Deploying your Rails app on a VDS

Recently I finally finished development of my very first serious app, which was ready to be deployed on a production machine. This, however, turned out to be trickier than anticipated. I’ve read myself into various tutorials, decided to spin up a droplet on digitalocean with preinstalled Unicorn + Nginx bundle. While this droplet works well with the initial app I had a hard time trying to make

a) multiple sites work

b) any site but the default work

I surely don’t want to assume that unicorn is somewhat hard to handle, it may have been just me, who is unable to accomplish such a task. On the other hand I found that using puma instead of unicorn is far more profitable.

I grabbed this outstanding tutorial – https://www.digitalocean.com/community/tutorials/deploying-a-rails-app-on-ubuntu-14-04-with-capistrano-nginx-and-puma and was able to get the whole app running on production within few hours.

Don’t forget to install ImageMagick sudo apt-get install imagemagick if you suddenly discover, that there are no image uploads on production. Check out this article too – https://chuanhesmile.wordpress.com/2014/12/13/issue-fixed-rollback-transaction-when-uploading-images-using-carrierwave/

This is important because there might be no errors at all and it did cost me a lot of time to figure that out on my own.

My last advise – check out how to create a memory swap because that’s one of the first issues I ran into while deploying my application (I’m using the 5$ droplets with 512 MB RAM for all my projects).

The beautiful world of hstore (PostgreSQL)

In my recent project I stumbled across the need to store, let’s say an array of elements (in my app a user can add to this to-be-purchased item additional services. Therefore I need to somewhere store those additional services). One idea might be to create an additional model and connect cart_items with additional services through some “additionalservization” join table.

However this is the man’s rails world and things are meant to be easy. And here comes the hstore – awesome extension for your PostgreSQL which allows you to store hash values.

Let’s start simple

Log in into your postgreSQL:

psql
\list
\connect app_database_development

this leads to:
=> psql (9.4.1, server 9.4.2)
You are now connected to database "app_development" as user "user".

app_development-# CREATE extension hstore;

That’s it, now your database supports this extension.

Now it’s time to generate the migration:

rails g migration AddDataToLineItems addservices:hstore
rake db:migrate

Now jump right into rails console:

2.2.0 :004 > @li = LineItem.last
2.2.0 :005 > @li.addservices = {first: 4, second: 'one', third: 'some more text'}
 => {:first=>4, :second=>"one", :third=>"some more text"}

Wasn’t that easy and awesome?

Greece car roadtrip

[readolog_first_paragraph ]Short summary[/readolog_first_paragraph]

Our route:

Greece Car Roadtrip Route
Greece Car Roadtrip Route

Approx. total cost: 3000€ (two persons) – 15 days, 14 nights, total km traveled: 3000 km

Cost breakdown

[readolog_column column_type=”1/3″ last_item=”no” ][readolog_chart size=”200″ percentage=”18.89″ barcolor=”#2c65a6″ trackcolor=”#E8E8E8″ linewidth=”12″ font_size=”14″ label=”Flights – 561 €” ][/readolog_chart][/readolog_column]

[readolog_column column_type=”1/3″ last_item=”no” ][readolog_chart size=”200″ percentage=”20″ barcolor=”#2c65a6″ trackcolor=”#E8E8E8″ linewidth=”12″ font_size=”14″ label=”Food – 594 €” ][/readolog_chart][/readolog_column]

[readolog_column column_type=”1/3″ last_item=”yes” ][readolog_chart size=”200″ percentage=”27.23″ barcolor=”#2c65a6″ trackcolor=”#E8E8E8″ linewidth=”12″ font_size=”14″ label=”Hotels – 809 €” ][/readolog_chart][/readolog_column]

 

[readolog_column column_type=”1/3″ last_item=”no” ][readolog_chart size=”200″ percentage=”10″ barcolor=”#2c65a6″ trackcolor=”#E8E8E8″ linewidth=”10″ font_size=”14″ label=”Gas – 299 €” ][/readolog_chart][/readolog_column]

 

