In the workplace

Let’s hack it now and fix it later

“Let’s hack it now and fix it later”. I’ve heard that before!

3 years later looking at some old source code, “WTF was I thinking?!”

Then I remember. The deadline was tight. We needed to get something out the door. And we decided “Let’s hack it now and fix it later”.

Now I’m feeling dispirited.

Reality is often quite nuanced as it was not necessarily a bad decision, it just missed one qualifier.

It depends on when “later” is. If later set at the time of the hack (“lets hack this now and we’ll fix it next month”) then that is acceptable. However, hacking on the never never has many consequences.

The arguments for “lets hack this now and we can fix it later” run the same way as taking on a debt. If it is managed then it can be a sensible decision (e.g. a mortgage or car loan) . If it is left to run rampant (just piling spending on a credit card and only ever playing the minimum balance) then extreme measures may have to be taken down the line.

In the workplace

Recruitment Agents take note

A few times a week I get emails from recruitment agencies, they are are pretty much all along the same lines. The email seems to be a standard template that tells me absolutely nothing of importance about the job and gives me next to zero incentive to find out more.

I’m in a pretty great job at the moment that I’m really enjoying, so I’m not actually looking to move, but had this been maybe about a year ago (before things got restructured) I would have moved if anyone gave me a reasonable incentive for doing so. Based on the generic emails that say nothing of consequence that recruitment agents send out it is better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know. And I really don’t know.

So, here’s an example of something I received earlier this week:

From: <Name-of-agent>
Sent: <date>
To: Colin Mackay
Subject: Possible Synergy

Hi Colin,

We’ve not spoken before, I’m a head-hunter in the <technology-misspelled> development space and your name has came to light as a top talent in the <technology-misspelled> space.

I know your not actively on the market and I would not be contacting you if I didn’t feel I had something truly exceptional.

My role not only gives you interesting programme work in the <technology-misspelled> space but also strong career progression route in a growing business, work life balance, supportive environment, stability and a final salary pension. <name-of-city-I-live-in> based role.

Are you free for a discreet chat about this, what is the best time and number to call you on?

Kind Regards,

<name-of-agent>

<contact details>

This tells very little. She has at least identified that I work with the relevant technology (although sometimes I think that might just be a fluke given the number of emails I receive about things that I’m not remotely competent in) and the city I live in, so I suppose that’s a good start.

Pretty much every recruitment agent send out something similar. Every email I receive says the job is “truly exceptional”, “exciting” or that it’s an “amazing opportunity”. Those words are so over used that more often the email gets binned at that point. A lesson from many a primary school teacher trying to improve her pupils vocabulary is that they can’t use the word “nice” any more and they’ll get marked down if they do.

Nothing here sells me on the idea that change would be a good idea even although they acknowledged I’m not actively on the market.

The agent did not mentioned the type of company. Even if they can’t mention the name of the company at this stage the following would be useful: Is it a software consultancy? a digital agency? a software house with a defined product? An internal software department in a larger company? Which industry is the company operating in?

Some of the answers might turn me off, but it is better to know now than waste time to find out later. Some of the answers may pique my interest, which is obviously a good thing.

They mention the “<name-of-technology> space”. For the moment, we’ll ignore that it was misspelled (lots of technologies have strange ways of spelling or capitalising things, but it doesn’t take long to find out the official way).

They don’t really define what “XYZ space” actually means. There are so many subgroups of technology in that “space” that it could mean anything, including things I’m either unsuitable for or have no interest in. What’s the database technology (assuming there is one)? What is the front end technology (assuming there is one)? Or is the role wholly at one end or the other (e.g. mostly in the business logic or mostly in the front end)? What tool sets and frameworks are involved? (e.g. Visual Studio 2012, include version numbers. I’m interested in progressing forward, but if they’re still on Visual Studio 2008 I’m not interested and it would be better that you know that now). Is the company all single-vendor based (i.e. only using a tool if that vendor produced it) or do they use technologies from third parties (open source or commercial)?

There is nothing about training in the description they’ve provided. That would be a big bonus to me. I already spend in the region of £2000 a year keeping myself up-to-date (books, on-line videos, conferences, etc.), it would be nice to find an employer that is genuinely interested in contributing in that area beyond buying occasional books or giving me the occasional day-off outside of my annual leave to attend a conference that I’m already paying for. After all, they are the ones benefiting from all that training. However, occasionally emails do mention training, but it is sometimes couched in language that suggests a reluctance (e.g. “as an when required by the business”), but it’s there because the company or agent knows it will attract potential candidates if they mention training.

If the prospective company doesn’t provide training then I’d remind them that it is “Better to train your developers and risk they leave, than keep them stupid and risk they stay”. If the prospective company has a really negative view to training then I really wouldn’t want to work for them – I have already worked with a company that seemed to proactively provide disincentives for any sort of training.

Finally, there is no mention about salary. While, on the whole, I’m more interested in other things, I do have a mortgage to pay. If the salary won’t cover my bills with enough left over for a nice holiday (it’s no fun sitting at home watching Jeremy Kyle on days off) then that would be a showstopper even if all other things were perfect.

Also, stating salary as “£DOE” or “£market rate" is equally useless. Companies have a budget. They might say “£DOE” (depending on experience), but if it goes above their budget then that’s all they are going to offer. If that is not enough then it is better to know that up front than later on.

