Monday, April 28, 2014

Continuous Delivery

Continuous Delivery is an important topic in the software world, and particularly the DevOps movement. A lot of the talk around continuous delivery centers around the technical side of achieving it. But there's another aspect that needs to be considered first before it can truly be achieved. That aspect is the cultural changes that need to happen within an organization in order to truly achieve continuous delivery. These cultural changes are not a pre-requisite for continuous delivery, but you should be aware that they do accompany it.

The follow are the five areas that I believe are required for any organization to be successful at continuous delivery/deployment. Most organizations won't be starting at ground zero but being aware of the cultural change that will come can help accelerate a move to and adoption of continuous delivery.

Cross Discipline Teams

Development and operations need to work together. Ideally, they're both represented on the same team. One of the main goals of continuous delivery is to identify defects earlier in the pipeline and to provide business value as early in the pipeline as possible. The best way to achieve this is to think about delivery from the beginning. The project team should be planning the deployment even before the code is written that they'll be deploying.

Raise visibility

For every change the project team should understand how the change can be measured. Here are a few simple questions that you can ask as part of the dev cycle:
  • What metrics are associated with this change and how?
  • What are the risks?
  • Is the performance profile expected to change?
  • How do we measure success for this change?
  • What are the signs that the change is not effective?

Build trust

Operations and development need to know that enabling the business is the #1 priority for BOTH units. No change should make it's way into the deployment pipeline unless it provides business value. If both units understand this then we have a shared understanding of the importance of each change and a shared desire to get that change out.

In order to build this trust the operations folks need to know and believe that the development folks will include them in feature discussions. Having operational discussions early and often in the conversation will help ensure successful deployment of the change.

On the flip side the development folks need to know that the operation folks are including them infrastructure discussions early and often as well. Again ideally, these folks work on the same team and these discussions are part of the normal standup discussions.

Minimize risks 

We need to understand that failure happens. It's how you deal with failure that leads to success or failure for the change. It's naive to believe that failure can be prevented 100% of the time.  Because we know it can't our goal is to minimize the risk of any change should it fail.

In order to minimize the risk to the overall system for any given change should focus on reducing the overall surface area of the change. The smaller the change the less risk there is of a failure associated with that change being catastrophic. The longer the time between releases the larger the risk of that change. The more code that's released with every change the larger the risk of failure or bugs.

In order to respond to change effectively we need to build a culture that responds to failure well instead of trying to prevent it. The easiest way to respond to failure well is to practice it. Build failure tolerance into your system. Understand how your system responds to failure and identify the expected and appropriate user experience when failure happens.

Shared responsibility

We all succeed or fail together. It's not possible for operations to succeed and development to fail (or vice versa) and have the product succeed. Both disciplines need to succeed in order for the business to truly succeed.

Once we've grasped the concept that we succeed or fail together we can create a culture where it's okay to talk about and address our mistakes. We try to avoid finger pointing and are able to do this because people own up to their mistakes and take responsibility for them. They participate in postmortems where they create action items to address the failure and prevent failure of that kind in the future.

Having shared responsibility also means that we treat rollback as a last resort. When a problem arises with a particular change we stop the line. We work together to figure out the problem when it happens and we work together to fix the problem before we move on to making additional changes in the system.

Sharing responsibility means that both the operations folks and the development folks should be on-call for incidents. Nothing provides better incentive to fix a problem than getting woken up in the middle of the night or interrupted on a Saturday.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Coding Standards Revisited: Tips For More Readable Code

In my previous post, Coding Standards Revisited: My Language Agnostic Coding Standards, I talked about some non-traditional language agnostic coding standards that I believe apply to all code on all (modern) frameworks, languages, and platforms. In today's post I want to talk specifically about some standards that can increase (or decrease if ignored) the readability of your code. As I've argued before maintainability is crucial in the craft of software development.

So let's talk about a few readability coding standards that I like to use. When adhered to they greatly increase the readability, and therefore maintainability, of your code.

Meaningful Variable Names

Use meaningful names. x is not meaningful. client is not meaningful. provider is not meaningful. Chose names that are specific to the domain you are in. Chose names that clearly define the value of the variable. For example rowIndex is more meaningful than x.

Shorthand Variable Names

DO NOT use shorthand for variable names. Shorthand assumes that you have a shared context from which the shorthand was generated. It becomes difficult for members of other teams or new team members to read your code if you use shorthand.

