The highlight of this year for me was definitely the birth of my son in January. But this blog is about software, and Stamen still can’t code, so let’s see now how I did professionally:
Looking forward to what 2014 has to offer!
2012-02-18T18:41:46.331+02:00I am continuing my series of annual retrospectives from 2010, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005...There just a couple of things that probably deserve a brief mention about the year 2011:I've been given recently a new role in the company I work for - to lead the development of one of our products. It's an interesting challenge. I am a bit reluctant to get overly specialized, since till now I've been contributing in a much broader scope, but on the other side there are benefits in working in a more narrow context.In the last month or so, I've been active in improving the company development process - mainly by assessing our current tools and practices and searching/evaluating others. Most likely we will soon transition to a better version control system (PlasticSCM) and a more powerful issue tracking system (Jira). We might also adopt various other tools to improve our productivity in different parts of the development process.As the previous year, I continued to participate in our developers hiring process (helping with the job ads text, and in candidates assessment). I think I am getting pretty good in guessing just by looking at a CV a developer's abilities, strengths and weaknesses, (well, the candidate's code still surprise me occasionally, usually unpleasantly ;) ).Mid-year I returned back for a couple of months to my old duties as a Support manager, but hopefully it was temporary. The next year I don't expect to be involved much in this type of work.Technology-wise, there were not that many novelties worth mentioning, besides me getting to know MS SQL Server much better. I planned and participated in supporting of MSSQL as a backend for our applications (we supported only Oracle until recently). Learned a lot from this - e.g. the differences in the default locking models of Oracle/MSSQL turned out to be interesting. Although new technologies are now introduced in our development at a slower rate, I am trying to keep up-to-date with everything interesting in the software development field. Besides the .NET related stuff, there are so many exciting trends to follow, e.g. NoSQL comes easily to mind. And of course, there's much more than the programming frameworks, libraries and tools, it's a big universe...This pretty much sums it all. Hope that the year 2012 would offer a lot of excitement and positive experiences.[...]
2011-01-02T22:01:28.770+02:00I somehow missed to write anything about 2009, but I am continuing my series from 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005. The most noteworthy change for me this year was my new role as support manager that I undertook for the last nine months of 2010. Initially the plan was just to substitute for a couple of months the person who recently got in charge of the customer support activities, but who had to go on-site to an important project. But I ended up doing this kind of a job for such an extended period of time. I was all the time trying to keep up with my work as developer as much as I can, though there were days when I couldn’t write code even for a minute. It was a very different type of work. Definitely more stressful, especially in the begining. Unlike my dev work, it required often switching between tasks, quickly prioritizing where to put effort and where not. There were times I worked overtime by answering support tickets from home (before going to work or in non-working days), but the worse part is that often my mind continued to go back to the problems at work, even when I was trying to get rid of such thoughts. The nature of this type of work was pretty demanding, as well: It required deep and broad knowledge of many aspects of our products (I guess only a developer can have both). It required knowing which of my colleagues to ask for assistance for particular customer issues (I admit I initially hated to delegate work that I though I would finish more quickly than anybody, but soon I realized that this is not always as effective as it seems). It required an ability to quickly find out what is the customer really wanting and help him get it (either by directly solving his issue or thinking of clever workaround to get the job done in another way). Often it felt very rewarding to help people solve their problems, and as an additional benefit my support work gave me a better understanding of how our products were getting used. This lead to better clarity what matters and what not, so I could concentrate on the truly important things. Being the person responsible for the support, I strived to improve the process in several ways: by customizing the help desk software that we use, by educating our staff and our customers how to use it effectively, by trying to setup proper expectations and attitudes. There were numerous challenges and even several mini-crisis during those nine months. They definitely gave me a better understanding of the bigger picture. They also shaped my vision how things should be done in order to things to go smoothly. It was a valuable experience, but I am happy that I will be handing it back to my colleague, since I think that I would be more valuable in other areas of the product development. My passion for being a developer is stiill strong, but additionally I think I’m a person whose understanding of the product, the technlogies and the customer needs, could be used for architecting proper solutions for the areas that will make a difference for the company and its customers. Besides this role of the support manager, there were other experiences that were new to me: Going on a two-week on-site project – I went to Poland for an on-site work at our client there. I am not used to such type of work, but I think it went very well. Besides answering questions and troubleshooting issues, I also coded a few simple tools that help them solved some problems. The work was diverse and interesting, and it kept me busy all day. It was pretty exhausting too, so I am grateful that my lovely fiancé (now my wife) came for the second week to make my stay in Poland much more pleasant. It really helped me get my work-leasure balance back. Interviewing candidates for a developer position – the last month I participated in several interviews (I’ve used to be only from the other s[...]
