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Jared Richardson works at Logos Technologies As a recognized expert in the software industry, Jared has worked with both start-ups and software giants. He's been involved with various open source projects, with roles from contributor to founder. Jared co-authored the best selling book Ship It! and Career 2.0, and founded the Agile RTP user group as a local outlet for the agile community in North Carolina. His personal blog is Agile Artisans

Jared has posted 52 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Do You Like Pain?

04.29.2010
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I have a co-worker who's never happy. Never. But today it's even worse. He just lost an hour or two of his work. He was writing code that deleted a large number of files, and due to an error in the code, it deleted everything- including the script he was writing! He hadn't checked in for over an hour, so that time was gone and he has started over.

Today he's really not happy.

Why didn't he check in his code? He's not a slow developer. On the contrary, he's very smart and pretty fast. He hadn't checked in because the tools we're using at this client's site are slow. Real slow. About a minute to even open the GUI slow and there's no command line client.

The team we are working with is a little annoyed by the speed of the tool, but they've largely acclimated to it. Statements like "What we're doing is complicated. It has to be that slow," usually indicate that the Stockholm Syndrom has kicked in. After experiencing pain for so long, we start to think it's the only way. Everyone must hurt this way.

So how are you hurting? The saddest bit of news you'll hear today is this: you don't know and you can't tell. If you're in this situation, you're not able to see the pain for what it is. I've had clients who stored all their data in very large XML files, which they then zipped up, and stuffed into a database as a blob. When I pointed out that extracting these blobs to do basic searches might be the cause of their performance issues, they protested loudly. It was the best way to solve their problem. It ~had~ to be that way.

Once you've lived with pain long enough it becomes your new norm. After the first six months or so, the pain becomes your daily experience. So what can you do to break the cycle? Here are a few ideas.

Open your office to floating workers. Some companies (like Relevance ) have a resident artist program, where they invite selected, very smart individuals to come work with them for a month or two. Perhaps you could do a "prisoner swap" with another company you've got close ties with. But the idea is to bring in someone who's not acclimated to your pain.

And when they come in, listen to them. Don't dismiss their questions or concerns. In a few weeks, they may have acclimated too and you'll lose the benefit of their perspective.

You can also bring in exernal help (blatant commercial plug). Bring in a coach or a team for several weeks of evaulation. Keep them onsite long enough to get past the problems you feel you have, and let them discover what the actual problems are.

When you bring in people from the outside, be sure to listen. When they complain about how slow and clunky your source code management solution is, fix it instead of justifying it. When they point out that it shouldn't take half a man year to test a release, don't say "tut tut silly man... we ship ~enterprise~ software."

A third way is to measure what you do. Grab a legal pad, and write down everything you do all in 10 minute increments. Anything that isn't labelled "Write code", look at twice. Are you debugging for hours? Half a day in meetings? Try to look at anything that's preventing you from writing and deploying code.

There are a large number of basic software processes that do wonders on all the pain you're having, but you've got to recognize the pain first.
Published at DZone with permission of its author, Jared Richardson.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

Comments

Andy Leung replied on Thu, 2010/04/29 - 9:17pm

Great solution! However, I guess you are making an assumption that the people who come in will bring in positive solutions where I had experience that the so called "consultants" coming in with their legacy as improvement. Result? We end up moving back in time!

Nicolas Bousquet replied on Fri, 2010/04/30 - 3:15am

A side note.

If you use eclipse as your IDE, you can restore local history and investigate it.

An entry is added to the local history each time you do save a file in eclipse. Later, even if you mess up your file, you can in fact go back to a previously saved state.

 Configuring Local History : Go to Window / Preference Menu. Then type "Local", and choose General/Workspace/Local History.

 By default, it use 50 entry per file, keep them for 7 days and a maximum file size of 1 MB.

 To restore Local History : Open the contextual menu on a folder of your project. Choose the "Restore from Local History" menu. Then you see all the change you made on this folder by file, and for each file, an entry for each Save you made.

Hope it's help

PS : It's likely other IDE have similar feature, if your are not using eclipse, check for it in your IDE !

Eran Harel replied on Fri, 2010/04/30 - 7:08am

I may sound bitter, but I think it is a bit naive to believe that companies that live with the pain for a long time will actually bring anyone from outside, or will actually listen to such a person.


There’s always at least one local dinosaur who keeps things the way they always have been.

Jared Richardson replied on Fri, 2010/04/30 - 12:45pm in response to: Andy Leung

I've experienced bad mechanics, but I still get my oil changed. I won't argue that there aren't some really bad consultants, and mechanics, out there, but it doesn't change the fact that a trained expert can repair your car faster than you can. Better tools and more experience is always a good thing.

Feel free to contact me directly. If I can refer you to anyone in your part of the country I'd be glad to do so.

Jared Richardson replied on Fri, 2010/04/30 - 12:46pm in response to: Nicolas Bousquet

Re: Eclipse... nice tip! That's an example of a tool that's saving you from pain.

Jared Richardson replied on Fri, 2010/04/30 - 12:49pm in response to: Eran Harel

Re: the one dinosaur who often helped to create the old system... I've met him (and her) as well. And sometimes they win. After all, things are "this way" for a reason.

However, I'd had a lot of success in showing people a solution to a specific pain, then letting them customize it, improve it, use it, and experience it. Then the rest of the shop is standing up to the dinosaur, not just you.

I find that, unfortunately, most companies won't even try to change until the pain is unbearable. I hope that you're lucky enough to work for one that can see a bit further down the road.

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