[readolog_column column_type=”1/3″ last_item=”no” ][readolog_chart size=”200″ percentage=”14″ barcolor=”#2c65a6″ trackcolor=”#E8E8E8″ linewidth=”10″ font_size=”14″ label=”Car rent – 417 €” ][/readolog_column]

 

[readolog_column column_type=”1/3″ last_item=”yes” ][readolog_chart size=”200″ percentage=”9.73″ barcolor=”#2c65a6″ trackcolor=”#E8E8E8″ linewidth=”10″ font_size=”14″ label=”Misc – 291 €” ][/readolog_chart][/readolog_column]


 

[readolog_blockquote ]Prologue[/readolog_blockquote]

When we first started to decide where to take our vacation I was luckily able to persuade my wife not to stay whole 2-3 weeks at one place. The roadtrip decision was made. Why Greece? Well, first of all – because of Zeus! Other argumentation points include – clear waters, beatiful landscapes and presumably amazing food.

[readolog_blockquote ]War horse[/readolog_blockquote]

Here we go, this was our charger in the battle, Pegeaut 301 (manual shifting, which was kind of welcomed change after all the years driving automatic):

Our war horse

 

Can’t say anything bad about this car, took us smoothly through mountains, beaches, dirty roads and forests. It has climate control, so everything was fine.

[readolog_blockquote ]Eating[/readolog_blockquote]

It was surpisingly expensive. If you stick to the Greek salad and tzatziki it’s okay (salad, bread, tzatziki and a drink will result in about 10 Euro and because the portions are enormous it is really enough for a grown up person), however if you want to try out some fish or other sea products, prepare to pay 30-40-50 EUR per kilo (which still results in 20-30 EUR per dish (for one person!)). Don’t know how it comes – here in Russia you can get a caber (and this guy gives black freaking caviar) for 10 EUR/kilo and we don’t have a lot of seas close to Moscow. On the Greek coasts you just have to grab your boat and your fishing net… Strange.

[readolog_blockquote ]Accomodation[/readolog_blockquote]

We tried to book as often as possible through AirBnB service, because we wanted to live “authentic” and not in a standard hotel-way (we didn’t manage to do it all the time, had to book a hotel twice). To disillusion you right from the beginning – it is often not cheap at all. And there are a lot of hotel-like offers you might fall into. However the overall experience was still awesome, we managed to book a lot of different appartments throughout Greece.

Zagori Stone House Appartment
Our accomodation in Zagroi, a real stone-built house.

So basic rule – don’t expect it to be cheap (same as with food).

[readolog_blockquote ]Driving around[/readolog_blockquote]

This was the main reason for our holidays and it was simply stunning. The Greek nature and it’s landscapes are truly exquisite and our the experience was a precious one. From the east coast, down to the most southern point, up to Zagori mountains past west coast and visiting the most northern islands we can now claim to have seen almost all parts of Greece. Be prepared to drive through, around, beyond and above mountains. There are a lot of them (in fact, we had seen only a short sight of flatland around the west coast). You will see crystal clear waters (and by the way we had them at every point of the country, which was fascinating), villages built into the mountains, turtles on the freeway, huge rocks on the road, deserted little islands and much more.

I would even say – this is the only reason to visit Greece – to see it’s stunning nature. Do not linger at one place for a long time – get a car, reward yourself with an interesting Greece car roadtrip.

Serpantine road

Zagori Waterfall
Zagori Waterfall
Having fun with a boat
Having fun with a boat

PostgreSQL Rails migration – how to fix DatatypeMismatch error

So recently I made my very first blog app (you can watch this awful creation here) and while uploading to Heroku was as expected stress free, migrations weren’t.

The error was

[readolog_blockquote ]

PG::DatatypeMismatch: ERROR:  column “category_id” cannot be cast automatically to type integer

HINT:  Specify a USING expression to perform the conversion.

[/readolog_blockquote]

I could imagine this would cause a problem, because initially “category_id” was named plain “category” and was a string instead of an integer.

