Listing Ship

In software development shops, and business in general, there tends to be many nautical terms used for how the business is doing. We're all aboard the HMS/USS SomeBusiness and its easy to make the correlation to a real ship. Larger business often use various "can't turn the ship" type excuses as to why they can't adopt newer technologies or agile methodologies. Smaller companies talk about "righting" when they've hit a bump along the way and need to rebound (but that's a different analogy). But what about the listing ship? Sure, it's kind of stable. It isn't exactly sinking or capsized. It's definitely not turtling. But what's going on and how do we "right" or fix this?

Usually the listing is caused by a shifting of the load. In business this could be due to a team or series of teams that are being asked (or forced) to carry extra weight due to another teams short-comings, or lay-offs, or apathy. The team that is shouldering the load is now much closer to the water line. This isn't exactly a comforting place to be as the spray continually splashes up into your face. The trend at this point is to look out to see if there are other options. A dinghy or lifeboat that is "righted" is better than being on the low side of a listing company. As more people leave that are supporting the low side, the list continues and makes the angle much closer to capsizing.

So how do we stop the talent bleed and right this? A good first start is communication. You know there is a problem. The rest of the team/company knows there is a problem. Don't disregard the problem to the point where nothing can be placed on tables in the galley without them crashing to the floor. You have to be able to answer a few very key questions.

Is the list is growing? Are key players leaving? Have teams stopped caring? Has work slowed or stopped?

Only after the list has stopped worsening can you address righting the ship. There's no use in having additional hiring if there is a mass exodus. The new hires will not have time for proper training and knowledge transfer, burn out, and leave. You have to address why everyone, including the rats, have been scurrying to find a way out.

Once you've established that you are stable but listed, then you can begin the arduous of actually righting. Do the teams on the low side need more support? Are they performing tasks that should be performed by teams on the high side? Will a re-organization help or do you need to just throw bodies as the problem (usually no)?

This isn't my ship and I'm not Jack Sparrow pulling into Port Royal. I've been waving to tuna for quite some time. I've been aggressively pushing cargo back over to the port side that should never have been put on the starboard. I've been fighting and fighting to keep the team under my lead above water and getting no response or reprieve from the captain. I fix problems. I make new features. I can't do that if I'm constantly having to drop everything and grab a bucket to bail water. The list continues to worsen. In short, I need to find a dinghy, lifeboat, yacht, tanker, shrimp boat, you get the idea.

Perhaps I need to just grab a wakeboard or some pool noodles and paddle toward shore on my own.


Sell Out With Me Tonight

Yet another fantastic technology conference fills up in record or near record time. Today it was Build 2012, Microsoft's annual developer conference (it kind of took the place of PDC a couple years ago). I don't know how many tickets were made available but you can't get one if you don't already have one. They sold out in 80 minutes at $2095 USD each.

Other notable conferences include:

Stir Trek
1000 tickets; 10 minutes
Code Mash
1200 tickets; 20 minutes
Apple WWDC
roughly 5000 tickets; 12 hours
Google I/O
roughly 5000 tickets; 28 minutes

So what does all this mean?

Well, I'm not really sure. Either it's still really good to be in technology; it is really, really good to be in event planning; we are reaching critical mass on folks wanting to learn more about tech; or all the above. Whatever the case, if you want to get any of the latest info first-hand, you better hope they stream it or you're going to be left in the dust.

The above image is property of Reel Big Fish. Go to their website, buy their album, etc. Please, don't sue me.


It's only blasphemy if I'm wrong, right?

Mobile. That's it. Just, mobile. We've all been kind of ignoring it.

This year is starting to look like the mobile space is reaching critical mass. And here's the blasphemy part:
Bigger than Jesus.

Yeah, I said it.

According to our friends at Wikipedia, Christianity worldwide touts about 2.2 billion followers. About 242 million of these are in the United States. Now, I'm not going to make any kind of claims to the validity or how devoted to their beliefs a certain percentage are. We're going to take these numbers and say, they're about right or at least close enough.

