Jake Vinson

Sep 2008

The Magic Wand of Generic

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J. K.'s boss loves the term "generic." Developing a feature that prompts if one specific field is left blank, that will only be used on that page? Make it generic enough to work on any page. Working on an application that will only ever be used by the local government in Podunk, MA? Make it generic enough to be able to easily change every line of text into Swahili, just in case. He didn't know the ins and outs of what was involved to make this possible, he just wanted his team to wave their collective genericification wand over the application's code.

This is precisely why he was so upset when an email form that was supposed to be generic wasn't working all of the time. It had been built to convert any HTML form with a properly named From, To, and Subject line into an email. And it worked for the most part, until they tried to apply it to a new form with more fields than others that used the control.

Not a Good Sign

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Mike W. doesn't know what this means, but is pretty sure that it isn't good.

Constantly Expanding

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Close your eyes for a moment and visualize with me. (Hopefully you have text-to-speech turned on.) I want to try some guided imagery on you.

Your daily grind is over. You're no longer maintaining a huge application that your whole team hates. You're sitting alone in a peaceful meadow. There is a small mailbox here. Your computer is in front of you, and your favorite IDE is loaded up on the screen. You're starting a new project — a project in which you will guide the overall design. Your business rules are well-defined and you know them like the back of your hand.

The Silver Scream

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Phil was living the dream, working on a Hollywood feature film. The film's budget was in the $35M range, putting it toward the low end for feature films. This movie in particular would utilize a lot of green screen, and they planned to film entirely digital. The director had (correctly) decided that JPEG-style compression that was common to most tape formats was not acceptable, and that they'd need something that could handle raw, uncompressed high-definition video. They were making a movie, after all, not some podunk town's weather report!

Because of the sheer volume of raw data, they needed a professional-grade Digital Field Recorder (DFR). We're talking eight-disk RAID-5s, video capture cards in the tens-of-thousands-of-dollars range, tons of memory, ruggedized cases, etc. Phil's production company knew this, and since they knew of only one vendor at the time that provided hardware specific to their needs, they began their negotiation. Phil saw a golden opportunity here.

The Golden Opportunity

Searching for the Silver Lining

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"Hi, honey! How was your first day?" Jon's wife greeted him with a smile. Jon didn't look as cheerful, however — he was white as a sheet. His first day had not gone well.

Day One

"Jon!" Hartman barked the new employee's name as though he was a recruit on his first day at boot camp. Startled, Jon shot up out of his seat, returning a "Sir, ye- Yes?"

Those Responsible Have Been Sacked

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From Vanessa Thomas: "Line 1110 of the source code just made my day."

Rule Number One

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Chareth was a junior developer, and he wasn't happy about it. Every task that was assigned him from a senior developer was like another dagger made of salt and lemon juice being jabbed into his heart and exploding. The tasks were insulting, too — increase a font size here, add a "sign out" link there — child's play for a guru developer in junior developer's clothing like Chareth.

When Yuriy assigned Chareth a relatively simple task, he didn't expect much trouble. Chareth was to build a simple stored procedure that could calulate sales tax based on state, order total, and zip code. He turned in his first attempt for code review, and promptly failed — too much extraneous code where a much simpler and easier to maintain solution would work. He turned in his second attempt, and along with it a paragraph defending the code from his first try. His code didn't pass muster this time, either.

Tenacious Dave

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When we last met Dave, he was all about keeping things on the fast track. So fast, in fact, that he rushed several changes with the potential to break everything straight to production on his first day. For better or for worse, his tenacity remained a burden companion long beyond his first day.

Dave utilized a new hipster management philosophy called "overbearing." The main tenets of the philosophy are that 1) you have to be overbearing, 2) you have to be a jackass, and 3) you have to be an overbearing jackass. Dave became known for popping up at peoples' desks, asking one irritating question ceaselessly.