By simply creating a new migration

class FixColumnName < ActiveRecord::Migration
  def change
  	rename_column :posts, :category, :category_id
  	change_column :posts, :category_id, :integer
  end
end

I thought to have it done until I stumbled upon the error.

My first search led me to this awesome article – check it out http://makandracards.com/makandra/18691-postgresql-vs-rails-migration-how-to-change-columns-from-string-to-integer

(You basically need to follow the HINT and convert your data as following:

class FixColumnName < ActiveRecord::Migration
  def change
  	rename_column :posts, :category, :category_id
  	change_column :posts, :category_id, 'integer USING CAST(category_id AS integer)'
  end
end

However, after adding a new migration… the error still occured. Until I watched carefully the error logs

== 20150520191141 FixColumnName: migrating ====================================
-- rename_column(:posts, :category, :category_id)
   -> 0.0029s
-- change_column(:posts, :category_id, :integer)
rake aborted!
StandardError: An error has occurred, this and all later migrations canceled:

PG::DatatypeMismatch: ERROR:  column "category_id" cannot be cast automatically to type integer
HINT:  Specify a USING expression to perform the conversion.

As you can see, not the new migration is causing problems, but the old one! So if you encounter the same problem as I did, please check your older migrations – you just need to change this line in the old migration as well:

change_column :posts, :category_id, 'integer USING CAST(category_id AS integer)'

 

Business – fucked up style

Recently I stumbled upon such an interesting book, however it’s only available in Russian (Бизнес в стиле Ж). I would strongly recommend every project manager (not even in IT field), every business owner and other “higher” positions to read this book. It contains only 200 pages and can be read in one breath.

One can freely say this book is focused on business survival (as the title suggests) and several ideas are worth to be remembered. Author is not the last person on Russian media landscape and owns Gameland which is responsible for multiple print and online media (car tuning, computer games, cinema etc.)

Few useful tips I gathered from this book:

[readolog_blockquote ]Be ready to denounce your previous experience, even if it was good and successful. Especially during crisis times.[/readolog_blockquote]

[readolog_blockquote ]Crisis times are similar to war times – pay no one, collect from everybody, care only for the fighters.[/readolog_blockquote]

Be ready to drastically change your business attitude (for example author, who was printing a 240 pages shiny magazine switched over to 160 pages magazine, printed on cheap newspaper paper (no pun intended)). Do not let any money leak – freeze (temporarily) all your debt flows. It’s better for each party (you and your creditor) to invest this money into further business development, because it’s the only way you can earn money and for your creditor to get his money back. Try to restructure your debts (most creditors are willing to give you discount if they will see payments from you). For the best employees (and most motivated ones) rise their motivation – if they suggest a new project, give them 100% of project’s income first year (sink it later on…).

[readolog_blockquote ]Always pay your debts (like Lannisters) – even if it takes you years.[/readolog_blockquote]

[readolog_blockquote ]Try to be as open minded as possible – talk to people, follow latest trends. You can never know what might be the next hit during or after the next crisis.[/readolog_blockquote]

Just imagine – Russians are generally hostile towards Muslim culture, however this didn’t affect their love for hookah at all! Or sushi – Japanese culture is considered as weird, raw fish is a no-go, rice isn’t that popular… but sushi you can find on almost every corner.

[readolog_blockquote ]All your employees are divided into three categories: Predators, Parasites, Owners and Sheep.[/readolog_blockquote]

While almost all your ordinary employees can surely be tossed into the sheep category, proceed with caution when creating a profile for your top management. You should avoid having predators and parasites at any cost and should encourage owners or owner-like behavior. Predator’s real goal is to snatch. For his own profit he will without a wink put your company in danger. Parasite is all about creating a busy impression – his input is extremely low compared to salary, and all his energy goes only into persuading you, that he is busy doing stuff. Owners are the most rare category of top personal – they treat your business like their own and are really willing to do everything to make it prosper. While during peaceful times predators and parasites will most likely successful hide their nature, giving themselves as owners, crisis time reveals such characters very quickly. Non-loyal employees have no right to be in your company. Your best guess would be if a top manager declines your offer to decrease his salary during crisis time in exchange for a higher share in company’s revenue – it simply shows that they don’t believe in your success and your clearly don’t need such people.

