Working Up

Working Up in Project Management, Systems Engineering, Technology, and Writing

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Programming 101 (in the 21st century)

February 15th, 2018 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

How to write a computer program when you have no idea how to do it in a new language.

I wrote a computer program this week at work. (oooops, I am supposed to write that I was developing because that is what the job recruiters call it nowadays.) This shouldn’t sound remarkable, but I’m not supposed to write computer programs AND I’m supposed to be so old that I forgot how to do that years ago…so let’s keep that part of the story quiet.

Anyways, how do you write a computer program in the 21st century when you’ve never used the only language available to you? Simple, you Google it.

Yes, that’s it. Go to Google and type something like, “powershell csv read write.” Try to read the answers shown (they were written in blurbs by programmers—ooops slipped again, developers not programmers—developers who had other things to develop), copy, paste, run, and that’s it.

I guess having some background developing helps, but really. Just ask a question and copy the answer. The profession has devolved a bit.

→ No CommentsTags: Programming

The Problem with the Solution

February 12th, 2018 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Let’s twist the meta-problem and meta-solution a bit to help reveal the underlying problem.

It happened again this week… I wanted a software tool installed on my computer at work. Now the computer at work is on a network. We can’t just go installing software on networked computers willy nilly. We have special persons who can do these special tasks while not compromising the integrity of the network.

At home? Go to the website, click the download button, click the install button, viola. Software tool installed. Let’s accomplish some work.

And I am discussing a tool—which I shall not name—that has been “out there” for many years and is used by … oh conservative estimate of 20 million tool users and is free, open-source software.

At work? It took two people three days to install the software. No exaggeration.

So, this was the solution. Install the tool, let’s get on with the work.

Now the problem with the solution. See above. Are we kidding ourselves? We have created and imposed on ourselves a situation where tools are almost prohibitively expensive to use. Hence, the solution shows the real problem. We are our own worst enemies. No one else could impose such on us but ourselves.

Oh well. We go to work again tomorrow and try again.

→ No CommentsTags: Problems

The Circle and the Blank

February 8th, 2018 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The user interface and the user experience seem to be based on two, quite simple things.

I love to look at the photos on the Analog Dreams posts in tumblr. Those big, beautiful round knobs. I owned a lot of the things shown in the photos, and there was something magical about slowly turning those round knobs.

Today, the world evolves around (another circle) that one simple little blank field that we see on Google and everywhere else. Type something in the blank and the world opens.

That summarizes the world of the user interface: the round knob and the blank field. I guess for a few more years we will all have the steering wheel, that big round knob that gives us the power of choice as to where we take our lives. I hate to see it go away. Perhaps I won’t live that long.

→ No CommentsTags: Design · General Systems Thinking · Magic

The Accountability Question

February 5th, 2018 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Let’s reduce all this accountability business to a simple question.

The Accountability Question:

“What happens if I don’t do this? (thing you told me to do or some regulation or policy says I have to do)”

If the answer is, “nothing.” Well then, we have no accountability.

Or maybe this “thing” just isn’t important in which case we have to ask,

“If it isn’t important, why did you tell me to do it?”

If the answer is, “because, uh, er, just because.”

Then no one is holding you as a manager accountable for wasting resources.

So this idea of “being held accountable” goes around in some type of circle. Are people accountable, i.e., do they have to account for or justify the resources they spend? If I don’t do what you tell me, I am doing something else, i.e., I am spending resources on something else. Must I account for those resources?

But we go back to the fundamental question above, “What happens if I don’t do this?”

Answer, “You will no longer be paid to come here.”

“Oh, I guess I will do this, at least for now. If it is too distasteful, I will leave.”

In a high-unemployment economy, leaving and finding another paying job isn’t so easy, so people are more apt to “just do it” than ask the Accountability Question.

→ No CommentsTags: Accountability · Questions

Fake News, Real News, and not News

February 1st, 2018 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Sometimes we forget some of the fundamentals of “news.”

Fake news: this is the stuff we used read in the grocery store checkout counter in The National Enquirer. My mother never let me buy one, but they had great headlines about then first lady Hillary Clinton having an alien baby and other great stuff.

Real news: it snowed six inches today. The baseball scores are…

Non news: this is the one folks seem to struggle with most.

There are strong ties between the sex industry and the tech (or any) industry. This is true, so it is sort of real news, but it is also old as dirt, so it is non-news.

People mistreat others; again, real news as it is true, but it is also old as dirt, so it is non-news.

Journalists lie to sell their stories. Real, true news, but old as dirt and non-news.

Fake news used to be fun. Then some self-proclaimed declarative person declared that the rest of us actually believed that the President’s wife had an alien baby, and fake news became some sort of a crime.

Real news is verifiable. What fun is that?

Non-news is just the same old stuff.

Let’s try to keep these straight.

→ No CommentsTags: Adults · Judgment

Too Fast or Too Far

January 29th, 2018 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Us humans are non-rigid and aren’t built for sudden and large changes in position and velocity. Sometimes we forget this.

Don’t try to jerk someone from 0 to 60mph in three seconds. It hurts me and you both. It often scares away the other person.

How many seminars have you attended or life-changing podcasts have you heard that shout, “We want you to be fill-in-the-blank-with-something-amazing.” And then the speaker admits something like, “Oh, by the way, it took me 20 years to reach this point, but I would like you to do it this afternoon.”

Jump too far. I see kids on the school playground while driving home from work. Some are running full speed in a game. Others stand on the side, others sit on the ground. If the game or speed or something is too far a leap, some will just sit on the couch and twiddle their thumbs. They really should be running and playing, but it is too far a jump. Arrange for shorter jumps.