2011-01-02T19:48:20.204+02:00Continuing my post from last week, I’ll briefly explain how we maintained a change log in my company for about an year (this was back in 2009) and what were the the things we liked and disliked about it. We used a shared OneNote notebook that had a page per each internal build. After a developer had checked-in a bugfix or some new functionality, he had to describe the change in a free text format, Pasting screenshots was encouraged too, when applicable. The OneNote looked like that: We chose OneNote because of its several conveniences: Easy to setup and use. Allows concurrent editing. Easily searchable. Allows WYSIWYG rich text formatting (including pasting screenshots) Actually we didn’t use many OneNote features. It was just a visually appealing and easy-to-setup wiki. I think it was pretty useful for devs and QAs in terms of shedding more light in the product development. People could quickly got a good idea how features were evolving and be kept up-to-date with the changes in a non-obtrusive way. But there were several things that were not that great about this process: Some developers complained that it was getting too difficult to commit changes: first they had to write checkin comments, then they had to write a resolution in the issue tracking system, and finally they had to update the change log. Though the comment text could slightly differ, sometimes it seemed like a duplication. It was not that easy assemble all the changes for the official release notes from the changelog. One of the reasons was that changes were organzied by date, while it made more sense to have them finally grouped by component and sorted by importance. Also the writing style of developers differs, so it was necessary to rephrase many of the changes. Since the log has loose structure, it was not possible to query the changes, e.g. “find me the fixes by developer X made in the past 2 weeks”. So I was thinking why not capture all release notes information in the issue tracking system itself. The advantages of such approach are obvious, but the system has to meet several requirements for this to work well: Support custom fields (for a text field “DescriptionForReleaseNotes” and probably another one “ImportanceForReleaseNotes”) Support specifying in which release was the change made. Support specifying the component that changed. Support generating a custom report that for any selected release(s) outputs the non-empty changes, grouped by component and sorted by importance. I guess that most popuplar issue tracking systems would support the first three features. I have my doubts only for the report, but some systems might offer powerful enough reporting out of the box. And even if they don’t, exporting the result to Excel and doing some data manipulation there, is an option, too. Another challenge is that this approach assumes that each item in the release notes should describe only one issue in the system, which is not always the case. You might want to group several small changes in one area in a single item. Well, you can just put a value in DescriptionForReleaseNotes for only one of them, but it will be difficult to manage this, unless there is a support for linking the other related issues to the one that contains the description. So linking issues is probably another requirement for this approach to work well. So is it worth commiting to such a highly structured approach of storing release notes? I am not sure. If your issue tracking system can handle such process well, it might be relatively painless to adopt it. But if you have to use another tool just for managing release notes, it might be an overkill. What do you think? [...]
