Personal CI

If you could do something that would dramatically improve your job prospects in the event you leave your current employer, would you be interested? What if you could boost the value you deliver to your existing employer, and perhaps get assigned to that cool new project you heard about, would you be interested? Read on…

A popular acronym in the software development world is CI – Continuous Integration – in reference to the practice of performing automated build and test every time a change is made to the software. But CI also stands for Continuous Improvement, an attitude that one never stops learning. It’s a constant pursuit of better ways to do things, of new skills to learn. The Software Craftsmanship movement has as its foundation the notion of continuous improvement.

As we all know, information technology evolves at breakneck speed, effectively reinventing itself every three to five years. If we are to maintain pace with this revolutionary change, we need to keep learning, trying new technologies, and new languages. We need to have that sense of curiosity, of wonderment, of thinking “what if we did this…” and “what’s this “X” all about?”.

And if you don’t? Well, some may be able to stay with their current employer and effectively cruise to retirement. I’ve seen this work for some people. But then what happens if you are laid off, or otherwise need to leave your present employer? Your skills have probably stagnated, and become out of date. Your only hope is to get hired by a company having a similar technology stack and development methodology. But if your skills are in low demand out there in the marketplace, you’re in a world of hurt.

Take charge of your career development. Make yourself the one who gets you the skills and training you need. This is going to mean paying some costs out of your own pocket; however, you may be able to get some tax breaks here – speak with your tax accountant. Attend conferences, either local or out of town. Join your local Java Users Group or Meetup Group. All of this is an investment in yourself that pays off in many ways, not just monetary.

Mentor others in your newly-learned skills. Talk to your boss and offer to run a lunch-and-learn session. Look for opportunities to pair with a colleague to help solve a stubborn problem. The personal satisfaction you get from sharing your knowledge with others is pretty cool.

Design is Important, But…

Spending time on software design is important because it helps you solve the big problems up front. Without this effort, developers can get bogged down, or worse, build something that doesn’t meet an important customer requirement. What you want to avoid is spending too much time in the design phase. After all, our objective is to deliver working software to our customer early and often. At some point we need to “get on with it”. The trick is to recognize that point

When do you know when to take a break from design and start building something? Well, one clue is when you find yourselves bouncing back and forth from one design option to another. Ask yourself, might this vacillating be due to a lack of information? If you’re speculating on what may be important to the customer, talk to them. Clarify what their needs are. Ask them what would exceed their expectations, and what would disappoint them.

If you have design options that would equally satisfy your customer, are you lacking some technical information? Specifically, how well do the capabilities of the technology stack support each of your design options? If this is the case, then it’s time to see what will work. Decide what metrics are important enough to help you decide on a design, then go and make a prototype. Take one of your design options, and build it out enough for you to benchmark it. Show it to your customer and get their feedback. Then take your other option, benchmark it, and get customer feedback. Repeat this for a
third option if you have it. Now you have some empirical data to help you with your decision.