Monday, March 31, 2008

Mid-Ohio Connected Systems Developers User Group - Delbert Murphy

Man, I'm pissed to miss this. (I'll be at CINNUG Thursday watching Randy Pagels speak on ALM.)

Monish announced the inaugural MOCSDUG meeting--and they landed Delbert Murphy! I've not seen him speak but he's well known and carries a very positive reputation. Hopefully, I'll catch the live meeting. Details below.



Introducing MOCSDUG (Mid-Ohio Connected Systems Developers User Group)
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The Mid-Ohio Connected Systems Developers User Group (MOCSDUG) has formed to facilitate education and knowledge exchange around topics of Business Process and Enterprise Integration. The group will specifically focus on the Microsoft Connected Systems product stack which includes: BizTalk Server, WF, WCF and other related technologies. The MOCSDUG seeks to connect developers, architects, and IT decision makers in the Mid-Ohio region with best practices, architectural concepts, and case studies. The group will work very closely with Microsoft and its community leaders to deliver the latest information on BizTalk Server, WF, and WCF. The MOCSDUG will strive to remain agile by evolving as technology changes to meet the needs of its members.
Microsoft’s Project Oslo: Past, Present, Future By Delbert Murphy
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When: Thursday, April 3rd, 2008, 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Where: Microsoft Office - Columbus (Address Below)
Now that code from Microsoft’s project Oslo is being demonstrated to Analysts from firms like Gartner and Forrester—and those analysts are actually excited about what they see—people in the Information Technology industry are starting to wonder if Oslo really will change the landscape of how application software is designed, developed, deployed and managed. Delbert Murphy, a BizTalk Technical Specialist and SOA Insider from Microsoft Corporation, will discuss the roots and the direction of Microsoft’s project Oslo—and most importantly—how this new paradigm in the software lifecycle will affect you.
To learn more about Oslo prior to the meeting, visit: http://www.microsoft.com/soa/products/oslo.aspx.
Directions to the Meeting
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The MOCSDUG meets at the Microsoft office on the North side of Columbus, OH at Polaris Center.
Address: Polaris Center, 8800 Lyra Dr. 4th Floor, Columbus, OH 43240
Can't make it in person?
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Delbert Murphy has invited you to attend an online meeting using
Microsoft Office Live Meeting.
AUDIO INFORMATION
Conference call:
Number: 1-866-500-6738
Participant Passcode: 4968936
FIRST-TIME USERS
To save time before the meeting, check your system to make sure it is
ready to use Microsoft Office Live Meeting.
TROUBLESHOOTING
Unable to join the meeting? Follow these steps:
1. Copy this address and paste it into your web browser:
2. Copy and paste the required information:
Meeting ID: D5T4T5
Entry Code: FxB4@}9/D
If you still cannot enter the meeting, contact support:
NOTICE
Microsoft Office Live Meeting can be used to record meetings.
By participating in this meeting, you agree that your communications
may be monitored or recorded at any time during the meeting.
Contact Information
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If you have any questions about the Mid-Ohio Connected Systems Developers User Group (MOCSDUG) or the upcoming meeting, please contact Monish Nagisetty at mnagisetty@gmail.com. MOCSDUG is currently in the process of setting up its website. Please stay tuned to the mailing list for more details on the site.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Consulting Exodus Trend?

Is it just me or have a significant number of 'A' players left our consulting firms? People come and people go. Ours is certainly not an industry of "lifers". However, within the past year or so, I've witnessed several of my consulting peers -- the folks I really look up to -- leave the consulting arena for [predominately] full-time technology product firms. A smaller number have left for full-time positions at businesses while an even smaller number left to start their own business|firm|freelance|etc.

Their departure struck me as odd because these were the type of folks who [I thought] would eventually become owner / partners at their respective firms. Certainly, the firms will carry on and continue to perform well but the departure of these folks would result in nothing less than a severe case of the hiccups and quite possibly a minor cardiac event.

You know who you are. Please comment. Do we [the consulting industry] have a brain drain issue? Is this a normal cycle / paradigm?

Taking some creative freedom, I'm going to speculate on an explanation for these unexpected [at least by me] departures. Don't be turned off by the "negative" speculations. I close with a positive one--which I'm optimistic is the case.

TAPPED OUT GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES

According to one of my Microsoft buddies, they essentially "fire" their employees from their role just about every 2 years. Fire is probably too aggressive of a word but in effect, you cannot continue in your same role.

While you're groomed to transition into a new, different role; you can't just stay put getting fat and happy, never challenging yourself in your current role. It's also not just some random role--it's a role that will assist you in achieving your and the company's overarching vision. I think this makes a heck of a lot of sense.

It's easy to become complacent. Despite what we may claim, humans really don't dig lots of change. Further, we like to relish in our accomplishments.