[readolog_blockquote ]Share more information with your key employees.[/readolog_blockquote]

Most likely, your general employee won’t care what is happening with your company – they simply care for themselves. Thus, sharing negative information with them won’t make anything better – this category of employees won’t be able to influence anything at all. However, the higher you climb on the position ladder the more information you should share. You simply can’t expect owner-like behavior if you hide important things from your top people.

I hope you enjoyed this short summary, feel free to (learn Russian and) read this book by yourself!

The Software Development Edge – Book Review – Part III/III

Finally I gathered all the strength required to finish this review. It’s a little bit tougher than back in the school days, however I hope it might serve some educational purpose.

As explained in the last post, this review part will not continue the previous path, but summarize the whole book (in a shorter way). You can regard this as a kind “best of”.

Core idea – Politics

[readolog_blockquote ]”Developing software is such a unique and complicated process, I can’t make an estimation how long it will take and I won’t take the responsibility for my due dates” – this is utter bullshit. Software development is just as unique as any other professional field (just ask your friends). If someone refuses to take over responsibility it’s is clearly not because he/she is such a genius.[/readolog_blockquote]

Core idea – Crisis

[readolog_blockquote ]Act – that’s the main point. Regardless if you’re a hired crisis manager or were just moved to another project which is deep in the shit, your main goal now is acting. It will stink for a while, so don’t bother with keeping good relationships (with customers, other employees, anyone…).[/readolog_blockquote]

Core idea – Project

[readolog_blockquote ]Keep your project within the given due date. Do it at any cost – mostly you will be cutting off unnecessary features. However you can’t fit any project in any time frames. Take your time in advance and get an honest opinion from your team members how they estimate the whole project. You really need those honest opinions and people you can trust. If you can’t, it’s time to say goodbye to those.[/readolog_blockquote]

Core idea – Developing

[readolog_blockquote ]It might be some de facto standard right now, but still I see even in my team how things can quickly get out of control if you don’t invest time into concentrated continuous releases, called iterations. Force everyone to deliver something each week. It will require a lot endurance from you, but there is just no other way…[/readolog_blockquote]

I promised to keep it short and simple and here we go. Four core points which should awaken your interest in this book. If you want to intensify the review reading I would recommend you part I and part II, however more than that I would just suggest you go out there and buy this amazing book.

How to write useful technical specs

I might be not that wrong in assuming that a lot of IT people out there encounter same problems regarding tech specs all the time – they become obsolete sooner than they are written. Mostly created to show the client – hey, we’re doing stuff here, here is the result, 100 pages of pure informational power. However, the result is often the same – after one glance, each team member will soon forget that this spec ever existed.

So how make specs more useful? In this article I won’t show how to formulate your spec, but more how (technically) to manage, that your spec stays up to date.

Use LaTeX

No, not in the bedroom with your girlfriend (on the other side – who am I to judge you?), but the document markup language (according to Wikipedia).

LaTeX is not only cool – writing specs feels almost like writing code – but it allows you to maintain a healthy development process considering your spec.

Problem No. 1

When your specs are starting to get bigger and you add stuff here and there, it is very (VERY!) hard for your team to follow up on changes. Using GIT in combination with LaTeX allows you to commit any changes just if it were code. And GIT markup fantastically highlights all changes that were made. So next time you can just give your team a link to the latest commit to they will see only the new and recent parts.

Problem No. 2

Have you ever tried to create links within a document, say in MS Word? Yeah, you kinda able to do that, but if you add, say, a new point to your numerical list, all your links will get messed up. Regardless to say what happens if you add a whole new chapter at the beginning. LaTeX allows you to define variables, just like any programming language. Just use a simple

/label{section:intro}

where section:intro is just a clear variable meaning that your content is in the section called “intro”.

