January 03, 2008
Imagine you are a team manager for NASA and you’ve been given the job of hiring a group of people to build a space ship that can take humans to Mars. You’re going to need aeronautical engineers, physicists, material scientists, software experts and all manner of extraordinarily clever people. People who know stuff about stuff you probably could never understand. Even after extensive filtering your waiting room is packed full of candidates (after all this is a name-in-the-history-books glamorous p ...
Dijkstra's Shortest Path
January 15, 2008
By any measures, Edsgar Wybe Dijkstra was a remarkable man - one of the worlds undisputed leading computer scientist at the end of the 20th century, inventor of an operating system called “THE”, that could have come straight from the script of one of the Airplane movies (“does it run on THE? The what? The THE.”), long term chairman of his own fictional company that he described as the “most miserable business ever conceived” and originator of the meme-phrase “[insert pet hate here] considered har ...
The Nature Of Functionality
January 16, 2008
I consider myself inordinately lucky to have fetched up in a career that would otherwise have been an expensive hobby. Software development can be a frustrating roller-coaster ride, but every now and then you get to be involved with something that genuinely, and rather beautifully, succeeds. Projects get canceled, derailed, or otherwise slip into oblivion for all sorts of reasons, but it’s very satisfying, once in a while, to be able to point at something in production and know you played a part ...
The Analysis Business
January 30, 2008
We left off last time with the idea that although software projects can go wrong for lots of reasons that tech folks can’t control, there are some ideals we can (and should) strive for in the areas we can control. We don’t control market forces, competitors, or business needs, and we rarely control dates or budgets (we may be tasked with spending what budget there is wisely, but corporate economics are certainly beyond our purview). We do control the way we build software and the way we operate ...
February 12, 2008
A few years ago I did a long freelance stint for one of the big oil majors. In the last week of my tenure there I found myself sat in a presentation on their new IT strategy. Interesting stuff, perhaps, but with my exit only days away, I confess I wasn’t paying all that much attention. The presenter was making the point that the following year would be all about getting the foundations right for business growth, and to make sure this initiative got the appropriate attention from the executive sp ...
The Retep Principle
March 11, 2008
My first job after university was as a unix performance consultant working on now-defunct product called Officepower for a now defunct company called ICL. Being largely inexperienced on day one, I had an intellectual mountain to climb to be effective in the role. But persevere I did. I printed out every page of the unix online manual, read every book I could find on the operating system internals, learned to program in C, got to grips with scheduling, partitioning, subnets and all manner of arcan ...
What would Scooby do?
March 21, 2008
It would be hard to find a cartoon that better exemplifies formulaic plotting than Scooby Doo. I have a three year old son and am consequently something of an expert in the exploits of Scooby and his colleagues. When not in the office I am lucky enough to spend all my time (and I mean all) watching episode after episode over and over again. If it weren’t for the munificent schedulers at the Boomerang Channel I’m not sure what I would do with my free time. Ask not for whom the consultant bills. H ...
The Fallacies of Agile
April 26, 2008
Update of original essay from April 15, 2007 A Project Management Office I used to work with recently put out some statistics on the current portfolio of active business change initiatives. Eighty-one percent of them are being delivered using an “agile” methodology. If you’re an agile proponent this could be taken as a measure of some success - clearly this is a culture that embraces a responsive and intimate relationship with its business. And yet, on closer inspection, not one of these project ...
April 28, 2008
Of all the system qualities debated by architects and developers, scalability is perhaps the one that has the greatest reputation for being mysterious and poorly understood. And if you want to avoid unnecessary work in the future, it’s also one of the most important. Except for adding new, or modifying existing, functionality I’d suggest meeting the growth demands of a scaling business ranks highest amongst the work-creating aspects of corporate enterprises. A clue to the mystery (he somewhat ob ...
May 16, 2008
There are many things to love the Discovery Channel for: a sense of having expanded your knowledge with a broad but shallow series of details about Sharks, Egyptian Mummies, the Nazis and the bewildering array of household items you can make with injection moulded plastic for one. But I think most of all I love those shows where some would-be professor type, who more often than not is bearded and English, goes in search of one of the great quested-for items of deepest history - the Ark of the Cov ...
The Interview - Part One
June 05, 2008
I can’t watch The Apprentice on TV any more. This week they did the ‘interviews’, where each contestant (for they surely cannot be considered job applicants given the game-show styling of this series) is questioned by a succession of Alan Sugar’s smirking self-made self-satisfied buddies. It’s not that I object to putting the remaining goofy wannabes through a bit of discomfort - I mean you have to question whether the defining profile of the ideal candidate would really include a desire to engag ...
Magnificence in the Mundane
June 14, 2008
It’s a complex old business maintaining relationships these days. Like many people I end up managing friends like some perverse to-do list. If I haven’t seen someone for a while I might remember to send them an email, they might reply, more time passes and we might repeat the process before saying “Crikey - it’s been ages since we had a beer.. let’s go out”. So we do. A good time is had by all and we swear we won’t leave it so long next time. And yet life dictates that we do. But one of the hallm ...
The ABC of the ESB
June 24, 2008
We’re a smart lot in technology - give us a complex business problem and a short amount of time and we can do wondrous things with some cryptic text and a compiler. We constantly develop new ways to structure intricate business systems and information. We can scale up, out, persist data as rows in a table or objects in a tree; we can build tiered architectures that limit rippling change and we can, if we put our mind to it, innovate to such an extent that small companies can come from nowhere to ...
