“REAMDE” by Neal Stephenson

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(At 1,044 pages, this book looks daunting. I’ve enjoyed other Neal Stephenson books, especially Cryptonomicon, so I didn’t let the size of the book deter me when I was buying it. But I find reading a long book with complex intertwined plots needs continuity – no point in picking it up and trying to resume after leaving it unopened for weeks! Even though I bought this book over a year ago, I only finally had time to read it in the last couple of weeks. Aside, in this day-and-age-of-laptops-and-kindles, I was amused by the odd sidelook I got whenever I settled into a nearby coffee shop and produced this weighty hardback ink-on-paper tomb!)

Wikipedia has a great summary here, but obviously be warned that it has lots of plot spoilers. Without giving too much plot away, I liked the book. From my perspective, I really enjoyed how Neal can interweave different stories. While there were many different interwoven stories here, the ones that are top of mind for me were:

  • the hacker-and-former-girlfriend-get-kidnapped story
  • the spy-tracking-jihadists story
  • the massive on-line game business story

All very different stories, yet the detailed coverage of each make me think Neal has a great understanding of hackers, encryption, different-business-market-economies-of-massive-on-line-games, Soviet-veterans-of-the-confict-in-Afganistan, internet-cafes-in-developing-worlds… the list goes on and on. I even found the way computer issues were covered to be accurately describes (typically a pet peeve for me!). In the midst of all the other drama, I was greatly amused by the image of a super-important invulnerable character (Egdod) walking in unattended mode back to home base, while various other T’Rain players were attacking him / defending him / rubber-necking the impossible sight of Egdod moving through their world. And somehow, someday, I need to find a way to use the throwaway joke about “Your org chart?”, “No, orc chart”.

The book was a great read, and I’d recommend it.

“We are ALL Remoties” (Feb2015 edition)

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Since my last blog post on “remoties”, I’ve worked with ProCore, and Haas, UCBerkeley (again!) as well as smaller private discussions with some other companies. Every single time, I continue to find people eager for passionate conversations, and clear “ah-ha!” moments, which I find very encouraging. There’s also plenty of volunteering stories/ideas of what did/didnt work for them in their past. All this helps me continue to hone and refine these slides, which I hope makes them even more helpful to others.

You can get the latest version of these slides, in handout PDF format, by clicking on the thumbnail image.

Remoties are clearly something that people care deeply about. Geo-distributed teams are becoming more common in the workplace, and yet the challenges continue to be very real and potentially disruptive. Given how this topic impacts people’s jobs, and their lives, I’m not surprised by the passionate responses, and each time, the lively discussions encourage me to keep working on this even more.

As always, if you have any questions, suggestions or good/bad stories about working in a remote or geo-distributed teams, please let me know – I’d love to hear them.

Thanks
John.

RelEngCon 2015: Call for papers

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Preparations for RelEngConf 2015 are officially in full swing. This means two things:

1) RelEngCon 2015 is now accepting proposals for talks/sessions. If you have a good industry-related or academic-focused topic in the area of Release Engineering, please have a look at the Release Engineering conference guidelines, and submit your proposal before the deadline of 23-jan-2015.

2) Both RelEngCon 2014 and RelEngCon 2013 were great. The mixture of attendees and speakers, from academia and battle-hardened industry, made for some riveting topics and side discussions. Its too early to tell who exactly will be speaking in 2015, but its not too early to start planning your travel to Florence, Italy!! Also of note: RelEngCon 2015 will be just a few weeks after the publication of IEEE 1st Special Issue on Release Engineering. Looks like RelEngConf 2015 is going to be special also.

For further details about the conference, or submitting proposals, see http://releng.polymtl.ca/RELENG2015/html/index.html. If you build software delivery pipelines for your company, or if you work in a software company that has software delivery needs, I recommend you follow @relengcon, block off May 19th, 2015 on your calendar and book now. It will be well worth your time.

See you there!
John.

