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The Allens Posts

Manager README

I had previously written a post called Guidance for My Staff and during a recent walk on the beach as I try to do every day at lunch, I was listening to Rand’s podcast The Important Thing and learned about the concept of the manager readme. The concept is more fleshed out than what I put together, so I’m working on an updated version.

Brennen at has collected a number of readmes from around the internet at that I am using for inspiration.

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Florida Day 6

My final day in Florida. The plan was to head south and skirt the Gulf of Mexico. My goal was a town called Cedar Key which pokes out into the Gulf a bit.

Highways in northern Florida aren’t very exciting. Everything is so flat there is nothing to see except the canyon of tree you’re driving through. I did see some birds I was unfamiliar with and some wild pigs and turkeys.

Eventually I got to Cedar Key which it turns out is a little vacation town made up of primarily hotels and restaurants. After a walk around I found some grumpy pelicans.

And had some lunch enjoying a little sun and a lot of wind while looking at the Gulf of Mexico.

I’m always amazed when such a large body of water doesn’t have any waves.

In a random coincidence I got a message on Facebook that one of my old high school buddies now lives in Orlando. He was able to leave work a bit early and we had time to catch up before I had to go to the airport.

Another flight across the country and few hours of sleep at a friend’s in Portland and I was back home by 9am Sat morning in time for the Allen/Anderson/Gardner post Christmas gathering.

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Florida Day 5

My final day with the team finished with an outing to Uncle Glen’s place. One of my guys lives in Tallahassee and his uncle graciously offered to host us so a final social event before we scattered back across the country.

We got to do a little skeet shooting and target practice before sitting down to a barbeque feast.

A number of folks tried their hand at a card game similar to blackjack, but I can’t remember the name.

Eventually it was time to head back at some people had early flights.

One the way back I did get to experience a Florida thunderstorm, pouring rain and giant lightning strikes that covered the sky.

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Florida Day 2

A brief return to day 1. At home we drive on the beach all the time. I thought this was a PNW thing, however, it turns out you can drive on the beach in FL as well, sort of.

There is a little strip of beach up by the dunes where you can drive. Mostly to accommodate parking and not having to carry your stuff too far.

On to day 2

I didn’t have too many miles to cover as the crow flies and I’d heard you can find shark teeth on the beaches in northeastern Florida so after a bit of interneting I found that Mickler’s Landing was the place to go and it was only 15 minutes away. I packed up and was on my way.

I wandered up the beach looking at the ground just like the few other people I saw. The weather was perfect in the low 70s with a light breeze and the water warm enough to walk barefoot in (which something I rarely do due the temp of the Pacific). I did know from my research that the teeth would be black due to fossilization. Unfortunately there are lots of mussel shells which are nearly black, I did talk to one lady who was just sitting on the beach sorting through the shells around here and she showed me one she had found that day so at that point I had a pretty good idea what I was looking for. Eventually I found a spot that had lots of shells and was dry and starting sorting.

The Florida beaches are so much different that the Washington ones. Up near the dunes is soft sugar sand. Down near the wave it varies between coarse ground up shell particles and billions of shells of all sizes. Some so small it was hard to tell they were actually complete and others as large as my fist. The bulk of which were pretty small between 1/4 and 1/2 inch.

After sifting through about 5 gallons of shells and starting to wonder if it was time to move on I saw this in my hand…

I poked around some more, but didn’t find any more teeth, but did collect a small handful of other shells.

From there I took a somewhat winding path to Tallahassee where I would spend the next 3 days with my team, department and most of the VPs we interact with on a regular basis.

It was a great time of reconnecting and getting to know some people for the first time in person.

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Florida Day 1

I’m heading to Tallahassee, FL for work and thought I’d add 2 days before to explore a bit of northern Florida as I’ve only ever been to Tampa, Orlando and Cape Canaveral.

I flew in to Orlando as the flights are much cheaper and there is a direct flight from Portland. However, the flight was a red-eye that left at 11:15pm. There must have a heck of a tail wind as we went from PDX to MCO in just over 4 hours which was almost an hour early.

I never realized how flat and wet Florida is.

After spending far too much time waiting for my rental car I went to a recommended Cuban breakfast place. Turns out Cuban breakfasts aren’t all that different.

The toast seemed a lot like warmed up brioche and the little tube things are sorullitos which are kind of a sweet corn fritter. None of those got left behind.

From Orlando I headed east toward Titusville and Cape Canaveral. We’d been to the Cape years ago when we did Disneyworld with the kids which I was glad of as it would have required more time than I had.

The stretch from Titusville to Daytona Beach wasn’t all that interesting. Since there aren’t really any beaches there isn’t much infrastructure although I did see lots of people fishing and shrimping.

Lots of straight roads…

I did stop at a manatee viewing area, but evidently the water was a bit cold so they were elsewhere.

The manatee napping area

When I got to Daytona Beach things started looking more what I expected Florida to look like with big fancy houses and beach access.

Even though it was January I was still able to wade in the surf which is something I rarely do as my feet get cold easily (wimp I know). The air temperature was 73 which is summertime temperatures for Ocean Park. Something I could get used to.

Daytona Beach didn’t have much going for it otherwise. It was mostly hotels, condos, bars and restaurants and the beach of course. Nothing that would make me want to go back.

I definitely saw some new birds although I saw most of them while I was driving so no pictures, however, this guy was more than willing to pose.

Due to some tummy issues I ended up stopping at a state park for the facilities and it turned out to be a nice place. A part of an old estate where they planted a formal garden (no much happening at the moment) and a bunch of oak trees which have grown huge and are covered with spanish moss.