Problem No. 3

As soon as you try to maintain your MS Word spec you realize how this program is clearly not created to write large documents. Ever tried to create a numerical list, then add a break and continue the list? Then you’ll know how easy it is to screw things up. By being completely controllable there is always an easy solution for almost everything you want to achieve with a LaTeX document.

Use GIT

I mentioned it already in the previous paragraph, but I can’t stress it out enough – your LaTeX spec will really shine bundled with GIT. Not only you have a neat version control (and don’t need to save “project_x_tech_spec.v.1.0.docx”, “project_x_tech_spec.v.1.8.docx” and so on), an ability to link only your recent changes by sending a commit link, but you also have one place for your always up-to-date end format, because recently github learned how to display pdf-files.

So basically your pdf url stays always the same, something like this:

https://github.com/username/docs_folder/blob/master/your_project/spec.pdf

My setup

Since TeX is permissive free software (to me it sounds a lot like open source), there is a bunch of good free editors (honestly, even notepad will do it). However I felt in love with Texpad – it’s available only for MacOS (and iOS) and makes full usage of your retina display. It costs 25 $ and is available for download at Texpad homepage.

Starting writing documents with TeX may be a bit hard the very first time (on the other hand – what isn’t hard the very first time?), but there are plenty amount of templates out there on the interwebs helping your out to fire your document up. My personal favorite (there are few Russian language related things which you might omit) :

\documentclass[DIV=calc, paper=a4, fontsize=11pt]{scrartcl} % Документ принадлежит классу article, а также будет печататься в 12 пунктов.
\usepackage{ucs}
\usepackage[T1,T2A]{fontenc}
\usepackage[utf8x]{inputenc} % Включаем поддержку UTF8
\usepackage[russian]{babel} % Пакет поддержки русского языка
\usepackage{titling} % Allows custom title configuration

%for frames
\usepackage{framed}

%For image using
\usepackage{graphicx}

%Numbering subsubsubsections etc
\setcounter{secnumdepth}{5}

%For code highlightning
\usepackage{listings}

%Further enumeration - you might omit that! It can lead to strange numeration!
\usepackage{enumitem}
\setenumerate[1]{label=\theparagraph.\arabic*.}
\setenumerate[2]{label*=\arabic*.}
\setenumerate[3]{label*=\arabic*.}


%For referencing within enumeration lists
\usepackage{enumitem}

%Packages for word-like comment style
%This is really awesome! You can add marks that are highlighted.
%My personal favorite usage is like this: \todo[inline]{some comment goes in there}
\usepackage{todonotes}

%Package for images
\usepackage{float}
\floatstyle{boxed}
\restylefloat{figure}

%For a nicer reference
\usepackage{fancyref}

\usepackage{titlesec}


\titleformat*{\section}{\LARGE\bfseries}
\titleformat*{\subsection}{\Large\bfseries}
\titleformat*{\subsubsection}{\large\bfseries}
\titleformat*{\paragraph}{\large\bfseries}
\titleformat*{\subparagraph}{\large\bfseries}

%For some math formulas if needed
\usepackage{mathtools}

% Some nice visualization
%\usepackage[svgnames]{xcolor} % Enabling colors by their 'svgnames'
\usepackage{fullpage}
%\renewcommand{\headrulewidth}{0.0pt} % No header rule
%\renewcommand{\footrulewidth}{0.4pt} % Thin footer rule
% End visualization

%smart enumeration
\renewcommand{\labelenumi}{\arabic{enumi}.}
\renewcommand{\labelenumii}{\arabic{enumi}.\arabic{enumii}}


\title{Some title goes in there}
\date{22/04/2015}

\begin{document}

\maketitle

... Here goes your content with \section{} and \subsection{} and everything else...

\end{document}

Happy writing!

The Software Development Edge – Book Review – Part II/IV

Let’s continue where we left last time.

Modelling

It is important that you are able to explain your software to non-coders. This however involves other techniques than showing code (when abstracting a bit, showing code might be the worst way to explain software).

The other extrema – typically found in “management level” PowerPoint presentations, showing absolutely nothing useful at all. Avoid it.

