Why Phone Calls Suck and Coders Hate You For Making Them

<[Rant On]>

During the work day some of the most disruptive events for a coder are phone calls, getting punched in the face or bum fights in the street. Why are these events so disruptive to programmers? Much of the answer lies in the maker versus manager schedule. Let’s talk a little bit about what someone does when they make a phone call and actually manage to disrupt a coder. NOTE: This could also apply to every musician, painter, coder, programmer, database SQL writer or other occupation that actually requires doing something around a creative solution that isn’t baked into some text book.

The Mental Train Wreck

This is what happens every time the coder’s brain is interrupted with a phone call, punched in the face or a bum fight erupts outside.

Because in all of those situations, the coder must stop what they’re doing, complete a mental dump of all the things they’d loaded into their mind, to pay attention to the phone call somebody has just interrupted them with, the punch in the face or the bum fight outside. Let’s take a dive into what this interruption actually means.

Mental Dump, Starting the Train Wreck

No Dumping Brain to Bay.
No Dumping Brain to Bay.

The mental dump is the hardest part of the disruption for a coder. For a musician or artist, it often means they’re going to look at you (or the phone) and an immediate loathing of your person will occur. For a coder most will have their phone on ignore, like I myself do. If they do pick up, the first words spoken by the person calling will probably be indistinguishable. The mental dump takes more than a second or two.

But if a coder picks up the phone, they do it quickly, it often means they’ve not completed the mental dump yet. This in turn means they’re not going to be able to communicate with you in a very easy to understand way. Often a very boolean response will occur, such as “uhuh” or “uhno“. They’re hating you at this moment, because they’ve been removed from coding or thinking through the problem they were working.

What has happened here is a huge decrease in productivity for a coder. Imagine that train wreck above in the picture. How many hours, days and weeks did it take for the crews to get the train back on the tracks. How much effort did it take and how much time was lost by having the train sitting there crammed outside of the building tilted over and down on the sidewalk? I’ll tell ya, a whole freakin’ bloody lot of time, effort and frustration.

Time wasted: ~2 minutes.  (and that’s just to GET the phone call)

Getting Frontal Cortex Loaded, AKA Re-railing The Train Wreck

This mental dump takes anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes to effectively complete. At this point, a creative individual has been thrust from an effective and productive place in their mind. What’s it take to get things back on track?

The first step is to get off of the phone and settle down from the frustration of being disrupted. Getting disrupted by one of the aforementioned annoyances is very costly. Doing a mental dump is because so much has been loaded in the gray matter for use in the coding, painting, music playing or other activity. To get front loaded into a state in which actual music can be played or written, a painting can be created or coding can be done takes time. I’m not talking about a few minutes here or there either, I’m talking about 10 minutes being a low number. Often, it takes 30-45 minutes to get properly frontal cortex loaded. All of that time, upon the disruption is gone. All of it, every single minute. Sometimes a person can re-load a little bit faster then the initial loading, but often times not.

So what happens when the coder goes back to work? You guessed it, they have to get the frontal cortex loaded again. Yeah, your interruption just caused them many minutes, often 15-45 minutes just to pick up the bloody phone call.

Time wasted: ~15-45 minutes.

Maker Versus Manager Scheduling

Now we come to the serious problem. Not only did the phone call cause a disruption of epic proportions. The other massive problem is now the coder has to determine if it is even worth it to try to get the frontal cortex loaded and get back to work. Let’s take a few questions a coder has to ask themselves before getting back to work after such a disruption.

  • What if the phone call was 30 minutes before lunch? Nope, not worth it.
  • What if the phone call is 15 minutes before you’re going home? Nope, not worth it.
  • What if the phone call is 45 minutes before a meeting? Nope, that sure as hell isn’t worth it either. Meetings being a completely different topic that’s worth discussing, or ranting about sometime.

That’s just a few examples. So if the call disrupted the coder at a time before any other activity that requires they stop doing what they’re doing, it’s not even worth going back work on anything. With that in mind, if a coder is interrupted 30 minutes before lunch, that means another 30 minutes just got wasted because now the coder has to find some mundane task to do, or just surf the web ticked off that they got interrupted. Most programmers are often thinking of something that the great Captain Picard states so eloquently.

Captain Picard, not beating around the bush.
Captain Picard, not beating around the bush.