I didn’t get any good pictures but there are a number of these large trees with palm trees growing up through the branches like the biggest weed you ever saw. Also much like we noticed in California what we consider house plants grow outside and grow large. I saw bird of paradise that must have been 20′ tall and flower starts larger than my hand.

The next city was St Augustine. As I had been up for 30+ hours at this point I don’t have any pictures, but that is a place I’d like to go back to for a week or 2. It’s an interesting combination of Cannon Beach, Leavenworth and pirates. Many other people also found it interesting which is why I couldn’t easily find a place to park near the Castillo de San Marcos.

From St Augustine I blazed up to Jacksonville Beach where I am spending the night. A little snaffu because my apartment didn’t get cleaned due to an emergency in the housekeeper’s family, but luckily the unit next door was managed by the same people and they just had me swap rooms.

The Atlantic beaches are interesting. There is both powdery soft and coarse sand on different parts of the beaches. And tons and tones of little tiny shells and fragments of bigger shells in all shapes and sizes. No pictures as the light was fading fast. I’ll try to remember to take some tomorrow.

Tomorrow I head back west towards Tallahassee with meetings Tues-Thurs. On Fri the plan is to drive the gulf side back to Orlando then jump on an evening flight back to PDX.

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Guidance for My Staff

I’ve been managing software development teams for about 20 years at this point and have developed 3 primary guidelines.

Don’t surprise me

I really don’t want to hear bad news that you knew about from someone outside our team. I’d rather hear from you that something is about to go wrong so we can figure out the best way to deal with it proactively. Things do go wrong – sometimes caused by you and sometimes not. I’m not interested in fostering a blame culture, rather a “how do we fix this” culture.

This hold true for promises you’ve made as well. If you said you’d be done on Friday and Friday comes and goes, I’m not going to be happy. After all you gave me the timeline. If you come to me on Wednesday and let me know that you are not going to make the Friday timeline for <insert reason> then we can discuss the impact and and how to mitigate it.

Loop me in

One of the primary jobs of a manager is to be the line of communication with the rest of the business, both into and out of the development team. That is why we spend so much time in meetings – either gathering or dispersing information.

My specific guidance is to CC me on any communication that isn’t internal to the team. Emails to the VP of Basket weaving? CC me. Emails to that vendor’s support team? CC me.

Why? Mostly because I don’t want to waste your time or mine asking you if you responded to that email. Since there is a zero cost way to keep me informed take advantage of it. It also lets me know if I should step in should things spiral out of control. Mostly I’m a silent bystander.

Take a moment and think

I have an open door policy (a virtual door these days). I want you to come in whenever you’ve run into an issue. Not that I’m all knowing and can give you an answer, but I’m happy to work it through with you. The mere fact of verbally trying to express the issue will often trigger new thinking.

However, before you come to me I want you to take a moment and think. The saying I use is:

  • One idea isn’t a choice
  • Two ideas are a dilemma
  • Three ideas are a choice

Software development is a nontrivial activity within a company of any complexity, which is why most of us enjoy it. When I hire people I treat them like professionals and expect them to act like professionals. A big piece of that is recognizing that software fits into a larger puzzle and other people depend on us doing our job well. That builds trust, and trust can overcome the occasional bump in the road, especially when there is good communication between all parties.

And that is the crux of the 3 guidelines – communicate and communicate well.

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His nightmares with engineering estimates

Hiten Shah wrote an article titled “My nightmares with engineering estimates” where he blames everything on estimates. Now I get that he is using a little hyperbole to gather interest on his next post which is going to reveal The One True And Righteous Way™ but I need to get a few things off my chest.

Before we get into this I do speak from experience. I’ve been building software for 30 years in all sorts of roles and team sizes. I’ve been thinking about this estimating stuff for a long time as well. See my 2008 post on estimating.

No Estimates

Hiten describes how they got started with KISSmetrics without creating estimates and how they got to a point where it was going to take 90 days to make the system performant for customer demand.

We were screwed. All because of no estimates.

I have to call BS here. They got to this point because they traded speed to market for quality (by his own admission) and didn’t think about the non-functional requirements (such as performance). Not many of us have the problem of too many customers. Sounds like a great problem to have.

Had we estimated during our 30-day buildout instead of after, things could have turned out really differently. The business could have grown faster and been bigger today.

I have a hard time believing this as well. Having estimates doesn’t mean you have a high quality product that meets all the customer’s needs. I’ve worked on many systems over the years that were estimated at the start of the project and it still didn’t meet the overall goal of satisfying the customers or stakeholders.

Hiten lists 3 no estimates pitfalls:

  • No Tradeoffs Made
  • Too Much Time Communicating
  • Tasks Aren’t Broken Up

Part of product management’s job is to evaluate the opportunity vs. the cost which means making trade offs. Estimates are one input into that decision making process. I would claim it is a second level factor not the primary driver as he appears to be asserting.

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Product Characteristics

Every now and then I get a product where there was limited effort put in to translating the description or instructions. This is the latest one:

This product is a new science and technology product and made with high and new science and technology. It can illuminate only placing it in rhythm.

No need any power, no environmental pollution. Low noise and health. Comparing with common torch it can be several times on lift.

Constantly using the health torch it can benefit to your palm, arm and shoulder stretching and blood circulation, so as to let your hands relax and brian clever hand and brain coordinate and promote your brain memory and health composition.

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Back end vs. Front end

A co-worker sent me this today. So representative of many systems.


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