Enthusiasm – Who needs talent…

Just read a fantastic post by Jeff Atwood about Talent versus Enthusiasm, and it certainly made me look over both recent events and past with a grin on my face.

I’ve worked with some incredibly talented people in my time who, for whatever reason, seem to have lost their spark.  I’ve also worked with some fairly mediocre programmers who are so incredibly willing to learn, to advance, and to know as much as they can.  I’d like to think that enthusiasm assists talent which in turn assists enthusiasm, and the whole thing becomes very self referential – unfortunately not everyone has that enthusiasm, or for some reason it’s hiding behind the sofa.

I’ve recently been tasked with finding a senior developer/team lead for an organisation, and I’ve been overwhelmed at the quality (or lack thereof) of CVs that have come through – spelling and grammatical errors, no sense of enthusiasm in the covering letters, and a clear indication that some of them hadn’t read the detail in the advert at all.  Hopefully some of these people are indeed talented, because their enthusiasm hasn’t overwhelmed me.

I’m happy to sit on the enthusiastically talented fence, I suggest you try it – the perks are fantastic 🙂

Interesting times and justifying ones existence :)

Well, wasn’t yesterday an interesting day!  Had a conversation with a friend about what it is I actually do.  They didn’t feel that I was selling myself effectively enough via this blog, though thankfully this blog was never about that – it (I hope) shows that I’m keen to learn, keen to do more, and never content with knowing ‘enough’.  They asked in particular for me to clarify what work I had done whilst working on suite-e, and looking back over our work schedules, project documents, and just generally over the functionality in there, it turned out to be quite a list:

  • User Controls / Custom Server Controls
  • Using .net forms and role-based security with the membership and role providers
  • Use of Enterprise Library application blocks for Data Access, Exception Management and Logging
  • Extention methods
  • Significant Ajax use (both ASP.NET Ajax and Telerik Ajax wrappers)
  • Linq (minor)
  • Facade design pattern (5 tier solution, UI -> Business Facade -> Business -> Dal Facade -> Dal)
  • Significant use of inheritance throughout the data and UI layers
  • Interface use (minor, where necessary)
  • Custom/3rd Party Controls (Telerik)
  • Hand rolled URL routing for friendly URLs (sitting atop urlrewriting.net)
  • Use of Themes, Masterpages, including browsercaps useage to allow CSS targetting more effectively for cross browser
  • jQuery use (my input minor)
  • CSS
  • Xhtml
  • > 80 table relational data model, significantly more stored procs, cursors, temp tables
  • Web services to authenticate licensing of the product
  • Windows services to manage email send from the CRM module
  • Significant and ongoing refactoring, including fxcop use when readying the solution for microsoft testing
  • Upgrade from .net 1.1 through 2.0, and then incorporating 3.5 elements when applicable

Suite-e as a product has obviously had more than one developer work on it, though it felt good whilst writing this up to realise how far I’d come and what technologies I’d learned and put into practice during the implementation.  I essentially architected the vast majority of the product, both code and SQL schema from its early days through to the modular CMS, Product Catalogue, E-commerce, CRM and Events management solution that it is today, with over 170 files and 51k lines of code across 6 projects, over 80 tables, significantly more stored procedures… the list goes on 🙂

It’s incredibly understandable that a blog would give people a perception of who you are, indeed it’s a very personal blog, so it certainly should, though I hope this blog also gives folks a perception of the sort of developer I am, that will keep ploughing on and learning as much as I am able, because that is what is ‘fun’ to me.

NerdDinner, and initial thoughts on MVC

Although I’ve not yet finished it, I thought I’d start my wee reflection on MVC as learned through NerdDinner.

Obviously, the immediate thing that hits you is that you aint in Kansas any more – ignore the asp.net postback model, it’s all change and there is going to be some significant re-learn before I get anywhere near good I think.

I do love the separation of concerns, the theory behind it is sound from a maintenance and extensibility point of view.  Keeping my model tucked away nicely, and using it to provide the meat that the controller feeds of, which then in turn drives the View I think makes perfect sense.  I need to work far more heavily on the URL Routing before starting to design anything bigger just to see how a richer navigation hierarchy will sit.

I love the way postbacks are handled (at least in the NerdDinner app) and AcceptVerbs() just makes sense to me.  I can see I’m going to have to read up a bit more on programming against an interface, as I haven’t covered so much of this.  I wasn’t a big fan of the Respository pattern, I’d have perhaps gone down the facade route, or (when and if I understand it) perhaps IoC will help with this, though obviously this was just one example.

It’s my first successful play with Linq to SQL, and I’m liking the abstraction and the codified approach to it, though I’ll have to run some heavier tests through SQL Profiler to see how it works in terms of performance.

