Moving in order to stay in place (ie. Continued Learning)

In our field of software development, I am constantly reminded of one immutable fact – the pace of change is still continuing to accelerate.  Whereas a person could become a software development guru back in the early 80s when I first got interested in computer science– now that is all but impossible and you have to pick and choose what areas to become well-versed in, which areas to become competent in, and which areas you will just have to be content to be ignorant of.  Reminds me of that article from Coding Horror that I have referred to a number of times from way back in 2006.

It compares our industry from a chapter in Alice in Wonderland where you had to keep moving in order to stay in the same place – yeah – that sums it up perfectly.

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That’s not a bad thing and in fact opens the doors for people to practice their craft in so may new ways, and for people like me (mid-40s) to reinvent themselves with new interests.

 

So with that in mind – last weekend, it was a quick trip to Sioux Falls for the annual South Dakota Code Camp – where more than 100+ other software developers had gathered to hear speakers on a number of topics

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All in all, a good day, learned some new stuff, made some stuff that seemed totally greek to me previously at least a little more edible, and met some other like minded individuals – not a bad way to spend a cold November afternoon. Specifically, I attended a session on Mocking Frameworks, some Java scripting, use of Microsoft PowerShell, and how to use the previously crazy and foreign tool for me to understand– the windbg program to diagnose software issues at a client site which alone could prove to be a powerful tool to add to my toolbox.

Next week, our company is bringing in some professional trainers and pulling us out of the building for 2 days which is pretty cool, and honestly looks to be some great training – and for that, I am grateful as it makes the running to stay in place just a bit easier.

I just got done interviewing prospective software developers from SDSU, SDSM&T, and DSU these past few weeks – and the time spent staying up to date is always well worth it and something that I share with these new kids coming out of college as mandatory if they want to last.

Hope your Fall is as nice as ours has been the past few days (and less than 100 days until I find myself on a Mexican beach…hmmmmmmmm)

G’Night

ninja3

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Change

Years ago I came across an old German saying which translates to the heat of change attracts demons – it sounds much more imposing in German – “hitze des wandels zieht dämonen”.   This saying (and I love quotes and sayings) has a universal truth to it – change is hard, change creates friction, and friction creates heat, and this heat will seem to be in the form of demons at times. And when the topic of change comes up – this saying always pops into my mind.

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President Woodrow Wilson once said “ If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” – that’s funny on a number of levels but is true whether in our personal lives or corporate world – it does seem that many obstacles will jump in your path once you try to make change happen. Can’t count the number of demons in my life during the past few months with all of the changes going on but life seems back to normal (for now), and this topic seems way appropriate and timely.

 

A few years back, I was forwarded this article by someone whose leadership abilities I admire greatly – this story introduces “patterns” or ways of introducing change – Fearless Change: Making Change Happen By Using Patterns.  Over the years I have been part of a number of efforts to implement change at work or in various organizations – and the only real truth I have learned is patience.  Patience in knowing that change will take about 4 times longer than it should, and that it will require a constant exertion of effort, and that wins will be very small at first but should be measured and celebrated to keep forward momentum – even the slowest forward momentum to continue.  Now I find myself at times counseling others in not losing hope that change is possible and that they too will need to be patient, vigilant and stubbornly optimistic. Start small, measure the smallest progress, and recruit allies.

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Tonight I end with this quote “The only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions.” from Ellen Glasgow.  I admit to being in a rut lately in a variety of categories – time for me to make some more changes – despite whatever demons may jump into my path.

Brad

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Sharknados & Jumping the Shark

A few years back I first heard the phrase “jumping the shark” and had to look up what that meant and where it came from,

From wikipedia:

Jumping the shark is an phrase used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery, which is usually a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of “gimmick” in a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.

The phrase jump the shark comes from a scene in the fifth season premiere episode of the American TV series Happy Days which aired on September 20, 1977. In the episode, the central characters visit Los Angeles, where a water-skiing Fonzie (Henry Winkler) answers a challenge to his bravery by wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, and jumping over a confined shark.

