Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Which is Better, Writing on Screen or Paper?

I'm frequently asked, "Do writers and programmers feel more creative and expressive with pen and paper, or do thoughts come out as easily as when typing on a keyboard?"



It's a debate that I've listened to for more than half a century. Every tool for writing has some proponents. In other words, there’s no one way that’s better for every writer all the time. That's why the debate will never be settled. Even so, we can learn from it.

Personally, I have published a great variety of work—non-fiction, fiction, poetry, data queries, children’s stories, computer code, advertisements, polemics, applications. I've done so while writing

• by hand with pen or pencil or sharpie or marker pen

• on a manual typewriter or electric typewriter or computer keyboard

• with a stylus on a diver’s slate in a pool or shower

• with my toe in pink Bermuda sand

• with my voice into a recorder or computer voice-to-digital app

• with my bare finger on a touch screen

• with an electric router on a wooden beam

I may have used other approaches, but I can’t remember what else. I'm pretty sure, though, contrary to rumor, that I have not yet written with a hammer and chisel on a stone tablet. Something to look forward to.

Moral #1: if you’re a real programmer or writer of any kind, you would never let the lack of your favorite medium stand in the way of your writing.

Moral #2: If you want to be a real programmer or writer, for heaven’s sake, experiment with any medium you can imagine. You’ll find, as I did, that certain media are better for capturing your voice for each different coding problem, each different story, and each different type of writing.

So if your favorite tool isn't available, don't whine and don't shut down. Experiment instead!

Even if your favorite tool is available, experiment!

Besides, your primary tool is you, not the pen or keyboard or chisel, so keep experimenting with all those secondary tools that help you discover yourself.


And read Weinberg on Writing: the Fieldstone Method, which has taught thousands of writers how to experiment with their writing under every imaginable circumstance.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

What should be my next step to becoming a better programmer?

What's your next step?

I'm guessing, but if you’re like most programmers, you’re already too involved in technical details, You may have mastered Python, Java, Ruby, C++, or a dozen other languages and platforms, but your ability to deal with other people is less than adequate.

Studies of programmers at work show that typical programmers spend 70% of the time dealing with other people. (Agile programmers may spend even more time). [See, The Psychology of Computer Programming]

- Do you ever misunderstand what you've been asked to do?

- Are you ever misunderstood when explaining what you're trying to do?

- Do you ever have fruitless arguments with your boss? With your coworkers?

- Do you ever have trouble dealing with people who are not as smart as you?

- Do you sometimes have trouble dealing with feedback about your performance?

If so, and you want to improve, perhaps you should devote some time to developing your People Skills.

At the very least, you'll learn how to solve "people problems" more efficiently, thus leaving you more time, in a better mood, to do the technical work of programming.


Next step? Take a look at this bargain bundle:



Sunday, September 10, 2017

False Urgency


What should I do with a client or boss who insists that a certain task is urgent, but it turns out to be likely a false alarm?

In your mind, subtract 10% from this persons trust account, then watch for the second occurrence. It might be a one-time mistake or it might be a person who thinks every little thing is "urgent."

If it happens again, tell him or her that you charge double (or triple) for urgent tasks. If he or she isn’t willing to pay, then find another client.

If you're an employee and this is your boss, you obviously can't charge them with money, so you have to find another way to make them pay. My favorite way was simply to ignore them and proceed at my normal pace, in priority order. I never got fired for doing that, particularly when it became evident to everyone that the urgency was false.


This is just one of the ways you have to train your clients and your managers if you want to be a successful employee, contractor, or consultant.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Must There Always Be Inferior Code?

Some people claim that when you learn high software standards you will never again develop in inferior ways. Is this true?

I think you can arrive at a meaningful answer by using an analogy:

Some people claim that when you learn high medical standards, a doctor or nurse will never again treat a patient in inferior ways. Is that true?

Seen in this light, the answer is obvious. Most doctors and nurses will not treat patients in inferior ways—unless it's an emergency, like an explosion or a fire in which many people need saving in a hurry. If that happens, the doctor or nurse will return to those patients when the emergency has calmed down. Same in software.