I’m going to have to look through the source code to find out just how all of the helper methods work rather than just use them – chucking Html.ActionLink() on the page is all well and good, but I want to know what it actually does in the code (easily enough done now that MVC source code is available)

I’m only just getting now to the integration/work with Ajax, which I think will be interesting – I shall keep the blog updated with stuff as I cover it.

The weight lifts, back to the fun stuff…

Well, the launch of the bulk of the client sites we were working on throughout May/June has left me with a weeks holiday – yay!  I’m more determined than ever to spend it learning – busman’s holiday I guess, though I’d feel like I’d wasted the week if I sat playing on the consoles or just bumming around – I’m sure catching up on sleep will help too.

I’m really enjoying the learning that I can get from just an hour of reading through stackoverflow or those peoples tweets that I follow, key over the next week is focussing this and getting some more technical contacts to learn from – there are some cracking recent ones including @spolsky, @elijahmanor, and @scottgu – and just getting time to read all about it will be bliss.

I finally asked my first question on stackoverflow the other week and thankfully it was well received.  Polymorphism in c# has always for me been a timtowdi concept, and although I’ve not had significant need for it in the past, I’ve always liked the flexibility interfaces give in implementation.  Thankfully the answers seemed to back that up, and give some good concrete examples.  So nice to know there is a community around like this that will happily offer support/views, and ultimately can lead to a ‘best practice’ guide on issues.  Of course, we’ll ignore the ‘answering without reading the question’, and all the other minor issues SO has – on the whole, a cracking resource.

So, fingers crossed this will again be the start of regular posting – this next week is working through the MCTS training kit and just learning more, doing more – key areas I have to focus on really are build management (NANT), WPF (for MCTS and curiosity more than anything), Design Patterns (I’ve only really used the Facade in anger, but there is so much discussion at present about IoC and Dependency Injection that I have to have a read).

I want to be playing with Linq (the elements I’ve played with so far highlight how seriously powerful it is if used carefully) and other more ‘hands on’ elements, though I think getting that grounding right is first and foremost.

More to follow during this weeks ‘holiday’ 🙂

NamingContainer, where have you been all my life!

Well, it’s been where it’s always been – in the .net framework, all the way back to version 1.0 apparently!  I’m sure I must have written some awful code in the past to get around the fact that I didn’t know about this, and I really must spend more time getting down to the details of the framework for reasons of framework nuggets like this.

Imagine you have a ListView and want to allow updates on each item, with perhaps a text field etc. in there, and you click a button inside that ListViewDataItem.  NamingContainer for the button will return that ListViewDataItem so that you can find just within that container… ace!

protected void btnWishList_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)
    Button _button = ((Button)sender);
    RadTextBox tb = (RadTextBox)_button.NamingContainer.FindControl("txtNotes");
    // do other processing

the above is formatting awfully at the moment, looking for a nice wordpress syntax plugin.

A wee step backward…

Well, maybe not.  I’ve been reviewing over the weekend my approaches to learning, and after reading considerably, I think Entity Framework isn’t the right path for me at the moment.  So many are reporting issues with it, and the Julie Lerman book highlights a number of hoops you need to jump through on complex datasets that simply shouldn’t be there.

So it’s back to basics.  Linq, and then by definition Linq to Datasets, Linq to SQL (and eventually when it matures, Linq to Entities) is the path I’ve chosen.  Linq to Datasets may well be considered legacy code, though suite-e uses them in a few places to retrieve large sets of data (converting stored proc –> objects for 45,000 rows proved too time costly), and I think it’ll be handy to start at this grass roots level.

I’m convinced by ORMs, and ideally would like to proceed with Entity Framework, but at least the above will give me a solid grounding that I can then proceed through to something like EF with limited pain.  VS2010/C#4.0 apparently will have some updates, so I’ll keep monitoring.

On a separate note, I’m getting so heavily addicted to stackoverflow – I post where I can, but as a resource for learning it’s fantastic.  You still have a number of weaknesses (people not answering the question, but posting fast to try to get points, downvotes for stupid reasons, etc.) but on the whole, it’s a cracking resource.

This month will see me probably post very little, we have 4 large client sites up for launch and 2 minor client updates, so I suspect the hours will be long and arduous, but we soldier on 🙂

Not a wasted weekend – Telerik & Machine Setup

Well, it’s been a productive weekend, though not on the MCTS front unfortunately.  Our core software package at work, suite-e, has for a while now had an out of date editor – it was a doddle to upgrade all of the other components we use from Telerik, but we’ve always avoided the upgrade of the editor as we use so many custom dialogs that were so reliant on the old scripts from the editor that we were using (the DLL is roughly 18months old).

