Part 3 in the super-guru's Mary Jo Sminkey's series on robust error handling. Enjoy!
So in my last post on error handling, I promised in this next one to cover logging of Ajax requests. As more and more of our site involves Ajax requests, this has become an important part of my error logging and debug work. If you want to know how to do this read on!Read More
p> Yes yes yes! CF Webtools is hiring again. We are looking for 1 to 3 advanced ColdFusion programmers to add to our already large team of CF folks. Here's the stuff everyone wants to know.
We are a company out to build a positive culture and work environment where you can shine and feel good about what you do. We are looking for developers that match our culture of Can-do, Caring, Communication and Competency. Here are some examples of what we expect.
CF Webtools has revamped its awesome referral program to make it awesomer - or even more awesome. As you may know we have been offering generous referral bonuses to developers for years. If you bring us business we try and reward you. In 2016 CF Webtools paid out nearly $100,000 in referral bonuses! But our old program was hard to understand so our marketing guy - Curt - has twisted my arm to make better.
If you bring us business you get $500.00. Any business. A mom and pop store, someone selling pet insurance, an app for measuring dog poo by volume and color - we don't care. If it's business and we make a sale, you get $500. But wait there's more. If said business turns into at least 150 hours you get an additional $500! So, you can make $1000 just by name dropping.
Now I will have to avoid Curt for a few days after I say this, but if you bring us a whale - a customer with regular work involving at least half a developer (hopefully the top half) I will be even generouser - or even more generous. Call me and we'll make a deal. I promise we'll make it worth your while.
So, your grandma is selling needle point online and you want to refer her to us but you are afraid. Maybe you fear we will treat her poorly, or that we won't take "needlinggrandma.com" seriously. Be reassured by the following Muse Pledge to you:
We want to make you happy you turned over work to us. We will make every effort to insure it is a good experience.
CF Webtools has a large and diverse staff. Don't assume we won't be interested just because we shout "ColdFusion" all the time. We have a dedicated operations group for managing large technology stacks. We do IOS and Droid development. We manage complex databases and are familiar with many different environments. Give us a call and find out.
Ok, so you have a problem client or former employer where you had a bad experience. We get that. From month to month we are often embroiled in handling a "hand off" from a developer or company where things went south. We specialize in working hard to smooth things out for the customer and we do it without throwing the former developer under the bus. We will concentrate on the work and do our best to make you look good. If you don't want us to mention your name we won't. If it will help and you say it's ok we will. You will find us easy, dare I say charming to work with.
We'll look to glean any information that can help us be of benefit to the prospective customer. Just reach out and let our staff do the rest. Easy, right?
The Muse is fortunate to have a number of very talented and smart developers work for him. Mary Jo Sminkey has been with CF Webtools for several years now and we simply love having her around. She's a fantastic developer and a fantastic resource. You might catch her at cf.objective() where she will be speaking next week.
Meanwhile, you might remember part 1 of this series – Building a Robust Error Handler. Below is part 2 in that 3 part series. Enjoy!
Well it's taken a couple years to get around to it, but at long last here is part 2 of my error handling post! Of course, in that time I've continued to work on improvements to my error handler, so many changes that I'm going to need to break THIS post up into multiple parts as well. I'll try not to take too long to get the final part out to you!
So in part one we looked at things like using the error handler for both global errors as well as in cfcatch blocks, dumping all the available scopes while scrubbing them for any sensitive data, keeping track of already reported errors to prevent receiving tons of duplicate emails for the same error, etc.
In this post (part 2) we will expand the functionality of the error handler and talk about strategies for use throughout the application. Let's start with how to handle errors "in depth".Read More
This is the moment the developers have been waiting for. After having thrown both the developer and his application under the bus, we are going to make room under there for the customer. Now if you are customer reading this, take heart. While I'm going to say some things that will hurt, in the end I'm going to rub salve on the wound and we will all sing Kumbaya together. Here we go.
The Muse finally has a number - a project that we've estimated at 350 hours. Of course, this estimate is not correct. Why? Because no estimate is ever correct. Please refer back to the first post in this series. The majority of estimates are wild guesses. We've done our best to find out all we can about the system, requirements, priorities and every little nitpicky detail we can imagine. Our estimate is based on that discovery. If all of our dozens of assumptions are correct then our estimate is rock solid. But of course, there are still things we don't know and many of our assumptions are simply off. Much of what we need to know we simply can't know until we dig in and start doing the work. For that reason we will give Bob a range of hours - say 275 to 375 hours - and dozens of caveats that he will epically fail to hear and absorb. What he will hear is the number 275 and that will be the basis of his expectations.
Let's check in with the Muse and Bob as they finalize the project.
Most clients are not quite as bad as Bob. Still, every contractor or development shop owner has a story remarkably similar to the one above. I know most Muse readers are developers. I can see you now in my mind's eye with righteous indignation and clenched fist saying, "You tell them muse, clients are the worst!" But actually, this is not their fault. Your customer has his or her own domain of knowledge. I have a customer who is a commodity trader. I expect him to know the difference between a bull call and a butterfly spread, but I do not expect him to know the difference between MySQL and MS SQL, how the cloud works, or why it takes 10 hours to program something. The basic issue is threefold:
When last we checked in with Bob and the Muse (part 1 - applications) they were trying to come to grips with Bob's complex... I mean his application's complexity. We are now at the stage called "developer involvement" where he and the Muse are speaking with Sugar Sweet - the Muse's crack developer (and the name of a girl I dated in college). Let's go live to the conference call (be careful not to spook them).
