Tuesday, March 18, 2014

“Thinking in F#” and “Software Craftsmanship and Agile Code Games” Slides

I’ve posted the slides from my recent presentations at Utah Code Camp 2014.  If you missed it, I’ll be presenting “Thinking in F#” at Boise Code Camp 2014 on April 5th and “Software Craftsmanship and Agile Code Games” at Mile High Agile 2014 on April 18th.

Check out these and previous sessions on my Sessions page.

Friday, March 7, 2014

StrengthsFinder Team Activities

While I was at Ancestry.com, we used the StrengthsFinder assessment to give us insights into ourselves.  If you haven’t taken it, I highly recommend it.  You can purchase a code, or you can get one with a copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0 or Strengths Based Leadership.

While it’s interesting to know about yourself, when in a team setting it’s equally important to know about your teammates in order to work effectively with them.  To help my team with that, I designed some activities for us to do as a team.  Here are my notes to facilitate the activities.

StrengthsFinder Team Activities

Team Top 5 Grid

A few months later, we did an activity with multiple teams in order for those other teams to get to know each other better and the teams to know and understand each other better.  This includes many of the same individual team activities while adding some activities that have the teams interacting.

StrengthsFinder Multi-team Activities

Again, many of these are to help team members understand and appreciate each other.  Also as you do these activities, keep in mind that the debrief (the questions and conversation after the activities) are where the real action is.  The point of the activities isn’t to teach but to facilitate learning.  You’ll want to give clear explanations (possibly have slides to show instructions) and then walk around, listen to what’s going on, answer questions and offer gentle suggestions.

Hope these are helpful to someone!  Feel free to use all of these, cherry pick and/or remix with your own ideas.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

After the Offer Come the Questions

There are some questions that are appropriate to ask in an interview and some that should be reserved until there is an offer.  Somehow I became “famous” for the questions that I ask after I’ve been extended an offer.  For me, these are important to give me a more complete view of the working environment and attitude of the company and team that I might join.  It also gives insight into specific policies and practices.  I like to have as much information as possible when considering an offer. I also want to reduce the number of surprises after an offer has been accepted.
I’ve been asked several times for the “list of questions” that I ask and I’ve promised a blog post for a while, so here it is!  Here are the categories that I am interested in with questions that I’ve used in the past for each.  These, of course, need to be suited to the particular situation and some you may not care about.  And some I will ask in an interview depending on how well I know the interviewer.  Enjoy!
  1. Hardware
    1. What is the hardware setup for developers?  Desktop/laptop, monitors?
    2. Would I be able to choose anything about my systems or is there standard hardware across the company?
    3. How often is hardware replaced?
    4. With hardware, would I be able to choose my own mouse and keyboard? 
    5. Is it okay to bring in personal hardware?
  2. Software tools
    1. What software tools does the company provide?  (Resharper, NCrunch, profiler, etc) 
    2. Does IT have heartache over what's installed on a developer's box (other than file sharing software or other things that would eat bandwidth)?
    3. What source control repository do you use?
    4. What sort of testing environments are there?
    5. What test testing frameworks do you use? nUnit, xUnit, mbUnit, mSpec?  Acceptance tests?  Fitnesse or something similar?
    6. What sort of tools do you have/build/maintain around the health of your systems (to monitor, alert, etc)?  Is this something the dev team works on or is there an Ops team?
  3. Physical environment (usually you get to see this as part of a tour at your interview, but if not for some reason)
    1. What type of desk and chair are provided?
    2. Would travel ever be a part of this position?
  4. Learning
    1. What sort of policy does the company have around budget for learning?  For example book purchases, conference fees/travel, online courses.
  5. Company Policies
    1. What does the performance review process look like?  What criteria are used?  Are employees evaluated on an absolute scale or on a curve (with respect to their peers)?
    2. What does a "typical" annual raise look like?  What does an extraordinary annual raise look like?  What criteria determine this?
    3. What does the title/level system look like?
    4. Is there a Moonlighting Policy?  For example if I write a project at home (on my own time, on my own hardware with my own tools) am I able to retain rights to that software?
    5. Is there a policy on contributions to open source projects, either out of something at work or on my own time?  What about use of Open Source Projects?
    6. Dress code - is there one and if so, what is it?  (and is it strictly enforced if there is one)
    7. Is there a policy on bereavement leave?
  6. Team Culture/Process
    1. Iteration/release cadence - What does an iteration look like (planning, retrospectives, review)?  Do you have a daily standup? Who attends?
    2. Requirements - how are requirements expressed in the team?  User Stories?  Use Cases?
    3. How are they tracked?  Is there a big visible board somewhere or is it tracked electronically (and if so, what software is used).
    4. Where do these requirements come from?  How is the backlog generated?  Are stories decomposed into tasks or is a story the unit of work?
    5. Estimation - Do you generate estimates and, if so, what method/process is used?
    6. Are you currently doing continuous integration? If so, what platform are you using to do that?
    7. What about continuous delivery?
    8. How much code is the team responsible for?
    9. What is the test coverage like?  Is TDD used on the team?
    10. What percentage of the time is the team pairing? What activities does the team pair on and which do they not?
    11. How does this team interact with other teams in the company (if there are other teams)?
    12. What is the team culture around lunch?  Do most people work through lunch, eat at their desk, go out alone, go out as a team, go out with other people in the company or outside the company? (I'm guessing that all of these happen occasionally, looking more for what the norm is)
    13. Are there any snacks/food provided by the company?  Any pot luck events?
  7. Career Path
    1. Are there continued growth opportunities available without moving into management?
    2. Are there opportunities to move into management?
    3. I'm interested in knowing what you feel I would bring to the team (how I could contribute immediately and longer term), how you see me fitting on the team, what the main attributes that you see that led you to extending an offer and what things you see that I would need to work on.
There are also questions about benefits and such, but those are very specific based on the information provided.
There is another list that I’m starting for the team that I’d be working with.  Here is what I’ve started with:
  1. What do you enjoy about your job?  What are some of your favorite things?
  2. What are some of your least favorite things?
  3. What changes would cause you to leave?  (as a fill in the blank: If ______ changed, I would leave.)
  4. What would another job offer that would cause you to go somewhere else (excluding money)? (as a fill in the blank: If another company had _______, I would go there.)
  5. What, if anything, do you miss from a previous job?
So there it is.  I hope these are useful but you’re probably thinking “duh, of course I ask those things.”  In that case, the curtain has been pulled back.
Is there anything that I should add to these lists?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Published on Ancestry.com Roots Tech blog