Private Variables

DO NOT use _ to denote private variables. The English language doesn't use _'s to start words. So starting variable names with _ causes the brain to do more work in recognizing the pattern. I would strongly suggest casing your private variables the same as function variables and differentiating them using keywords like this or self if your language supports them.


If there is one place I am willing to break from the language standard for my own standard it's with constants. I usually use all caps for constants whether they're private or public. I've found that even developers that haven't been traditionally exposed to this style can figure it out intuitively pretty quickly.

With that said, if your language does provide a standard for how Constants are defined you should try to first adhere to that already defined standard.

Variable Scope

I make all member variables private. Even variables that may be subject to change from outside influence. Exposing private variables as public or even protected means that the state of your class can change without the class having an opportunity to respond to the state change.  This is often the cause of bugs in the system (hard to find bugs at that).

Define get or set methods for your class if your really have to expose the value of a member variable. Having a set method allows the class to control the change and therefore giving it an opportunity to keep it's internal state consistent.

Some languages provide syntactic sugar for the get/set methods and should be preferred to more explicit get/set methods.

Curly Braces

Use curly braces according to the standards of the language you're writing in. Don't just arbitraily put curly braces on their own line or on the line of the block their defining. Different languages have different standards for curly brace style. In fact, some languages support curly braces but use the convention of not including them except in specific scenarios.

It's better to deal with uncomfortably in looking at curly braces than it is for you to be non-standard. In my experience I've found that it really only takes a week or two to get used to the curly brace style of the language you're using.


There's nothing more annoying then checking in code for a one line change only to notice that the diff shows 500 lines changed. What happened? You, or the person who last touched this file, is using a different standard for whitespace. Nowadays, most IDE's auto-format the code for you. So even if you don't change a line of code the whitespace may change to bring the file into conformance with whatever your IDE preferences have been set at.

Define your use of whitespace such that a standard developer for that language would expect them. If there is no guidance for your language on whitespace choose the use the default for the most common editor or IDE for that language.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

#ChefConf 2014

Today I presented Windows Web Server Management with ASP.NET at #ChefConf 2014.

My presentation is up on GitHub as is my sample Windows cookbook. If you weren't able to make the conference the sessions should be available online shortly. In the mean time, go checkout my presentation.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Coding Standards Revisited: My Language Agnostic Coding Standards

In my previous post, Coding Standards Revisited: Writing Code That Lasts, I talked about how to approach a code review from a slightly different perspective. Today I'd like to talk about approaching coding standards from a slightly different perspective.

As I mentioned in my previous post I find a lot of value in framework, language, or platform specific coding standards. But I do not believe they tell the whole story. Here's a short list of non-traditional coding standards that I believe apply to all code on all (modern) frameworks, languages, and platforms.


Use meaningful variable, method, parameter, and class names. DO NOT use shorthand. A person that does not know how to read code should be able to tell you what the variable, method, parameter, or class is doing just from the name.

Separate out your concerns

A method or class should have one reason to change and ONLY one reason to change. If a particular method in that class has more than 10 - 20 lines it's probably doing too much. There are very few exceptions to this. Methods and classes should be distinct features that overlap in functionality as little as possible.


Write highly cohesive classes. The methods in a class need to have a lot in common. The methods in a class should act on the same data. The methods in a class should all be related to the data. I.e. an image manipulation class that has code to physically save the image to disk is not cohesive… it's coupled. There should be a class that deals with saving things to disk and a class that deals with image manipulation.

Dependency Management

Dependencies should be added by reference as much as possible and injected into the classes that depend on them. This allows the dependencies to be created at the correct level of abstraction. 

High-level modules should not depend on low-level modules. Both should depend on abstractions. Abstractions should not depend upon details. Details should depend upon abstractions.

Don't Start By Abstracting

Only abstract as you need too. The first (and I would argue second) implementation of something should come in the form of concrete classes. Only when you run into a scenario where you need to interchange these classes should you then abstract it.

Code Duplication

Follow the Don't Repeat Yourself (DRY) principle. Every piece of knowledge must have a single, unambiguous, authoritative representation within a system.

Commented Out Code

Don't comment code out and leave it. Delete it as you can always go back to it using source control.

Only Write Enough Code To Satisfy What You Need Now

Don't write a single line of code for something in the future (i.e. I'm gonna need a class that….). Only write code that is actually used right now for what you're doing.  Usually for me, this means starting with a test class. In the case of a UI I usually start by writing static UI Code and then working backwards making the code dynamic as I go and ensuring that each piece of dynamic code as a set of tests associated with it.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Coding Standards Revisited: Writing Code That Lasts

Over the last several weeks I've been writing a series of posts on Software Craftsmanship. While I don't think I'm completely finished with the topic (nor do I ever hope to be) I thought I would take the opportunity to switch gears and talk about coding standards.