2011-01-02T19:49:17.532+02:00So you are asked to prepare a detailed list of changes in the last N months that would be the basis for creating the release notes for the brand new shiny version of your product. Unfortunately you have not been maintaining a change log throughout the product development. Naturally you can’t come up with a detailed list from the top of the head (even for the stuff you developed yourself). In order to do a decent job, several people have to invest hours (or days) to dig out stuff from various sources: the SCM system, the help desk, design documents, e-mails. Under time pressure they have to formulate the changes in a way that they make sense for the target audience. And if the deadline is tight, you might sacrifice the quality of the release notes. That’s stressful and inefficient. But before digging deeper on how to take preventive measures, let’s first take a look at what’s the purpose of release notes/change log and how to prepare them. What is the target audience of a change log/release notes? I initially planned to use the terms “change log”, “release notes” and “revision history” as synonims. But I have a subtle feeling that a change log is for internal audiences, while release notes/revision history are targetted to the end users. A change log also seems to have a connotation of an on-going effort, while release notes are often created just before the release as a one-time effort. It’s clear that not only the end users (current and prospecitve clients) are interested in what’s fixed/ehnahnced/added. A lot of people involved in the product development need such information and they surely need it on a much more regular basis. The list of the internal stakeholders includes QAs, technical writers, developers, customer support, consultants, trainers, management. Probably everyone is interested in slightly different subset (or aspect) of the changes, but to keep things simple let’s examine for now only the differences b/n internal and external change logs. Targeting external vs internal audience The purpose of an external release notes (i.e. publicly visible & easily discoverable) is not only to inform, but most importantly (from the business perspective) is to: Advertise what goodness the new release brings – how does it empower the user (or at least alleviate some of his pain) Increase the confidence in the product and the company behind it - by demonstrating that serious efforts are put in its development and that there is a significant progress on many fronts. The purpose of the internal change log is to make sure that everyone knows what is going on in the development and to take this in consideration while doing their job. It’s necessary to have additional information about the circumstances of the change (e.g. who was the developer behind the change, so he can be contacted later). The purpose here is just to inform (not to persuade), but still the description of each change should be done concisely from the perspective of the product evolution. How release notes should be written? I was looking for an answer of this question myself before deciding to write this post. I found several good answers at stackoverflow and in a blog post. But let’s first take a look at some sample release notes to have some background. I spent a few hours looking at the release notes of a dozen of products (some of which I’ve used, some I’ve just been interested in). Here are a few links of various product types: .NET control suites: Telerik , Infragistics, DevExpress, ComponentOne. VS.NET addins: ReSharper, TestDriven.Net, Typemock, Entrian Source Search SCM systems: Mercurial, PlasticSCM, Subversion, Vault If you looked at the release notes, you’ve probably noticed that they differ both in terms of [...]
The 5th edition of Devreach was again excellent - so many world-class speakers, who are passionate about development.
I visited the following sessions:
I have to say that none disappointed me – most of them were both informative and entertaining. Altough there were 5 parallel streams of lectures for each time slot (Presentation Layer, Data Layer, Business Layer, Best Practices, Architecture) the titless that grabbed my interest were usually just one or two.
I am not sure how much value the information from this conference would bring to my work, but at least it is refreshing to hear (or get remineded) about various practices, approaches, technologies and fantasize how they might help you in you everyday job.
2008-12-25T16:06:44.244+02:00Another quite year of blogging, though the last quarter this blog was somewhat resurrected.
So I mentioned I am working on a ANTLR grammar (though not for long). And the experience with it was not always smooth.
So I wrote an desktop application that monitors the ANTLR grammar file and on each change, it compiles it and does some post-processing to fix the C# code using a simple regex.
· Specify settings in .config file (grammar file, working folder, antllr install dir)
· View compilation output - complete output, and only errors
· View history of compilation attempts and results
· View notifications as balloon tips (displayed only on significant changes – broken grammar and fixed grammar)
· Automatically save the last successful build in a subfolder of the working folder
Was it worth it?
Yes, automating error-prone operations is always a good idea. We had problems with merging a few times and this continuous compilation enabled us to quickly find the problematic rules. The tool took me initially 3 hours to develop and additional 50% to maintain and bug fix.
How could we extend it?
Generating the C# files from the grammar is not enough. Its output should be included in the project. Then compile successfully. Then pass some unit tests. We have not reached this stage yet.
Points of interest
There is a good discussion here about how to change the .g file, save, hit F5 in Visual Studio and have it use the most recent version of the generated files. Apparently you need a custom tool to do so. A custom tool as a managed assembly that contains a class that implements the IvsSingleFileGenerator interface. Here is a link to an article how to create such a custom tool.
P.S. If you are interested in the code, let me know. I would have uploaded it on CodePlex, but currently it has a dependency to a third-party grid, so I should better use a normal grid, instead.
