A recovering “wunderkind”

If there is anything the IT industry loves above anything else it is youth.

I used to work in a company with an engineer who’d been programming since the early 1970s, who’d implemented operating systems on mainframes in assembly language, wrote OSI (up to session layer) and TCP/IP comms stacks from scratch on DOS based machines and made them all work together in the background. He wasn’t the only one either. There were a number of very talented, mature engineers at the company at the time. And yet, the guys the company held up on a pedestal were the snot nosed kids just out of college who hadn’t done anything even slightly comparable.

I was one of the snot nosed kids.

My “wunderkind” years hid a great deal of insecurity. Deep down most wunderkinds understand that it’s all just a charade. Genius in the computer industry is a much debased term, meaning you are moderately competent at your job but are young.

The fear is always there, the fear that somebody is going to find you out. Maybe, just maybe, your next project is going to show that you don’t know all of the answers. You may even be tempted to turn down projects that are challenging because of your fear.

The biggest danger is that you might start believing the bullshit. The worst thing you can do in this business is stop learning. If you start thinking you have some kind of innate ability, then sooner or later, you may think you can just rely on it. Stopping your learning in the wunderkind years is just going to mean you miss out on the early to mid career development you need to punch through into being a genuinely good engineer.

My advice if you are a current wunderkind? Ignore it like the bullshit it is. Keep developing your skills and take on challenging projects. Fail if you must. But above all, keep learning…

If you haven’t made it by the time you reach age X, you never will

I forget where I read that, but for a while it made me very unhappy. I was approaching X at the time and I most certainly had not “made it“.

Still haven’t.

Probably never will by my definition when aged X. And you know, it doesn’t bother me one bit now.

One of the nicer things about getting older is that your definition of “making it” changes. In my twenties it was about money for the most part. But, it is hard not to be sucked into thinking about your position at work.

There’s a lot of status tied up with managing people.

It does show the dangers of reading all of those articles on the web pontificating about success. It is your success, you get to define precisely what it is. Don’t let anybody else define it for you.

Observations on 8 Issues of C# Weekly

At the end of 2013 I thought it would be interesting to create a C# focused weekly newsletter. I registered the domain and created a website and hooked it up to the excellent MailChimp email service. The site went live (or at least Google Analytics was added to the site) on the 18th December 2013.

And then I kind of forgot about it for a year or so.

In the mean time the website was getting subscribers. Not many but enough to suggest that there’s an appetite for a weekly C# focused newsletter.

The original website was a simple affair, just a standard landing page written using Bootstrap. Simple it may have been, but rather effective.

I figured that I might as well give the newsletter a go. Whilst the audience wasn’t very big (it still isn’t), it was big enough to give some idea whether the newsletter was working or not.

I’ve now curated eight issues, I thought it about time to take stock. The first issue was sent on Friday 27th February 2015 and has been sent every Friday since.

C# Weekly Subscriber Chart
C# Weekly Subscribers

The number of subscribers has grown over the last eight weeks, starting from a base of 194 subscribers there are now 231. A net increase of 37 in eight weeks. Of course there have been unsubscribes, but the new subscribers each week have always outnumbered them.

C# Weekly Website Visitors Chart
C# Weekly Website Visitors

The website traffic has also trended upwards over the last year, especially since the first issue was curated. Now there are a number of pages on the website, the site is receiving more traffic from the search engines. The number of visitors is not high, but at least progress is being made.

I started a Google Adwords campaign for the newsletter fairly early on. The campaign was reasonably successful while it lasted. Unfortunately, the website must have tripped up some kind of filter because the campaign was stopped. Pitty because the campaign did convert quite well. I did appeal the decision and I was informed that Google didn’t like the fact that the site doesn’t have a business model and that it links out to other websites a lot. Curiously, both charges could have been levelled at Google in the early days.

The weekly newsletter itself is a lot of fun to produce. During the week I look out for interesting and educational C# related content and tweet it via the @C# Weekly twitter account. I then condense all of the twitter content into a single email once a week on a Friday. Not all of the tweeted content makes it into the weekly issue. There is often overlap between content produced during the week so I get to choose what’s best.

The job of curating does take longer than I originally anticipated. I suspect that each issue takes the better part of a day to produce, which is probably twice the time I anticipated. Perhaps, when I’m more experienced, I will be able to reduce the time taken to produce the issue without reducing the quality.

Time will tell.

I can certainly recommend curating a newsletter from the perspective of learning about the topic. Even after only eight weeks I feel like I have learned quite a lot about C# that I wouldn’t otherwise have known, especially about the upcoming C# version 6.

If you want to learn about a topic, I can certainly recommend curating a newsletter as a good learning tool.

One of my better ideas over the last year was to move over to Curated, a newsletter service provider founded by the folks who run the very successful iOS Dev Weekly newsletter. The tools provided by Curated have helped a lot.

C# Weekly Content Interaction Stats Chart
C# Weekly Content Interaction Statistics

One of the best features of Curated is the statistics it provides for each issue. You can learn a lot from discovering which content subscribers are most interested in. You won’t be surprised to find that the low level C# content is the most popular.