“APE – How to Publish a Book” by Guy Kawasaki

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A few years ago, I first put my toes into the book publishing world by co-writing a portion of AOSAv2 about Mozilla’s RelEng infrastructure. Having never written part of a published book before, I had no idea what I was really getting into. It was a lot of work, in the midst of an already-busy-day-time-job and yet, I found it was strangely quite rewarding. Not financially rewarding – all proceeds from the book went to Amnesty – but rewarding in terms of getting us all to organize our thoughts to write down in a clear, easy to read way, explaining the million-and-one details that “we just knew instinctively”, and hopefully helping spread the word to other software companies on what we did when changing Mozilla’s release cadence.

While working on AOSAv2, clearly explaining the technology was hard work, as expected, but I was surprised by how much work went into “simple” mechanics – merging back reviewer feedback, tracking revisions, dealing with formatting of tables and diagrams, publishing in different formats… and remember, this was a situation where book publisher contracts, revenue and other “messy stuff” was already taken care of by others. I “just” had to write. I was super happy to have the great guidance and support of Greg Wilson and Amy Brown who had been-there-done-that, helped work through all those details, and kept us all on track.

Ever since then, I’ve been considering more writing, but daunted by all the various details above and beyond “just writing”. These blog posts help scratch that itch, in between my own real-life-work-deadlines, but the idea of writing a full book, by myself, still lingered. A while ago, I grabbed “APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book” by Guy Kawasaki. It looked like a good HowTo manual, I’ve enjoyed some of his other books, and he’s always a great presenter, so I was looking forward to some quiet time to read this book cover-to-cover.

This was well worth the time, and I re-read it a few times!

For me, some of the highlights were:

  • why are you writing a book?” I really like how Guy turned this question around to “why would someone else want to read your book”. Excellent mind-flip. I’ve met a few people who want to write a book, and even a few published authors, and I’ve talked with them about my own ideas about writing. But no-one, not one, ever reversed the question like this. It was instantly self-evident to me – it takes time to read a book, and we’re all busy. So, even if someone gave me a book for free, why would I want to skip work and/or social plans to read a book by someone I don’t know. Making it clear, immediately, why someone would find it worthwhile reading your book is a crucial step that I think many people skip past. As the author, keeping this in mind at all times while writing, will help keep you focused on the straight-and-narrow path to writing a book that people would actually want to read.
  • Money: Most publishers are super-secret about their contracts/terms/conditions, which can make a new time author feel like they’re going to be taken (The only exception I know of is Apress, who publish all their terms on their website, with a “no haggling” clause). To help educate potential authors, I respect how much full detail Guy & Shawn gave in small, easy to follow, words.
  • Tell the world you’re writing a book – not that you’re thinking of writing a book.” Again, an excellent mind-flip to help keep you motivated and writing, every single day, whether you want to or not. Also, they provided many links to writer’s clubs (writer support groups!?) who would help you keep motivated.
  • print-on-demand vs print-big-batch: This reminded me of how software release cycles are changing the software industry from old monolith release cadence to rapid-release cadence. “Old way”: a big-bang-release every unpredictable 18months, with a costly big print run, and lots of ways to handle financial risk of under/over selling; any corrections are postponed until the next big-bang-release if it looks like there is enough interest. “New way”: build infrastructure to enable print-on-demand. Do smaller, more frequent, releases, each with small print runs, (almost) no risk of under/over selling, corrections handled frequently and easily. Yes, at first glance, each printed book might seem more expensive this way, but when you factor in the lack-of-under/over selling, removed financial risk, and benefits of frequent updates to the almost-free electronic readers, it actually feels cheaper, more efficient and more appealing to me.
  • In addition to printed books, there’s a good description of pros/cons of the different popular electronic formats (PDF, MOBI, EPUB, DAISY, APK…) as well as related DRM.
  • The differences between ebook publishers (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google, Kobo, …), Author Publisher Services (Lulu, Blurb, Author Solutions, …) and Print-on-Demand (Walkerville Publishing, Lightning Source, …) was detailed and very helpful. Complex chapter, with lots of data, and ending with the reassuring “Don’t obsess about making the wrong choice, however, because most distribution decisions are changeable.”!
  • translations, audiobooks: normally, these are handled as edge cases. Guy & Shawn walk through some of the options (Audible/Amazon, Books-on-Tape/RandomHouse), as well as financial & legal realities.
  • Some fun examples of rejection responses by agents/publishers. My personal favorite was a rejection sent to George Orwell about Animal Farm “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA”.