Time wasted: ~0-45 minutes or more.

Bum Fights & Punches In the Face

Punched in the face.
Punched in the face.

Ever been punched in the face? Ever had to deal with a bum fight? If you have you can totally relate to this type of interruption. The closest thing a manager is likely to experience is a bum fight or a punch in the face in comparison to a coder receiving a phone call.


The next time one thinks, “I’ll just give Bob the Programmer a call”, think again. Try not to be a complete douche bag in a land of naive obliviousness and maybe send an email or txt message. Maybe don’t even make the communication – because we all know how many times the answering box has a “hey I just called to say I called and you should call me so we can have a call“. That’s what one calls bullshit. EVERY PHONE ON EARTH has caller id, that’s a no shit sherlock moment.

So next time, please be considerate of your dear programmers, coders, SQL coders, painters, sketch artists, musicians, composers or others in your life. You’re not taking 5 minutes of their life when you call, you’re likely taking well over an hour and causing them much consternation.

Now that I’ve wasted 3 hours writing this post, mainly because I was interrupted by a phone call in the middle of writing it, I’ve got to get back to some work I was trying to wrap up post-turkey day comma.

<[/Rant Off]>

Oh yeah, this was indeed a sardonic post in case it wasn’t obvious. Oh and happy holidays!  😉

Write the Docs, Proper Portland Brew, Hack n’ Bike and Polyglot Conference 2013

Blog Entry Index:

I just wrapped up a long weekend of staycation. Monday kicked off Write the Docs this week and today, Tuesday, I’m getting back into the saddle.

Write the Docs

The Write the Docs Conference this week, a two day affair, has kicked off an expanding community around document creation. This conference is about what documentation is, how we create documentation as technical writers, writers, coders and others in the field.

Not only is it about those things it is about how people interact and why documentation is needed in projects. This is one of the things I find interesting, as it seems obvious, but is entirely not obvious because of the battle between good documentation, bad documentation or a complete lack of documentation. The later being the worse situation.

The Bloody War of Documentation!

At this conference it has been identified that the ideal documentation scenario is that building it starts before any software is even built. I do and don’t agree with this, because I know we must avoid BDUF (Big Design Up Front). But we must take this idea, of documentation first, in the appropriate context of how we’re speaking about documentation at the conference. Just as tests & behaviors identified up front, before the creation of the actual implementation is vital to solid, reliable, consistent, testable & high quality production software, good documentation is absolutely necessary.

There are some situations, the exceptions, such as with agencies that create software, in which the software is throwaway. I’m not and don’t think much of the conference is about those types of systems. What we’ve been speaking about at the conference is the systems, or ecosystems, in which software is built, maintained and used for many years. We’re talking about the APIs that are built and then used by dozens, hundreds or thousands of people. Think of Facebook, Github and Twitter. All of these have APIs that thousands upon thousands use everyday. They’re successful in large part, extremely so, because of stellar documentation. In the case of Facebook, there’s some love and hate to go around because they’ve gone between good documentation and bad documentation. However whenever it has been reliable, developers move forward with these APIs and have built billion dollar empires that employ hundreds of people and benefit thousands of people beyond that.

As developers that have been speaking at the conference, and developers in the audience, and this developer too all tend to agree, build that README file before you build a single other thing within the project. Keep that README updated, keep it marked up and easy to read, and make sure people know what your intent is as best you can. Simply put, document!

You might also have snarkily asked, does Write the Docs have docs,why yes, it does:

http://docs.writethedocs.org/ <- Give em’ a read, they’re solid docs.

Portland Proper Brew

Today while using my iPhone, catching up on news & events over the time I had my staycation I took a photo. On that photo I used Stitch to put together some arrows. Kind of a Portland Proper Brew (PPB) with documentation. (see what I did there!) It exemplifies a great way to start the day.

Everyday I bike (or ride the train or bus) in to downtown Porltand anywhere from 5-9 kilometers and swing into Barista on 3rd. Barista is one of the finest coffee shops, in Portland & the world. If you don’t believe me, drag your butt up here and check it out. Absolutely stellar baristas, the best coffee (Coava, Ritual, Sightglass, Stumptown & others), and pretty sweet digs to get going in the morning.

