Why Does Extreme Programming Work?

Here is a piece of cynical thought: Extreme Programming works not only because of its inherent traits, but also because of some interesting side effect.

Let’s start with two simple questions: how many times have you been interrupted in your work today; be it by your boss, your superior officer, or one of your colleagues? What were you doing when you experienced the interruptions?

Those of you who, most of the time, work solo in your cubicle probably experience the most interruptions. And you were probably staring at the monitor, trying to make sense out of some important piece of code or technical document.

The reason you get interrupted is because other people do not believe that you are doing actual work, regardless of how legitimate your endeavour was. Think about it: when you are staring at the monitor, most likely the font is too small for a bystander to read with ease. If he cannot read with ease, he won’t bother with reading and will not be convinced that you are busy. Therefore he assumes that it’s ok to bother you.

Now, have you ever noticed how, sometimes, your boss walks towards you, only to realise that you are on the phone with somebody business-related, so she walks away within 5 seconds without bothering you? The reason your boss walks away is because she can hear all kinds of jargon in your conversation, so they assume (rightly) that you are onto something important.

I have come to hypothesise that one gets the fewest useless, unscheduled interruptions if he picks a working methodology that involves lots of talking, thereby letting uninvolved parties hear lots of jargon. When people hear jargon, they suddenly find reason to believe that you are doing actual work. For this reason, Extreme Programming becomes a good candidate. When you practice Extreme Programming, you are inevitably paired with a colleague, sharing one computer. When two people work together at the same computer, they inevitably talk a lot more than if each of them were working solo, and therefore they will let people around them hear a good load of jargon.

There you have it, the side effect that contributes to the effectiveness of Extreme Programming.

Note: this post is entirely meant as a meek piece of I.T. workplace satire. It is not to be taken seriously. Dear Kent Beck, if you happen to be reading this, please don’t get mad.

Gentoo Is Not for Everybody

Gentoo Linux is not for everybody, seriously. And by that I don’t mean only the average computer user, but also the majority of application developers. Of course, this is just my opinion, which I will explain below. I do not in any way mean that Gentoo Linux is inferior to other distros either; it’s great for people who care about customisation and speed, but not for those who just want a stable, working development environment.

To many people, the biggest attraction of Gentoo Linux is that you are effectively rolling your own flavour of Linux when you install it because you pick, configure, and build everything, even the installation CD. This aspect is different from most other Linux distros for which prebuilt installation CD images and binary software packages/repositories are available. The primary reason for picking, configuring, and building everything from source is the performance gain that results when the compiler and linker are optimising code for a particular architecture, even more so if object code is statically linked.

The majority of application developers, however, do not care about the performance of the OS hosting the development environment. Therefore, the performance gain from compiling everything from source is largely irrelevant to the application developer.

Furthermore, the difference in performance between Gentoo and other distros shall be significantly reduced nowadays. Gentoo, when it was still known as Enoch, used a fork of the GCC that provided about 10% performance gain over the mainstream, official version of GCC. This difference in performance no longer exists since the fork has been merged back into the official version of GCC. If you don’t care about the performance difference that remains, you might as well download binary packages; but if you are using binary packages, what’s the point in using Gentoo?

The Portage package system that Gentoo uses is also not something that the average application developer would like. Many of the packages have too many build options, and sometimes these very same options are under documented. For instance, the last time I counted, the package for the Apache server has around 60 build options, which do not exactly correspond to the options used with the configure script of the official source package from httpd.apache.org. Documentation of the options is impossible to find; even the popular Gentoo-Portage website has no information (http://gentoo-portage.com/www-servers/apache/USE#ptabs). Some of these options conflict with each other; the only way to eliminate all of the conflicting options is by repeatedly trying to install the package, allowing the portage commandline interface, emerge, to report conflicts one at a time, so that you can eliminate one of the conflicting options one at a time.

The application developer has enough to keep his hands busy and his mind on the brink of insanity. He cannot afford to lose time with compiling the development environment.

Gentoo may be great for top notch performance in the live, production environment; but if anyone asks me to pick a distro for development environment, I would pick Ubuntu over Gentoo any day.

Mobile development sucks – The cast

I think that the people involved in my story can be divided into the following four parties:
  • My Boss, a GM
  • Me and my colleague, (junior) consultants by title, we are actually more like software testers in this project 
  • Our programmers for the various mobile phone platforms
  • Our client, a mobile network operator in a foreign country

Do you realise what’s wrong with this cast? I think I DO.

Where the hell is the project manager, the person who is supposed keep everybody in check? When I say “everybody,” I make no exception to the GM because the GM does not always remember that the underlings are all up to their necks with work. A project manager would be the person who makes a scene with the GM to refresh the GM’s memory. Underlings like me are too busy hacking away already, you know; they don’t have time to defend themselves against the waves of order from the GM.

And why is there no software architect? Who is supposed to guide the design and specification of our product? Who is supposed to keep all the different platform versions from careless differentiation? It doesn’t take a genius to understand that I can’t act as the software architect: I have neither the knowledge nor the experience related to mobile development.

Oh, did I mention that there is no infrastructure support? The developers didn’t even have a version control server that they can commit their work into because there is nobody to set up such an environment and the developers certainly have neither the permission nor the time for such.

Mobile development sucks – Prologue

It’s been six months since my first full-time job has begun. The first month was spent in learning two products, of which I never got involved in any project. My boss finally decided to let me pick up a product development project that has been going on since before I joined the company. I must say that it has been a great learning opportunity so far and I want to share what little wisdom I have found.

Let’s start with some basic information:

  • The product is a software application for smartphones;
  • We are trying to support 5 smartphone platforms. I’m not talking about phone models – that would have been trivial. I’m talking about something more in line with a situation like Mac + Windows + Linux + Amiga.
  • As much as possible, the application is written in native code on all supported platforms (as opposed to Java, which would have been easier to port);

If you think that this is starting to stink, it gets better:

  • There is no vision document; the only available material that’s close to a vision document is a bunch of PowerPoint presentations;
  • There is no software requirements specification, not even an informal one;
  • There is no software architecture document, again, not even an informal one;
  • There is no software design document at all, again;
  • There is an overly simple blackbox testing checklist;

You probably saw this coming by now:

  • The programmers had started coding the damn thing and submitting test builds already.
If you think that this point above puts the final nail in the coffin, I am sorry that I must disappoint you. Read on.
  • There are, not one, but two versions of the product, with two different product activation models. Not only do you activate the two versions in different ways, but the sets of features that are disabled due to lack of activation are also different;
  • The two versions were being developed concurrently.
I suppose my dear reader has a good picture of the stage in mind now. I’ll let you sleep on it for a bit so you can imagine what can go wrong as the story unfolds itself.

Impresario is not dead!

From the reactions we gathered at the capstone demo, it appears that many people like our product. Now here is a great news for those of you interested: the development of Impresario is entering phase 2! That’s right, even though we have already handed in the product for evaluation, we have decided that we are going to keep improving it.

The scheduling plug-in is the one of the first components that we will upgrade.