Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Code Generation

I’ve been evangelizing code generation since the work I did at Providus / FRS Global…

One of my arguements on the topic got published by Edgewater

I love the picture on it… 🙂

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Infrastructure Agility via Cloud Technology

I’m honored to have just been published on Edgewater’s public blog…

It’s bit about managing infrastructure agility. The basic idea is architecting your infrastructure so that you can push off parts to different clouds when you need to, for any of a multitude of reasons. The idea goes a bit beyond virtualization.

Check it out:

http://edgewatertech.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/best-practice-cloud-computing/

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Application Platform Infrastructure Optimization

In doing some research for a client on workflow in SharePoint, I came across this interesting article about the differences between BizTalk 2006 and the .NET Workflow Foundation (WF).

The article itself was worth the read for its main point, but I was also interested in Microsoft’s Application Platform Infrastructure Optimization (“APIO”) model.

The “dynamic” level of the APIO model describes the kind of system that I believe the .NET platform has been aiming at since 3.0.

I’ve been eyeing the tools… between MS’s initiatives, my co-workers’ project abstracts, and the types of work that’s coming down the pike in consulting. From the timing of MS’s releases, and the feature sets thereof, I should have known that the webinars they’ve released on the topic have been around for just over a year.

This also plays into Microsoft Oslo. I have suspected that Windows Workflow Foundation, or some derivative thereof, is at the heart of the modeling paradigm that Oslo is based on.

All this stuff feeds into a hypothesis I’ve mentioned before that I call “metaware”, a metadata layer on top of software. I think it’s a different shade of good old CASE… because, as we all know… “CASE is dead… Long live CASE!”

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Champions of Disruption

I’ve been noticing lately that truely interesting things only happen on the “edge”. Everything is energy, and everything happens at the point where energy flows are disrupted.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Mother Nature. Take solar energy. Powerful energy flows from our sun and saturates our solar system… but all the amazing things happen where that energy flow is disrupted. The Earth disrupts it, and the result, in this case, is merely life as we know it.

It’s so primal that we’ve abstracted the concept of energy flows, and call it (among other things) currency. When we sell a resource (a form of energy, in a sense), we even call that change “liquidation”.

Sure, potential energy has value, but there are no edges in a region of potential energy. Potential energy is usually static, consistent, and only really exciting for what it could do or become, rather than what it currently is.

Likewise, it’s where disruptions occur that there’s business to be done.

According to this article on Information Week, CIO/CTO’s appear to have generally become change-averse order takers. Surveys cited indicate that many shops are not actively engaged in strategy or business process innovation.

Perhaps they’re still feeling whipped by the whole “IT / Business Alignment” malignment. Maybe they’re afraid of having business process innovation through technology innovation come off as an attempt to drive the business. Ultimately, it seems many are going into survival mode, setting opportunity for change asside in favor of simply maintaining the business.

Maybe the real challenge for IT is to help business figure out that innovation is change, and change is where the action is.

In any case, it seems there’s a lot of potential energy building up out there.

The disruptions must come. Will you be a witness, a victim, or a champion of them?

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Retail IT in the Enterprise

Lately, the projects I’ve been on have had me taking on roles outside my comfort zone. (I’m not talking about downtown-Boston… with the “Boston Express” out of Nashua, I’m ok with that.)

I’ve always been most comfortable, myself, in cross-discipline engineering roles, especially in smaller teams where everyone’s got good cross-discipline experience. The communications overhead is low. The integration friction is low. Everyone knows how it needs to be done, and people are busy building rather than negotiating aggressively.

These types of tight, focused teams have always had business focused folks who took on the role of principal consultant. In this type of situation, the principal consultant provides an insulation boundary between the technical team and the customer.

This insulation has made me comfortable in that “zone”: I’m a technologist. I eat, sleep, dream software development. I take the ability to communicate complex technical concepts with my peers effectively and concisely, very seriously.

So like I said, lately the projects I’ve been on have yanked me pretty hard out of that zone. I’ve been called on to communicate directly with my customers. I’ve been handling item-level projects, and it’s a different world. There is no insulation. I’m filling all my technical roles, plus doing light BA and even PM duty.

Somewhat recently, I emailed a solution description to a CFO. The response: “Send this again in user-level English.”

It killed me.

I’ve gotten so used to having others “protect” me from this sort of non-technical blunder. In contemporary projects, the insulating consulting roles are simply not present.

Makes me wonder about the most important lessons I learned during my school days… In high school days, maybe it was retail courtesy, and retail salesmanship in a technical atmosphere (“Radio Shack 101”). In college days, the key lessons might have been how to courteously negotiate customer experience levels, (from “help desk 101”).

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Semi-IT / Semi-Agile

While working on-site for a client, I noticed something interesting. On the walls of some of my client’s “users” offices, along with other more classic credentials, are certifications from Microsoft… SQL Server 2005 query language certifications.

I’ve heard a lot about the lines between IT and business blurring. We talk a fair amount about it back at HQ.

Interestingly, this case is a clear mid-tier layer between classic IT (app development, data management, advanced reporting) and business in the form of ad hoc SQL querying and cube analysis. In many ways, it’s simply a “power-user” layer.

The most interesting part about it is the certification, itself. The credentials that used to qualify an IT role are now being used to qualify non-IT roles.

Another trend I’m seeing is development ceremony expectations varying depending on the risk of the project. Projects that are higher risk are expected to proceed more like a waterfall ceremony. Lower risk projects proceed with more neo-“agility”.

The project I was on was apparently considered “medium” risk. The way I saw this play out was that all of the documentation of a classic waterfall methodology was expected, but the implementation was expected to develop along with the documentation.

In many ways, it was prototyping into production. Interestingly, this project required this approach: the business users simply did not have time to approach it in a full waterfall fashion. Had we been forced into a full-fledged classic waterfall methodology, we might still be waiting to begin implementation, rather than finishing UAT.

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Economic Detox

While contemporary headlines bode poorly for the U.S. economy, I see them as signs of hope…

I keep hearing high-pitched alarms about the weakening U.S. dollar, inflation, energy prices, the housing market bubble burst. We all see the ugly face of the these conditions.

Global trade has been a bitter (but necessary) pill for the U.S. Perhaps the Clinton-detonated U.S. economic nuclear winter (of global trade, NAFTA, etc.) is finally starting to give way to a new economic springtime in the States.

In the late 90’s US market, there were a lot of excesses in the technology sector. Then the bubble burst. When the dust settled, we (the US IT industry) found ourselves disenfranchised by our sponsors… corporate America beat us with our own job hopping. U.S. Engineers hopped off to the coolest new startup, and rode their high salaries into the dirt, while enduring companies went lean, mean, and foreign. We had become so expensive, we were sucking our own project ROI’s completely out of sight. By hooking foreign talent pools, the ROI’s were visible again.

Nearly a decade later, look what’s happening around the world… Many foreign IT job markets are falling into the same salary inflation trap that the U.S. market fell into… They are going through the same inflation we experienced. Their prices are rising.

Combine their salary inflation with our salary stagnation and a weakening dollar, and what do you get?

A leaner, meaner domestic competitor.

In a sense, it’s like that in many sectors of the U.S. economy.

So let the U.S. dollar weaken… It means that America can go back to being product producers (rather than mindless consumers) in the global market!