This weekend has seen me perform that upgrade – it’s been something that has bugged me a for a while now as it’s the last legacy component we have in there really, and it forms such a major part of the system (content management being what the whole thing is about!)

I’ve finally gotten my dev environment how I want it now at home too, installed all the utilities that make life easier when working, and have started the meandering path I plan to take on MCTS, starting with class design, polymorphism, and interfaces just to get my head back around these before I crack on.

Finally gotten myself up and running with stackoverflow, and need to allocate some time each day to read and try to input where able too.  I’ll be updating my delicious bookmarks over the coming weeks too, I used to spurl, but I’m really liking the interface on delicious.

Where do we go from here…

Most people start their blogs with a ‘hello world, expect more from me’, so apologies for the war and peace tome that you’re about to suffer if you’re reading this!

Well, we find ourselves at a somewhat melancholic crossroads.  I was contacted by a recruitment agent from Nigel Wright earlier in the week to suggest that they had 2 jobs that they thought I’d be perfect for, and they based the decision on a CV that was nearly 4 years old.

Initially, excitement kicked in and I had no idea where it came from – what was wrong with my current job?  It got me thinking and reading a bit, I’ve been here for a little over 3 years now, and have been a very active part of the team, I’ve architected and built our in house CMS/E-Commerce/CRM solution that we can then use to build client websites (there’s another post in there somewhere as to why we didn’t go with an off shelf solution!), I’ve gotten the organisation Microsoft Partner status, something I’d recommend any organisation do if they’re developing for the MS platform btw, I’ve brought in a fair few clients – everything is peachy right?

Well, no.  What about me?  Selfish to say, but where is my career going in all of this, what am I doing, and how am I doing it?  I’ve been a web developer now for about 15 years in various guises, starting out with the good old perl/cgi/mysql combo, moving over to classic ASP, and then over the past 5-6 years focussing on c#/asp.net. I’ve done some very fulfilling work, and some that just ticks over, like any developer I guess. Since my computing degree I’ve always felt I’ve been at the softer side of development, never really delving, never getting too heavily into the software architecture simply for the sake of it.  I’ve hit a point where I can continue to do as I am, delivering quality code for sure, but really not being truly happy with it because I want that more thorough approach, or I can do something about it.

I’ve led development teams, I’ve implemented n-tier solutions using the facade pattern, I’ve done huge projects with tens of thousands of (more often than not necessary) lines of code, I’ve implemented rich SQL server schema, I’ve implemented interfaces, I’ve serialised, I’ve consumed, I’ve done an awful lot.

What’s Changed?

It was a chance tweet yesterday by Mike Taulty where he mentioned Rob the Geek, and you just know, anyone with a name like that, I have to check them out.  I got to Rob’s blog and in particular a post where he was lamenting some of the same issues that are facing me… I want to know more, I want to do more, I want to understand more – software development without learning just isn’t enough for me.

So what do I want?

I think first and foremost, I want to get deeper into the framework – there are any number of the simple things that I just want to understand more, reflection, generics (not just List<Object>), Lambda, goodness the list goes on – all fundamentals, and I know that if I sat for a short period on any of them I’d get them, and it’d stick – I’m certainly not an unintelligent guy (well…)

Key really for me is MCTS I think – I think the framework exam will lead me into a nice and thorough understanding of the framework so that I can then proceed to the ASP.NET 3.5 Application Development exam.

After that, my main thirst is to work with ORM, and in particular Entity Framework, I’ve read and understand the reasons that some people are waiting till 2.0 to roll out into production, but speaking as someone who’s written DAL/Object layers for 4 years, it’s getting very old very fast and I want to try something else that lets me focus on the good bits and worry less about the data.  After that (or probably in parallel), MVC looks pretty cool – again, just as potential starting points.

How do I go about all this then?

There are an awful lot of things I waste time on each week – online gaming, getting to work at 7:15am because I’m awake and I’ve got stuff to do, leaving at 7pm because I’m still awake, and I’ve got stuff to do… it all adds up, I suspect I can allocate at least 25hours a week to personal study (thankfully my wife is very supportive of me doing this, and the kids will I think reap the benefits of the happiness I get from it).

So that’s where we are.  And this blog, at least in the first instance, is intended to be a record of my path through all of the above – I’ll post about everything, even when I’m learning things that seem ridiculously simple – I think keeping this record will help motivate me, will help keep me focussed – I don’t particularly care if anyone ever reads it, I’ve found even just this seminal post to be incredibly cathartic.

Expect regular updates, as if I don’t it means I’m not doing what I said I would 🙂