I heard this phrase when the last Indiana Jones film came out and Harrison Ford survived a nuclear bomb blast by hiding in a old lead covered fridge.  Actually I think that movie was the first time I had heard that phrase and had to look it up.

I mention this because about a week ago on the TV show “The Soup” that my wife was watching, they were mocking an upcoming TV movie for SyFy channel called “Sharknado” in which literally there were tornados filled with sharks from the ocean. 

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Many viewers of The Soup laughed it off and didn’t think any more about it – but me, I was hooked – fascinated to see if it were true (it was), so I quickly went to the other room searching the online TV guide for Sharknado – and sure enough, it was real and would be on TV July 11 – for me and my kids, it was a focal point, a time for us to share some family time and watch sharks fall from the sky onto unsuspecting people – so many life lessons – My wife was inadvertently interrupting this magical time by asking questions like “How come when they shoot the sharks flying in the air – they drop like rocks – are we supposed to believe they are flying?”- but my daughter and I didn’t have the time to debate the physics of a flying shark and how with their waving tails they were maintaining just enough forward speed aided by the tornadic winds.  So many highlights like the below scene – yes – that is truly a great white shark being flung from the tornado with only one thought on its mind – not where is the water, but rather, how best to eat that young lady.

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Not since Mystery Science Theater 3000 had I laughed so much during a TV show (on a separate note –  seriously, why is this show not on the air anymore either?  Its really time for someone to bring this back)

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And now the clamor for a sequel has started up………………………

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But people have this all wrong – there can’t be a sequel and there should not be a sequel– this movie has figuratively and literally already jumped the shark – there is nothing left to prove – once you see guys use bar stools to beat off great whites in the street, fly helicopters into tornados to drop bombs to stop the tornados (learn something new every day), and see people get put out of their misery by a hammerhead shark landing on them – what else can you have? – we just need to let this movie become the cult classic that is predestined for it – I think the below scene says it all – there cannot be a sequel as this is as good as it can get (and yes, that’s a chainsaw in his hands)

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“Jumping the shark” was normally seen as an act of desperation but here the Sharknado movie gloriously jumped every shark possible to set an impossibly high standard.  In an interview, the star Ian Ziering said:

When I read the scene where I’m actually chainsawing my way out of the belly of a shark, how could a guy turn that down when that’s in the job description?” actor Ian Ziering told CBSNews.com about reading the script for the new original TV movie.

Exactly.

Unless of course the sharks could have lasers.

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Back from the wild

Been dark for a few weeks again but hope to change that in coming weeks but most recently I had been preparing for and then gone for a week for camping.

Each summer for the past 8 years I have accompanied my son to 3 years of Cub Scout Akela camping weekends, then 2 years of Webelos camping trips and now my 3rd year of accompanying my son and his Scout Troop to weeklong Scout Camp.

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Not being a natural instinctive camper despite having been a Boy Scout myself, I always feel abit like the Chris McCandless character featured in the movie Into the Wild except that I cannot wait to get back to civilization.  (In my case, one day I had to make a quick trip to the nearest Walmart for some supplies and it took me less than 20 minutes to do so so I wasn’t exactly in the middle of nowhere 🙂  But if you have not ever seen this movie, it’s definitely a good one to check out, its hard to know what emotions to feel after watching it.

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We had a great camp, dodged a few thunderstorms, the boys handled a full week away from home (and electronics) in great fashion, and it’s fun to see the maturity and growth in them – some natural leaders in there, while others not afraid of taking on huge challenges like the nasty Ironman triathalon (1/2 mile swim up current in the Missouri, 1 mile run up a nasty gravel hill, followed by a 1 mile solo canoe trip against some energy-sapping waves and headwinds) – while others, the quiet ones just getting thru the week but learning what they are capable of and creating experiences that many other youth their age will never experience (whether its knife handling, rifle shooting, archery, black powder guns, or just knowing you can make it thru the night in thunderstorms in tents you have pitched, and just being immersed in nature, etc) – witnessing those boys that make great team members and will probably go on to successful careers in whatever they choose to do is always a treat.