Developers come in all stripes and their views will greatly impact your estimate. Some of them have a religious devotion to certain technologies, libraries and approaches to development. To be a developer (at least on my staff) requires high aptitude, intelligence, breadth of knowledge and confidence. Those traits generate towering personalities like the Muse (whose lack of modesty is his only real flaw), and of course egos. They have opinions and they are usually not afraid to use them. Their defensive ferocity increases exponentially the closer you get to their favorite technology. If you don't believe me try yelling "Windows rules" at an IOS conference (and hope it's not an open carry state). For this reason, it's always a good idea to have non-developers involved in your estimates. Around here we call them project managers. They use their knowledge of the developer and the customer to "find the sweet spot" that meets the needs of the application and its stakeholders.
Of course, not every estimate needs the once over by a project manager, but larger projects or enhancements should always be a collaboration. Developers need to be able to justify the estimates they provide to someone who knows them well enough to understand how they might get tripped up. Here are a few "types" of developer estimators.
Sugar is in this camp. She will like over-estimate every task on older code because she sees any legacy code as debt that needs to be paid. To her this isn't optional, it's essential. In the real world it's definitely optional. Is script better than tags - in most cases yes (don't email me). Is using jQuery better than custom JS libraries? I believe it is. Are stored procs better than queries? Usually they are (though I've seen some god-awful stored procs). Best practices, frameworks, indentation, file naming conventions - these are all important parts of competent development. But when approaching legacy code there is a lot to consider. For example, has the customer managed to get a return on his initial investment? If he has, he may be ready for a rewrite. If not, we may need to work with what is there and not break the bank rewriting huge swaths of code. The business decisions rule the day. It's important for developers to understand the economics in play.
Estimating is about imagining what could happen. What if the user doesn't check the box - what happens then? What happens when a user doesn't follow your pattern and puts in letters where numbers are indicated? Most developers react to these conditions with frustration. Who would do that? Why would a user use the application in that way when it's clearly designed to be used this way. A good estimator considers all these what-ifs. Estimating is also about accounting for what you still don't know. It's about challenging your assumptions. The underestimator concentrates on what he sees in front of him. His estimate comes with the caveat "if all my broad assumptions are correct". A good project manager will know the developer well enough to A) challenge him on his assumptions and B) add hours to the final estimate to insure it's adequate.
Some developers are the opposite of the blithe underestimator. Instead of broad assumptions they build a huge list of unknowns and caveats. How do you know if you are an overcomplicator? Here's a little test for you. Let's say uou pull up Google and the page fails to load. Order the following list by probability.
Some time ago I was helping a Muse reader with an error via screen share. On the screen the error debug information had query code and indicated a malformed query. I asked what he had tried. "I tried a new DB driver, checked the network connection and I've been googling how cached execution plans work." I took a closer look at the debug output on the screen, highlighted a portion and said "You are missing a comma after this column." A good manager will know his devs well enough to spot an over estimator and adjust estimates accordingly.
Finally, there is the developer for whom everything is about tech. The saying goes that when your only tool is a hammer everything looks like a nail. Developers need to be reminded that what they are solving are behavior problems, not (typically) technical problems. When we build a new search engine for a company selling nuts and bolts, the problem we are solving is not faster indexing, better sorting, or more granular pattern matching. nope. It's the basic problem of folks rummaging through bins trying to figure out thread and length. We are trying to make that task easier.
The tech hammerer will turn to the technical aspects of a project over and over because that is her comfort zone. She will suggest products, approaches and solutions that may or may not solve the basic problem underlying the project.
Tech hammerers usually need to learn that it is highly beneficial to gather domain knowledge about your customer. What does the company do? How do they make money? (that's the most important question for a dev company like ours) What sort of problems do they solve with their application? These questions inform our decisions in ways that mere technical questions cannot. Moreover, they tend to make us better partners - better at suggesting changes that save or make money for the customer. "What if we chose to do it this way Bob, would that save your users a step? Do you really need this field, it seems like we have this covered with earlier data. Explain how this will help your user - I want to understand."
The main takeaway here is that developers and their personalities have an impact on your estimates. Estimating is a team effort and requires give and take from several sectors. In our next post we are going to throw customers under the bus - gently of course.
Consider this typical interaction with a prospective customer:
Now it's not the Muse's fault that he's having a hard time communicating. After all, if it was easy I'd be flipping burgers and still driving my '72 delta 88 from College. And before you get all up in Bob's grill, it's not his fault either. We IT natives tend to use lingo as if everyone has been exposed to the concept of an "API" or "java integration" or a "mouse".
So I'm going to let you in on a little secret. The bald truth is that development companies usually have no idea what something will cost even after you describe it to them thoroughly. The most accurate estimate for enhancements will always come from the original developer, and even then, they are often guessing wildly.
Chances are if someone is throwing numbers around without asking a lot of questions and without being nervous about "guaranteeing" the cost, you are about to enter a relationship you will regret. Think Vegas chapel and too much bourbon and you'll get the idea. To help further the conversation about estimates I offer this 3-part blog series on "The hard task of estimating". My hope is that in the end, readers who are customers and readers who are developers will both come to understand a little more about this maddeningly ticklish task that we all must do.
Estimating is hard and estimates are often unreliable because of three main areas where issues arise:
Yes it is that time again. The Muse wants to add another talented developer to his aggregate brain. If you think you might qualify send your resume (yes, we would like a resume) to firstname.lastname@example.org Please note: All of our developer jobs are remote. That does mean you need to be stand offish. It means you work from home. We prefer you take a shower and get dressed each day, but honestly we have a don't-ask-don't-tell policy on that. In addition all our positions are US based (sorry Indian friends, we love you but we are sticking stateside for now) and all of our jobs are W2 with benefits. Here's the "hard skill" list.
I'm glad you asked. CF Webtools has four core values.