Monday, April 28, 2008

Fewer, better developers

In system development would you rather have more okay developers or fewer but better developers? It depends...inflection point is somewhere in there. It seems like people just say, hmmm, I have the budget to hire five developers. I'll interview for a few weeks and pick the best five. I don't know how well that works in general, but it always causes problems for me.

Even worse is just taking the first person to show up with the right languages on their resumes. That's happened to me quite a bit in the consulting world. Hey- train this new guy, get him up to speed. Three months later, he's still trying to get Word running. Once I was training someone to be the overseas system administrator for a system I had built. I walk over there and she's trying to talk into the mouse. It was a long week of training.

Depending on your needs, you may want a place to train new people. May I humbly suggest not throwing those people out there on consulting assignments? How do you do that as a consultant, where you don't want to put junior people out there? They've got to go out there with mentors and protectors. You've got to have a few big jobs where they get some support. But still it happens to us, where we have people that just end up out there alone on assignment. It can suck even if you are good, but it must be hell when you are not.

Maybe consulting shouldn't be someone's first job...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Don't Mix Transactions and Reporting

"You don't need to keep all historical data online in the same database. In particular, reporting and ad hoc analysis should never be done in the production database....Data mining, reporting, or any other kind of analysis should be done in a true warehouse anyway. The OLTP (Online Transaction Processing) schema is no good for data warehousing." -Michael Nygard, Release It!

I am working on a weird incremental system replacement project at the moment. It's odd in that they are replacing the reporting, search, and view parts of the system, without replacing the forms. A lot of the design and architecture is optimized for those operations. We're all really quite worried about what happens when we have to edit some of this data- turn into an OLTP. It's hard to update de-normalized data without all sorts of locking issues.

My current silly idea is to try to tell people that the schema and system that we are working on now is really just the reporting and search system. The "real" system replacement schema will be coming in the next increment. It sort of pains me, because the "genius" solution we came up with for incremental system replacement on my last project would have worked even better here- one screen at a time, one table at a time. Plenty of complexity, to be sure, but you can get new stuff out there tomorrow.

As it is, we are running a ridiculously high risk of creating shelfware at the moment. Sigh.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Reading is FUNdamental

Fred Wilson declared it video day on his AVC blog.

I didn't watch any of them. With A/V you are really making an investment in watching/listening. With text content, it's so easy to skim, skip the boring bits and figure out if you want to read something in depth. With A/V in the browser, you hit the big play button and then start to stream. You can't even jump ahead easily until you build up your buffer (okay, only takes a second, thanks FIOS!). I've watched and listened to things at high speed (current project indoctrination videos, this means you), and then, you're still listening to this thing. Podcasts are great for the car. Thirty second skip is great for skipping commercials, but can move through text just with a few long saccades.

I guess it comes down to this. I can read faster than I can listen, with the added bonus that I can skim text even faster than I can skim audio content. Thus text is more efficient for communicating a lot of information. I won't dispute that A/V content is richer, and can create more of a connection, but I just don't have time for all of that. I have to write blog posts for other people to skim.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Google App Engine

I got my Google App Engine account. I haven't gotten too far yet, "Hello World", a few silly deployment things. I am curious to see how nice the web app framework is. I am really curious to mess around with BigTable and see if I can put it to any good kind of use.

So far I'd compare it to Heroku (Rails thing on AWS), but the web framework standard WSGI is interesting. People really enjoy programming in Rails- it's unlikely, but possible, that Google's framework will achieve that. Just about any normal sort of web app thing you want to do in Rails is already done for you- and often done in a way that is better than I'd be able to do it myself in a reasonable amount of time. [update- it looks like you can run Django on there, minus the relational stuff, of course]

I know Google hired Guido, but I think they would have hit a home run if they had used a Rails stack with this. Of course, the piece that is "missing" is the relational database. BigTable might be a decent replacement, but certainly would be a serious adaptation of ActiveRecord.

I was looking around to see if anyone had done a knockout port of ActiveRecord to use SimpleDB, since that is somewhat similar to what we are doing on my own current web application project. We have stepped away from the RDBMS and are going with MarkLogic. It's great for reads, but I am really worried that doing updates is going to kill us.

Anyway, it's an interesting road. I'm going to hack some Python tonight and get my app deployed. Hope you're having fun too!

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