your time to shine! Tell me a little about yourself and what you do outside of teaching.

I run a software consultancy (Eliza Brock Software) that specializes in test driven development of web applications.

My background is in software engineering, with a degree in software engineering and computer science from Rose-Hulman (which I’m compelled to mention has been Newsweek’s #1 undergraduate engineering school for the last 14 years).

It’s actually quite a challenge to teach an immersion class (mornings) while also running a consultancy (the rest of my waking hours), so I don’t do too much outside of that.

February 5, 2014  10:48 AM

Tech education: Or how to get a job quick!

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

Education paths for tech workers has been pretty cut and dry for the past few decades. Get through high school and ideally be good at math, then move on to a university and major in computer science, or computer engineering, or some type of mathematics. Alternately, go to university and major in the humanities and spend a lot of time with learning on your own after graduation while working your day job.

There are a few problems with this model though. Most software jobs don’t require a deep understanding of pointer arithmetic and data structures. After graduation, most of us will spend your days writing web-apps that help with some business process. I don’t mean that as a bad thing, at all, there is a lot of value there which is why this is such a big part of the programming world. So, you spend 4 or 5 years learning the most intimate details of software development and may rarely have an opportunity to use that knowledge.


(I have a hard time learning in this environment, do you?)

Expense was a big problem for me, I bet others have shared this experience. A university diploma isn’t cheap and it is growing more and more difficult to justify for a lot of people. I spent about 10 years on my undergrad working full time as a way to offset the cost. Each semester I took one or two classes and paid in cash. While taking one class per semester, the industry work experience I was gaining quickly became more valuable than the degree I was working on. I knew something was up, but there that nasty rumor that you will never advance without a degree kept looking my way.

There are quite a few non-traditional school options around that are probably worth exploring if you find yourself questioning the university route. Job specific schooling can be a great alternative for people who don’t fit well into a university system, or people that are already in the workforce but are looking for a change.

Tech schools range from the extremely casual to an intense boot camp type atmosphere (sans push ups I suspect). On the more casual side of things are websites like codeschool.com where a student can register and work through a series of exercises based on the technology they want to learn.

On the more intense side of things are brick-and-mortar schools like Nashville Software School. NSS offers a full time, six month web developer boot camp based on two courses. The first course, web development foundations, covers things such as JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and git. The second course goes a little deeper and introduces students to the Ruby / Rails stack, and also some testing frameworks such as rspec, and the selenium test suite.


(Nashville Software School graduating class)

The goal of this program is to teach technologies that there is local market demand for, and to help the students land a gig as soon as they graduate. From what I understand, they are doing a pretty good job at both of these things.

If you want to build software for the space station, or for geological drilling expeditions, sure, go get that university degree. But if you aren’t set on that, you may want to consider some vocational options.

Next time I’ll be talking with a friend and instructor at Nashville Software School to get a closer view of how they do things.

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