I’ve also been in situations where I’ve felt that the recruitment agent knew my salary expectation wasn’t going to fly with the hiring company, but strung me along for a bit until finally saying that they rejected my CV. It would be better to let potential recruits know up front without wasting everybody’s time.

While providing more information up front might reduce the interest from some potential candidates, at least they are not going to waste their valuable time and the recruitment agent’s valuable time pursuing something that is not going to come to anything. On the other hand, providing more information might be the catalyst to getting someone who is not actively looking to sit up and think about making that change.

Certainly, if I keep receiving the generic emails like the one above, especially that acknowledge I’m not actively looking, then I’m never going to look unless my current employer does something to make me question why I am there.

In the workplace

We're looking for a front end web developer

My company are hiring, and we’re looking for a front end web developer:

Xedo software are looking for a skilled front end web developer to join their expanding team. The job will be located at the Glasgow Business Park (just off M8 J9) although due to expansion we will be moving to EuroCentral in the future.

1. Technology skill set – You will be able to evaluate new tools and technologies that will aid or improve productivity. You will have used or have a working understanding of these technologies: HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, C#, .NET, ASP.NET (MVC desirable, WebForms acceptable), Visual Studio 2010, Web Debugging tools such as FireBug & Fiddler.
We also use: ReSharper, CruiseControl.NET, NUnit, ReSharper, SQL Server, TFS, Infragistics Web Controls, AgileZen, MediaWiki, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe DreamWeaver.

We develop for various browsers on desktops and mobile devices. You will be proactive in ensuring your skill set is kept up-to-date.

2. Creative design – Ability to create intuitive user interface when presented with a functional website. To be able to work with business users to capture requirements and then be able to communicate these back as functional and technical requirements ensuring these match the business needs.

3. Development – Production of code that is well structured, efficient, stable and secure, using best practices which allows other developers to quickly understand and follow up. We are also implementing a Media Wiki to capture development documentation.

4. User Interface design (UI) – Looking at user journeys, menu navigation, graphical layout and user functionality. Therefore you will be able to assess the user’s needs and methods of using the application, map this and then be able to effectively translate this into technical requirements.

5. Issues Resolution and Tracking Management – You will monitor and oversee the level of issues raised and resolved. Implementing continuous improvement strategies to areas that keep recurring and ensuring a smooth technical support service to your clients. We use a combination of TFS and AgileZen (Kanban board)

To apply for this job, please send your CV detailing relevant experience to recruitment@xedosoftware.com

No agencies, please.

In the workplace

The slow handclap

… or how not to motivate your staff

In a previous job we had a team meeting each morning at 9:15. The purpose was to go around the team and in almost scrum like fashion tell everyone what you did, what you’re planning to do and anything holding things up. Occasionally it would also allow people to tell others about some useful new technology or way of doing things that may be of benefit to others.

This was great, however one team member occasionally turned up late. Sometimes due to traffic, but often due to a long running medical complaint that had come out of remission. As a result he earned the displeasure of the development team’s manager.

One morning this manager faced with this individual being late once again instructed his team that any time someone arrives into the meeting late they were to receive a slow handclap. A gesture that indicates dissatisfaction or impatience [1].

A few minutes later the late comer arrived and the team started its slow handclap, egged on by a grinning manager. I joined in. However, something was intensely uncomfortable about it.

The next time the late comer arrived mid-meeting the team again started its slow handclap. This time I didn’t join in. And it clicked what had made me so uncomfortable the first time around. A slow handclap is a gesture designed to publically humiliate the person it is aimed against, which was why I felt so uncomfortable about it.

While it might be perfectly acceptable and understandable for a group of people to spontaneously employ a slow handclap against a politician making a speech, say, the Women’s Institute against the then Prime Minister [2], it is most definitely not acceptable for a manager to employ his staff into joining him in a bit of group bullying.

For a group who have less power it can be effective to help redress the balance to some degree. The WI against the PM, for example. However, for it to be employed by someone who already has power against someone who does not, a manager against a junior team member, it is inexcusable.

In the workplace

NMA – Top interactive agencies

This years New Media Age top interactive agencies list is out. I’m quite please to see that I work for a company that is doing very well in the list.

Equator-Scotland-Top5

I work for Equator which is currently the top ranking agency in Scotland, and #41 in the UK.

equator-synopsis

The bit I’d like to point out, just to blow my own trumpet, is the last paragraph:

Colin-Mackay-Key-Hire

“Key hires include Scottish Developers chairman Colin McKay [sic] as senior developer…” – NMA

In the workplace

Recruitment Agents, eh?

Today I received an email from a recruitment agent that seems more than a little mixed up in terms of the skills required.

Dear Colin,

Are you a C#.net developer? Are you fluent in Italian? If so then I have a client that would be really interested in hearing from you.

Due to the new venture, any potential candidate would need to be an Spanish speaker ideally bilingual in Spanish. Please note the role is based in Manchester but would involve some travel to Spain.

[Emphasis mine]

In order to spare the recruiter’s blushes, I’ve removed any identifying information. Incidentally, if you are curious the pay was absolutely rubbish!

In the workplace

Go Directly to Funky

In our office we have a notice board for the development team. It was there when I joined and I suspect its original function has long since been superseded by its new function of displaying any quotes, pearls of wisdom or witticisms of the day that members of the development team happen to find sufficiently amusing that it requires a degree of permanence.

So I give you, our notice board:

Developer's Noticeboard

Have fun looking through that lot.