# Sunday, May 17, 2009
I am currently reading the book "Outliers, the Story of Success" by Malcolm Gladwell and while I am very interested in the entire book so far I was very struck by a specific passage about half way through dealing with job satisfaction.

The quote is, "three things - autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward - are, most pople agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying." I found myself rereading that passage because it sums up so well my experience in working in technology. I have to add that I also found these qualities in my time as an Infantry Officer in the Army. If you are searching for work try to communicate that you want these things to the person doing your interviews. I want this kind of person working for me, but I find that often some of these qualities turn out to be a wish that many regret once fulfilled.

Lets start with Autonomy. I chose the Army rather than the Navy or Air Force precisely because I wanted to have a hand in my fate. A Navy officer in combat dies based on where the ship is sailed by the captain. Twenty yards one way or another on deck rarely matters when the ship is sinking. You can find the same analogy for the Air Force where you life is hanging by the performance of a piece of high tech gear working against gravity. As an Infantry Officer I could choose my path within hundreds of meters most times and the mistake of stepping on a mine was mine to make. Often people get autonomy and then squander it. Autonomy is a form of trust. Can you work at home in your job? If so it is probably because you either work for yourself or your employer trusts you very much.

Complexity in tasks it welcome, especially to technical people. We like a challenge because there is accomplishment in resolving it. The hazard here is to mistake a job with complexity as a license to behave arrogantly and to feel entitled. If you work for a company and make a fair wage by any objective standard (not just your own) then you are unlikely to ever be considered to be given a share in the company. That is reserved to those who take the risk of starting the company and those who negotiate for that right at the right opportunity (which rarely arises).

A connection between effort and reward is the easiest to understand and represents the point where employers should take the most note. If you have two people working for you of equal ability and one works like a dog while the other skates, your treatment of them will be instructive to both. Praise only goes so far and eventually becomes hollow if there is no material benefit included (even if only occasionally).

I like this book very much and recommend it to anyone who wants to conquer the world, but with one caution. It does not sugar coat what it takes to accomplish outstanding success and that means that your long standing beliefs, some of which are likely comforting, will probably be changed fundamentally. I always preferred hard and useful truth to comforting fables anyways...

Sunday, May 17, 2009 12:32:42 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [26]  | 
# Monday, May 11, 2009
Over the years Microsoft has pitched alot of product and while I have always liked the technology (MS Bob, et. al. aside of course) they have not always been the most marketing savvy company when it comes to media. Over the weekend I what promises to be the best leverage of new media by Microsoft ever. The people responsible for pushing the MicrosoftWeb Platform have posted a video in the style of Magnum PI called Cannon PI (PI stands for Platform Installer) on YouTube.

Check it out and if you have the same reaction as I did you will be looking forward to where they take this series. It was an added perk to see Scott Guthrie and Soma playing supporting roles. Maybe that is why my interest is so keen?

Monday, May 11, 2009 10:00:53 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [25]  | 
# Wednesday, April 22, 2009
My favorite interviewers Carl Franklin and Richard Campbell invited me to appear again on .Net Rocks recently. We talked at length about the circumstances that we often see that cause technical projects in particular to fail.

Initial feedback has been quite positive so if you happen to listen to it I hope you like it as well. This particular episode is found here

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 3:06:07 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [28]  | 
# Monday, April 13, 2009
Most of the people I know feel uniquely qualified to say how a particular commercial software product should work based on their experiences of using it. It doesn't matter which product you pick, it is always the same. The problem with this is that it is almost impossible for an individual to be objective about whether their use of a product is mainstream or even typical. The consequence is that listening to the advice of all your customers is a good idea, but you have to pick and choose which suggestions you actually implement as part of your roadmap.

Ultimately it is the vendor that decides what they will offer. The customer often gets confused about who is steering the boat. So I respect and completely understand the position that a commercial software vendor has the right to decide that some complained about aspect of the product is "as designed" if they believe it is not important to their plans for the product. The other side of this coin is that it is your customers that decide if you have run the boat onto the rocks or not. And they tend to vote with their feet.

The best course is to always get as much feedback from your user community as possible and pick through that information objectively. One great question is whether the customer would pay more for the product if it had their proposed feature, character or ability. If the answer is no then that should tell you something.