This is fun... I am working now on a task related to ANTLR and its grammar files. Since the grammar file got big and a bit messy, I wrote a small utility to parse the grammar file (.g file) and to sort the parser rules by name. So there it is: a parser of the parser... my meta parser
NOTE: Well, it was not a full-blown parser, but having the parser rules more strictly structured, made it easy enough to implement.
Sometimes comparing source code is not a viable option, and one has to resort to comparing assemblies (hopefully not obfuscated) to find out what is new, what has changed and what is removed. This kind of activity can be useful in many ways:
But how could you do it:
NDepend - I have only watched their video and it is impressive. Unfortunately the trial version does not support build comparison, so you should buy the product to try it for yourself. It is a pretty feature rich product that you can use for a variety of reasons.
Bitdiffer - This sole purpose of this tool is comparing assemblies. It lacks some of the NDepend visualizations goodness, but is nevertheless an excellent tool. You might use its GUI application as well as its command line version to automate your work.
Poor Man's Tools
Reflector Diff AddIn - We all love Reflector and this is one of its useful addins. You can either view the differences or you can have a XML report.
2008-10-23T14:31:39.799+03:00The problem: You have a large solution (mine is with 154 projects) and you want to quick find if you use file references and to what assemblies are they). The solution: see the files below. Add the following module and class and execute ShowAllFileReferencesGroupedByProject() Module: Imports System Imports EnvDTE Imports EnvDTE80 Imports System.Collections.Generic Imports System.Diagnostics Imports System.Text Imports System.Windows.Forms Public Module VsProjectsManagement Public Sub ShowAllFileReferencesGroupedByProject() Dim sb As New StringBuilder() Dim finder As New FileReferencesFinder() Dim fileReferences As Dictionary(Of VSLangProj.VSProject, List(Of String)) = finder.GetAllFileReferencesInSolution(True) Dim sortedProject As New List(Of VSLangProj.VSProject)(fileReferences.Keys) sortedProject.Sort(AddressOf FileReferencesFinder.CompareProjectsByName) For Each proj As VSLangProj.VSProject In fileReferences.Keys sb.Append(proj.Project.Name).Append(" : ").AppendLine() For Each reference As String In fileReferences.Item(proj) sb.AppendLine(reference) Next sb.AppendLine() Next Debug.Write(sb.ToString) MessageBox.Show(sb.ToString, "File references") End Sub Class FileReferencesFinder: Imports System Imports EnvDTE Imports EnvDTE80 Imports System.Collections.Generic Imports System.Diagnostics Imports System.Text Imports System.Windows.Forms Public Class FileReferencesFinder Private Function GetAllSolutionVsProjects() Dim vsProjects As New List(Of VSLangProj.VSProject) For Each proj As Project In DTE.Solution.Projects If TypeOf proj.Object Is VSLangProj.VSProject Then vsProjects.Add(proj.Object) End If Next Return vsProjects End Function Public Shared Function CompareProjectsByName(ByVal prj1 As VSLangProj.VSProject, ByVal prj2 As VSLangProj.VSProject) As Integer Dim name1 As String = prj1.Project.Name Dim name2 As String = prj2.Project.Name Return String.Compare(name1, name2) End Function Public Function GetAllFileReferencesInSolut[...]
A week after the event, I am writing a short review of some of the presentations on DevReach conference
NOTE: I am pleased that for the first time I saw presenters who used ReSharper in their demos Steven Smith and Hadi Hariri. Both of them used a dark scheme for VS.NET. Unfortunately people complained and they had to switch to the default colors.
2008-03-12T14:54:13.369+02:00I was very surprised to see an XmlException (hexadecimal value... is invalid character) when using a XmlReader on a XML file that was generated using a XmlTextWriter. It turned out that the method WriteString(String) does not check for some special characters and an invalid XML document might get generated. See details here.