Posted a blog entry on the new Ancestry.com Roots Tech blog called “Games at Work?”

Here’s the opener…

Agile Games are a way for teams to learn and apply agile concepts in a fun, playful, safe environment. Play is important as it brings aliveness to our work environment that allows for creativity and our best work to flow.  Games provide a safe environment where people are more open and willing to take risks and embrace change.  The safety of games also allows us to talk about work… without necessarily talking about work.

Go check it out!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Employer Investment in Employees

Uncle Bob has a pretty clear opinion on who has the responsibility for a programmer’s practice/learning:

Professional programmers practice on their own time. It is not your employer’s job to help you keep your skills sharp for you.

Uncle Bob in The Clean Coder Chapter 6

Here Uncle Bob is talking to programmers, to employees.  What I hear is “don’t expect your employer to help you out.  If they’re not, that’s not an excuse.”

So, my question is, does that mean that employers should not provide any learning opportunities for it’s employees?

Sure, programmers are responsible for their own learning opportunities but could part of that be making sure to find an employer that provides those opportunities?  I personally take some time outside of work to sharpen my saw, but I also look for an employer that cares enough about me to invest in me.

Here is my reasoning why an employer would want to provide learning:

  • Hiring is hard and expensive. If you have people that are a good fit, it’s usually easier to improve their skills than to hire someone new.
  • Learning opportunities at work can inspire people to pursue outside work opportunities.  I have has several people that I work with start attending Utah Software Craftsmanship, Utah Code Camp and Coderetreats because of things that we’ve done during working hours.

What do you think?  Should employers provide opportunities for practice and learning?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

If you happen to be a psychic: Quote of the Week

Just started reading Refactoring to Patterns.  Starts off with a good reminder that YAGNI.

When you make your code more flexible or sophisticated than it needs to be, you over-engineer it.  Some programmers do this because they believe they know their system’s future requirements.  They reason that it’s best to make a design more flexible or sophisticated today, so it can accommodate the needs of tomorrow.  That sounds reasonable – if you happen to be psychic.

Joshua Kerievsky, Refactoring to Patterns p.1

Look at the code you’ve written recently.  Were you pretending you’re a psychic?

Retrospectives and Local Maxima


Sometimes we feel like this:


We are at the top of the mountain!  We’ve climbed, we’ve improved and we’ve made local, incremental changes such that we’re not quite sure where to go from here.  We don’t know where else we could possibly go to move higher.

