Monthly Archives: July 2005

Ambrose is looking for a SDET

Ambrose is one of those smart people that I have a lot of time for and I religiously () read his posts. When I started reading this post I thought that it was going to be a general rant about software quality but it eventually turned into an advertisement for a position for what I call a SDET. Actually – I stole the term SDET from Microsoft where it means Software Development Engineer in Test.

I thought it was worth pointing out because quite a few organisations that hire people like Ambrose are starting to see the value in hiring someone who has an almost dedicated focus on software quality. While hiring the kind of people that Joel Spolsky talks about here will get you a quality product having someone focused on testing rather than delivery will add that final bit of polish. Someone in an SDET role needs to be in that role long enough to establish a quality mindset and the cunning to not just observe bugs that jump up and smack you in the face but to actually hunt them down and exterminate them.

A mediocore functional tester can tell you what they were trying to do when the program crashed, a good SDET will tell you what went wrong even when the program didn’t crash, what database operations the program performed leading up to the crash and what the state of the stack and the heap were before it went down – in many cases they could probably tell you what line of code you need to change as well.

Michael Hunter (the Braidy Tester) has a great series of posts on the differences and similarities between good developers and testers:

The Blog API Conversation

Darren has started a conversation around the need for a blogging application programming interface. Darren is a fellow Readifian and the guy behind SUB (or SingleUserBlog). In to the conversation he has even managed to rope in Chris Frazier who is behind the awesome tool PostXING which supports many of the weblog publishing platforms out there.

I think that as soon as you start talking about blogging APIs you differentiate content subscription and distribution and content creation and modification. By far the most popular way of distributing blog content is via RSS feeds and the mechanisms simplicity has made it the run away success that it is today.

The content creation and modification mechanism that underpins these feeds however is completely fragmented and there are many priorietary approaches to solving the problem. One of the reasons for this fragmentation is that the driving force behind blogging software has been the technical community and as they encountered problems with what they were using they just coded around the problem not thinking too much about what the overall affect would be – this is a normal, healthy stage of any technology development.

Now with Longhorn –er– Windows Vista just around the corner and RSS content aggregation being baked into the underlying platform I think its time to start looking at the other side of the fence. The problem will be that everyone thinks they know the best way to do it. Some will opt for some kind of HTTP POST driven system whereas others will take the pure SOAP messaging approach – it cuts so close to the bone for some messaging wonks that they won’t even be able to help themselves and get involved in the debate.

What is the right approach? I really don’t know – but as a blogging software user I would really like to be able to just pick up my content and move it from one blog to another – drag and drop style. What that means is that there will probably need to be some kind of standard “post-transport-format”, which encodes all information such as the post itself – images and attachments.

Maybe Darren should work on a better API – and I’ll work on portability of content


Mort did it.

I was just reading Bill’s blog when I came across this entry. So – whats this Elvis crap that Bill is talking about? Well there are three well known (there are more, but these are the well understood ones) user profiles that the Microsoft developer division uses to describe software engineers – Mort, Elvis and Einstien.

Mort is a productivity or business focused kinda guy – he just wants to get the application out there and doing its job. He’s not going to write too much code himself and where possible he will rely on the tool to generate code. From a business perspective the application probably satisfies requirements (except for a few cross cutting concerns like security and logging etc). From a technical perspective there might be a few rough edges and maybe even a few mistakes that would make an Elvis or Einstien’s skin crawl.

Elvis is more of your professional software developer type – and when I say professional I’m not talking about income (since Mort may well get paid more). I’m talking about the application of professional development practices such as user interface prototyping, repeatable build processes, and use of software quality tools. The Elvis’ in the world tend to address the cross cutting concerns fairly well and holes can typically be referred to as bugs rather than “features by design”.

Thats not to say that Mort is any worse than Elvis, he’s just different. I’ve recently seen a Mort-style application that works really well but has gaping security holes like sweet spots on the screen that allow you unfettered access to the underlying database tables.

Truth be told, I don’t think that there are too many Elvis’ out there. I think the software development world is made up mostly of Morts only the settings change between independent Morts and enterprise Morts – its the enterprise Morts who like to pretend that they are Elvis’, personally I just wish they would embrace their inner Mortness.

Who is this Einstien guy then? You want to have a couple of Einstiens in reserve to solve those really hard problems that don’t have an obvious solution and require a bit of investigative research. To give you an example – an Einstien can be given a problem that most people don’t think is solvable and they will find some kind of a solution.