In stark contrast, the folks I highlight above were not wallowing in their success. They were some of the strongest innovators I've seen. They creatively developed processes, business models, and methods--some of which were adopted by both the regional and national communities. They are the influencers with, at times, a quasi-national following.

So, maybe their respective firms just couldn't keep up. The firm wasn't able or in a position to keep feeding these innovators new and interesting problems, challenges, and opportunities for growth. They just tapped out all the growth opportunities their employer could present.

FISCAL CEILING / SENSE OF OWNERSHIP

These might be two separate issues but I think they're related enough that I'm loping them together. Depending upon your levels of experience, what you bring to the table in talent, your skills, your market, and your network; many of us can only make as much consulting as our client is willing to pay.

You bill out at $x, your firm takes y% off the top leaving you with something we'll call $z. $x changes very infrequently. Every firm hopes to raise $x at some point but it never happens. Clients usually have the upper hand. Just about the only time $x changes is when switching clients; and even then the market will pay only so much.

Ok, so you quickly ratchet up your salary (translation: billable rate) and you nearly break your neck smacking into the upper end of rates for your market. What do you do? You could bill more hours--if the client is amenable--but your family might not like that. You could take on some side work. But again, this is consuming extra "life" time.

Personally, I think consulting firms need to overcome this downward market rate pressure with some sort of equity opportunity--and it needs to be very publicly broadcast as a carrot. When I have a clear stake in the game; a significant "up side", I'm more apt to contribute. I'm going to give it everything I have (well, I do anyway but this would help folks to stick around). Am I enticed by promotions? They're nice [Dear Employer: not spitting in the wind here...I love my job;-)] but it doesn't contribute to the bottom line.

So, maybe these folks outgrew the market and their compensation?

WORKING FOR THE MAN / CLIENTS ARE DIFFICULT

Again, somewhat related so I'll combine...were these folks feeling as though their contributions weren't valued? Were they working for The Man? "Bill more hours! Recruit more folks! Increase your project size!" Profitability is important but if that's all management is interested in, that firm won't be around long.

I love solving problems for clients but it can be a PITA at the same time. Despite all your great experience and wonderfully insightful advice, a lot of times, clients do the exact opposite of what's best. Sometimes there are valid and justifiable reasons but a lot of the time, it's bureaucracy, politics, budgets, "enterprise standards", centralized management, or some other non-value-add and less-than-optimal reason.

This can be very, very frustrating. Added up over time, perhaps these folks just said, "The hell with it! If clients don't want my advice, then fine. I'm John Galt and I'll take my motor elsewhere...off to my utopia land! Ha!"

COMPANY CULTURE

These folks departing are quite talented. They are innovative and very creative. Perhaps this began to clash head on with a mature, lethargic, static company culture. Being ultra-creative and/or innovative can cause quite the disruption in a non-progressive or fat-and-happy firm. Maybe the culture had shifted to that of a "let's live high off the hog on the business and clients we've landed"...? Or maybe an acquisition or takeover from some other entity fundamentally changed the company landscape...?

DREAM JOB

I really hope you've made it this far. I'm sure I'll get tons of "TLDR" comments but here's my optimistic speculation--and I really hope it's true: these folks departed because they found their absolute dream job, role, and/or company. I may be a bit cynical from time to time (I can hear the, "that's an understatement!" chants...pipe down) but at heart, I'm an optimist.

TALK TO US

Maybe I'm just curious or maybe envious. Regardless, please provide your thoughts below.

  1. Do we have a significant issue with consulting firms and our most talented folks? Or is this just a natural migration / transition?
  2. If this is an issue, what should be done about it?

Feel free to post anonymously if you prefer.

Regardless, I wish these talent-studs and stud-ettes the best of luck in their careers and in their pursuit of contributing to the world and lassoing contentment.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Certified or Certifiable?

As a senior technology professional, I interview a lot of candidates. I also maintain solid relationships with other folks in the community. Frequently, the topic of certifications arises: A good investment? Valuable? A clear measurement of skill?

Consensus appears to draw the line related to one's seniority. If you're (for example) just out of school and looking for an instant creditability boost, by all means pursue a certification. Likely, this credential will assist you in overcoming the "junior" tag and likely land you more interviews and client roles. (Note: I'm going to use the terms senior and junior here...no offense to either. Can't think of a better one word description. I was a junior once too.)

In stark contrast, the value of certifications drops off the table around the 2-3 year mark. Some in my circles even perceive certifications as a negative for the senior professional. They think, "If this guy is so solid, why is he wasting valuable time pursuing certifications? He should be out presenting, involving himself with the community, writing, and leading by creative means."