But there do exist a few medical professionals who don’t live up to such high standards. They are, after all, human beings. Yet in spite of their inferior practices, some of their patients do get better. Why? Because humans have built-in healing mechanisms—but software does not.

Software with sick code doesn’t heal itself. Those programmers who develop in inferior ways will eventually produce troublesome code. But the key word is "eventually."

The inferior programmer may not be around any longer when the code's trouble makes itself known, so some inferior programmers can get away with hacky ways for an entire career.

It’s a good manager's job to recognize these inferior programmers and replace them and their code before the true costs of their inferior work become evident.

Some managers overuse the tactic of forcing programmers to code in a hurry, as if there's always an emergency. Just as in medicine, emergency treatment of code tends to produce inferior results. Managers who care only about the short-term will not do anything about their inferior programmers, but they, too, may move out before the consequences of their inferior management become apparent.


That’s why inferior programming practices persist. And, as long as programmers and managers are human, inferior practices will always persist. But they don't have to persist in your world. It's up to you. \

Code in haste, debug forever.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Why is reading or writing something different from doing something?

First consider reading. Reading is (usually) a solitary activity, with no feedback. Without feedback, there's no check on what you believe you're learning.

Now, writing. Unless you put your writing in the hands of someone (or perhaps some computer analysis app), there's also no feedback, so there's no check on whether you wrote sense or nonsense.

When you do something, you interact with the real world, and the world responds in some way. With the world's feedback, you have the possibility of learning, confirming, or disconfirming something. That's why we strongly favor experiential learning over, say, lecturing or passive reading or writing.

If you want to teach somebody something, don't just send them to a book, or, even worse, tell them what you want them to know. Instead, figure out a way to have them experience the situation in which the learning applies.

After they've had the experience, you then might want to send them to a book where they can read about what they experienced.  Alternatively, you might ask them to write about their learning and have you read what they wrote.

You can try this out:

Step 1. Write a sentence or two about what would happen if you tried to move your desk six inches (15 cm) to the left or right.

Step 2. When you finish writing, get up and move your desk six inches (15 cm) to the left or right.

Step 3. What did you learn in steps one and two?



For a far more thorough answer to this question, see my four-volume series on Experiential Learning 



Then do some of the experiential exercises you find there.



Wednesday, August 30, 2017

How Does One Manage an Incompetent Manager?

How Does One Manage an Incompetent Manager?

The questioner does not say whether the manager's is their boss or employee, but I'll answer assuming they're the employee. If they're the boss, they should manage the same way they would manage any of their employees who is not competent to do the job they're paid for.

This is not just one question because there are quite a few different breeds of incompetent managers. To take just two examples, some are incompetent because they don’t interact with their employees at all, while others micromanage with a vengeance. It seems clear that you’d want to handle each situation in its own unique way.

If your manager is invisible, leaving you alone, just be thankful and go about your business. Believe me, you’re lucky.

For me, the first step in managing a micro-manager is to leave. Find another job, with different manager. A better one.

As for other managerial symptoms of incompetence, you can try working with the manager as one person to another, but realize that this amounts to taking on a second job. If you’re not a a trained psychologist, you might be better just leaving this one alone.

But if you decide you have the skills to manage your manager, do it the way a competent manager would. That is, concentrate on the question, “How is this manager interfering with the work we are being paid to do?” If their incompetence isn’t interfering in a significant way, maybe offer a bit of feedback, but only once, and then get on with your paying job.

In many cases, someone you perceive as incompetent can be a lot easier to live with than to fix. They may not even be as incompetent as you believe.

But if you're seeking advice on a particular pattern of incompetence, write me a note or comment. I will try to help you with specific actions to take.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re neither this manager’s boss or employee, then it’s none of your business, so just leave it alone. There are more incompetent managers in the world than you can possibly cure.

Here's a couple of books you might find helpful:







Sunday, August 27, 2017

Am I Boring, and What Can I Do About It?

