What do you do?

I don't often met new people and thus question of what I do does not pop up this frequently. But it has been hard to describe what I do to people who are not in the software development community since the first day I started my first job. Normally I just say I am a software developer and that tends to put most people off since they don't understand software at all. To them software is a black box, it is magic, it is voodoo. But every now and then there will be someone who does a bit of Visual Basic Scripting in the office and thinks s/he knows software development. This person would then try to probe deeper about what I actually do. In that situation, I'd have no mercy and just tell the person exactly what I do. 99.99% of the time, eyes would glazed over within 10 seconds and conversation would die as soon as I finish my sentence.

Recently my father-in-law asked me about my current project (via my wife). Note that he is a software project manager so I did not filter/dumb down my response. My reply is below and if you understand what I am talking about, give me a shout; ThoughtWorks is looking for someone like you!

We are developing the build & deploy system for the whole enterprise. That is, a system that allows in-house developers to build their applications and deploy the applications to the machines. Sounds simple but we are also implementing Continuous Integration concept using build servers, trigger off source control checkins. (The main reason ThoughtWorks was brought in as we are known in the industry as build expert, re: CruiseControl)

We are also solving their source and binary dependency problem so applications would be self-contained when they are built, tested, and packaged by the build server. The deployment/install process would allow environment specific properties to be substitute during deploy time so packages can be deployed to multiple environments without going through the build process again. (Build once, deploy everywhere)

Deployment process also includes workflow steps to manage code review/gatekeeper approvals, security audits, and code signing.

All of these are built with extensibility in mind so future technology, such as Ruby, IronPython, can be introduced into the organization via plugins with minimum alteration to the system.

In addition, we are also advising the client on code branching and merging strategy, best development and unit testing practices, dependency management, database upgrades (model and data) using delta scripts, etc.

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Ruby is Canadian?

One great thing about working with ThoughtWorks is the diverse opinions on software development subjects. Especially since most TWers are way clever than me, it means I learn a lot just from being a spectator on the sideline while they fight it all out on mailing list!

Recently there is a long discussion about statically/strongly type languages vs. dynamically typed languages, kicked off by Jay Fields. A couple of weeks and 72 emails later, John (QB) Kordyback came up with one of the best and funniest description of Ruby

I also understand people's frustration with Ruby since you often feel like you're in Quebec and have to point at the menus to order food. At best the locals humor you, at worst they hate you and want to seperate into their own country. 

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Bragging rights

This last Saturday many ThoughtWorkers and I went to the ThoughtWorks Away day here in the UK. This is mainly so we can meet each other because not all of us work in the UK office. Throughout the day many talks were given by other ThoughtWorkers, relating lessons they learnt from projects. Here are the sessions I went to:

  • What kind of thing is it? Applying Domain Driven Design – Very interesting session. A different take on DDD from my current project. Some even diametric ideas such as no mock testing on EVA (entity, value objects, aggregates), which makes us think.
  • When do we have enough tests? – Another interesting one. Does test coverage actually provides business value, or are we chasing coverage for metric sake? Is this a question of quantity vs. quality? Are we compromising design for testability?
  • CI and Theory of Constraint – Probably the most pertinent session of the day. Great lessons on how Continuous Integration may actually make the project goes slower if it is the main bottleneck, and how to spot and remove them. Lots of audience participation and couple of us from my project took valuable lessons from it.
  • New features of C# 3.0 – Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Nothing I didn't know already. Mainly a session to try to get Ruby people to see C# is not as bad as they think 🙂
  • A Thought Experiment, projects without project managers – Promised to be controversial but turned out to be pretty boring. Might have something to do with the fact there were three PM in the room…
  • ???? – A top-secret product demo that I can't talk about. I've already seen some of it when I was in Bangalore so it wasn't as exciting as I thought. Should have gone to the meta-programming with Ruby session instead.

It won't be a TW event without our esteem leader and troublemaker, Roy, to give us a speech. Many achievement were mentioned. Plenty under NDA but here is one that we can brag about publicly:

  • Oracle Mix (http://mix.oracle.com) – Launched this week at Oracle World. Built by TW in 5 weeks with 4 TWers and 2 Oracle people using JRuby running on Oracle stack. "Impressive!" as Yoda said! And if you scroll to the bottom and look to the right, you will see something that normally doesn't appear from our work with clients.

And we play as hard as we work so in the chilling out room, some of us play Jenga Tower.

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