What we’re missing is this:


Yeah, there’s a higher point behind us that we can’t quite see.  In math this is a “local maximum” where we’ve found the “highest point” but only if we constrain the graph we are looking at.

So can we find a global maximum?  Or at least a higher local maximum?  Why can’t we see it?  And how do we get there?

Most retrospective practices (Stop/Start/Keep style activities) will generally get us incremental improvement and will usually lead us to these local maxima.  I’m a big fan of retrospectives and incremental improvement so I’m not bashing these in the general case.  We need to do this once we find a hill to climb, but sometimes we need to find a new hill.

So what can we do to find a new hill?  We need to shake up our team and give them a Jolt.  While I have several ideas how to do that, today I’m going to focus on one: Defining and Focusing on Team Values.

Team Values?

Whether you’ve defined them or not, your team has unspoken values. The value in defining them and talking about them is ensuring that there is common understanding in the team and giving a common language for the team to use.  The values give you a framework for decision making, especially around how you will execute. 

For example, if your team values “time to market” they might take shortcuts and hack something together but a different team that values “maintainability” may take more time to deliver, but will be more maintainable in the future.  (We can debate the relative merits of each of these and if they are really in conflict but this is just an example.)

Team Values Round 1

On my team, earlier this year we came up with eight team values.  When asked what our team values were, we struggled to remember all eight.  We didn’t really know how to focus on all eight or even did a good job of picking one to focus on.

Lencioni’s Value Model

In The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni he describes four different types of values.

  • Permission to Play – These are values like “integrity” that if you don’t have them, you’re not going to be around long anyway so they are really just a required baseline.
  • Core – These are the values that you currently believe in and embody as a team.  They are also central to what the team is and how they do things.
  • Aspirational – These are values that you want to have as an organization but you’re working on.
  • Accidental – These are values that the organization has developed but you’re not quite sure if you like them or not.

This, in some ways, is a Start/Stop/Keep (Aspirational/Accidental/Core) activity, but at a value level that makes you step back and take a wider view.  In our original list, we didn’t differentiate between different types of team values which didn’t give us a place to focus.

Team Values Round 2

So in a recent retrospective, I explained Lencioni’s model of value types and then challenged the team to refine the list to 5 values and classify them as either Core or Aspirational.

The concept of “Permission to Play” gave us a term to talk about certain values that were proposed and exclude them.  Using Lencioni’s model helped us to clarify why we wanted to certain values listed.

We started with the eight that we had originally come up with and I threw out several additional ideas including the XP values, the values from the Agile Manifesto and Software Craftsmanship Manifesto and other sources.

As a framework for voting and subsequent discussion, we used Fist-to-Five voting (we nick named it “Fist voting”) to decide if values were in or out and if they were Core or Aspirational.  While it might seem silly to quibble over such things, I often go back to this quote:

Often the true value of a thing isn’t the thing itself, but instead the activity that created it.

-Dave Thomas

I found the discussion and the clarification of thoughts and terms to be one of the most valuable aspects of this exercise.  We came to a better common understanding by forcing each other to clarify what we meant with different values.

One example of this was one of the original eight values was “teamwork”.  As we talked about it, it seemed like this might be “permission to play” or at least too broad and poorly defined.  So we debated about words.  What word or phrase would better embody what we really felt we had or needed as a team.

Eventually “Team Ownership” was proposed.  The team liked it but the team was split on whether or not it was Core or Aspirational.  This might seem trivial, but the divide produced a valuable discussion around what that really meant.  Half thought “well, we help each other out and pitch in when needed already, seems like it’s Core” while the others thought “we often have our own areas we’re working in and not really collectively owning all the code or even all the tests”.  Clarifying how we wanted to define Team Ownership drove us to decide it was Aspirational.

Now we have them… so what?

Once we defined what our values were, we used a variation on the Values-driven Retrospective.  Specifically we used the Believe Statement format (which is We Believe in [insert value], therefore we will [insert what we do]) to generate ideas of what actionable items to work on.  From there we used dot voting to narrow the field and decide.

The other value that our values has given us is the framework to talk about what and how we are going to do our work in a more focused way. 

I hope that this method can help you and your team to jump off your local maxima and find a taller hill to climb as a team.


For those interested, our team values are currently (in no particular order):

  • Core
    • Learning
    • Testability
    • Sustainable Pace
  • Aspirational
    • Ease
    • Team Ownership

They actually ended up very similar to our first eight, but more focused.  As a side note, I fully expect to reexamine these again in the future.  As our team changes and grows, our values will likely need some tweaking.

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