Writing code

As a it project manager you should be familiar with the language your team is using. Even if you come from a different language and were a professional coder yourself, it doesn’t always mean that you will know which problems the team using that specific language will encounter.

Since beginning by reading books is quite terrible and boring idea the best way to learn a new language is to write a program that covers a lot of topics (and in turn, this topics could lead to serious problems). You need a standard program.

Standard problem

It should cover:

  • (Console) line in / output
  • Retrieve data entered by user
  • Simple algorithms
  • Long term data storage
  • Standard data structure like linked lists
  • How to deal with exceptions
  • How will the program scale, will it adapt to new requirements

A wonderful solution is provided by the animal game (I’ll cover that on an extra page).

Get out!

Each product has only one goal – to suffice the customer’s demand.

Even the smallest projects tend to grow and expand. If you omit integration process the entropy will finally win.

Convince your superiors to provide you with best people possible for the integration process. Every project needs its “king of deployment”.

Continuous integration and version control are your tools to go – someone messed something up? Just revert his/her commit. You need a build every night with all tests up and running? CI is your friend.

Avoid “we’ll write a script for this problem” at any cost. Scrips are fragile and are hard to debug. Your road to hell is paved by scripts that got out of control.

While integrating there are only few ways to do things right and a lot more to mess stuff up. Take the integration seriously, invest every possible minute in it.

Compromises

The two most important thing you’re obliged to do as project manager – keep your project within initial borders and don’t let it die a slow feature-death.

I think everyone knows the basic triangle – volume, resources, time (pick two). Marasco however adds a fourth dimension – quality (nobody will care a year later on if you delayed your project or exceeded budged, only quality will remain).

At this point a small digression – Marasco now translates this thoughts into some mathematical formulas. Although I’m not a fan of stuff like “If we assume normal distribution we can calculate the probability of our project to fail…” – please don’t do that. If you ask every team member “can we do that project?” – their answers is your best probable guess, not some distribution. However some conclusions are to be considered:

Like Brooks said – most project fail because of lack of time compared to all remaining reasons combined(!).

You can’t compensate lack of one parameter by the other (in big volumes).

You should adjust parameters equally (you can’t add a ton of quality with just one week development time)

Time estimation

As a project manager it is your duty to create an atmosphere of confidence – nobody should be punished for not being able to give a perfect time estimation. This only leads to defensive mechanisms and developers will often increase the estimation to be on the safe side which in turn is bad, because you can’t rely on this numbers.

What is the main source of all evil project problems? Basically every project manager sees the working time estimation (for the whole project) as a working document, while their superiors see the time plan as a contract. Often it arises two types of time plans – one for the outside world and one for the inner development. This is a little fraud and Marasco recommends using one honest time plan.

What are main reasons for bad planning? First of all – there are almost never known all connections between certain software parts. Just use some simple combinatorics – if there are two parts that needed to be connected, there are only 2! = 2 ways of doing that. If there are three parts we have 3! = 6 ways of combining them. Let me just tell you, that n! increases really fast… You can prevent that by using small iterations, because by forcing to release a working product at the end of an iteration you can reveal hidden dependancies.

Second main reason is that delay may sneak in unnoticed. Brooks said – a delay by a year starts with a delay by one day.

If time estimation was given honestly your usual project delay should be around square root of remaining time. Let’s say you are at time point 0 and your project is estimated by 16 weeks. This means that you will probably finish between 16 and 20 weeks from now on. If you are in week 12, meaning that 4 weeks are remaining (and everything went fine so far), project delay should be around 2 weeks, meaning total development time between 16 and 18 weeks.

If you end up being faster than square root of a given estimate – you have a typical example (and problem) of someone being too defensive. The only right thing to do is to fire those people.

So basically you have following: ideal time estimation = ITE = good.
ITE +1*sqrt(remaining time) = help required.
ITE – 1*sqrt(remaining time) = excellent.
ITE +/- 2*sqrt(remaining time) = both cases very bad

How to achieve honest and objective estimation? Note every estimation (good thing is, nowadays every task tracking software supports such features) then write down each result based on given estimation. This will help you calibrating your project and the work of each individual project member.

