Monthly Archives: May 2008

Speed up Meetings

Lets face it, technology types hate meetings, right?  Depending on the business, countless hours get wasted in meetings about previous meetings where a future meeting is now required because somebody isn’t present.

Here are a few tips to help get things sped up:

  1. Don’t have a meeting at all. Instead try to settle issues over email/phone/IM or in person with informal one on one chats.
  2. Prepare an agenda in advance. When a meeting is required, create a concise outline ahead of time with exactly what needs to be addressed and what decisions need to be made.
  3. Invite as few people as necessary.  Worse than getting CC’d on an email you don;t need to see is getting invited to a meeting you don’t need to attend.
  4. Ditch the chairs. This has proven effective in our daily standups, inspired by our Agile development team.  Keeping attendees on their feet keeps energy high, meetings short and to the point.
  5. Start on Time. Its impossible to have a quick meeting when people straggle in 10 minutes late.  I’ve heard of incentive systems being used to break bad habits, whereas snacks are provided to the first x%, encouraging people to arrive early, or having people speak in the order they arrive, then ending the meeting ON TIME.  Tardy folks dont get their turn to talk.
  6. Set a Timer. We use this in our weekly/monthly/quarterly leadership meetings and its proven pretty effective.  While we arent starting/stopping meeting times, we do provision a set amount of time for each person to speak, making it more important to prepare in advance and choose your topics more carefully.  I’ve also heard Google using a 4′ ticking clock projected onto the wall of conference rooms to remind everyone about the time.

Overused Terms

I had a conversation recently with a friend about over used/hyped buzzwords and recall somekind of authoritative media outlet publishing a annual study on terms that should be retired, from over-usage in the previous year.  The publisher slips my mind, but after a recent conversation I thought I’d throw my list out there.

  • Frankly
  • Truthfully
  • Web 2.0
  • Web 3.0
  • Proactive
  • Paradigm
  • Synergy
  • No-brainer
  • Think out-of-the-box

It’s funny rather, how when I hear these terms I automatically associate the source using my “coolness” factor.  Depending on the crowds you interact with, or business you work within, credibility can be gained or conversely lost  based on your  word choices.  Sure, some people don’t realize, care, nor pay attention to such things, but if you want to stay ahead of the curve, remove these words from your vocabulary before you get labeled as somebody that industry has passed by.

As my colleague Doug once said, if you need to tell others you are innovative, you probably aren’t.

Avoiding the Status Quo

While attending a conference this week, I met alot of people, during sessions at lunch and after parties. A consistent theme emerged a few days into the week, which somewhat caught me off guard, not so much that is completely surprised me, but rather made me renew my appreciate for the environment we’ve created at Billhighway.

During the course of conversation, on numerous occasions, talks circled back to “how the team back at the ranch just doesn’t do things that way” or “we’ve got a bunch of guys that dont want to change.” Obviously, each shop is different, with varying degrees of complexity, standardization and business requirements, however a fair amount of people I met, had no expectation of using any of the new stuff they are learning back at their jobs!?

While some attendees had their registration paid by by their employers, most likely with good intentions, the fact of the matter appears to be, that they aren’t in any position to influence change within their organization(s), and to me thats just a waste of everyones time (and money.)

Sure, theres always going to be the early adopters, cutting edge vs. mainstream, those willing to take risks and those that wait for the first service pack, or version increase before they hop onboard with anything new. Thats not the issue at hand, atleast with the folks I spoke with. I found myself repeatedly saying “that must be tough” or “sounds like you need to update your resume.” What I was left with, was people willing and able to push the envelope, learning and adapting to new techniques, but organizations not being willing to justify the risk, change or complacency to adopt farily well known, value-adding tools/techniques, like Team Foundation Sever, Virtualization and Agile.

Now, I’ve been around long enough to see this from both an employee and employers perspective, there certainly isnt a one-size fits all model for your environment. Customers, quality and support will always heavily influence your ability to innovate. To me, probably the single biggest reason I joined Billhighway, was the polar opposite of the mindset above. At Billhighway, we’re very selective recruiting, seeking the top 10% of folks in their field, those with a passion for technology and an expectation to make a difference.

I found myself not relating to several of the attendees, as some were attending as a training formality, whereas I tend to absorb as much information as possible, then look for outlets to use it, whether internally or sharing within the community. Many people I met were “glass half empty” folks, naturally pessimistic, with a whoa is me mindset, and “we can’t do that because…” – that just doesn’t fly at Billhighway. We tend to perceive problems as challenges, a do-whatever-it-takes mindset, always looking to advance, if not improve a process.

