There’s an unfortunate and rather rude saying about assumptions that I’ve found popular among IT folks I’ve worked with. I say unfortunate because, to me, assumptions that are recognized early and handled the right way are a key to successful projects. Technical players who use assumptions well can help set projects on the right path long before they go astray.
Sometimes on waterfall and hybrid projects technical players are asked to estimate work early, before requirements are complete. My instinctive reaction is not to provide an ungrounded estimate, but that’s not helpful. The way to handle this uncomfortable uncertainty is to fill out the unknowns with assumptions: detailed, realistic statements that provide grounding for your estimate. Continue reading →
Asking fact questions in technical interviews is like eating a donut, feels great at the time but not so satisfying later.
Let’s say the interview consists of facts like this “softball question”: “What is the default port number for SQL Server?” The linked list of questions is a really good high level study guide for a SQL Server student. If a SQL Server developer candidate answers all correctly, then the interviewer can be confident that the candidate knows a lot about SQL Server.
However, few development jobs require only technical fact knowledge. Typically, developers must apply creativity when working with unclear or poorly expressed requirements under tight schedules. They must be versatile so that they can take on unforeseen roles in case of resignations or transfers of team members. If you make an investment in an individual by hiring her or him, you’ll look for a return in the form of professional development as the individual grows their skills.
So how do you test creativity, versatility, and ability to learn, while still gauging raw technical talent? My method is to ask opinion rather than fact questions. Continue reading →
Recently I read an editorial about job interviews. It was breezy and funny, but not very helpful. Given that millions are out there looking for work, I want to help by giving my perspective on how to “win” the interview.
I do a lot of interviewing, from both sides of the desk. As a consultant I am interviewed by clients. As one of many technical and behavioral interviewers for my employer, I talk with candidates about their skills, goals, and fit with our business.
Of course, winning the interview may not get you the job. An interview is just one part of a many step process. Getting a job involves showing you have the skills, establishing mutual fit, coming to terms on salary, and standing out versus the competition. This post is only about how to do well in the interview.
Assuming you’re qualified for the job, you can set up a good interview experience by applying the right mental model, preparing well, and interacting effectively during the conversation. Continue reading →
I believe that early, effective big picture diagrams are key to application development project success. According to the old saw, no project succeeds without a catchy acronym. Maybe so, but I’d say no project succeeds without a good big picture diagram. The question: what constitutes a good one? To me good high-level diagrams have four key characteristics: they are simple, precise, expressive, and correct.
How does this sound as advice for an app dev manager leading his or her team from waterfall to Agile?
Clearly articulate a compelling end-state vision
Work from a position of authority
Weather the storms
Reward creativity while fostering improvement
A post at scrumsource.com lists leadership, organizational culture, and people as three of the five key factors in making the transition. Another at the Scrum Alliance site describes the transition as a migration from externally-organized to self-organizing teams. In my experience the transition requires leadership by a strong advocate who shows the way to willing, empowered team members.
The US men’s national soccer team (USMNT) is playing out a strikingly similar transition. Continue reading →
I recently stumbled upon one of The Martin Agency’s hilarious Geico caveman ads and wondered, rather geekily, why they didn’t do one about data analysis. I think if a caveman suddenly arrived in the 2010s he or she would see parallels between his life and the activities of today’s knowledge worker. When I thought it through, it seemed obvious that knowledge workers need to be more like farmers and less like hunter/gatherers if they want to achieve the full potential of business intelligence.
This is the latest entry in an occasional series on followership. The premise, as stated here, is that not everyone gets to be a leader, and most leaders are also followers in their own right. The project manager follows instructions from the project sponsor, the CEO from the board, the politicians from the polls, and so on. Whoever you are, you spend a lot more time following than leading. As Bob Dylan put it so well, “you gotta serve somebody.”
The good follower is not a “yes man“. In the professional world I inhabit those who move “up” the hierarchy tend to retire technical skills in favor of architecture, proposal writing, and management. The relationship of manager to employee becomes more like agent to actor or musician, where the supervised employee is the “talent”.
In these conditions the old concept of top-down decision making seems quaint. Important choices require information from all perspectives, and organizations shut out those with knowledge of the details at their peril. The best decision makers search out diverse ideas before choosing a direction. Continue reading →
Recently the BBC posted this video. On first view it is just funny, but watching those dogs learn to drive really reminded me of personal experiences with IT teams making big learning transitions. To represent those real situations let’s consider a fictional team of SQL developers facing the daunting task of deploying a functional Hadoop-based analytics prototype in two months. The video parallels their critical learning success factors: (1) set audacious goals, (2) learn bit by bit, and (3) know your limits.
“A child of five could understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five!”
– Groucho Marx
Recently my colleague Sara Shelton posted an article listing non-technical things we IT specialists need to do to maintain our careers. Each of the nine items on Sara’s list is a key to IT professional success. One particularly worthy of a drill down was learning:
“It is critical for the technical professional to hold themselves accountable…to learn new languages, new tools, emerging technical trends, and best practices. With technologies changing more than ever, technical professionals need to focus on their own learning to stay on par with or ahead of the curve.” Continue reading →
OK, I’ve lost a five-metre scrum, my pack has been overrun, and the ref has raised his arm between the sticks for a penalty try. My colleague Margy Thomas, with support of fellow rugger Billy Tilson, has convincingly argued that agile development in fact is very like rugby union. Margy cleverly fended my meager one-point case with a point-by-point list of the ways that agile projects and rugby are similar. I’ll hold on to my view that sports analogies are generally weak in describing application development, but I’ve come to observe a fundamental similarity between rugby and agile/scrum. Continue reading →