“We lost a lot of good men out there”

Today we lost a member of our development team. It sucks. Really.

Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson

The team member we lost was one of those guys that I thought would be here forever, so his sudden (and unexpected) departure was a bit of a wake up call for me. It reminded me that if you have smart people, you need to keep them engaged by giving them smart people problems to solve. The strongest devs on your team aren’t just going to sit at a keyboard all day working on whatever you say just because they’re a nice guy. That will work for a little while perhaps, but eventually even the nicest of guys will start to lose interest if they’re only doing uninteresting work.

If you want your best developers to stick around for the long haul, you really need to make a conscious effort to engage them on a regular basis. This means finding interesting, challenging problems for them to work on. Sure, there’s going to be times where uninteresting work just needs to get done, but as soon as those times are over you need to unleash your people again. If you’re always busy with this boring kind of work, then your going to have serious problems someday, because its going to be almost impossible for you to keep good people onboard anyway, especially once they figure out what they’ve signed up for.

What sorts of things do you do to make sure your teams are engaged?

Posted by Wally in Teams, 0 comments

Just shared my list of podcasts for developers

Take a look over to the right, I’ve just shared a new page with my favourite podcasts aimed primarily at developers.  I’ve had this list sitting in a draft form for nearly two years now and I’m not really sure why it’s taken this long to publish it.  Given the amount of time since I first put it together, I ended up having to do a number of edits to the list, both to remove things that are either not being published anymore, or, thankfully, to add some of the awesome things I’ve been listening to lately.

I’d love to get some feedback on this list, or even better, any suggestions you have for other podcasts that I might find interesting but don’t have listed.

Get your earphones ready!

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What I’m looking for when interviewing software developers

As a team leader, I have had multiple opportunities to interview candidates for new developer positions as they come up.  I’d like to think I’m a pretty fair interviewer, I don’t pose weird puzzle questions, I don’t relentlessly dig in on questions you couldn’t possibly answer, and I try to make it an enjoyable experience for both of us.  That being said, there’s a couple of things that I consistently experience being the interviewer that I think the developers on the other side of the table need to be aware of.

Be interested
You need to at least appear to be interested in our discussion.  If all you’re going to do is answer my questions, I’m not going to be interested because it’s obvious that you’re not.  Your best chance to make an impression with me would be by treating the interview more like a conversation.

Know what we do
It doesn’t take long,  a couple of minutes on our website or a quick Google search should give you enough to put together a quick sentence on what we do.  “Make software for companies” is not exactly what I’m looking for however.  You should at least have an idea of what industry we’re in, it’s in the first paragraph of the “About Us” page.  For bonus points, knowing a couple of the clients from our listing or having found our products being used would be a huge thing (and one that I haven’t seen yet, not once), even though it’s incredibly easy to find.

Have some questions
Nothing shows a general lack of interest or preparation worse than not having a single response when we as “Do you have any questions for us?”  Heck, you don’t even need to wait for me to ask, if I say something that catches your attention or that you want more information about, just ask.  It’s many times easier to get into a more flowing conversation when both of us are working at it.  I’d even be ok with it if in the end we discover that I was wrong about something, then we’ve both gotten something out of it.

Get excited about SOMETHING
I intentionally ask some questions intended to get you excited about work you’ve done in the past.  I don’t even care if it’s positive or negative excitement (I ask both sides of the question) the purpose for this is to see if you actually care enough about what you do it make sure I know all about it.  I typically start this with the question “What is the most interesting or exciting project that you have worked on?”  (I’ll also typically ask for the most difficult or frustrating project as a follow-up)  You’d be amazed at how many people will sit there and say “I don’t know…” don’t be this person.   If you can’t get excited about the most interesting or terrible projects you’ve ever worked on, it gives me the impression that you just don’t care that much about what you do.  I don’t want people that don’t care on my team.  Plain and simple.

Geek out, at least a little
All of the good software developers I’ve met have a geeky thread in them somewhere.  For many it’s related to software, robots, sci-fi or something else typical, but for others, it’s cooking, coffee, gardening or fishing.  I don’t care what it is, but to see that you have something that you are able to focus on so deeply that you know practically everything there is to know about it (or a strong motivation to know everything) makes me feel comfortable that we’ll have something in common.  Even if it’s not the same specific thing, but instead more of a mindset.

Don’t be a robot
Screw professionalism, have a personality, have some fun, crack a joke dammit!  Nobody’s wants to work with a lifeless trout…

Posted by Wally in Teams, 0 comments

What I’ve been up to…

If you’re at all wondering what I’ve been doing the last little while, head over to another site of mine at wallyanderin.com and read all about the Habitat for Humanity trip that my wife and I just return from in Kenya.  It was a great time and Kenya and it’s people are totally amazing.

We have a number of blog posts and pictures up already, with a few more still to come so please check it out.  I’ll be getting back to the technical stuff again soon.

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Temporary Burnout…

For two weeks recently I suffered from a significant lack of sleep. All of it completely self imposed by projects I decided to take on.

As I sat there about to go to bed at a normal time (11pm) for the first time in weeks, I took note of some of the side-effects I’ve noticed while I kept pushing.

  • it’s hard to concentrate, especially for long periods of time
  • Almost impossible to work through even medium complexity code in my head
  • It’s actually hard to go to sleep, maybe adrenaline kicking in?
  • Very little creative thinking, more like a drone
  • I suck at conversations, and I probably sound like an idiot
  • I can’t plan anything more than 20 minutes in advance
  • I experience random, dramatic outbursts of energy, and it’s a bit creepy for people around me
  • My co-ordination stinks, I keep stubbing my fingers
  • I feel achy and sore
  • It feels like my heart is beating faster (a weird thing for me) I did check it and it’s normal, just feels faster
  • Time goes by faster (perhaps explaining the heartbeat)
  • I can’t be bothered to listen to podcasts or any of the other sources of information that I usually do

Kind of like this guy:

I think this all means that I suffered a temporary burnout. It’s a very bizarre feeling, almost like I didn’t have complete control over my body and mind.

I’ve heard some people say that in order to successfully run a startup, you need to be putting in 60-80 hours a week to get things off the ground. After these two weeks, I full-heartedly have to disagree. I don’t see how that sort of schedule can lead to any sort of creative thinking, unless you’re looking for hallucinations, which depending on your goals, you just might be! I suppose in short bursts like this (ie: a week or less) for a deadline might be necessary, but working at this pace as a long term strategy just seems silly to me.

After this craziness I’ve decided to go back to a more regular schedule and already I’m starting to feel the side-effects I mentioned above fade away. I’m really looking forward to feeling more normal again

[UPDATE: Apr. 28th, 2011]: I just wanted to confirm again, I’m feeling fine.  I found this period to be a very interesting experiment.  I feel like I learned quite a bit about myself and specifically the type of person that I don’t want to be.

Posted by Wally in Programming, 0 comments