Developer Alumni

It’s not unusual for a developer to change jobs every two or three years or even more often. Up until 2004 I had never thought of a company keeping up with you after you left or having an ‘Alumni’ concept. The consulting outfit I left had instituted an alumni program and sent me out a tiny flash stick with the company logo on it about a year after I left. It was a small thing, but I was kind of impressed they bothered with any effort at all. In addition they sent out an email every month or so with an update on how their business was going. About 6 years later I ended up back at the same company, partially because they had maintained a good relationship with me, and realized I left not so much because of them, but more for an opportunity to manage a development teams.

I came across this practice again in the most recent episode of The Front Side Podcast where they explained they were trying to build the company culture that allowed you to just tell your manager you were going on an interview. This is exactly the sort of thing to get you escorted out in many big companies, but they seem to be experimenting with having a very open and honest culture that admits, especially in consulting that many of your developers will leave at some point sometimes even over to your clients. They wanted an environment where a developer could admit they wanted a new experience the consulting business couldn’t provide and they left the door open down the road as Alumni to welcome them back.

I think it’s a great experiment and I’m honestly impressed if they can produce a company culture where an employee feels safe admitting they’re going on an interview. I love that companies are experimenting and blogging/podcasting on how it’s going. I also think the alumni idea is a great way to keep people motivated and maintain a good relationship with your local development community. I know some of the best recruiters I had were former employees who could explain why they left the company, but how it was a great opportunity if you were a good fit.

Why Slack Needs Sound Effects

Not to be left behind in hipster group chats, we migrated from Campfire to Slack a few months ago. It’s a slick, simple group chat system with a few elements of fun including custom emojis. We added Carl and Paul from Llamas with Hats to our custom set. We’ve also livened up things with a custom Hubot. Still there is one very sad missing feature Sound Effects.

A bit of research shows the team at slack has had sound effects on its backlog for a long time:

We’re more than a year later and still no sign of adding sound effects. We really relied on getting audio notifications of broken builds. Now things slip by for a while as the email or text notifications get lost amid the clutter. And sometimes you just need to play PushIt while deploying. Please Slack get this done.

Email Effectiveness with Inbox Zero

After one of those weeks where emergency after emergency cropped up between meetings I let my inbox get out of hand and left emails sitting in them as todo items. I’ve been a GTD follower for about 5 years now and I start to really feel out of control when my inbox is piling up. I know I’m re-reading the same email for the third time, but I fall into a hypnotic state.

Yesterday, I made a point after getting in early to really drill my inbox down move actions onto my lists. 171 emails later I had cleared everything dating back to 3 weeks ago. Freed of the mental distress of an overloaded inbox I’ve gotten more strategic items done in the last two days then I did all of last week. On top of that I’ve pushed along a wealth of issues that had been idling for weeks.

And the best part is I’m back to quick email sweeps 3 times a day to keep my inbox clean. If you’re one of those people who live in a 10,000+ inbox you might want to go back and read Merlin Mann’s articles on Inbox Zero.

Two Weeks Into New Management Position

Two weeks into the new app dev manager with a new organization. After moving through this transition a few times I can pass on the following advice:

  • Start your one-on-ones or continue the existing ones.
  • Spend a lot of time talking and walking around. Your brand new, and you need to get out and start getting a sense of the people and the organization.
  • Gather your project and application portfolio. At this point the acronyms and lingo are still confusing, but you have to get a sense of where your projects are and whether any of them are struggling.
  • Stay organized. You’re on a nasty learning curve for the first few months and the last thing you want to do is let your email, physical inbox, and voicemail start overflowing. (GTD works for me here.)
  • Enjoy the surprises. Every organization has it’s own way of doing things and at least once a day for the first few weeks you’ll have some underlying assumptions shattered. In an earlier job in my career I remember picking my jaw off the floor about one week in. One of the developers on Project X Phase II explained Project X Phase I had never been deployed to production. Some unrelated projects had been rebranded as Project X Phase I so the team could declare victory on delivering phase I.
  • Don’t make big changes those first few weeks. You don’t have the data yet.

Backpack Adds Movable List Items

I implement my personal organization system in 37 Signals Backpack. I’ve had a subscription now for about 15 months and its been the best way I can find to maintain David Allen’s GTD method. After a lot of experimentation including trying out other tools such as just tracking everything on index cards, or using Kinkless GTD with Omni Outliner, I kept coming back to Backpack as the best available solution for me. The major bonuses are:

  • It’s an online service so I can access it from home on my Macs and from work on my PC, and even on my Treo.
  • The core feature for me is a very simple way of adding lists. Just click, type, and return any time you want to add a todo on a page.
  • When you need something that has a few steps, ie a project, you just add a new page.
  • You can add just about anything to a page including images, files, and notes. I have 115 or so pages now and some of them are just things like notes on how to upgrade cruisecontrol or a list of potential future projects in our pipeline. A nice personal wiki.
  • They keep adding features which make it more valuable. This is the real glory of online hosted applications. You keep picking up features with no install/upgrade hassle, it’s why I liked the ASP model all along even when it became associated with the dotcom bust.
  • There’s even a client app so you can have a local offline backup using Packrat.

The new feature utilizing movable list items is going to really help out with something that drove me crazy. Today in backpack you can move around items in a list, but you can’t effectively move items between multiple lists unless they are right next to each other. My main context page that lists most of my todos by context area has:

  • Inbox
  • @Computer
  • @Office
  • @Agenda
  • @Home
  • @Home Computer

The idea was dump things in my inbox, then drag them into the appropriate context when I have time to process things. The problem was I generally had to cut and paste the item to move it negating any ease of use. This new feature really solves that problem.

Now I just need the ability to move list items between pages, or the ability to tag individual list items.

(Apologies if this was to GTD geeky.)