I was asked, "Am I boring, and what can I do about it?"

The questioner explained, "Everything I have to say seems boring or unimportant. When I talk about my feelings it seems like I'm complaining or too complicated for others to understand. I don't feel like talking to anyone anymore. What should I do?"

I’ve heard this complaint many times, and much of the time, the person’s problem is not talking, but listening.

I advised him to devote some attention to what the others are saying to him and around him. Often they are trying to tell him why they seem bored, but he's not paying attention (which is a common symptom of “boring” people).

So I had him work on his listening for while and see what happened. He discovered some startling changes.

If you think you're boring people, maybe you’ll want to read


p.s. BTW, his question itself seems like he's complaining, and it may be too complicated for others to understand. As an exercise in learning to be less boring, try rewriting it so it’s not complaining and far less complicated.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Basic skills of a good programmer?

Many outstanding programmers were asked, "What are the basic skills required to be a good programmer?" Lots of good and useful answers were given to this question, such as, test before coding, use a particular tool, or use Agile methods.



For me, though, with more than 60 years of programming experience, the one thing that made me a better programmer was my ability and willingness to examine myself critically and do something about my shortcomings. And, after 60 years, I'm still doing that. You could say it's incremental development applied to myself.

I also examine my strengths (long-comings?) because I know that my greatest strengths can quickly become my greatest weaknesses.

For instance, one of my great strengths as a programmer was speed. If something had to be done quickly, I was the guy to do it. But the weakness in my speed was my tendency to omit the last few hours of testing that would make the project rock solid. I had to learn the importance of taking the time to do a precision job.

Many programmers do examine themselves critically, but then they work to improve their greatest strengths, to the exclusion of their weaknesses. That practice takes them a certain distance, but the nature of computers is to limit your ability, by highlighting your greatest weaknesses. 

A computer is like a mirror of your mind that brightly reflects all your poorest thinking. To become a better programmer, you have to look in that mirror with clear eyes and see what it's telling you about yourself.

Armed with that information about yourself, you can then select the most useful external things to work on. Those things will be different for you than for anyone else, because your shortcomings and strengths will be unique to you, so advice from others will often miss the mark.

Good programmers make good use of their best tools, and you are your best tool, so sharpen yourself.


See, for example, 





Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Must a Developer Know the Language?

We were asked, "Have you ever applied for a software developer job where you didn't know the language?"

My story is not exactly the same as others might have, for several reasons, but I think it does answer the question.

There are two phases to my story. My first job developing software was at IBM, in 1956. At that time, I didn’t know any programming language, largely because there really weren’t any languages other than machine code. So, I spent two weeks in a closet learning my first computer language.

Actually, it was three languages at once: machine codes for the IBM 704 and 650, plus the wired “language” for the IBM 607.

The second phase of my story takes place some years later, when I became a consultant. In that role, I have helped many, many clients who were using languages I didn’t know—even though I knew quite a few by that time, including LISP, Smalltalk, APL, PL/I, COBOL, FORTRAN, C, Pascal, Simula, several home-grown special application languages, and the machine code for the IBM 7090, 1410, 705, STRETCH, Dec’s PDP-1 and a few other machines. I had also studied in a bookish way quite a few other machines while doing competitive analyses for IBM.

I was able to help those clients largely because their problems seldom had much to do with the details of their chosen language(s). Instead, they were people problems of all sorts. The problems that did wind up with a language embodiment were usually easy to spot using my general knowledge of computer languages and typical errors people made in using them. That’s why I’ve always insisted that professional developers should know at least a handful of different language.

I think there's an analogy here with the term "mathematical maturity," something we might call "programming maturity." Here's how Wikipedia defines mathematical maturity:

Mathematical maturity is an informal term used by mathematicians to refer to a mixture of mathematical experience and insight that cannot be directly taught. Instead, it comes from repeated exposure to mathematical concepts. It is a gauge of mathematics student's erudition in mathematical structures and methods.

For instance, a mature mathematician is able to transcend notational differences, unlike my tutorial student who flunked algebra because he had learned to "solve for x," but said, "You didn't teach me to solve for y."