Back at work, bet it took me a full day to get back into the flow – right now got a busy schedule of data translation and data mart work in front of me but as I expected – my team handled everything great in my absence which doesn’t really surprise me – many of them could replace me today and that’s a good thing – On a somewhat related note, one item of interesting discussion some of us adults at Scout Camp had in our various industries was the topic of how companies find people to put in charge of things and the danger of co-workers who actively seek being in charge – many of us agreed that those are the ones you sometimes need to worry about – in the software development field, I have had many discussions with others about how many of our team leaders are what I would call “reluctant leaders” – those who are hesitant and leery of being in charge and yet do their best once there for as long as they are asked to.  One of the adults who camped with us expressed his reluctance to get an adult scout leader uniform for the week for fear that people will think he is in charge – the rest of us laughed at that because that is how all of us got roped into the places we have within the Troop – at some point we had (some) experience and then we got put in charge of things, it’s nothing that any one of us actively “seeked”, it was just a matter of our interests (our sons) aligning with the troops needs – and honestly, that is what will make him a great leader for the boys on future campouts once many of us dads start retiring as our boys start to graduate from Scouting.  His uneasiness with being in charge will get outweighed by his interest in wanting the best support for his son and his Troop – and he’ll do the best he can which will probably be really good.

And that seems to correlate with actual work careers and experiences as well – those that have the best interests of their team at heart will do better than those whose primary goal is “being in charge”.  I argue that no real developer wants to be in charge of others – we want to be in a place where we can make things happen (and prevent other things from happening) but real developers want to develop and not boss others around, and real developers, I would argue, are skittish of anything that could take them away from developing (such as middle management) and render them obsolete – my thoughts anyway.

On the software development front, I have been doing alot of new data analysis reading lately and will probably be sharing that since interest in those posts seem to bring the most readers as well as it encourages myself to get going and get more accomplished in this area.

And congrats Mike Miller and the Miami Heat – once the Sixers are out of the playoffs each year (or in the case of this year – never in it), its fun to become a Heat fan and hope that hometown boy Mike Miller gets another ring

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Headlines like this never get old

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Me, Data, and a conference hall full of people

This year I was asked to present at our company’s semi-annual User Meeting – normally a chance for our very capable Support staff to show off new software features, best practices – but this year, 2 of us software developers were brought into the mix to present on topics as well.

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My topic ?  That was easy…my talk was named Turning Data into Information which is something I am fairly passionate about.  I am a big believer in that it is the client’s data and that helping them find newer, better and more effective ways to analyze that data will pay off for our clients.

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My largest fear was that my talk would only appeal to about 5% of the audience – while I know its a topic that so many could gain from, I figured 1 out of every 6 companies present and perhaps only 1 person from each of those would really be interested in data analytics and data visualization but I tried hard to frame the talk in terms of every day problems – thinks like measuring advertising campaign success, knowing how to truly find the metrics that matter most in their businesses and the challenges of doing that with the tools they currently use.

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I made it through my 45 minute talk, got to the question period at the end and……….nothing.  No questions, just silence.

Then I was worried – Had the talk gone over their heads?,  Had it been too dry and boring that they had just tuned out and started browsing the net on their smartphones catching up on Reddit?  (I mean I had that talk packed with lots of graphics and pictures – I didn’t resort to puppies or kitties but lots of visual candy nonetheless)

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So after my brief and non-existent Q&A period, I quietly found my seat at the back and found my self wondering what I should have done differently (other than not agree to do these) but a co-worker of mine assured me that they had seen many small groups though out the crowd whispering and pointing during my talks and then sure enough – at the start of the next break period, people started finding me at the back of the room – soon I had people lined up to talk with me and talk about issues such as:

  • how real was this? (very real)
  • how soon could they have it deployed for them (within weeks)
  • they would describe data issues they were tackling and which of them tools like this could aid with (many of them)