Remember – not the result is important but rather its predictability.

Project rhythm

Just like a lot of stuff in our lives, even software projects follow certain rhythm. Compare it to a learning curve – at the beginning development process is slow – you are planning a lot of things, organize them and do research. Then you gain speed – the main process begins. When reaching the end state you might encounter speed decrease because a lot of little problems pile up and now is the time to solve them.

I bet you can confirm it on an intuitive level – projects start heavily, then accelerate and then stick in sort of swamp. Sometimes a feeling arise that you cross the finish line barely walking.

If we translate this into iterations we can encounter that there is negative “force” at transition points. This is where you as a PM should invest your energy to get the project curve up again.

Some interesting derivative information from that research – about 60% of required knowledge you receive during the first 40% of the project, but at that point only about 25% is effectively done. It lowers the risks (because you are investing time in planing and research), but on the downside you can’t show a real progress. To discuss the importance of the “learning” with your superiors you should prepare for example a list of risks and how the learning might reduce or even completely remove such risks.

Right now, as I’m finishing the second part I realize that it just takes too long to write such a detailed summarization and, what bothers me even more is that it makes it even harder for my rare visitor to follow such an analysis. Therefore I will switch from now on to shorter, more personal articles.

The Software Development Edge – Book Review – Part I

Hear me, I beg. And say thankya, big-big. This one is going to be a hell of long post, but do not worry, you can browse through the cites really fast and get all the essential data you need. My very short summary – go and buy this book, remember (almost) every page, it will do you some good. The software development edge by Joe Marasco should be your holy book, your guidance in the dark realm of leading teams and developing software.

I counted exactly 170 good ideas, worth remembering. Regarding a total count of 370 pages we have a score 170/370 ~ 0.46, which is amazing! It means almost every second page you’ll encounter contains something useful.

As you might guess in my book summary I’ll have to cover over 185 pages of ideas. Since it would take too long to release a complete overview at once I decided to split it up in four parts, each covering around 100 pages of text. The first one ends exactly at page number 100.

For now, here we go – book’s best points, no cites but rephrases:

General

Spend a lot of time talking to your developers, get familiar with details and problems.

Worst combination possible – keenness absence and sloppy management. Mostly, it will lead to programs that don’t work and if they do, not very well.

If you happen to be the team leader, do not easily yield to your superior (of course you should listen and give in in most of the times, but not easily, because your superiors may suggest (due to their unknowingness) unreasonable demands.

Your iterative approach to solving problems: observe, listen, empathize, synthesize, testing, write down.
Observe – look around you. What’s happening? Where could be the source of a problem or maybe it’s symptoms?
Listen – after you’ve located the problem, talk to people and listen to their opinion. Talk less, write more.
Empathize – the clear difference is here to “listen” – while empathizing you not only collect objective data, but also give subjective feedback.
Synthesize – now put all parts together: your objective data while observing and listening, emotional aspects while empathizing, your box of tools for solving problems (should be mostly your experience). The result – a possible approach for the given problem – should be put out to test.
Write down – now you should write down everything that occurs while your approach is doing it’s job. If you don’t do it it will become much harder to convince others to accept your approach. Besides, what’s not written down is soon forgotten.

Doubt everything. Check every partial solution.

In every big project someone, who is on his/her own is a potential danger. However you shouldn’t throw all people in one big basket. Create as little teams as possible with as little members as possible. Four groups three or four members each may be way more productive than an horde of 50 employees.

Sooner or later every leader will have to make choices. If your team members were chosen correctly they will accept your decision because having one is better, than none decision at all. However it doesn’t mean that you are free to come up with any crap idea – you still need to analyze give situation. The only thing to avoid is to be paralyzed.

Goals

The mountain top – the end of your project – should always be the main goal. Everything that hinders you and your team on the way up must be cut off.

On the other hand climbing up in real life is just the half of it, you also need to come down. This can be compared with supporting your existing project – a successful one can be completed and then supported over a long period of time.