I think that there are probably more true Einstiens than true Elvis types around, especially in academic circles, but I think a true asset is some kind of cross breed between an Elvis and an Einstien where they can do the investigation and then make it a viable solution for use by the Morts – that is not to say that Morts are dumb, its not the case, they just know how valuable their time is.

What has all this got to do with Bill’s post? Well, notice how I managed to describe these three characters without bashing a language? Thats because these user profiles are actually language agnostic – all three would be completely at home in either VB.NET or C#.

I suspect that Bill was just baiting the blogosphere a bit here because he knows as well as I do that C# is no more or less resistant to SQL injection attacks than VB.NET is, in either its 1.x or 2.0 incarnation. The code surely was crappy – but it could have been just as easily done in VB.NET.

P.S. Bill – get in contact with BizTalkBill, he just bought a pretty slick Tablet PC, he might have some good tips for you.

I’ve tasted ubiquitous connectivity, I can never go back.

While I have been staying here in Queensland I’ve been staying here at my parents compound (thats really the only way to describe it – the place is huge!). While the house itself is beautiful it lacks one critical infrastructure component that any self respecting geek requires – a broadband connection.

During the day I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to head into my fathers shop and pull down my e-mail and feeds on an ADSL link. The problem at the compound is that its a fair way out of Caboolture and there isn’t sufficient population to really justify Telstra upgrading the exchange to support ADSL – so I’ve been using the trusty dial-up link.

Its a pretty painful experience and I am reminded once again of just how important broadband connections are to people in our field. If I was to draw an analogy its like sitting on a chair in the middle of the room with all the lights out.

One of the things that constantly amuses (or mystifies) me is the fact that in many organisations (both government and private) Internet access is restricted or in some cases not available.

When this happens to software developers they take a major productivity hit. While the MSDN Library contains the most complete API reference its not that good for finding out the reasons why things don’t work the way you expected. This is where searching newsgroups, blogs and the web generally come in.

This means that developers need to solve every single problem by themselves without leveraging the help of other developers around the world, its a dark room problem and if any organisation things this is a good way to operate then they will need to pay the heavy price.

Farewell Grandma

I haven’t blogged for almost a week. Sure, I’ve sent a few e-mails to mailing lists and responded to things that couldn’t wait but I haven’t really indulged my main writing passion which is this blog. The reason is that I felt I couldn’t post another thing until I acknowledged the passing of my Grandmother.

Last Friday night I received a phone call from my father telling me that my grandmother (his mother) had passed away and that they were going into see her at the home. The next morning I called home to see what arrangements were being made for the funeral so I could figure out if I could attend or not.

Initially I didn’t think I would be able to make it by my beautiful wife Nicola convinced me that I should just put everything aside and head back up to Queensland where most of my family lives – she then proceeded to book flights and pack my bag (thank-you Nic, you have been wonderful).

Grandma often looked her grandchildren when our parents had to go off and do something. I remember my little brother and I misbehaving badly from time to time and then hiding under the bed while Grandma used to try and find us (and tell us off for whatever we did wrong).

I also remember sitting on the floor of her house at Brackenridge pulling out miscellaneous items from her cupboards and playing with them. She had a yellow glass ashtray that I used to turn upside down and pretend was a flying saucer (even then I was a geek).

The funeral service was held on Wednesday (yesterday morning) and I felt it did a good job of paying respect to an amazing person. My Auntie Sherida put together a history about my Grandmother – I’ve posted it here because I think its appropriate.

Ethel Atkinson Denny

Ethel was born Ethel Kathleen Atkinson on the 23rd of July 1915. Her brother Willy was by then, in the trenches somewhere in Europe and never saw this youngest daughter born to their parents William and Mary Atkinson at Gayndah. Ethel was the youngest daughter, and second youngest child, of a family of elevent children comprised of five girls and six boys. The girls were: Lil, Violet, Phyllis, Ivy and, of course Ethel who we are farewelling today. The boys were Willy, Joe, Jack, Arthur, Harold and Bert, the youngest child and Ethel’s only surviving sibling who still lives on his cane farm property at Bundabert (and who is not with us today). Ethel’s parents also raised Lils’s three children, Snow, Jessie and Jean. Ethel was particularly close to Jean, who was her bridesmaid before marrying an American soldier and going to live in America where she died some years ago.