I’ll have more information on a new project I’ve kicked off. Right now it’s called Bike n’ Hack, which will be a scavenger style code hacking & bicycle riding urban awesome game. If you’re interested in hearing more about this, the project, the game & how everything will work be sure to contact me via twitter @adron or jump into the bike n’ hack github organization and the team will be adding more information about who, what, where, when and why this project is going to be a blast!

Polyglot Conference & the Zombie Apocalypse

I’ll be teaching a tutorial, “Introduction to Distributed Databases” at Polyglot Conference in Vancouver in May!  So it has begun & I’m here for you! Come and check out how to get a Riak deployment running in your survival bunker’s data center. Zombies or just your pointy hair boss scenarios of apocalypse we’ll discuss how consistent hashing, hinted handoff and gossipping can help your systems survive infestations! Here’s a basic outline of what I’ll cover…

Introducing Riak, a database designed to survive the Zombie Plague. Riak Architecture & 5 Minute History of Riak & Zombies.

Architecture deep dive:

  • Consistent Hashing, managing to track changes when your kill zone is littered with Zombies.
  • Intelligent Replication, managing your data against each of your bunkers.
  • Data Re-distribution, sometimes they overtake a bunker, how your data is re-distributed.
  • Short Erlang Introduction, a language fit for managing post-civil society.
  • Getting Erlang

Installing Riak on…

  • Ubuntu, RHEL & the Linux Variety.
  • OS-X, the only user centered computers to survive the apocolypse.
  • From source, maintained and modernized for humanities survival.
  • Upgrading Riak, when a bunker is retaken from the zomibes, it’s time to update your Riak.
  • Setting up

Devrel – A developer’s machine w/ Riak – how to manage without zombie bunkers.

  • 5 nodes, a basic cluster
  • Operating Riak
  • Starting, stopping, and restarting
  • Scaling up & out
  • Managing uptime & data integrity
  • Accessing & writing data

Polyglot client libraries

  • JavaScript/Node.js & Erlang for the zombie curing mad scientists.
  • C#/.NET & Java for the zombie creating corporations.
  • Others, for those trying to just survive the zombie apocolypse.

If you haven’t registered for the Polyglot Conference yet, get registered ASAP as it could sell out!

Some of the other tutorials that are happening, that I wish I could clone myself for…

That’s it for updates right now, more code & news later. Cheers!

Surface & iPad Collision Course

Ok, I’d been looking around for a Surface I could try out. Even though I have my doubts about Windows 8 and especially RT I also am excited about a lot of the features that these operating system(s) have. But amid the parts that I hate and parts I love, there is the simple fact of the pure and simple comparison of Surface + Windows RT versus iPad + iOS 6. Thanks to Brad Wilson I was able to do a physical comparison between the Surface and the latest iPad. Here’s what I got out of both with a summary to wrap it all up nice and neat.

iPad vs. Surface

Surface & iPad Side by Side (Click for high rez image)

The first thing I did was take a good look and check out every physical corner, fold, rounded corner, seal, button (or lack thereof) flick panel and “kick stand”. This first comparison was done between only the tablets themselves, no keyboards were attached.

Screens & Touch

Both devices started fine. Both screens swiped the active panels or app icons back and forth with no problem. These things were smooth and simple. The applications started fast on the iPad, a bit slower on the Surface. Just to make sure I had some apples to apples comparisons, I loaded Google Maps via browser along with iOS 6 Maps (which are still horrible * ) and Bing Maps (which also are still horrible * ). Google Maps via browser of course is slow on tablets, regardless of which tablet. This makes for a frustrating experience with mapping and routing. I look forward to having a decent Google Maps app on either of these platforms again, I’m however not holding my breath, but if they’d just cooperate and stop their nonsensical fighting that would be splendid.


As for construction both devices are light years ahead of any other tablet out there. Weight however is a little frustrating, as both are pretty heavy devices to hold in one hand for any extended period of time. Many of the Android Tablets are dramatically lighter. The feel however, touch of the screens, the kick stand, and about every single thing is comparable in quality between both devices. To put it simply, Microsoft and Apple have done a spectacular job at hiring the right manufacturing facilities to build their devices and have done a good job in designing the devices.


