Jonathan's Blog

Jonathan's Blog

Mindful Leadership and Technology (Mostly Software)


Writing Process

Words: Always Open Source

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When you read something, all of it is right there on the page or screen. 100% of the art is present and can be evaluated, analyzed, and understood.

This is not true of most other things in this world, including other types of art. In other art forms the artifice can and often does conceal the structure, but with writing it never does.

Of course, even with writing, what you don't see is the process that was used to achieve the finished product: edits, deletions, false starts, things thrown away entirely, etc.

But the effect and the way that words were used to create that effect are all in front of you.

The thing with a writing process is that you need to develop one. How do you write? How do you start? How do you edit? Who helps you? What are your sources of inspiration?


Rebuild Application Rebuild Software Development Process

Application Rebuild Questionnaire

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Here are some questions you should ask before starting a rewrite or rebuild of an existing software application.

This is a list to get you started. Once you have this information it is an important baseline for you to think about how to move forward on your rewrite/rebuild/re-engineering effort.

  1. What is the age of your application? (How long since the first line of code was written?)
    a. 0-5 years
    b. 6-10 years
    c. 11-15 years
    d. 16+ years

  2. How many integration points do you have with outside systems?
    a. 0 (lucky you!)
    b. 1-4
    c. 5-9
    d. 10+

  3. How many different types of people use the system?
    a. 1-4
    b. 5-9
    c. 10+

  4. Will you migrate data from the old system to the new?

  5. Roughly how many man-years have gone in to the development of the system?
    a. 0-10 years
    b. 11-20 years
    c. 20-40 years
    d. 40+ years

  6. What makes the current system great? What do your customers love? What differentiates you from your competitors?

  7. How much time needs to be spent recreating supplemental materials for a new system? Things that fall into this category - training programs, user manuals, help pages, websites, wikis.

  8. What are the business (not technical) drivers for recreating the system?

  9. What are the risks of recreating the system?


Rebuild Application Rebuild Software Development Process

The Age of Your Code

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I recently posted this article (which is great) with lots of information about rebuilds:

Things You Should Never Do, Part 1

I reference it again, because it is great and it makes a lot of good points.

One thing it says is that 'Code Doesn't Age'. Specifically, Joel says this:

The idea that new code is better than old is patently absurd.

This is true in many senses: code doesn't get rusty, code doesn't wear out after the millionth time it's used, and you can make a thousand copies and this does not effect the code's quality in any way. Also, as he says, old code has been tested, where new code has not.

However, code can age, and I want to talk a bit about that and what it means to you. How can this ageless thing age? Here's how:

  1. Code Doesn't Stand Alone - unless you have a very, very simple program, it is connected to lots of libraries and (today) APIs. These things don't stay the same, nor are they supported forever. So, your code doesn't physically get old, but sometimes the things that it relies on break, or they get changed, or they are killed off. When this happens, your code just got old, very fast.
  2. Code Runs on Something - it used to be hardware, and deep inside of a data center somewhere that is still true. But even when we're only talking about VMs, VMs have operating systems and supporting code and those things aren't supported forever either.
  3. Code is Written by People - and people don't write COBOL anymore. Or at least most people don't. People also don't write VB or C++ as much as they used to. Sometimes perfectly good technologies fall out of favor and everyone learns something new making your product hard to support.

It used to be, most of what I'm describing happened over a long period of time. COBOL didn't go away overnight, that took decades. But with things being more and more interconnected via APIs, and with more changes coming quickly to platforms and other programs, the pace of change is increasing.

APIs change all the time, which is great (Hooray for new features and better performance!) and also challenging (I have to make the changes by when?).

Sometimes things come and go quickly or you make a bad choice. Silverlight anyone?

So, code doesn't physically age, but it is dependent on things around it. Those things can change or break. If that happens, the code has to be kept up or it has to be refactored or (sometimes) you need to rewrite an application entirely because the people who built the original are all retired.

The good news - you get to build something great with new technology that leverages all the awesome things your old project did, but is new and shiny and fun to code.

The bad news - all the things in that article are still true. So, you need to plan for them.


Software Development Technology Process

Understanding Your Software Project

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ID-GEM is a new product we've just rolled out Amadeus. It's joint effort between a few groups (sales, estimation, software, marketing) within the company. It encapsulates and expands on our business development and requirements gathering process that we've been refining over the years. I also wrote a blog post about it for work here.

The core of the product is that software projects almost always fall into one of five categories, and if you spend the time up front to think about which category you're in and how you want to achieve your goals, you can have a great framework for making crucial decisions down the road as your product or project moves through its life cycle. Here are the categories:

  1. Capturing Market Share
  2. Revenue (Increase/Create) B2C
  3. Revenue (Increase/Create) B2B
  4. Reduce Costs or Increase Efficiency
  5. Improve Community or Well-Being of Users

We looked back over 20 years of consulting to determine these categories, as well as what we felt were the most telling, challenging, and crucial questions for projects to wrestle with at the beginning. This enables you to have the right answers in place when things get challenging down the road. The questions can be quite different depending on which of the categories you fall into.

If you are considering a software venture of some kind, you should take a look. It's free and easy to use.