Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What if you could design your ideal "software creation" plan?

So, a special situation has been presented to me, and I'm going to try to solve it in a collaborative way. It's short notice, but I have what I have, you know?

I've been given an opportunity to develop out a roadmap for ensuring that our very LARGE legacy product heads in the right direction from this point out. Their current focus is apparently centering on the word "stability" Roughly, stability, to them, means that what we have designed our product to do, *works* and is satisfactory to the customer (things like performance cannot be ignored here, for example).

This team (people/process/infrastructure) roughly works on the level of a bunch of unorganized college kids, so there is a lot of room for improvement. They need some fundamentals put in place, for sure -- Automatic builds, CI, unit testing ... (clearly the list goes on from there). Although I specialize in testing, I believe that our executives now understand that "we can't test quality into our product" -- we have to be doing things with quality from the beginning. As I think about all the things this team needs in order to be working in a fashion that does actually move them forward, I want to be sure to optimize such a transition.

I want to hear from others, however, about what *they* would do, if given such an opportunity. I want to brainstorm as a group how people *wish* their teams worked. Let's draw up an ideal "software creation" plan -- beginning to end, all of the pieces.

I have a space available for a physical location, for those who are local. Please send me an email (address at the top right of the blog) for specifics.

I'll be offering a remote-in ability, too. I've created a GoTo meeting that offers both VOIP connection and phone-in connection.

I'll tentatively plan on holding this at 7:00pm EST today, Thursday, October 22 (Sorry! I meant the 22nd!).

1. Please join my meeting.

2. Use your microphone and speakers (VoIP) - a headset is recommended. Or, call in using your telephone.

Dial 630-869-1014

Access Code: 604-606-915

Audio PIN: Shown after joining the meeting

Meeting ID: 604-606-915

Monday, October 12, 2009

Getting Started with White

I've recently decided to dive into the world of Project White and MS UI Automation, since this is relevant to my current project. I had to create a tutorial for a team to get set up to use white to begin with, so I decided that I could share that tutorial with everyone else as well. It goes into some detail about Visual Studio as well, and is intended for an audience that has not necessarily done automated testing through Visual Studio before.

The tutorial uses MS Visual Studio, C#, White, and UI Spy to create an *extremely* simple test. My intent was just to show how to set it up. Next time, I will describe starting to write tests, including common functions in White and writing good tests.

Please, please offer feedback. I would love to be sure that I am doing things the best way possible!

White Tutorial

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

*be the worst*

Huh? Did I just say "be the worst"? Yep, I sure did. But before you go telling your boss that I told you to be the worst tester you can be, let me finish the phrase!

First and foremost, I have to give credit where credit is due. I saw this phrase first from Chris McMahon -- he says that this meme has been around the music business for a long time. He credits Pat Metheny, who said, "...try to be the worst guy in whatever band you're in. That's the secret."

Given the context, what I am saying is "be the worst of the people you are surrounded by", or "surround yourself with really great people."

At Agile 2009, someone told me that Elisabeth Hendrickson decided to learn by inserting herself into the best teams she could find. Even before I encountered the "be the worst" quote, I had begun bouncing around the idea of how I perceive myself versus those I work with.

I think back to an early job in my career, straight out of college. At this place, I remember thinking to myself with some frequency, "These people are *SO* *SMART*! I feel SO DUMB when I am around them!" I often tried to just keep up with conversation, hoping to fake it long enough to avoid appearing dumb, too! Looking back, how I wish I could have gotten over my own insecurity and taken the opportunity for exactly the opportunity it was! What I should have been thinking was "Wow, these people are *SO* *SMART*! I want to learn everything I *can* from them!"

What can we get out of "being the worst", and why would anyone suggest that?

I think we can get a *lot* out of it: learning, experience, growth ... In working with people who have a set of skills that you wish to expand for yourself, you can see first-hand, on a day-to-day basis, and under a whole slew of circumstances how that quality is manifested. Sometimes it might be a technical skill. Maybe it's a communication skill.