Will the Surface hold up as well over time as the iPad? Especially with the kick stand and other parts, the Surface does have a little more risk around these elements. Give a 5 year old a Surface and I’d put hard money on the fact that 5 year old will make that kick stand give way in short order form regular wear and tear. The iPad of course, doesn’t have any of these concerns – it’s a single, well built, strong device. The screens I hear however, favor the Surface, but so far have seen no evidence that one or the other screen is stronger than the other.


Alright, this is where there is no competition. Surface has almost no applications in comparison to Apple’s iPad. This is of course barely a fair comparison at this time since it has been on market for a few weeks and the iPad for years. The iPad has had the App Store to build off of and millions of developers while the Surface has had almost nobody except Microsoft’s internal developers & immediate partners. Barely anything beyond that exists. This however, makes the few applications the Surface does have almost impressive. However…

The applications that do exist have one big problem. Especially the native application Microsoft itself has built, such as the messaging and email client. They’re buggy. It is state no simpler than, “They are buggy.” I’ve seen it over and over again on Twitter, Facebook and every other social media and critique outlet. Let’s take a few applications for a test drive.

Applications – iOS 6 Maps & Bing Maps

The maps, Bing and iOS 6 Maps are both complete crap. They’re years behind Google Maps. So in this case we’re comparing a limited feature map set against another limited feature map set. Overall as for options, Bing Maps at least has transit. On the driving front, since I don’t do this myself (*see below), the driving instructions and traffic are useless to me. However, I did check out driving directions and traffic – both are moderately competent at getting this information. No more so than Google Maps though. As for finding things in cities or urban areas that have high livability – such as Urban Seattle, Portland, San Francisco or New York – both are horrendous.

Biking, neither of the maps applications have biking directions. I guess the rather large contingent of developers that bike to work everyday in New York City, Portland, San Francisco just don’t matter to Microsoft or Apple. They’ve just left that out. It’s pathetic in my opinion, as Google Maps has extensive and informative biking information and logistics planning. Bing & iOS Maps 6 both I’d rate as unmitigated distaters except for those that live an average suburban auto dependent lifestyle. Everybody else – i.e. a dramatically large part of the tech sector for one, is left out.

Walking – again, both maps are broken. Transit, don’t even get me started on how behind and outdated both of these maps options are. Finding great coffee shops and…  oh just forget it. Don’t get either of these devices for the mapping. You want a mapping device get an Android Tablet or an Android Phone. Hands down, no competition.

Evernote is Free!
Evernote is Free!

Applications – Evernote

Evernote has simply become a huge part of my day to day flow. I pay for the unlimited or extreme or whatever version they call it. I don’t want any limites and I find it more than worth the money (they could even raise the price 2x and I’d still pay it). So how does Evernote play out on the Surface vs. iPad. Well two things made this interesting. Over the time I started and am finishing this write up, Evernote completely updated and revamped their user interface and thus the user experience changed. Fortunately for either product, for the better.

But… when I first logged into the Surface and tried to get Evernote going the swiping and determinig what a right click was or double tap was extremely frustrating. The Surface made the iPad Evernote version seem intuitive, simple and usable by comparison. Both allow almost identical functionality, but with the surface the challenge is finding out how to get at that functionality.

If you find it, this is what you get when you right click or double tap or whatever it's called.
If you find it, this is what you get when you right click or double tap or whatever it’s called.

So in this category, the iPad is hands down an easier to use Evernote device. Once you get used to it, does that really matter? Probably not. But I’m not sure why someone would want to buy, purposefully  a device that has a learning curb.

Evernote on Surface & iPad
Evernote on Surface & iPad


Overall, I found the Surface pretty sweet in a number of ways. However, I know for a fact, that those things I found sweet are things an early adopter, nerd, geek, techno type would find sweet. Not the person who just wants to get things done and carry on with life. The person who wants to just view internet content or write an email, go with an iPad. If you want some simple, suburban driving directions to help avoid traffic, either device will do. If you want to just get on with life with a sexy and easy to use device, the iPad is fine.

I could go on about the USB and this and that feature, but Microsoft has horribly missed the mark in that way. These are devices for short term use, not working. If you get a Surface with the intent to work, get ready to get a carpal tunnel operation in a few years. I wouldn’t advise using either device for any significant amount of work. If you want to do work, get a laptop or proper computer. Apple and Microsoft have many to choose from.