Monday, April 13, 2009 11:27:35 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [22]  | 
# Friday, April 03, 2009
I sent the following email out to our entire company today and afterwards thought it would be interesting to post if for no other reason than to compare notes with others who grapple with these same issues (i.e. everyone). If you have a company of any size at all I would highly recommend sending out semi annual reminders like this one. It helps alot to remind people of the dangers and sets the tone for new employees who have joined since the last reminder. Above all you will note that the message is maturity and responsibility.

The subject of the email was the same as this post (Virus Prevention Advice and Policy) and below is the text:

It is that time again and we are starting to see warnings about worms and viruses passed along by friends and family so I wanted to take this opportunity to remind everyone of how we keep our own network safe and free of these destructive monsters.

Some rules of the road for using company email and company computers:

1. If you did not expect it then don't click on anything in it. This general rule will help you deal correctly with most emails and web pages. If you go to a site expecting to download something be sure that you are on the correct site (many common typos of URLs host malicous copies of the popular site). If your brother sends you a message called, "Kids latest pictures" and it was not something you expected, do not click on links or attachments until you have verified that it was indeed sent by him. Our last major virus here at the company was the result of just such a message being clicked on by an employee who did in fact get pictures from her brother quite often, but this time it was a virus that was sent by her brother's computer instead. It took us 2 days to clean up the mess. A better policy is to only open personal email attachments at home while you are not connected to our network.

2. Be paranoid, but try not to be crazy. If you get an email from yourself that is some form of spam then welcome to the club. We can't stop the spammer in Asia from using your email address to send the world spam and if you use the address long enough it will certainly happen that you and others you know will get spam that looks like you sent it. It will pass, but we can't fix it. See rule #1 as this fact should also make you more cautious of anything you get that you didn't expect even if you converse with the user often.

3. A great many viruses and malware are picked up by browsing the web. Visiting site like Youtube.com and MySpace.com is often a bad idea unless you know exactly what you are doing, why and accept the consequences if the result is 2 days of lost time to the company.

4. There is a reason you can't install things on your computer. We limit what the average user can install on their computer so that if a mistake is made, it is less likely to have a lasting effect on our network. In most cases, if it isn't already installed on your computer you don't need it. There are exceptions, but be sure you have a cogent argument for why you need Software X on your work PC. We also use specific version of MS Office products as a hedge against system outages. We do pay attention to the newest versions and will upgrade when the time is right, but no sooner. If there are business reasons why you need a specific version of something please let me know and we can make a business decision.

5. Keep up the good work. We have an amazing track record here for having staff that do the right thing. Most companies get hit by a virus once a quarter or more and we are typcially only seeing an event every other year. This is in spite of the fact that we do not block sites or regularly check browsing logs to police what people are doing. My only caution on this point is that while we all enjoy this open environment it is dependent on our continued vigilence.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me or anyone else on the technical staff and we will be happy to help you navigate the mean streets of the Internet.

Thanks Patrick

Friday, April 03, 2009 4:23:30 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [21]  | 
# Thursday, April 02, 2009
I noticed an article on Wired about robots stealing jobs and got to thinking about outsourcing, this down economy and all the conversations I have had (calm and otherwise) about jobs moving offshore.

Ultimately I don't see any reasonable way to stop jobs from following a well established lifecycle that ends in automation. If you take any task that is currently done by a robot you can probably look far enough into the past to find a point in time when it was cutting edge technology and either a skilled technician or fine artisan performed the function for premium pay (Dot Com boom html programmers for our purposes). As time goes on the task or job becomes well understood, well documented and even taught in all the schools around the world and since the task is still highly paid (that has eroded by now) it attracts alot of people who want that job. Then the task moves toward commodity and the formerly highly paid technicians and artisans have chosen from exactly two courses of action. They have either moved on to the new cutting edge thing or they are moaning about the erosion of their value in the marketplace (blaming the marketplace of course and never themselves). Then it gets worse for this latter group since eventually (and eventually comes quick in the 21st century we have found) the commodity task is recognized to be cheaper to be done offshore. For high tech India and Egypt are hot along with many other locals (I just have most of my experience with offshore teams in these countries). The formerly high end task is drone work now and can be done by a bright student from any continent so the work flows to where it can be done most inexpensively. This is the point of maximum complaint by those who remember making $100 an hour for doing this task. They then stop paying attention just in time for that task to be automated by a program, system or abstraction layer so that no one would ever pay for it to be done by hand ever again. At this point you could probably hear people in the offshore tech districts complaining. This is progress. It is painful, but it is also inexorable, you cannot stop it and you shouldn't try to slow it down. Instead you should be like the other group of highly skilled technicians and artisans and find the next big thing and constantly hone your skills. This is absolutely doable in our high tech field.