Now we check the latest market shares in another theological debate. Mobile OSes and we see something interesting ComScore - February 2012 U.S. Mobile Subscriber Market Share

Android is leading the way, with iOS not far behind. RIM still falling and Microsoft struggling to get any traction. But, here's the bit that I found interesting.
For the three-month average period ending in February, 234 million Americans age 13 and older used mobile devices
More than 104 million people in the U.S. owned smartphones during the three months ending in February, up 14 percent versus November.
So though they may not be at epic fan-boy level, some 234 million Americans prayed at the alter of consumer web-enabled electronics with over 100 million being, effectively, the mobile evangelicals. And these numbers are continuing to grow. The tide isn't slowing, more it is gaining momentum.

Mobile is quickly becoming the elephant in the room the way the internet was in the late 1990s to early 2000s. You can no longer avoid it as a "fad". If you aren't looking to spark interactions with your customers in the mobile space, you are losing out. More importantly, if you break your users mobile experience, you may lose them for good.

Sure, we all get geeked out at the announcements of what carrier is getting 4G coverage in what towns or iPhone 5, or Jelly Bean, or maybe even Windows Phone 8 (just me?). But, its all moot unless we're actively looking to make mobile experience part of the overall web experience.


Fill the Internet

Grant Fritchey wrote a great summary on SOPA and PIPA and what is boils down to. You can go read it here... I'll wait.

So I'm not sure if my comment there has come through yet but here is the main point:

Blacking out the pages does nothing unless you’re a Google/Reddit/Wikipedia level site. Instead, make more posts. Scream it on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, etc. Take the time to call, email, whatever your elected officials and post to them through all the channels they are going to close. Don’t black it out. Fill it up!

So there's your call to action. Don't black it out and hope they get the point. The media holders want you to stop posting. Your Congress is trying to take away your Internet (and, yes, it is yours). They are trying to take away many of our livelihoods. Don't be passive. Don't stop sharing information. Don't sit back and take it.

Take the fight to them. Call your Senators and Representatives. Fill their voicemail boxes. Email them and fill their servers. Blog. Post to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, FARK, Wikipedia. Any place you can leave feedback for your elected officials to see that we will not tolerate censorship, fill it up.


I'll most likely kill you in the morning

Well, now that's a good life lesson.

I left a good company and team that was taking a turn that no good will come from. This post isn't about them though so let's not get hung up there.

Anyway, I joined this small company at the end of October, I knew there was going to be legacy code base and some very old ways of doing things. But they were "doing agile" so that was a big plus. I was being brought on board though to make with the new hotness; begin migration to MVC; do a bit of jQuery; work out what middleware/backend/SOA stuff needs changed or created to enable the mobile platform initiatives... pretty hot shit, right?

So I make it through the last week of October and am learning the architecture, "their way" of doing things and how much tech debt I have to work around. Now I'm looking forward to getting into an iteration/sprint to really show the value-add of bringing me on board to tackle a good bit of refactor and optimization while adding new features.

But the iteration never comes... I ask about it and get "We're waiting on a contract from XYZ. We'll start the iteration (next week, Monday, tomorrow, soon)." Until then, I get to work on an InstallShield project (which I used to do as a primary task and HATE!!!).

So a month goes by... still no iteration. No value add. No refactor. No job satisfaction. Worst of all, I realize I really have no team. Instead, there is a group of people that get paid by the same corporation and touch the same source code (sometimes) but don't communicate. I'm pretty much in a complete vacuum working in installation hell.

All the while, I continue getting recruiter calls even though my resume has been taken off Monster. Then it happens. As I'm telling a recruiter that I just started with the company and I am not one the market, he asks, "but are you happy there?" This question haunts me through Thanksgiving and through the end of November.

Then we have the company meeting where the recurring theme was "we're going to build this company so that someone will buy it and we can retire". So I stop ignoring the calls. I meet a few teams (real teams, mind you). I talk with more folks that enjoy tech... And I get a couple job offers. I make my decision to accept one and will be starting Jan 3rd.

Then, in an attempt to be respectful of the people I am about leave, I give them a full 2 week notice this morning. There's my next big mistake. Apparently, I shouldn't have more respect for others than they do for me. Lesson learned. My boss tells me that he doesn't think they'll have much use for me since they still aren't going to start an iteration and he might just have me GTFO today. But he's all vague about it until past my normal end of day.

And there's an outstanding issue on the installer crap. I'm the only one that's worked in that kind of tech. Her's where it gets funny... "maybe we do need you to come back in tomorrow to see if you can get that fixed".

