Saturday, January 8, 2011

Remember back then?

...back in 2010? That was a nice year. I have to say I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. There were some setbacks, first and foremost the departure of two colleagues whose knowledge and support I valued very highly, who left for new cities and new challenges. But such is life. But I learned a lot this year and got to make a lot of interesting experiences and meet a lot of interesting people.

It was a long year and this will be a long post. It will be self-indulgent and most likely only for my own benefit. So there.

First off, I finally took the time to finish reading Domain Driven Design, or "the great blue book in the sky" as I heard someone (probably Neil Robbins) call it. It was very timely as we were just in the process of redoing a fairly large part of our application. It gave me the confidence to split up the refactoring along the life cycle of our main entity, transforming it along the way. That way we were able to concentrate on the first step in the life cycle without having to change everything down the line, too.

Said refactoring was also the first time I remember of deliberately doing "refactoring toward deeper insight". The experience of taking what we had learned about the domain in the previous year and applying that to our domain model was surprisingly rewarding. The end result was a lot simpler and closer to how people actually worked. It gave us the opportunity to introduce new functionality that would otherwise have been extremely cumbersome to implement.

The whole process was not without its flaws though. We underestimated the amount of code we had to change, even with the reduced scope. Especially the front-end proved that good UI design is very hard and time-consuming. In hindsight we probably should have spent more time on considering how the changes might have been divided further into smaller, releasable pieces. In the end we were left with a long time between deployments and suffered all the communication issues that missing regular feedback loops can give you. It was still a good learning experience and it showed me how much I appreciated our previous, shorter deployment iterations.

In march I went to QCon, which I wrote about before. The inspiration I got turned out to have a fairly lasting effect. To get back to the kind of enthusiasm I had when I started out and to be able to really consciously enjoy coding again is something I am extremely grateful for. This wasn't necessarily all due to QCon but it encouraged me to be more introspective about how I work. In particular it had me putting more effort into getting better at TDD. At some point the whole "using tests to drive out the design" bit finally clicked and it made me a happier person.

There is still a lot left to improve though. Most of our bug-fixing work is now purely front-end stuff, ironing out layouting issues and Javascript behaviour across different browsers. But we're getting there. Writing jasmine tests is something I'll hopefully get better at and which integrates well enough into our builds. My colleague Benjamin put an amazing amount of work into getting a useful Selenium tool-set and tests for us. The environment for these is sadly still somewhat brittle but hopefully that will get better with Selenium 2.

We've made a lot of progress in automation anyway. Our test-environment gets automatically redeployed by Teamcity now. These are still very tiny baby-steps towards continuous delivery that conveniently ignore some of the larger issues like schema evolution and the need to switch to a DVCS but at least I think it's stumbling in the right direction.

I was also happy I got to help in making collaboration with our designers on different teams a little easier. Working on a bunch of projects in parallel while trying to consolidate on a consistent look & feel is something that has taken even more effort than I expected. And since look & feel is usually the most immediately apparent contact point for stakeholders, it is always under scrutiny. I underestimated that, too, even though I really should know better. All the more reason to push for further front-end test automation.

Later in the year our team worked on a new project and decided to base it on JSF 2, mostly so we could get the know-how. The other teams were already using it and it seemed reasonable to look for common ground there. I did learn a lot, but I didn't get much done. Having no one on the team with any prior experience meant we had to go through all the little beginners mistakes you get when you stumble into some new technology. Some of those early issues just rubbed me the wrong way which made me get increasingly frustrated. And I'm afraid my growing resentment probably didn't help the mood of the team.

This did bring up a few interesting questions about the effectiveness of aiming for a heterogeneous development environment. Questions which I don't really have answers for but still could ramble on about for hours. So I should probably put that in another post some day.

In November I was lucky enough to take part in a Code Retreat. Having been intrigued by that ever since I saw Corey Haines talk about it at QCon, I jumped at the chance to try it out. This, too, is worthy of its own post and so I won't go into details here. Suffice it to say that I liked it a lot and plan to organize a code retreat in Düsseldorf, to show it to more people.

(As an aside, I just stumbled over a google result for a code retreat in Wroclaw which brought a smile to my face. I always enjoyed my time there, when I visited there for another company, back in another time. And I always had a very high opinion of the people and their programming skills there. So, I guess this fits quite well.)

After Code Retreat Ghent came Google Developer Day Munich. It was nice to meet my now ex-colleague Sebastian again. And same as in Ghent, I was glad for the opportunity to chit-chat with other people in our profession. It never hurts putting things in perspective and hearing what others are passionate about. And of course, rambling about things I'm passionate about. (Something I find myself doing more of these days, I think. But maybe it was just the free beer provided by Google.)

The effort Google puts into these events was impressive and I really liked how non-partisan the speakers were. They openly acknowledged the existence of competitors (foremost Apple) without looking to discredit or awkwardly ignore their work.

I wasn't looking for anything in particular since my work currently targets neither HTML 5-capable browsers nor mobile phones, but at the end of the day I felt more sad about that fact. I wasn't aware how exciting some of the HTML 5 stuff is and I'm really looking forward to that becoming the norm and what people will be able to do with it.

Well, that about does it for two-oh-one-oh. Remaining, then, is the goals I've set myself for 2011 (I'm not yet convinced of spelling it 20!!).


  • Organize a code retreat, possibly making it a recurring event
  • Look for more of these opportunities to learn from others
  • Subversion is a nightmare to merge stuff with and I'm eager to switch to git but it would mean having to get used to a different workflow for everyone in the team. Maybe I'll start with a git kata.
  • Follow through on all the "I should really write a blog post about that"
  • Write more posts in german. 
  • Read GOOS, finish reading REST in Practice, glance over Continuous Delivery.
  • Try to solve more problems event-driven

Hmm... last and possibly least I just realized that I also started writing on this blog (and on twitter) this year. I guess I'll keep that up.

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