We could easily use most of those words to define "programming maturity," the ability that allows you to succeed in a developer job using a language in which you have no previous experience.


Monday, August 07, 2017

How Stressful is Software Engineering?

We were asked, "How Stressful is Software Engineering on Average?"

First of all, be clear. *Average* stress is not what an individual should be concerned about. Your concern should be about stress in your particular environment.

Second, you may be confused because of the widespread misuse of the word “stress.” Physicists say “stress” when they speak of applied forces. 

The way a system responds to those forces is called “strain.”

When you are the system subject to stress, you are a human being, not an inert piece of material. Therefore, you can learn to adjust the amount of strain you experience from the stresses in your environment.

Two people working in the same environment can experience widely different strains.

One person can be destroyed by a “stressful” environment while another can be inspired to work miracles. It’s your choice. Instead of worrying about the stress of your environment, work on the strained ways in which you respond to that environment.


Don’t be a victim.


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Writing without the letter "A"


We were tested to see if we could write blog entries without the letter "A"

Of course we could write them. We could write lots of them. Indeed, I use this exercise in my writing courses, not just with the letter mentioned, but with every letter in English. Try it. Your writing will improve.


By the bye, some people wrote whole books without the letter E.
 
Weinberg on Writing
Try this test. Choose some letter, some difficult letter. Post some whole blog comment without using your letter.

If you would like to improve your writing, try


Oh, look. I unconsciously wrote the book title without the forbidden letter. It must be some terrific book. Multi-published reviewers think so:


"Don't write your book–build it with Weinberg's Fieldstone Method." - D. Poynter, writer of The Self-Publishing Manual 
"It's changed how I intend to write my next book." - P. D., children's writer
"Buy this book. Work through the exercises…" J.R., techie writer

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Get the Better You Bundles for Good Now!