So, lesson learned? Despite the doom and gloom of the economy in your area, there are shops out there looking for bright, energetic developers who want to continually learn new tools and techniques and be challenged on a daily basis, vs. report to a slug who is counting down the hours before they can leave for the day. My suggestion to you is network! Attend user groups, conferences and community events, its here where you’ll find the type of company (or those working for companies) that are influencing change, and most likely hiring! Remember, don’t be afraid to take some risks, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Waking up a sleeping giant?

Since Microsoft has moved their product cycles to ~3 years, it seems each month a new flavor of something is shipping, with supplimental tools surfacing every few weeks. I, myself have noticed a change in the past 18 months or so, really since the Google threat emerged. There seems to be a new sense of urgency within MS, more forward discussions and even some support for the open-source community!

It almost seems as though MS is softening is stance on proprietary issues, blurring the lines within the developer community to support popular trends with RIA and ruby. Looking back several years, MS seems to perform best when there is healthy competition in the mix. The most obvious threats, from my perspective remain, Google and Adobe.

Google continues to push the envelope on several fronts, most notable to the development community may be its Open Social platform. While MS has offered support to other social communities, such as Facebook, support within still seems to favor other flavors, such as php, ruby, even java using REST vs. SOAP. While thats a somewhat minor issue, MS developers are accustom to rich documentation, which FB, and others (Google, Amazon, etc.) still lack. Hence, the early adopters remain the open-source folks, those accustom to rolling their own solutions, leaving the MS devs a few laps behind.

RIA (Rich Internat Applications) has become a popular trend, possibly gaining momentum as an outcome of Web 2.0, whereas slick interfaces and ajax helped to move awareness forward. RIA is much more than that though, looking back, requires credit to shockwave, flash and maybe even dhtml? Enter Adobe. Adobe acquired Macromedia several years ago, strengthening its already dominant position in the designer community. Its latest activities surround a technology called FLEX, now in its 3rd iteration. MS and Adobe are both competing for this audience, MS with its WPF and Silverlight technologies, – both lay claim to support for the “open source” community, offering cross-platform frameworks, which require proprietary toolsets (flex builder, blend/visual studio, respectively) to truly leverage the technology.

Social Apps and RIA both offer significant, albeit unproven, opportunity. Early indication is, some form of both will power the next wave of internet applications, and all the major players are competing for the attention of developers, whom will ultimately build the killer apps of tomorrow. MS is uniquely positioned to capitalize on RIA, having a mature platform in .net, deep dev community, and an increasingly impressive offering in Silverlight 2. Things havent fully played out yet on the social side of the house, but its clear MS is ramping up resources, regionally at community events, and globally with projects such as PopFly and Moonlight (a joint venture with Novell).

Another example may be its growing support for Agile. Agile, derived heavily from the eXtreme programming (XP) camp, is another MS example of being late to the game, but coming on strong with rich toolsets, with Team Foundation Server (TFS). TFS, now in its 2nd iteration, improves collaboration among leading-edge development teams, with diverse roles, source code control and process templates. Now featuring better support for Continuous Integration (CI) and Test Driven Development (TDD) showcases MS as a player within this emerging methodology.

The last piece of the puzzle surrounds the mashup community, whom in my eyes are truly at the forefront of social apps, RIA and the elusive web desktop. In this space, the open-source guys still dominate. Attend a barCamp, unconference or user group on the coasts and you’d almost forget Microsoft (.net) and Sun (java) existed. Here, Macbook Pros and Ruby rule the landscape, and thats ok. MS, other than pioneering the OS, has arguably never been at the forefront, but instead have taken calculated risks entering markets long after demand existed – where they’ve become quite successful.

So, does the latest advancements in web technologies, combined with competitive alternatives force MS to adapt? Absolutely. Who is going to win? The development community at large, by having legitimate options to choose from when building the next big thing. Let the games begin!

VS Live Keynote – day 2

Mark Minasi gave a recap of Windows 6 in today’s VS Live keynote.  Mark’s a pretty colorful guy, if you haven’t followed his work, be sure to check out his site, as it’s offers a wealth of information, on the “windows” side of the house.  Mark also has a blog, and free newsletters.