For the record, I have my MCSD (since 1997) and the RUP certification. Earlier in my career, I think they served me well. However, I haven't pursued certifications for some time--and these I pursued partially from a self-serving reason and partially to contribute to "number of certified professionals quotas" for vendor partner relationships (I've worked for Microsoft Gold Partners for much of my career). Quite honestly, I just have far better uses of my time (continuous learning, presenting, building new lines of business, recruiting, writing, mentoring, etc.) than pursuing certifications.

Admittedly, I do learn some things when preparing for an exam. Going back and drilling into the nitty-gritty helps me pick up on all the things I missed while self-teaching and the get-er-done processes we all follow during rapid learning. Further, certifications whisked me in the door for many client and full-time opportunities. They didn't, however, aid me in locking up positions--that was up to me.

I think we tend to look at certifications as a clear, quantitative manner in which to publicize and communicate, "Hey, I know my stuff!" to an otherwise less-than-captivated audience bothered by a lot of noise. It's an easy answer but don't believe it. For the most part, the greatest developers or technologists I've encountered were not certified. Not only were they not certified, they weren't even computer science majors.

These folks were artists. Plain and simple. They were creative craftspeople who were genuinely passionate and engaged in their pursuit of greatness. And they didn't need a certification to highlight their talents. You know these folks too. They just ooze with technology coolness. These are the guys and ladies you see at every conference and event: organizing, presenting, evangelizing, and providing energy.

With the exception of benefit and instant creditability for less-experienced staff, why do certifications even exist? (BTW, I truly believe certifications for the 1-2 year consulting staffer are no-brainers. Go out there and make a name for yourself. Other, larger opportunities will present themselves as a result).

Certifications exist for two reasons:

  • Proliferation of vendor 'wares
  • Industry attempt at lending creditability
  • Company feel-good about hiring decisions

Vendors love it when you get certified! We're so important--we have 50,000 certified TechnoCo professionals! I guess they figure it validates their market and gives them a way to assist companies to [incorrectly] assess candidates. (Full disclosure: I've done editing work for ReviewNet (assessment firm). I don't agree with a company leveraging these assessments but I do feel positive about helping ReviewNet to at least get the questions right.)

I think there's also an attempt from the technology industry to "professionalize" our industry. Attorneys must pass the Bar, medical doctors pass boards and fulfill residencies, and CPAs pass...well the CPA. I suppose this is good but does it simply serve as an artificial barrier to entry? Again, I know fantastic doctors, attorneys, and CPA--and I also know horrid ones. They're all "certified". Label me unimpressed.

Which brings me to my final point: companies typically do a poor job of interviewing and hiring staff. For every great interviewer--there are 9 horrid ones. Companies assessing candidates using certifications seek out some homogenous automaton whom they perceive can sling out code faster (note: not with better quality) than the next, uncertified candidate. I think it also creates a CYA of sorts: "well, Rich is certified...he must be good!" C'mon. That's just lazy. How passionate are they? Can they communicate? Can they solve problems? Can they learn? Can they teach?

So my advice is this:

  • Companies: stop giving more than about 2% weight to certifications
  • Juniors: get your certs but look beyond them very quickly
  • Seniors: don't even touch 'em. Substitute: blogging, presenting, community involvement, and mentoring

Please weigh in with your thoughts below!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

VersionOne Agile Management Software

Recently, a professor at a local university contacted us to assist with an approach to managing a class assignment in an agile fashion. Typically, we leverage fairly "heavy" tools to manage agile projects: Rational Requisit Pro, TFS, etc. These students have just a few weeks to develop their solution and the professor didn't want to burn a lot of time learning a management tool.

This situation is analogous to source code control. We don't want something "heavy" like ClearQuest or Serena and we have limited budget. What do you choose? Subversion. Done.

With this in mind as well as taking cost into consideration ($0 budget), I discovered a tool that looks very promising: VersionOne Agile Management software. Disclaimer: I have yet to use this tool but it comes highly recommended.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, give it a shot and let me know how it turns out.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

TFF Ratio Badge

Just added Dan Houndshell's cool Twitter Friends-Follower (TFF) Ratio Badge to the blog (right-hand column). It produces an image via a web service call. Great work, Dan. Very cool.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Extending a TFS 2008 Trial

I'm finishing up the leg/prep work for a TFS conversion for a client. We're using the trial until the license procurement completes. When I tried to execute my migration utility (from the old SCM product) this morning, I received this friendly message:






Fantastically, Microsoft created a trial extension tool. You can download it from Brian Harry's blog.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

WiX3 To Ship With Rosario

No idea how I missed this but I'm speechless that WiX will ship with Visual Studio Team System Rosario (not yet beta...probably will release late 2008 / early 2009). Very cool!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Uninstalling ASP.Net Extensions 3.5 CTP

Now that the ASP.Net 3.5 Extensions (CTP) Preview 2 is here, I needed to clear out the original CTP. It wasn't appearing within Add/Remove Programs. I followed these instructions and this forum post. Basically, plop the CTP MSI (ASPNetExt.exe) into [Root]:\windows\installer and re-open Add/Remove Programs. It appears as "Microsoft ASP.Net 3.5 Extensions CTP".