In the end, if you have an iPad, stick with it. If you have no tablet and want to get one – go with either an Android tablet or an iPad depending on if you want a controlled garden of elegance (iPad) or want total freedom of devices and interoperability (Android).

With that, cheers and good luck being happy with whatever you get.

* Some context needs to be added to the maps situation. I don’t drive, not because I can’t but simply because I find it a horrendous and wasteful activity for my time. I might sound or come off aloof, but I don’t mean to, but simply – I have zero use for a map application that only provides driving directions or traffic. I haven’t had to deal with these problems in almost a decade now, even back when I did drive. So thus, driving and path finding through traffic are not one of my problems. What I do use maps for however are walking, biking and transit directions. All the better if the transit directions actually provide real time information as Google Maps does in some of the more advanced partner cities like Portland, San Diego, etc. Also I want street level information that is accurate and defines the businesses and other related information. Google Maps does this, but iOS 6 Maps and Bing Maps are outdated and routinely provide inaccurate information compared to Google Maps. Not to say Google Maps couldn’t use improvement here or there, but it is by far years ahead in information and capabilities versus the other two.

3 Things Companies Do Wrong by Developers, The New King Makers

I’m sitting on the train heading from Seattle to Portland today. I live in Portland, but spend a significant amount of time in the beautiful Emerald City. The time on the train is immensely useful to think about concepts, thoughts, introspect, code and generally be uninterrupted in focus. All the while it makes the 3 plus hour trip productive for me. I don’t waste a single minute fidgeting about uselessly in a car. It’s win, win, win and win on all accounts. But enough about the trip and these pleasantries, I’ve got some ranting to do! I want to tell you what is being doen wrong in business, in software and in general in the community around software developers.

1. Stop Listening to PR (Public Relations) when speaking to Developer Communities

PR can serve an important purpose for certain things, but if you’re speaking through PR to the software developers’ community you’ve screwed up. You’ve screwed up big time. I’ll step into dangerous waters and say it is often a good idea to either get advocates (or evangelists) or marketers to speak to developers but the second PR is involved – you’re going to be dead in the water.

In the case of marketing & advocates, they need to know where and how to interact well with the developer community. Developers can smell crappy marketing lines a thousand miles away, so when delivering messaging to the community, it needs to be on point, informative, without the buzz word bingo. Take for instance this gem I heard recently:

Vertically integrated incentivized synergies.

A simple response to that is, “WTF, unfollow, unsubscribe, get outta here.

Conversations have to be real and honest, if there isn’t any experience, skills or knowledge in the marketing or advocacy team, it’s best to own up to that ASAP and ask the community what information they’d like to receive from X company.

Let’s take a few great examples – and yes, I’m going to outline real companies doing things right. I’m not going to harp on companies doing things wrong, because the developer community knows painfully well who these companies are. Those companies can consider this a PSA.

New Relic

Full disclosure, I provide consulting, development how-to & blog entries as a consultant.

New Relic takes several avenues in messages to developers. They’re really good at this and it shows in their honesty, integrity and reputation among the community itself.

Blogging:  New Relic has a blog (yes, I write there also) that is informative on many levels. Not just a blog that churns out marketing things about their own products, but instead a blog full of useful information about events, products, other company’s that partner with New Relic, community coding and hackathon events and all sorts of additional articles. The key here, is the New Relic Blog is actually useful to the developer community. Two great example here are the “Nerd Economy” which was just a fun entry, and the “Rails Rumble” involvement New Relic had.  This is what makes it an extremely valuable asset to the community, to New Relic itself, and to individual programmers & operations people as well!

New Relic's Blog - click to go there and have a read.
New Relic’s Blog – click to go there and have a read.


Full disclosure, I’m friends with a number of people here now thanks to RICON and because of their excellent interactions in the developer community, see here and here for more on RICON.

Blogging: Basho is another company that is doing this well. They’re focused primarily on partners, events related to OSS and Basho (such as Riak) and has a fair breadth of topics overall. This keeps people coming back, and makes the articles useful to the community. A great example is their activity around the Rails Rumble and the Basho Docs Update. Again, that recurring theme, the articles must be useful. No one should ever just stick marketing spiel into a blog entry and post it.