After debunking a few myths about Vista, Mark goes on to say he actually likes it, whereas about 1/3 of the audience declared they were going to stick with XP as long as possible.  My personal experience has been similar, The XP’ers tend to be somewhat jaded folks that haven’t yet had the opportunity to run Vista in an ideal environment, meaning a new, beefy box with lots of RAM.   Mark then showed a  slide of common complaints, the usual:  its slower,  poor driver support,  incompatibilities,  licensing, and it just sucks.  He then added, the slide was actually from the feedback after the launch of XP, in October of 2003.  Interestingly, many in IT continue to “fear change”, as he referenced from Wayne’s World.

The next several slides promoted Vista features, found everywhere on the net, so I wont list them here.  A few noteworthy items included the removal of hyperTerminal (for the serial console folks), secure by default settings, and vast group policy improvements.  Mark also hinted to the next version of the OS may feature the Office 2007 ribbon feature, which everyone hates.  To maximize your Vista experience, he ended with, get the right hardware, lots of ram (2gb min, 4+ ideal) – and consider 64bit Vista OS!  As most know, 32bit windows can’t utilize much over 3gb, to see how much ram your pc is utilizing, check out systemInfo.exe.  Again, when possible, consider 64bit OS, driver issues, for most, arent as bad as you think.  He also referenced, he’s using a Lenova T61P, and should be used as a benchmark, as he’s been very happy with it.

Moving onto windows 2008 (w2k8), he touched on the benefits of the no GUI, server core.  Mark added, Microsoft referenced 60% of all hotfixes for w2k3, were due to GUI issues.  Server core will support virtualization, and the forthcoming hyperV (which won’t support “Live Migration”, MS’ version of VMWare’s vMotion, until R2).  Read-only DCs will make branch office operatins easier. He went on to add Virtualization benefits to us, consumers of the technology as MS threatens VMWare’s ESX product, in a rach to the bottom of the sea for who can give it away faster!  Sure MS’ virtualization is still premature, but it is in use in some production environments, and actually performs pretty well for basic deployments.

In closing, Mark appears to be an advocate for MS technologies, with appropriate criticisms, such as supporting winXP until people no longer want it, and Active Directory gaps that remain from w2k, specifically around trust issues between forests and some dcPromo gotchas.  Mark left us with a few things to help us stay ahead of the curve, items that he believes haven’t yet critical mass, but will in the next 12-36 months.  They were:

  • IPv6 – China is leading demand
  • Virtualization (obviously)
  • PKI, if not using yet, time to start thinking about it
  • SQL, nearly everything uses it, time to learn it

WPF and Silverlight Intro

I’m attending VS Live this week, in Orlando Florida. This is my first VS Live event, and so far so good, my first few sessions balanced a fair amount of theory, substance and [working] demos. On Monday, I attended Billy Hollis’ WPF and Silverlight pragmatic introduction.

Silverlight (and WPF) seem to be getting lots of attention these days, reflected by the solid crowd turnout in the session, filling nearly all 100+ chairs! Now, I haven’t done “design” work in several years, I do force myself to learn new things rather often, today, it was silverlight.

I’ve met Billy before, from the conference circuit and was prepared to rollup my sleeves with solid technical content, and I wasn’t disappointed. Billy showcased several demos, 3rd party as well as his own, many with full source code availability for the audience to comb over. Equally impressive was an WPF application he’s working on, as his knowledge on the subject was very diverse.

Now, I don’t have any immediate needs to use WPF or Silverlight, but it has sparked my interest and I feel have a jump-off point, for when the need does arise. For those interested, jump right into Silverlight 2, and save yourself some headaches. Download the demos/sample applications, install blend and get intimate with xaml if you intend to become effective.

Here are a few places to help get you started:

VS 2008, .net 3.5, TFS 2008 – Service Pack 1

The past six months, we’ve seen a wave of new releases/technologies from Microsoft, most people haven’t yet had the chance to really get exposed to all the great stuff going on. While Windows 2008 server, VS 2008, SQL 2008, TFS 2008, Silverlight, WPF, Linq, WPF, WWF and numerous others still have that new car smell, the MS folks continue to push forward, most recently with the announcement of SP 1 for Visual Studio 208, .net 3.5 and Team Foundation Server 2008.

For those looking to stay abreast of all the latest bits, here are a couple links to help you along.

VS 2008 SP1

FS 2008 SP1


As usual, actual ships dates remain vague, but speculation seems to point to SP1 availability this summer.