Typically when people think about coding standards they may think of Google's Java Style Guide, GNU's C++ Coding ConventionsMSDN's C# Coding Conventions, Apple's Objective-C Conventions, Android's Style Guidelines for Contributors, or so on. There's practical guidance out there for most languages and frameworks. These conventions provide you with several advantages. They will help you write code that other developers in that language or on that platform will recognize and therefore be able to maintain easier. They help you code for compiler optimization or run-time optimization. And they help you navigate some of the trickier elements of the language. What these guides don't generally do is give you a good framework of how to write code that will last.

My Software Craftsmanship series was a good start down this path but now let's dive a little deeper and see if we can't identify some additional practicals tools that you can use to help you design and write code that will last. Ultimately that should be out goal; to write code that lasts. Code that lasts may not be elegant and it may have flaws but ultimately it has proven useful. So useful that it has stuck around. Sometimes you find code that lasts just because others are afraid to touch it for fear that it will break. I would argue that, while that code may have bad style or convention, it has lasted because it did it's most important task well; it did the one thing it was written for and has proven useful for that task.

Traditionally when we evaluate code fitness we look at how well the developer adhere'd to a certain style guideline or how well they adhere to a language or platforms best practices. We often look for places where patterns have emerged in the code and try to optimize our implementation around this pattern. We look for poor memory utilization or inefficiencies in dealing with large data sets. These are are great things that MUST be part of a code review. But these things alone don't tell the full story of whether or not the code will last.

So here are a few tips from me on what I like to also look for during a code review that I think identifies a pattern of code that will last.

What would a standard ______ expect?

Fill in that blank above with whatever framework, language, or platform the code was written for. So often it's the case that we let other framework, language, or platform coding standards creep into unrelated code. A standard developer for that framework, language, or platform should be able to open the code and see style that their familiar with. They should recognize patterns that are specific to that framework, language, or platform. The code should flow in a way that's optimized for the way that framework, language, or platform expects to run the code.

A few ways I often see this brake down are:
  • Adding a dependency on a third party tool that auto-manages code style (like ReSharper)
  • Adding a dependency on a particular IDE (like Eclipse) when the framework, language, or platform is IDE agnostic (like C++ or Java)
  • Not using an IDE built for the framework, language, or platform. I.e. Xcode for iOS or Visual Studio for Microsoft .NET (though I would argue NOT for Mono)
  • Curly braces, tabs, and spaces. Let any Java, C#, or Ruby developer read the others code and you'll hear be able to hear the complaints from down the hall.
  • Programmatically defining UI elements in code when the framework or platform provides built in mechanisms to define such elements.
Often these dependencies are added with good intentions. They're added because the organization wants to increase productivity. Or they're added because the organization believes that conformance to a style is important for the cohesiveness of the code, which it is. Conformance to a style other than what a standard developer of that framework, language, or platform would expect is not cohesive. Cohesiveness should be determined both by how self cohesive it is as well as how cohesive it is within the ecosystem it is built for.

What external dependencies has this code been coupled to? Are they necessary?

Developers become very fond of particular pieces of code or particular third party libraries. We're taught in school and at work that we need to focus on re-use. Often this is misinterpreted to only mean reference other code. But occasionally, or often, it's the case that in order to reuse existing code without adding unnecessary dependencies we need to refactor the code we're referencing into a library or module. This allows us to manage the dependencies of our new code correctly. Often we reference the correct code but add dependencies on other packages or classes that are unnecessary because we fail to refactor the dependencies as their consumption changes.

When this code changes what affect will that have on other non-related code?

This is a smell that you've either got something messed up with your class encapsulation or code organization. You should expect direct consumers of your code to change as your interfaces change. But you should not expect transporters of your code to have to change. One way to test this is to simple change a public method signature and compile. See what will no longer compile. Are all the places you have to change reasonable?

How discoverable are the features of this code? Do I have to read the code to understand what it does?

This one is one of the more subjective items on the list. But I still think they're questions that absolutely must be asked. Your first pass during a code review should be to look at how the code is used. If during this pass you find yourself asking things like "why do you need to pass that?" or "why is this call necessary?" then you're probably looking at code that could use better method naming or is written with the wrong level of encapsulation.