Yeah, sure Dread Pirate Roberts... Good night, Paul. Good work. Sleep well. I'll most likely fire you in the morning. I don't think so. You've shown your hand on what you plan to do when I am done with a task beyond your skill set.

So now I need to figure out what to do to bring in some income for the next two weeks. Going to call my upcoming employer in the morning and see if they can handle me starting earlier. If that doesn't pan, I'll see if I can score some quickie data/TFS/coding goo on 1099. Maybe try to crank out some ideas I've had for Windows Phone apps.

Otherwise, I'm going to have to brush up my "Welcome to WalMart" or "Would you like fries with that"... God I wish I was kidding there.


Open letter to Pat Tiberi, Sherrod Brown, and Rob Portman

Below is the letter I have written to support the immediate killing of S.968, Protect IP, SOPA, whatever. Have you written your Senators/Representatives?

I am writing to you as a voter in your district. I urge you to oppose the House version of S. 968, the PROTECT IP Act. The PROTECT IP Act is dangerous, ineffective, and short-sighted. The House version -- just introduced by Rep. Goodlatte -- is far worse.

This bill brings with it the very high possibility of permanently damaging the internet or setting it's progress back some 30+ years. The internet is my livelihood. Don't take away my ability to earn an income during an already unstable economic recovery.

Imagine going back to a time without Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and all web content. Imagine the ramifications to commerce, education, entertainment, and society as a whole.

Yes the internet *can* be used to break IP laws much like handguns, automobiles, and pastries *can* be used in violent crimes. Society, in general, shouldn't be penalized and treated as scum due to the actions of the few.


Gated builds living in Harmony. How NO_CI kicked my ass.

It should come as no surprise that I love me some TFS 2010. Microsoft's ALM package is so good. It takes the place of a slew other tools (SCM, build server, bug tracking, document repository, work assignments, and more). Really, TFS is like bacon wrapped bacon for your development team.

We've implemented rolling deployments that stage for up to an hour before pushing out to our dev web servers. The templates have some pretty heavy WF hacks to version assemblies, cycle IIS app pools and websites, push the web code, and execute some console apps that are part of the compilation. They've been working great but they don't keep broken code from getting in to the source control repository.

On a new branch of the code tree, I've mirrored the rolling builds from the trunk. I also added a Gated build to avoid bad code ever being checked in. Hit the Googles if you don't know what a gated build is as there is a wealth of info out there about setting up basic Gated builds.

So why this post? Well there is a funny thing that happens after the Gated build intercepts the check-in and verifies the build. When everything builds correctly, it will commit the changes you requested and add to your comment ***NO_CI***

No problem, right? It's just some extra text, right? Well... not really. You see, putting ***NO_CI*** anywhere in your check-in comment tells the build service (just an event subscriber) to not look at this changeset for any Continuous Integration bits. You may have guessed by now that Rolling builds are.... a form of Continuous Integration. At least, as far as the TFS build service is concerned.

With the gated builds trucking away, I never get a Rolling build to be dropped into the queue.

To the Googles... again.

Here is where the goodness is. Open up the template being used for your Gated build. Navigate to

Process > Sequence > Run On Agent > Initialize Workspace > Get Workspace
This action has a property named NoCIOption that is set to True on the default template. What I'd suggest at this point is to create a new boolean argument and hook up the metadata so you can set it edits of the build.

Now, when the Gated build completes, it performs the check-in on your behalf without the ***NO_CI*** and then any  CI or Rolling builds function as desired.


GetAssemblies missing dll's

I have a couple ASP.Net MVC web applications that allow additional functionality by dropping new class library dll's into the bin directory.  This causes new options, tools, products, workflows, etc to be enabled to the user with just a pushing out a new class library.  We've moved away from using an DI/IoC tool (StructureMap/Castle Windsor) because of seeing some memory leaks and having some maintenance issues of the xml files needed to use them.

Instead I decided to go the route of using existing functionality built into the .Net framework.  There is this nifty little static method AppDomain.CurrentDomain.GetAssemblies() which:
Gets the assemblies that have been loaded into the execution context of this application domain.
So, I figure this being ASP.Net, all the dll files in the bin directory would be loaded up, right?  I run the solution and a bunch Assemblies are returned (mscorlib, System.Web.Mvc, Stuff.I.want.dll, More.Stuff.I.Want.dll) page loads and I can see everything it there and happy. A bit more testing happens and then check-in so it gets put out on the web server.
I run through some testing there to make sure there is no real differences between IIS7 and Visual Studio development web server.  Everything looks great. I've removed some external dependencies, lowered the memory footprint, and eased readability. Fantastic! Time to turn it over to have others really kick the tires.

