A Fool with a Tool

One of my quips that people seem to get a kick out of is:

“A fool with a tool is still a fool”

My point is simple: woodworking tools in the hands of craftsmen can produce fine furniture or musical instruments. But merely the availability of great tools “doth not a masterpiece make.” Not to take the woodworking analogy too far, but power tools can also make it easier for the amateur to get hurt.

The reason a quality piece can be turned out more efficiently with a tool is the ability for the craftsmen to more quickly realize the design and architecture. In addition, tools can help make patterns easier to replicate. From actual patterns (like certain cross-section shapes on molding), to templates (like violin bodies), to connectors (like Kreg pocket hole jigs). A woodworking shop will also make good use of building components to put into larger assemblies.

So, tools in the hands of experts can help realize the design. Tools that are able to help apprentices produce parts designed by the masters, can help produce more output and help train the apprentices.

But put me in a room with the most awesome woodworking tools, and I will not be producing Stradivarius-esque violins any time soon (or ever, most likely).

A Java Developer’s Switch to Rails

As I read this account of transitioning from Java EE to Ruby on Rails,”Java Web Apps to Rails, A Developer’s Experience,” I thought the following:

Regarding the lack of a good Ruby/Rails IDE:

When it was time to look at the code, I was a bit disappointed.  TextMate looked like a popular choice but it fell short in many ways.  I struggled to navigate the code, link the methods across files and follow the code. Grep was my only savior.

I am surprised he did not find RubyMine. JetBrains makes awesome IDEs (IntelliJ IDEA for Java, too). I have to admit at being very impressed that the underlying model of the ruby code within the RubyMine IDE is amazingly capable of giving you the same sort of features that it can for a “compiled,” or more type-centric language like Java.

Ruby

Next he mentioned about learning the language…

My approach to learning Ruby was to start looking at code and figuring out pieces of syntax that did not make sense.  That turned out to be a bad idea. Constructs like “do |x| x+1” threw me off. … I found it very important to understand the motivation behind creating the new language.

There are some good books out there, and other resources…

Another comment rang true with me:

I found it very important to understand the motivation behind creating the new language.

More about the motivation behind Ruby… or at least, how I interpret things.

Ruby treats you like an adult. It doesn’t baby you, or hold your hand, or make you type all sorts of (obfuscating, in my opinion) fluff that a compiled language needs. Your code is more compact and obvious and “dense with meaning,” leading to less need for things like method return types and method parameter data types. Or semicolons.

However, I miss parameters list, curly braces, return statements, camel case naming conventions…

Be patient… soon you will grow weary of having to read all that extra stuff when you go back to Java. If you write well-formed classes, and very small, compact, and obvious methods, you don’t need the extra frills. You will run across the concept of “duck typing” which really means that classic C++/Java/C# style interfaces are not needed. If you create a method that expects a passed-in object to respond to a method call (e.g., “torque”), any object of any class will do — as long as it has that method call! And if you pass in an object that does not have that method, Rails will kindly throw an exception.

The concept of ‘open classes’ that allow developers to go in and change a base class sounds scary.

Go back to my opening statement. “Ruby treats you like an adult.” If you are naive, you can blow your code up and break stuff. If you do everything the Ruby way, you’ll be fine — because you will catch it with tests (right?). There are good rules of thumb for how and why and when you should consider adding to an existing class — or worse, monkey-patching. In Ruby you can actually alter the behavior of an existing method of an existing class. Do it poorly, and you will pay the price. And maybe not for a year or two. Mwahahahaha.

Ruby’s metaprogramming is incredibly powerful (even if the syntax takes a bit of getting used to).

Rails

Rails is incredibly opinionated about how the MVC code should look. It is basically a model-driven architecture approach. The framework expects the MVC stack to have a model, a view, and a controller for each domain concept. (As a long-time domain modeler, and UML guy, this is a real treat.) You can use the default rails generators (interesting when first starting, or for banging out a quick prototype), or write your own twist on a generator. Instead of focusing on the boring framework bits with repetitive, template-like code for each domain object, you can focus on quickly creating features that people want to use and pay for 🙂

Supporting Cast

Ruby on Rails has a great ecosystem of wonderfully talented folks providing 1000s of gems to do all sorts of useful things. For example:

The ecosystem of supporting tools is incredible. Some of my favorites:

These all make it so easy to “do the right thing” and write code with BDD/TDD to provide quality from the start.

Personally, my switch from J2EE to Rails (not to mention SQL to NoSQL/MongoDB) has been one of pure pleasure. The kinds of rich functionality and the ability to build stuff faster is imprerssive. I only wish I were better at writing kick-ass Ruby, Rails, CSS, Javascript, MongoDB…

Is it perfect? Of course not. There are other cool things to look at as well… Meteor, Node.js, MEAN, etc. So much to explore, so little time.

Back to my continuous learning!

 


Easing New Developer Ramp-up Time

On a recent healthcare start-up team, it grew from my buddy (who moved on after 6 months or so) and I, to a handful of developers/sub-contractors.

Here is how we tried to make it fairly efficient. We just started tracking what was needed, getting feedback as each new developer went through the process, and improving the instructions and process along the way. If something was missing, we added it. If something was not clear, the new developer could amend the wiki.

By the 3rd new developer, or so, we had it down to where they could get started and begin a legitimate issue in less than a half day — from getting set up to being able to commit and deploy a new “feature.”

