Saturday, January 31, 2009

First month of work done!

So! As I blogged about previously, I've begun working at a new company right after New Year's. I figured I'd get some thoughts out on how the first month has been.

Usually, when someone begins in a new job they're excited, nervous and above all very humble towards the existing practices that exist in the new workplace. Of course, I had these feelings, but being an agile fanatic, I was pretty sure that I would be able to find some improvement points. Here are some of the specific steps I took during my first weeks.

Step 0: Start writing a diary

I don't think an honest worker was ever harmed by being transparent in his work. A practice I've been doing ever since I started working is The Diary. Basically, just a personal wiki-page where you note down a few lines each day on what you're working on. Apart from being a good way to keep focus throughout the day and being a nice place to paste notes and code, it sends out a message: that you're interested in letting others know what you are working on. I'm going to be asking people what they're doing a lot, so being transparent in my own activities is a good start.

Step 1: Get Continuous Integration set up

One of my first reactions when I went to work on the code was a certain sense of claustrophobia. Here there were about twenty developers working on the same code base, and I really didn't have any feeling of who was committing what when. I first tried to get commit-mails set up, but due to some issues with commit-hooks in their Subversion setup, we couldn't get that working right away. So I turned to set up continuous integration with Hudson. My hope was that the CI changeset pages could work as a temporary commit-mail replacement, and since there already was a ViewSVN installation running, this worked out quite nicely.

From Drop Box
Note that the screen shot is not from our place, but from Sonatype's CI farm (tip o' the hat to Alf!).

Not long after that we were able to also get a nightly deployment of the build to the testing server, so now testers and designers can always experience the latest running on some local servers.

Note that getting this far in a couple of weeks would never had been possible in a traditional company (in my experience). The credit of this smooth setup belongs to some of their developers and admins, who put together the necessary scripts and server setup in record time. They actually had a continuous integration already, running the build each night as a cron-job. All I did was drop in the idea of using Hudson, and running the build on every commit.

Step 2: Do some agile preaching

I wanted to give the other developers some agile 101 very early, and luckily a slot opened up in our second weekly team meeting. I did this somewhat critical presentation on Scrum, so now when I accidentally throw terms like velocity and backlog around, they will have an idea of what I'm talking about.

Step 3: Whiteboards, whiteboards, whiteboards!

One of the things I did the first week was to get some large whiteboards ordered. I am of the opinion that you can never get enough whiteboards, and management agreed to spend a small fortune on this (again, something that wouldn't be easy in a traditional company). They finally arrived last week, and on Friday we finally got our team-lounge set up:

From Blogger-bilder
It's quite neat, I think. My plan so far is to use the far-left one for backlog stuff, the two horizontals for Sprint-charts, and the one on the right for anything else people would like to draw, be it architecture or obscenities ;)

It will be quite interesting to see how this works out. Some of the developers were speculating that the setup will be working for the first few weeks, and then fade away and people won't bother any more. Well, if people don't need this amount of communication in order to work efficiently, we will of course not force people to participate. I think everyone is better off if they spend 10 minutes of their day with the rest of their team on a daily standup in front of these whiteboards, but if people still don't like it after giving it an honest try, we'll remove the practice. After all, that's what being agile is all about.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Not consulting any more. Or am I?

As I've hinted in some earlier blog-posts, I have now moved to Bonn, Germany, and as of last Monday, I'm working as a developer for IP Labs.

This means I won't be a consultant anymore, as I have been for the last 2,5 years. I am now a "fast ansatt", or steady employee. It's a bit interesting to ask myself:
  • Does this mean my rocketeer knowledge increasing career has come to an end?
  • Will I go to work with a much more relaxed attitude, getting used to stable work environments and fewer changes?
  • Will I spend less time overall doing stuff related to my profession?

I hope the answer is to all three question a ringing 'no!'. I really enjoyed being a consultant because it allowed me to do stuff I'm really good at. I'm not a super-programmer, in fact I know lots of programmers who are better than me (well, even more that are worse than me), but I hope I still will be able to contribute lots to the company by doing what I always do: pushing for more agility and sound practices.

So far in my career, I've worked closely with about 5 different teams, from 1 to 10 in size. My role in these projects have either been enforcing soft values (typical agile stuff, like planning, estimation and practices), enforcing hard values (code style, tool-use), or both. This effort has been spent mostly on the individual level, some on the organizational level, and then some on the community level (although not as much as I would've liked).

At IP Labs, I've found that the individual/hard values are already at quite a high level. They (or we, as I should say) are already well-endowed with pride, professionalism and quality, as well as excellent Java coding skills. There are some practices that can easily be introduced to make things a little better, but things are working, and the developers are delivering lots of functionality with steady velocity.

Also on the organizational level, they are focused on developer-satisfaction as well as customer-satisfaction. Already from day one, you feel that your developer needs are being taken care of, getting free choice of laptop and equipment (I'm now the proud owner of a MacBook, which I so far utterly despise, but hope I will learn to love in time). The infrastructure is very developer oriented, and Windows is frowned upon.

There is no crappy Exchange mail server here that forces everyone to use Outlook: It's simply IMAP - use the client you prefer. They don't use Messenger or SameTime with proprietary protocols, they use Jabber instead. Again - use the client you prefer. All in all, one kick-ass place to work :)

Well, back to the ranting. ..

The luxury of not being a consultant is that my voice can be a little louder. No more tip-toeing around, packaging plans into sweet little convincing ideas and planting them in other people, being sure not to make it sound like you're not selling anything, even if you're not selling anything but common sense.The idea is that if you're a steady employee, you can criticize, argue and be taken seriously without too much beating around the bush, subterfuge and convincing.

Or maybe it really isn't that different. As a consultant, you have to be careful not to be to rash, try not to insult anyone, be fair, objective, honest and overall being very very patient. Shouldn't the same rules apply to all software workers? Just a thought...

I think after all my job won't be that different. Maybe I'll get some more elbow-room, but all in all, consulting is perhaps nothing else than being an understanding, careful and humble colleague.