As I have grown in my career, I have begun to feel like the "dumb one" less and less. I think that my passion to get better and better at the things I want to be good at, have made it more and more difficult for me to *be the worst*. What have I done in response?

I've become *way* more active in the agile community. In that way, I can surround myself (though not as frequently as I would like) with those people I see as *way* more skilled than I am in certain things. I found this out with certainty at Agile 2009. I love talking to Elisabeth Hendrickson for her insight into agile testing and human relationships at work. I enjoy Lisa Crispin's company for her amazing ability to be a great agile tester, without falling back on programming the hard things (like I do!). I met Patrick Wilson-Welsh, and admired his passion, sense of humor, and ideas on good, clean TDD. I had conversations with Michael Feathers and Bob Martin to try to gain some insight into my specific legacy code issues. I had great conversations with Antony Marcano and Andy Palmer about testing tools and frameworks. I *pair programmed* with Abby Fichtner to gain from her development experience. Of course, there were many others ....

In this way, I forged relationships and surrounded myself in a way that I could *be the worst*. I'll keep saving my pennies to go to conferences and keep being active in the agile community so that I can keep *being the worst*.

Do others try to put themselves into situations where they can *be the worst*? How do you keep yourself always learning and always surrounded by those you can learn from?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Does having a separate maintenance team hurt efforts toward accountability?

I was recently thinking about a situation that puzzled me, and came to a realization that makes me a bit nervous ....

I have had exposure to some teams where even though they are in firefighting mode more often that is comfortable, and/or even though their customers are unhappy, and/or even though their software has a *lot* of bugs, they still don't seem to "get it" and try to do things in a better way.

I have sat, baffled, looking at people who lead these teams, my jaw on the floor, wondering why the people leading these teams are passing the buck on the team's responsibility for problems, and instead presenting a magic show to prove why the problem is not theirs.

And today, something hit me: I was thinking about what would cause someone to change; what would make it so that they finally felt the need to do something different, and the term "the wall of pain" came to mind. This term comes from a blog post I read a few months ago, "Fighting Technical Debt with the Wall of Pain". What would instigate change? Enough pain that it feels necessary, in order to escape the pain.

This reminds me of Parenting 101: How do I stop my 12-year-old from making irresponsible decisions? I make them painful enough that he will be sure to avoid the pain. Luckily, these days that is as easy as "Oops! Your PSP ran away! I can't find it!", or "Where are your Playstation controllers? Gee, I don't know ... I guess maybe they will return when you start doing the chores that you are responsible for."

BUT ... BUT ... what about companies where the new development team is a separate entity from a maintenance team? What if the developers who are writing new code are sheltered and protected from the results of poorly written code? In some cases, it goes something like this:

- Development team writes software ... Maybe they fix a few bugs along the way. Sometimes, if bugs come up and it can be proven that they existed in previously written code, they may shrug them off as not the result of current work, so not their problem right now.
- Development team's schedule gets squished, and as it gets closer to release time, only the *most* important bugs that are proven to be the result of their current work, are even looked at by the team.
- Release happens. At this point, product is a released product, and the workflow now looks like this:
- Customer has an issue, customer calls Support. Support tries to reproduce it, and if they can, they file a bug. Bug gets reported to Maintenance team, and they work on it.

In the above scenario (which exists in some companies), the team that originally wrote the aforementioned poorly written code never sees the wall of pain. Seriously, for the most part, there is absolutely zero repercussion to them directly for bad code.

In a case like this, the responsibility for well-written code falls upon those who are internally motivated to do their best, and strong enough personalities that they fight the push to get *something* out *faster*, well-written or not. I believe that this type of personality does not describe the majority, and the whole team falls into a pattern of continuing to write poorly written code. What is there to stop them?

Has anyone had any experience helping a team to transition into a more agile-like process from a situation that looked like this one? How do companies like this adjust to fight this pattern?

I wonder if it would help to break up the idea of "new dev" versus "maintenance" teams, and instead cross-pollinate into functional teams. In this case, there would be a team for one specific module, component, or module, and they would handle both new work and bug fixing/maintenance. Would this strategy work?