The only minor problem I’ve found is that my dog eared old site actually converted subscribers at a higher rate than my current site. The version 1 site was converting at around 18% whereas the current site is converting at around 13%.

I have a few ideas around why the conversion rate has dropped. The current site is a bit drab and needs to be spruced up. In addition, the current site displays previous issues, including the most recent issue on the home page. I wonder if having content on the home page actually distracts people from subscribing.

All told curating a newsletter is fun. I can thoroughly recommend it. 🙂

The evils of the dashboard merry-go-round

What is the first thing you do when you get to the office? Check your email probably. Then what? I bet you go through the same routine of checking your dashboards to see what’s happened overnight.

That is exactly what I do every single morning at work.

And I keep checking those dashboards throughout the day. Sometimes I manage to get myself in a loop, continuing around and around the same set of dashboards.

I can pretty much guarantee that nothing will have changed significantly. Certainly not to the point where some action is necessary.

How many times do you check some dashboard and then action something? Me? Very rarely, if ever.

The Problem

I call this obsessive need to view all of my various dashboards my dashboard merry-go-round.

The merry-go-round is particularly a problem with real time stats. When Google Analytics implemented real time stats I guarantee that webmaster productivity plumeted the very next day.

But the merry-go-round is not confined to Google Analytics or even website statistics. Any kind of statistics will do.

It is a miracle I manage to do any work. One of the most seductive things about the constant dashboard merry-go-round is that it feels like work. There you are frantically pounding away quickly moving between your various dashboards. It even looks to everybody else like work. Your boss probably thinks you’re being really productive.

The problem is that there is no action. There is no end result.

You log into Google Analytics, go to the “Real-Time” section, you discover that there are five people browsing your site. On pages X, Y, and Z.

So what. You are not getting any actionable information from this.

You then go to the other three sites you’ve got in Google Analytics. Rince and reapeat.

Solutions

The obvious solution is to just stop. But if it was as simple as that, you’d already have stopped and so would I.

Notifications

One of the things you are trying to do by going into your dashboards is to see what’s changed. Has anything interesting happened? One way you can short circuit this is to configure the dashboard to tell you when something interesting has happened.

I use the Pingdom service to monitor company websites and I almost never go into the Pingdom dashboard. Why? Because I’ve configured the service to send me a text message to my mobile whenever a website goes down. If I don’t receive a text, then there’s no need to look at the dashboard.

Notifications do come with a pretty big caveat: you must trust your notifications. If I can’t rely on Pingdom to tell me when my sites are down, I may be tempted to go dashboard hunting.

Even if your systems are only capable of sending email alerts, you can still turn those into mobile friendly notifications and even phone call alerts using services like PagerDuty, OpsGenie and Victorops.

Instead of needing a mobile phone app for each service you run, you can merge all of your alerts into a single app with mobile notifications.

If you haven’t received a notification, then you don’t need to go anywhere near the dashboard. Every time you think about going there just remind yourself that, if there was a problem, you’d already know about it.

Time Management Techniques

Pomodoro Technique or Timeboxing or … lots of other similar techniques.

None of the time management techniques will of themselves cure your statsitus, it just moves it into your own “pomodori“, or, the time in between your productive tasks. If you want to sacrifice your own leisure time to stats, then go nuts. But at least you’re getting work done in the mean time.

The Writers’ Den

One technique writers use to be more productive is the writer’s den. The idea is you set aside a space with as few distractions as possible, including a PC with just the software you need to work and that isn’t connected to the internet.

Not a bad idea, but unfortunately, a lot of us can’t simply switch the internet off. We either work directly with internet connected applications or we need to use reference materials only available on the web.

As ever, there are software solutions that can restrict access to sites at pre-defined times of the day. You could permit yourself free access for the first half hour of work, and then again just before you leave. Leaving a large chunk of your day for productive work.

The drawback with systems that restrict access is that, as you are likely to be the person setting up the system, you’re also likely to be able to circumvent it quite easily too.

Conclusion

For me, dashboards and stats can be both a boon and a curse at the same time. They can hint at problems and actions you need to take, but they can also suck an awful lot of time out of your day.

I’ve found that a combination of time management and really good notifications are a great way to stop the dashboard merry-go-round and put stats into their rightful place. A tool to help you improve, not an end in themselves.

The problem with concentrating too much on statistics is that it is so seductive. It feels like you are working hard but, in the end, if there are no actions coming out of the constant stats watching, then it is all wasted effort.

If you have any hints and tips how you overcame your dashboard merry-go-round, please leave a comment. 🙂

[Picture is of a French old-fashioned style carousel with stairs in La Rochelle by Jebulon (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]

Operating System Use by C# Devs

I started a C# newsletter about a month ago. Nothing fancy, just a weekly digest of news and links related to C# programming and the related libraries and tools. I sent out the fifth issue last Friday.