All in all, I found the writing style personal, helpful, direct and super honest. Even the way they ended the book… “Thank you. Now go write a book! —Guy and Shawn”

Thank you both.

“We are ALL Remoties” (Nov2014 edition)

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Its been a while since I last blogged about “remoties”, but it continues to be a very popular topic! In addition to Twilio in February, I’ve given presentations at Automattic (best known for WordPress), RiotGames (twice) and Haas, UCBerkeley (twice), as well as smaller private discussions with several other companies.

You can get the slides in PDF format by clicking on the thumbnail of the first slide. (I’m happy to share the original very large keynote file, just let me know and we’ll figure out a way to share without hammering my poor website.)

Remoties are clearly something that people care deeply about. Geo-distributed teams are becoming more commonplace, and yet the challenges continue to be very real. The interest before each presentation is cautiously high, while the Q+A discussions during/afterwards are very engaged and lively. Every time, I find myself tweaking, honing and refining the presentation again and again… yet, the core principles remain the same:

  • remoties / geo-distributed teams can be very effective, and can be sustained over time.
  • remoties != compromise. In fact, a geo-distributed team means you can hire best-available, not “just” best-willing-to-relocate.
  • easy to use, cheap, technologies work just fine if used correctly (maybe even better then expensive systems?)
  • crisp, careful organization of human processes is essential
  • in a geo-distributed team, *everyone* is a remotie, even people who happen to sit in an office. If you are remote from someone else, that makes you *both* remoties. Hence the working title “we are ALL remoties”.

Given how this topic impacts people’s jobs, and their lives, I’m not surprised by the passionate responses, and each time, the lively discussions encourage me to keep talking about this. As always, if you have any questions, suggestions or good/bad stories about working in a remote or geo-distributed teams, please let me know – I’d love to hear them.

Thanks
John.

ps: I noticed in my website logs that a lot of people were still downloading my original remoties slides, first posted in apr2012, even though I’d posted multiple revisions of the slides since. So, I’ve gone back and updated my earlier “remoties” blog posts to all point to these latest-and-greatest slides.

“The Value of RelEng” Keynote at USENIX URES East 2014

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I was honored to give the opening keynote for USENIX URES14 East in Philadelphia in June 2014.

“The Value of Release Engineering as a Force Multiplier” keynote built on top of the “RelEng as a Force Multiplier” presentation I gave at RelEngConf 2013 and as then as a Google Tech Talk. (To get the slides in PDF format, click on thumbnail. Happy to share the original 25MB keynote file, just let me know and we’ll figure out a way to share without hammering my poor website.)

Anyone who has ever talked with me about RelEng knows I feel very strongly that Release Engineering is important to the success of every software project. Writing a popular v1.0 product is just the first step. If you want to keep your initial early-adopter users by shipping v1.0.1 fixes, or grow your user base by shipping new v2.0 features to your existing users, you need a reproducible pipeline for accurately delivering software in a repeatable manner. Otherwise, you are “only” delivering a short-lived flash-in-the-pan one-off project. In my opinion, this pipeline is another product that software companies need to develop, alongside their own unique product, if they want to stay in the marketplace, and scale.

Its typical for Release Engineers to talk about the value of RelEng in terms that Release Engineers value – timely delivery, accurate builds, turnaround time, etc. I believe its important to also describe Release Engineering in terms that people across an organization can understand. In my keynote, I specifically talked about the value of RelEng in terms that people-who-run-companies value – unique business opportunities, market / competitive advantages, new business models, reduced legal risk, etc.