And my following day, all of a sudden was filled with more private demos and Q&A time with clients – and that was great – people were seeing the merit to really analyzing and discovering their data – and while I was showing what could be done with PowerPivot, the real magic sauce was the data mart built behind the scenes that would allow them to use any business intelligence tool (although I strongly believe that for most of them Power Pivot will be all that they will want or require)

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The strangeness did not end there though – as I actually tied for the best presentation as voted on by our clients.  Now this does not mean best speaker – for I watched 4 other speakers both before and after me that very day and all were far better (ridiculously better) speakers, they were so confident, engaging, everything that I am not and I was jealous of their abilities – many of them have former teaching and coaching experience and appearing in front of groups seemed second nature to them and not the unique and special hell it feels like for me being up there by myself……..so how could my talk have won?  Well I have 2 theories on this…..

1) The first is what I call the Big Bang Theory-effect – after watching strong and confident speaker, one after another, what could be more endearing and humerous than watching a very nervous geek on stage with spotlights on him trying not to screw up, babbling on some geek topics – its kind of like watching those Nature shows when the baby giraffe takes those first wobbly steps  – its not graceful and yet you are kind of pulling for him – and who doesn’t cheer for Leonard on the Big Bang Theory TV-show – same thing – and it translates into many kind and sympathetic votes for the awkward geek stuck in the middle of all those strong speakers………(I strongly suspect when I was done they wanted to start chanting ‘Rudy….Rudy….Rudy….”)….we have many very kind and probably sympathetic clients.

2) My second theory, is that people are really trying to understand their data more and have probably already struggled to do so and are looking for a means to do MUCH more – and perhaps even those that don’t care much about data analysis know of people in their companies that do – in fact more than a couple people said things like “My manager would love this” and that was great knowing that while it did not appeal directly to them, they knew of its importance for others and were willing to take back more information.

I am not really sure which theory I am hoping is correct but I am excited that we are finding more and more people interested in doing more with their data because in the communications world, one thing our clients all across the nation have is a lot of data.

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Count on many more data-related posts coming up since I have completed some long-term projects at work and am now back to focusing on some new data marts and how we are going to evangelize the best use of that data for our clients.

Brad

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Back from Berkshire

Next blog post will be on a user meeting topic I presented to our companies annual meeting a few weeks back but first, some housecleaning, as its BRK annual meeting time!

Back from yet another Annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting, and once again, I came home not disappointed.  My buddy and I got our usual upper deck front row seats, and now it seems we have a small posse of other Berkies who are on to our secret favorite spot as we were flanked by the same gentlemen as last year – Joe, a retiree from Kansas City Missouri, and Norman, a financial planner all the way from Bonn, Germany – this year bringing his daughter as well – at the end of the meeting, we parted by saying – “see you guys next year” and I bet we will.  Soon our section of annual attendees may need t-shirts – the people and friends you meet in a stadium filled with 40K people is amazing

Unlike last year (as I noted in this post) we were unable to appear in the background of any Fox News reports at the Marriot hotel lobby – this year Fox News was finishing up as we strolled though.

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The kickoff movie this year included a special episode of “Breaking Bad” with Jesse & Walter cooking up a batch of peanut brittle in their meth lab while Warren Buffet comes to buy them out in the name of Sees Candy – one of the best BRK opening movies yet

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– not quite at the same quality of the Jamie Lee Curtis video a few years back where she was seducing Charlie to allow Warren to buy the high tech stocks that both are known for avoiding but this year’s movie still a great one.

 

40,000+ people from around the world gathered to hear Warren & Charlie break down financial and economic issues into common sense, and watch first hand how a first rate company is built and grows unlike any other company in history.  Watching 2 men over the age of 80 only concern themselves with how the company is positioned for the next 10-20 years with little regard for what the market will do over the next 6-18 months is amazing.

My favorite quotes that came up this year

Charlie while commenting on how Warren’s diet of Cherry Cokes, hamburgers, and DQ ice cream has unleashed such financial potential and how Warren has obviously stumbled onto something. 