I know this post will come off as callous to some and I am sorry if I am too blunt for some, but especially in times like these we have to stop looking back wistfully at the past and grab our books and browsers and dig in to invent and shape the next revolution. I personally think that energy and the technology that helps with conservation is the next big thing, but there is still lots of room elsewhere. If you view the lifecycle of a job as a good thing you see that it has freed us from farming our own food, making our own clothes and has allowed so many of the things that are best in our civilization. Embrace it or be marginalized.

Finally my apologies to those stock boys out there who have had their hopes and dreams shattered by R2D2.

Thursday, April 02, 2009 8:55:40 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [35]  | 
# Wednesday, April 01, 2009
In my business we deal with companies that are by their very nature risk averse and hence I only play with the newest tech for our internal projects, the occasional customer emergency and in my free time. Even so I have watched Microsoft's Azure pretty closely and while I am confident that eventually we will take cloud computer for granted as we do dynamic web technologies now, I am also pretty sure that we still don't know exactly what and how the real impact will take shape. Without clear SLAs and Pricing I just can't gauge how reasonable it will be for a customer of size X with application of type Y to opt for Azure or any other cloud computing platform. That belief also drives me to think that the Open Cloud Manifesto is at best irrelevent and at worst a major impediment to getting where we want to go. If we don't know what the best end state will be because we have yet to really evolve the technology in the real world then how can a group of people (any group) really hope to lay out the rules of the road. There isn't a road built yet after all.

It has been proposed that guidance is needed to ensure that solutions are "open". I can only assume that this means that they want code deployed on vendor A's platform can be moved to vendor B's platform unchanged (the classic case of wanting to not gamble on vendor lock in). While that is not specifically stated, I just don't see any other interpretation that makes sense.

Time will tell, but I suspect we are several years of market testing and evolution from a point where we can even begin to have this conversation intelligently.

To read more on this topic I will point you to blog posts by Chris Auld and Michelle Bustamante. I must say that I agree with them for the most part.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009 9:41:31 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [35]  | 
# Friday, March 27, 2009
I promised to upload my presentations from last month's New Hampshire Code Camp so here they are...

I delivered the keynote address for the event covering how to survive as a developer in this depressed economy.
NH Code Camp Feb 2009 Keynote.ppt (592.5 KB)

I also got to debut a new session on How to prevent project failure and a follow on called Project Specification for Survival and Profit. The reviews on that second session have caused me to combine them a bit and create what I think is a single, better session that I am going to be presenting at the Boston Code Camp tomorrow.
How to prevent project failure v1.ppt (559.5 KB)
Project Specification for Survival and Profit v1.ppt (464 KB)

Sorry for the delay in posting, lots of travel lately, but that is not unusual for me...

Friday, March 27, 2009 2:28:54 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [30]  | 
# Wednesday, March 11, 2009

After logging in, be sure to visit all the options under Configuration in the Admin Menu Bar above. There are 26 themes to choose from, and you can also create your own.

 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 2:00:00 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0]  | 
# Tuesday, October 28, 2008
I am here at the PDC in Los Angeles this week and have heard quite a bit of grumblings about UAC. The MS employees on stage and elsewhere are basically saying that UAC is a necessary evil so that clients do not become vulnerable due to unauthorized software install (and other admin level actions). The developer side of this argument is that UAC is a blunt instrument like a security guard in your house that keeps asking you for your passport. You can’t argue that this guard will make your house safer, but he is also going to drive you crazy until you decide to fire him altogether. That is what we are seeing in the field with so many people simply shutting off UAC. Now that Windows 7 is in sight it might be too late for my suggestion of how we might get the best of both worlds relative to secure software install. My idea is that when you go to install software you should be presented with a Capcha style challenge which ensure a real person is at the helm. Once that Capcha dialog is completed successfully the OS should track that this install is authorized and therefore exempt from future challenges since we know this is not malware (or at least not secretly installed malware). Since this idea just came up this morning I am guessing I am missing some aspects to this approach that are problematic, but on first look I think this approach could help make things more secure while not destroying user productivity. If you agree then bring this suggestion up to the people you know at MS. That is what I am going to try to do later today.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008 11:43:09 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [25]  | 
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