2. Do NOT waste our time (or yours), we’re overbooked already!

Try to connect events together with other companies and provide them as such. Give multiple reasons to come to conferences, meet ups or otherwise get out the door. If there isn’t reasonable reason to physically be somewhere, make it an online event, chat or some other type of communication. Better yet, in many cases, write up some documentation and let us developers RTFM! But whatever marketing departments  advocates and evangelists are doing, please coordinate a bit more so us developers (especially those that are writing a ton of app code) don’t spin our wheels getting value out of events.

From my personal perspective, I make it a point to help as many community members that organize meet ups and all to bring additional value – and if there isn’t enough value to merge with other groups. Bringing diverse backgrounds and polyglot ideals to a group isn’t a bad idea. Stay mono-lingual is a sure way when language priorities shift you won’t lose your community base. Now I’m going to harp on some groups that destroyed themselves, but eventually transformed by merging into other groups.

In Seattle & the Redmond area there used to be 3 (and I even have heard rumors of 4) .NET User Groups. With the advent of the extremely high value and dominance of the polyglot programmer (not that they were ever under-valued or anything). They all have since disappeared, but in very different ways. One lost because of a lack of content, then decreasing number of speakers, and eventually it died – completely. Another one actually ceased to exist because it merged into a group fo people that got involved in a number of other meetups that bridged development with a lot of other interests the attendees had. The last group actually polymorphed (eh, see what I did there with that programming term!) into a completely new group that is more open, more polyglot and fairly interesting. This is a perfect case of dropping a single tie to a single thing and branching out – or fading into nothing.

3. Don’t tell us not to communicate with our community!

Oh dear there is no better way to stifle innovation and favorable reputation of your software and products than to disallow your own company’s developers to publicly talk about it. It is absurd to kill this. The only company that I know, in the history of software, that has done this successfully is Amazon. But even Amazon only does it strategically. The companies that have done this completely are either dead or on their way to dying. To some degree Apple does this a little, but even in a tight lipped ship like Apple have developers talk about how or why they build things the way they do. They’re very proud of what they’ve built and they want to tell people.

The developers in a company are the absolutely best advocates for the products out of everybody. They may not be able to get out in the public, or even go out in public, but when they do and when they communicate if you’re running a good ship, that has proud developers, the community will know. Don’t forget either, there’s a few million us, that’s a force to be reckoned with in the market.

3.14159265359 Developers are indeed the king makers, don’t treat us like pawns!

RedMonk pointed out a while ago that “Meet the New King Makers: Same as the Old Kingmakers“. They’re on message, on target and very accurate as usual. If you want advice, information and a better understanding of the developer community, RedMonk is the analyst firm to check out for software development, you can forget the others.

I know there are dev shops out there that are amazing. There are dev shops out there that are atrocious. However those bad shops often suffer from heavy turnover, bad recruitment practices and even outright lying sometimes. It’s a bad situation, but just know if you hone your skills, communication skills and related abilities you as a developer won’t have to deal with those companies once you’ve cut your teeth in the industry.

To those dev shops that are meat grinders. You pay a heavy price, heavier than you might realize. Here’s why.

  • Turnover is ridiculously expensive. Many estimates range from 0.25x as much to 60x more expensive than maintain a solid team, good environment and positive conditions. Use google, read about it, turnover is a bad thing in many, many ways. (the rule of moderation does apply here)
  • A company with bad practices will NEVER, forget what you THINK you get, but the company will never achieve any type of competitive speed, quality or velocity of development compared to a dev shop that treats their developers well.
  • You will continuously create poorly designed interfaces, user experience and generally create a negative environment in which to operate, the company will never acheive its true potential. Developers are notorious for telling it like it is, if you make them unhappy, trust me when I say your entier company and the company’s reputation will be known very quickly among the developer community. Not only will you have to hire from outside of the area, you likely won’t be able to get A Game coders ever. They simply will not exist for a meat grinder shop.

There are ways for this to be remedied, but it is a very hard road to travel, far harder than any technical challenge to face. This challenge also takes, at minimum, years to truly fix once it has happened. So fix it, stop hiring warm bodies and work at being a good place for human beings to work.

7 Databases in 7 Weeks

Over yonder I was reading Luc’s blog entries on the AppFog Blog. While catching up I caught this video about my friend Eric Redmond’s book 7 Databases in 7 Weeks.

After you’re  watching the video, if you’re interested in databases definitely pick up the book. I’d recommend it even if I wasn’t friends with Eric.  😉