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Rod Smith

Code, trophies, and Scott – not the toilet paper.

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code camp trophyVolano sponsored the Nebraska Code Camp Challenge this year.  I’d include a link, but you won’t find us on the sponsor page.

Nah – we’re not bitter.

With your mad coding skillz you could have earned a sweet trophy like this (and cash to boot.)  Heck, I’d say you could even include a picture of it in your list of references when looking for a new job.  You could apply at Volano!

Scott Hanselman (from Microsoft) was the keynote speaker, he was great.  Definately worth the trip just to see the keynote.  Scott did personally request that we link to him.  He’s trying to outrank Scott toilet paper.  What a valiant effort; goals are important.  I felt obliged to help him with his endeavour.  With the traffic this blog gets I’m certain he’ll attain glory very, very soon.

He had many fun quotes, here are a couple of good ones:

  • Only put energy into things that you want more of.
  • If it is not valuable, throw it out.

Grandpa Vernon said the same things when cleaning the garage.  Huh.

 

Microsoft Access is a like a dirt bike

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Volano is a pragmatic development group.  We are a Microsoft shop, but we are not religious about software or hardware choices. Wise technologists know that different groups have different needs at different times and have different preferences.

That being said, I recently had a client ask about the efficacy of using Microsoft Access to run a new business division for 18 months.  Here are my thoughts:

Microsoft Access has its place.  Refer to Microsoft for their thoughts.  You will note that this marketing material does not mention running your business or using Access as your software development platform. Rather, Access is for data manipulation, visualizing data on your desktop, and perhaps for sharing data with very small teams; but not much more.  Hey, I fully understand many businesses, states, and federal agencies have run 10+ years on Access.  However, it is time to relegate Access to its rightful place, and here is why…

It is better for one person than a team.

  • No intrinsic technique for deploying new versions to multiple users.
  • Source code is manifest as a single file.  It is hard to revision and share as a development team.

Not positioned for the future.

  • Access isn’t engineered for the web or the cloud.
  • From a data access technology standpoint, Access’s Jet is considered a deprecated technology.

It is not less expensive and the upgrade path is not simple.

  • Developers can use FREE enterprise toolsets:  Microsoft SQL Express and Visual Studio Express.
  • You will re-write the Access application later.  Paying twice is not less expensive.
  • The performance of Access upgraded to SQL is often worse because of the mixed database engines.

KTM 530

Bottom line – Microsoft Access is like a dirt bike; it can fun for one person that is out zipping around.  But if you’re running a business get something practical.

Release Management

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The Principles of Release Management

As with most processes in application development, release management is a subjective discipline. There are many effective ways to promote new revisions of code into the production environment. The goal is to create a process that is defined, repeatable, and does not adversely affect the production environment when new code is released.

So that is the best-practice theory. With three tiers of testing, an automated build environment, and pre-programmed automated test scripts with great code coverage – going to production will be risk-free. Many organizations need this level of risk-mitigation – therefore the associated expense and timeline is warranted. On the other hand – many organizations need to trade the risk of a less tested build for budget savings and quicker release cycles.

Pragmatism

One of Volano’s primary tenets is pragmatism – in this case pragmatism is also known as practicality. We collaborate with stakeholders to determine what level of release management is needed; typically this is ‘finding the happy medium.’ The minimum requirement is two-fold: cross-developer code testing and a full-fledged test system.

Volano’s standard release cycle is very traditional among project based consulting firms (DEV, TEST, LIVE):

New functions and modules are allocated to plan and timelines are set. This becomes the build.

Development (DEV) – development always takes place within a virtual machine. We use VMWare because it works well for both Windows and Mac. Source code is kept in a controlled repository (link).

Quality Assurance (TEST) – as functions and modules become code complete, developer test, and ready for cross-testing – they are promoted to the TEST environment. As the build comes together – someone other than the developer, but usually within our shop – tests the code.

Production (LIVE) – once the build passes TEST it is promoted to LIVE.

Observations

Over the years we’ve developed a number of observations about the software release cycle. I’ll share a few:

Regression bugs are the hallmark of poor revision control practices. True regression issues should be infrequent when developers are using source control appropriately.

Releasing to production should be scheduled when possible. Patch releases introduce risk and frequent production releases cause unstable software. Ideally – builds should be released about every three weeks.

An automated deploy process is more reliable than manually built deploy packages.

The Volano Assessment

We’re building a product around custom application assessments. The assessment is a discovery process that will result in an evaluation of best practices along with important application development documentation in the form of a system master document. This will encompass the current application state and we will offer recommendations regarding how best to move forward. These recommendations will be structured as an actionable plan and will include an estimated effort, costs and proposed timeline.

For the release management component of this assessment, we identify the following:

Assessment

  • Can the current software version be obtained, compiled, and released
  • Can the project be ‘rolled back’ to a previous version
  • Are all custom software applications and libraries in one structured repository
  • Is there a test environment

Information

  • How to slow the release cycle to produce stable software
  • Reach the right level of testing without disrupting a dynamic organization

Getting a grip on release management is very important principle of application development. I would say it is second only to source control in terms of IT management.

Do You Know Randy Bachman?

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The Guess Who

The Guess Who, the ugliest band in Canadian rock-n-roll, was founded by Randy Bachman; the same Randy Bachman that you and I know from Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

In their successful years B.T.O. had 3 Bachman brothers in the band, plus that Turner guy. Not a handsome band either.

Movember Pictures

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November was Volano’s second annual moustache contest. This year Don, Doug, Luis, and I (Rod) were all in. Harry declined the invitation to participate, which is too bad – because I think he could win hands down. Jeremy started after November 1st, so he’ll have to wait until next November to compete.

On November 30th Volano’s official photographer, Jill, stopped by to document the hairy-ness. See for yourself:

Don – Sporting a pencil moustache. A very polished look.

Doug – Bearing a police moustache. With authority.

Luis – Wearing half a moustache. Masculine.

Rod – Tribute to Burt Reynolds. El Clasique 70's style.

Please use the comments to rank your favorite moustache!

Movember

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Celebrating the Moustache!

Volano is holding its second annual moustache event; most of the team is growing honorary facial hair. We’re not raising awareness or taking donations, nope, we’re just doing it because it looks silly. The rules are simple and are based on one overarching tenet – moustaches rule. So you can butcher the beard, shear the soul patch, and vanquish half the Van Dyke. BUT DON’T SHAVE THE MOUSTACHE.

We did this in October last year and later found out that was a faux pas. Because there is a dedicated month for this: Movember (a combination of the words ‘Moustache’ and ‘November’). Movember is an annual month-long event involving the growing of moustaches during the month of November. The event has been claimed to have been invented in 1999 by group of Australian’s. Of course. A similar observance in the United States and Canada, called No Shave November, involves a full beard as opposed to a mustache.

So what is in this for you? That’s easy: pictures. At the end of Movember we’ll be posting pictures and you can comment on who looks the goofiest. Stay tuned.