Warrens response: “wait until we come out with our new book on nutrition – it will be a best seller”

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Charlie – “Envy is the only sin that there is no fun in – and you know what the Bible says about that – ‘Don’t covet your neighbors ass and such”

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Warren – “I don’t know how I would manage money by strictly using financial analysis and only using the published numbers”

Charlie – “You’d do it poorly”

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Charlie on the economy – “if you are not confused, you must not understand it very well”

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Warren – “In general when you think you know more than you do, you are generally going to get into much trouble – that rule applies outside of Investing”

Charlie – “Especially matrimony”

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This year was supposed to be spiced up with the addition of a well known Berkshire-bear, a well known individual who would get to ask questions from the panel as a person who has shorted Berkshire Hathaway stock – of course he is in the red on the bet, BRK seeing its income rise 51% this last year is slaughtering that bear – but his questions were lame, and honestly any loyal Berkie could have answered his questions and his final question turned into a sales pitch for his investment company – sad… I really though it was going to add more to the discussion this year – good thing the other panelists asked far better questions

 

But it was a great trip and highly recommended for those who have not listened and learned from the worlds greatest and most patient buy & hold investor and it will change how you view investing if you read his annual lettersHIGHLY recommended and I can’t wait until my son or daughter are old enough to show interest in going

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Next post – back to software development – probably…

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From the bookshelf (part 4)

It’s April and once again I went a whole month without blogging – not intentionally but lately work, extra tennis practice sessions with my son (who is out for Junior Varsity Tennis), and preparation for a new presentation this year at our company’s annual User Meeting has kept me more than busy.

But I did get 2 more books read that are worth mentioning….

First is a book that I am not sure I have mentioned before but is a must read by any software professional.  I know I have mentioned before how the books that resonate the most for me are those I read and then find myself wanting to read again a year later.

Well, Dreaming In Code is one of those books, it was originally loaned to me at work when I saw it in a coworkers office, and then found myself borrowing it again last week – I really need to get on Amazon tonight and grab a used copy as I return this copy (again).

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The tagline says it all……

TWO DOZEN PROGRAMMERS

THREE YEARS, 4732 BUGS

AND ONE QUEST FOR TRANSCENDENT SOFTWARE.

This book follows a team trying to create software that they think will change the way the world works – they have the backing of a multi-millionaire, grab the best talent they can, all of the perks of a startup in Silicon Valley and despite all of  their education and experience, this book follows the train wreck that occurs – ironically the project starts with the leader, Mitch Kapor saying “this time will be different” and envisioning the perfect software created with the perfect methods that end up going down in flames bringing the readers down with them the entire way with a front row seat to the action.  Half way thru the book, everyone catches themselves wondering how they can make so many of the well known software industry mistakes and yet, understanding how they went down that path. 

One of my favorite lines in the book “any software system  that cannot be completed by four or five people in a year can never be completed”    [Brad – I firmly agree!]

 

The second book “DAX Formulas for PowerPivot – The Excel Pro’s Guide to Mastering DAX” – written by Rob Collie, he of PowerPivotPro.com fame. 

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I had been waiting for this book, and as one of his faithful blog readers, I pre-ordered and got my name into the credits at the back of the book – which he had done as a thank you for his early supporters – may be the only time I see my name in print – so that is cool to pick up his book at a Barnes & Noble and find your name at the back of a book – seeing the other people listed – I wish I had chosen a cool nickname though…probably the last time I see my name listed with Mr. Excel himself Bill Jelen, Donald Farmer, Stacia Misner, etc

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But I like his book, I like his style of bringing you along in the examples, slowly letting you learn what pitfalls are possible along the way and then showing you how to learn the most from his experiences – excellent book and well worth the wait.

OK, so this book is for the PowerPivot-devotees out there but seriously, Dreaming In Code is a terrific read for anyone in the software industry – especially if you are a software developer – ought to be required reading as the author ties in all sorts of industry anecnotes, trivia into his real life tale. 

G’Nite.

tennis

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