Debugging Skills

I have not taken much time off this summer. Last week I took a day off from work. Needed to help a friend with some heavy lifting. Got a call while I was out. Apparently a system that I maintain had problems. I told my boss that I would be in the next day. However someone else could surely resolve the issue.

Turns out my normal backup was also out of the office. That's okay. I trained the new guy on this system. Unfortuantely he told the managers that he knew nothing about the operations. Fail. I guess I trained him up but he did not use that knowledge. So he forgot it all.

Today I was scheduled to give a one hour session on the system. I did so. Took around 30 minutes to give a high level overview plus a hands on demonstration on how all the pieces get run. Then a manager asked me to prep the audience to respond to problems. Another manager asked that I give them the steps to "reset the data".

Unfortunately the only way to get familiar with the system is to get your hands dirty. You got to resolve a bunch of trouble tickets. Only then will you get the chance to dig deep and understand what the heck is going on. That's how I learned. That's how my backup learned. And that's how everyone else is going to need to learn. Sorry. Once again there is no silver bullet here.

Programming Languages and Pay

Read a few articles today on computer languages and technologies, plus their effect on your salary. Here is one thing for sure. New developers would be smart to add the following technologies to their tool belt:
  • JavaScript
  • Java
  • HTML
  • SQL
  • CSS
  • .net
It would also help to learn some lesser desired skills such as:
  • Linux
  • C#
  • jQuery
  • PHP
  • ASP
  • Python
  • C++
  • MySQL
That being said, in some markets, technology does not matter by the time you are a senior developer. Let's say you want to work at a startup. And let's say you are willing to relocate to the San Francisco Bay area. Then you just need to have experience in a skill such as:
  • Java
  • JavaScript
  • Python
  • C++
  • HTML5
  • Ruby
If you are good, and have a lot of experience, you will be highly compensated. The downside is that it costs a lot of money to live in the Bay area. But at least you will be able to get a job that pays well. So says top recruiting firms for startups in the area.

Surprise Requirements

I was working on designing solutions to some new client needs recently. Our process is to map all requirements to sections of our design. It is a little tricky when more than one team works on a set of requirements. I mapped those requirements I thought my team fulfilled. Then I passed the mapping document over to the other team involved.

Sometimes I am able to detect some requirements that are not necessarily new. They are just newly documented. It is a problem that they are just lumped together with the new requirements. But that is a story for another post. There were there requirements at the end of my mapping which seemed strange to me. They did not seem to be related to the new functionality. They also did not seem to be things the system already did.

I decided to get in touch with our requirements lead. Apparently these were requirements previously collected but never implemented. They need to be completed along with all the changes I am working on. That is a bit tricky. They should not be mapped to the new design I produced. They need to go with a future design that was yet to be written. Tricky.

Timesheet Recording

The suits on the project want to record how much time we actually spend working on new features. They think we are spending too much time on them. Guess what? They are half right. We are spending a lot of calendar time ... doing things other than working on new features.

The little time we actually spend on the new features causes the schedule to drag on. Our team decided to record the time we spend on tasks during the day. Iteration one is using Excel spreadsheets to track everything. Hey. I am game for anything that tracks actuals.

Initially the team wanted me to record start and stop times for tasks. Dude. I work on all kinds of tasks and get interrupted from each all the time. There is no time (no pun intended) to record all those starts and stops. The goal here is to collect duration of tasks. Therefore I am only record the daily duration on every task I do.

The team lead thought we should record down to the 15 minute increment. Nope. Thirty minutes is the least I can do. Otherwise I am going to be wasting more time recording the stuff. Pretty soon I hope we can use a tool to collect this data. But spreadsheets are good enough for right now. I find that I am even more diligent in recording everything I do, including all the interruptions.

The Use of Metrics

Our project does a lot of estimation for new work we shall perform. The customer uses that information to determine how many new things we can handle per release. Recently there has been a push to collect actuals on how much time we spend on this new work. Must be some type of CMMi activity.

This is the trick for collecting metrics. You don't want the job of collecting the metrics to take up a lot of time. You also want it to be accurate. I remember when I used to track the time we spent fixing each bug. I had to collect all the info. Then I would put out reports on the subject. I did this until I was able to convince my boss that it was not time well spent.

I had thought that the goal for this new metrics collection would be to fine tune our estimation process. That way we can have more accurate projections on how long new work will take. My manager said he thinks this will help us report status on the new work as well. Let's just hope I don't have to start spending my life collecting metrics from the team.

Drawbacks of Being a Guru

I have been working on my project at work for almost 15 years. See it all on the project. Been involved with a lot of pieces of it. So I usually know about things that go on. That's great when I want to get stuff done. I got the business info.

Other people lean on me for help. Hey. That's usually not a problem. I can give some good developers a few pointers. It will help them cut through a lot of confusion to get their work done.

However there is some abuse of my help. Slackers want me to hold their hand while they do their work. That might benefit them. But I got my own job to do. Can't let people waste my time. Not sure how to communicate this to the slackers. Maybe I will just not take their calls.

Schedule Estimating Software

We have customer requests for enhancements to our legacy system all the time. The customer first needs an estimate as to how long it will take to develop, and thus how much it will cost. The way we respond is that we first try to figure out what it is exactly that the customer wants.

Then we get experts to think about a type of design in their mind. Once such a design has some meat, we will try to count up all the parts it will take to implement that design. This includes different GUI screens, interfaces, database code, and so on.

Once we know the pieces of the implementation, we decide to quantify them and rank them as being easy/medium/hard. Then we plug in how experenced the resources are that will implement the solution. This all goes into an Excel spreadsheet that has some smarts built into it. The result is a number of hours it will take for software completion.

Wouldn't it be easier if we did not have to rely on the experts to do all this analysis? I would like to send a business developer out to the customer, and have them be able to quickly estimate what the work is going to cost. We need something like Software Schedule Estimator for this job.