Adults do this, too. Years ago while I was working in a developing country (we called it the “third world” at the time) an elderly person there told me about this. If there were products that were just a little out of the reach of the poor, they might work a little harder so they could reach them. If products, however, were available and affordable only by the rich, the others wouldn’t try because they were just too far out of reach.

Little by little. Slow, constant change, small steps. Not exciting, but far more effective.

→ No CommentsTags: Change

The Second or Third Request

January 25th, 2018 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Sometimes you are best served and serving if you ignore a request or two.

Me: The thing the boss just asked for, what is it? How do you do it?

Older Co-worker: What? Oh never mind.

Me: But the boss wants it, real quick, it is important. Right?

Older Co-worker: Forget about it. If our boss asks again, think about it, but don’t do anything.

Me: No words, but puzzled expression.

Older Co-worker: The boss always asks for stuff. Most of it just pops up because some other boss mumbled about it earlier today. Our boss doesn’t have any idea what that is or what to do with it. Just mimicking the other bosses.

Me: more puzzled expression.

Older Co-worker: If another boss mumbles about it again, our boss will ask for it again, but our boss still won’t know what it is.

Me: Yeah, but… (note how I progress from puzzled look to two actual words)

Older Co-worker: If it is actually important and the boss understands what it is, the boss will ask for it again. Then we’ll do it.

Me: but isn’t that calling our boss…

Older Co-worker: Yeah. So it is. If you gave our boss what our boss requested, our boss would look at it, try to figure out what it is, try to figure out what to do with it, and probably get a headache. Give our boss a break. Wait until our boss knows something.

Me: Puzzled expression. Shrug of the shoulders. Turn and walk away.

→ No CommentsTags: Conversation · Management

Tools and Abilities

January 21st, 2018 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Just because you have a tool in your toolkit doesn’t mean you know what to do with it.

Tools tools tools. Everyone in the tech world has lots of tools. If you don’t have a list of tools on your resume, you aren’t hired.

Let’s go through some obvious things:

  • Just because you own a typewriter (word processor or other fancy thing) doesn’t mean you know how to write.
  • Just because you have a saw doesn’t mean you can cut something precisely.

Okay, now that we have some basis for discussion, we go on.

Person A: We have the latest thingy that automates our software testing!

Person B: Great. Can you tell me the purpose of a test? Please explain the Oracle principle of testing and its ramifications to your situation. Please explain the role of requirements tracing in test design.

Person A: huh

Who do you wish to hire? The person who has tools, tools, tools or the person who has abilities?

→ No CommentsTags: Certification · Competence · Concepts · Technology

The Night Clerk Fixed My Android Tablet

January 18th, 2018 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Another instance of “don’t judge a book by its cover” slaps me in the face.

I bought my wife an Android tablet for Christmas. If you know my wife, you will need a couple of minutes to regain your composure and resume breathing. Okay, we continue.

I, being the smart computing person that I am, was going to have it all set up for her so that when she opened the box, it would have all the apps and all that good stuff. I was staying in a motel, and the WiFi in the motel was a bit odd (that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it). Despite being the smart computing person that I am, I couldn’t connect the new Android tablet to the Internet.

I was sitting in the motel lobby, when this fella’—if you saw him with his front teeth missing and his belly hanging over his belt, you would know why I call him a “fella'”—who worked the night shift looked over my shoulder and asked what I was doing.

After several shrugs and just-leave-me-alone-because-of-the-smart-computing-person-that-I-am looks, I handed the non-cooperative Android tablet to the fella’. In five minutes, he handed it back to me fully connected to the Internet.

“Sometimes they act a little funny,” was his reply or some other folksy saying that a fella’ with no front teeth, his belly hanging over his belt, and scratching out a living as a night clerk would utter.

Being the smart computer person that I am, I had to admit, well, I don’t know what I had to admit, but I had to admit something to myself about Android tablets, motel WiFi, and night clerk fella’s. I guess the big admission is that the night clerk fixed my Android tablet when I couldn’t. No, you can’t judge a book by its cover. And yes, you can learn a few things from just about anybody, so keep your notice-er working and learn.

→ No CommentsTags: America · Education · Learning · Notice

Everyone but Us

January 14th, 2018 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Old adage, but still true. Something about pointing a finger at someone else means you have three fingers pointing at myself.

The News Channel (fill in with your favorite news channel that you dislike) reports that corporations are greedy and only want more money. Of course, The News Channel is itself a corporation that moves persons in and out of the camera’s eye depending on who brings the most viewers and the most advertising money. That is not greed on the part of The News Channel, it is just, uh, er, well, never mind.

The News Channel reports that corporations have accountants that dig through the tax law and find “loopholes” to reduce their taxes and cheat the American tax payer. The News Channel itself is a corporation that has accountants that…well, you know. And, by the way, the high-paid reporter on The News Channel has a tax specialist doing her taxes and advising how to shift income into different categories to reduce tax liability, but that is just, uh, er, well, never mind.

The project manager complains that upper management is putting arbitrary deadlines on work. The project manager tells the system builders to finish everything a week before the deadline just in case something goes wrong and they will have a cushion. That “week” is an arbitrary figure and an arbitrary deadline, but this is just, uh, er, well, never mind.

The programmer complains that the tool being used is buggy and causes extra work. The system the programmer built might have a few bugs in it and need an occasional reset, but that is just, uh, er, well, never mind.

Everyone but us.

→ No CommentsTags: Excuses · Work