Strategy for the Irretrievably Pragmatic
July 05, 2008
My Dad used to say that the reason many politicians are so totally ineffectual is because of the ironic and paradoxical fact that to be a good politician you need to be able to wield power wisely, and yet those who are drawn to power are often, by that fact alone, the worst people to be given it. He still says it, but these days I might counter with the thought that it’s just possible some of them go into politics to make the world a better place and get corrupted along the way, having to deal wi ...
10 Reasons Change is an Antipattern
July 09, 2008
My list of top-ten irritating phrases of recent times, somewhere after “leverage” and “we’re a people company”, would have to include “embracing change”. Shelves in the business sections of major book stores groan with the weight of manuals that profess to be able to tell you how to change, guide you through change, and how to deal with change. Frankly, there are a lot of people out there in need of a smacked bottom. It’s not that the desire to change for the better is wrong, but in line with th ...
Embracing the Third Way
August 04, 2008
I had the honour recently to be invited to sit on the judging panel of the OpenSpaces Developer Challenge, an international competition to encourage the creation and open-source sharing of innovative ideas in grid, cloud computing and next-generation middleware, based around the GigaSpaces eXtreme Application Platform. If the objective of the organisers was to illustrate just how diverse the uses are for this kind of technology it certainly succeeded in that respect. Unfortunately, for the judge ...
Dancing with the Reuse Fairy
August 13, 2008
Not long after graduating from college I went on my first skiing holiday with a large group of work colleagues. I managed to get a couple of lessons on a dry slope beforehand and turned up at the resort just about able to put my boots on, do a fairly hopeless snow plough, and carry my skis without thwacking anyone in the head every time I turned around. We were all new to the sport and so block-booked lessons for every morning of our ten-day stay, but after two days of tuition I cancelled mine an ...
Make room for Functional Programming (1)
August 25, 2008
I’ve spilt this post into two so I can cover one concept from a couple of different angles. What I want to do first is explain the major elements of Functional Programming (FP) to those who, like me, might struggle with a lot of mathematical hoopla, Haskell and Lisp code, and second show by simple example where all this stuff is useful in the real world. Meaning I have struggled through the hoopla to write this so you don’t have to - you’re welcome. Why Functional Programming? Why should you b ...
Make room for Functional Programming (2)
October 12, 2008
This is part two, of a two part look at functional programming (FP). The first article examined some of the concepts and terms used. This piece puts them into practice in a worked example. Proponents of FP focus largely on its mathematical purity and its promise of reducing the bottlenecks inherent in the stored-program model of logic/memory proposed by John Von Neumann (AKA “how computers work now”) and moving more towards models put forward by people like Alonzo Church and John Backus. I say t ...
October 28, 2008
In Anger Management and the Enterprise Design Debt I took Ward Cunningham’s excellent Technical Debt Metaphor and applied it to the enterprise. I proposed that all those little bits of debt from each project get wrapped up and become a kind of currency to aid communications with the business. The notion of Enterprise Debt is important for two reasons: It is very real. Just because most businesses ignore it doesn’t make it go away. Like real debt, it gathers interest and hampers business ...
November 01, 2008
Update of the original article from August 1, 2007. First Published in July 2007. I’ve noticed this is getting a lot more hits recently, presumably because Google is ranking it higher. On the assumption it’s proving useful, I thought it deserved a 2008 update. What’s in a Name? Let’s get some terminology out of the way. I’ve called this “Systemic Requirements” because I prefer that to the two other commonly used titles: system qualities and constraints, which to me sounds too dry and academic ...
Role Models and Services
November 09, 2008
SOA - an architectural style centred around the concept of a service. It’s a popular approach though not without a few difficult questions if you want to get it right, chief amongst these being: what exactly is a service anyway? Next time someone is trying to tell you that SOA is the answer to all your technology problems try asking them a few simple questions. What is a service? What’s the difference between an interface and a service? How many services will I have when I am done? SOA ma ...
Wife Swapping and the Art of Conflict
November 22, 2008
The problem with books on management is they rarely address what actually makes teams successful. One of the best books I’ve come across is The First Ninety Days by Michael Watkins, which explores how to guard against common mistakes leaders make when they start new roles. A big theme with Watkins is how not to bring your last job with you, however successful you may have been in it. He points put that many managers, even good ones, will often rush to make decisions too soon because they believe ...
The Event-Driven Architecture
December 07, 2008
Michelangelo famously said that he didn’t just take a piece of stone and sculpt it into the shape he wanted, but rather he believed that every hunk of rock already has a sculpture inside and the job of the sculptor is simply to remove all the pieces that aren’t it. He added that the way to distinguish between that which should go and that which should stay is to “obey intellect” and understand that even the greatest of artists cannot conceive of anything more beautiful than that which already exi ...
The Super-Geek Top Ten
December 30, 2008
Let’s end the year on a lighter note. Working in corporate IT is tough enough without another 2000 word essay on architecture or the pop-psychology of a management technique for the holiday period. Recently I’ve been putting together a treatment for a TV documentary on some of the extraordinary computer scientists behind the bodacious awesomeness that powers the best IT today. During some random research I came across a game called “Programming Language Inventor or Serial Killer?”, an amusing di ...