There was a section at the top that shared a good team chat room session with a new remote developer:

Getting Started Chat Room Conversation

That was followed by the FAQ-like list of links:

One of the first reasons I wanted to make it easy for a new team member to get rolling, was so that our friend Max — who would be doing our QA from Russia — could get started. As we added the first couple of devs, we probably decreased the start-up time as follows:

As part of “Getting Started,” I would include a simple Jira issue that helped them ensure that everything was working and that they followed our dev process:

  • Git and Dev and database (MongoDB) environment obviously had to be set up
  • Access to Jira to assign themselves to the issue, and move it — Kanban style — to the In Progress state.
  • Commit the work and the passing tests
  • Drag the Jira issue to “Done”

 

Since Atlassian’s Confluence Wiki does a stellar job at versioning pages, I actually looked back to see how the page grew and morphed over time. It started out rather modestly (and empty):

After it grew a bit bloated:

It was successively refactored into its current state, here is a snippet of the 70 versions that this page underwent from March 2011 through July 2012.

Wikis, like code, need to be tended to, nurtured, and refactored to provide the best value.

Manual Cucumber Tests?

there was some discussion over on the cucumber list about manual testing.

cucumber is great at BDD, but it doesn’t mean it is the only test technique (preaching to choir) we should use.

i have learned it is critical to understand where automated tests shine, and where human testing is critical — and to not confuse the two.

as far as cuking manual tests, keeping the tests in one place seems like a good advantage (as described in Tim Walker’s cucum-bumbler wiki <g>).

the cucumber “ask” method looks interesting. maybe your testers could use the output to the console as-is, or (re-)write your own method to store the results somewhere else/output them differently.

From the cucumber code (cucumber-1.1.4/lib/cucumber/runtime/user_interface.rb):

# Suspends execution and prompts +question+ to the console (STDOUT).
# An operator (manual tester) can then enter a line of text and hit
# <ENTER>. The entered text is returned, and both +question+ and
# the result is added to the output using #puts.
# ...
def ask(question, timeout_seconds)
...

Sample Feature:

    ...
Scenario: View Users Listing
  Given I login as "Admin"
  When I view the list of users
  Then I should check the aesthetics

Step definition:

Then /^I should check the aesthetics$/ do
  ask("#{7.chr}Does the UI have that awesome look? [Yes/No]", 10).chomp.should =~ /yes/i
end

The output to the console looks like this:

Thanks for the pointer, Matt!

[notice]NOTE: it doesn’t play well with running guard/spork.[/notice]
The question pops up over in the guard terminal 🙁

Of course, if you are running a suite of manual tests, you probably don’t need to worry about the Rails stack being sluggish :-p

    Spork server for RSpec, Cucumber successfully started
    Running tests with args ["features/user.feature", "--tags", "@wip:3", "--wip", "--no-profile"]...
    Does the UI have that awesome look? [Yes/No]
    Yes
    ERROR: Unknown command Yes
    Done.

Jira vs Post-It Notes

Had some recent discussions on the subject of using tools or just sticky notes…

for me, a digital board representation of the kanban style 3-column view is merely one v-e-r-y small aspect of using something like jira.

though i could probably live with just post-it notes, i bet it would be an interesting challenge for me. i have been:

  1. doing only distributed work for so long (since late 90s)
  2. using jira so long, it is as simple as a pen and paper (or post-its)
  3. dissatisfied trying to do a project with something simpler like Basecamp, without the richness of jira
  4. working on long-term projects that have different people rolling through, and years of life (4000+ issues)

and i ask myself what other benefits do i derive from jira (plus, admittedly, a companion wiki)? why might i be uncomfortable with just post-its?  do i have an unnecessary “crutch” in the form of jira? hmmm… do i do more than is necessary in the way of using jira/wiki to add other pertinent documentation for the project?

well, here are the following things i can think of off the top of my head:

  • it is easy to
    • assign myself to an issue
    • move it to be in progress
    • move it to be resolved
  • our virtual chats hover around the greenhopper view
    • we’ll edit stuff on the fly as needed
    • quickly create a new issue if something pops up during the call
    • everybody refreshes their browser
  • we put a fair amount of supporting docs — details, helpful things — into the issue (or into the wiki and then that link goes in the issue)
    • that way you always know where to look 🙂
    • you can find it 24×7 and regardless of your GeoLoc
    • sometimes we’ll have skype chats and voice calls about the issue, maybe about design ideas. I’ll shove those things into the issue.
  • we can link related issues
  • we can use the search to look up old issues and refresh ourselves on what was asked for/done
  • we can have asynchronous, threaded conversations in the form of comments
  • we can track any myriad of other stuff against the issue
  • i log my hours against the issue
    • useful for billing if you need it…
  • i can use it to help generate pretty charts for management
  • we use the issue status to trigger QA (in addition to our chats)
  • i use jira to help ensure product version notes are up to date
    • jira manages the iterations
  • pretty easy to maintain a backlog, even chunking it up into groups if needed
  • easy to indicate that an issue has been rejected, and why

the point is, i find it incredibly useful to have modern technology at my fingertips…

in my experience, there is so much more to a project tracking “tool” than what post-it notes would seem to represent.

[important]but i have NO (zero, nada, zilch) experience being part of a co-located team using post-it notes. so take it with a grain of salt :-)[/important]