Encouragement without the condescension?

My role has recently been tweaked to help support a new employee, and as such I’m presented with the task of motivating without condascending when walking through the many elements of coding for modern business applications.

I’ve been around long enough to pick up little quotes that may be used as “watch-phrases” to remind indiviuals of when the need arises. It’s often difficult for us to adapt to strange working practices at the best of times, and condensing working practices into repeatable and memorable phrases could make it easier.

“Little and often”

In reference to Source Control, checking in little and often encourages the developer to create small, atomic changes to source control, which is essential for a reliable source-code repository. It is all too easy to get your nose deep in work and forget that you have ended up performing many tasks and rolling them all into one check-in, making it difficult to pick it apart if necessary.

“Fail early, fail fast”

Being a small company, we have to be particulary fleet of foot when working with clients and developing our products and skill-sets. Agile project management practices help us achieve this, although it would be impossible to fully implement all the principles of Agile which relies on larger teams. The principle here is that it is okay, to fail. Failing itself is a learning process and essential to preventing a bigger failure and therefore costs later in the project. But do it fast!

“Do only one thing, do it well” and “Keep it Simple, Stupid”

When coding, it is easy to start building too much into too little. Whether it is an overwhelmed class full of functionality that could be farmed out, or the other extreme; a bunch of barely connected classes that come together in a somewhat complicated way to perform something quite simple. SOLID principles work well here, if only as a reminder or gateway to other design patterns such as Repository, Factory and other such patterns. Additionally, one should always consider if you’re building a sledgehammer. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) always helps remind you of the importance of the task in relation to the wider project.

“There’s no such thing as a stupid question …”

… just stupid people who try to answer it themselves. By this I am trying to encourage the disruption of my day and distractions to my work by asking a question that should be asked, as opposed to a question answered using only their own incomplete intuition. Clearly, Google/Bing is your friend here, but what is important is to back that research up with ensuring that the answer is appropriate to the organisation or project.

Updated 8 August 2012:

I just found myself saying …

“If you find yourself doing it again, you’re doing it wrong”

Using KISS we can make sure we keep DRY, by creating lots of small functional components that can be re-used to form larger functions. If you find yourself re-using code or copying and pasting, you’re probably missing this opportunity for re-use.

Public information by PDF … fail

The Isle of Man is currently experiencing a minor water inconvenience due to the recent storms, resulting in water needing to be boiled for users’ assurance that it is safe to be used/consumed.

Cue panic. “Is it contaminated?”, “Are the schools open?”, “what about farmers?” are questions that have all been asked. The water authority posted information on their web-site, informed the Police and local radio stations to get the word out that there is a “boil water” notice for 48 hours. I believe they did everything they could have. Texts, tweets and the like have been flying round. Though typical Chinese whispers/incompetence resulted in terms like “raw water” being incorrectly understood as “raw sewage” and the Police stating water had been “contaminated”.

Except, that once again, the actual information for users is buried within a PDF. The whole Isle of Man Government web-site is just a thin layer over some sort of internal document library intranet. It is exceptionally poor in this regard.


So information that people need to know to understand how they can use their boiled/unboiled water is hidden inside a heavy document format that requires specialised reader software to download. Sure, PDFs are widely used and the “standard” for document publishing online, but why require users to:

  1. Click a link, then
  2. possibly have to download and install reader software, then
  3. navigate through more information to get to the important parts?

The government web-site is frequently guilty of this. Some people don’t want to click links, don’t want to have Adobe PDFs on their machines, are nervous when asked by their browser that access to their PDF software is required. It is a total usability fail and shows complete lack of care and attention that the information contained in the leaflet cannot be put on the original web-site. As I tweeted yesterday, putting public health information in a PDF is like sending SOS using Semaphore over Morse code.

In my opinion, PDFs are superfluous. They are useful to maintain formatting and perform form completion exercises, and nothing more. Of course, paper-copies of health information exist and this will also usefully be available in PDF form. But PDFs should support and complement existing hypertext, not form the only source of information.

I believe a new web-site is on the way. I hope new people behind the web-site are going to come with it.

6 Peaks Challenge for WaterAid

6 PeaksNow I like walking, but climbing 6 of the largest peaks in the British Isles within 72 hours? That’s just nutty.

That’s what my manager, Charles Douthwaite, has decided to participate in. A keen walker, Charles may be seen striding over hillocks at some speed, usually deep in thought listening to his Spanish lessons on his MP3 player.

The challenge is simple, Charles, along with the rest of his team “Ny Glastinyn shee” must climb to the summits of:

  • Snaefell in The Isle of Man
  • Snowdon in Wales
  • Scafell Pike in England
  • Ben Nevis in Scotland
  • Slieve Donar in Northern Ireland
  • Corran Tuathail

The team must drive between the locations, catching what sleep they can in the interim. The team also consists of Gail Green and Nigel Maddocks, all keen walkers who seem to be setting a considerable pace, already reaching the summits of two of the mountains in first place by some margin!

The effort (or is it expedition?) is in aid of WaterAid, a charity that works with local communities to provide sustainable and clean water to communities, often including the world’s poorest people. The team have set a sponsorship target of £3,000 and are well on their way of achieving this goal. So why not show your support for their effort and that of WaterAid’s by donating using their Virgin Money Giving site?

If you’re a keen walker yourself, check out Charles’ blog at http://walkingmann.wordpress.com, which includes his routes, maps and many photographs he took along the way. Beware, though, there is often some experimentation involved with his routes!

We’ll be tweeting the team’s progress on the @iww Twitter account of Island Web Works Ltd. You can also keep track of their progress on the 6 Peaks Challenge site, which includes a live Google Map of their progress.