A couple hours go by and then it happens. "Hey Paul! I'm not seeing any of these options I had the last time I opened the page." So I look, the dll's are there.  There were no other code changes to remove them. Let's run local.  Everything looks fine.  I check that results from this particular call are being cached. Everything seems fine.  I change some methods from static to instance, just in case, and deploy.

Again, everything is going along just fine, until the next morning. "Paul. Seriously, are you messing with me? These options are gone again." Me: "%&$(*$%" Directory looks fine. Ok, going to move some stuff out of extension methods and directly into the main assembly for this backend assembly. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Time passes... "Paul, WTF?" Me: "Are you friggin kidding me?" Nothing, NOTHING, is static now in my code.  Nothing is in an extension method, I am very close to having all this functionality in one big DoThisCrap method.

To the Googles!!!

You remember that "Gets the assemblies that have been loaded into the execution context of this application domain." part earlier? Yeah me neither.

So what was happening, as best as I can tell, was the fresh code right after a deployment (or every time I opened in the VS dev server) ASP.Net loaded every dll in the bin as I hoped.  On subsequent page visits, ASP.Net learned that some files were not needed on the last load and no code was directly instanciating them so they weren't loaded. This means they didn't show up.

What to do? Well, we can get the current directory from AppDomain.CurrentDomain.BaseDirectory property.  From there it's a simple System.IO.Directory.GetFiles call to plow the directory with various search options.

this can be pointed to specific sub folder using string.format
var path = AppDomain.CurrentDomain.BaseDirectory;

you can add file name matching criteria here if the assemblies you are looking for match a naming convention
var files = Directory.GetFiles(path, "*.dll", SearchOption.AllDirectories);

and now we can perform logic on the files array.

Since we are looking directly at a folder path, there is no issue of whether previous runs loaded the assemblies into the AppDomain.  However, there is the additional cost of going to disk to get results.


Congratulations! You just broke the team!

Infighting. Every team has it to some point. The testing team complains that the developers screwed up the application. The developers blame the business analysts for incomplete/incoherent requirements. The BA’s blame the testing/dev groups for misinterpreting the requirements or interpreting them instead of asking for clarification. The project manager blames everyone for slipping deadlines.

Some conflict is expected within any group. There are, however, lines that need to not be crossed. We are all part of this thing for a reason. Let’s give each other a bit of respect and we can get through our day-to-day much easier. Mutual respect is required for all silos/individuals on the team.

Saying to external teams that you have no confidence in one of the internal teams to deliver on what they are paid to do is incomprehensible. Questioning a team members motives on how they spent a vacation day that was scheduled weeks in advance is ludicrous. Demanding that other teams work nights and weekends when you don’t do the same is selfish. Throwing a fit when an individual says “NO!” to working over a holiday weekend because you don’t celebrate the same holiday is appalling.

Below is a brief list of what is being halted whenever I have to deal with this infighting:

  • I investigate new methodologies and technologies
  • I scrutinize every line of code
  • I monitor data page utilization
  • I remove redundancy
  • I optimize methods and queries
  • I normalize datasets
  • I take long running processes down to a tenth their initial time
  • I plan for scale
  • I visualize data sets and workflows the way most people see pictures
  • I read countless blogs, tweets, message boards
  • I teach more junior developers how to use existing frameworks
  • I collaborate with my peers
  • I document the system
  • I design new features
  • I prioritize deliverables
  • I fix bugs
  • I update data
  • I spec hardware
  • I evaluate new software
  • I verify we are licensed properly
  • I write .Net
  • I read Java
  • I understand PHP, ForTran, COBOL and more
  • I relate the data
  • I connect the networks
  • I make the impossible possible
  • I tell you when the impossible really is impossible
  • I can *DD the hell out this shit
  • I can make fat objects light and anemic domains rich
  • I’ve came in early, stayed late, worked weekends and holidays

I am Paul Montgomery. I am good at what I do. I do this shit for a living because I am good at it. I am a pretty damned big deal. I do all I can to surround myself with highly capable people. I will not tolerate treating any member of my team without respect.