Examples included: Mozilla’s infrastructure improvements which reduced turnaround time for delivering security fixes as well as helped deter future attacks… Hortonwork’s business ability to provide enterprise-grade support SLAs to customers running mission critical production “big data” systems on 100% open source Apache Hadoop… and even NASA’s remote software update of the Mars Rover.

People seemed to enjoy the presentation, with lively questions during, afterwards… and even into the end-of-day panel session.

Big thanks to the organizers (especially Dinah McNutt (RelEng at Google), Gareth Bowles) – they did an awesome job putting together a unique and special event.

Oh, and one more thing! Next week, USENIX URES14 West will start on Monday 10nov2014 in Seattle. If you are in the area, or can get there for Monday, you should attend! And make sure to see Kmoir’s presentation “Scaling Capacity While Saving Cash” – if you follow her blog, you know you can expect it to be well worth attending.

[Updated to include links to usenix recordings. joduinn 08nov2014]

Chuck Rossi and Dinah McNutt keynotes at RelEng Conf 2014

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The same great people who brought RelEng Conf 2013 did it again earlier this year with the sold-out-wait-listed RelEng Conf 2014. Hosted at Google’s HQ campus, it was a great combination of academic and battle-hardened down-to-earth no-holds-barred industry presentations and panel sessions.

Unlike my keynote last year, this year I had no presentations, so I was able to relax and soak up the great keynote presentations by Chuck Rossi (RelEng at Facebook), and Dinah McNutt (RelEng at Google), as well as others. These are online, and well worth the watch:

Chuck Rossi’s keynote is here:

Dinah McNutt’s keynote is here:

Closing panel discussion is here:

Two years in a row of greatness from Bram Adams, Christian, Foutse, Kim, Stephany Bellomo, Akos Frohner and Boris Debic means that I’m already looking forward to RelEng Conf 2015. Watch the official conference website, follow @relengcon and book your spot immediately to avoid that sad “oh, I’m still on the wait list” feeling.

John.

“Oughta See” by General Fuzz

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Well, well, well… I’m very happy to discover that General Fuzz just put out yet another album. Tonight was a great first-listen, and I know this will make a happy addition to tomorrow’s quiet Sunday morning first-coffee. Thanks, James!

Click here to jump over to the music and listen for yourself. On principle, his music is free-to-download, so try it and if you like it, help spread the word.

(ps: if you like this album, check out his *6* other albums, also all available for free download on the same site – donations welcome!)

San Francisco Car Culture: Unusual Jaguar XK8 paint job

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Found this earlier this month while on the way to work. The color scheme really threw me off, so at first I couldn’t even tell it was a Jaguar. I remain speechless.

“xkcd: vol.0″ by Randall Munroe

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“xkcd: volume 0” by Randall Munroe

What can I say? After all the years of reading xkcd.com, buying the book seemed like an obvious “huh, how did I not buy this already” moment.

This was a great wander down memory lane. I found a great many of my favorite xkcd comics, including bobby-drop-tables (therapeutic for anyone with an apostrophe in their surname!), locked-out-of-house, i’m-compiling-code and “the one that makes every Release Engineer I know cringe“.

Somehow, there were even some I’d never seen before, a very happy discovery: chess-coaster (which in turn inspired real life http://xkcd.com/chesscoaster!), the why-i’m-barred-from-speaking-at-crypto-conferences series, girls-on-the-internet, ninjas-vs-stallman, counting sheep

All in all, a great fun read, and I found the “extra” sidebar cartoons equally fun… especially the yakshaver! If you like xkcd, and don’t already have this book, go get it.

ps: He’s got a new book coming out in a few days, a book tour in progress, and a really subtle turtles-all-the-way-down comic which nudges about the new book… if you look *really* closely! I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it!

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