2007 seems a rather quiet year in my career (at least blogging-wise). But it was quiet in a good way :)
It has been 1.5 years since I started working on Validata product and it continues to be mentally stimulating and fun. The diverse technologies in the project and the interesting problems keep me excited about my job. My company has joined a few projects in the Balkans, so the week before Christmas, I had my first business trip, ever. I went for Romania and next week I am going again.
I also have started a pet project that requires learning new stuff like ActiveRecord, Monorail, MySql, JQuery and other good stuff. I really hope to kick it off to a good start, while I am still on vacation. The more challenging thing is to make it a habit to have progress each day, no matter how little it is. I was somewhat unpleasantly surprised when I realized that it has been almost 3 months of inactivity from my last refining of the project idea. But now the project has stable foundations, there are no pending major technology decisions, so the work might just flow...
I have been keeping up with the new .NET stuff mostly from reading my daily doze of weblogs. I also attended a great seminar in Sofia in October, so the saw is still being sharpened :)
I have continued to refine my toolbox and programming techniques. I find that it's worth the temporary discomfort in learning how to use a new tool or technique.
I have a good feeling about the new year. And I will try to make this a self-fulfilling prophecy :)Have a great new year!
2007-10-02T23:47:36.111+03:00Just a few quick notes about the session I visited in the Day 2 of DevReach.Why Partial Rendering Is Not AJAXby Dino Esposito, Level 300Another excellent talk by Dino. I finally cleared some misconceptions in my head about AJAX, partial rendering, update panels and all this stuff. This was a practical talk that will help me a lot when I do AJAX again (the first attempt was a bit unsuccessful, but you know AJAX is not for the faint-hearted).Silverlight, Flash on Steroidsby Lino Tadros, Level 200An excellent talk, by an honest and humorous speaker. Lino's SL demo app was simple and well chosen. But Silverlight is still nor ready for prime time, since the tools are lacking and there are some basic controls missing etc.. (well, when 1.1 is ready, I might take a look at it again).Being Smart About Database Designby Vladi Tchalkov, Level 300Very interesting talk about database design considerations: normalization, domain tables, keys, temporal tables, optimizations. One of the concepts I found very useful was one idea of how to implement temporal tables with a single table for the whole DB. One repeating thread in the talk was "know the rules so that you know how to break them properly".RSS, Podcasting, and Syndicationby Carl Franklin, Level 200A nice talk by the .NET Rocks host Carl Franklin. I learned about the Argotic .NET library. And Carl was very proud that his .NET rocks feed was valid, while the NY times was not (see FeedValidator) :)LINQ - Deep Diveby Branimir Giurov, Level 400Branimir covered in detail all types of LINQ (for objects, datasets, SQL, Entities, XML). He showed the cool debugging support. Good stuff, looking forward to using LINQ.A Busy Developer's Guide to Building Windows PowerShell Cmdletsby Hristo Deshev, Level 200My friend Hristo gave a very interesting talk about PowerShell Cmdlets (he is also writing a book on PowerShell, so he knows his stuff). Those Cmdlets are very fast to build and really powerful. I would like to play with them in case I have to do BAT commands or something more complex.[...]
2007-10-02T23:13:30.344+03:00I missed the first DevReach in 2006, but this year I made it to the conference. All of the speakers on Day 1 were really good and they captivated me till the end of each of the sessions. Here is a quick recap of the talks, that I visited.
2007-09-23T23:43:57.296+03:00This is maddening! After working with .NET for more than 3 years, I just realized that I should be using HH (and not hh) to show 0-24 hours in a formatted DateTime. It is weird how I held this misconception for such a long time. If my workdays were from 00:00 to 12:00, then this could be justified, but that's definitely not the case...
2007-06-29T15:32:56.492+03:00Tony Robbins asked his audience in a TED talk if they like surprises. He received a resounding "YEAH", but he continued with the comment: "BULL****, people like only the surprises they expect". Let me tell you about two developer's surprises from yesterday (I guess, I didn't like those much):
2007-07-06T15:39:26.011+03:00After improving my general typing speed, getting more comfortable with the keybaord and obtaining a MS Natural Ergo 4000 keyboard, the next step to increase my productivity at work is to do more in VS.NET without using the mouse device.