Monday, December 30, 2013

What's your legacy

Today what I do is urgent

1 week from today what I do today will be embraced

1 month from today what I do today will be an afterthought

1 year from today what I do today will be diminished

5 years from today what I do today will be diluted

20 years from today what I do today will be forgotten

100 years from today what I do today will be of no consequence

Unless I leave a legacy

Sounds pretty dismal right? I'm here to tell you it's not dismal; It's focusing.

Over the holiday's I've taken some time to step back and consider where I'm investing my time and energy and what the return is on that investment. It's hard to not get caught up in the everyday'ness of what you do. You have deadlines, meetings, expectations, and etc. If you're doing agile (which I hope you are) everything is broken up into nice bite sized chunks for you which puts even more stress on focusing on the tree at hand and not the forest you're in.

What I'm not saying is that what you do today doesn't matter. It does in the short term at your job and in the medium term of your career. But in the long term of your legacy it doesn't matter at all if you're not focused on leaving a legacy.

You've probably heard the old saying Give a man a fish and you'll feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you'll feed him for life. That is legacy building; taking what you know and have learned and passing it on.

So what's this got to do with your current deadlines or your current project or even your current job? If you focus on mentoring and teaching others what you're learning along the way and teach them to do the same, then you're leaving a legacy that will outlast you many times over.

There are tons of ways to teach others what you're learning. You can blog. You can become a mentor at work. You can speak at a conference. You can write a white-paper. It really doesn't matter how you choose to teach others, it just matters that you choose to.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Migrating from Subversion to Git

Today I thought I would pass along a helpful version control migration tip. I've been writing software both personally and professionally for 14 years. As the years go by the way I use version control change and every couple of years I end up migrating from version control system to another. A few years ago I migrated from Subversion to Git.

I decided to move to Git for a couple of reasons, the biggest of which, is that Git is a distributed source system. What this means is that when you checkout a repo you have a full version of the repo on that machine. This allows you to work completely disconnected from any remote server. This becomes extremely useful if you work in a coffee shop, on an airplane, or somewhere that has no WiFi.

One thing that was pretty important to me was that I was able to keep my SVN history intact. I don't believe in checking in commented out code or leaving classes around that aren't being used. It clutters the system and makes the code more error prone. So I often heavily rely on my version control history to help me remember how or why I've done something that I've removed from the system.

So here are some pretty simple instructions that will allow you to migrate from SVN to Git and maintain your commit history. Make sure you have both git and git-svn installed on your machine before attempting these instructions.

This first step in the migration process is to go to where you have the SVN repo checked out that you want to migrate.

$ cd /path/to/svn/repo

The next step is to find, on the remote repository, where the SVN database with all revisions is hosted.

$ svn info

The output of that command will give you the url of the remote repository which I will later refer to as /path/to/remote/svn/repository.

The next thing we have to do is create the directory for our git repository.

$ mkdir -p /path/to/local/git/repository

$ cd /path/to/local/git/repository

Now that we have a place to put our new Git repository we need to initialize the repository from the SVN repository

$ git svn init /path/to/remote/svn/repository

After we've initialized the repository we can fetch all the revisions from the remote SVN repository.

$ git svn fetch

At this point you have now migrated your SVN repository to Git. Pretty easy huh? Checkout your commit history while you're here.

$ git log --graph

If you're using a remote server as your canonical source for your Git repositories (like Github) you should also push the local Git repository to the remote one on the master branch. In order to do that you need to first add the remote Git repository as a remote called origin.

$ git remote add origin git@your.remote.server:username/repository.git

Now that your local Git repository knows about the remote you can simply push your changes to the remotes master branch.

$ git push origin master

Monday, December 2, 2013

Why I don't use a traditional IDE...unless I have to

I don't really think I'm a luddite when it comes to technology but there is one piece of technology that I don't think I will ever truly embrace; The modern IDE.

I feel I need to make a disclaimer from the start. I don't think it's wrong to use IDE's and in fact I'd argue that there are certain times where it's important to use an IDE. But, I do think that becoming dependent on the modern IDE makes you a poor software engineer.

I think I should start with why I keep saying modern IDE and not just IDE. In general an IDE is any development environment that gives you the ability to write, build, and debug software. With this definition a text editor wouldn't be considered an IDE but an argument could be made that VIM is because of it's built in ability to run shell commands.

In contrast here are a few features that most modern IDE's provide.
Those all sound like great add-on's don't they? While most of them can be very useful tools here's why I think some of them are more harmful than helpful to the average software engineer.

Intelligent code completion

Most developers I know will argue day and night that if you take away their intelligent code completion that they'll significantly slow down as an engineer. Intelligent code completion allows you to start typing a word and the IDE will provide you a drop-down of options applicable to your context. Sounds great doesn't it? Here's why it's not.

It discourages the engineer from learning the API, Framework, SDK, or toolkit that they're working with. All you have to know is the keyword you're looking for and the code completion will do the rest. The designers of the API/SDK/Framework, or etc that you're using put things in certain places for a reason. The more you understand about the structure of the API/SDK/Framework the better you understand how it's designer(s) want you to use it. This becomes very important when trying to do something new with a framework as you have a better understanding of how to compose objects in the framework to build more robust pieces. If you don't understand the intended use of objects in the API/SDK/Framework you may, as is often the case, try to shove a square peg through a circular hole.


This is actually the least harmful feature modern IDE's provide. I added it to my list because, like intelligent code completion, it discourages the engineer from learning how the UI framework works. I do believe that after the engineer has really learned the UI framework and understood why you do things the way you do for a particular framework use of a WYSIWYG can be very helpful as it abstracts away a lot of the annoyances with UI layout and composition.

Proprietary Solutions/Projects

This one is one of the more evil features of a modern IDE. Most modern IDE's have their own way of organizing the resources and dependencies required to build a project. This in and of itself is not a bad thing. The problem arises when the rules for organizing and the file format used to describe the organization is closed. What this means is that if you use the IDE's built in solutions/projects you're making it so that you can ONLY use this IDE with your project.

Software engineers are a fickle group. I challenge you to find a team of developers that has their development environment exactly the same. That is, the same tools, the same configuration, the same defaults, and etc. You won't find it. Even the best organizations that try to standardize their development environments are usually fighting an uphill battle. This is because, as engineers, we all approach software engineering slightly differently. The configuration we use, the defaults we choose, and the tools we have installed are things that help us, individually, become better engineers. But that doesn't mean that a tool that makes me a better engineer is going to make you a better engineer.

Another big problem that proprietary solutions/projects have is flexibility in using best in class continuous integration servers. When the IDE has a closed solution/project structure it becomes more difficult using 3rd party tools to build your application. You may find plugins that allow the server to integrate with your particular IDE but it's a hack at best unless it's an official plugin provided by the vendor of your IDE. I say it's a hack at best because the closed nature of the solution/project organization format means that anything can change between versions of the IDE. This poses a problem if you want to stay current with the latest version of your IDE as well as the latest version of your integration server.

An IDE should be a means to an end and not the end itself. If you can't build and distribute your program without a particular IDE you will be fighting an uphill battle when trying to use best in class build integration servers, on-board new engineers, share your code with people outside your group, or open source your software.

What this means in the real world

My goal with this post isn't to get you to stop using IDE's. It's to get you to start understanding the trade off's with using a particular IDE so you're prepared to handle the downsides. At the end of the day there are going to be certain frameworks (like iOS) which are not built to be developed outside of a particular IDE. But, if we raise enough awareness about what we want to do outside of these IDE's we can get the framework designers to provide a more robust development environment and we will be better software engineers.