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Take a look at the broad range of personal development resources included in the Better You Bundles for Good. There are books and courses on goal setting, motivation, health, meditation, stress, productivity, business systems, habits, procrastination, mindfulness and much, much more.
(Visit the website for the final list and more information.)
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At the Core of Every Heart: Reflections, Insights, and Practices for Waking Up and Living Free - Dr. Gail Brenner gailbrenner.com
Are Your Lights On? - Gerald M. Weinberg geraldmweinberg.com
What Did You Say? The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback - Gerald M. Weinberg geraldmweinberg.com
The Millionaire Mentor - Unlocking the Secrets of Wealth Greg S. Reid gregreid.com
Her Blood is Gold: Awakening to the Wisdom of Menstruation - Ian Thorp archivepublishing.co.uk
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The Dream of the Cosmos: a Quest for the Soul - Ian Thorp ianthorp.co.uk
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50 Steps to Freedom A Personal Journey from Depression to Joy - Stephen Connor stephenconnor.org
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How To Give a Shit About Your Health - Karina Inkster karinainkster.com
21 Days to a Happy Clutter Free Life - Lauren Bromberg sunshineyouniversity.com
I, Mammal: How to Make Peace With the Animal Urge for Social Power - Loretta G. Breuning, PhD innermammalinstitute.org
Letting Go of Difficult Emotions - Lori Deschene tinybuddha.com
The Rainbow Way - Lucy H. Pearce lucyhpearce.com
The Impact of the Human Stress Response - The Biologic Origins of Human Stress - Mary Wingo, Ph.D. marywingo.com​​
The Ten-Year Turnaround: Transform Your Personal Finances and Achieve Financial Freedom in The Next Ten Years - Matthew Paulson mattpaulson.com
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Inspiration is a Habit - Turn Your Purpose Into a Profession - James McCrae shityouregosays.com
The Fountain of Youth is Just A Breath Away: Breathing Exercises For Relaxation, Health And Vitality - Molly Larkin mollylarkin.com
Procrastination - Putting Things Off and How to Stop Doing It - Neil Thompson neilthompson.info
The Secrets of Consulting - Gerald M. Weinberg geraldmweinberg.com
What Lies Within You - Molly Larkin mollylarkin.com
The Tree of Life: Talks by Buntie Will - Ian Thorp ianthorp.co.uk
Active Listening - How to Communicate Better - Neil Thompson neilthompson.info
Effective Writing - Neil Thompson neilthompson.info
Job Interviews - Giving Yourself the Best Chance - Neil Thompson neilthompson.info
The Morning Book; Daily Rituals For Sacred Living - Molly Larkin mollylarkin.com
Stress Matters Keeping Stress at Bay - Neil Thompson neilthompson.info
Tackling Bullying and Harassment Developing Dignity at Work - Neil Thompson neilthompson.info
Just Tell Me What I Want - Sara Kravitz sarakravitz.com
Getting a Grip on Time - Productivity and Life Balance Made Easy - Robyn Pearce gettingagrip.com
Self-Love - Stephen Connor stephenconnor.org
Weinberg on Writing - Gerald M. Weinberg geraldmweinberg.com
The Reluctant Messenger - Stephen Connor stephenconnor.org
What is Your What? - Steve Olsher steveolsher.com
Wake Up Call - Thibaut Meurisse WhatisPersonalDevelopment.org
Online Business Productivity - Timo Kiander PracticalBliss.com
Agile Project Management For Busy Managers - Tony Riches tonyriches.com
Tackling Low Self-esteem Building Confidence and Self-Respect - Neil Thompson neilthompson.info
Get Your Money Where Your Mouth Is - David R. Portney kallistipublishing.com
People Centricity: The Incredible Power of Putting Other People First - Stephen Hewett kallistipublishing.com
About Time - 120 Tips for Those with No Time - Robyn Pearce gettingagrip.com
I Believe Therefore I Am - Claire McGee kallistipublishing.com
Running For My Life: From Zero to Ultramarathoner - Dragos Roua dragosroua.com
The Millionaire's Message - Bryan James kallistipublishing.com
Effective Teamwork- How to Develop a Successful Team - Neil Thompson neilthompson.info
You Can Move Mountains - J.F. Straw kallistipublishing.com
Love is the answer: A Guide to Awakening the Heart and Stepping into True Authenticity - Zoe Davenport zoedavenport.co.uk
Personal Growth Bundle - Annalie Coetzer lifesuccessblog.com
Exploit Yourself: A Master Class in Personal Networking Techniques - Bruce Wade em-solutions.co.za
Vision to Reality - How Short Term Massive Action Equals Maximum Results - Honoree Corder honoreecorder.com
Personal Productivity For Busy Managers - Tony Riches tonyriches.com
Turning Imagination into Results - Strategies to Elevate Your LIfe and Career - James McCrae shityouregosays.com
Simplify - 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life - Joshua Becker becomingminimalist.com
Dear God How Can I Heal So That I May Love - Margaret Paul innerbonding.com
Shut Up and Write - The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words On the Page - Mridu Khullar Relph theinternationalfreelancer.com
Write Your Way Out Of Depression: Practical Self-Therapy For Creative Writers. - Rayne Hall raynehall.com
Tick-Tack - The Story of Your Time - How to Tame TIME and Make Him Your Ally! - Alina Margineanu alinamargineanu.com
Jack and the Team that Couldn't See - Tony Wilson performancelab.com.au
The Lunatic Gene - How to Make Sense of Your Life - Adam Shaw adamshaw.co
Getting a Grip on Leadership - How to Learn Leadership Without Making All the Mistakes Yourself - Robyn Pearce gettingagrip.com
Sleep and Sleep Disorders - A Brief Introduction - Neil Thompson neilthompson.info
Getting a Grip on The Paper War - Managing Information in the Modern Office - Robyn Pearce gettingagrip.com
Working With Todoist - Get Started with Todoist so You Can Get Better Organized and Achieve Greater Productivity - Carl Pullein carlpullein.com
Your Digital Life - Everything You Need to Know to Get Your Life Organised and Put Technology to Work for You - Carl Pullein carlpullein.com

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