The website has Google Analytics (GA) installed, and one of the things that GA gives you is a breakdown of which operating systems your visitors are using. Now, it is early days, the website has only had 174 visitors in the last 31 days (1 – 31 March) so I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from such a small sample. But, I am a little surprised by the operating systems in use by the visitors.

Operating System Usage

A breakdown of the operating systems in use by visitors to the C# Weekly website.
Operating SystemNumber of VisitorsVisitor %
Windows12571.84%
Macintosh2112.07%
Android116.32%
Linux95.17%
iOS52.87%
(not set)10.57%
Chrome OS10.57%
Windows Phone10.57%

You’d kinda expect C# developers to be at the vanguard of Microsoft Windows usage. Certainly, if you go back a few years, you would expect Windows usage to be in the mid nineties percent. If usage levels shown in the above table are accurate, then that certainly isn’t the case any more.

Perhaps the fact that even C# devs are disappearing over to the likes of OS X  and Linux is the reason that C# and .NET as  a whole are being open sourced and ported to new operating systems. If C# devs are moving over to other operating systems for web browsing, then it may not be long until they start developing over there too.

New AVTECH Room Alert 3W Box Opening

AVTECH have finally released the WiFi version of the AVTECH Room Alert 3E. The new model is called the AVTECH Room Alert 3W. The new model supports WiFi connectivity as well as all of the features you’ve appreciated on the wired ethernet model. The unit has a built in temperature sensor, with room for one more digital sensor, as well as room for one low voltage or dry contact sensor.

The new monitor will connect easily to the GoToMyDevices cloud service. Just configure the unit with your wireless network details, and the monitor will start uploading your sensor readings to your private data store in the cloud. You can of course switch off the cloud offering if you don’t want it. You can also use your existing on premise Device ManageR to centralise your data collection and alarming.

New domain and last chance to subscribe via email

If you receive The Tech Teapot via email, this is your last chance to continue doing so. From now The Tech Teapot is moving over to use MailChimp instead of Google Feedburner for delivering email with the latest posts.

Feedburner has been withering on the vine since being taken over by Google. The reason that this is your final chance is because Google doesn’t manage the email list. Of the 500+ email subscribers, not a single one has been removed from the list due to email bouncing. I find it hard to believe that no subscriber has moved jobs in the last 8 years. Consequently, the Feedburner list is full of invalid, out of date email addresses. As a consequence, MailChimp will not import the Feedburner list.

Sorry about that, but fear not, you can sign-up here.

P.S. The more observant may have noticed the change of domain, I’ve owned the domain for a while and thought it about time the blog was moved onto its very own domain. Hope you like it.

P.P.S. Feed subscribers will also need to update the feed URL to https://techteapot.com/feed/

Update 5 March 2015: turns out that when you delete your feed in Feedburner you are given the option to redirect the Feedburner feed back to the original feed. So, if you’re subscribed to the feed through your feed reader, you will not need to change anything in order to continue receiving new updates 🙂

My 2014 Reading Log

A list of all of the books I read in 2014 and logged in Good Reads, I read a few more technical books but didn’t log them for whatever reason.

January

Andrew Smith: Moondust: In Search Of The Men Who Fell To Earth (Non-Fiction)

February

March

William Golding: The Spire (Fiction)

Niall Ferguson: The Pity of War: Explaining World War 1 (Non-Fiction)

April

Simon Parkes: Live at the Brixton Academy: A rioutous life in the music business (Non-Fiction)

May

Christopher Priest: Inverted World (Fiction)

Philip K. Dick: VALIS (Fiction)

Lee Campbell: Introduction to Rx (Non-Fiction)

June
July

Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere (Fiction)

August
September

Fred Hoyle: A for Andromeda (Fiction)

October

Mark Ellen: Rock Stars Stole My Life! (Non-Fiction)

John Crowley: The Deep (Fiction)

Neil Gaiman: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Fiction)

Philip K. Dick: A Maze of Death (Fiction)

November

Paul Ham: Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and their Aftermath (Non-Fiction)

December

A total of 14 books, 8 fiction (mostly science fiction and fantasy) and 6 non-fiction. Of the two autobiographies, I found Mark Ellen’s Rock Stars Stole My Life! to be very good, taking the reader through the rock landscape of the 1960s to the present day through the eyes of a music journalist.

The book I most enjoyed was Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Neil Gaiman was certainly my find of 2014. He manages to write quite original fantasy in a way that doesn’t make the book feel like fantasy.

New Aviosys IP Power 9858 Box Opening

A series of box opening photos of the new Aviosys IP Power 9858 4 port network power switch. This model will in due course replace the Aviosys IP Power 9258 series of power switches. The 9258 series is still available in the mean time though, so don’t worry.

The new model supports WiFi (802.11n-b/g and WPS for easy WiFi setup), auto reboot on ping failure, time of day scheduler and internal temperature sensor. Aviosys have also built apps for iOS and Android, so you can now manage your power switch on the move. Together with the 8 port Aviosys IP Power 9820 they provide very handy tools for remote power management of devices. Say goodbye to travelling to a remote site just to reboot a broadband router.