Ethel’s childhood was, by all accounts, a happy one. Although the family was poor, her parents enjoyed a happy relationship and, like most families of those times, they made do. The house Ethel was born into was small for such a large family and consisted possibly of only three rooms, including a kitchen with a dirt floor and a closed-in verandah where the girls slept, with beds lined up in boarding school dormitory fashion. Each girl had a peg at the top of their bed where they hung their clothes. There were not many changes of clothing and the children mostly went barefoot. The boys slept in the shed and the evening meal was often cooked over a campfire. There were lots of household chores for Ethel to help with – fetching water from the river, churning butter, baking bread and collecting eggs (which her moether sold to neighbours). Winters were cold and winter clothing limited.

Ethel’s father was a horseman and so too was Ethel’s brother, Joe, who had achieved considerable fame as a world champion buck jump rider who travelled the eastern seaboard with a renowned rodeo show. Ethel herself learnt to ride very early in life, probably around four years of age, and this was the only means of getting to school. She was educated at the Gayndah Convent for her primary education and Granite Hill state school at Mount Debatable for her junior secondary education. From there she won a scholarship to Brisbane State High which she attended in 1931 and 1932.

Ethel chose nursing as her profession. she did not have to develop a caring attitude and a compassionate nature for these qualities were second nature to her. Ethel completed her general nursing training at Nambour Hospital where all of her children were later born and then her midwifery course at Maryborough Hospital. In 1940 she was offered the position of Matron at Lady Musgrave Hospital, Maryborough, subsequently taking up the same role at Adevale Public Hospital in 1941 and Quilpie Hospital in 1942. Following marriage and children, she joined the staff at Selangor Private Hospital in Nambour in 1960, before working at the Maroochydore Medical Clinic from 1960 until 1966. From 1967 to 1968 she worked in the Brain Surgery Unit at Royal Brisbane Hospital before taking up her final nursing position as Matron of the Gayndah Hospital in 1969.

Ethel married Ernie Denny on the 28th of November 1942 at the Mt Carmel Church, Coorparoo, with Ernie, having enlisted, wearing his army uniform and Ethel having to scrimpt, save and scrounge coupons to buy her wedding dress and put on a wedding spread for their guests. Ethel and Ernie gew up as neighbours at Gayndah, with her mother helping to deliver many of Ernie’s siblings, for his family had even more children than her own.

When Ernie went to serve in the South Pacific, Ethel was matron at Quilpie Hospital, subsequently moving to Buderim when their first child, Kathleen, was born in 1943. Ernie had to wait until the war ended to see his firstborn. Ethel’s move to Buderim was fortuitous, it seems, for they subsequently bought land and built a house there that still stands, and is occupied, today. Ernie worked the rich soil of Buderim, growing strawberries, bananas and vegetables and grew free range chickens. By the time Sherida was born in 1947 and Narelle in 1949, Ethel had found and purchased a home at Maroochydore because Buderim, hard as it is to believe today, was too isolated and public transport non-existent. Following the move to Maroochydore, Patrick was born in January 1951 and following his untimely death, Lyle was born almost two years later in December 1952. Ernie travelled from Maroochydore to Buderim to work the farm and Ethel, showing an entrepreneurial streak, established a fruit and vegetable stall underneath the house at Maroochydore. A loyal customer base soon developed for the fruit and vegetables where fresh and of the highest quality.

When the children had left home, Ethel sold the Maroochydore house (the farm at Buderim having already been sold) and eventually Ethel and Ernie bought a house at Brackenridge where Ethel continued to live following Ernie’s death. Ethel loved her home at Brackenridge where she spent approximately 30 years. On the 9th of February 2002 Ethel moved into Abbey Gardens wheree she spent the last three and a half years of her life. She adjusted well, showing great fortitude, courage and grace.

Windows codenamed Longhorn == Windows Vista

I was starting to wonder when Microsoft would announce the official branding for the next version of Windows. So now we know – its WindowsVista! By the looks of it all the softies are just finding out too – I’m pretty sure that video was taken from the MGB conference that is going on at the moment.

Like Frank I can’t wait to get access to ever more stable bits – its been a long time between drinks!

Infrastructure recommendations for VSTS.

Bill Chesnut e-mailed me today with a link to this note from the internal Microsoft IT group about the infrastructure recommendations for VSTS. They actually look pretty reasonable considering the kind of assets that are going to be stored within the system.

I thought the explosive growth in usage after the Dec CTP release date was telling of when this system really became dog foodable internally.