Why projects fail

Nonrealistic time schedule

Too many team members, team contains a lot of mediocre developers compared to the best ones.

Neverending stories projects lasting so long, that all requirements change multiple times.

Ignore first iterations’ results. No analyze and change after seeing them.

Lack of clear goal, understandable by everyone

What can lead to success

Small, but smart plan with few details is more effective than plan overloaded with details

Clear your work before requirements change

Correct your movement’s vector (use small iterations) on the fly

Durability – extraordinary peak strength means nothing on the long term

Concentration – your team don’t lose sight of the goal

Management

Don’t hire high skilled people to involve them in trivialities.

Main point of every task should be a client’s problem. Even more important is for your product to generate additional value for your customer (by solving his problems).

Best leaders can project their sense of goal to others – by giving them a good example. Managers make sure that this goal is achieved. Best people out there unit qualities of leaders and managers.

Take care of every small problem in time. Even smallest problems tend to grow massively. This leads to two kinds of bad managers – the “ostrich” ones, who won’t see the problem and the “lazy” guys, who will postpone everything until it’s too late. Don’t be one of them, problems don’t disappear magically.

Do not let you lead easily. Always remember – your goal is to solve a problem, achieve some result, not to make you most popular and well-liked guy in the department.

Don’t panic. Seriously. Be solid as rock. Every crisis will be over, your duty is to participate in solving this crisis, not in overreacting. Be an example for everyone else (rock-solid).

Laugh. Even when facing dumbest customer’s demand, better laugh about it, do it, forget it than making drama.

Teams forgive their managers a lot of things, but laziness, incompetence, lack of reward for efforts and lack of humor are not among them.

Trust your instincts – if you are really feeling uncomfortable with something, trust your inner self, most likely you’ll turn our being right (this also means do not hire people who will make you uncomfortable – in exceptional cases it might be worth the risk).

Developing software

Goals are most likely not where they meant to be. Often because at the beginning the technical requirements are not quite clear und well understood.

During the process people will make mistakes.

Your goal is a moving one.

A good manager will always make a lot of little steps rather than few big ones. This allows to shorten the overall distance because after one misstep you haven’t travelled a big distance and after a dozen steps your next one will most likely be close to optimal.

Do not start with easiest problems. By doing so you’re digging your own grave. Your team won’t bother with upcoming possible risks. Even the easiest task will grow big (there is always room for improvement). This leads to scarcity of time for the real challenge and to one further problem – explaining that you need more time doing the most difficult part, covering the biggest risks is much easier to your superiors than begging for more time because your team was wasting it.

Iterative approach forces you to apply all lessons learned from this project (all previous iterations) to all upcoming iterations of the same project.

 

The Church

Well, while I’m still working on Software Development Edge I wanted to share a short one with you. Not long time ago I participated in a lecture, hold by a so-called business trainer. I don’t like them, honestly – most what they say is so general like a fortune from a fortune teller. However this man – Konstantin Harksy proposed a statement that made me think. Deeply.

What he said is basically following – can we get more than just salary?

There are three types of companies – Circus, Theatre and Church.

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While in the first one you are the animal – you just go there, day after day, perform your tricks, get your meat. This is comparable to doing a job and receiving “just” a salary. There is nothing else.

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In other words – it’s a regular job, mostly a continuous one, repetitive, one that you probably don’t enjoy. To overcompensate it (because there is always demand and supply), you have to pay a lot money, because that’s the only good you can offer your employees.

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In the theatre you can play a role. Not only you get your salary, but you can outlive something that is maybe hidden inside you.

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Now it starts to getting interested. Applied to a real world situation this can be a company offering few little projects, giving you an opportunity to participate in something – not big, but something more meaningful. People are willing to accept less money, because they think, that those roles are helping them more, to be happy, than the increased salary in first case.

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In the church all roles of a theatre become just one role. These are sorts of companies where you almost forget about salary. You are persuaded and almost infected by the – one – main idea.

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Ultimate goal for every company’s CEO. A lot of people would even work for free. See Apple or Facebook for example.