Friday, March 14, 2008

Virtual TechEd

I'm sure it won't be quite the same as live in June but if you can't make the real TechEd (which it's looking like I won't ;-), here's an online alternative in April...Virtual TechEd.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Sign from God?


So I'm driving to work this morning and I casually glance at the license plate of the car next to me: it's the first 3 digits of my Social Security Number followed by the last 4! (the middle 2 were absent) What are the odds against this? If it's a message, I sure as hell can't figure out the meaning. The driver and car didn't exhibit any distinctive features. Strangely, it was an Illinois plate.

(Pretty sure I wasn't being filmed for some sort of Life Lock commercial...)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Hero Write-up: Now this is Customer Service!

My best friend Scott is president/C-everything of a small northeastern Ohio manufacturing concern, KirkKey Interlock. I hadn't spoken with him for a while and wanted to see how Canton fared with the Blizzard of '08 (that's what they're calling it...not me).

I say, "So what's new?" He replies that on Tuesday his primary server (which essentially runs the business) came up with lame with not one, but [a statistically improbable] *two* physical disk failures on a RAID5 hardware array. My friend attempts the fix but gives up pretty quickly after seeing some Linux nasty-grams on the boot screen.

His service provider is an old college buddy who lives down in Raleigh, Cerient Technologies led by Jason Tower. Scott couldn't email out because Exchange was on the toasted server. Being creative, Scott started Treo-emailing photos of the screen. Unfortunately, Jason couldn't receive email because a storm had knocked out a lot of local hosting. [Sigh]

After understanding the server's disks were hosed, Jason hops in his Mazda and drives the 10 hours to Canton overnight. He arrives Thursday around 6AM and without having slept the night before, works until he falls asleep Friday morning just after midnight.

Miraculously, Jason rebuilds the array. I'm no MCSE but I thought this was impossible if you lost 2/5 disks. Anyway, he fixed the array, replaced the disks, and rebuilt--*no* data loss. Wow.

About the time he finishes, the Blizzard of '08 hits. So Jason is stuck in Canton, Ohio through Saturday and is making a run for home today...but it's unlikely he'll get through the mountains of West Virginia on I-77. Further, he's under the gun because a lot of his clients will implode because of how their systems might react to daylight savings. Oui vey!

Anyway, big props to Jason for going above and beyond to service his client. He's a service provider I think we all could emulate and learn from. Safe travels, Jason.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Not ready for Entity Framework? Then What?

Will Smith and I started an offline thread based on his post "Uninstalling EF Beta 3". Granted, the ADO.Net Entity Framework is still beta and probably won't go gold until Summer, but I wondered what he would use instead. His team is solid but not advanced and he wants to keep complexity to a minimum while remaining as agile as possible. Here's my advice. Your thoughts?
You're probably wise in steering away from 3.5 stuff with an uninitiated staff. I'd probably encapsulate your data access leveraging the Enterprise Library Data Access Application Blocks. You could leverage CodeSmith and NetTiers to quickly generate the data access layer effectively shielding your less-advanced developers from the complexity (they simply call class library methods vs. code ADO.Net 2.0). Later, when you want to shift to ADO.Net Entity Framework or [less likely] LINQ to SQL, you can rip out this data access layer simply replacing it with EF or LINQ. Granted, [obviously] you'll have to adjust the consuming classes to leverage LINQ afterwards but it should be a less-invasive change.

Update: 3/4/2008: Related, I'm recommending the Repository Factory guidance pattern. From the site:
The Repository Factory is a guidance package that automates creation of entity classes that map to database tables and repository classes to read and write those entity classes. The generated code removes the tedium of writing a persistence-ignorant domain model.

This package was originally published as the "Data Access Guidance Package" as part of the Web Service Software Factory. Data access is a much larger problem space than just services, so we've decided to split this package out into its own project.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Validating Controls in .Net WinForms

Who knew WinForm apps lack the robust validation controls of ASP.Net? Not I. Regardless, there is a way to implement control validation for WinForm applications. This MSDN article explains how.

Source Control for the Little Guy

I often encounter the "We're a .Net shop. We've outgrown VSS but TFS is overkill (or too expensive). What should we do?" Most everyone jumps to the Subversion or SourceGear option. Scott Kuhl, however, presents a third option in this insightful post comparing several reasonably-priced source code control options for the smaller business.